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Message – There IS no wall!
There IS no wall!
We ended last week with a confrontation of Paul with Peter.
Peter knew that these Gentiles were true believers and had no need of circumcision in order to be so. As such he enjoyed fellowship and meals with them UNTIL “certain people came from James” at which point “he stopped doing this and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision.”
It occurred to me that in my haste to get to Galatians chapter 3 I missed a really great opportunity to show the Spirit of God working hand in hand with Paul and Peter to maintain koinonia in the church and with the Spirit Himself through this very example.
I knew there was more to this passage then I had ever spent the time to discover, but upon going back over it I now see some of what was going on and how bad this potentially could have turned out if Paul had not confronted it PUBLICLY!
As we have affirmed, Peter KNEW Gentiles were able to enter into the Kingdom through faith without circumcision for reasons Paul will explain further as we move on in Galatians. He also knew this had been agreed upon by the counsel of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem and that there were official letters there AT THE VERY CHURCH this confrontation happened in (at Antioch) which could affirm this truth!
So, what gives? Why was there a problem and what was it about?
Well our first clue is found in the words, “certain people”. Those two English words are actually just one word in Greek and in this instance it takes on the meaning of important or influential people. Now this could easily be discerned by the way Peter here seems to respond to them. Peter is no lightweight and he carried a position of respect and leadership in the early church – not only for being one of the Apostles of the Lamb but also for the distinguished way in which he was used by the Spirit. Yet, Peter is said to have separated himself out of fear of these men.
Now as I said last week, these men were sent FROM JAMES. This means that they could NOT be of that sect of Judaizers who believed Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the law in order to be saved.
We know this because James was prominent among those who had agreed, by the Spirit, that such was not necessary. So we can lay that to one side.
So who were these men, sent from James and what about them intimidated Peter into hypocrisy?
Well, let me tell you that while some of what I am going to say will sound like conjecture, it is actually derived from various shades of meaning in the Greek words used in these verses that paint a rather clear picture. Sadly these various shades of meaning are all but obscured through translation, at least into English anyway.
First off, these men were evidently advocates of Jews having to maintain obedience to all aspects of the law even in their Saved state.
I do not think they believed that failure to do so would amount to apostasy but, they would have seen it as sin for which one would need to repent and obtain forgiveness.
We know James was walking a tightrope with people like these and in fact might have been one of them himself, to some degree or another since he compelled Paul to participate in a ceremonial washing in order to not offend the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul had agreed, presumably, in order to not offend, but he certainly would not have done so in hypocrisy – that was just not like Paul.
Regarding doctrine, Paul was the bull in the china shop. He had no problem confronting false doctrine so it would be so out of character for him that it is not worth consideration.
To be both fair and clear here, this is something I honestly believe the Apostles should have worked through with great diligence VERY early on, so that there would be absolutely NO room for confusion as the years progressed.
They KNEW they were Apostles of the Lamb and therefore had been granted authority and grace to know and discern doctrine in these matters. So as I am looking back through history at these events I am amazed that by now they had not thoroughly addressed these issues, laying all questions to rest on the matter.
For the average Jewish believer, these things would have been very difficult to lay aside. They had been raised all their lives with the notion that these observances were for all future generations. So the idea that an apparent eternal requirement under the law might be superceded by the work of Christ would no doubt have seemed questionable.
What happened here is that Peter correctly believed that the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles had been destroyed at the cross. As such, he lived that way when among Gentile believers. He had done so originally when he was sent to Cornelius. Perhaps, he had caught some flak from among his Jewish brethren in Jerusalem for his testimony of having stayed with Cornelius and therefore, undoubtedly having eaten with them. If so it seems he wanted no more flak from them now.
Interestingly, we get a behind the scenes understanding of how this developed again by the words used. In English it says “he separated himself”, but in the Greek it is clear that his was a gradual and strategic withdrawal over time. Kenneth Wuest says this word was frequently used to describe strategic military operations.
Evidently, the “eating” Peter had been doing with these Gentile believers was EVERY KIND of eating!
Now to us, in the modern world, this makes very little sense. Eating is eating right? Not so in the early church!
In the local assemblies of the early church, they would often eat what we would boorishly call, “Pot lucks” only they had them as frequently as every week. They were called “love feasts” and often AT and BEFORE such communal meals they would partake of communion. You may remember that years ago I tried to make that a practice here at least once a month, but it met with such difficulty in participation due to people’s schedules and such that we simply laid it to one side.
Also, the wording implies that he freely ate in their homes with them. SO to staunch Jews, this was a HUGE deal.
More than likely Peter stopped eating in their homes almost immediately, and then as he could “feel” the ongoing disapproval of these prominent men sent from James, he gradually stopped attending the love feasts and eventually even talking communion with them. THIS WAS A BIG DEAL!
By doing this Peter was inadvertently encouraging these Gentiles to start restricting their behavior to that of Jews under Judaism. Peter was a well loved and highly respected Jewish leader and brother, so WHAT he did mattered. What he DID taught lessons others would feel compelled to follow!
