Summary: In God's Kingdom there are no outcasts, no outsiders...and gentiles don't have to convert to Judaism to be added to the church. Paul reveals the extent of Christ's embrace.
Introduction: What do the following have in common?...Fraternity & Sorority members, Partners in a law firm, Navy Seals, Congressmen, tenured Professors, licensed electricians, and certified healthcare professionals? They are insiders. Have you ever wanted to be an insider?
One thing Jesus made clear is that in God’s Kingdom, there are no outsiders, no undesirables! Jesus met with all sorts of social outcasts, showing the extent of God’s embrace. Paul shared the same idea, that in Christ God’s covenant with Abraham was fulfilled: “All nations will be blessed through you.” Non-Jews are included in this family, grafted onto the vine, and name Abraham as their father. In Christ these former pagans are free at last! So the Good News is for everyone. But in Paul’s day, Gentiles were non-kosher, unclean outcasts. Taking one to a worship service would be like bringing a Yankee fan to Fenway Park!
Verses 1-2 Due to his Pharisaic background, you’d assume Paul would be the least likely person to advocate for the inclusion of gentiles into the church…but he did. He went to Jerusalem “in response to revelation” as God directed. He checked with the leadership of the church to confirm that he was proceeding in the right direction. Paul was not trying to create controversy; he wanted truth to win, and wanted to do what was right. Each Apostle was preaching the same message; what differed was to whom. Paul’s target audience was the gentiles.
Verse 3 Paul brings Titus along to have a living example of a Gentile convert on hand. Titus becomes a test case, “Exhibit A” for the principle of Christian freedom. Would he have to convert to Judaism in order to be accepted as a follower of Christ? Remember, the early Christians were mostly Jewish, proclaiming Jesus as their Messiah, the fulfillment of prophecy and the full blooming of their Jewish faith. So would they require Titus to be circumcised and enter the church in the same manner that gentile converts entered Judaism? The answer was NO; Titus was accepted as he was. Titus was living proof that circumcision was not required to join the people of God--the Gospel was for everyone. So when Jesus excepts someone, we should accept them too!
Paul needed the support of the other Apostles, and so he met privately with them. He didn’t want to spend his whole life preaching justification by faith without works, if this wasn’t the official position of the church leadership. And they agreed; they stood with Paul. Paul wasn’t in doubt about His teaching; he didn’t need reassurance; he needed the blessing of the established church.
According to Professor Marvin Wilson of Gordon College, “The non-Jewish character of today’s church is a matter of history, not a question of origins.” The early believers were mostly Jewish; but in time, Judaism’s rejection of Jesus caused the Gospel to spread across the known world, while retaining its Jewish roots.
Verses 4-5 There were some who saw the inclusion of Gentiles as a threat to the integrity of the Christian faith. Social differences between Jews and Gentiles were influencing doctrine. Circumcision became a test of inclusion…yet God was doing something new. The only prerequisites for acceptance by God were now faith and repentance. In Christ alone our hope is found. There are no conditions; no “work” but to believe.
Paul regards those who insisted on gentiles converting to Judaism before they could be truly Christian as covert double-agents. Their agenda was to limit the liberty of Gentile converts and hold the church hostage to the law. To make their version of the gospel stick, they had to discredit Paul's; and to do that, they had to dispute his authority as an apostle. Their counterfeit gospel redefined and minimized the work of Christ.
Paul insisted we are not saved by the law; the Gospel stands alone. Nothing needs to be added. Belief in the finished work of Christ is enough. The leaders of the church “added nothing” to the gospel message, while these double-agents wanted to add formal conversion to Judaism. John Piper warns, “Any requirement that causes us to rely on our work and not Christ's work is the end of the gospel.”
The church is often under pressure to compromise its message. We’re pressured to adapt to the demands of our culture, yet the church is decidedly counter-cultural. Our authority is Scripture. A culture may fix values, but no culture can create truth. Judges can declare practices legal, but that does not make them moral. We need to guard against being shaped by culture. David Wells of GCTS states, “Culture does not give the church its agenda. All it gives the church is its context. The church’s belief and mission come from the Word of God.” We’re in the world, but not of it. Let’s remain faithful to Christ and to the absolute truth of God’s word.