I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
On a first reading of this passage it can seem like we are being given a stiff dose of non-negotiable, orthodox belief and the urgent command to stick to it – or else! Sadly, down the centuries this has been a feature of many otherwise well-intentioned religious and political movements, for whom high-minded ideals end up becoming hard and fast rules and those who question them are labelled heretics or unacceptable deviants.
But look and listen more closely to Paul and you will discover that this not so for him. What prompts Paul’s strong words is not deviation from a strict set of party rules, rather it is a deliberate attempt by some to undermine the extraordinary gift of freedom in the Spirit, which lies at the heart of a Gospel of gracious forgiveness, by creating unnecessary hoops for new converts to jump through. From his own experience, Paul knows that we are confined neither by the inevitably dire consequences of our past actions, nor by rigid doctrines, rather, we are welcomed into a marvellously enabling relationship within God whom we meet in Jesus – a relationship which enables us to live fully and well and, as such, make our unique contribution with God’s Kingdom.
The challenge I hear in today’s reading is to make sure that in my relationships, in church, in all my work I strive to create a ‘hoop free zone’ in order that all whom I have dealings with are given their best chance to grow freely as the Spirit leads …. and enjoy those wonderful, life-enriching fruits which we’ll read about in a few chapters’ time!
God of life and love, by your Spirit enable me to be always a creator and never a limiter of opportunity within the lives of all whom you entrust into my care. Amen.
The Rev’d Ian Fosten, Norwich Area URC, Team leader
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