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Series:  Set Free - Part Three

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 16, 2011

If you have your Bibles and would like to turn to where we’re going this morning we are going to be looking at Galatians 2:1-14.  You’ll also find message notes in your bulletin.

We’re going on in our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Galatia was located where?  What is now central Turkey.   Paul’s letter is to the believers who lived all over that Roman province.

We’ve also seen that the theme of Paul’s letter is found in Galatians 5:1.  Let’s read this verse together to get it fresh in our minds.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Whatever’s holding us back from what God has for us binds us - enslaves us.  Which is what we struggle with as we go along through life.  Even as followers of Jesus who’ve been set free by God’s grace - by Jesus’ work on the cross - we struggle against the crud of this world and against stuff in our lives - against sin - we struggle to live free - to avoid being bound by what keeps us back from the life that we long for in Jesus.

Paul’s letter is warning to us - that even believers can live in bondage.  Paul is writing an encouragement to us of how we can stay free - stand firm in our relationship with Jesus and live the life that we were created to live.  Put simply:  Set Free.  Live Free.  Let’s say that together.  “Set free.  Live free.” 

Galatians 2 - starting at verse 1:  Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.  I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

Let’s pause there.  These first two verses focus on The Delegation that was sent from Antioch to Jerusalem.  Let’s repeat that together.  “The delegation.” 

At least fourteen years have gone by since Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  During those fourteen years Paul has been out in the desert of Arabia learning theology from God - getting his Back Side of the Desert Degree.  He’s ministered unsuccessfully in Damascus.  Made at least one trip to Jerusalem.  Traveled through his home town of Tarsus.  Then for the bulk of that time he’s been with Barnabas doing ministry in Antioch.

Antioch which is here. (map)

During that time of ministry in Antioch the focus of Paul and Barnabas’ - the focus of their ministry has been to the Gentiles.  God in His grace has been using Paul and Barnabas to reach the Gentiles of Antioch with the gospel and significant numbers of Gentiles were being saved - were becoming followers of Jesus.  Gentiles being added to the Church. 

What we’re going to find - as we go through this passage - is that these Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus was causing some concern with the believers down in Jerusalem.  That concern is behind this delegation that is sent down to Jerusalem.

In a number of ways what we have here is a tale of two cities.  Antioch and Jerusalem.

Antioch is on the cutting edge of what God is doing.  Antioch was where Christians were first called Christians.  Gentiles are coming to faith.  A commitment to missions was taking root that would send the gospel out into the Roman empire - out to the Gentiles.  Antioch was where new life is happening - a vibrancy - a fervency in Christ is happening - being experienced every day.

Jerusalem is where the resurrected Jesus had walked.  Pentecost had happened there.  The Spirit had descended.  The gospel had spread with power.  Large numbers of Jews had come to faith.  The church had exploded.  All of which had happened 15 years earlier.  Since then the church had been persecuted.  The church had become poor.  God was a work.  But “church” in Jerusalem was different than it was in Antioch.

In verse 2 - Paul writes that they went to Jerusalem because of - why?  a revelation.  What probably happened was that the believers in Antioch had heard about the concerns being expressed in Jerusalem and they were concerned for what that might mean.  Certainly it didn’t sound good.  So they’d been praying.

God “revealed” that a delegation should be sent to Jerusalem.  “Revealed” translates the same word in Greek that Paul used back in chapter one - same word Paul used to describe Jesus breaking through into his life out on the road to Damascus - revealing Himself to Paul.  God speaking from heaven to Paul - giving Paul the instruction to go to Jerusalem.

Hold on to that.  This delegation is a God thing.  God is at work here.

The delegation consists of at least three key people.  Probably Paul is the most familiar to us.  The persecutor turned promoter - a man of amazing energy, passion, and genius - changed forever by an encounter with Jesus.

