June 11, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, June 12-18

June 12

1 Kin. 18, Acts 17:16-34
1 Kin. 19, 2 Cor. 9


2 Corinthians 9

Paul's "boast" about the Corinthians is that they were ready to give a year ago (2).  Achaia is the southern tip of Greece, which resembles a hand on a map.  It is superfluous for Paul to remind them of the offering (1), but, in order to prevent embarrassment by not being ready, he reminds them again (3-5). 

Verses 6-15 have often been distorted to mean that giving to the service of God ensures that God will multiply your money back to you.  But Paul is not promising God will increase your material wealth just because you give money to His work.  Such giving is not a gift, it is an investment.  Its objective is not the glory of God, but personal gain.  Paul is talking more about spiritual matters than financial matters.  He is encouraging people to give freely expecting no financial return on their gifts.  He does not want them to give in order to gain, but because they have already gained. The Corinthians are already prosperous people.  God has already blessed them with material abundance.  Now they are given a chance to help others who are in true need.

There will be benefits for their generosity.  Truly God will make all grace abound toward them (8).  But notice that the grace given is to enable them have sufficiency in all things that they "may abound to every good work."   In verses 10 and 11 Paul prays that God will give them abundance, especially in righteousness, but he does not promise or imply that sending money to Jerusalem will guarantee them more money in return.  The benefits of giving money are the same as those for every other thing they do in God's service.  They cause the receivers to give thanks unto God (12), and they cause the givers to reap bountifully of the grace of God (6, 8).

June 13

1 Kin. 20:1-21, Acts 18:1-17
1 Kin. 20:22-43, 2 Cor. 10


2 Corinthians 10

Paul now returns to the problems caused by the false apostles who trouble the Corinthian Church.  These men have done much damage, and, though the church has taken vigorous steps to drive them and their followers out, some of their influence remains.  Consequently, some of the Corinthians still deride Paul and his teaching.  Paul begins the chapter beseeching the church by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (1) and by addressing a charge that he writes bold letters but is weak in person (1, 10).  He says his weapons are not after the flesh (2-6).  Paul means it is not by personal power, the force of his personality, or his skill as an orator that the issue will be decided (10).  It is the power of God that is mighty to pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations (delusions of grandeur), and bring the thoughts of human beings under the obedience of Christ. Therefore, the Corinthians should not look on the outward appearance of Paul, for he belongs to Christ, who has given him authority to build up the Corinthians (8).  

Paul makes two important points in the remainder of the chapter.  First, he will not compare himself to the false apostles who measure themselves by worldly standards rather than by Christ (12-13).  Second, unlike the false apostles, he does not boast "of things without our measure" (15).  This means he does not try to take over a church founded by another Apostle.  The false apostles are doing just that in Corinth.  They are not brave enough to go into un-evangelised areas and found churches.  They prefer to take over another man's work.  But Paul, a true Apostle, brought the Gospel to Corinth, and intends to take it further northward and westward where other evangelists have not been.  He will glory in the Lord, not another man's labours.  He closes with the telling remark that an apostle who commends himself is not "approved" (accepted by God).  It is the man God commends who is accepted.  The idea of this verse is that the Corinthians, and all Christians, should approve and accept those as teachers and spiritual leaders whom God commends, not those who commend themselves.

June 14

1 Kin. 21, Acts 18:17-28
1 King. 22:1-28, 2 Cor.. 11


2 Corinthians 11

Some at Corinth have said Paul is a fool (2 Cor. 5:13).  If so, he says in verse1, "bear with me a little in my folly" for his desire is to present them "as a chaste virgin to Christ."  In other words, what has been called "folly" is really concern for their spiritual well being.  He has laboured for them with patience, unfaltering love, and tireless devotion.  If that is foolishness, then let them bear with him a while longer.  He is concerned that they will be the real fools and allow their minds to be corrupted from the simplicity of Christ (3).  The false apostles teach a complex system of doctrines and deities that combine Christianity with Judaism and Greek pagan religions.  Paul teaches the simple Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is the very simplicity of the Gospel that often trips people.  "It can't be that simple," they think, but it is.

