Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Galatians 2:2-10 The Seal of Approval

In today’s passage, Paul, continuing his defense of his calling as an apostle, explains how he, Barnabas, and Titus went up to Jerusalem to present themselves to the church leaders there to assure themselves they were on the right track with their teaching of the gospel:

I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.  And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile. 

Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.  But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you. 

And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)  Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews.  For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles. 

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews.  Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. (Galatians 2:2-10 NLT)

I love that Paul wanted to be sure he was teaching correctly! He was humble enough to submit to their scrutiny. Paul received the stamp of approval from the church leaders in Jerusalem. They “had nothing to add” to the gospel Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. It is so important that we remain teachable and willing to be corrected throughout our lives. As a teacher, I know that, even after 22 years in the classroom, I am constantly needing to reflect on how I”m doing. I certainly don’t want to give misinformation to my students.

But how much more important it was that Paul not teach false doctrine when it came to the issue of salvation. And the ritual of circumcision, that dated back to the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 17, was the one that marked Jews as God’s people. To recognize that even this ritual had no saving power was a huge shift in thinking. Not requiring it of the Gentiles acknowledged the completion of Jesus’ salvation work on the cross. It isn’t “Jesus plus circumcision,” or “Jesus plus baptism.” It isn’t Jesus plus ANYTHING! It is just Jesus who saves us.

Not only did James, Peter, and John not require anything further from Paul and the Gentiles, they “recognized the gift” and calling God had given Paul as the apostle to the Gentiles. Therefore, Paul’s credentials were authenticated, and his teaching affirmed. Remember that Paul is giving us his history here because his teaching had been questioned. The Galatians were falling back into legalism, and Paul was not about to let that happen. We can be assured that his teaching on grace, his presentation of what the gospel encompasses, is truth.

Legalism constantly rears its ugly head in our lives and in the church. We are so prone to fall into its trap. We start by grace, then fall into walking in works! We will see next time that even Peter was not immune.  

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