“What a Difference a Preposition Makes” was a sermon preached by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson in conjunction with worship on the weekend of May 9, 2021 — Mother’s Day and the Sunday of Easter on the Church Calendar. It was based upon Galatians 1:13-17, 2:11-21.
What a Difference a Preposition Makes
Happy Mother’s Day! Today is a day on which we celebrate mothers, and mothering in all of its forms. It’s a tough day for some, especially those whose own mothers have died, or those who grew up without good mothering. Some people grew up with no mother at all; some grew up with abusive mothers; some grew up with mentally ill mothers; some with mothers who were emotionally distant; and some folks grew up with loving, caring mothers who made mistakes as all people do.
Many folks with painful or difficult mothering found mothering in other relationships, often forged on their own to fill that need. I will use the word mom to refer to all moms or mothering figures.
Moms take care of us, mostly while we are growing up – but often even when we’re all grown up. They care for our physical needs, our emotional needs, our intellectual needs, and our spiritual needs. They teach us right from wrong. They teach us how to be caring people. They guide us as we learn from scripture about God. They believe in us, even when we have made mistakes or are having a hard time believing in ourselves. Moms have faith in us.
Jesus has faith in us – perfect faith. In our reading today, in verse 16 of chapter 2 of Galatians, I want to call attention to one small word; I want us to notice what a difference a preposition makes. I will read this verse once the way that it is typically translated, and then I will read it again, changing only one work (scholars say that the Greek can be translated either way, and that grammatically there is no way to tell which one Paul had in mind).
Yet we know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And so we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ.
Yet we know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ. And so we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.
Both translations are theologically sound. But hearing it with the preposition “of” tunes our ears to hear the whole thing differently. Our Jesus has faith in us! My Jesus has faith in me! Your Jesus has faith in you! In fact, Jesus has both perfect faith in us and perfect love for us, a love that took him to the cross.
Folks, in my 55 years on the planet, this is the first time I have really heard those words with the preposition “of.” It might have been pointed out to me before, and it probably was, that the passage could be translated “the faith of Jesus,” instead of the more common “faith in Jesus,” but I am in wonder and awe about what a difference a preposition makes! I mean, I have always been aware that my faith in Jesus, just my faith, wasn’t enough… it was so frequently full of doubt. Primarily, I would think of my faith as being necessary but not sufficient to save me. I need God’s grace to fill the gap between my faltering faith and a perfect faith. But now, hearing this passage with the faith of Jesus justifying us, well, it really pulls it all together. It reminds me of a word from scripture which has become quite well known: “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
Jesus believes in us! Jesus helps us to believe in him. Jesus has faith in us – and perfect love for us. Here, another verse from scripture comes to mind: “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Throughout Jesus’ earthly walk, he frequently greeted his disciples by saying, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not fear.” “I am with you.” Jesus himself is the perfect love that casts out fear. Jesus himself is the one who has perfect faith in us and has justified and saved us through his death and resurrection.
So, when we begin to think and act as if we have done something to ensure our right relationship with God, or when we begin to act as though others need to do something to be right with God, we are out of place, out of sync with the Gospel.
Paul writes in today’s lesson that when he came to Antioch, he opposed Peter (Cephas) to his face. Why? Paul says that peter had been eating with Gentiles freely and abruptly stopped when James came. Paul says that Peter stopped “for fear of the circumcision faction,” and that Peter had also led others, even Barnabas, in this hypocrisy. Then Paul addresses Peter, before everyone, in a quote that likely goes through the end of our lesson today (even though in some translations the quotation stops before the final paragraph). Either way, we are hearing all of those words from Paul. The verse that we looked at earlier, with the preposition in/of, comes in this discourse.
Paul is making the point that no one will be justified by works of the law, and that we have died to the law, so that we might live to God. He says, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God [or: by the faith of the Son of God]; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
What a difference a preposition makes! There it is again! The life I now life in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God. Or by faith in the Son of God. Both are valid translations. It has just been such an eye-opening week for me spiritually to sit with what a difference that preposition makes. I hope it will be a place of spiritual awakening for you, too, as we realize, and praise God, that Jesus has faith in us. In us!
Here is a quote from a commentator whose writing I read this week, Paul Frederick:
“Faith becomes our badge of gospel belonging even as it rests upon something far more foundational – the infallible faithfulness of the crucified and risen Christ.”
May our faith in Jesus Christ continue to grow and bear fruit. May we know daily the joys of repentance and forgiveness. And may Jesus’ faith in us strengthen us and keep us in our daily walk, and unto eternal life.