Commentary by Walter Albritton


                                   November 9, 2008


Christ Gives Us Grace to Work through Conflict with Others


Galatians 2:11-3:29


Key Verse: There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28


Like other devout Pharisees, Paul prayed daily a prayer thanking God that he had not made him a woman, a slave, or a Gentile. He saw nothing wrong with this way of thinking. Then abruptly he met the living Christ whose spiritual power changed Paul’s heart. His world was turned upside down. He began to see people through the eyes of Christ.

Only when Jesus became Lord of his life did Paul realize that the grace of God makes different people “one in Christ Jesus.” Everyone had a new identity as a result of faith in Christ. Paul could no longer thank God that he was not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile. The earlier distinctions that separated people could be put aside; they were now brothers and sisters in a new family, the family of God. Christ had changed their hearts and their perspectives. They were one in Christ.  

I grew up in Alabama during the depression. Segregation was the rule by which people lived. White Christians for the most part did not question the cultural system. It was the conventional wisdom of the day.

My parents were God-fearing people and faithful members of the Methodist Church. The members were all white. Black people attended “black” churches. Blacks had “their place.” They could not eat in “white” restaurants. In public places there were separate water fountains and restrooms for blacks and whites.

If black persons knocked on the front door of our home, my parents sent me to tell them to come around to the back door. Like Paul I did so without questioning the plan because it was the culture in which I was raised.

Lela Porterfield, the black woman who cooked our meals and served my family for more than 50 years, was not permitted to eat at the table with us. She waited until we were finished and then ate quietly by herself. Sometimes Lela took a plate of food outside to her husband James who ate out back.

This was my world as a child. Then I met Jesus and he turned my world upside down. He changed my heart and my way of thinking. I discovered like Paul that in Christ Jesus man-made distinctions must be discarded. There is no longer black and white for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.

Shortly after Dean and I were married we invited Lela and James to come to our home for a meal. We took great joy in having them sit at our table and be our guests for a meal she did not cook. It was our way of letting them know that the distinctions of the past had been dissolved by the love of Christ. Our common Lord had given us a new relationship with one another.

Sharing a meal has always been a great way to offer acceptance to others. Peter ate with uncircumcised Gentiles to show that he fully accepted them. Then he yielded to the pressure of fellow Jews and stopped eating at the table with Gentiles. This hypocrisy weakened Peter’s influence and compromised his witness.

Paul boldly confronted Peter about his betrayal of the gospel. Paul said, “I opposed him to his face.” Here Paul gives us an excellent example of how to deal with conflict with others in the church. Paul does not criticize Peter behind his back. He confronts him face to face.

Many of us must confess with shame that we often settle for criticism of others and fail to confront the person with whom we have a conflict. Such criticism and cowardice gives the devil a foothold in our fellowship. The result is separation and discord rather than unity and reconciliation.

We do well to ponder the remarkable statement Paul makes in Galatians 2:20. This is the key to the change that Christ works in our hearts when he turns our world upside down. We must do more than say, with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ;” we must allow our sinful attitudes toward others to be “crucified with Christ.” For some of us this requires that we discard the cultural distinctions of our upbringing and allow such attitudes to be “crucified.”

Paul saw the old self and its perspectives dying, allowing him to be “raised” as a “new creation” in Christ, a new person in whom Christ lives. This dying or crucifixion is so real that Paul can say, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” The result is a new life in which Christ is everything!

By practicing what he preached, Paul demonstrated the difference between the old person and the new person. Paul was so changed by the power of Christ that for the rest of his life nothing mattered more than pleasing God or doing the will of God. An old song of my youth continues to surface in my mind. It reminds me that while we cannot live perfectly the way Jesus lived, we can make it the chief desire of our lives:

“Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please him in all that I do, yielding allegiance glad hearted and free, this is the pathway of blessing for me. O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to you, for you in your atonement did give yourself for me. I own no other master; my heart shall be your throne: my life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for you alone.”

When that is the theme song of our lives, we can find the grace to overcome cultural distinctions and embrace with joy our oneness in Christ Jesus.

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