Sermon notes: Galatians Series, Number 10...

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We must recognize that we have not been saved to a life of sanctified hedonism, but to taking up our cross with our Master, doing the works He has done. We have been saved with a purpose behind our salvation, and that purpose is always to remember the poor. We have been saved from works-righteousness to the gratitude and love-righteousness that is at the center of our hearts due to our union with Christ, our becoming one with and in Christ.

Thus it is that in the recording of the conclusions of the Council of Jerusalem found in Acts 15 and here, both of which make it clear that circumcision is to be denied any place in the Gospel (because “by works of righteousness will no man be saved”), we also find, seamlessly woven into the text, commands for specific acts of holiness:

NOTE: This is number 10 in a series on Galatians. If this is your first time reading sermon notes here, please take time to read a helpful explanation at the bottom of this post.

From the Pulpit of Church of the Good Shepherd/Clearnote Church, Bloomington

January 25, 2004; AM
Galatians Series No. 10
The Right Hand of Fellowship
Sermon Text: Galatians 2:1-10

This Lord’s Day, we turn to our tenth in a series of sermons on the New Testament book of Galatians...

* Galatians 2:1-10 This is the Word of God, eternally true.

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.

Beginning with chapter 1, verse 11, the Apostle Paul opens up the first major part of his letter—an autobiographical section containing the largest amount of information recorded anywhere concerning Paul’s life, taking up about one-fourth of Galatians. And the first ten verses of chapter two continue that autobiography.

Section 1: History—Paul’s autobiography; chapters 1 & 2.

Section 2: Theology—Paul’s doctrinal instruction; chapters 3 & 4.

Section 3: Ethics—Paul’s exhortations; how should we then live; chapters 5 & 6.

Verse 1: Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.

Paul is in the middle of giving autobiographical history, particularly related to the issue of to whom he was or was not indebted for his Gospel doctrine. He has, in chapter one, explained how little contact he had with the apostles in Jerusalem, declaring that he didn’t go to Jerusalem until around three years after Jesus Christ “called” him to Himself:

Galatians 1:15-21 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.

This then is the context for Paul’s statement, “Then, after an interval of fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem…” We don’t know exactly the timeline of Paul’s life, but we do know that Paul is claiming not to have left out of this autobiographical record any of his visits to Jerusalem, and the Apostles there. This is the meaning of verse one beginning with the word, “then.” He’s called by Christ, three years later he visits Jerusalem for fifteen days, spending his time with the Lord Jesus’ brother, the Apostle James; “Then” as he writes, fourteen years later, he visited Jerusalem again, accompanied by Barnabas and Titus.

This Barnabas is the same man who encouraged Paul when he was first called by Christ, taking him up to Jerusalem and personally introducing him to the Apostles there; he’s also the man Paul had a falling out with concerning whether or not to take John Mark with them on one of their missionary journeys. Barnabas’ real name was Joseph, but Acts 4:36 tells us the Apostles called him Barnabas; this was a term of endearment given this man by the Apostles because Barnabas means “son of encouragment.”

Titus, likely a believer from the Antioch church, was also a regular companion and co-worker with the Apostle Paul. Aside from the book Titus appearing near the end of the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul, we have indications that Paul trusted Titus and was willing to give him difficult jobs knowing they would get done, and well; and that he could trust Titus to carry them out with sensitivity—not as a bull in a china shop.

For instance, it was Titus who had the sensitive tasks of doing shuttle diplomacy between the Corinthian church and Paul when there was great tension between them (2Cor. 2:12f.; 7:5-16); it was also Titus Paul assigned the job of collecting money in Corinth for the aid of the Jerusalem church (2Cor. 8:6-24).

Verse 1: Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.

But Paul and Barnabas are the leaders, with Titus a younger man or junior partner, still in training, likely.

2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.

It is the view of most students of Scripture that this visit to Jerusalem is one and the same with the visit from Antioch recorded in Acts 15, normally known as the “Council of Jerusalem.” If so, it’s somewhat confusing why the Apostle Paul here says that the Gospel doctrine he preached he submitted to them “in private,” but it’s also easy to conceive of multiple parts of this visit, some of which were open and public church council meetings, and others private consulations among the church leaders, particularly the Apostles, only.

It’s interesting to note that Paul says he went up to Jerusalem “because of a revelation.” Let us note how often in the historical narratives of Scripture we see God giving direct guidance to His servants concerning what they were and were not to do; and where they were and were not to go. And here, again, we have such an example: God revealed to Paul—we don’t know how—that he was to go up to Jerusalem.

And if we believe that our God is a prayer-answering God, and that He still today remains faithful to His promise concerning guidance, we ought to pray and wait expectantly, believing that He will guide our steps throughout our lives, and that such guidance is not limited to the time of the Apostles. We may debate the nature of this leading and how best to confirm that it truly is of God, and not a self-delusion...

James 1:5-8 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Matthew 7:7-11 Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

But let us be on guard about the footloose and fancy-free use of this term ‘revelation,’ particularly when it is used by others trying to control us or having flights of fancy they too easily call “a word from the Lord” and try to use to manipulate us. Remember that because Paul received a revelation from others concerning himself did not necessarily mean that he acted on the basis of that revelation:

Acts 21:10-14 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!””

The Apostle Paul is led by the Holy Spirit to go up to Jerusalem, and there he submits the Gospel doctrine he has been preaching to the Apostles privately, to be reviewed or tested by them. And what is at stake?

Yet we gather from everything Paul has said so far concerning his unwillingness to have any of the Apostles interfere with his preaching to the Gentiles the Gospel exactly as he received it from God, that his submission of that Gospel to the Jerusalem Apostles is not the submission of a man looking for approval from his superiors, but rather the submission of a man seeking to know how others do or do not agree—but on a take it or leave it basis.