The apparent simplicity of the Gospel is one reason why the Corinthians followed the false apostles in the first place, and Paul still worries that they will follow another teacher, trust in another Jesus, receive another spirit, and believe another gospel (4).  How easily people are led astray and how easily we are enticed by things that are unimportant.  How cheaply we sell our souls for trifles; an engaging personality, a more attractive setting, an easier gospel, a style of music.  How easily we are fooled into valuing the wrapping over the Gift.

If Paul is not the polished speaker the false apostles are, he is in no way inferior to the true Apostles, and his knowledge is far superior to that of the false apostles (5-6).  He teaches the true Gospel of Christ, they teach a false gospel.  His purpose is to gather souls for Heaven, their purpose is to gather mammon for themselves.

Paul's purpose is obviously not to make money.  He reminds the Corinthians that he is "chargeable to no man" (9), meaning he did not accept money from them for preaching the Gospel.  He supported himself, or received support from the Macedonian churches rather than accept money from the Corinthians.  Having given so much to them, at no cost to themselves, Paul worries that he has harmed them.  Having received the Gospel at no expense to themselves, do they now think of the Gospel and the Apostle of Christ as having no value?  The false apostles sell their gospels at high prices.  Do the Corinthians think they and their gospels are therefore of great value, while Paul and his Gospel are of little worth?  It is not because the Gospel of Christ is cheap, nor because Paul has no right to receive payment for his services that he preached the Gospel freely.  It is because he did not wish to burden the Corinthians, and that they may never be able to accuse him of selling Christ the way the false apostles sell their faith, that Paul accepted no money from the Corinthians (12).

Verses 13-15 show the deceitfulness of the false teachers.  They transform themselves into an angel of light.  Paul does not mean they actually become angels of light.  He means they take on the appearance of angels of light.  They appear to be bearers of the Good News, but their gospel is false, and they are deceived and deceivers.  Satan tries to appear to us as the minister of truth and freedom, though his words are the words of death.  Therefore, we should not be surprised when his "ministers" appear to be helpful and their teachings seem so appealing (15).

According to Paul, there are two groups of fools in Corinth.  First is the group of false apostles.  They are the ones who glory after the flesh, meaning to boast and put confidence in their own abilities to sway a crowd and motivate people, and in their ceremonies, rather than in the Gospel and the Spirit of God (18).  Second is the group that follows the false prophets. They are the people who are swayed by emotions and psychological tricks rather than the word of God.  Thus Paul says of them, "ye suffer (allow yourselves to be influenced by) fools gladly (19).  "You gladly allow fools to lead and abuse you," we might say in paraphrase.  When, in verse 19, he calls the Corinthians wise he is making a point by stating the opposite, much as a politician might speak of his "worthy" opponent when he really thinks (and wants his hearers to think) the opponent is terribly unworthy. Since the Corinthians are so "wise" and Paul is so "foolish," Paul says, they should hear him out (16-18).  They have let the real fools abuse them (20), they should at least hear the words of one who really cares about them and has suffered for their benefit.  

Thus, Paul begins to tell of his service to Christ and the personal cost to him of bringing the Gospel to Corinth.  Verses 22-29 tell of the cost to Paul.  He equals the false apostles in their Hebrew origins (11:22).  Verse 23 does not mean the false apostles are truly ministers of Christ, but even if they were their labours cannot begin to match those of Paul.  Who among the false teachers has been beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, or lived in exhaustion, hunger, thirst, cold and inadequate clothing for the sake of the Gospel and the Corinthians?  Have they not rather demanded ease and luxury for the service of leading the Church astray?

False apostles and their followers have called Paul foolish and weak, but Paul replies that he will not glory in his strength and wisdom; he will glory in his infirmities, his weaknesses.  It is because he is weak that he knows the Corinthians have not been moved to believe in Christ by his eloquence, his magnetic personality, or the attractiveness of a false gospel.  They have been moved by the word and Spirit of God.  That is the meaning Paul is trying to get across to us.

Paul’s point has been largely lost in the pop religion of today.  Many churches are simply personality cults, and much of the preaching has little or nothing to do with the real Gospel.  False teachers abound, and people prefer them and their tricks to the simple preaching of Christ.  God have mercy upon us.

