Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Responding to Critics of a God – Given Vision

A sermon developed by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett based on Galatians 2:1-10 and preached at Precision Valley Baptist Church in Springfield, VT, and at Faith Community Church in Barre, VT.

               Galatians was written by the apostle Paul to churches scattered across what is now central Turkey.
               Paul had started a number of churches in that area that were made up of non-Jewish believers.
               Some Jewish Christians had come into the area after Paul left and told the non-Jewish believers that they had to be circumcised in order to be real Christians. This was a cause for concern to the non-Jewish believers (especially the men!)
               But the difficulty of this teaching was not just the physical discomfort that circumcision might have caused adult males, but more the idea that people had to add some sort of religious ritual to their faith in order to be saved.
               Though we may not struggle with the connection between circumcision and faith in our modern world, many do struggle to accept the idea that eternal salvation is by faith in Christ alone without any religious ritualism added to it.
               The Jewish believers who were stirring up trouble in the Galatian churches challenged whether Paul was a real apostle or not.
               When trouble makers cannot find something real to argue about, they will often try to use innuendo and personal attacks to win whatever ideological battle they are waging.
               The way Paul defended himself sets a pattern for how we might defend ourselves in similar situations.

Verse 1 - Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
               In the previous chapter Paul had shared his testimony of how he came to believe in Christ alone for his salvation and how he had been called to serve Christ.
               Paul then goes on to talk about how he traveled to Jerusalem in the hopes of clarifying whether non-Jewish believers were required to follow all the Jewish traditions.
               Jerusalem was where the “mother church” was. It was also where many of the remaining apostles lived and preached.
               Bible scholars argue about whether this verse refers to a period 14 years after Paul’s conversion or 14 years after Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem.
               Either way, the point is the same. Paul went to the mother church for clarification.
               As we will learn later in this passage, Paul already knew what he was going to do. But if the mother church supported his efforts, his job would be much easier.
               If the mother church did not support his efforts, his calling would still remain, he would just have to do it outside the traditional religious system he was accustomed to.
               When we sense God calling us to do something, we should approach the church we are part of to see if they will support our efforts.
               It makes sense to share the burden with them and see if they will help.
               But what should we do if our church does not share our burden?
               If the church does not share our burden we should first make sure it really is a calling from God and not just our emotions.
               After careful prayer and contemplation, if we determine that it really is God’s calling on our lives, then we have no choice but to pursue that calling.
               But we should not be angry at the church if they sense a different calling than us.

Verse 2 - I went up because of a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles—but privately to those recognized as leaders—so that I might not be running, or have run, in vain.
               Paul went to Jerusalem because he received a special word from God that he should go.
               For years Paul had worked on his own, outside the traditional Jewish church.
               But now Paul felt a special burden from the Lord to share what he was doing with some of the more traditional elements of the Jewish religious establishment because of the circumcision issue.
               Sometimes we start a ministry on our own, but then the situation changes and we realize we need to get others involved.
               When we see the need for others to be involved, we have to present the idea through the appropriate avenues in the church.
               The Greek word for “presented” is anatithemi and literally means that he “set up an idea for others to consider.”
               Before we get angry or upset with those who do not support our efforts, we must ask ourselves if we have presented the idea to them in a way that let them fully consider it.
               We typically want people to instantly support our plans.
               But we should give them all the information and all the time they need to fully consider our ideas.
               Notice that Paul met with the leaders of the church privately before sharing his ideas with the rest of the church.
               A private meeting is not the same thing as a secret meeting.
               Secret meetings are usually negative in their outcome, but private meetings can be very positive because it lets us share our ideas without stirring up trouble in the church.
               He simply meant that if the church was  never going to get behind his efforts, there was no point in investing a lot of time trying to convince the leaders to support it .
               There is a fine line between asking people to help us fulfill our calling from God and pushing people to do something they do not feel called to do.
               That fine line can be hard to find when we are excited about something God wants us to do.
               We will never know if the church is supposed to help unless we ask the leadership.
               This must include giving them the information and the time they need to consider our ideas.
               But in the end, if they say no, we should not attempt to manipulate the situation in order to get a different answer.

