Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)
Continuing on with my reading with comments of Galatians…
Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go.
I think this is cool. Too often today we are afraid to say that God reveals things to us. Maybe because we aren’t sure if he has because we haven’t had much practice listening to him instead of our pastor or other spiritual leader. Or maybe because we don’t want people to think we’re crazy, having heard a message from God. While I fully admit that I wish I could hear from and understand him more clearly a majority of the time, there are those very special, clear moments when it is quite obvious that God was speaking to me. When God reveals things to me. Often it can be reinforced by the agreement of another brother or sister, but even more often it is something personal between me and my Father. Something that he says to me, that might be meaningless to you, but was a specific and personal detail in my life that day. Sometimes it’s meaningless, or at least just for the moment – a leading to go here, or call this person, or write this e-mail. Sometimes it’s life changing: career moves, relocations, or even something more difficult, like letting go of something that has been perhaps a substitute for our relationship with God or something else he intended for us.
Paul knew the intimacy of a personal relationship with God. He was the one who said our spirits call him “Abba”, which I have heard is akin to “Daddy”… a term of very close endearment. He knew his Father, and when he said go, Paul went!
While I was there I talked privately with the leaders of the church. I wanted them to understand what I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure they did not disagree, or my ministry would have been useless. And they did agree. They did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile.
I think it’s fascinating that Paul bases the usefulness of his ministry on his ability to convince this group of Christians the freedom that he had been preaching to the Gentiles. I think perhaps he knew that they were so entrenched in what the had known about God and his kingdom that this new truth Jesus had “introduced” was still a bit foreign to them. See, the Jews had been taught that they were God’s chosen people. And while that is true, it did not mean to the exclusion of everyone else. God did not chose them and banish the rest from existence. God chose the Jews to be the nation through whom He would be born, and thus save all of us. All. Everyone. Even the Gentiles, whom they had been taught to see as unclean. Not loved by God. Not capable of living a freed life in him. Peter had found that to be false (Acts 11-12) and now Paul is telling the Galatian Christians about when he went to Jerusalem and argued his case before his brothers there.
This is quite ironic as you follow Paul, then Saul, in the book of Acts. He was a most zealous Christian killer. He stood up for righteousness, at least his brand of it, and no one was mightier at defeating the wicked heretical Christians. Now he is espousing what would have amounted to blasphemy, a little over a decade later.
Even that question wouldn’t have come up except for some so-called Christians there–false ones, really–who came to spy on us and see our freedom in Christ Jesus. They wanted to force us, like slaves, to follow their Jewish regulations. But we refused to listen to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the Good News for you.
This is important. I read this and thought, “Whoa… what did he say?” See, Paul mentions the people who were trying to get everyone to keep the rules, to follow a set of ordinances in order to be acceptable to God. That is what the Jewish religion had become, and there were folks trying to infiltrate the church with such thinking. Paul said he and the others wouldn’t listen… even for a single moment. And then, catch this. “We wanted to preserve the truth of the Good News for you.” (emphasis mine)
What is Paul referring to here? Which part is “The Truth” of the Good News? That Jesus died and rose again? Yes… That we’re sinners and by God’s grace we’re saved? Yes… But is it just a list of doctrines in the form of a creed? Is that what he said he was trying to protect? A list of 95 Theses?
Nope. Paul is talking about freedom. Freedom is the truth of the Good News. The others had come to steal it away from them and bind them as slaves with the Jewish regulations. But Paul had learned – first-hand from Jesus – that the Good News has nothing to do with regulations. It is GOOD NEWS. The news that we are free in Jesus. That he has paid (past tense) the price for our sins, that it is finished, that the veil between God and men was torn in two when he died on the cross. The Good News is that we are no longer slaves, but he calls us his friends, and even better, God the Father calls us his children.
Even today some would take that freedom away from us. Every church has its unwritten rules about what you do and don’t do. Unspoken codes of behavior that get passed on and that attempt to mark us as “true” believers. Many have actual written sets of code. Some are creeds, some are by-laws, some are membership requirements, some are statements of faith… all can only limit the freedom that we have in Christ. Rules create fences. They intention may be to protect, but often it leads to restriction on the true freedoms we were meant to know and live out in Jesus.
I am not obviously saying we should have anarchy. That all rules are out the window, have it your way! We know that God’s word remains true. The things he said were bad for us before Jesus died on the cross are still bad for us today. But there is a different understanding of what “bad for us” means. It does not mean God is keeping a record of every choice we make and going to use it against us in his High Court at the end of our days. It does mean though that as I love my children, and give them boundaries and guidelines and even suggestions… if they heed them, they will do well. If not (and they DO have the ability to not) life is not as good for them. Sometimes I inflict consequences, to help them learn to listen to me and to avoid making whatever poor choice they had just made. Other times the consequences are natural. Their poor decision – to not heed my words – leads to physical or emotional pain for them, or for other people.
It is similar in dealing with adults. When our self-will gets out of line and begins to hurt other people, we must have some system in place in order to correct and contain that. There wouldn’t be many of us left if we all ignored the “Do not kill” rule. But the overall truth of the Good News is, we don’t have to try. We can’t and won’t earn God’s favor by our actions or inactions. He proved that our favor with him is only from him, and that it is complete. Forever.
There is our freedom. Not the freedom to do all the bad stuff we want, but the freedom of knowing we have been chosen, accepted and are forever loved. Regardless of how we perform, he loves us.
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