June 15

1 Kin. 22:29-51, Acts 19:1-20
2 Kings 1, 2 Cor. 12


2 Corinthians 12

In the early days of the Church, God continued to reveal Himself through visions, dreams, and miracles.  False apostles faked these things, turned them into emotional/psychological experiences, and made having such experiences the essence of being a Christian.  They encouraged people to work themselves into a high emotional state using stirring music, often repeating the same words many times, to lead them into a semi-hypnotic state.  During and after experiencing this euphoric condition the endorphins flowed freely, and the false apostles and their followers thought they were experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit. 
Real visions and experiences were very rare in the early Church, even among the Apostles.  John records one in the book of Revelation and Acts records three for Peter, excluding two times he witnessed people speaking in tongues but did not himself participate.  Even Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, records relatively few such experiences, and never suggests they are a normal part of the Christian life or to be sought by Christians.  His words, "caught up" (4) show that he did not seek such experiences; rather, he was caught up in them by God when he was not expecting them.

The false apostles point to the excitement they bring to the church, and the experiences people have as the result of their "ministry."  This, they say, is proof that the Spirit of God is working through them, not through poor Paul who neither has these experiences nor enables the Church to have them. Paul responds to this in chapter 12.

He tells the Corinthians about an experience he had fourteen years earlier.  He speaks of himself in the third person as "a man in Christ..., caught up to the third heaven, into paradise..., and heard unspeakable words... not lawful for a man to utter."  Due to the timing of this event, many believe Paul writes here about his experience in the Temple recorded in Acts 22:17-21.  Whether Paul refers to that experience or another, we always see that his experiences were not sought or worked up by himself, and that they always gave Paul specific direction for the work he was called to do.  They were never experiences for the sake of experiences.  This proves the experiences of the false apostles are not from God.

Paul describes his experience in intentionally vague terms.  He does not know if he saw these things by literally being transported into Heaven or not.  He only knows that he was allowed to see paradise, and that it was so wonderful he could not describe it even if he were allowed to (2-4).

But it is not in such experiences that Paul glories.  He glories in his weaknesses (5) so that no one will think he is more than what he is (6).  In other words, Paul does not want to call attention to himself, or even to the unusual experience he had, for that might make people seek him, or the experience, instead of Christ.  Furthermore, though he, as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the Word of God came to the Gentiles as from the prophets of ancient Israel, had this experience, he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (7).

Much discussion has been devoted to this thorn in the flesh.  Is it a physical illness?  Is it a spiritual weakness?  Is it the persecutions of the unbelievers and false apostles?  When you get to Heaven, you can ask him.  For now let us simply know what the Bible tells us, that in the weakness of that thorn, God's perfect strength is revealed.  Paul had thought the thorn would work against his ability to be effective in the work of the Gospel.  To Paul, it seemed to be something that would cause people to reject his message.  Yet God uses Paul mightily because of his weakness.  Thus, the thorn, which made effective preaching and evangelism seem impossible, is the very thing God used to make Paul's work effective.  The false apostles seem to have everything, and the people throng after them.  But those who follow Paul hear the true Gospel. It is they who believe unto salvation.

Therefore, Paul takes pleasure in his infirmities and reproaches (10).  It is very likely that the things mentioned in verse 10 are all part of Paul's "thorn in the flesh."  But when Paul is weak, then Christ is strong in him.  His grace is sufficient (12:9).  His grace is sufficient to make the Gospel appeal to His people.  His grace is sufficient to make Paul an effective ambassador for Christ.  His grace is sufficient to build His Church and edify His people. His grace is sufficient to enable Paul to persevere in his work until God calls him Home.  Paul, like all ministers, is insufficient in himself.  No matter how knowledgeable, no matter how gifted he may be in public speaking, no matter how attractive he may be, or how magnetic his personality, he is insufficient and these traits may actually be hindrances rather than helps.  Only the grace of God is sufficient for these things, and His grace makes our weaknesses strengths.

