After having read Paul’s arguments for the law, I started singing the lyrics to the old Temptations song, “War.” Only I modified the lyrics, “Law! What is it good for, absolutely nothing!” Of course, that just means that I was following along with Paul’s train of thought, and going right where he wanted his readers/listeners to go. After all of this arguments, we are left wondering exactly the same question that Paul starts this passage with: “Why then the law?” If the promise God made to Abraham supersedes the law, then why was there ever a compendium of rules and regulations? Why were they necessary, if the way to God could be found through faith alone?
The stark contrast between my beautiful weekend and the reality of Monday morning made me aware of how easy it is to lose the peaceful nature of those moments away from routine, and I wondered how beautiful it would be to experience those moments I experienced on the retreat in the normal routine of my life. I wondered if it would be possible to live in the mindset of the retreat in every moment.
What’s interesting here, is the word that Paul uses here to describe the Gentiles is ethnos (pl. ethne), meaning “a race, a nation” and implying any nation other than Israel. It is also the word from which we get the English word Ethnic. Generally, this word, in current usage, tends not to refer to other nations. Instead, it takes on the meaning more closely related to it’s original implied meaning of “anything other than Israel,” with the new implication being that anyone who is ethnic is not like us. It is usually uttered by those who are trying to make the distinction between themselves and others, often with the intention of separating themselves from those others; in short, it often has racist overtones, even among those who would call themselves believers. It would be more akin to Peter’s attempt to remove himself from the gentiles in Galatians 2:11-24, and less like Paul’s reminder that all are welcome in the family of God, if only they believe.