My thoughts (Jeff Miner):
Here’s a tale of two people — actual people from my past.
Belinda (not her real name). I met Belinda years ago, when I became manager of a division of lawyers in a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury. Belinda was our division’s chief administrative assistant. She was there to support the lawyers primarily with document production. Belinda was very public about her faith. She went to church three times a week and often talked about it. She had Bible verses posted around her cubicle and would often say things like “praise the Lord.” She faithfully kept a lot of rules espoused by her church: no drinking, no dancing, no tattoos — you know the list. But, despite all this, Belinda was “hell on wheels” — very difficult to work with. To me, her “boss,” she was always helpful and sweet. But, to everyone else, she was like a grizzly bear. Once, she shouted down an attorney so loudly it could be heard up and down the hallway. Everyone knew, don’t cross Belinda!
Mandy (her real name). Mandy was a friend of mine in law school. She was a devout Christian, but in a very different way from Belinda. Mandy was a free spirit. Not a lot of rules and ritual in her life. But she was the most open, friendly person I’ve ever met. She had a smile and kind word for everyone and a great sense of humor. Despite all the pressures of law school, she never seemed overwhelmed or uptight. She didn’t just hang out with the religious students; everybody wanted to be friends with Mandy. Her love and her confidence (i.e., faith) were infectious.
Today’s Scripture passage is about which kind of Christian we want to be — the “Mandy kind” or the “Belinda kind.” In the early church, there were many who thought following Jesus was about keeping a bunch of religious rules and rituals, i.e., the religious rules and rituals of the Mosaic Law. In their view, Jesus came to supplement all Moses’ rules and rituals, not replace them. For them, it was still very important that all males in their household be circumcised because that signaled a commitment to keep the Mosaic Law — all of it, including eating kosher, observing Sabbath rest, not wearing clothes of blended fabrics, no tattoos, no contact with “unclean” people, etc., etc. This is religion as rule keeping .
In today’s Scripture passage, Paul warns that Belinda people — those who practice religion as rule keeping — “cut themselves off from Christ and fall away from grace” (vs. 4). He gets so angry at those who advocate religion as rule keeping that he says he wishes “they would castrate themselves.” Calm down, Paul!
But we get the point. Paul really believed that religion as rule keeping is dangerous. For followers of Jesus, Paul says, “the only thing that matters is faith working through love” (vs. 6). In other words, in every situation, we’re called to act in a way consistent with faith and love, as guided by the Holy Spirit. That’s what I saw in Mandy. That’s who I aspire to be.
Thought for the day: The ONLY thing that counts is faith working through love.
We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.