MESSAGE FOR APRIL 13, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 2:1-10

 

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"Freedom Fighters!"

MESSAGE FOR APRIL 13, 2008 FROM GALATIANS 2:1-10

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          This week, we return to our series of messages from the book of Galatians.  You’ll recall that the apostle Paul was greatly alarmed by what had been occurring in these newly planted churches in Galatia.  We know from this letter that Jewish false teachers who claimed to follow Christ had covertly infiltrated this largely Gentile church.  In a very short time, they had convinced many of the believers that the gospel Paul had taught them was an incomplete gospel.  They worked to persuade these churches that in order to be saved, they must not only believe the gospel of grace that Paul had preached to them, they must also be circumcised and keep the Old Testament law.  In other words, they taught that these Gentiles must first convert to Judaism before they could become genuine followers of Jesus.  Paul knew that all would be lost if these believers rejected the gospel of grace for a way of salvation that was dependent upon good works or attempts to obey the law.  This was a catastrophic shift away from what he taught them that destroyed the gospel of Jesus.  This teaching would have shipwrecked the faith of these new believers.  

What we have been studying in this letter of Galatians is Paul’s long distance response to this situation.  In it, he fights for the true gospel of grace and for the freedom in Christ these Galatians had been given through their faith in Jesus.  Part of Paul’s challenge was that the Judaizers, in their efforts to pervert the gospel, had also attacked his own credibility as an apostle.  Last time, when we studied the second half of chapter one, we saw that part of Paul’s task in this letter was to dismantle the lies these false teachers had spoken about him.  Then he would be in a better place to attack their wrong doctrine.  In that first major section of the letter we began last time, Paul begins a lengthy autobiographical outline of his apostolic ministry, telling of his first visit to Jerusalem and the apostles there.  His intention is to re-assert himself as a valid apostle who preached a complete gospel to these Galatians. 

          In the verses we will examine today, Paul continues this autobiographical narrative as he writes of a subsequent visit paid to the Jerusalem apostles.  Like many others, I believe Paul is referring to his second visit to Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 11.  The book of Acts and Paul’s letters record four visits by Paul to Jerusalem. The first is the one Paul mentions in Galatians 1:18-19 when he had been a believer only three years.  I believe the second visit is this one in chapter two where Acts tells us he and Barnabas took a gift to the poor believers in Jerusalem who had been ravaged by a famine.  His third visit was at the Jerusalem council when the church met to formally decide the questions he had earlier confronted here with the Gentile believers in Galatia.  The were questions like—“What does God required of all these Gentile in order for them to be saved?”  Finally, Paul visits Jerusalem a fourth time when he is arrested and sent off to Rome.  This visit he discusses here in chapter two comes more than a decade after his first visit to this city that was the early capital of Christendom.

This autobiographical section in chapter two broadly describes a fight for the gospel Paul had waged earlier against false teachers in Jerusalem.  He uses the account of that fight to re-establish his place as a credible spokesman for the gospel.  Because this is not only Paul’s fight, but one we must also wage, the major truth we want to stress and which is supported by all these autobiographical details is—the fight for our freedom in Christ supplied through the gospel must be waged on many fronts. 

          He writes of this second visit beginning with Galatians 2:1 and says, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  2I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.  3But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.  4Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  6And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.  7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised  8(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles),  9and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”

That is Paul’s account of his battle for the truth of the gospel in this second visit to Jerusalem.  Through it, he uses truth to tear down the lies about himself and his ministry the false teachers in Galatia had carefully spread about him.  The main weapon we use in our fight for spiritual freedom is the truth—truth that is proclaimed—truth that is prayed—truth that is believed and truth that is lived out by the power of God.  I see three truth fronts in these verses.  On these fronts, Paul wages his battle for the liberation of these Galatian churches that had been enslaved by false teaching.  The first truth front we could call the front to re-establish Paul’s personal integrity in the gospel.  The Judaizers had labored to convince the Galatians that Paul was simply a mimic of the “real apostles,” a phony who simply repeated what he had heard from the Jerusalem pillar apostles.  They propagated the lie that any visit Paul made to Jerusalem would have either been to rub shoulders with the “real apostles” in the hope that something good would wear off on him or worse, that he had visited the Jerusalem apostles at their request so they could scrutinize this upstart preacher to the Gentiles.