In other words, the Apostle Paul is submitting His Gospel preaching to those holding the office of apostle, but it’s clearly his, Paul’s, commitment that, if they don’t agree or even disapprove, he will not cease the work to which God called him. It’s a sort of take-it-or-leave-it submission. Behind it as a forehead like flint against the false shepherds who are seeking to force the Gentiles back into the bondage of the Old Covenant through circumcision:

4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.

And what was the conclusion of the apostles at the home church in Jerusalem? Did they divide Christ between the Jews and Gentiles, or did they lead God's Covenant people to become one in Christ, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female?

Here is their conclusion:

6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

This was the victory that the Apostle Paul had hoped and prayed for—that the pillars of the home church in Jerusalem would agree with the Holy Spirit.

Sound bodacious, bordering on false subjection?

Yes, that is how it sounds, but that is also how often we must live the Christian life—hanging onto the Spirit of God for the future, knowing that He is the One Who has led us to this point but not knowing at all what tomorrow brings—whether defeat or victory—it is all in God’s hands.

The “right hand of fellowship” is the agreement of the pillars of the Jerusalem church that the Apostle Paul is their co-worker, and able to be trusted. Also that they have agreed on the true doctrine of the Gospel, specifically that the Gentiles are not to be circumcised.

How good it is that neither the Apostle to the Gentiles, nor the Apostles to the Jews there in the Jerusalem church—James and Cephas (Peter) and John—sought to issue a compromise in order to allow the false prophets, or the more rigorous among the believers within the home church there in Jerusalem, to save face.

No, instead it was a clean break with the past:

9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

But then we have one last statement coming out of this consultation in Jerusalem:

Verse 10 They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.

It’s curious that this is how the section ends, with an ethical commitment. Why do we find this agreement between the pillars of the Jerusalem church and the Apostle to the Gentiles working on the road, traveling all the time with congregations he had been instrumental in planting in cities across the Roman Empire?

The Jerusalem church was poor, being in a poor nation that, lately, had been hit by famine and war; but beyond that, the church in Jerusalem had been subject to harsh persecution—you remember that the Apostle Paul had been one of the principle leaders of that persecution for a while—so its needs were well-known, and real:

Romans 15:25-27 …but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.”

1 Corinthians 16:1-3 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. 3 When I arrive, whomever you may approve, I will send them with letters to carry your gift to Jerusalem;

But then again, even while allowing for the financial need of Jerusalem and a debt of gratitude to those who had preceded the Gentiles in faith, why would there be a command concerning righteousness and holiness, a command in danger of being interpreted as legalism, so closely associated with this section of Galatians which has been dealing with the battle against legalism in the church? If the followers of Christ were in danger of doing works (circumcision) so that they could prove themselves zealous Christians and boast somewhat of their own salvation; and if Paul hit that issue head on, absolutely demanding that all acknowledge that such human merit was accursed and that it had not been a part of the Gospel God had revealed to him when he was first called, nor had the pillars of the church in Jerusalem told him he was missing anything in the Gospel he was preaching; but rather, they had extended to him and his Gospel the right hand of Christian fellowship; why not leave well enough alone? He’s worked so hard to rid the Galatian church of works-righteousness; why insert it here at the end of this magnificent autobiographical defense of the Gospel of free grace—not free grace plus works, even such compassionate works as “remembering the poor?”

But of course, there is no conflict between grace and holiness—holiness which has real flesh and blood actions and duties and disciplines, one of wich is always a heart for the poor. How can those who love Jesus, and remember his compassionate teaching and preaching and healing—particularly his account of the sheep and the goats—not give themselves to remembering the poor, remembering that He, their Lord, had warned them:

Matthew 25:32-40 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

We must recognize that we have not been saved to a life of sanctified hedonism, but to taking up our cross with our Master, doing the works He has done. We have been saved with a purpose behind our salvation, and that purpose is always to remember the poor. We have been saved from works-righteousness to the gratitude and love-righteousness that is at the center of our hearts due to our union with Christ, our becoming one with and in Christ.

There is no conflict between holiness—the sort of holiness that exposes evil and devotes itself to the good—and exhortations to that holiness that come from our shepherds, whether they be Peter and James and John, the pillars of the church in Jerusalem; or Paul, the pillar of the church across the Gentile world.

Thus it is that the recording of the conclusions of the Council of Jerusalem found in Acts 15 and here, both of which make it clear that circumcision is to be denied any place in the Gospel (because “by works of righteousness will no man be saved”), we also find, seamlessly woven into the text, commands for specific acts of holiness:

Acts 15:19-21 (Peter said, in the context of the decision of the Jerusalem church, that the Antiochan Gentiles were not to be expected to be circumcised, summed up the council’s deliberations as follows) Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.””

Similarly, Paul writes in Romans 3:

Romans 3:28-31 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

And so our text concludes with this agreement being recorded, between the pillars of the home church in Jerusalem and the pillar of the church scattered across the Roman Empire, the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul:

Verse 10 They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.

He, Paul, was eager to do it.

Are we eager to do it, also?

* * *

WORD TO THE READER: Sermons are pastoral, and therefore of only limited value to those who are not present when a pastor feeds the flock God called him to serve. Yet, knowing even notes may be of some value to others, I'm posting past sermon notes here on Baylyblog. Because the notes weren't written for publication, no editor has cleaned them up for reproduction on the web. So, for instance, although the notes I take into the pulpit have formatting that highlights quotes, I haven't taken the time to reproduce that formatting here. Please keep in mind these are only notes and not a transcription of the sermon that was preached.

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May God bless you, dear brother and sister, as you study the Word of God and, only by faith, find it sweeter than honey.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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