Paul begs the Galatians not to engage in following the law, because it is not what Jesus died for. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! So they should stand firm! Faith, expressed through love, is the visible demonstration of that freedom.
Eugene Peterson, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”.
Since Eugene Peterson wrote this spiritual formation classic more than forty years ago, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been inspired by its call to deeper discipleship. Our society is still obsessed with quick fixes. But Peterson's time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same-a long obedience in the same direction.
"We are participating in a very big story. The New Testament is clear that Jesus is the climax of the narrative of Scripture. But after his ascension, the story doesn’t end— Jesus’ followers (including us!) now have a role to play.
We are participating in a very big story. The New Testament is clear that Jesus is the climax of the narrative of Scripture. But after his ascension, the story doesn’t end— Jesus’ followers (including us!) now have a role to play. The book of Acts tells the story of all that Jesus began to do through his apostles in order to spread the gospel of God’s kingdom established through Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
As the narrative develops, the ministries of two apostles are particularly highlighted: first Peter and then Paul, as churches are established from Jerusalem around to Rome. The collected letters of Paul to several of these churches then follow in the New Testament canon.
Through this spread of the Christian gospel we learn that the Church is the people of God who now carry on the mission of God in the world, through the power of God’s Spirit. We are part of the same story that Israel was called to be a part of, and the same mission that Adam and Eve were originally given: to live as God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule.
The Holy Spirit fills all Christian Believers
Jesus’ promise that he will send the Holy Spirit is fulfilled. Peter and th other disciples are praying together in Jerusalem when tongues of fire hover over them, and they are all filled with the Spirit. As this takes place, it seems we’re supposed to remember the Spirit of God hovering in Genesis 1, the pillar of fire in the Exodus, and the sound of the rushing wind as God entered Solomon’s Temple. As the disciples spill out into the streets talking about Jesus, the curse of Babel is lifted, and people from many nations hear the Christian Gospel, fulfilling that old promise to Abraham.
For your consideration: What do we learn about God’s purposes for the Christian community from Acts 1-2?
The early days of the Christian community in Jerusalem were marked by the Apostles’ teaching, prayer, rich fellowship, and common purpose (see Acts 2:42-47). But this early life was also framed by persecution from without and controversy within. This community was clearly a new expression of the holy people of God, marked by the presence of God among them— not unlike the people of God leaving Egypt in Exodus.
For your consideration: What picture of Jesus does the Christian Church portray to the people of Jerusalem in these early days?
Peter’s vision challenged all the important categories of his Jewish cultural upbringing. Clean and unclean, Jew and Gentile, were immutable categories for contemporary Jews, yet the Holy Spirit filled ‘unclean’ Gentiles. Here it is clearly demonstrated that the good news of Jesus is good news for all humanity.
For your consideration: What barriers do you we tend to hold up against the work of the Spirit today?
The Message of Salvation declared by Jesus’ Apostles
Jesus authorised a group of respected ‘delegates’ whom he sent out to declare the message of salvation through his crucifixion and resurrection. These men were called Apostles and the book of Acts records their courageous work of planting churches from Jerusalem around to Rome, and many other places beside. Paul’s letters to the church he planted in the Greek city of Corinth provide us with rich insights into the gospel message being proclaimed by the apostles, as well as the sometime fractious relationship between the apostle and the local churches.
For your consideration: From the evidence embedded in this passage, how might we describe the methods used by Jesus’ apostles as they spread the gospel message? What do you think might be the issue underlying the various conflicts at Corinth?
As Paul continues to address the challenges at the Church in Corinth, the life and practices of the local church require reform. The Corinthians are all given gifts that are to be used on behalf of the people of God. The best way to express this is through the active expression of love. The Corinthians would have been familiar with the the idea of gifts, but culturally these were understood to be for the benefit of the gifted person, not others. Similarly, the metaphor of the body was common throughout the Roman world, but always to emphasise the some parts of the body were honourable and indispensable, while others were not.
For your consideration: In what ways does Paul call the Corinthians to reframe their views and practices of being Church together?
As the gospel message travelled from Jerusalem to all corners of the known world, the tensions of Christian freedom within a the legal framework of Judaism was like new wine in old wineskins— something had to break. The old practices and categories were challenged by the heart of Jesus’ teaching, and by the gospel itself.
For your consideration: What went wrong in the Galatian churches? What was Paul’s solution?
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he paints a wonderful picture of their part in the unfolding story of God’s work in his world. The church is ‘with Christ’ and ‘in Christ’ with a purpose and impact in this world, as well as in worlds and realms unseen.
For your consideration: What do we learn for this passage about the identity and calling of the church?