I read a statement from John Trapp this week. He was an English, Anglican commentator of the 17th century, and I thought this quote very aptly applied to this situation here. He said,
“The sins of teachers are the teachers of sins.” – Trapp
You can hear it in Paul’s confrontation with Peter.
“If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” – Gal. 2:14
The word live here, does not refer to moral differences in the way these Gentile and Jewish Christians lived but rather to their external social observances. As such, in this case it seems to refer to levitical restrictions or a lack thereof in dietary practices.
The dietary practices in mind here, could not be the three mentioned in the letter from the Jewish counsel, for then it would have been a matter of sin among these Gentiles. Those “rules” were to not eat:
- things offered to idols
- things strangled
- blood. – See Acts 15:28-29
It did NOT address the consumption of animals on the “unclean” list in Judaism, nor did it address eating with washed hands or any other Jewish ceremonial observance.
So this describes a mental attitude or habit which had expressed itself in outward actions, and in truth was still in force, but which was being hypocritically covered up by Peter’s action of withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentiles.
What this means is that while Peter still agreed that it was lawful for him to eat with his Gentile brethren, he had trimmed his sails to the sudden change of wind that came from Jerusalem. In fact the words used are mariner terms with which Peter would have been very familiar being a seaman himself.
Wuest says that…
Peter’s action of refusing to eat with the Gentiles, did not merely have the effect of maintaining the validity of the law for Jewish Christians, but it involved the forcing of that law upon the Gentile Christians, that, or creating a wide-open division in the Church.
This latter was what concerned the apostle Paul. He deemed it of utmost importance to maintain the unity of the Christian Church as against any division into Jewish and Gentile groups.
At the Jerusalem council he had agreed to a territorial division of the missionary field into Gentile and Jewish divisions, but to create a division between Jew and Gentile in a Gentile community and church, was out of the question and was something not to be permitted.
The odd thing is that back at the Jerusalem council, when it was agreed to that the Gentile Christians were to be free from the law, it did not address whether the Jews were free from this – even though Peter had insinuated it by saying, “Brothers, you know that some time ago God chose me to preach to the Gentiles so they would hear the message of the gospel and believe. (8) And God, Who knows the heart, has testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did to us, (9) and He made no distinction between them and us, cleansing their hearts by faith. (10) So now why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they are.” – Acts 15:7-11
So the fact that Jewish freedom from the external observances of the law being not addressed directly, it seems assumed that they felt compelled as Jews to live as they always had in observing even the ceremonial aspects of the law.
What had NOT been addressed was what was to happen when in a single church, these two worlds came into contact with one another.
Were Jews to live separate and have separate churches than the Gentile Christians or were they to live together in communion and peace – seeing and living as if all outward ceremonial aspects of the law were done away with in Christ?
No wonder Paul HAD to confront this!
You all know how deadly it can be to have an unspoken undercurrent going on in the middle of a group. You begin to feel like you are on the outside of a “members only” group and that you are being looked down upon.
So even though it was a silent withdrawal, it was still VERY, VERY public and which was made all the more deadly because the reasons were not clearly spoken. It was left to individual’s and the fancies of the imagination to arrive at the reason for it.
Also, you can imagine how highly these Gentiles thought of Peter. This man had walked and talked with the Messiah! His inclusion of them and acceptance of them must have meant SO MUCH – so his withdrawal from them might have seemed as if he were embarrassed of them among his more elite Jewish companions from his home town of Jerusalem.
Can you see how divisive and deadly this was?!
Also, I want you to see that this is the kind of behavior that dominated Peter’s life before he was transformed by the power of God through salvation.
This is the impetuous Peter we knew from before – who was always the first to jump in, believe, confront or even assault.
We thought that Peter died at the cross, for we haven’t seen him in some time.
In fact, that Peter DID die at the cross, but just like you and I, the old self likes to attempt periodic resurrections and refreshingly, Peter was no different in that regard.
Here we see that the flesh was still present in Peter. Salvation and the filling of the Holy Spirit had not fully eradicated it nor made Peter perfect; the old Peter was still in there, just seen MUCH less often!
In steps Paul!
Paul was a deeply convicted man who found it near to impossible to deny or live at variance with his convictions. He was just the sort of man God needed for the job of going to the Gentiles and confronting the Jews with their duplicity.
If you study the letters of Paul, you begin to see a trend of stronger and stronger convictions regarding the law and grace which is often spearheaded in the rite of circumcision.
Paul refers to it in respectful, nearly hushed tones at the beginning of his ministry when pointing out its unnecessary nature now for the Gentiles. By the end of his ministry he was calling it mutilation of the flesh – his anger at those who would try to enforce it now under the new covenant coming to a boiling point!
He HAD to confront this and it was the nature of a man like Paul to do so. He HAD to!