These words may well be heeded by those in small but faithful congregations and denominations today.  The experience based churches always draw the crowds and get the money.  Those who meet in rented buildings, homes, public halls may think they are disadvantaged by these “weaknesses.”  But it may be that true Christian faith flourishes in such conditions far more than it does in the mega churches and cathedrals.  It may be that the things we consider thorns are the very things God uses to exalt Himself in us.  Thus Paul says to the Corinthians that without the false apostles and their appealing doctrines and ecstatic experiences, they are not inferior to any other church.  They have it all because they have Christ. Paul's one regret about his ministry among them is that he did not allow them to share the expenses of preaching the Gospel in Corinth (13).

There is a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished."  That describes Paul's feelings about his treatment from the Corinthians.  Throughout this epistle he has professed his love for them.  He has recounted the sacrifices he made to bring the Gospel to them (11:23-29).  He has reminded them that others contributed money so he could minister in Corinth without cost to them (11:8), and that he suffered need rather than accept money from them (11:9).  Now he plans to make another trip to Corinth, to spend yet more time and effort, at great personal cost to him and at the expense of people outside of Corinth.  He reaffirms his willingness to spend and be spent in their service (15).  Yet, he says, "the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."

The Corinthians prefer the flashy, self-promoting false apostles, with their false gospels and emotional experiences, to the self giving love of Paul, who preaches the truth simply and honestly.  The false apostles use the Corinthians to build a financial empire for themselves, and the Corinthians love them.  Paul spends himself to build Biblical faith and hope in them, and they reject him.  He fears for their sake.  He fears many of them remain in their sin (20).  He fears he will still find them in debates (arguing for false teachings) envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings (murmuring and complaining in attempts to divide the Church) swellings (conceit), and tumults when he returns to them (20).  In other words, he fears he will find a divided church fighting over unimportant things while meekly accepting lies and false teaching.

How often we find the same things happening today.  Churches fight and split over the most insignificant things, yet allow themselves and their loved ones to be indoctrinated with hellish heresies in teaching and practice.  People who share the Biblical faith, and are otherwise united in culture, values, and life-views, divide and allow themselves to be divided, over trivialities that don't matter at all.  There is only one word for this, SIN.  Notice that Paul addresses this sin before the other sins of fornication and lasciviousness (lewd behavior).  He does so because, contrary to popular belief, these sins are "worse" than the others.  He does not say the others aren't sin.  He was certainly willing to excommunicate people for them, which is the same as saying they are no longer part of Christ's Body and Church.  He is saying the other sins are worse.  People committing them often think that if they are not committing adultery and lewdness, they are in good shape, spiritually.  Paul strongly disagrees.

False doctrine does not have to be extreme to be false.  False teachers can appear very orthodox about Christ, yet change the focus of His work from saving souls to having religious experiences or doing social action.  Both of these views are prevalent in contemporary churches.   Most of the mega churches teach religious experience as the primary focus of following Christ, and giving such experiences dominates their worship and ministries.  They do not usually deny the orthodox doctrines of the faith, they simply place them in the background.  But placing them in the background changes the focus, and changing the focus essentially changes the message. The gospel of social action has taken over most of the so called, "main line denominations."  This "social gospel" sometimes teaches fairly orthodox things about the being of Christ, but it goes astray in the application of these doctrines to the Church and the Christian life.  Such churches usually assume that Christ's death and resurrection secured salvation for all people of all time.   Since all people are going to Heaven, regardless of their religion, or lack of it, the Church's task is not to tell them Jesus died for their sins and get them to become Christians.  It is to clean up the mess of social injustice, poverty, sickness, and war.  Both of these lines of thought place the emphasis in the wrong place, and, thus, distort the Message.

