Connections 06.23.2019: Christian Clothes

Galatians 3:19-29

Some people try to express their convictions and commitments through their clothing.

For example, folks wear shirts or hats that express a position on a political issue, that support a candidate, that indicate that they’re fans of a musical artist, or that show allegiance to a sports team.

Why, on some days you’ll find even me sporting an Atlanta Braves, Mercer Bears, or Georgia Bulldogs T-shirt.

Some Christians choose to express their devotion to Christ via their clothing or accessories. They might wear a Christian-themed shirt or Christian-themed jewelry. If we do so, we need to be careful not to display attitudes, make statements, or carry out actions that might negate the witness offered by our apparel. Wearing a cross while behaving selfishly, arrogantly, or spitefully isn’t a good look.

But we need to be careful to think, speak, and act in ways that offer effective witness to Jesus no matter what we’re wearing, don’t we?

When people were baptized in the early church, they were given a new white robe. That may be the image in Paul’s mind when he writes, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (v. 27).

But a new robe isn’t all he has in mind. He has a new way of life in mind. He is saying that in some sense, we become covered with and wrapped up in Christ.

I’m told that it can be embarrassing to show up at an event wearing the same outfit as another attendee. But Christians should be troubled if they show up not wearing the same thing as other Christians. There is only one Christ, and all Christians are clothed with him.

If we’re clothed with Christ, then our lives should reflect who Christ is. That means that we should exhibit his love, his mercy, and his grace in the ways we think, talk, and act. We should all reflect him because we are all clothed in him.

This doesn’t mean that we’ll all express Christ’s love, mercy, and grace in the same ways. Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). We are still who we are, but more importantly, we are all clothed with Christ. We all belong to him. He determines the ways we live our lives.

You will live out Christ’s love, mercy, and grace as you and I’ll live them out as me. I’ll live them out in ways you won’t and you’ll live them out in ways I won’t, but we’ll both live them out.

If you attend a college football game, you can easily tell by the clothes they wear which fans support which team. When I attend a game of my alma mater’s team the Mercer Bears, I wear my orange and black. And I don’t walk up to someone wearing the opposing team’s colors and say, “Go Bears!” I can tell by their garb whether they’re Mercer Bears supporters. Similarly, people can tell by our attitudes, words, and actions whether or not we’re clothed in Christ.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading tells the story of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac. One of the symptoms of the man’s illness was that he had long gone without wearing clothes. After Jesus cast the demons out of him, people found him “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind” (v. 35).

When we are clothed with Christ, he moves our minds, our hearts, our will, and our purpose toward being right. He moves them toward being aligned with God’s ways for us as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus reveal them to us. He helps us grow in bearing witness to him in the ways we love, serve, and help.

Discussion

  1. What does Paul say the role of the law was in God’s plan of salvation?
  2. What does it mean for us all to be “children of God through faith” (v. 26)?
  3. What other phrases might we use to say what Paul means when he says we are clothed in Christ?
  4. How can we display the unity that Paul says we have in Christ?

Reference Shelf

Four exegetical issues need to be considered before drawing conclusions from the logic of this passage. First, throughout this section the pronouns are disconcerting. In 3:23-25 the first person plural (“we” and “our”) is used; in 3:26-29 the second person plural (“you”); in 4:3-5 the first person plural (“we” and “us”) ; in 4:6 both the second person plural (“you”) and the first person plural (“our”); in 4:7 the second person singular (“you”); and in 4:8- 10 the second person plural (“you”). Some commentators draw a sharp line with the use of the pronouns contending that the “we” denotes the Jews and “you” the Gentiles. Thus in 3:23-25 when the topic is the restrictive but temporary role of the law, “we” is most natural for Paul, himself a Jew, to use, and in 3:26-29 the address (“you”) is directly to the Galatian readers (almost exclusively Gentiles).

On the one hand, this seems to be a valid judgment. The shift is made because one or the other group is most prominent in the argument and is singled out. On the other hand, it is clear that the law has its restrictive effect on Gentiles as well as Jews by its exclusiveness, by the split it creates between circumcision and uncircumcision. In 4:3 and 10 both groups (“we” and “you”) are enslaved under “the elemental spirits of the world”; in 3:13 both are redeemed from the curse of the law. None has priority over the other. Therefore, some parts of the argument may be more directly applicable to Jews than to Gentiles (or vice versa), but never to the exclusion of the other. The section focuses not on the discrimination between the two groups, but on their common plight—in bondage to the law and in redemption from the law.

A second exegetical issue has to do with the possible presence in 3:26-28 of a pre-Pauline baptismal formula. Comparisons with 1 Cor 12:13 and Col 3:11 reveal a similar use of the word “all” and a similar set of contrasts as found in 3:28, making it likely that all three texts represent versions of a liturgy that would have been used at baptismal celebrations in the early church (see Betz 1979, 181-185). If this is the case, then it may be that the Galatians were already familiar with the content of 3:26-28 as a part of their worshiping experience and that its significance is being recalled in the debate with the agitators. Here the liturgical formula brings the argument of chapter 3 to a critical point by denying any significance in the Christian community to the distinctions of race, social status, or gender.

Third, in connection with baptism the imagery of “clothing oneself” is used (3:27). It may have come readily to mind from the practice in the early church of disrobing before baptism and of taking a new garment after baptism. The imagery, however, is found in the Old Testament in numerous places, where Zion is urged to “put on strength” (Isa 52:1; 51:9) and the priests are to be “clothed with righteousness” and “with salvation” (Ps 132:9,16; cf. Isa 61:10). Here baptism entails being clothed “with Christ” (3:27), meaning that the one baptized takes on a Christ-formed life, a life shaped by the “one who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20).

A fourth exegetical issue surrounds the phrase “there is no longer male and female” in 3:28. This portion of the baptismal liturgy is unique to Galatians (i.e., it is not found in 1 Cor 12:13 or Col 3:11), and the use of “and” (instead of “nor”) breaks the parallelism with the other pairs in the verse. The expression no doubt reflects Gen 1:27 (“male and female he created them”), where it is immediately followed by the command, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” The association with procreation and fertility makes it difficult to understand the statement in Galatians (“there is no longer male and female”) as abolishing sexual differences, as is proposed in Gnostic writings (e.g., Gospel of Thomas 22, 114). In the new creation, men remain men, and women remain women. The categorization of the community by race, social status, and gender, leading to patriarchal hierarchies, no longer exists. The community now receives its constitutive identity from Christ.

Charles B. Cousar, Reading Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 66-67.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

*