Paul labors this point because believers have a need to know that their spiritual leaders are genuine.  That is, that they own and earnestly seek to live out what they teach.  They are not simply ventriloquist dolls who woodenly repeat what they have read in a book or commentary.  The Judaizers had painted that picture of the apostle Paul.  In response, in verses one and two he asserts his complete and independent ownership of the message of the gospel.  He says, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel I had proclaimed before the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.  Notice three truths here Paul stresses to assert his independent ownership of the gospel.  First, he had waited a long time to return to Jerusalem to see these church leaders.  If Paul was so dependent on these apostles in Jerusalem, he had a curious way of showing it.  He waited more than a decade to “check in” with the apostles in Jerusalem.  His point in mentioning this time lag between visits is to smash the lie that there was a spiritual umbilical cord stretching between him and the Jerusalem “pillar” apostles—James, Peter and John.  That was evidently what the Judaizers had been claiming about Paul.

Paul’s response communicates that he was simply not dependent upon these Jerusalem apostles.  Second, he supports his independence from Jerusalem by stressing that his trip there was not rooted in his own sense of need, nor was he being reeled in by the other apostles in Jerusalem.  He made this trip to Jerusalem in response to a revelation from Jesus.  He says he “went up because of a revelation.  Just as Paul’s conversion and call to apostleship had been a personal matter between him and the Lord Jesus, so too was this second trip to Jerusalem.  Third, Paul works to deflate the inflated super-hero status the false teachers had given the Jerusalem apostles. You may have noticed that four times Paul refers to these Jerusalem apostles in ways that seem to diminish their stature.  In verse two he says they were those who “seemed influential.”  In verse six, he uses that same phrase twice more.  In verse nine he says these apostles “seemed to be pillars.”  He also reminds the Galatians in that context in verse six that “God shows no partiality” or “God has no favorites” and he clearly directs that toward the Jerusalem apostles. 

Why would Paul refer that way to those who he knew to be genuine apostles?  He certainly wasn’t being disrespectful, neither was he resentful of their place in Christ’s church.  He was not tearing them down to make himself look better.  That’s not his tone.  What he is doing here is trying to help the Galatians see that these apostles in Jerusalem were not super-heroes, as the Judaizers had made them appear them to be.  An important element of the deception of these Judaizers was to place the apostles on a very high pedestal. They didn’t do that out of love or respect for these men but because, after having placed these apostles in Jerusalem on that pedestal, they would then identify themselves completely with them. “They teach just what we teach.  If you elevate someone on a pedestal and then place yourself up there with them in some way, you are ultimately just elevating yourself.  That’s what the false teachers were doing.  Paul counters that for these Galatians by referring to these Jerusalem apostles in more measured terms like “those who seemed influential.”  In the context, he is saying that although the apostles were chosen for a unique role, God had no more love for them than for anyone else, like Paul.  Once he puts the apostles in their proper place, it is easier for him to put these false teachers in theirs’.  That’s his motivation.

He says in verse two that his reason for this private meeting with these apostles was, “in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.”  We know that Paul is not saying, “I wanted these men to examine me to expose any mistakes in my preaching.”  He’s not like Apollos, another first century preacher who needed coaching from Priscilla and Aquilla to “explain to him the way of God more accurately.”  If that had been the case with Paul, he would never have waited so long for this instruction.  He had been preaching he gospel for more than ten years.  No one was more burdened for doctrinal accuracy than Paul, and he would never have delayed any necessary further instruction.  His motivation here is more complex.  Think about it--he had been ministering to these Gentiles for quite some time and was seeing the fruit of many new converts. 

As the apostle to the Gentiles, he knew that it would have been a disaster for the church if his converts were not embraced as genuine brothers and sisters by the predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem, which was the “mother church” of Christendom.  Christ is not divided (1 Cor 1:13) and neither should his church be.  He is probably checking in with these apostles to the Jews to ensure that his converts who had believed the gospel would be accepted as the genuine article by these leaders of the Jewish wing of the church.  If they had refused to do that, then Paul’s work among the Gentiles would have been in vain because they would not be recognized by the mother church in Jerusalem and as Jesus says,  A house divided cannot stand.”

