Monthly Archives: February 2018

Galatians 2:11-14 – Confronting Hypocrisy

Hypocrisy!  It’s a common charge leveled at the church mostly from the outside, from the world.  It usually means that our outward behavior does not match our words or beliefs.  Sometimes the charge is true and justified, but sometimes it is a misunderstanding of what Christians believe.  Either way hypocrisy in the Church needs to be taken seriously and dealt with properly.  Would it surprise you to learn that the first charge of hypocrisy in the Church was made against Peter?  Yes, Peter the apostle, Saint Peter!  And the charge was made by none other than Paul.  Here is the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  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?”  (Gal 2:11-14  ESV)

Here’s the basic story line.  Peter was visiting Paul in Antioch and he was easily eating and hanging out with the Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians there, but when a group of Jewish-Christians from Jerusalem show up Peter distances himself from the Gentiles.  Paul calls him out as being hypocritical.  Paul accuses Peter of not acting outwardly with the truth he knew inwardly.  You see for a first century Jew eating with Gentiles rendered you ceremonially unclean.  You were tainted and could not participate in the Temple sacrifices or rituals.  You were outside the Law of God.  They genuinely believed that associating with Gentiles was sinful and unacceptable to God.  Peter understood that Jewish laws and ceremony were not required for salvation.  But it was hard for him to set aside centuries of teaching, belief and practice and accept Gentiles as fully equal.  So Peter fell into that same mindset when the Jewish believers came from Jerusalem.

The issue was more important than simply bad behavior or a lapse in Peter’s judgment.  Paul uses this incident as a way to introduce justification by faith alone.  In Paul’s mind Peter’s behavior threatened the idea that Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish law.  If Peter was right in separating from the Gentile believers then he would have been agreeing with the false teachers that taught that the Gentiles were still unclean and unacceptable to God even though they trust in Christ for salvation, they had to submit to the Jewish Law.  If left to stand this would have undone everything Paul had taught and the Jerusalem Council affirmed (See Acts 15).

Paul’s argument is that Peter and other believers who followed him in his hypocrisy were compelling or forcing the Gentiles to live like Jews while they themselves were willing to live like Gentiles and exempting themselves from the Law.  This is what hurt the Gentiles the most.  They were enjoying the liberty in Christ and yet now they were being forced to come under the bondage of the Law.  It is no wonder that Paul reacted so forcefully.

Paul had to confront Peter publically because the issue had to be dealt with firmly and in the open in order for the entire church to be set on the right foundation.  It was critical to the ongoing health and unity of the church and the proclamation of the true gospel.  The foundation of the church was being threatened.

Today, we don’t worry whether we have to follow the Law of Moses in order to be saved.  But we do need to make sure that our conduct is “in step with the truth of the gospel”.  This is the essence of hypocrisy isn’t it?  When my actions are not in step with the gospel, I am being a hypocrite. This applies at all times and in all situations, whether public or private.  Is what I think and do in step with the gospel or have I deceived myself (and others)?  Does what I do or believe separate me from other, genuine believers?  Does it cause me to judge others?  Am I more concerned with outward conformity to set of man-expectations or with living in the truth of Jesus?  The danger in hypocrisy is in its power to deceive ourselves and others, thinking we are acting righteously, but, in fact, are being unrighteous, judgmental and sinful.  It is not only about not succumbing to peer-pressure but also understanding the impact it could have on the way our gospel message is transmitted and understood.  We have to act and think consistently with the truth of the gospel.

Is there a time when it is appropriate to separate from some other group that claims to be Christian?  I think so.  When that group is acting or teaching something that is not consistent with the gospel.  Which is why it is so important to have a crystal clear understanding of what the gospel is.  I think the question I would ask someone or some church is, “how is a person saved”?  And the only acceptable answer is through faith in Christ alone.  If there is an “and” or “but” added to that statement then it is not the truth of the gospel.  It is not a matter of practices, preferences in worship or style or liturgy.  It is whether any of those things are added to Christ to gain salvation.

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Galatians 2:4 – Coming Attraction

You know how when you go to the movies they always show previews for movies yet to be released – coming attractions; little snippets of the movie that are designed to give you a glimpse of the full movie enough to whet your appetite?  Here as we get into chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches he gives just such a glimpse into a theme he will develop more fully later.  It’s a teaser into the possibilities of the Christian life and the purpose for Christ’s death and resurrection.  Intrigued aren’t you?

