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Perhaps, you have heard the word “stigma” used in various phrases, such as, “Alcoholism carries a certain social stigmawith it.” Or, “There is no longer the same stigmaattached to being divorced.” We use the word to mean that there is a negative mark, or a sense of disgrace and shame to be associated with the object to which we are referring. But, did you know that the word is also used in a positive sense? The word “stigma” is actually a Greek word found in the New Testament. Depending on the translation you use, it is sometimes translated as “scars, marks, brand, or brand-mark.” Paul used this word to describe a certain characteristic about himself, “for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,” (Galatians 6:17 – NKJV). Or, consider this rendering of the verse, “because I carry the scars of Jesus on my own body,” (ISV). What, exactly, is Paul saying here?
In the context of the verse, Paul is denouncing those false teachers that were claiming one must first become a Jew in order to become a Christian. Their reasoning was this, since Jesus was a Jew, who was circumcised under the law, and that Christianity came to the Jews first through the Jews, then everyone who desires to be a Christian must first become a Jew. It was a big issue for those legalistic Judaizers of Paul’s time. But, their true motives were not pure. Paul is writing to help Christians understand that what really matters is not what we outwardly do in keeping the law, such as those religious ceremonies, but what God does within us – making us a new creation (Acts 2:47; Romans 6:1-6). Those bodily marks, or scars do not make you a Christian. What makes you a child of God is what happens within your heart.
Most all of us have scars of some type on our bodies. We get them from accidents, surgeries, and even purposefully. We also get emotional scars when we experience heartache, trauma, or something similar. Scars serve as a reminder of a specific event within our personal history. Paul certainly had his share of bruises, injuries, and scars from all of his experiences and encounters (2 Corinthians 1:23-28). Jesus, Himself, bears the scars of His crucifixion in His hands, feet, and side (John 20:24-28). However, the “marks (scars) of the Lord Jesus” that Paul is referring to were not those scars similar to Jesus’ wounds, or even his own. Instead, these were marks that identified Paul as a follower of Jesus. In Paul’s time, slaves were branded upon their skin with the name of their master. The brand was a mark that showed ownership. In this passage, Paul is saying that the scars he received from the things he had suffered for Christ is a brand that identifies Jesus as his owner. Paul’s scars told a story, a story of an obedient servant. They were his stigma. In this case, it was more of a badge of honor, than a disgrace or shame.
What about you? Do you bear the marks, the scars, of our Lord in your life? Do you have the stigma of being an obedient servant to Jesus Christ? I pray you do! – TS