By Simon ManchesterSunday 19 Jan 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Galatians – 2:11-21
Well,we are following a little series in the letter of Paul to the Galatians in the New Testament. This is a 10 weeks series and we are up to Week 3. We discover as we read the letter that Paul is in shock because the people that he has preached grace to,are leaving amazing grace and are going off to law.
I was reading in my paper not long ago of a man who was renovating his house in Minnesota in United States and discovered in one of the walls of the house an original “Action Comic No. 1” introducing Superman. Apparently the house was worth $10,000 and the comic was worth $100,000.
The sad part of the story is that he and his aunt had a fight over the comic and ripped it so badly it lost $75,000 worth of its value in the fight. And if you can feel a little of the disappointment in having something precious ruined or destroyed – just multiply that infinitely and you will feel something of what the Apostle Paul is experiencing as he writes to the Galatians who have been given the gift of Christ and are now as it were turning away into this sort of “salvation by works”. And the way it’s come into the Galatian church is that there is a group,there is a heretical group who have come in teaching that you need a little bit of ritual,specifically the ‘circumcision ritual’ in order to be really God’s people.
So this group that Paul writes to – this is not the group of Christians – this is not a group (let me put it like this) – it’s not a group of people who are outside the church and are trying to be good in order to get into God’s family – this is a group of people who do belong – they are believers and they are saying what Christ did was good but not just quite adequate. And they need to sort of seal the deal with an ‘extra’. So that’s the problem that Paul is facing.
There is a tragic system of sort of ‘do it yourself salvation’ but this is a different situation in Galatia because Paul is writing to Christians who have ‘got’ the gospel. They have ‘got it’ and now they are turning away.
So 2 weeks ago we saw the shock where he says “I am astonished that you are turning away so quickly”.
And last week,we saw Paul give his proof of authority. He wanted to explain to the Galatians Christ had met with him and had transformed him and had tutored him and he had the information clear of the gospel.
Now today we come to this passage in chapter 2 where there is a clash between Paul and Peter – two of the great leading Apostles. And the reason that there is a clash is because Peter,who was a disciple and an Apostle and who has loved the gospel,has strangely lost the gospel,momentarily lost the gospel. Not of course in his confession – he would say the Creed as well as any of us – but he has lost it in his behaviour.
And so the title this morning is Leaders Go Astray because nobody is beyond the temptation or the subtle distortion of the gospel in doctrine or behaviour – in Theology or Practice.
Church history is littered with people who have got the gospel and then changed in their thinking or their living.
So we are going to look at the confrontation this morning and I want to just begin before we do by asking the question – Why do you think Paul would include this in his letter? Why would he be so offensive as to record a clash between him and Peter? It’s so embarrassing.
And the answer is that the gospel is bigger than human reputation. And the Galatians need to know that if Paul could put his finger on Peter’s deviation – that he could put his finger on their deviation. He has the ability and the authority to do it.
Now I am going to divide our section this morning into 2 parts –
First I am going to call Negative Excitement – that’s the negative excitement of a clash.
And the second section I am going to call Positive Excitement – that’s the positive excitement of the gospel.
I know we don’t normally associate excitement with coming to church – we normally associate excitement with sport so we are going to get excited as we can about Galatians chapter 2.
So first of all – Negative Excitement – chapter 2 verses 11-16. Here is an example of how even a senior Christian can lose the plot because we read in chapter 2 verse 11 “when Peter came to Antioch” (a fine Christian centre) – Paul says “I opposed him” – I stood against him because he was clearly in the wrong. He was like a man caught holding stolen property.
And the reason that Peter was in the wrong is because he was raising a barrier or a wall which Christ had torn down. If you have never understood this before,I’ll say this to you that when Christ died on the cross 2000 years ago,he tore down the wall or the barrier between God and his people but he also tore down the wall or the barrier between Christian and Christian.
