My wife Val always insists on Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Anything else just won’t do.Once I surreptitiously filled an empty Heinz bottle with some new, cheaper stuff and just left it there on the shelf,but she wasn’t fooled. “What IS this?” she exclaimed, and the game was up.
It’s the same when restaurants try to switch Pepsi for Coke, or that street trader who got caught selling “Ronex Watches” (“Well, it’s like Rolex). The point is, inferior brands just will not do.
But why won’t they do? Well, as far as tomato sauce goes (according to Val, at least), it’s a question of taste. This is the good stuff and anything else just won’t match up. And if you’re talking about Ronex watches, then presumably the question is whether or not they are as good and as efficient as the article whose name they have plagiarized.
Or are they just a pale imitation of the real thing? They may look similar but they taste different (or break down more easily!).
But when you come to think about the way you live before God, the question of inferior brands suddenly takes on a whole new importance.
Often, listening to someone talking about why they don’t believe in God, I get the feeling that they have “bought an inferior brand” (so to speak), and the God they are describing is tasteless or useless. A cheap, gaudy imitation.
And I often feel like responding: “Well, I don’t believe in that God either.”
Imagine spending all your life drinking Tesco Family Value coffee granules (No offence, fellas, but…), and then someone introduces you to a rich Java. Your nose pricks up its ears as the beans are ground, and you start salivating as the rich brown liquid drips into the pot…. The cup is handed to you.
“This is coffee?” you ask in astonishment.
“This is REAL coffee.” comes the answer.
And with an amazed surprise you realise that you’ve been conned, that you’ve settled for less for far too long.
But what about the other way round? What if -having tasted the real stuff- you then return to the imitation? How could such a thing happen? It’s almost unaccountable. But sometimes people get duped by peer pressure, or perhaps the Real Thing isn’t available (in this restaurant) so they just make do. Or perhaps they finally decide that the quality item that they prefer is just too expensive.
Paul saw the Gospel planted in Galatia (what we would call Turkey), and had witnessed first hand the changed lives and the radical sense of God in the lives of the new believers. But then, a little later, he discovered that some different ideas had crept in, and that as far as he was concerned, they had “exchanged the truth for a lie,” or the real thing for a forgery. He was astonished and very concerned.
Because this was no longer a matter of personal taste or choice or economy, but of efficacy. This stuff doesn’t work!
It’s as if you were seriously ill with cancer, and the medication which could save you was exchanged for sugar water. It may look approximately the same and be easier to take into your system but it won’t do you any good.
And Paul was furious.
“I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no-message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
It’s fighting talk, isn’t it? But Paul was fighting for the truth and for the people that he’d seen come to faith in Christ. And the Greek word he uses for “turned traitor” –metatithesthe- is present tense. That is to say, this is a process which is still going on as the letter is being written.There’s still a chance of addressing the issue.
I guess there’s always a sense in which we often settle for less than the best, and God urges us to reach for “excellence” in our relationship with Him, to aim higher, go deeper, live more purposively…
And it’s absolutely true: God has more for you.
But the word from Galatians 1 is not really about settling for inferior brands but of losing your grip on what you once had. There was an old hymn that we used to sing with the line “Where is that blessedness I knew when first I knew the Lord?” And that was John’s word to the church at Ephesus: “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Lord, help me not to settle for less than all that you have for me. Thank you that I live in the present tense where things can change. Help me to know and stick to the truth of the Gospel and to accept no substitute.
In Jesus’ name.