Two passages from St. Paul’s epistles stood out to me in the last week, and I wanted to share them with you. The first is from the letter to the Galatians:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
10 Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.
One thing about reading St. Paul’s letters is we know there have been other letters sent, often to him, but sometimes from him. So there is this sense of catching part of a conversation or dialogue. Yet, while we might like to know the full context, we are still hearing the authoritative (and thus important) part of that conversation.
Here we can see St. Paul lamenting several things. What I read from this is as follows:
- The Galatians are very quickly abandoning the true faith
- They are ditching the truth for the sake of another gospel
- Someone else is treading to lead them astray
- Anyone who tries to lead you from the truth is automatically anathema
- The Galatians are apparently doing this to please men
From the later context of the letter we can see what is going on: there has been a wave of “Judaizers” coming to the Church in Galatia who are trying to insist that Gentile converts to Christianity adopt completely the Mosaic law. This is leading the Church in Galatia astray- they are losing sight of the important of faith and think that following the works of the Mosaic law is all they need to be saved. And so St. Paul sent his letter to correct this.
What intrigues me is the last part, because it seems the most important to us today. The Galatians were evidently doing this in order to please other human beings (the Judaizers and presumably other Jews). While the particular currents of heresy might ebb and flow throughout history, the desire to please human beings remains. And now, just as then, it can lead us astray. Thus, the central lesson of this passage is to remind us that we must never forsake the truth for the sake of popularity.
The second passage that interests me is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians:
We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo′nia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. 6 Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us—see that you excel in this gracious work also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my advice: it is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, 11 so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not. 13 I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, 14 but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”
(2 Corinthians 8:1-15)
Generosity must come from the heart. It can never be ordered or compelled. Taxation is never generosity, no matter how the money is spent. It can never be charity, for charity is love, and again, love comes from the heart. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18). We pay taxes out of fear, so they cannot meet that requirement.
St. Paul understood this, and so his invitation to the Corinthians to be generous was itself an act of love. He was giving them an opportunity to perfect themselves in their faith journey.