And Peter had believed the gospel – he loved the gospel – the barrier had gone between God and him and the barrier had gone between him and other believers. And he had begun to have fellowship meals with other believers,even Gentiles (that was quite miraculous for a conservative Jew). Until,we read verse 12,certain men came from James (and I presume that means they claim to be from James – James would not have sent them to do such a dreadful thing) and he tells us in the books of Acts that he didn’t send them – but they claim to have come from James and they are teaching the need for this ritual,this circumcision in order to be really in the fellowship in order to have real fellowship with God and his people – and Peter momentarily falls for it.
And he pulls back from the Gentiles and he no longer has table fellowship with them because,we read in verse 12 “he was afraid of the legalistic group”.
Now I think this is very strange that a brave man like Peter,and he was a brave man – you remember he pulled out his sword in the Garden and fought for Jesus in the dark. Why would a brave man like Peter suddenly get fearful?
I suggest to you that there are two possibilities and they go together –
One is that he momentarily loses or forgets the gospel and that he is right with God because of Jesus and therefore he is afraid of where he stands with God and feels as though it would be a good idea to supplement this –
And at the same time,he is afraid of the legalistic group who are pushing it because they intimidate him in some way or they steamroll him in some way.
And one of the reasons that they steamroll him is because they have a much less embarrassing message than trusting Christ crucified. If I say that I stand on Christ crucified,especially in a public sphere – and if I was to say that in a public sphere – it does sound crazy and embarrassing and a costly thing to say. It’s much easier to say in a public sphere –
“Listen to what we have done in our time as Christian people”. It’s much easier to boast about what we have done than to say “my standing before God is because of Christ’s death”.
He says in chapter 6 that we must ‘boast in the cross of Christ’ but I suspect he was pressured by this legalistic group to stop boasting in the cross of Christ and to start boasting in something that he himself could do.
You see in verse 13 that others were affected by Peter – even Barnabas,the loveable,caring Barnabas who had put an arm around him and brought him into the fellowship – even Barnabas fell in the face of Peter and Allan Cole says in his commentary “The besetting sin of a loving nature is the desire to please everyone and sacrifice truth to do it”.
So the church needs its Barnabas but it needs a Paul to tackle strong heresy. And in verse 14 Paul sees that they are not straight – they are not walking straight – the word in the Greek is “orthopod” from which we get “orthodontist” or “orthopaedic surgeon”. It’s the straightening of teeth or the straightening of legs or limbs and Paul can see that they are not walking straight – they have veered and they have drifted – even a great man like Peter.
And he addresses him publicly –
The failure is public –
And the remedy needs to be public –
And this is what Paul said in especially verse 16 – and this is probably the most important sentence in the whole of Galatians – Look at verse 15 – “We (and then go down to verse 16) know that a man is not justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus Christ,so we too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law because by observing the law no-one will be justified”. He couldn’t put it any more clearly really could he? He just says it so plainly. A person is not justified (we know this says Paul) – I’m not talking to pagans – I’m talking to people who know the gospel but have drifted from the gospel and we have put our faith in Christ because we know that doing the law to be saved won’t happen – it’s fatal.
Now faith in case you are unfamiliar with Christian faith,means that you leave it to Christ – that’s what faith means. That’s like when you are talking to your surgeon on the telephone and the surgeon says “this is what I will do to fix you” and you say “I’ll leave it to you”. You don’t say “let’s do it together” because it’s not a team operation – it’s his operation.
And so it is with salvation – we don’t say to Christ “let’s do it together” – the salvation – he does it. We trust him and we leave it to him – that’s what faith is.
Peter seems to have momentarily moved into a kind of a team mentality. Not of course that he would abandon Christ – he’s not going to abandon Christ – but his life is showing law keeping is somehow crucial to his relationship with God which is a fatal move. It’s very easy to fall into that trap. I think it’s pretty well human nature to keep forgetting and doubting the good news and keep thinking and falling into the trap will contribute to our salvation.
“I’ll secure it – what Christ did is good but I will just seal the deal.
