Tag Archives: Galatians

Galatians 2:11-15; brief thoughts

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Conformity is a common unspoken demand of any society. When someone joins a community that community has a defining set of social norms. Sometimes those norms are explained and clearly articulated. More often those expectations are unspoken and are not so clearly defined. In order to truly integrate into the community, the adherent must submit to these demands in order to be considered a legitimate member.

As in any group, Christianity demands a conformity of sorts. The problem is that sin often corrupts our ability to discern the difference between what Christ demands and what we demand. As a result of sin, we demand that people conform to us. We have an unwritten expectation that people who come to share in Christ must behave and look as we do. They must submit to the same societal norms in which we have been immersed. When we insist on such an ethnocentric legalistic expression of Christianity, we miss the Gospel. The Gospel reaches across cultural and societal norms to establish life through the pursuit of God and His life! Indeed, Jesus does not require the Pharisees to surrender their religious customs of hand and foot washing when he goes to have a meal with them. Neither does Jesus require his fishing buddies and tax collecting friends behave as the Pharisees. He opens His arms to both groups and rescues any who will believe. He lays no additional law upon His followers.

In obedience to the Gospel, the early church opened her arms to anyone who would trust in Christ for righteousness. Peter and the disciples spoke a variety of tongues at Pentecost. They did not demand everyone learn Hebrew. God showed Peter that the Gentile, Cornelius, was admitted to the Kingdom, giving Peter a vision that defied the dietary restrictions of the Jew. He did not demand Cornelius become a Jew. Further, the model we have from Paul and the apostles at the Jerusalem counsel is one of reasoning together to understand overt Scriptural commands and exercising freedom where Scripture is silent.

Still, Peter and the apostles were just men and, even they, fall to hypocrisy at times. When Peter was worshiping with the gentile brothers at Antioch, there came a moment of such weakness. The “Circumcision party” came to join in the worship and Paul witnessed the shaming of the gospel message. Peter, desiring to be approved by these brothers, withdrew from the gentile believers.

Why did Peter withdraw? It is not common to see this particular apostle seek to accommodate the whims of men. He has a reputation as headstrong and often taking the leadership role. Perhaps Peter thought he could win over these Jews to the Gospel by showing himself to be disciplined in religious affection as they. Perhaps he was simply afraid that he would lose his prestige among the Jews, maybe even rationalizing that a loss of prestige for him would be the same as a loss for the gospel. Whatever his reasoning, Peter shows favoritism and Paul addresses him directly.

Paul’s response to Peter seems brazen and very confrontational. Indeed, Paul addresses Peter “to his face,” but he does so only because “he stood condemned!” Paul’s response to Peter was bold and forward for three obvious reasons. First, Peter was obviously in contradiction to the gospel and was in danger of God’s discipline. Paul states that Peter “stood condemned.” In saying this, Paul is framing the scene as one in which Peter is in danger of God’s intervention. He is guilty of wrongdoing and it is an act of mercy to confront him. Confronting Peter as an errant brother spares him from being disciplined as a disobedient son. Second, Peter was leading others away from gospel community. Gospel community includes ALL tribes, tongues, and nations. It is not restricted to Jewish people alone but includes gentiles as well. When Peter showed favoritism to the Jewish brothers, he was acting in contradiction to the gospel message itself. So Paul publically addressed Peter in an effort to clarify and defend the gospel witness as he states, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel.” Third, Paul is concerned with defending the reputation of his brothers in Christ. When Paul saw that Peter and the brothers were living in hypocrisy, he recognized a need to preserve them through a minor error that could have massive implications. Hypocrisy is a dangerous poison that can damage the testimony of even the most devout believer.