Let me first remind you of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter and put his comment into context.  Paul was concerned that the Galatian disciples had abandoned the truth of the gospel he had preached because certain false teachers had told them that to be “really” saved the Galatians had to practice all the Jewish Law also.  Paul writes this letter to re-emphasize the gospel and assure the churches in Galatia that the gospel he preached to them was true.  He also gives them a timeline of his interactions with Peter, John and the other apostles to show that he did not just parrot their message but received the gospel from Jesus Himself.  In the middle of this explanation Paul gives a “coming attraction.”

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— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.  (Gal 2:4, 5   ESV)

The key phrase – the coming attraction – is this: our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.”  According to Paul, inherent in the gospel is a freedom that Christians enjoy, a freedom that these false teachers were trying to rob, a freedom that Paul felt was important enough to fight for, a freedom that Christ won on the cross.

We usually think of Jesus’ death as gaining us salvation for eternal life in heaven “someday”.  But here Paul hints at something available to us right now, today – freedom.  But what does this mean?  Let me define the kind of freedom I think Paul is referring to here.  It is not the ability to do whatever we want or live however we want, but freedom, true Christian freedom, is “the unobstructed pursuit of God.”

Life, satan, sin, the world throw up all kinds of obstacles to our ability to pursue the kind of relationship with God that we long for.  It sometimes seems we have to slog through life just to get by, just to get a moment to pray or worship.  That is not how God intended our life to be.  When Jesus walked out of that tomb, He cleared the way of all the obstacles that impeded our ability to know and connect with God.  Here are Scriptures references that describe ways in which Jesus removed the obstacles to our pursuit of God.

Romans 8:31-35 describes the kind of life we can experience with Jesus.  A life free of accusation, want, aloneness and condemnation.  Instead we can experience a life of support and encouragement, supply and resources, connection with the Father who loves us, knowing that we will never experience any kind of emotional, spiritual, relational or physical abandonment.

In Romans 6:6-7 Paul talks about being free from being mastered by sin – having to do what it says.  By ourselves, we have no power or authority to say no to the demands of sin operating in our life.  We can’t escape and we can’t rebel and we can’t fight.  But Christ literally and actually took bolt cutters to those chains so that we could escape and no longer be under sin’s thumb.  Think of the story in Acts where an angel releases the imprisoned Peter from the chains that held him and opened the prison doors to allow Peter to walk free.  This is what Jesus has done.  We are able to walk free through our life.

Romans 8:2-3 refers to the “law” of sin and death – this would imply that sin and death have (or had) the power to dictate how you live, what you can and cannot do.  This “law” constrains the kind of life God meant us to live.  Jesus freed us from that law.  It’s like no longer being subject to the repressive laws of a dictatorial nation.  Instead we now live in a country ruled by the Spirit with His life-giving laws – not repression but liberation.

Hebrews 2:14-15 refers to the “fear of death.”  I have always thought that this referred to fear of physical death, and that may be true, but I think it can also refer to the emotional and relational death that the devil tries to impose upon people. Are we not freed from the devastation of fear of loneliness, anger, shame, guilt, depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, worry?  Jesus came to destroy those very works of the devil and allow us live free of the effects of fear.

There is more to learn about freedom in Christ later in Galatians.  For now if we accept the definition of freedom I gave earlier – unobstructed pursuit of God – then these verses tell me that to live unobstructed means being set free from:

  1. The overbearing domination of sin – I don’t have to do it. I can choose a different way.
  2. The repressive laws of sin and death – I don’t have to live with my head down fearful that I stepped over the line one too many times or that I just need to work harder.
  3. The fear of being stuck in this death spiral. There are literally no chains, no nets holding me down.  I walk away a free man.
  4. The hopelessness that my life can be different or better.
  5. The fear that I will always live broken and will die broken

This fear, death and sin is replaced with an assurance of the Father’s positive favor towards me.  In all things and in all circumstance and in all my blunders, I still experience His smile.  This is what Christ’s sacrifice– the true gospel – has made possible.

Galatians 1:15, 16 – God is not surprised

Do you ever think that God is surprised by events in your life or decisions you make?  Do you think He looks at you and says, “Whoa, I didn’t see that coming!”  It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?  But often times we actually believe that He is taken by surprise and that is quickly followed by, “There’s no way He could love me after I did that!”  And so we start to believe that God has given up on us.  Nothing could be further from the truth and this next passage in Galatians makes that clear.

