The Graceful Life pt. 2

The Graceful Life Pt. 2

Galatians 2:1-14


Read Text.


One man tells us this story about his childhood. He says “When I was 13 years old, my dad had the brilliant idea to take sailing lessons. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Our only previous sailing experience had been the log ride at Great America. Nonetheless. My dad my brother, two cousins and I headed out to Chicago’s Belmont Harbor to spend three days learning to sail with an instructor. At the end of the three days, after learning all the basics, we were given a final exam.


We were to navigate the sailboat out into the harbor, out of the harbor, into the lake, and back to the harbor again. We were supposed to do all of this alone. No instructor on board. Just my dad and four teenagers. Even as a thirteen-year-old I knew this was not a good idea. There was no way I was getting into that boat with just my dad. The instructor may as well have told us to fly a 747. This was a disaster waiting to happen. Though my dad was full of confidence, I refused to get into the boat. They ridiculed me for not coming and then they shoved off. The instructor and I then watched in horror from the shore as the sailboat bounced around Belmont Harbor like a floating pinball. They seem magnetically attracted to every stationary object in the harbor. They hit docks. They hit buoys. They hit other boats. My dad stood at the rudder maintaining a facade of control, calmly ordering the others to trim the sails as if the chaos in the harbor were perfectly normal. People on other boats were terrified they would be the next vessel torpedoed by my father.


Meanwhile, those watching them from shore were laughing, and I stood by pretending I had no idea who those idiots in that boat were. I just laughed along with everyone else. In the end, they didn’t even make it out of the harbor. I don’t think my dad will ever show his face in Belmont Harbor again.” Here he was, son, brother, a part of the family, pretending he didn’t know those idiots out there. Laughing along with everyone else. We can be very fickle about community, can’t we? When things are good, we’re all too eager to jump in the boat and join in the fun. But when things turn ugly we find ourselves on the shore pointing and laughing, pretending not even to know those crazy people in the boat sometimes, no matter how close we are to them. When the going gets tough, we abandon ship. We’re tempted to do the same thing in the body of Christ too. When things are good, we’re excited to come to church and be a part of what God is doing but when conflict rears its head or change as afoot or there are problems to be dealt with we find ourselves standing on shore, keeping our distance those in the church, maybe pointing and laughing. Maybe pretending we just don’t know who those people are or what’s going on. We keep our distance.


But throughout Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments a sense of community, a sense of unity has been a core element at what of what it means to be a part of the people of God. From the Great Commandment to the people of Israel to love God and love neighbor, to the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that his people would be one just as he and the father were one, to Paul’s emphasis on unity and John’s emphasis on love, unity is always considered a major component of a Holy Spirit empowered life of grace. Unity is one of the primary indicators of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst, but like the people of the church to whom the New Testament letters were written we can be tempted to substitute other things for true unity, or maybe even do away with unity altogether. Paul is very concerned about the unity of the body of Christ. And he goes to great pains to make sure that that unity is protected and as he does so he reminds us that biblical unity is evidence of a Holy Spirit empowered life spent following Jesus.


Look at verses 1 through 9. I’m just going to sort of pull some phrases from there and paraphrase them as I do. Paul says “I went again to Jerusalem and I set before the leaders there the gospel that I proclaim to the Gentiles in order to make sure that I was not running in vain or had not run in vain and then he says and they added nothing to me.” Now, Paul is not seeking the apostles Peter and James and John’s endorsement of his ministry and he’s not seeking their approval of the Gospel that he’s teaching. He’s already been about his work for 14 years now. But he knows that some Christians from Jerusalem have begun to penetrate his churches in Galatia. And he knows that they’re adding to God’s gospel of grace and saying not only do you have to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, you also have to live under the Jewish law.


And Paul went to Jerusalem to talk to Peter and James and John about this and he laid his teaching out before them and Paul says and “they added nothing to me.” They told me, “You’re teaching is right on. You don’t need to add anything. There is nothing else to teach. You have the same focus we do – a focus on God’s grace. But Paul wanted to make sure that he and the Jerusalem Church were speaking with one voice and he knew that a fractured Church, a church in which Jew and Gentile could not worship together, could not come together as one body, was tantamount to having run his race in vain. It was tantamount to having wasted the last 14 years. But Paul says they added nothing to me.