Barnabas was a right on Christ-centered man.  Barnabas was a capable leader - a humble servant - a great support and co-worker for Paul.  Barnabas had deep roots in the Jerusalem church.  He was the only one in Jerusalem who believed that Saul - the persecutor of the church - had become a believer.  When Paul came to Jerusalem and everyone was afraid of him, Barnabas introduced him to others.  Barnabas may be a part of this delegation to add credibility that the church in Jerusalem would recognize.

The third delegate was Titus - a Gentile - an uncircumcised Greek.  A brother in Christ that we don’t know a whole lot about except he keeps showing up time and time again in those situations where a level head and a courageous God centered faith are necessary to deal with struggles in the church.  Titus as a part of this delegation is exhibit A.  The Gentile believer.  

Who sent the delegation?  God.  Point being that Paul wasn’t summoned to “headquarters” to give an explanation of his ministry.  But Paul and company - this group of radicals from Antioch - are sent by God to Jerusalem - to the older more respectable struggling church - sent there by God to clarify for the church what God was doing.

When Paul writes that he’s going to Jerusalem in order to make sure he’s not running “in vain.”  His concern isn’t that, “I’ve done all this and we’re going to get chewed out and be told that we’ve been doing - this evangelizing of the Gentiles thing - is wrong.” 

In vain - is Paul’s concern - that the church in Jerusalem won’t recognize what God has been doing through Paul - what God has been doing in Antioch - and that the delegation will be a failure and the result will be huge problems in the church.

Let’s go on - verses 3 to 5 focus on The Division.  Let’s repeat that together.  “The division.”

Verse 3:  But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.  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. 

To help us get a feel for what’s going on here would you try something with me?  Everyone to this side of the center aisle you get to be group 1.  Everyone on this side you get to be group 2.

Take a moment to look around at the people in your group.  If you’re in group one you might say to each other something like, “We’re number one.”  If you’re in group two, you can encourage each other with something like, “We’re number two.”

Group one:  If you would stand and share with the people of Group Two this:  “We’re better Christians than you are.”

Group two - your turn.  “We’re better Christians than you are.”

Group One:  “We’re more spiritual than you are.”

Group Two:  “We’re more spiritual than you are.”

Group One:  “We’re Jewish.  We keep the law.”

Group Two:   “We’re Gentiles.  We don’t have to.”

Group One:  “God chose us.”

Group Two:  “Jesus died for us.”

Thanks.  You all can sit down.  Feels good to be number two.  Doesn’t it? 

The issue was a question.  Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to  be Christians?  Another way of putting that would be:  Is Christianity just a part of Judaism?  Is Christianity just a movement within Judaism that reaches to those outside of Judaism and makes them into Jews so they can progress along becoming what’s traditionally Jewish?  Or, has something so radically different taken place that Gentiles can be included and they don’t have to take on what traditionally its meant to be Jewish?

That was a huge issue - potentially dividing the church into two parts - the Gentile part and the Jewish part.

Paul tells us that some people had such a burr up their saddle that they’d even snuck into Antioch - trying to infiltrate the church there - to spy out what was going on - this radical freedom that these Gentiles were experiencing in Christ.  Their purpose wasn’t to grow spiritually - to build up the church.  It was to force people to adopt their pro-Judaism way of thinking.

Titus - Exhibit A - coming down from Antioch with this radical delegation - Titus was at the center point of that question.  To circumcise or not to circumcise that was the question.

Which was just the tip of the ice berg.  In reality there was a whole lot more to it than just circumcision.  What about dietary laws?  Regulations about what to eat and who to eat with and what to eat with and when to eat and how you could eat certain things.  And then regulations about what you could wear.  Regulations about who you could associate with.

On and on down the list of all the laws and regulations and what it meant to be Jewish.  Shouldn’t the Gentiles have to conform to all that if they want to be part of the church?

Paul writes that he wasn’t going to yield to them.  He’s not going to submit to that.  Not for a moment.

