Forward this issue to a Friend 

Join Our Mailing List Like us on Facebook
Psalm 88

 

O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you. Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness. (ESV)

The Highest Christian Virtue

Tuesday after Pentecost 13

9 September 2014

Paul had a love-hate relationship with the Galatians. He was really angry at them for their acceptance of the legalistic doctrine of the Judaizers. His letter to them was full of harsh invective, but also contained kind reminiscences and passionate invitations to renewed faithfulness to the gospel. One of the ways the apostle recalled them to faithfulness was by reminding them that they had accepted him and his preaching even in the contemptible and weakened state in which he came to them. He did not fit the mold of the itinerant preacher or philosopher of the ancient world. Such people came with a powerful demeanor and an appearance of wisdom. Paul came with sickly demeanor and the appearance of weakness. Yet, the Galatians loved him as though he were Christ Jesus Himself come among them. They were not put off by his apparent weakness and lack of worldly wisdom. They would gladly have given Paul anything at all if it would have helped him.

 

After chiding them harshly for their willingness to be misled, he woos them back to the evangelical fold by pointing to and lauding their kindness to him in his weakness. They accepted him in his weakness because he was a sign of the cross itself in his own person. For the cross is always seen to be a contemptible and weak doctrine by the worldly wise. The world thinks it enormously foolish to trust and believe in someone who was not powerful enough to rescue Himself from death, but submits to humiliation and crucifixion. But this submission is the very sign of the church's faith and life. She seeks to be shaped into the cross in her life and work. The cross is not a clunky add-on, but the center of our lives as Christians. This is why Paul lauded the willingness of the Galatians to accept him in his weakened state as though he were Christ Himself. Their actions and demeanor toward him showed their belief and confidence in the suffering Servant.

 

Notice too that Paul calls the Galatians back to faithfulness by setting before them the honor of their previous acceptance of him in his weakness. Luther calls this the most Christian virtue. He means that it has its source in the cross and that it is the root and support of every other virtue. The virtue that does not arise from the cross is in no way a Christian virtue; even as valuable as such virtue might be in the eyes of the world. No, this is the foundation of every good work for us Christians. We are willing under the cross to suffer the ridicule of the world and the loss of our public reputation for the sake of the cross. We will live cheerfully and with transcendent joy, though the world mocks us. We are glad to give our help, even if that help impoverishes us before others. We are glad to impart the divine wisdom of the cross, though the world considers it foolish and us with it. The church along with the apostle should praise and honor to the highest heavens such virtue exhibited by those who will suffer all for the sake of others. Praise of the highest Christian virtue is the call to continued faithfulness.

 

Martin Luther

 

"Human reason is easily offended by the vile shapes of the cross. It judges insane those who want to comfort, help, and care for others, or who boast about their great riches, righteousness, strength, victory over sin, death, and every evil, and about their joy, salvation, and eternal life, all while these same people are needy, weak, troubled, and despised, and are mistreated and killed as the most noxious enemies of the state and of religion, not by the rabble but by people of quality in both the political and the ecclesiastical realms. They consider themselves to have done God the greatest service when they have done this. And so when they promise eternal blessings to others while they themselves are perishing so miserably in the sight of the world, they are ridiculed and forced to hear: 'Physician, heal yourself' (Lk 4:23)! This is the source of the complaints throughout the Psalms: 'I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people' (Ps 22:6). 'Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help' (Ps 22:11).

 

"Therefore it is really a magnificent commendation of and praise for the Galatians that they were not offended by Paul's weakness and trial but received him as an angel of God, indeed as Christ Jesus. It is a great and outstanding virtue to listen to an apostle. But it is a greater and truly Christian virtue to listen to one who was as miserable, weak, and contemptible as Paul here admits that he was among the Galatians, and to receive such a one as an angel from heaven and to hold him in such honor as though he were Christ Jesus, without being offended by his many and great weaknesses. In these words, therefore, Paul greatly praises the virtue of the Galatians, saying that it will be with him forever and is so pleasing to him that he wants everyone to know about it."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.14
 
Prayer

Lord Christ, the power and strength of Your church is the sign of Your weakness. Grant that we might seek the weakness of Your cross and extol in the lives of those whom You have called into Your kingdom. Amen.

 

For Kim Cheng, as she recover from surgery for cancer, that the Lord would grant her healing and a full recovery

 

For the pastors of the Texas District as they praise the highest Christian virtue, that they would extol the cross of Christ

 

For the faculty and staff of Concordia University Texas, that they would be a true community of teachers and scholars
Art: Crucifixes  Uppsala Cathedral (medieval)

Find me on Facebook                                                                             © Scott R. Murray, 2014

 
Forward email



This email was sent to by smurray@mlchouston.org |  


Memorial Lutheran Church | 5800 Westheimer Rd. | Houston | TX | 77057