Monthly Archives: May 2012

galatians 2.11-14

This Sunday I am preaching from Galatians 2.11-14, the oft discussed collision between Paul and Peter in Antioch.  It is a fascinating scene that understandably flows out of the previous sections even as it captures the magnitude of the theme of Galatians as a book (what it means to have an identity rooted in Jesus and his righteousness, adding nothing else that restricts our freedom).

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 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?”

Here are a few thoughts that will likely not be a major part of my sermon, or mentioned at all.

If you desire to listen to our series in Galatians, visit http://www.westvalleypres.org.

For your consideration:

The flow up to this text could be summarized like this…

In 1.11-24 – A GOSPEL NOT FROM MAN.  Paul is adamant that his gospel did not come from man, but from God by revelation of Christ.

In 2.1-10  – A GOSPEL CONFIRMED BY MAN.  Paul expands his declaration to include an acknowledgment that, while his gospel did not come from any man, he went up to Jerusalem after more than a decade of fruitful ministry (again by revelation) and received confirmation by man that indeed his gospel was from God!   He was affirmed in that the apostles added nothing to his gospel, and he was privileged to preserve it in their midst (2.4-5).

Now, in 2.11-14 – A GOSPEL WORTHY OF CONFRONTATION WITH MAN. Paul recounts a story in which Paul confronted his fellow Christian man (Peter of all people!) in defense of the truth of the gospel and the necessity that one walk in it, adding nothing to it.

Two questions that are worthy of thought…

First, was Peter acting with good intentions in his breaking table fellowship with the Gentiles upon the arrival of the “certain men from James” (which I take to be a delegation of Jerusalem Christian leaders)?

Some cannot fathom that Peter could so boldly deny his revelation in Acts 10, that he is not to call unclean that which God has made clean.  Thus, they propose that Peter was trying to do the right thing by way of the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem, who may have been dealing with factions of zealots who were opposed to the unrestricted table fellowship happening in places like Antioch, where the gospel of Jesus had taken root among Gentile and Jewish “Christians.”  See Acts 11 for clarification on how Gentile/Jew followers of Jesus were first called Christians.

Richard Longenecker, in his brilliantly technical commentary, makes the case that: It was simply a misguided tactical maneuver made under pressure, he became confused under pressure, could not bring himself to express his true convictions, and so found himself retreating from what he knew to be right.

Maybe.  To me, that sounds a bit minimizing.  Paul does not mince words in Galatians 2.11 when he says that he opposed Peter to his face, because he stood condemned (assumedly before God, in Paul’s view).  Even more, Paul describes Peter’s withdrawal from table fellowship as “separating” himself, a theological description of what happened (v.12).  And again, twice in v.13 Paul labels the behavior of Peter, Barnabas and others as hypocrisy.  This all was not in step with the truth of the  gospel (v.14).  There is hardly a minimization, dismissal, qualification by Paul for Peter’s actions!   Rather he uses the strongest semantics possible (condemnation, separation, hypocrisy, non-gospel) to make his case for the gravity of Peter’s actions.

Thus, I will be preaching and applying this from the vantage point that – IN THE MOMENT – something else ruled Peter’s heart/actions other than the magnificent gospel of Jesus that had also been revealed to him.  In the moment, Peter caved to an alternative passion.  This is not unlike our testimony of passionate Peter in other stages of his journey (consider Matthew 16 and his standing toe-to-toe to obstruct Jesus on the way to the cross; also Matthew 26 in his denial of Jesus at the cross).  I am all too like Peter.  In spite of what I believe to be true, confess to be true, long to be true … at unguarded moments I live my life guided by sabotaging “ruling passions” that are not in step with the truth of the gospel.  I need the body of Christ in relationship to show me my blindness.  My guess is that my congregation is no different. We need to weigh this text vis-a-vis our ruling passions as well.  God give us relationships under the umbrella of the truth of the gospel to uncover our deception and blindness for Jesus sake!

Second, why did Paul wait so long to call Peter out in front of other Antiochan Gentile/Jew Christians?  How long did Paul let this un-gospel separation continue before he spoke up?

