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Galatians: One Gospel - One Family

Updated: Jun 17







"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”


Galatians 2:20 (NIV)





In our cultural context, we often have distinct ways of speaking and unique attitudes that seem peculiar to others. For instance, in Texas, we have a way of speaking and an attitude unique to our region. As George W. Bush famously said, some people see a swagger when they look at him, but we call it walking in Texas. Similarly, we might ask for a Coke when we want a Dr. Pepper. Words likefixin' indicate we're about to take action, and a 'tank' refers to a watering hole, not military equipment. The phrase 'bless your little heart' has its own nuanced meaning. These expressions and habits are markers of our cultural identity, just as we are about to explore in Galatians.


Cultural Identity Markers


Cultures have distinct identity markers, such as food, language, customs, traditions, art, and music. These markers help preserve cultural heritage and foster a sense of belonging. In our text this morning, Galatians 2:1-10, Paul addresses how false teachers risked dividing the church over specific cultural markers.


Text


Galatians 2:1–10 (NIV)

"Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 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."


Historical Context


In the early church, identity markers like kosher food and circumcision were hotly debated, and these debates risked dividing the body of Christ. Today, we might not consider these issues divisive, but they were significant in the first century. Paul and the Christian communities of Galatia were at the heart of this clash, which would determine the church's future direction. Paul's journey to Jerusalem was not just a trip but a monumental event in the early church's history with far-reaching implications. 


Motivation

Paul's ministry had been primarily to the Gentiles, sharing the message of Christ beyond Jerusalem. This outreach was revolutionary because it challenged long-standing Jewish customs and laws, particularly those concerning circumcision and dietary restrictions. Paul's mission was driven by a revelation, indicating that his journey to Jerusalem was divinely inspired and crucial.


The primary motivation for Paul's journey was to ensure the unity of the gospel. Paul feared any misunderstanding or division on this matter could render his efforts fruitless and potentially create a schism within the early church.


Companions

Paul's choice of companions for this journey was strategic. Barnabas, a respected leader from the tribe of Levi, was a figure of authority and credibility within the Jewish Christian community. His presence would lend weight to Paul's mission and arguments. On the other hand, Titus was a Greek and uncircumcised believer. His inclusion was symbolic, representing the Gentile converts and the very heart of the debate—whether adherence to Jewish law was necessary for salvation.


The Meeting 

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Paul and his companions met privately with key leaders—James, Peter (Cephas), and John—who were considered pillars of the church. This private meeting was crucial for candid discussions without the pressure and influence of external parties, particularly those who were insistent on imposing Jewish customs on Gentile believers.


Paul presented the gospel he had been preaching to the Gentiles, emphasizing that salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ and not through the observance of the law. The leaders' reaction was vital; recognizing and accepting Paul's message would either affirm the church's unity or highlight deep-seated divisions.


Challenges & Opposition

During this period, some individuals, referred to by Paul as 'false believers,' infiltrated the ranks to spy on the freedom enjoyed by the Gentile Christians. These false believers were likely Jewish Christians who believed that adherence to Jewish customs, such as circumcision, was necessary for salvation. They aimed to undermine Paul's ministry and impose legalistic constraints on the Gentiles, threatening the unity and purity of the gospel message.


Paul's steadfastness in the face of this opposition was crucial. He did not yield for a moment, ensuring that the gospel's truth remained intact and uncorrupted. This unwavering stance was not merely a defense of his ministry but of the gospel itself—its purity and the freedom it offers all believers.


Unity & Affirmation

This pivotal meeting resulted in a resounding affirmation of Paul's ministry. The leaders in Jerusalem recognized that Paul had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been for the circumcised. This mutual recognition underscored the unity of the message despite different audiences and cultural contexts. It also highlighted the diversity within the early church, with different leaders having different roles and responsibilities but all united in their commitment to the gospel message.


The leaders extended the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, not just as a gesture of support but as a powerful statement of unity and solidarity. This act emphasized that the gospel transcends cultural and ethnic boundaries, inspiring us to strive for unity in our communities.


They only asked that Paul and his companions remember the poor, a request Paul was already eager to fulfill. This focus on caring for the poor highlighted the practical outworking of the gospel's transformative power in believers' lives.


Crossing the Context


We all have important cultural heritage and ethnic backgrounds. Joining the family of God does not mean denying who we are. Titus remained Greek, and Barnabas remained Jewish, yet they were united in Christ. The gospel's power lies in its ability to unite diverse people into one family. This message of unity and diversity is as relevant today as it was in the early church, reminding us of the ongoing challenges and opportunities we face in our diverse communities.


The church's multiethnic makeup is one of its most beautiful identity markers. The gospel is for all people, transcending cultural and national boundaries. In a world marked by division and injustice, the church must exemplify unity in Christ.


In today's world, the church continues to face challenges related to cultural identity and unity. Just as the early church grappled with issues of circumcision and dietary laws, modern communities often confront issues such as racial reconciliation, socioeconomic disparities, and cultural differences. The message of Galatians is profoundly relevant; the gospel transcends cultural markers and unites believers in Christ. 


Conclusion


Reflecting on the early church, we see how crucial it was for Paul and others to maintain the purity and unity of the gospel. Their steadfastness shaped the church's future. Similarly, the decisions we make today will shape the church of tomorrow. 


Will we, like Paul, labor for the unity and purity of the gospel? Will we seek God's wisdom and direction to advance the mission in our generation?


a. We should stand against racial and political division in the church and seek to promote reconciliation and unity in the body of Christ.


b. We should approach others humbly as we respect differences in values and opinions.


c. We should promote love where fear, ridicule, and shame exist. 


d. We should reach out to the marginalized, neglected, and oppressed with the peace and comfort of Christ.


Let us strive to be a unified family in Christ, reaching out across boundaries where identity markers enhance rather than divide. 



Will we labor as Paul did for the unity and purity of the gospel through our choices, decisions, and actions?


Will we seek God's wisdom and direction as we move His mission forward in our generation?



notes:

 

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from: ”Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.





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