Romans 2: “Attaboy”

Growing up I was never fearful of a little hard work. In fact, it was expected in my home that if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat… Okay, that might be an overstatement, but it’s not too far off. You see, growing up, my parents gave me a wonderful gift… it was called hard work. The example of my parents was a mom who woke up at 4:30am every morning to spend quiet time with God before heading into work around 6:30am… every… day. My father only missed one day of work for sickness in the 35+ years at the same company. He even tore his MCL at work one day falling off a ladder and stayed to try and finish his shift. Seriously… hard work! Do you know how hard it was to try and stay home from school because you didn’t “feel good”? My arm or leg had to be hanging on by a thread in order to stay home.

My parents also taught me that if you wanted something, you needed to earn the money to get it. At twelve-years-old I started working cleaning pots and pans at a campground earning a whopping $20 a day! My staff laughs at me when I share with them all the jobs I’ve had up till the point of becoming a Pastor.

Although I worked hard, and didn’t mind working hard, I also didn’t mind the praise that came along with it. I was an “Attaboy” junkie! There were times when I would try as hard as I could to get an “Attaboy” out of my stubborn bosses or co-workers. I can remember when one night heaven and earth met in a cosmic alignment when my boss at the Deli said to me, “Attaboy.” I couldn’t believe it! He actually said, “Attaboy.” He said not to get to used to it because one “oh crap” takes them all away.

It wasn’t until later in life that I began to realize that I was spending a lot of my time trying to receive praise from man, verses receiving praise from God. I began to understand the power of Colossians 3:23 (NLT)  23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.

Let me ask you this question: From who and what are you seeking praise? 


Romans 2:29b (NLT) 29 And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.


As we’ve heard and read before, Paul is faithfully trying to communicate that circumcision will do nothing to draw you closer to God. You need to remember that Paul is talking to both Jewish and Gentile believers, but primarily Gentile believers who are trying to understand what “being a Christian” is all about. As he declares in verse 29, circumcision won’t/ can’t produce a change of heart, that can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit! He goes on to conclude that when the Holy Spirit redirects our heart, He also redirects our motives. We no longer live to seek the praise of people, but rather we seek the praise from God.

Galatians 5: “Mutilate? No! Worse!”

 

Galatians 5:12 (NLT) 12 I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves.

(Insert record scratch sound effect)

Wait, did Paul just say what I think he said? Did he really just wish the people who’ve been preaching circumcision would mutilate themselves? Have I been so focused on the Fruits of the Spirit in verses 22-23 that I completely missed Paul’s comment here? Looks like it!

Mutilate? No! Worse! 

Let’s start off first by clearing up exactly what Paul said. So for some context, you have to know that Paul has spent a significant amount of time arguing that circumcision is powerless to save anyone. He also tries to convey that the people who are teaching this heresy don’t understand the first thing about grace and faith.

If you want to get more clarity about what Paul actually said, you have dig a little deeper into Paul’s phrasing here. The word the NLT translates “mutilate” is actually the Greek word “apokoptō” (ἀποκόπτω), which means “to cut off.” As strange as this sounds, Paul is not advocating circumcision here, he’s actually advocating castration! Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder. If you’re fearful there’s no point to this reflection, just skip down to verses 22-23 and read about the Fruits of the Sprit. But if you’re like me and you could stand to learn more about this passage and it’s author, keep reading.

Introducing Cybele: The Mother Goddess of the Earth

Remember, Paul is arguing with a group of false teachers. These teachers were all about sensationalism. They loved the spotlight and buzz, so imagine if every male in the Galatian Church decided to be circumcised! So Paul, knowing the M.O of these false teachers decides to call them out and compare them to a group of radical priests common to that area. Being the master of sarcasm, Paul says, shoot, if they really want a sensational ceremony, why don’t they take it a step further and completely castrate themselves like the Galli! 

(Again, insert record scratch sound effect here…)

Scholars agree that Paul is probably referencing the actual brutal ritual that would commonly be found in the pagan temples around Galatia. Let me introduce you to Cybele, the mother goddess of the earth and her priests (Galli). I won’t go into detail, but lets just say Cybele’s priests would make a mean castrati quartet. These false teachers were trying to sensationalize the idea that Galatian Christians needed to participate in a sacred act, like circumcision, in order to be drawn into closer fellowship with God. But remember what Paul already said in verse 6, For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Paul again is clear, no ritual has the power to invoke faith expressing itself in love.

If we cheat and look ahead to tomorrows reading we will see Paul calling out the true motives of the false teachers. Galatians 6:12-13 (NLT) 12 Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. 13 And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.

The comparison Paul makes between the false teacher and the Galli priest would have resonated not only with the Galatian Christians, but also the false teachers! They would have been mortified by Paul’s boldness!

Who/What are Your False Teachers?

You may not be confronted today with the proposition of circumcision, but you need to ask yourself, what are you confronted with today? Who/What are the false teachers in your life that are trying to convince you to compromise your standard? Paul understood that the only thing the false teachers were looking for were trophies; question is, who’s trophy are you?

Galatians 1: “Introduction”

Here we go again…

Paul during his first missionary journey was able to start and support several churches in the region of Galatia. This was a huge region found in modern day Turkey and was an important location for the growth the church east. Although Paul was able to establish these primarily gentile churches, soon after he left a group of false teachers came behind him trying to convince these newly converted Gentile believers that they were’t really Christian unless they were circumcised. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, and Antioch, is an, “awe… heck no” to these Judaizers. Paul basically says, “you think you need a snip-snip? Well you must have lost your grip-grip! Faith in Jesus alone is the only way to salvation”…basically…he said that.

We might be inclined to think the only thing on the line was circumcision or no circumcision, but there was so much more to consider. The gospel (Good News) that Paul preached to the Gentiles itself is at stake! Remember the words of Jesus, “First to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Jesus included the law-free Gentiles into his salvific work on the cross. If the Galatians cave in to circumcision, everything God has done in Jesus Christ and is doing by the Spirit to include Gentiles in the people of God will have come to nothing (2:21). God’s story itself is on the line.


Galatians 1:6-7 (NLT) I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.


Paul wants to be very clear with the Galatians, you’re following a gospel, but it’s not the gospel of Christ. The gospel you’re falling for is like the Diet Coke of Gospels…just one calorie.  Continuing to talk about the gospel message he preached, Paul continues in verse 11 (NLT):


 11 Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. 12 I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

When look at this verse a little closer we realize that Paul is not only defending his authority, but the authority of the gospel itself. From the beginning of this letter, Paul wants to be very clear about where he did and didn’t receive the gospel message. It wasn’t based on something man dreamed up, or was passed around as a story, but rather it was God’s effort to reach down and communicate with man. What’s unique about Paul’s declaration is specific to the way he did receive the gospel.

Most everyone hears the gospel from someone else; this is God’s “normal” way of communicating the gospel (Romans 10:14-15).  But Paul was not “normal” in this respect.  He received the gospel in a dramatic, direct revelation when He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Buckle Up

Although Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of his shorter letters, it is jam packed with thought provoking ideas and challenging realities. As we read, lets read with an open mind and even more importantly, an open heart.