Tuesday

02 October 2012

"We did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you." (v. 5)


Background

In today's passage Paul gives his readers a some background information about himself. Paul's authority has been called into question by other visitors to Galatia - "false believers" (v. 4) - who are seeking to undermine the message he has spread; insisting that Christians need to follow the whole of the Jewish law, and implying that this comes from the top Church leaders themselves. Paul has to convince them that the message he preached was in fact the whole gospel (good news about Jesus) and nothing but the gospel!

Paul tells how, on one occasion, he went to the headquarters of the Church in Jerusalem and stayed with Peter (Cephas) and James (Jesus' brother) (Acts 9:26-27), before visiting other regions. In the Judean churches, meanwhile, he was known only by reputation: Paul the persecutor is now Paul the preacher! It was another 14 years before he returned to Church HQ. On this occasion, the leading apostles fully endorsed Paul's mission to the Gentiles (non Jews), and gave him "the right hand of fellowship" (v. 9), acknowledging what God was achieving through his ministry. He was therefore recognised as having an apostolic mission (meaning 'sent by God'), just as Peter was regarded as an apostle to those of Jewish heritage ("the circumcised" (v. 9)). He did come across some of the "false believers" - pushing their agenda of Jewish religious purity alongside faith in Christ - but Paul and Titus did not give in to their suggestions, insisting on preserving the "truth of the gospel" (v. 5). Paul notes that his Greek friend and convert Titus was never forced to be circumcised as a mark of his entry into God's family (verse 3). He says that the gospel he proclaimed to the Galatians was not even influenced by the respected leaders of the Church in Jerusalem - there was simply a sharing of news and mutual respect. His message, he claims, is from God alone.

Here we get an insight into the power-struggles and debates of the early Church. It was not a straightforward matter as the Church emerged from established Judaism. All that was once sacred to the early disciples had to be laid aside in favour of faith in God's appointed king and Lord.

See the gospel Church secure,
and founded on a rock;
all her promises are sure;
her bulwarks who can shock?
(StF 683, Charles Wesley)


To Ponder

  • What do you feel are the struggles today when 'independent' churches or teachings emerge? What can we learn from Paul and the early Church?
  • Unity of those from different backgrounds was so important for Paul. Where has the Church forgotten this over the years? Where do you think that we still forget it today?
  • The only thing the leaders from Church HQ insisted upon was that Paul and Barnabas remembered the poor (verse 10). (Most of Judea was oppressed and downtrodden, still under Roman occupation. There was also a severe famine recorded in Acts 11:27-30. Many of their Gentile converts would be considerably richer and supported their brothers and sisters in their need.) How important is it today that the Western Church supports its family members in the developing world? When problems arise at home, to what extent are we as eager as Paul to remember them?


Bible notes author: The Revd Andrew Murphy

 

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