Sunday, July 26

Rule Keeping for a Christian Galatians 2:1-11 3rd sermon on Galatians

aving come to faith just as the “Jesus movement” of the early 70’s took off I have a special place in my soul for the music, teachers and some of the theological teaching that came out of that period of church history. When a group of ‘kids’ like us got around someone usually brought up how the First Century Church was so much better than the church of the 70’s.
It was simpler, purer, and less driven by money. It cared for people more and took God’s Word serious. Now, 40 years later, I see how stupid we were. To quote one blogger, “The church in Acts was immature” (Unger). The church in the first century had people bragging about sleeping with their step-moms and during communion, some got drunk and ate most of the food before others could get off work (1 Cor.). They fell for teachers who claimed Jesus had already come back (1 Thess.). 

In fact what should have been common was held up as a great mark of maturity for the followers of Christ in Berea who “Received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). One more thing the church in Acts had was oversight. No congregation did things on their own. None went their own way and decided to believe what they wanted. The Apostles were in Jerusalem and served as the council of the Church and made the determination as to what God was doing. Structures are important, even in the 1st Century (Dunnam and Ogilvie p 33). That is proven in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

Paul, Barnabas, and Titus have come back to Jerusalem with an offering for the poor but also with a story to tell of how God had touched Gentiles with Christ. Standing there, against them were a group of people who had tried to enforce Jewish rules of eating kosher and even circumcision on these Gentiles.

The Galatian account of Acts 15 only affirms what the Apostles told Paul and Barnabas—that there is only one gospel. There is not one gospel for Jews and another gospel for Gentiles. And we do well if we do not forget this truth today because there are many different gospels being proclaimed in our world today.

What we need to know

There is no perfect church

To quote an old saying, “If you joined the perfect church it would no longer be perfect.” Oh, I’ve met people looking for them. They’ve run from multicultural to house churches and eventually into the Greek Orthodox Church.

Because of this fact, we should never be surprised when there are issues such as Paul faced. Last Thursday an article was published about a paper Pope Francis might sign which would declare an end to the rivalry between the Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church. Problems will still happen from “The most rabid, anti-Catholic, fire-breathing fundamentalists right through to the prosperity gospel televangelists, ‘Evangelical’ Anglo-Catholics, charismatics and modernist Protestants. (Dwight Longenecker in (Coppen)).

In the midst of any concerns, arguments, schisms, disagreements, revolts or whatever word you want to use the key is to discern is they are ‘line in the sand’ issues or ‘something you can live with and work around’.

What Paul was facing was the first type of issue. No compromise could be made with these people who wanted to include Jewish law in the Gospel. The false brothers in vv. 3-4 are described as traitors or spies who infiltrate an enemy camp. Not only were they spies but their spying intruded into the ministry Paul was attempting to carry out (Logenecker p 51).

There is ONE Gospel

Today there are those who want to make Paul a second-class apostle. They will separate the “Gospel of Jesus” from the “Legalism of Paul”. At their best they are deluded. At their worst they are demonic.

Paul does not stand outside of Christ but smack dab in the center of what Jesus’ gospel was all about. “As strong-willed and independent as Paul was, he gave authority due respect. He may have gone his own way, but he did so in the context of structure and relationship. Even though he differed from the leaders in Jerusalem he went and talked with them, kept communication open, and recognized authority and structure” (Dunnam and Ogilvie p 33). 

Jesus is portrayed by some as a love of everyone, who criticized the 1%, helped the poor and was killed because he was a political threat. These same people see Paul as bipolar, who writes about no male or female only to command women to be silent, who supports slavery be telling slaves to submit (Elliott). John Stott writes how today we are told we “do not need to pay too much attention to his [Paul’s] writings. They forget or deny that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ, uniquely called, commissioned, authorized and inspired to teach in His [Jesus’] name” (Stott p 32). 

Ironically, the Judaizers are the one who claim Paul’s gospel is different than that of Peter’s and the other Apostles. How does Paul confront this sabotage? He brings with him a Jewish leader known to Peter and the others—Barnabas and a Gentile believer who was being trained by Paul—Titus as examples of the Gospel he’s been preaching.

What Jerusalem and these apostles do is offer Paul the right-hand of fellowship. They do not demand Titus be circumcised. They did not place limits on or added anything to Paul. Paul’s letter to the Galatians demonstrates that

The Gospel has to be maintained

There is line to be walked between sisters and brothers who believe the same gospel we do but do things differently or emphasis different aspect of theology and those who are ‘sham-Christians’ as the NEB refers to Paul’s enemies.

