On a first reading of this passage it can seem like we are being given a stiff dose of non-negotiable, orthodox belief and the urgent command to stick to it – or else! Sadly, down the centuries this has been a feature of many otherwise well-intentioned religious and political movements, for whom high-minded ideals end up becoming hard and fast rules and those who question them are labelled heretics or unacceptable deviants.
But look and listen more closely to Paul and you will discover that this not so for him. What prompts Paul’s strong words is not deviation from a strict set of party rules, rather it is a deliberate attempt by some to undermine the extraordinary gift of freedom in the Spirit, which lies at the heart of a Gospel of gracious forgiveness, by creating unnecessary hoops for new converts to jump through. From his own experience, Paul knows that we are confined neither by the inevitably dire consequences of our past actions, nor by rigid doctrines, rather, we are welcomed into a marvellously enabling relationship within God whom we meet in Jesus – a relationship which enables us to live fully and well and, as such, make our unique contribution with God’s Kingdom.
The challenge I hear in today’s reading is to make sure that in my relationships, in church, in all my work I strive to create a ‘hoop free zone’ in order that all whom I have dealings with are given their best chance to grow freely as the Spirit leads …. and enjoy those wonderful, life-enriching fruits which we’ll read about in a few chapters’ time!