Living Under the shadow of the Gospel
“As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galatians 2:6–10 NIV11)
Religion is the enemy of the Gospel when religion is set above the Gospel. The place of religion should be under the authority of the Gospel, so its effectiveness can take place under the guidance and shadow of LOVE- GRACE AND PEACE.
Paul was afraid that the fruit of his work was in vain. He was worried that the preaching and teaching of the Gospel were about to be lost. Some false brothers came from the Jerusalem church preaching a Gospel of Salvation by Jesus plus observing the Law.
Paul had to go up to meet in private the leaders of the Jerusalem church to present the Gospel that he preached, and for that reason, he brought two friends, one a leader/missionary of the church and a gentile/greek convert Titus.
What was the response from the Church leaders?
Who they decided to support and give the right hand of fellowship?
I want to say three things:
- The Appeal
“As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.” (Galatians 2:6 NIV11)
One of the marks of religion in the life of people is that it can lead us to legalism and exclusivism.
Legalism in church is when traditions are set above the Gospel. There have been in the history of the Christian faith churches and denominations a vast and sad amount of legalism and exclusivism.
Churches that opted for being reactionary to their culture and not challenge the culture of the Gospel.
Let me give you an example. We can preach the Gospel well, but when it comes for people to join us, we made it difficult and we ask them to be dressed appropriately, to speak in a certain way. Women are separated from the men, and they have to have their heads covered. Their focus is on the external.
When I was growing up in Chile, we had only one model of leadership, a dictatorship one and this was replicated even in some denominations where the Pastor is not just the teaching elder but the dominant force of the Congregation who usually leads under fear and manipulation.
What is the outcome of a legalistic religious mentality? The product is that churches become places of exclusivism! You come to us you will change and be like us. I have seen this again and again, especially when people say “I don’t go to church and I don’t want to go to your church because only good people go there! Or I don’t have a Sunday best to go.
So what is the antidote to this? The Gospel!! Yes because in the Gospel, you come to a relationship with Jesus just as you are. You encounter Jesus just as you are.
The Gospel does not ask us to speak, behave, dress in a certain way. The Gospel does not ask us to keep the laws, regulations and doctrine before or after we encounter Jesus.
Why is this? It is this because Paul appeals to the love of God and in the love of God, we realise that God does not have favourites!!
The idea that God accepts only those who are good and worthy of coming to church is the biggest lie that a church can believe.
I remember when a friend of mine was dying of aids, and I went to visit him a couple of times. He committed his life to Jesus early on his life, but he lost his way. In one of my visit, he told me how hurt he was that a friend a Presbyterian minister who told him “I cannot come to see you anymore I can’t be seen to be with you! That is exclusivism.
Peter knew this that God has no favourites in Acts 10:34 he said this when he was in Cornelius home:
“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism Acts 10:35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10:34–35 NIV11)
In a prophecy against Egypt, the Isaiah said at the end of the said:
“The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:25 NIV11)
Paul articulates this beautiful in Galatians 3
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV11)
2. The agreement
“On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Galatians 2:7–8 NIV)
Paul only wanted to be heard, understood and accepted that his ministry was valid and that he didn’t run his race in vain.
In these verses we see a breakthrough!!
The Jerusalem leaders saw that the Lord had entrusted Paul with the task of preaching the Gospel to the gentiles.
Now, this is not to say that they were approving Paul’s apostleship. The Lord already endorsed Paul. He was called and commissioned by Jesus.
What they did is that they saw on the evidence of Barnabas and Titus that indeed the Gospel call could reach to any men and women regardless of their backgrounds, cultures, personalities, character, and lifestyles.
What is the at the heart of these versed? There are two important messages that this agreement tells us. Tim Keller writing on Galatians, points it out:
. The apostles recognised different gifts and callings.
. They formed a relationship of cooperation based on shared Gospel truth.
This is a blow to those who were questioning Paul’s message and authority as an apostle.
3. The contract
So we have an appeal from Paul, and his mission is to point out that God loves the world, that he does not have favourites. This phrase “God’s own country” is ludicrous and not biblical. God’s realm is a kingdom where you and I belong.
“James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galatians 2:9–10 NIV11)
This is the very first time that Paul is mentioning the names of the apostles James, Cephas (Peter) and John, which is significant because this sends a powerful message to those who were preaching Jesus plus the Law.
The act of offering the right hand of fellowship is crucial it the recognition of the gifts and the call to the ministry of the Word as fellow partners in the Gospel message and mission.
The blueprint of this is found in the very first chapter of Acts.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV11)
This is in line with the purposes of God, Jesus said it so clearly in the great commission.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV11)
I want you to see the order here of what Jesus is saying because it is the same biblical order of what the leaders of the Jerusalem church entrusted Paul and Barnabas with.
You make disciples
Then you teach them
You make disciples
Don’t forget about the poor
First, be a disciple, know that you are a son and a daughter of Jesus and then learn from Jesus. Be a disciple and then do the work of Jesus.
Religion is learning all you can and work hard to be a disciple.
Religion’s right place is under the authority of the Gospel.
This contract is a massive blow to the false teaching.
Some of us need to hear this; you need to stop trying to be doing good. It would be best if you were a disciple first.
When I was in my previous charge, the Living Room, those who had a Gospel encounter with Jesus were taught:
. How to pray for the sick, how to prophesy,
. How to live in forgiveness and
. How to see themselves as children of God.
I did not ask them to learn the A to Z of doctrines, church policies and disciplines; I did not want them to become churchy followers of Jesus. The discipleship was in the praxis, learning from the Word and Spirit and it was in that environment that they experienced what is to live under his power, his grace, learning justification by faith alone and the Gospel was understood for life here on earth.
There are no favourites; you come as you are!!
This was for Paul and the church a great victory.