Verse 3 - But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
               Since the key issue was whether the non-Jewish believers had to follow the Jewish religious traditions, Paul took a non-Jewish believer with him to the meeting.
               Titus was a Greek. Greeks did not practice circumcision.
               The Jewish leaders accepted Titus as a brother without making him be circumcised.
               It is worth noting that Paul took a PERSON with him instead of just presenting a program or an idea.
               Any time we feel called by God to do something new, we should focus on the PEOPLE it will help and not just the position we will have, or the budget we need, etc.
               People are important, the rest is just details.

Verse 4 - This issue arose because of false brothers smuggled in, who came in secretly to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us.
               Paul points out that this entire issue existed only because of some “false brothers” who were “smuggled” in to “spy” on his ministry.
               This may sound like a pretty judgmental statement for Paul to make.
               But remember, Paul had been dealing with this for 14 years!
               Though our society tends to think that all judgment is bad, that is not really true.
               For society to work, at some point, we must make judgments about certain kinds of behavior.
               What we must avoid is premature judgment based on only part of the story.
               After 14 years, Paul had seen enough to know that his judgment of these false brothers was fair and accurate.
               Paul called them “false brothers,” which means that he did not believe they were actually followers of Christ.
               There are many people who are religious but lack a relationship with Christ. Like Paul, I have come to believe that they are the ones who often cause the most trouble in churches.
               The Greek word for “smuggled” is pareiserchomai and refers to a person who acts harmless but actually plans harm.
               Though some people mean well but cause harm unintentionally, the ones Paul refers to MEAN to cause harm and they purposely disguise their efforts in order to gain trust so they can cause even greater harm.
               They have a passive-aggressive tendency.
               They are not healthy in their relationships.

Verse 5 - But we did not yield in submission to these people for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain.
               When people who are unhealthy emotionally seek to destroy the vision that God has placed in our lives, we must not yield to them.
               But we must not stoop to their level by responding in equally unhealthy ways.
               Instead, we should focus on the truth of the gospel. The truth has a way of working itself to the top if we just keep focusing on it.

Verse 8 - For He who was at work with Peter in the apostleship to the circumcised was also at work with me among the Gentiles.
               Paul recognized that God calls different people to different things.
               Peter was called primarily to minister to the Jews who loved their religious traditions.
               Paul was called primarily to minister to the Gentiles who had never heard of most of those  same Jewish religious traditions.
               Notice that it was the Holy Spirit at work in BOTH of these men even when they were doing very different types of ministry.
               Though we should avoid wasting time with emotionally unhealthy leaders, we should celebrate the efforts of good leaders even if they are doing something very different than we feel called to do.

Verse 9 - When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
               Paul recognized the apostles who were primarily serving the Jewish believers as “pillars” of the church.
               This was a Jewish metaphor that referred to the pillars of the temple in Jerusalem.
               Just as the pillars held the temple up, these leaders held the church in Jerusalem together.
               We should respect the pillars of the church even when they feel led to go a different direction than we do in ministry.
               These men gave Paul and Barnabas the “right hand of fellowship.”
               In that culture, this was only done to people that were considered equals. It was a token of approval and agreement.

Verse 10 - They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do.
               The traditional church leaders found common ground with Paul’s more innovative ministry by agreeing to both care for poor people.
               When we feel called to do something that the rest of the church does not, instead of complaining about it, we should find common ground that we can all agree on.

               God calls each of us to do something special for Him, whether inside or outside the traditional “church” culture.
               There are appropriate times for us to ask the leadership of the church for help in fulfilling whatever task God has given us.
               We must give the church leadership the info and the time to decide if they should help.
       We should accept whatever answer they give and focus on what we have in common.

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