Paul LOVED his Jewish brethren to be sure. We see and hear that in his letters and teachings, yet he had come to love the Gentiles as well… and especially dear to him were those God used him to initiate into the kingdom. He affectionately called them his children in the faith.
Paul came to realize that God had not just invited the Gentiles in – bypassing the mountain and moving right on to intimacy through faith, but that God had destroyed the wall HE HIMSELF had erected in the law between Jews and Gentiles. Now, once we are in Christ There IS no Wall!
It had been destroyed at the cross! So ANYTHING which might seek to re-erect it, was met with hostile force from the Apostle.
Paul believed in the ONENESS of the body. Now that they were in Christ there WAS NO MORE JEW nor GREEK – but only oneness in Christ!
Behind ALL OF THIS was the Spirit of God, convicting, convincing, illuminating and compelling towards decisive action. This is truly koinonia.
I want you to understand this, for in grappling with this truth you will begin to understand how God often works and will therefore begin to anticipate it and see Him doing the same with you in your own life.
While Jesus did teach and instruct the Apostles in the core tenets of the good news, He did not spell out for them every contingency. He gave them enough to know where the boundaries were, what the foundation was, what the overarching and primary truths were which governed all other truths and then sent them out into the world.
In order to get answers to specific questions like these, they were going to have to wrestle with God and His word and even each other to get them. All the while allowing the founding principles and governing truths of the gospel which they had been taught to keep them in bounds so to speak.
God wants to do life WITH us!
As I’ve taught you before, we must resist the notion that God is somehow OUTSIDE of the story as the Storyteller alone. No, He is IN the story as well!
When one watches a movie, they are rarely aware of the thoughts of the writer of the script or the director – they only identify with the actors in the story.
In the same way it is quite natural for us to treat our lives in a similar fashion. Such however, is not the truth of the gospel or of even of life. Though there is in fact a way in which God is the Author and the Director, we know that He does not always get His way and is NOT content to just direct things from the sidelines.
He tried to be involved IN the story at the mountain with the Israelite (which we will cover in a little while) – but in the fullness of time God injected Himself SO FULLY into the story as to become one of its character Himself. So that now forever, part of the Godhead is eternally part of humanity as well and we live with Them in union and reverent harmony – in koinonia, for that is what God desires. Never…NEVER forget that! It is key to being fully aware of the Spirit’s presence, it is key to our being fully invested in our participation with Him in building the kingdom both in our own hearts and in the world around us.
Now, we can better understand why Paul said what we are about to read beginning in verse 15…
“(15) We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, (16) yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, SO THAT we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”
Apart from the new birth, union with Christ and the inward work of the Holy Spirit > initial salvation and ongoing righteousness in our lives would be impossible!
“(17) But if while seeking to be justified in Christ we ourselves have also been found to be sinners, is Christ then One Who encourages sin? Absolutely not!
(18) But if I build up again those things I once destroyed, I demonstrate that I am one who breaks God’s law.”
Application to us –
“(19) For through the law I died to the law so that I may live to God. (20) I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (21) I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!”
“the faith/faithfulness of Christ” is not a denial that faith in Christ is required. Paul presses this need often, MANY times within the same context. It simply implies that the object of faith is a worthy object, for Jesus Himself is faithful.
Both in the next few words we just read as well as in many other places, Paul clearly teaches justification by faith, presupposing that the object of our faith is reliable and worthy of such trust and reliance.
Now we get to the real issue of the letter…
“(1) You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified!
(2) The only thing I want to learn from you is this:
Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard?”
Wow…try as I might, I cannot imagine a church today asking that question. They might ask, how did you get born again, but Paul’s laser focus was on the PERSON of the Holy Spirit which is the very PROOF of our salvation!
I have to admit, I doubt this thought would have come to me either.
“(3) Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?”
Are you seeing the necessity of our walk of cooperation with the Spirit? Our need to have our attention towards His leading. To be and stay sensitive to Him. To not offend or treat Him lightly.
Eph. 4:30,“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”
” (4) Have you suffered so many things for nothing? – if indeed it was for nothing.
(5) Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?
(6) JUST AS Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, (7) so then, understand that those who believe are the sons of Abraham.”
Well how did Abraham believe God? It isn’t of course the simple notion of just believing IN God. Abraham believed God – meaning, God said something to Abraham. He promised him something and Abraham TRUSTED that God would perform what He promised… and not only that, but Abraham RELIED upon God to be the One Who fulfilled it. Sure Abraham at one point took matters into his own hands, but even then he had to be tempted by his wife to do so. At any rate his lack of reliance at that point, was his own, not hers. After God confronted him regarding this lack of trust, he never wavered again! He not only trusted God to keep His word, but He relied upon Him. What is the difference? Well trust implies a cessation of striving on the part of the one believing, Whereas reliance implies a leaning all of ones weight on something bigger and stronger than they. So it is faith, patience and resting altogether!
It is THIS kind of faith Paul says makes us sons of Abraham!
We will pick back up here next week!