Not only did the Apostles in Jerusalem recognize and accept Paul’s ministry there was a division of labor with Paul focusing on the Gentiles and the others on the Jews. Let me go back for a moment to the 1970’s and the Jesus movement. There were those who wanted those who were coming to know Jesus to look like their parents. Tim Wise, who tried to bring about change in the church he had started to attend was told by the pastor, “'Ted, perhaps you're not a Baptist... I should have suspected it; I had hair down to my shoulders, a beard and was the only one in hipster clothes…many of my friends where becoming Christians; some even attended church with us. The pastor, in an effort to keep the peace with his regular congregation, put us in a special category. He called it a ministry; I called it prejudice (Wise).”

What his preacher and others forgot was that THE ONE Gospel confronts people and transforms them, not into clones of what came before but into new creations. At First Presbyterian in Richmond, Lloyd Gaut was freaked out not by our clothes and like, but by the fact we brought our bibles, sat in the first three pews in front of the pulpit, and wrote notes in them as he preached. We were doing things our parents would have never considered.

In the years to come those who want to maintain this one gospel are going to be pressured to accept a sham-gospel from sham-preachers. We’re going to hear ‘God is all about Love’ when what is being taught is sentimentality. We’re going to hear ‘God is accepting’ and verses where people walk away from Jesus will be ignored. We’re going to hear we shouldn’t make people feel bad, guilty, uneasy, or sad. We need to remind people such experiences are what leads to repentance and the chance to start over.

How do you tell the fake Gospel from the real Gospel? It’s like a diet. Any diet that says you don’t have to change what you eat or exercise is a lie. Likewise, any Gospel that claims you can keep on doing what you’ve always done and never read the Bible or pray is a lie. Let’s strive for the truth. Let us pray.

Works Cited

Coppen, Luke. "The Pope's great Evangelical gamble"." 23 Thursday 2015. Cahtolic Hearld UK. .
Dunnam, Maxie D. and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. Vol. 31. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
Elliott, Neil. "The Apostle Paul on Sexuality." n.d. .
Logenecker, Richard N. Galatians. Volume 41:. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 41. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998. Print.
Stott, John. Only One Way. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. Print.
Unger, Lyndon. "Should we strive to be like the church in Acts?" 19 September 2014. The Cripplegate: for a new generation of non-conformists. .
Wise, Tim. "Jason Questions a Jesus Freak." 13 September 1997. .

Turncoats, Loyalists and Traitors Galatians 1:6-10 July 19, 2015 2nd Sermon in Galatians

ost 9/11 has demonstrated a need to monitor things we have taken for granted such as electrical grids and water systems. In a couple of major cities, the U.S. Army has come up with an unusual way to test thee  water. They use bluegills. They are able to respond quickly to materials like cyanide, solvents and pesticides (Mott). If and when such things are found the trick becomes how to limit their spread and stop those who are responsible.

Someone had told Paul what was happening among those churches he and Barnabas had planted. They were aware of the problem and Paul was not about to shy away from exposing it so that these churches might be repaired and others warned.

The issue in Galatia was pretty specific. A group of Jewish Christians were not happy with the Jewish Law being put aside by the Jerusalem Council (cf. Acts 15). They thought all followers of Jesus should still obey dietary laws and other such things including circumcision. It seemed, in their thinking, one was a Jew first and a follower of Christ second. These are the people Paul has in his sights as he writes

But, there are other issues we face today, some similar and not so similar that, like that of Paul’s day, threaten God’s people and faithful living out our trust in Jesus. Among these threats are:

1.     It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you trust Jesus
2.    We can become spiritually special by gaining the right knowledge
3.    Jesus is one of the ways God has given humans to gain heaven
4.    God expects us to live like Jesus. If we’re kind, nice and love everyone God will accept us into His Kingdom
5.    Christianity is one of the great religions and all of them are really the same deep down.

In fact, these are all lies. None of them is really new and all of them have been addressed by God’s Word and dealt with by God’s people at some time or another. Needless to say, we’re not going to even make a dent in all of this, but my goal is to help us see just how serious God takes such beliefs and what we can do to face them in our own lives.

The Serious Nature of the Problem

You can see how serious the issue in Galatia is by the various words Paul uses. Paul is astonished at the speed at which these churches have embraced a lie. In his paraphrase, J. B. Phillips has Paul’s reference to “my dear idiots” in Galatians 3:1. The term demonstrates “the irritation and irony as well as the surprise” (George p 90).

 The Galatians are in the act of deserting, abandoning, and becoming a traitor to Christ. This word indicates the “transfer of one’s allegiance. It is used of soldiers in the army who revolt or desert, and of men who change sides in politics or philosophy” (Stott p 37). And although one may blame the heretics, the verb demonstrates the Galatians were willing participants (Utley) and (Lenski). In the words of Dr. Dan Fuller, the people who had accepted what Paul said now declared “I vote no confidence in your promises God” (Fuller).

