I’m going to read and preach this morning so I’ll skip reading the Scripture and read as I go along. I’ll tell you the story with some added details.
The Apostle Paul writes this letter to the churches of Galatia about the argument I preached about last week. As I said, Acts 15 was about how the church resolved the issue; Galatians is a letter from Paul to the churches in Galatia about the theology of the issue and his stance on the matter.
Paul had been a staunch Pharisee defending the Jewish Law to the point of persecuting Christians. He was advancing in the ranks of the Pharisees by his knowledge and zeal for the traditions of Judaism through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob until he had a “come to Jesus” moment where God revealed Jesus to Paul. Paul had been blinded by the revelation of Jesus on his way to Damascus where he was going in search of Christians to arrest.
Paul believes he had been set apart, called by God from birth, to preach Christ to the Gentiles. After that conversion experience, Paul did not consult the Apostles or the Jerusalem church for the doctrine of Christianity; Paul went to Arabia then to Syria. He claims to the Christians in Galatia that the foundation for his preaching is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the teachings of the Apostles. Only after 3 years of preaching did he go to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, whom Paul called by Peter’s Aramaic name Cephas. Paul met with Peter and James, Jesus’ brother, but only for 15 days.
From Jerusalem, Paul traveled to Syria and Cilicia. Many churches didn’t know Paul personally; they only knew him by reputation that he had once tried to destroy the church but he is now preaching the faith.
After another 14 years of preaching, Paul returns to Jerusalem with Barnabas, a Jewish convert, and Titus, a Gentile convert. Paul met with the Apostles and elders to tell them what he had been preaching to Gentile converts. The Jerusalem leaders extended to Paul and his friends the right hand of fellowship and commended them to remember the poor.
Peter went to Antioch which is a city in Galatia and Paul confronts him. Gives him a real dressing down. Paul is angry and defensive of his fledgling churches who others are trying to corrupt with teaching contradicting what Paul has taught them.
Peter had visited the churches before and had eaten with the Gentiles without a problem. Then, James sends some guys to spy on what has been going on. James and these men are part of the circumcision faction – again, you don’t want to be associated with the group calling for circumcision. When Peter sees James’ men, Peter pulls back from table fellowship and tried to distance himself from the Gentiles. The circumcision faction started teaching the Galatians that they needed to be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law in order to be Christians. The church was led astray, including Paul’s associate Barnabas.
Paul had been preaching freedom in Christ and this circumcision faction wanted to place the yoke of the Jewish law on the necks of the Gentiles. Paul defended freedom that he had been preaching, freedom from the law by free grace. Christ had come because there was no salvation by the Law. The Jews were unable to keep the Law and so Jesus the Jewish Messiah came to save them. In saving the Jews, Christ also extended grace to the Gentiles. No need for the Gentiles to do Jewish stuff to become a Christian. Paul said the Gentiles were justified by faith not by their adherence to the Law which they were never bound to because they’re not Jews.
When Paul saw what was going on between the circumcision faction, Peter and the Galatians, Paul goes to Peter. Now, what is up on the screen is the New Revised Standard Version, but I’m going to read Paul’s speech from the Common English translation because I think it’s easier to understand. Paul says to Peter,
“If you, though you’re a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you require the Gentiles to live like Jews? 15 We are born Jews—we’re not Gentile sinners. 16 However, we know that a person isn’t made righteous by the works of the Law but rather through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. We ourselves believed in Christ Jesus so that we could be made righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the Law—because no one will be made righteous by the works of the Law. 17 But if it is discovered that we ourselves are sinners while we are trying to be made righteous in Christ, then is Christ a servant of sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild the very things that I tore down, I show that I myself am breaking the Law. 19 I died to the Law through the Law, so that I could live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed, by the faithfulness of God’s Son, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I don’t ignore the grace of God, because if we become righteous through the Law, then Christ died for nothing.”
Who is our Paul?
Who’s asking us if we’re living the faith we proclaim?
We say, “What would Jesus do?”, but the thing Jesus would do is often not what we expect. Jesus was a guy who got himself in trouble for dining with sinners and tax collectors and ladies of the night. Now, Peter, who followed Jesus and witnessed Jesus having dinner with sinners, feels guilty about dining with Gentiles because of the judgment of the circumcision faction.
Paul lays into Peter and says, “Hey, this isn’t what Jesus would do.”
So, who’s holding the mirror up to you saying, “Is this really what Jesus would do?”
We need someone to hold a mirror up to us, as individuals and as a nation and ask us, “What part of this did Christ die for?” We keep making claims in the name of faith in our homes, in our community, in our businesses and in our political discourse, but we’re not listening to each other. Our greatest problem today is that we’re not hearing each other. Stephen Covey, who was what you might call a life coach, but a prolific author on living up to your potential, Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
If I’m not trying to understand what you’re saying, what you believe, where you’re coming from, what your experience has been, and I’m only thinking about how I’m going to debunk your claim and defend my own, then we’re not going to get anywhere. We’re just going to keep arguing and the gap will grow wider and wider between us and them, rich and poor, right and left, black and white, and kids and authority.
I think Paul addresses the Gospel resolution to our problem. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Paul gave up his ego, allowed it to be crucified with Christ, and now lives a new life, not his own, but Christ in him. In his conversion, Paul allowed his ego, his selfishness, his zeal for the Law to die and was humbled by the revelation of Christ. If we would stop being so beholden to our claims and open ourselves up to new perspectives, we’d begin to listen with the intent of understanding each other and might find common ground to work from.
We don’t have to treat those we disagree with as ignorant, misguided, unfaithful, or beneath us. We can recognize that they too are saved by grace and are people of conviction. We can have gracious conversations about what unites us rather than what divides us. In order to settle any argument, especially as the rhetoric in the USA continues to ratchet up more and more with every new news cycle, both parties must humble themselves to listen to the other and find the value we share so we can begin our work from there.