Christ made the cake but I’ll put the cream on the cake”.
It’s very easy for us to fall into that.
It is however a strange move for Peter to make because Peter was with Jesus and saw Jesus bring down the barriers. He understood the cross. He then was given a vision in the Book of Acts chapter 10 that he was to treat all people the same in the fellowship – a very significant vision – and now he forgets it. He strangely forgets it under pressure.
Again not that he is trying to win salvation but he is trying to establish himself with a piece of ritual which means he has lost the gospel in its purity – but Paul has not. And the legalistic group that has crept into Galatia has a number of tricks up its sleeve.
There’s the circumcision push –
There’s the food laws (chapter 2 verse 11) –
There are the special holy days (chapter 4 verse 10)
So this group,this legalistic group have a number of ideas whereby Christians can supplement their salvation which is impossible. Once of course you start to do these things and you think that you have put the cream on the cake and you can now stand before God just a little more securely – Paul says when you start to think like that – you have moved from grace – and when you move from grace you move from God.
One more interesting thing to ask is whether this particular table tension with Peter withdrawing from the Gentile table actually involved the Lord’s Supper. It was very common for the believers to have their meal and then the Lord’s Supper and so a number of commentators have asked the question as to whether it’s possible that what Peter is doing is he is setting up a table A and B for the Lord’s Supper.
Table A – for the people who’ve had the ritual and
Table B – for the people who haven’t had the ritual.
And if that’s true then what John Stott says in his commentary is that Paul is stepping in to make sure that one Saviour is seen to have one table which is exactly how it should be.
Notice how Paul does his confrontation. He doesn’t go up to Peter and say “you think this,I think this – let’s argue it out”. He goes up to Peter and he says “you’ve received grace,how should grace show itself?” “You’ve got the convictions Peter of grace,now put them into practice”.
And I think this is an excellent way in our dealings with one another that we deal with the differences or the things that need to be faced or confronted because it’s no good one person just saying ‘you think/I think’ – it’s much better to say ‘since we have received the grace of Christ,how might that look in behaviour and action?’ And that’s the way Paul wisely conducts the conversation. So that’s the tension of the clash of what I have called sort of ‘negative excitement’ and the way that Paul deals with it.
Now the second point this morning is Positive Excitement and this is where he gets excited about the gospel and he moves away from the negative clash to the positive good news. And he especially is rejoicing in what he has collected from Christ with no effort.
Somebody sent me recently a story which I think is true of a man in Bristol,UK who collected the parking fees at the Bristol Zoo. And one day,after 25 years,he didn’t turn up and so the Zoo contacted the Council and said – ‘could you please send another Parking Fee Collector’ and they said ‘we’ve never sent you a Parking Fee Collector’.
And they realized that this man was not working for the Zoo or the Council but for himself and had sat there collecting fees for cars and trucks for 25 years. And now with an estimated £7 million was living on the French Riviera in his Villa. It’s a fantastic piece of collecting !!
The point that I am making is not that Christianity is dishonest or sneaky but the point that I am making is that we are the recipients of what we don’t really deserve when we put out faith in Christ. And Paul is keen to unpack this and if you look at verse 17 and 18 – these are very difficult verses and I’m going to give you a different translation – my own translation of these verses and then read them to you – so just listen for 30 seconds as I tell you what Paul is saying in verses 17-18.
This is what he is saying – he is saying and this could be to Peter,we don’t know and it could be to us who are reading the letter – we don’t exactly know who he is addressing – we don’t know where the inverted commas should finish.
But this is what Paul says – ‘if we enjoy barrier-free fellowship with Christ (and we do) and then we sit with other believers and we enjoy barrier-free fellowship with other believers purely because they are believers (and we do) but we get accused of sin by some people who don’t like the group that we are sitting with – did Christ produce the sin?