June 16

2 Kin. 2, Acts 19:21-41
2 Kin. 3, 2 Cor. 13


2 Corinthians 13

This chapter is a wonderful combination of warning, encouragement, and promise.  The warning is that Paul, in the name of, and acting for Christ, will deal with those who remain in the sins he wrote of in chapter 12.  He will not spare them (2).  There is a time for patience, and a time for action.  The Corinthians have been stumbling through apostasy and sin due to the influence of false teachers for several years.  Now it is time for action.  They must rid themselves of the false apostles and their followers, or Paul will cast them out when he comes.  Christ, through Paul, will accomplish this (3-4).  They must also repent of the sins that are dividing the church and dishonouring Christ (11:20-21).  If they do not, Paul will cast them out of the Church.  This means they will be considered and treated as non-Christians.  By their actions and doctrines they seem to show that they are not of Christ, therefore, Paul will remove from them the privilege of participation in the Church and in Holy Communion.   This may not sound very serious to the modern reader, but it is actually very serious.  To be a Christian is to participate in Christ.  It is to live in Christ, hope in Christ, and feed on Christ as a branch feeds on the tree.  To be excommunicated is to have the Church say that a person's life and views are antithetical to Christ, and seem to show that he is not participating, hoping, or feeding on Christ.  Therefore the sign and seal of his participation in Him is removed.  Such a person is being turned over to Satan in the hope that he will see his spiritual danger and seek Christ truly and fully.

The encouragement is found throughout the chapter, but is especially abundant in verse 5.  Paul encourages the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith, and to prove themselves by true doctrine and faithful living.  Paul is encouraging them to examine themselves by Scripture, not the teachings of the false apostles, and not by the feelings and excitements they experience in the services led by the false teachers.  This is a difficult thing to do, and few Christians ever really attempt it.  But it is the only way to know whether we are truly in Christ or reprobates.

The promise is that turning from sin to Godliness brings all of the fullness and grace of God into our lives (11).  The holy kiss (12) is not an invitation to turn the worship of God into a hugfest.  It means that those who truly belong to Christ have ceased the debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and sensual sins which have characterised and divided the Corinthian Church for so long (20-21).  Having turned from those sins, they now live in peace with one another.  Those, formerly considered "enemies," against whom the sins of 12:20 were committed, have now become fellow partakers in Christ, and live in Christian peace and love.  This does not mean they no longer have disagreements, or that they live in a state of sinless euphoria.  It means they practice forbearance, humbleness, and forgiveness, trying not to give offense to others, and refusing to take offense at the actions and words of others.  Such people, instead of greeting one another with wrath and strife, greet one another in peace and harmony.  Rather than fighting, they "kiss."  

The saints of verse 13 are the Christians in Macedonia, from whence Paul wrote 2 Corinthians.

The letter closes with the benediction with which we close the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, and which, according Evan Daniel's history of the Prayer Book, was universal in the ancient liturgies.  John Chrysostom, who wrote the prayer which precedes it in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, also wrote of this benediction, "After having united [the Corinthians] to one another by the salutations and the kisses, he again closes his speech with prayer... uniting them unto God also."  Matthew Henry wrote that in this verse, we are promised "the grace of Christ as Redeemer, the love of God who sent the Redeemer, and all the communications of this grace and love, which come to us by the Holy Ghost." "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.  Amen."

June 17

2 Kin. 4, Acts 20:1-16
2 Kin. 5, Galatians 1


Galatians 1

Tonight's readings take us into the Book of Galatians.  Written by the Apostle Paul, this short book is a straightforward statement of the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ as the only atonement for sin. While Peter ministered in northern and eastern Galatia (1 Pet. 1:1), Paul carried the Gospel of Christ to the southwestern edge of the province (Acts 14:6-7).  Though faced with much opposition and persecution, Paul established Christian congregations in the region, but when he left to preach in other places, false teachers came behind him perverting the true Gospel and leading the Church astray (Gal. 1:6 & 7).  The essence of their false gospel was the idea that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to save people from hell.  In addition to His sacrifice on the cross, Christians need keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals or they can not go to Heaven.  Thus, they made salvation a reward earned by human works, rather than a gift purchased by Christ and given by grace.

Why is this a problem? Because if we can earn Heaven by our own efforts we don't need a Saviour.  This makes the entire life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ futile and unnecessary.  Furthermore, if we can atone for sins by keeping rituals, sin must be a fairly trivial matter.  Sin must not be an offense to God, a rejection of His Divine authority, or a personal rejection of Him as God.  It is simply an error, a mistake, which God doesn't really care much about, and for which we can make amends by offering a sacrifice or giving a few dollars to the Church, or saying an extra prayer.  And, if sin can be so easily atoned for, it was foolish of God to become a Man and suffer and die for it. In addition, any view that makes the Old Testament ceremonies compulsory for Christians overlooks the fact that the entire ceremonial law foreshadowed Christ and is fulfilled in Him.

