Friday, 25 July 2014
Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 1 Corinthians 7:19
The confusion that reigns over this verse in the minds of some is immense. Paul could not be clearer in the first half of the thought – “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.” For the believer in Christ, it makes absolutely no difference whether one is circumcised or not. As seen in a previous verse, almost the entire book of Galatians deals with this one subject which is used as the premier example of the Law of Moses, circumcision. It was given by God to Abraham as a sign to the covenant people and the mandate is repeated in Exodus and Leviticus. However, it served its purpose and was fulfilled in Christ.
Now whether one is a Jew who is circumcised, or a Gentile who is not, there is no difference between the two. The circumcision has no bearing at all on their status before God because a believer in Christ is circumcised in the heart (Romans 2:29). The external rite is fulfilled and thus set aside in Christ. However, cults, aberrant teachers, and those who run ahead without knowledge still mandate this rite and thus promote a false gospel. As noted, it could not be clearer, and yet the waters get muddied.
And this leads to the second half of the verse which can likewise become muddied, both by those who mandate circumcision, or even by those who understand circumcision is no longer required. Paul says that “keeping the commandments of God is what matters.” The obvious connection of “the commandments of God” to “circumcision” should be made. When was circumcision mandated? Under the Law of Moses! Is circumcision still required? No! Therefore, “keeping the commandments of God” cannot be speaking of the Law of Moses or any part of it!
This is the force and intent of Paul’s words now and is (as noted above) the meaning and purpose behind his words in Galatians. If circumcision is used as a benchmark of the law, and circumcision is set aside in Christ, then all of the precepts of the Law of Moses are set aside in Christ. This is stated explicitly in Hebrews 7, 8, and 10, and both explicitly and implicitly elsewhere. It is:
1) Annulled (Hebrews 7:18)
2) Obsolete (Hebrews 8:13)
3) Taken away (Hebrews 10:9)
4) Wiped out, taken out of the way, and nailed to the cross (Colossian 2:14)
5) Etc. elsewhere in multiple statements, explicitly and implicitly
So what are “the commandments of God” which Paul is speaking of? They are found in Jesus’ words which are directed to believers after the cross, not those directed to Israel under the law. The are also found in the prescriptive verses of the book of Acts which make up a very small portion of the book, possibly no more than five percent of it. And finally, they are found in the New Testament epistles. These, in particular, are doctrine for the church based on the fulfillment of the Law of Moses by Christ.
To reinsert the law, or to pick and choose portions of the law – such as mandating circumcision, no eating pork, or observing a Sabbath, etc, is to set aside the grace of Christ and is “another gospel” and thus heresy. We must trust that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and that His work is sufficient to save us, wholly and entirely. And yet, we must also understand that His work in salvation does not give us license to sin by ignoring prescriptive elements of the New Testament. For example, women who preach violate New Testament law based on Paul’s words to those in Corinth and also his words to Timothy. This is an example of what Paul is referring to here. It is a willful disobedience of what God has shown He expects of New Testament believers.
Life application: If you allow yourself to be circumcised in an attempt to meet the standards of the law, the Bible says that you have “set aside” the grace of Christ and have become a debtor to the whole law. As no one can fulfill the law, it is a self-condemning act. This is true with any precept of the law fulfilled by Christ. Don’t be led astray by a false teacher who boasts in works of the flesh and negates the glorious work of Jesus Christ!
Glorious God Almighty! The power and the marvel that You display in the heavens is beyond imagination. Pulsars and quasars put out more energy in a moment than we could mentally comprehend in a lifetime. The forces of gravity are consistent and they hold the universe together in a way which allows all things to continue as they should. And yet, despite the unimaginable power of these things, You tend to our hearts and needs as if we were the sole apple of Your eye. How great is Your love. How wondrous is Your glory! Amen.