In the last two Sundays we’ve seen Paul making a powerful point about grace.  God who is grace - the Almighty sovereign God of creation loving us so much that He came and died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin so that we can live forgiven - restored - live free according to the incredible purposes for which He’s created each of us - to live set free in the abundant life that is ours in Jesus.

Not because we deserve it.  Not because we could earn it.  Not because God saw our future and knew how righteous and holy we’d become.  But because God is the God of grace who chooses to be gracious to us.  Salvation - life in Christ - is a freely given undeserved gift of God’s grace - that by faith we receive what He - God - has already done for us.

To add to God’s grace is a form of bondage that would keep us back from all that God frees us to experience in Jesus.  That is why Paul will not yield or submit for a moment to those who would add slavery as a requirement for salvation.

That is why the delegation from Antioch does not come seeking approval but affirmation of what God has been doing.  Its vitally crucial that the church leadership understand what God is doing.  Why?  So that any potential division in the church is squashed - quickly.  So that we don’t end up with a Jewish half of the church and a Gentile half of the church - but a church - the church following together after God.

Grab this:  When we insist on our self-focused perspective of what we think God is doing - we divide the church - binding the church - keeping ourselves back from all that God frees us to experience together in Jesus.

Chuck Colson, in BreakPoint, tells a story from the childhood of a biologist named Benno Müller-Hill.

One day the boy’s teacher set up a telescope to show students a planet and its moons.  One by one the students looked through the telescope and said, yes, they could see the planet.  Finally one student said, “I can’t see anything.”

The teacher angrily told him to adjust the lenses.  Still the student saw nothing.  Finally the teacher himself leaned over and looked.  When he stood up, he had a strange expression on his face.  He glanced at the end of the telescope and saw that the lens cap was still on.  (1)

We’ve got to get the lens cap off of our hearts - to honestly see God at work as God Himself is working - if we’re going to live freely together in God’s grace.

Let’s go on.  Verses 6 to 10 focus on The Decision.  Let’s repeat that together.  “The decision.”

Verse 6:  And those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)

Those who were influential were those who had recognition - who were regarded by the church in Jerusalem as having authority.  Paul wasn’t impressed with people’s position in the community.  He wasn’t there to conform to their expectations or to win their approval.  The ultimate authority is God.  Paul was there to present God’s work among the Gentiles.

those, I say, who seemed influential - the leaders of the church in Jerusalem - added nothing to me.

Paul writes, “They didn’t add anything.”  They didn't say, “Well, Paul, what you’re doing up in Antioch is good.  But, really those Greeks - those Gentiles - they really need to be circumcised.”

Titus arrived uncircumcised.  He left uncircumcised.  Circumcision was never added as requirement for inclusion in the church.

Verse 7:  On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles) - in other words when the Jerusalem leadership recognized that Jesus was at work through both of us - that God has called Paul to evangelize the Gentiles just as God has called Peter to evangelize the Jews - the leadership got it - this is a God thing.  God is saving the Gentiles.

Verse 9:  and when James and Cephas - the Aramiac version of Peter - when James and Peter and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me - this is a God thing - they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.      

“Fellowship” translates the Greek word “koinonia.”  It means “in common” - a union of spirit that’s expressed by the right hand of fellowship.  A handshake that lasts for a brief moment but signifies something deeper - more lasting - that’s already taken place.  “We’re one in Christ.  We belong to each other.”

The request to remember the poor - something Paul was very ready to do - the request to remember the poor is an expression of that union in Christ.

The word “poor” in Greek has the idea of being made destitute.  There is a difference between need and want.

People who’ve made a business out of begging on street corners - with those signs “Please help.  Will work for food.  Veteran.  God bless.” - that’s a lucrative business - appealing to the good nature of folks - a business that preys on the good natured with the sole purpose of supplying the wants of those who choose to remain a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol and however else they choose to live their life.

What’s being spoken about here - the poor - are those who have been made destitute due to ongoing persecution who had great need and given the opportunity would do what they could to get out of their situation.  Poor who needed the support of their siblings in Jesus.