Thus, the issue at stake in this book of Galatians is not just how we get to Heaven; it is the issue of the very nature, wisdom, and holiness of God and of our relationship to Him.  It is the issue of the nature of sin. Is sin an arrogant slap in the face of a holy and omnipotent God, or is it simply a slip up that God overlooks?

If God is too holy to endure even the thought of evil, if He is angry about the sorrow and destruction caused by sin, and if sin makes us criminals who deserve to be punished, then it is impossible for us to cover our offenses with a few good deeds or pretty ceremonies.  God Himself is going to have to bear the affront of our wickedness within Himself.  He is going to have to make a way for us to be forgiven and get to Heaven apart from our own actions and abilities.  He is going to have to bear the penalty of our sins in Himself.  This is exactly what He did.  In Christ He gave himself for our sins on the cross (Gal. 1:4).  This is what is at stake in the book of Galatians.  This is why Paul wrote, that those seeking to save themselves through the law are deserting Christ (1:6) and those who teach that it is possible to save ourselves by keeping the law are perverting the true Gospel (1:7) and are accursed, meaning, condemned to hell (1:8 & 9).

The Galatians, like us, were confronted with a wide variety of choices and decisions in religion.  The pagan cults around them were too numerous to count.  In addition to them was the Jewish faith, and now, in the preaching of Paul, they faced the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  By the grace of God they were drawn to Christ, but as soon as Paul left them to establish churches elsewhere, other teachers came to them, claiming to believe in the same Jesus, same crucifixion, and same resurrection, but teaching a different way of salvation.  Paul, they said, was mistaken about the Gospel.  You cannot be saved by Christ alone; you have to earn it by keeping the Jewish ceremonial law. You have to become Jews.  Only then will your sins be fully forgiven.  So the Galatians faced the question, who do we believe?  Realising this, Paul reminds them of his Apostolic authority and the origin of his message.  

Paul is not just a traveling philosopher or entertainer.  Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  This means more than being just "a person sent" which would be the literal translation of the Greek word, apostolos.  An Apostle is an emissary from God, and his message is from God. He has no authority to change the content of the message, or to add to or delete from it, but he has full authority to proclaim it as the message from God Himself.  So, like the Apostles in Jerusalem, Paul's Apostleship is not conferred on him by people (1), it is a direct calling from Christ Himself.  

His message is not his own, nor did he receive it from other people (11).  This does not mean Paul never heard the Gospel before he met Christ on the Damascus road.  In his zeal to kill Christians (13) he had probably heard many Christians tell him about Jesus.  As a rising star in the religious leadership of Israel he had probably learned the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, for he had to know what Christians believed in order to determine who was or was not a Christian.  But Paul did not go to Jerusalem to study with the Apostles after his conversion.  Instead, he went into Arabia to ponder what had happened to him and to devote himself to studying the Scriptures (17). He wanted to learn what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah and His Kingdom. He then returned to Damascus, to the very Christians he had once intended to kill, and became a part of the Church there.  By that time, he was already grounded, so, while he undoubtedly grew in the faith while in Damascus, he did not receive his message from the ministers of the Church there.  After three years in Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James.  Paul mentions this because it is important for the Galatians to know Peter and James agree with him, both in the content of his message and in his calling as an Apostle.  His Gospel is the same Gospel they preach, and his Apostleship has the same validity theirs has (1:18-20).  Having this confirmation from Jerusalem, Paul eventually traveled to Syria, where he became a part of the church in Antioch, from which his missionary journeys would begin (21-23). 

So, Paul was appointed to the Apostleship by direct commission from Christ, he learned the Gospel message by revelation from Christ, and the truth of his message was affirmed by the churches in Damascus and Antioch, and by the other Apostles in Jerusalem.  Could the people who taught the gospel of works produce such credentials?  If not, should the Galatians believe them or Paul? 