And Paul says – absolutely NOT. It’s only if we raise barriers again having said the barriers are gone that we re-establish this law mentality which is an absolute ‘dead end’. So look at verse 17,”if while we seek to be justified in Christ,it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners (or we look like sinners) does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely NOT! It’s only if I re-build (verse 18) what I destroyed in my speaking – preaching – living that I prove that I am a law-breaker.
So friends,I remind you,the law is not the way to live or boast – the law is to despair – that’s why the law was given –
It exposes our sin
So we run to Christ
And we receive new life
And in verses 19-20 Paul mentions the privileges of this new life and he describes the life 5 times. The law he says taught him spiritual death
But Christ has brought spiritual life.
So verse 20 (and for those of you who are old enough to remember Navigators – anybody here remember Navigators?) well the Navigators used to have a memory learning system and Galatians 2:20 was the second verse you learned.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – the first verse
Galatians 2:20 – the second verse
And Leon Morris says in his commentary “that this is to him the most moving text in Scripture” – look at Galatians 2:20. Paul says:
“I have been crucified with Christ,(that is my old separated life has gone) and the new life I live is really Christ’s life which he lives by his Spirit in me,and I live by faith in him,I could on him,I trust in him,I have confidence in him,he can do the job of salvation because he loved me and he gave himself for me.”
Well now Paul often speaks about the death of Christ but he doesn’t often speak of it in such personal terms – ‘that he LOVED ME and GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME’. But that’s true of every believer. We can say ‘he died for us’ ‘he died for me’. The believer can use both phrases.
And verse 21 is unanswerable really,isn’t it? If salvation is by our performance,then Jesus needn’t have come and he needn’t have died.
Again,Leon Morris,- I remember shaking hands with the man at the door and the man said to me as I was leaving “preacher,Mr Preacher,he said,you do your best”. And Leon Morris said to him “Sir,then why did Christ die?” – That’s it – That’s verse 21.
Now I wonder if everybody here this morning can actually agree or tick the box mentally with these statements.
Can you say,you who are listening to me this morning,can you say Christ died FOR ME?
Can you say,my faith and my confidence are IN HIM?
Can you say,I am not contributing to my salvation?
Can you say,I am not contributing to my relationship with God?
Can you say,I am free from pressure to do that?
Can you say,I am rejoicing that he is sufficient?
He died to give life – I’ve got it. I hope you all can say that.
When unbelief creeps in (and it does creep in) what happens is that we reduce in our mind the wonder of the cross and we think – well what can I do? Well what will I do? Not that there isn’t a time for doing,living,behaving,living out salvation – the danger is where we think how can I secure salvation – that’s unbelief.
And the other thing we do is that we very easily impose obligations on other people when God doesn’t impose the obligations on other people. Or we withdraw from people because they haven’t qualified with our requirements.
And we can do this with different Nationalities – they are not quite on par with us.
And we can do this with different class – these people are too classy,these people are not classy enough.
And we can do this with intellect – too clever,not clever.
And we can do this with abilities – too talented,not talented.
And we can do this with personalities – too difficult,too easy.
And we can do this with looks – people’s impressiveness or non impressiveness.
And we can do this whether people are fun to be with,whether they are not fun to be with.
And as soon as we begin to think like this,we set up little barriers and walls which Christ has removed. And we who enjoy ‘barrier-free’ fellowship with Christ (and we do) are to have barrier-free fellowship with other believers. And if that is not happening because of something going on in your own head,it may need to be confronted. If you see it in the church,it may need to be confronted and it needs to be confronted with grace.
Well let’s pray –
Our Father we thank you this morning for the great work the Lord Jesus has done in removing the barrier,not only between yourself and us but also between us and other believers. We pray that you would forgive us for the ways in which we re-build those barriers and fail to honour you and also re-build them in the fellowship and fail to honour you.
We pray that you would impress upon us the gospel so that we might walk with you with freedom and joy. We pray that you would impress upon us the gospel so that we would love one another and we pray that you would also give us the grace to help one another to believe and live the gospel and that we might do this with the grace that you have shown to us.
And we ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.