Through Paul’s example, we can see the proper way to confront one another in gospel community. As we strive to walk in gospel obedience together we must first check our motives. Paul confronts Peter because of a gospel motivation. He does not desire power, he seeks to honor the gospel and preserve his brother’s integrity. We must consider the implications of what is being confronted. Paul addresses Peter publically because multiple people were actually being addressed. He recognized that his true target was a large group of believing brothers who needed to be corrected. Finally, when we approach each other we must strive to pose the question, and not simply demand correction. Questions allow for introspection and self-examination. Paul challenges Peter and poses the question, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” His point is well made. Yet, in posing it as a question he leaves room for rebuttal. Pose your confrontation in the form of a question and you are offering grace to the person you are challenging.

Oh, that we would always confront one another with such grace!

Galatians 2:1-6; Brief Thoughts

2 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I 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. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet 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 – 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And 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.

When the joy and delight of one’s life on centered on Christ, there will inevitably be those who desire to usurp that joy by laying restriction and rule atop of freedom. Indeed, those who do not know the freedom of Christ will either long for it, or they will seek to control it. Such was the case in the Galatian church. Those who had been given freedom in Christ Jesus were being instructed by others who had come to join in the community to lay aside that freedom for the sake of an appearance of holiness. This holiness was not genuine but was a legalistic and self-righteous attempt to achieve holiness through their own actions.

Their message was antithetical to Paul’s own commission. As he recounts in verse 2, Paul corroborated his preaching of the Gospel by setting it before the Jerusalem council so that he could make sure the Gospel he was teaching was correct (Acts 15). Fourteen years after beginning to preach the gospel, Paul sought to ensure that the gospel he was teaching was correct. Paul’s efforts to validate himself by seeking the wisdom of the apostles stands in stark contrast to those who demanded such legalism professed by those who were infiltrating the Galatian church. There are no arrogant demands that people submit to his message. Rather there is a humble submission to the message as it stands clear in Christianity.

Paul submits to the clear message of the gospel. Influence and prestige, once so highly esteemed in the life of Saul the Pharisee, were cast aside for the sake of truth. Paul does not bend to the influential or nor does he bend himself to become influential. As is often the case with the most influential people in Christian history, Paul is more concerned with the message than with his own honor and prestige.

Further, Paul does not slip in. Paul’s efforts to teach the gospel are extremely transparent. He lays his teaching out before the apostles with a brother, Barnabas, alongside to hold him accountable. He stands exposed, ready to be corrected. Those who would profess self-made righteousness do not present themselves so clearly. They hold back their message, crafting words in such a way as to hide their true meanings and agenda. This is not the way of Christ! Christians speak boldly the gospel and when we are wrong, we seek the admonition and correction of the community of faith.

Finally, Paul does not accept the voice of the famous. Take note, dear reader, there are no accolades or praises given to men and those in authority in this passage. As Paul recounts his experience it is as one who has sought truth within a community of gospel believing Christians. He does not slip in, he does not seek to control the faith of others, and he does not attempt to demand that others live by his own convictions. He simply and purely lays out the gospel with clarity and strength.

Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when false teachers attempt to slide in and usurp freedom. This passage gives us some characteristics to look out for.

  1. They force their morality on others. These legalists prize morality over truth. Paul offers a contrast in Titus, explaining that he was not required to get circumcised in Jerusalem (v.3). The gospel relies on Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers. Thus, those who follow Christ trust the Scripture to convict and call others to changed lives and particular morality.
  2. They slip in, unnoticed. False teachers are never obvious at first. It takes time for the revelation of falsehood to be revealed. More often than not, those who seek to rule over the church and deprive others of gospel life appear first as friends and even Godly leaders. Yet, time will reveal their deceptions and motives as contrary to the gospel.
  3. They prize influence over transparency and submission. Those who know not the redemption of Christ value their own authority and the fame and prestige of others to a higher degree than humble submission and honesty. These false brothers will speak with great admiration of those who have accomplished much with worldly success while disparaging the persistent ministry of faithful saints who bear much spiritual fruit with little material gain. They will quote famous false teachers and excuse overt sin or error if there is material success. They will appeal to positional authority instead of trusting the truth to defend them. They will cite their position as if it was given them by God and state that as their authority to make decisions.

