As we approach the New Year, perhaps you have found time to reflect upon God’s work in your life, to discern how God might be leading you in the coming year? If so, then you share in an important tradition that began with our Lord, whose life was marked by times of solitude, intimacy, and prayer in God’s presence alone. Scripture celebrates individuals who, like our Lord, emerge from solitude with God, renewed and equipped for significant service.
Consider the life of the apostle Paul. A zealous Pharisee who persecuted Christian converts, Paul, after his miraculous encounter with Jesus, went “immediately to Arabia,” (Gal. 1:17, NRSV). There scholars believe he listened to God and reflected upon his life as a Pharisee and his rebirth in Christ. Paul came to terms with his education in Torah and his encounter with the living Word—Christ Jesus. He saw how Jewish law prepared him to receive God’s grace through faith in Christ. Finally, he assessed the requirements of the Jewish priesthood (the first born, of a specific lineage and learning, a male without blemish, etc.) in order to embrace the new covenant and the priesthood of all believers which included Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, males and females. Ultimately, Paul emerged from his extended retreat to become one of the greatest theological architects of the church and the apostle to the non-Jewish world.
Saul the Pharisee had excelled in his observation of Jewish law, which held a very restrictive view of women’s spiritual leadership. Paul, the apostle, came to see that he, like women and gentiles, was also grafted into Christ and made a member of Christ’s new covenant community. He, like all believers, received gifts of the Spirit for service not based on gender, ethnicity, or class.
In the new covenant, Paul acknowledges that Christian baptism (rather than circumcision) was the outer expression of our new life in God. And baptism is open to men, women, Jews, Greeks, slaves, and free. In fact, baptismal fonts throughout the ancient world were frequently inscribed with Galatians 3:28 because it summarized the new life in Christ.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:27-29, TNIV).
Our baptism in Christ establishes peace between God and sinners, and our life in Christ yields unity and peace among the members of his body, the Church. To be “in Christ” is never simply a statement about one’s redemptive status. For our redemption directly influences our relationships to one another, as members of Christ’s body. We work with Christ to resist the sins of superiority, power, oppression, and domination that create inequities, divisions, and hierarchies between groups of people. Such divisions should not exist in the body of Christ. Christ came as a suffering servant who told his followers “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:26-28, TNIV).
Paul lived out the ideals he expressed in Galatians 3:28 and for this reason we find slaves, Gentiles, and women working beside Paul, spreading the gospel; serving as evangelists, apostles, teachers; and building and leading house churches in cities like Ephesus, Philippi, Cenchrea, Colossae, and Rome.
As we approach a new year, will you join CBE in that vital tradition of actively listening to God, reflecting upon how God might use each of us in the coming year? Let’s ask God to give us a new year filled with many opportunities to help Christians embrace the good news that in Christ we are one, and thus we share authority in the church as men and women in so far as we share in serving one another.
Will you join me in prayer? Will you also make a generous end-of-the-year contribution so CBE can continue reaching the world with the biblical foundations of gift-based rather than gender-based ministry?
We are indeed one in Christ and I am thankful to work beside you. Thank you for your partnership with CBE.
Wishing you and your family a blessed New Year!