June 18

2 Kin. 6, Acts 20:17-38
2 Kin. 7, Gal. 2


Galatians 2

We come now to the famous council at Jerusalem.  The promoters of the gospel of works, often called the party of the circumcision, or, Judaisers, have gained a large following in the Church and the question must be dealt with.  Many Jewish Christians have continued in the Old Testament traditions, though they were forced to start Christian synagogues, rather than worship with non-Christians Jews.  They have no problem with the old traditions, nor do they see them as adding to the work of Christ or earning salvation. These people are not the Judaisers.  The Judaisers believe the ceremonial law is absolutely necessary to salvation.  No one, they maintain, is truly a Christian or going to Heaven unless he becomes a Jew and keeps the ceremonial law.

The council of Jerusalem shows the Judaisers' gospel to be nothing but a perversion of the true Gospel of Christ.  The culmination of this council comes when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, certify the veracity of the Gospel preached by Paul as the one true Gospel by extending unto him the  right hand of fellowship (9).  This is a public statement by the Apostles that Paul has Apostolic authority to preach, and that he preaches the Apostolic Gospel.

There is yet another issue at stake in this whole consideration of the place of the ceremonial law in the Church.  That issue is the very nature of the Church itself.  Is the Church simply a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, or is it the fulfillment of it, the New Israel?  If it is simply a continuation of the old Israel, then they are correct who say Gentiles who want to follow Christ must first become Jews.  If the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies to Israel, then Gentiles are not required to become Jews, and, even Jewish Christians are not bound by the ceremonial law.  So, which is it?  Before we can answer this question we must assert there is much continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  We may be better able to understand this if we remember that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, and that, together, they tell the same story of salvation by grace through the sacrificial blood of Christ.  The Old Testament ceremonial law pictures the sacrifice of Christ in a way that is similar to the Lord's Supper today.  So, the two are part of the same story.  The Old Testament is the first chapter, preparing the way for the Messiah; the New Testament is the fulfillment and completion of the story.

But the Jewish nation and the Church are also different, and Gentiles are not required to become Jews or keep the ceremonial law.  This is because the ceremonial law is fulfilled in Christ.  Why would we offer animal sacrifices when the Lamb of God has offered Himself once for all?  Why would we concern ourselves with things that made people ceremonially clean when Christ made us truly and completely clean by His own blood?  Thus, the Jewish rituals have done their job, they have pointed us to the one Sacrifice that can take away our sins and make us clean in our souls before God.  Having completed their work, they, like John the Baptist, must decrease while Christ increases.

It is important to see that the Apostles and elders already understand this.  It is not a concept ironed out in debate and decided by majority vote.  Peter and James affirmed that it was true fourteen years before the council takes place (Gal. 1:18 & 2:1).  The purpose of the council is not to decide what is true, but to declare what is true to a large gathering of Church leaders so all will know the truth on this issue.

Yet the idea of ceremonial uncleanness, which is a central part of the ceremonial law, is difficult for Jewish Christians to surrender.  Even Peter had lapses of faith on the issue, for when he was in Antioch he ate with Gentiles freely, but when Jews came up from Jerusalem, he separated himself from the Gentiles.  Why the separation?  In the ceremonial law, a Gentile is unclean.  That means he is unacceptable to God and unacceptable to God's people, Israel.   Eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles make a Jew unclean, meaning the Jew is in the same situation as the Gentile before God.  But if a Gentile becomes a Jew and begins to keep the traditions and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, he becomes acceptable; he becomes "clean."  The Gentile Christians at Antioch did not become Jews, so Peter, thinking the Jewish emissaries from Jerusalem would consider them unclean, stopped eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles (12).  

This gives Paul another chance to proclaim what is already known by the Church; that it is not the rituals of the ceremonial law that make people clean before God.  Only the shed blood of Christ makes a person clean (16).  Paul points out that Peter knew this, as did other Jewish Christians in Antioch, for they freely ate with Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ until the other Jews arrived.  If they did not keep the ceremonial law by remaining separate from the Gentiles, how could they expect Gentiles to keep the law?  And why had they eaten with the Gentile Christians, thus, breaking the ceremonial law, in the first place?  It was because they knew it is not keeping the law, but faith in Christ that makes a person clean to God (14-21).