Gospel Passion from Awkward Texts

As a youth pastor, I have the joy of working with students in what many have called, “the awkward years.” With this work come plenty of awkward experiences. One such experience came when I decided to stop by the house of one of my students. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by the student’s mother who called to the back room, “Honey, Nick is here to see you!”

The response was a less than enthusiastic, slightly annoyed, “Nick who?” I foresaw that this response would lead to an awkward situation once my identity became known, so I attempted to head off the awkwardness by jumping around the corner, pointing to my face, and saying “It’s this Nick!”

Upon doing so, I realized that the student I had come to visit, a middle school girl, was still in her pajamas. One look at her face revealed her horror that “this Nick” had been allowed into her home while she was in this state. To make matters worse, her mother immediately walked out the back door, leaving us alone.

As I sat down in my chair, this student shot out of hers, rushed to where her mom had just left the room, and yelled out the door, “Mom! Mom! Where are you going?” When no reply came, she slowly turned and gave me a look that suggested she was trying to decide whether to run screaming out the back door or run screaming up the stairs. Before she could act on these impulses, I asked her a string of questions in as casual a tone as possible, which she answered until her mother returned and she permanently excused herself from my presence.

While I try my best to diffuse the awkward situations that naturally arise in youth ministry, there are some situations that just can’t be avoided. Like when the passage you’re studying in youth group has the word “emasculate” in it. I found myself in this scenario a few weeks ago as I was preaching through Galatians and we arrived at Galatians 5:12 where Paul says, “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!”

Once I had explained that emasculate probably means castrate, and that castrate means to cut off one’s testicles, and then waited for the moans and giggles to settle down, I had the opportunity to expound from this awkward text Paul’s passion for the gospel. This verse, as awkward as it is, highlights Paul’s love for the Galatian church and longing to protect them from anyone who might take their Christian freedom from them. In fact, his passion is so great that he wishes that those who were leading the Galatians back into the slavery of works righteousness might castrate themselves and thus cut themselves off from the Galatian gathering of God’s people (see Deut. 23:1).

This text came home to me when Jehovah’s Witnesses visited our street. For those who aren’t familiar, Jehovah’s witnesses teach a similar slavery to works righteousness that Paul’s opponents in Galatia had taught. And here they were, on my street, seeking to lead me and my neighbors into their own form of slavery.

My passions were stoked when I recalled that four days earlier we had visited these same homes, singing carols and inviting our neighbors to hear the good news of Christian freedom in Christ during the Christmas concert. My prayer for our church is that we would all share Paul’s passion for Christian freedom, which is the freedom to receive our salvation through grace, and that we would guard the church from those who might lead us into the slavery of works righteousness.