When seeking to lead the church, we must be diligent to watch out for those who are false teachers.

Galatians 1:1-2; Brief Thoughts

Paul, an apostle – not from me nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead – 2and all the brothers who are with me.

All the goodness and efforts of man cannot compare with the holiness of God and God’s own work. No amount of human strength can rescue the sinful man from their own disposition. No about of effort can redeem a man’s heart or rescue a man’s soul from death. Yet, the very word of God brings life. The Lord created the world with a word and brings life to the dead through very same means. God speaks, we breathe – that’s how it works.

Confronted by a leagalistic heresy, a mass of well-intentioned church people, and a culture that demanded religious observance and public piety, Paul wrote the church in Galatia about the miraculous and profound nature of salvation. There is no power that can free a man, no law that can restore a man to right relationship with God, only the gospel of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can rescue mankind. One must trust Him for salvation. Thus, Paul begins his message to the Galatians by asserting his authority and message are from Jesus, not man nor any work of man.

Paul is an apostle. The word apostle means one who is sent. Paul has been sent by God with a message from God. He does not simply commend a message from God or reference a message from God. Rather, he brings the message from God. The words that proceed from the pen of Paul are words of tremendous conviction and are of a confrontational nature. Paul establishes, before engaging in the nuances of the Christian life, that this message comes from Jesus. He brings the word of the Lord to bare on the conscience of the reader.

Further, Paul’s apostleship did not come from his own ambition or from the urging of other men. Indeed, Paul’s original ambition was to remove every semblance of Christianity from the earth (Acts. 7:58-8:3). His own ambition was no longer a viable part of his life. He had surrendered his rights to promotion and self-exaltation in effort to see the gospel advance. Likewise, there were not many who believed that Paul should be in ministry. His history of persecution over the church was not lauded with tremendous zeal for him to begin Christian ministry. Indeed, it is much more likely that many were wary of his ministry given his history. Ananias, the first Christian to reach out to Paul even objected to the Lord’s command to go to Paul saying, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much even he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13) Yet, the Lord saw fit to redeem and call Paul an apostle. No committee or vote was held, no church ordination, no seminary degree was required, only God’s calling an commission were present. Paul’s apostleship was unique from all the others. He was commissioned by Christ on a road and the Holy Spirit in the desert (c.f. Acts 9).

Paul was made an apostle through Jesus Christ. He did not merit the apostleship. He did not earn it through years of study. He was made an apostle through the work and effort of Jesus Christ and Christ alone. Note the name by which Paul calls Jesus – Jesus Christ. He is the Christ. The one whom the law points all mankind. The Savior. The bringer of freedom. The righteousness of God and salvation for all who believe. The Christ! The anointed one in whom freedom and Sabbath is found! Paul’s apostleship comes from this Lord. This King who rules over all with the word of grace and life. Further, it is not simply through Jesus, but also with the authority of God, the one who brings resurrection and life. Paul’s apostleship comes from the very seat of life and creation. The very hand that wrote the law on tablets of stone and lead the Israelites through the wilderness into the promised land is the same One who gave Paul the commission of “apostle!”

Consider the power of such an authority. Is there a greater authority available? Is there a power stronger than the one who can defy death? Is there a strength greater? No… no there is not. The mission and authority by which Paul writes is unparalleled.

Finally, Paul does not write in a vacuum. He writes with the witness  of the community of grace. He calls to a community within the context of a community of faith that loves him well. Consider the focus of this letter – the law verses grace. Where law is overcome by grace, community thrives. In a community of grace, the apostleship of all Christians is recognized and self-inflated piety dissipates into nothingness because Christ has covered all who trust in Him.

This letter to the Galatians is much more than just a commentary on the Law. It is about living in grace. Christ has freed us from the Law. He has freed us from sin and death and enabled us to live in right relationship with Him and also with each other. This repaired relationship is the context by which Paul writes.