Summary: secong in a series on Galatians
Two weeks ago we started looking at the book of Galatians and we saw the problems that Paul was having with a group of Jewish believers, called Judaisers, who sincerely believed that the laws of Jewish tradition had to be observed because the cross was not enough to save someone from their sins. We saw that Paul wanted those who tried to pervert, change or add to the Gospel condemned to eternal damnation! We applied it to today, as we see that the church is being told ‘there are no absolutes’ and that some denominations seem to be trying to curry favour by bowing to secular pressure. They seem to be watering down the gospel to attract more people – which is what Paul was accused of doing all those years ago. As we turn to Galatians 2 it seems that those judaisers have become a right royal pain in the neck.
Read Galatians 2
Paul’s message was that Jesus died for everyone whether Jew or Gentile and we see in verse 2 that he went to Jerusalem to speak to the apostles privately. There he set out his gospel message and it was accepted and condoned by the apostles, without any other strings being attached. And this is thought to have headed off a possible split in the church Acts chapter 15 goes into more detail about this and I would ask you to read it later, Acts 15:1 - 35
Verses 7 -10 we will come back to in a few moments but I wanted to stop briefly at Paul’s opposition to Peter. It happened at Antioch, and it happened because Peter was associating with the Gentile Christians and eating with them, yet when ‘certain men of James’ arrived Peter withdrew from the Gentiles and took other Jews with him – even Barnabas, Paul’s close friend. Paul confronted Peter to his face and it has been suggested that this was to put the situation right rather than to humiliate Peter. Even highly thought of leaders can make mistakes and when we come to chapter 6 we will see that those caught in sin are to be ‘restored gently’ and this would reinforce the thinking that Paul was not out to score points but to stop a problem. So this, in a nutshell, is chapter 2 of Galatians and I want to spend some time looking at verse 7 – 10.
On Wednesday, I was privileged to lead a time of prayer and reflection for Christian Unity and, at the moment, we are in the middle of Christian unity week - which is always from 18th – 25th January - and so it seems right that we look at these verses tonight while we spend some time in Galatians.
These few verses show how far Christianity had come in uniting people. In Antioch, which we mentioned earlier, the believers had nothing in common, not language, background, tradition, heritage, yet here was where believers were first known as ‘Christian’ – ‘Christ ones’ (Acts 11:26) – because that was what united them, Christ. With everything that could keep them apart, they were showing a unity in purpose and belief that ignored boundaries, they were showing Christ. Fourteen years after first meeting the apostles, Paul had journied back to Jerusalem to head off a split in the church and the council of Jerusalem ended with Paul and Barnabas being given the ‘right hand of fellowship’ by Peter, James and John. It is important to see here, however, the reason for the hand of fellowship being given, it was not because Paul and Barnabas were nice guys, or because they were able to put forward a convincing argument; it was because
‘…they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.’
That was the reason that Paul’s message was condoned nothing else. If God was not in what Paul was doing or preaching then Peter, James and John would have done something about this former persecutor of the church and Paul would have been sent to the ‘eternal condemnation’ that he spoke of in chapter one. But no, because God was so evident in Paul’s message, the apostles made it clear to everyone that the message was good and right. Times were changing for the church and the apostles and as long as God was leading the change it would be accepted and embraced. The differences between the two cultures, Jew and Gentile, were not a problem to be endured but an opportunity to be grasped for the Gospel. Times will always change, nothing stays the same, there will always be that tension between ‘what is’ and ‘what wants to be’. But that is not a problem, it’s an opportunity and one that we need to take hold of BUT we have to be sure that it is the same God in the old and the new.