Episcopal Church in Minnesota
 
Environmental Stewardship Commission
(MEESC)
Lectionary Reflection
All Years, First Sunday After Christmas, New Testament Lesson

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
 
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.
 
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
 
Reflection on Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7:
by the Rev John Gibbs
 
Galatians 4:4-7 is Paul's "extreme concentration on the basic meaning of Jesus' life" [J. Becker, Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles (WJKP, 1993), p. 120]. Here is a great contrast to the Gospels emphasis on teachings and deeds, all within a chronological framework. "The Pauline churches are not supposed to memorize and actualize Jesus'  sayings but practice being crucified with him." Assuming Jesus' crucifixion, Paul's focus is on our being, as full "heirs" of God, conformed to the cruciform meaning of Jesus' life.
 
If this cruciform lifestyle is our first clue to an environmental ethics, the second comes in the famous phrase "in the fullness of time" (to pleroma tou chronou). That expression points to an ongoing process (chronos) that is dynamic and cosmic in scope, for it is an extended "time" that is actively bringing the Creator's purpose to fulfilment.  The term "fullness" (pleroma) designates not a static state of being but the activity of filling full the whole creative process by which God brought the cosmos into being and sustains it in "continuous creation."
 
Further, if God "sent forth God's Son" from Jesus' pre-existent state, then the cosmic context is thereby stated. Already in 1:4 Paul had set the stage of the Two Ages, "the evil age" implying that other age that the coming of God's Son would inaugurate.. That cosmic context comes to the fore in such Pauline passages as Romans 5:12-21 (Adam/Christ analogy); Romans 8:19-23, 38-39 (the creation waits with eager longing, has been groaning with labor pains, is united with Christians in awaiting its fulfilment, and is everywhere subject to "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"); I Corinthians 8:6 (which quotes a pre-Pauline earliest Christian confession of faith); the two epistolary Christological Hymns (Philip 2:5-12 and Ephesians 1:3-10, cf. "a plan for the fullness of time").
 
Accordingly, everything Paul says about "justification by faith" is set within the cosmic context of God's purpose for the whole creation. In complete contrast to the subjective interiorization of our Christian life in evangelical and Fundamentalist concentration on salvation of the individual sinner, the Apostle Paul always sees the import for all the world of Christians' living together a life that is in line with ("justified") God's great purpose for the whole creation.
 
The Son was not sent into the world to rescue some souls out of this world, but rather to work through God=92s Church for the sake of the whole creation. It's never enough to be saved, for we are being saved to serve, and we serve God by caring for both neighbor and world. It's not my self-fulfillment or yours that is at stake, but "the fullness of time," no less.
 
In the wake of Christmas, then, the household of faith is freed from its self-preoccupations as it is sent forth into the world to participate in that grand process by which God works throughout Creation toward the energetic "fullness of time."
 



John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection in 1998.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

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