A second front on which Paul wages his battle for the liberation of these Galatian believers is the front to vindicate the grace of God in the gospel.  Paul says in verse one that when he took this trip to Jerusalem he brought Titus along with him.  That decision was no accident—it was strategic.  Titus, who Paul describes as being like a son to him in Titus 1:4, was undoubtedly a powerful example of what God’s life-changing grace through the gospel can do in a Gentile.  He brings Titus along as “exhibit A” of what God was doing through the gospel among the Gentiles.  As a Greek, Titus was uncircumcised.  In verses three through five, Paul takes a bit of a side trip to recount a story of a battle for grace waged in Jerusalem between himself and the same kind of false teachers as those plaguing the Galatians.  His point is to magnify the glory of the gospel of grace as seen in the case of Titus to these Galatians living under the law.  Paul relates that this Gentile, in the face of the false teacher’s strongest arguments that he be circumcised, did not feel at all compelled to do so.  It was a classic battle of grace versus law and the battleground was Titus.  In that contest, grace prevailed.  Unlike these enslaved Galatians, Titus never yielded to the temptation to give away his freedom through the gospel.  Titus refused to become a Jew in order to be recognized as a Christian.

Notice Paul’s intensity here in verse five.  He knows how utterly destructive to the gospel is the false claim that in order to be saved you must be circumcised.  In the face of this opposition from the false teachers he says, “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment,…”  Some might wonder why Paul digs in his heels so deeply on the question of circumcision.  After all, (it might be argued) it’s just a ritual.  Not in this context it isn’t.  Paul was fighting for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone-apart from works of the law.  To teach that circumcision is necessary for salvation destroys the gospel of grace.  In this context, this argument is not about a minor surgical procedure, it’s about mixing grace and law and that foul mixture will never save anyone.  The motive Paul gives for not caving in on this matter is astonishing.  He says he would not yield on this point, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”   Paul is saying that if he had yielded to the arguments of these false teachers and wrongly had Titus circumcised in order for him to be made right with God, he would have had no gospel to present to the Galatians. 

This one incident with Titus had titanic implications for the rest of church history.  It was, along with countless other moments in church history, an instance where, if the wrong decision had been made, the gospel of Jesus Christ could have been lost.  That’s how important it is to believe and preach and live out that what saves a person is faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus plus NOTHING!  Paul says in 1:7, anything different than that is not the gospel.  There are many matters of secondary importance where we can believe wrong things and still be saved.  Being wrong on issues like spiritual gifts or the sovereignty of God in salvation will not keep anyone out of heaven. But if you add anything to the one requirement of faith to the gospel, that is spiritually lethal for an individual and a church.

Paul uses this story of Titus to illustrate how foolish the Galatians had been to be taken in by this same kind of false teachers as they sowed their false gospel among them.  Paul point, which he uses the case of Titus to illustrate, is that just as he did not give an inch to the false teachers on this point and neither should they.  He also implies a parallel between their false teachers and these phonies in Jerusalem who were “false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out or freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery.  These are not well-intentioned believers.  These are false teachers who are stealthy slaver masters.  They never just come into a fellowship accustomed to sound teaching and begin openly contradicting what has been taught from the Scriptures.  No, they slip in and form relationships, building bonds of trust with the flock. 

They gain a loyal following of people who will later defend them in the event they are confronted by the leadership for their distortions—“they’re such nice people.”  As they are increasingly accepted by the body, they begin their subtle twisting.  In their communication of Biblical teaching, they use many of the same words as the Bible, but unknown to others, they ascribe different meanings to these words.  They begin like the Judaizers in Galatia did--by making negative comments about the leadership to members of the body, gradually undermining trust.  They tend to target people who already are harboring some resentment toward the leaders and they build on that foundation of sin the person has already laid for them.

False teachers cannot prevail in the light of truth so they move in the darkness of deception and half truth, gradually undermining those who teach the truth.  This is the way the cults work and this is the way false teaching makes its way into an orthodox church. Paul warns the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  These people who end up being loved by many believers are in Paul’s words “fierce wolves…speaking twisted things.” 

A third and final front on which Paul wages his battle for the liberation of these Galatian believers is the front to assert his peer-relationship with the Jerusalem apostles.  This is his chief aim in verses 7-10.  The false teachers had placed Paul and these other apostles on very different levels of authority.  Paul argues that they are in fact his peers, laboring together in the gospel as his fellow apostles.  He grounds that argument in three truths.  In verse six he says his message is identical with the apostles’ message.  He says, “…those who seemed influential added nothing to me.” One commentator puts it this way, “Paul’s law-free gospel was fully accepted and endorsed by the other apostles [Fung, Galatians].  As James, Peter and John listened to what Paul taught, they in essence said, “That’s just what we teach.”  Second, he says in verses seven through nine that the source of his apostolic call and anointing is identical with the apostles’.  He says, “When they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave me the right had of fellowship to Barnabas and me…

Paul had been entrusted—that’s a passive verb—God entrusted him with the gospel to the uncircumcised just as God had entrusted Peter with the gospel to the Jews.  This was God’s work and the relationship between Peter and Paul is not mentor to disciple, it was apostle to apostle—peers at work together for the gospel.  He had also been called and anointed by God to preach the gospel.  The apostles recognized this as “they perceived the grace that was given to me.  The same God who gave the grace of apostleship to Peter and the others had also given it to Paul.  Another way in which these men were peers was in their identical concern for compassion and unity within the church.  This is what verse ten means when Paul says of these apostles, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”  The historical context is important here.  At this time, we know from Acts and Paul’s other letters that during this period of history famines plagued the people living in and around Jerusalem.  There were many poor believers in this city and this was a real concern to these Jewish apostles who lived in or near Jerusalem.  Members of their flock were in danger of starving and they needed outside assistance.

They present this need to Paul who carried in his heart these same concerns toward the poor in Jerusalem.  In both First and Second Corinthians Paul refers to the collection he is taking up to send to the suffering church in Jerusalem.  A concern for the poor is embedded in the DNA of the church of Jesus Christ.  This is an expression of the heart of Jesus.  He came “to proclaim good news to the poor.”  That means both spiritually and materially poor.  As a follower and apostle of Christ, Paul reflected that concern for the poor.  As apostle to the Gentiles, this also provided him with a profound way to unify the Jewish and Gentile wings of the church.  It would have been much more difficult for the Jewish believers to spurn what God was doing within the Gentile church because the Gentile church was being used of God to keep them alive.  Likewise, it would have made it that much harder for the Gentiles to feel detached from the Jerusalem church since they were sacrificially giving to help their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.  That’s the gist of Paul’s argument in 2:1-10.

In closing, let me give one point of application from these verses.  This text reminds us that we too must fight for spiritual freedom on many fronts.  Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”  That’s even more true of our spiritual freedom and we must be vigilant on at least three fronts—the world, our sinful flesh and the devil.  The enemy of our souls has not changed his strategy.  Perhaps the quickest way for him to suck the life out of any believer or church is to influence them to follow a performance based gospel of works.  Just because we have the books of Romans and Galatians does not render us impervious to the same attack on our freedom that withered these Galatian churches. We must be on guard against his lies that plunder our liberty and steal our joy.  In addition to the devil’s lies, our sinful flesh hates living by faith in Christ’s righteousness.  We must understand this.  The life of faith does not at all come naturally to our flesh.  It wars against it every step of the way.  Our flesh instead craves the spiritual independence found in trying to be pleasing to God by doing good things for him.  Our flesh would much rather strive to please God through our own efforts, than trust in Christ alone and his finished work to make us pleasing to God.  Finally, this world we live in gives us zero encouragement to trust in Christ’s righteousness to make us acceptable to God.  The world almost never encourages us here—“it’s performance and striving and working your butt off that gets you ahead in this world, pal.” That performance-based value system wars against our need to abandon all trust in our own performance and instead depend totally on the life and death of Jesus.

This opposition to trusting in Christ alone is so subtle at times.  For instance, on a certain day, we don’t have a quiet time, or maybe we don’t set aside any time for prayer.  As the day goes on, we feel a sense of emptiness and our flesh or the devil takes that feeling and interprets it this way, “The reason you feel empty is because you didn’t read your Bible and that means you are no longer pleasing to God—you need to do better tomorrow so that God will love you more.”  We not only let our feelings dictate our thinking (which is wrong in the first place), but we allow a false interpretation of those feelings dictate our perceived status with God.  We should instead by faith trust in what Jesus did for us through his sinless life and his atoning death.  Perhaps we sin a very noticeable sin—maybe we get caught in a lie.  It’s impossible for us to deny it.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of this and if we are led by the Spirit, we confess our sin to those we lied to.  But then, we begin to think that in order to be forgiven, we need to spend some time beating ourselves up so that we will feel sufficiently sorry for our sin.  Instead of trusting in Christ’s blood to cleanse us and by faith rejoicing in our spiritual birthright, we think our own self-condemnation is necessary for full atonement.

That’s a false gospel, beloved.  That’s adding works to the one requirement of faith to be forgiven.  We must learn to war against those lies on many fronts in order to walk in the victory of freedom in Christ.  May God give us the grace to believe the gospel through the vigilance required for the fight of faith.

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