A second grouping of words is aimed directly at those who have brought this non-gospel to the Galatians. Paul says they trouble the church (ESV) the gospel of Christ. To ‘trouble’ (ESV), ‘throw into confusion’, (NIV) or ‘disturbing’ (NASB) means to shake and “to excite to the point of perplexity and fear” (George p. 94).

The word that Paul links with this is stronger. They distort or pervert the Gospel. It means they take God’s gracious word and try ‘to reverse’ it. They deliberately twist it into something that it is not. John Stott says they are “turning it back to front and upside down.” And as he so rightly notes, “You cannot modify or supplement the gospel without radically changing its character” (Stott p 18).

What is being changed?

What is meant by ‘the gospel’? Have you ever been to Shari’s at Delta Park? A waitress might come up to you and ask if you’d like another cup of coffee. That’s a pretty normal thing to say. You may push yourself away from the table after a piece of pie and have the waitress ask if you’d like to try another piece of pie, a different type? Here is the difference in the Greek in verse 6-7 “…are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one.”

Although these words are often used interchangeably the context here clearly shows that something qualitatively different is being taught. What is being taught by these Jewish Christians is that the Law has to be kept if you want to be a ‘real’ believer. And, apparently those in the church were falling for it.

What it lost in this heresy is the gospel of grace and, therefore, the Gospel that comes from and is based in Jesus’ death and resurrection. To say NO to the Mosaic Law, which these Judaizers were preaching is pretty easy. I like shellfish and enjoy a fabric with cotton and polyester. The issue becomes which laws, rules, prohibitions still stand? To go further, what rules for living is expected among God’s people that may not have been thought of in the First Century but are appropriate for us today?

The liberation which the Gospel brings because if its grace does not lead to sinning so we can reap the forgiveness of God. That is an ancient heresy called Autonomism. It teaches the only thing that matters is believing in Jesus. What you do afterward doesn’t figure into your spiritual life. What God’s gracious gospel does do, is set us free from a life of self and reliance on our ability. Tim Keller notes, “Paul shows the young believers in Galatia that their spiritual problem is not only caused by failing to live in obedience to God but also by relying on obedience to him” quoted in (Novenson).
The legalism was wrong because it supplanted Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit (McKnight pp 52-53). It makes something other than Jesus the source of our salvation.

So what do we do?

First, we recognize signs that we are hearing or seeing another gospel when something is added onto the message of Jesus. It happens when we assume our rules, ways of doing things, form of government, even the emphasis in our theology is the only truth. Dr. Maxie Dunnam wrote, “I visit churches in whose worship I would never dare lift my hands in praise, and others where I would feel condemned if I prayed a written prayer. In one, the congregation is a slave to form; in the other, they are slaves to formlessness” (Dunnam and Ogilvie pp 21-22). And therein lies the danger.

Secondly we see that something is removed from Christ’s gospel and we are left in the grasp of something less. Today, this is the most prevalent form of such distortion. I had a very telling conversation with someone concerning their faith. I simply asked what they placed their faith in. They had been active in a church in the past. He said his faith was in Jesus, but he didn’t have to believe in a book written by a bunch of old guys. His god told him what to do. Can you imagine how I felt when I read?

“Paul would make no pretension at being religiously tolerant if being tolerant means that it doesn’t really matter what persons believe so long as they believe. How naive and glib we often are: “What persons believe is their business—a private matter. We don’t need to be too concerned about theology or doctrine. Being brotherly is what matters, living by the Golden Rule, doing good, refraining from harmful activity—that’s what counts. And if you are sincere, you’ll be led to the right truth and in the right path.” (Dunnam and Ogilvie p 22).

In the choir room at Savage Memorial Presbyterian is a sign that reads, “You become what you practice”. What we believe, rely on, and trust in will work its way out in our behavior. And our behavior is the barometer of our faith. Jesus told us, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”.

Third we need to determine if the gospel we are following has been constructed by people in order to please people or if they remain chaffing enough to still move us toward Jesus? What do we do when we are tempted with deserting? Paul tells us we are to remember who we are in Christ and in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 we read:
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. ESV

Works Cited

Dunnam, Maxie D. and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Galatians / Ephesians / Philippians / Colossians / Philemon. Vol. 31. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
Fuller, Dan. 1978-1980. quotation.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Vol. 30. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. Print.
Lenski, R. C. H. The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians adn to the Philippians. Columbus: Lutheran Book Concer, 1937. Print.
McKnight, Scot. Galatians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. Print.
Mott, Maryann. "Bluegill FIsh Monitor Water Supplies for Terrorist Attacks." 28 September 2006. National Geographic News. .
Novenson, Joe. "Galatians: Fighting for the Gospel." 14 November 2013. Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church. .
Stott, John. Only One Way. Inter-Varsity Press, 1973. Print.
Utley, Robert James. Paul's First Letter: Galatians and 1 7 2 Thessalonians. Marshall : Bible Lessons International, 1997. Print.