Changing Allegiance in Philippi

Acts 16:16-34

I Pledge Allegiance

Did anyone else begin their school day with these words? “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

When I was older, I made a different kind of vow to my wife, one that ended with these words: “And thereto I pledge thee my faith.”

When I was older still, I took one more oath. “I, (state your name), do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

True Faith and Allegiance

One of the most interesting books that I’ve read in the last few years was written by Matthew Bates and entitled Salvation by Allegiance Alone. Bates argues that Greek word most often translated as “faith” in the New Testament really ought to be translated as “allegiance”. He presents some compelling evidence from Greek literature to back that up.

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Seeing the Life of Jesus in Philippi

Acts 16:16-34

As you probably know, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are two consecutive volumes written by the same author. The gospel tells us about the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The Book of Acts begins with Jesus’ ascension and tells us about the life of the early church, how the Holy Spirit spread faith in Christ from Jerusalem to Rome, and how God used the apostles as his witnesses.

If you pay attention, you might notice that what the Holy Spirit is doing in Acts sounds very much like what Jesus was doing in the Gospel of Luke.

In the gospel, Jesus begins his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth by reading from the prophet Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

What kind of freedom did Jesus bring? In what way did he set the oppressed free? In the very next scene, Luke tells us.

In the synagogue there was a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. And amazement came upon them all, and they began talking with one another saying, “What is this message? For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits and they come out.”  (Luke 4:33-36)

Jesus was an exorcist. If I had to summarize the ministry of Jesus, it would go something like this. Jesus and his disciples walked from town to town, depending on the solely hospitality of the townspeople they met. They announced the coming kingdom of God, healed the sick and cast out demons. And, according to Jesus, his small victories over Satan’s minions were a sign that the kingdom of God was already poking its nose into this present evil age.

But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

A Woman with a Spirit

Paul’s encounter with the young girl in Philippi sounds remarkably like those of Jesus with the demon-possessed people of Galilee.

Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by an enslaved young girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:16-18)

Of Human and Spiritual Bondage

So, the story begins with Paul’s encounter with a young girl who is both enslaved by human masters and inhabited by some sort of spiritual presence. By this spirit, the girl could predict the future and provide individuals with messages from the divine world.

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Paul and Christian Differences in 1 Corinthians

The current series of epistle readings in the Revised Common Lectionary emphasize the importance of unity within the Christian church. The readings are drawn from the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. It doesn’t matter, Paul says, which Christian leader you and your associates identify with or what kind of label you apply to yourselves. It doesn’t even matter whether you were born a Jew or a Gentile. What matters is the truth of the Gospel as Paul preached it. Divisions along party or ethnic lines reveal, at best, an immature understanding of the Christian faith. In effect, these divisions deny the truth and power of Christ’s work on the cross.

If you read the entire letter, however, you will not find Paul advocating “think and let think” Christianity or unity at any price. In the chapters that follow, Paul addresses a number of issues that divided the church at Corinth. Paul’s response to differences in belief and practice range from “that’s a great thing to celebrate” to “how horrible that you would even consider this.” It all depends on the matter under consideration.

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For Freedom Christ has set us Free

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

In a little over a week, Americans will celebrate their nation’s 240th birthday. Independence Day. July 4, 1776. That’s when we told the king of England, “You can’t tell us what to do.” Liberty, we declared, is an inalienable right of every human being.

Freedom! You can’t tell me what to do! At least that’s how a lot of people seem to understand the meaning of freedom.

In our reading from Galatians, however, the apostle Paul writes about a very different kind of freedom:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia is one of his most passionate.  In the first four chapters, Paul argues forcefully for a simple idea.  Christians, Paul argues, are free from bondage to the Law given through Moses.

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Luther, To Put on Christ in Law and Gospel

On Galatians 3:27:

To “put on Christ” may be understood in two ways, according to the Law and according to the Gospel. According to the Law as in Romans 13:14, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ,” which means to follow the example of Christ.

To put on Christ according to the Gospel means to clothe oneself with the righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and Spirit of Christ. By nature we are clad in the garb of Adam. This garb Paul likes to call “the old man.” Before we can become the children of God this old man must be put off, as Paul says, Ephesians 4:29. The garment of Adam must come off like soiled clothes. Of course, it is not as simple as changing one’s clothes. But God makes it simple. He clothes us with the righteousness of Christ by means of Baptism, as the Apostle says in this verse: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” With this change of garments a new birth, a new life stirs in us. New affections toward God spring up in the heart. New determinations affect our will. All this is to put on Christ according to the Gospel. Needless to say, when we have put on the robe of the righteousness of Christ we must not forget to put on also the mantle of the imitation of Christ.

Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians