A Christian Ethic
In this past Sunday’s sermon, I introduced to you the concept that part of Paul’s mission was to help his Gentile converts discover a new ethic in which to live; one that would be distinctly Christian.
In the past, Jews were noticeable by their outward behavior- particularly as it related to the law. Unlike their Gentile counterparts, they practiced circumcision. They did not work on Sunday. They refrained from eating various foods. They celebrated certain feasts. If you were a faithful Jew, it was hard not to be recognized within your community. In Thessalonica, Paul was helping these new believers find their identity- not in the law- but in the person of Christ. Just like the Jews, Christians should be identifiable by their practices: first for their love for Christ and second for their love for others. Their lifestyles and their actions should point to Christ who saved them, not the law.
This teaching to the Thessalonians was not unique; it appears in all of Paul’s letters. For example, you have this instruction to the church at Ephesus. Ephesians 4:17-24 (ESV) 17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.’ Don’t miss Paul’s point by focusing on what the Gentile believers had to give up. Paul wasn’t being narrow minded or bigoted toward gentiles. His point in providing this new ethic was to make much of Christ. After these verses, within the next three chapters, Paul provides a list of helpful ways to live that reflect Christ-like behaviour that would mark them different from the rest of the Gentile community.
In Galatia, Paul would have to approach the problem from the opposite side of the spectrum. The new Gentile converts in that area were seeking to find their identity in the law. Paul had to remind them: the law doesn’t save. Only faith in Christ will save. Galatians 5:6 (ESV) ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.’ The point of this new way of living was that the believer would be identified as belonging to Christ. Just like the Jews were noticed by their adherence to the law, Christians would be noticed by their desire to be like their loving savior.
So the question is, how do you look in your community? Would others notice that you belong to Christ? Could they tell you are different because of Jesus? Would they think you are trusting upon Him or would they think that you are relying upon rules to live by? What marks you as being different by knowing Jesus?