Do you see the difference between need and want?  Meeting the legitimate needs of our siblings in Jesus is an expression of our unity in Christ.

The decision:  “You don’t have to become a Jew to become a Christian.”  We affirm that the same God, same Lord, same Spirit is at work in all of us.  We’re one in Christ. 

Verses 11 to 14 focus on The Disappointment.  Let’s repeat that together.  “The disappointment.”

Verse 11:  But when Cephas - Peter - 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?”

One of the significant events of church history that had taken place during those 14 years before Paul arrived with the Antioch delegation was Peter’s whole encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10,11.  Which is familiar to us.  Right?  Peter in Joppa with the vision of the sheet coming down from heaven with the unclean animals and our Lord telling Peter to eat them.

God graciously allowing Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles - to Cornelius and company.  Peter seeing the Spirit of God descend on the Gentiles - demonstrating that God had saved them - just as God had saved Peter.  Peter grabbing onto the truth that salvation was not about the ethnic and cultural boundaries of Judaism but about faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sometime after the Antioch delegation returned to Antioch, Peter makes his way up to Antioch - where Peter himself is eating and fellowshipping with the Gentiles in the freedom of Christ.  Peter recognized his freedom in Christ.  He wasn’t bothered by the whole issue of a Jew eating with a Gentile.

Until a delegation from Jerusalem arrives in Antioch - a delegation that had been sent by James - to check out what was going on up in Antioch.  Not to force the issue of circumcision.  That issue had been settled.  But to see what first hand what God was doing.  The delegation arrives and suddenly Peter does a 180 and suddenly becomes Mr. Judaism - refusing to eat with the Gentiles.  Why?

Did you notice that the right hand of fellowship was extended to Paul and Barnabas - the Jews - but not to Titus the Greek.  I may be reading way too much into this.  But, I don’t think so.  Affirmation can come very cheaply.  Its very possible that some in Jerusalem affirmed but did not accept for themselves the decision of the leadership.

We can agree that God is saving Gentiles - which is okay for Antioch - but that doesn’t mean we have to eat with them here in Jerusalem.  That doesn’t mean we’re going to change our way of doing of doing church. 

Why Peter’s 180?  Paul says that Peter feared the party of the circumcision - the pro-circumcision crowd.  Most probably Peter feared what that group would do with the information that Peter - a Jew - was eating with Gentiles.  He feared that somehow that information would be used back in Jerusalem as leverage - to push their agenda - ultimately to create division in the church.  So Peter compromised.  Conformed to the behavior approved by the circumcision party.

Did you notice who else got sucked into this?  Barnabas.  That must have hurt.  The rest of the Jews we can sort of understand to a point.  But Barnabas?  This godly man who’d stood by Paul’s side when no one else would even come near him.  Who’d been with him through all those years of ministry.  Who’d traveled with him to Jerusalem as a delegate.  Even Barnabas is led astray by their hypocrisy.  That must have hurt Paul deeply.

Bible teacher Ralph L. Keiper’s paraphrased Paul’s confrontation.  “Peter, I smell ham on your breath.  You forgot your Certs.  There was a time when you wouldn’t eat ham as part of your hope of salvation.  Then after you trusted Christ it didn't matter if you ate ham.  But now when the no-ham eaters have come from Jerusalem you’ve gone back to your kosher ways.  But the smell of ham still lingers on your breath.  You’re most inconsistent.  Your compelling Gentile believers to observe Jewish law, which can never justify anyone.” (2)

Paul’s rebuke of Peter is public.  Why?  Because Peter’s sin was public.  Peter conforming to the approval of the Judiazers.  Binding himself to their approval instead of living freely in Christ.  Peter’s sin that led others into sin - back into slavery.  The church - in both cities and beyond - needs to get back to God’s truth - to freedom in Jesus.

