Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 2


When we come to chapter 2, Paul continues with his theme concerning dealing with false brethren.  Paul is sensitive to the issues of the day, having gone to Jerusalem some years before in order to minister to, visit with the Jewish Christians.  So, even though he has a mission to the Gentiles, he continues to establish that he was not ignoring the Jewish brethren.  He is fully invested in the cause of Christ to all peoples, races, and religions.  It is interesting that Paul insists that Titus not be circumcised at this time (v.3), because as we know, in Acts 16:3, Paul has Timothy circumcised, because it was important in relationship to his ministry to the Jews.  Here, Paul is not going to give in to the Judaizers who are insisting that circumcision is necessary in order to be a "true Christian" as they saw it.  Paul understands what is at stake, and if Titus is circumcised, it will give weight to the Judaizers' argument.  They could say, "see, Paul is giving in to us."

Paul continues with his strong speech, using a military expression in reference to the activities of the Judaizers.  He says that they had "inflitrated our ranks and were spying on us."  It is apparent that some of these Judaizers had been following Paul around and were making his life difficult.  At this point, the battle is on...and Paul is not going to lose.  What are the Judaizers spying on?  Paul says "their freedom in Christ."  This is very significant.  The Judaizers are trying to rob them and others of their spiritual freedom, their opportunity to grow in relationship with Christ Jesus...and this, by insisting that all believers keep the Jewish regulations (see last chapter).  Paul understands just how critical it is that he win the battle against the Judaizers, because there is much at stake...the souls of believers.  Paul talks about this subject of "spiritual freedom" throughout this letter, and particularly 5:1, because he knows that being in bondage is a bad place to be...whether physically or spiritually (and he would know). 

Paul is blessed to work with a number of fellow-workers who helped him in his ministry efforts, and some of them are mentioned in this middle section of this chapter.  Some of the ministry that they are undertaking is of great importance.  Many New Testament writers talk about how critical it is to take care of the poor.  Paul makes certain that this ministry is taking place.  He even may have had conversations with James, the brother of Jesus, concerning the issue, as James prominently mentions the subject in his letter (James 1:27).  One of those who worked with Paul was the apostle Peter.  It is shocking to see what happens as Paul says that he opposed Peter to his face, because of his hypocrisy.  It is apparent that Peter had given in to some "peer pressure" and went along with some of the Judaizers in their condemnation of the Gentile Christians for not adhering to the Jewish religious system.  We can understand the powerful impact of such pressure, as Paul even mentions that  Barnabas, "the Son of Encouragement," is led astray.  This is certainly a good lesson for people to pay attention to today.  This is all the more remarkable considering that in Acts 11:1-8, Peter shares an important message with the Jewish Christians concerning how the unhindered gospel needs to be taken to the Gentile Christians.  This experience has to be an important life lesson for Peter, as well as for Paul.

The whole letter could very easily have been concluded with the climax at the end of the chapter, where Paul shares the popular and meaningful statement, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"  (Galatians 2:20-21, NIV)  The point he makes is critical and poignant -- we have our spiritual and eternal justification by faith, not according to law or regulations.  The Galatian believers have to come back to this understanding.  It is not Jesus plus is Jesus period, exclamation point! Life and godliness is about living according to faith in and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Everything spiritually necessary is appropriated from this.

Once again there are alot of "well-meaning" Christians today that believe that we can be justified in Christ as long as we also keep certain "tightly observed" regulations.  And once again, what we come to understand with the believers in the first is not going to help people to be more righteous, rather it can hinder, perhaps even destroy, their walk with the Lord.   But, it is more complicated than that, because there are also some believers today who are just as militant as the Judaizers in the early church who "seek to take away the freedoms" of spiritual brethren.  These brethren do "spy on" and otherwise create havok for Christians, particularly of the younger set....and do not exhibit the Spirit of Christ in their attitudes or behaviors.  They often will write about certain popular speakers, preachers in their newsletters, publications, because they do not believe that these people are "staying true to the (their) cause," that is, keeping what they believe are the "understood" brotherhood norms or regulations.  In actuality, such popular preachers are truly living according to the Spirit and to their faith-full calling.  They share messages that help bring light and life into the spirit of believers.  What is grievous, though, is that many times, truly spiritual seekers become discouraged and leave our fellowship, or leave the body altogether.  This is often because they have dared to disagree with some "regulation(s)" or have promoted some good thought or work that "isn't it line with some particular group's list of do's and don'ts" (and there are usually many more don'ts than do's).  I have seen it happen all to often. 

We cannot do good enough or be good enough in order to gain salvation in any respect.  It is only because of the blood of Jesus and our connection with it through conversion that we are able to experience salvation.  Then rest of the other religious matters sorts themselves out.  If we have or keep the proper perspective, and recognize principle #1, "Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself" then we are not going to allow rules and regulations to be masters, but servants...which is where they need to be.

Blessings, Don

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