On one level, we simply do not know how long Paul observed Peter’s “separation” before he publicly spoke up.  We do know, however, that sufficient time elapsed such that Barnabas and “the rest of the Jews” could fall in line with the hypocrisy.  Perhaps Paul waited to watch matters unfold to discern whether he should go to Peter privately (Matthew 18.15-18) or to pursue things publicly due to the communal defection at play.  We do not know.  I simply point out to you that on first read, it appears this whole incident occurs in one lunchroom encounter.  Having examined the text and extant reading, I am now convinced that this situation went on for some while such that it had time to permeate Barnabas and others before Paul was compelled to speak up on behalf of the gospel.

May God work through his Word studied and preached and heard in his local church, such that we will walk in step with the gospel and not bow IN THE MOMENT to our own ruling passions that sabotage what we know to be true in Jesus!

Peace.

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galatians 1.1-10

1 Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father,who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—  not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 
The greeting of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia stands out.  Simply stated, that’s what it does.  
 
It is different.  
 
Of all his thirteen letters, Galatians is unique in that it lacks many traditional elements while it includes additional.  For example, in virtually ever Pauline epistle, there is the naming of Paul, a greeting, a naming of the recipients, and an immediate thanksgiving.  In Galatians, however, we find that Paul names himself and then adds a defense of his apostolic credentials.  Similarly, he extends his greeting with a theological confession and doxology (in v.3-5 he says more than “grace and peace”), even as he replaces the traditional thanksgiving with a shocking word of rebuke.  
 
Perhaps the uniqueness of the Galatians intro could lie in the fact that this was Paul’s first letter and he would develop his “traditional” form in time.  Maybe but doubtful.  More than likely,  the reason for the differentness of Galatians was the provenance of his writing.  Paul had something to share with an attitude of urgency – so his greeting launched with a personal defense, theological underpinning and tenor of astonishing rebuke (why not just skip the thanksgiving when you have something like that to say!)
 
What did Paul have to say?  What is his point in the first 10 verses?
 
What is his point? His point is that anything different than the gospel is not good news!  No, its more than that.  Anything even slightly different than the gospel (as defined in v.4-5 about what Christ gave up for us, not about what we give up for him)… it is no good news at all.  Paul is amped up from the beginning of this letter.  In this section he gets to the point.  He curses (calls anathema twice) anyone who has preached to the Galatians anything other than the gospel of Christ and his righteousness.  He declares that to distort the gospel or to turn to something beyond Christ is to desert God in full (v.6-8).  And all this he says immediately after a bizarre greeting in which he does not thank the Galatians for their faith, but mainly defines the gospel (v.3-5) and defends his authority (v.1-2).
 
There is no fear of man in Paul… only fear of the God of the gospel.  What he says must be said, regardless what his detractors may say of him… not that it matters – for if I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (v.10)
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current purpose of my blogging – please read.

Blog purpose…

Once upon a time, blogging was a way for me to discover and discuss and learn to articulate the gospel and how it looked in a world of brokenness and sin.  It was kind of fun. Then came church planting realities.  I simply quit.  Writing down my thoughts and musings and doing theological,  er… semantical gymnastics for people in never-land lost its luster.  For me, local ministry and the weaknesses in my pastoral life became central.  Discovering the gospel in relationship trumped the gospel in print.  

However, As God has grown West Valley Presbyterian Church (PCA), there is again a point to utilizing this forum.  Weekly, I meet with a handful of men on Wednesday mornings to do “Word Work.”  College guys and professionals and I meet together to study the sermon text.  We look at textual themes, macro ideas, words, authorial intent, applications… and we share an amazing time together.  That motley crew has suggested that as we launch our next series in the book of Galatians, that this old blog be reintroduced as a web locale to paste thoughts, receive comments, and share things that may or may not be good fodder for a sermon.  So, join in as you are led!

To the students of West Valley who will not be with us over the summer, use this… plus sermon audio at www.westvalleypres.org to keep traversing with us.

May we be a changed people with identities rooted in Christ who lives in us!