First, remember Paul’s life story.  He was a strict, law-keeping Jew belonging to the sect of the Pharisees.  These folks were strict.  And Paul says about himself that he was even excelling at being a Pharisee.  Not only that but when an upstart group of Jews claimed that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, he went after them with a vengeance.  He hunted them down and threw them in prison.  This was not the type of guy that you could argue into the Kingdom or think he would be a good candidate to lead the new Church.  When those first century Christians saw him coming they ran the other way.  Yet Paul makes this truly incredible statement about himself.

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me… (Gal 1:15, 16   ESV)

There is something very important to see here.  God had called Paul and set him apart from before he was born, before Paul had said or done anything, but God waited until He was ready to reveal His Son to Paul.

God knew Paul.  He knew Paul would be a strident Pharisee.  He knew Paul would persecute His church and jail His followers.  He knew Paul had murderous intent.  He knew Paul would care more about tradition than truth.  And yet He called him and chose him for his mission to the Gentiles.  Not only that, God’s timing was God’s timing.  He was not caught off guard or waited too long nor was God shocked at the way Paul had turned out.  No, God acted when it pleased him.  It was not dependent on Paul’s “readiness” to know Jesus.  All this God had decided before Paul was even born!

It should be comforting to us to know that God’s plans for us are already laid out just waiting to be revealed at the right time – at God’s pleasure.  So do I think that maybe God is too slow? Yep.  Do I think that maybe my time is passing me by?  Yep.  Is that true?  Nope.  The same God who set Paul apart, has set me apart and has set you apart for His mission for us in this life.  When and how remains in His good pleasure.

I am learning to rest and be assured in God’s perfect timing in my life.  “When God was pleased He…” becomes my guiding principle here.  God knows my days, my weaknesses, my sin and He calls me and reveals Himself to me at the right time.  That is what He did in Paul’s life and I firmly believe that it is true for us too.  No surprises.

Galatians 1:14, 23-24 – Before and After

We’ve been working through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches and we’ve seen him present the true Gospel of Jesus against those who would distort it.  And he makes the case that the gospel he preached he received by revelation from Jesus and not from the other apostles.  It was important for Paul to establish this so that the Galatians could have confidence in what they believed.  This was the subject of the previous post.  Paul continues to make his case with some astounding autobiographical statements that bear closer examination.  In verses 12-24, he relates some facts about his life before his conversion and after. But here I want to focus on just two really interesting verses within this autobiographical section and what we can learn from them.

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. (Gal 1:14)

They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:23, 24)

Paul reviews his pre-conversion life as a strict Pharisee, excelling in his pursuit of righteousness through the Law and going so far as to persecute Christians.  But the statement that caught my attention was, “so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  His concern, his driving force was simply to protect man-made traditions.  He doesn’t even claim to be zealous for God’s truth or Moses’ law.  No, it was about the traditions.

I had to ask myself, what “traditions of the fathers” have I held onto, perhaps too tightly, instead of to the gospel?  Do I have a pet theology that I hold on to?  Or have I swallowed whole the particular traditions of a particular denomination or church group?  Or perhaps it is a certain end-times scenario?  Has defending my position become more important than presenting the Gospel of Jesus?  I’ve been thinking a great deal about this and I would encourage you to ask yourself the same questions.

From pursuing the traditions of the fathers, Paul makes the transition to his conversion – to the time God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Did you catch that: God took the initiative to reveal the Son).  The reaction among the Christians he had been persecuting was nothing less than astonishment and wonder – “they glorified God because of me.”  The change must have seemed miraculous to them.  And indeed it was.  Paul the persecutor was now Paul the preacher.  Paul the destroyer was now Paul the disciple.  There was no rational, natural reason for Paul to turn from Judaism to Jesus.  There would be no convincing a man like Paul that the gospel was true.  And there would be no way that Paul would simply accept a man-made story.  Paul’s conversion had to be God’s doing.  Everyone recognized that this was a remarkable, unexpected event that only God could pull off.  It was a miracle.  He was not convinced or persuaded by man but by God.  God gets all the credit and Paul gets none.  This is the true mark of the Gospel, that God always gets all the credit, all the glory, all the praise.

I don’t have a dramatic conversion story like Paul’s.  I suspect that few of us do, but it doesn’t matter what our story is.  What matters is that God took the initiative to reveal His Son to us.  He pursued us even when we weren’t looking for Him, even when we didn’t care to look for Him or even when we were deliberately running from Him.  I don’t want people to be impressed with my skills, knowledge or wisdom.  I want people to glorify God because of what they see in my life and recognize that it is just as much a miracle as Paul’s turnaround.