What is hard to process is that Paul is writing this to believers in Galatia.  Not the Paul writing to Galatians part.  But that he’s writing to believers about the struggle we have to divide ourselves - and bind the church -  based on our little understandings of what it means to follow Jesus.

A long time ago in a church far, far away I served an internship with a congregation that had just made the transition from a German speaking congregation with services in German - and then the controversy of German or English language services - to English only services with a disgruntled German speaking minority.  There were divisions in the church because of how long people had been there or what language they spoke or what family they were a part of.  What was lacking was a freedom to move forward where God wanted to go with that congregation.

Maybe you seen something like that?  Hard to imagine anyone who’s been around “church” for very long that hasn’t.

I’ve seen those divisions and more in Armenian churches.  I’ve seen them   in American churches.  Seen them in the US and overseas.  Divisions over language and background and economics and education and belief.  Divisions that God never intended for His church.  That are there because of us.  Not God.

We need to be honest with ourselves - what Peter struggled with - what Barnabas struggled with - what the Galatians struggled with - we struggle with.  It is so hard to get past ourselves - to let go of what we think God is doing to pursue what God is doing. 

We affirm the truth of freedom in Christ but struggle to accept the implications of that truth for our own lives - that we need to intentionally accept and reach out beyond our comfort zone to others - people not like us - and to what God may be doing in their lives.  Its way too easy to associate with people that operate in the church “our way” - that see things our way - that affirm us.

The Gospel has everything to do with who we eat with.  Have you ever thought about that?  Why you eat with some people and not others?  Or sit with some - here in worship or at potlucks or wherever - and not others.  Who we welcome into our lives - into our homes - and who we acknowledge - sort of.

Its way too easy for us to affirm that God does things in different ways than we’re used to and then to struggle to accept the implications of that truth for our lives.  Its hard to let go of what we think needs to be - what we’ve invested so much of ourselves in.  But sometimes programs need to die.  Dead programs provide fertilizer for new programs.

We need to intentionally get beyond ourselves in exploring and being open to new ways - new opportunities of doing ministry.  Different styles of music.  Different forms of worship.  Even different languages.

When we insist on our self-focused perspective of what we think God is doing - we divide the church - binding the church - keeping ourselves back from all that God frees us to experience together in Jesus.

Let me share one thought of how.  I think this comes from what Paul is writing here about how - through all this - Paul was keeping his focus on God.

Years ago I took an art class and we studied perspective.  Do you know what a vanishing point is?  A vanishing point is really crucial to perspective.  Its this thing.  (picture)  

Early in the 15th Century medieval artists started using the concept of perspective in their paintings.  Up until that point the world was flat and really weird looking.  But the vanishing point revolutionized art.  It gave a location in the painting where all the lines in a painting would point.

What that did was give a sense of realism to a painting.  Artists started using checkerboard floors in their paintings and doing all kinds of complicated perspective stuff just to show off that they could.

In the real world this is what a vanishing point looks like.  (picture)  Point of convergence out on the horizon.

God needs to be our vanishing point - the ultimate reference point that everything in our lives points at.  He needs to give meaning and purpose and direction to our lives.  Not our ethnicity or social status or longevity in the church or what anybody else thinks about us.

All our interactions with people - our decisions - all that needs to be made within the context of our relationship with God.  The closer we draw to God - the more we’re moving individually towards Him - the closer we draw to each other. - and all the things that divide us eventually vanish in Him.

It would be so easy to affirm what Paul is writing about and fail acknowledge that it applies to us - to you.  Let me leave you with just one challenging thought to have rummaging around in your heart this week.  Think about the context you’re in - work - school - home - church - wherever your context is - what would it mean to start seeing people with God as your vanishing point?

What would it look like to relate to people with God as your vanishing point?  How would that change the way you think about other people?  How would that free you up to love them?  What would that mean to how you’re serving God?

1. Charles Colson quoted by Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations
2. Ralph L. Keiper cited by Leslie Flynn, Great Church Fights, quoted by Charles Swindoll,  Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations and Quotes

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.