Paul and the Jerusalem Apostles: Peter, James the brother of Jesus, and John agree on the essentials – grace, Jesus Christ, salvation by grace through faith. We have to be careful about allowing the things that we add to the gospel of grace to divide us. In the Alpha course, which we’re running right now on Tuesday nights, one of the presenters, Nicky Gumbel, tells this story. “I heard about a man who was standing in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge admiring the view when another tourist walked up alongside him to do the same and he heard him say quietly – as he took in the beauty of the view – “What an awesome God!” And I turned to him and said, “Oh, are you a Christian?” And he said “Yes, I’m a Christian.” And I said, “So am I!” and we shook hands. I said, “Are you a liberal or a conservative Christian?” And he said, “I’m a conservative Christian,” and I said “So am I!” and we smiled and nodded to each other. I said, “Are you a covenant or dispensational conservative Christian?” And he said, “I’m a dispensational conservative Christian.” And I said, “So am I!” and we slapped one another on the back. I said, “Are you an early Acts, mid-Acts, or late Acts dispensational conservative Christian?” And he said “I’m a mid-Acts dispensational conservative Christian,” and I said, “So am I!” and we agreed to exchange Christmas cards each year. I said, “Are you an Acts 9 or Acts 13 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian? And he said, “I’m an Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian.” Then I said,  “So am I!” and we hugged one another right there on the bridge. I said, “Are you a pre-tri or a post-trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian?” And he said I’m a pre-trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian.” And I said, “So am I!” and we agreed to exchange our kids for the summer. I said, “Are you a 12 in or 12 out pre-trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian?” And he said “I’m a 12 in pre-trib Acts 9 mid Acts dispensational conservative Christian. And I said, “You heretic!” and I pushed him off the bridge.


Paul was struggling against those who wanted to add to the gospel saying that these non-Jews – Gentiles who were coming to faith in Christ – had to accept Christ as Savior and Lord AND live by the Jewish law. Their rules and regulations – the 613 prescriptions for how to make yourself acceptable to God. And Paul knew that in this case what they wanted to add was actually contrary to the grace that he, and Peter, and James, and John all proclaimed. The first mark of biblical unity is a focus on Jesus Christ and we can’t add to that.


We have to be careful about subtracting from the gospel of grace. So often in our effort to find common ground with others, we find ourselves sacrificing that which is central to following Christ. Paul knew that wouldn’t work. He knew that true unity was only available in Christ. Today its popular to say that those who claim full knowledge of God are arrogant. The problem with that is that in John 14:9 Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the father.” What do we do with a statement like that? If you’ve seen me you’ve seen God. Keep in mind that he grew up in a Jewish culture. With a Jewish worldview. A worldview in which two things were certain. There is a God, and I’m not him. To claim to be God was tantamount to heresy and could lead to your being stoned because they were so passionate about protecting the identity of God. There is a Creator and there is a creation and they’re not the same thing. Jesus says, “Growing up with that worldview, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the father.” What do we do with that? Jesus says, “I am the revelation of God.” It’s common today to talk about Jesus being a great teacher. A  good moral teacher. Within a Jewish worldview good moral teachers didn’t say “If you’ve seen me you’ve seen God.” That was about the one thing they didn’t say, but it’s exactly what Jesus said. What do we do with that?


Now Look V. 10. Paul says they only “asked us to remember the poor. The very thing I was eager to do.” The second mark of biblical unity is acting in love toward others. This wasn’t new for Paul. He has already said they added nothing to my message. They added nothing at all. They said there’s nothing more you need to do. The only thing they asked us to do was to remember the poor, something Paul was already doing. And we don’t in fact see this in the book of Galatians. But in Acts, Luke, one of Paul’s friends, tells us that Paul was on this trip to Jerusalem specifically to deliver an offering he had taken up from the churches in the areas where he was ministering, the churches in Galatia and Ephesus and Philippi and Corinth. And he was delivering that offering to the Jerusalem Church. It wasn’t an act of tribute. It was because the Jerusalem Church had a lot of poor people in it and their resources were tapped out. And Paul told his Gentile believers in the Greek world that because we are one in the body of Christ, their problem in Jerusalem is our problem here and we’re going to stand beside them in unity and we’re going to help. And so they did. In fact, the verb tense that he uses here for “remember the poor,” indicates that it’s something Paul was already doing and would continue to do. Paul knew that biblical unity expresses itself in a mutual care and concern for one another and for humanity in general. He also knew that it includes mutual accountability.


Look at Vv. 11-14. The third mark of biblical unity is an openness to legitimate accountability. And Paul gives us a case study. Paul called himself one of the lowest of the Apostles because he knew he wasn’t there. His experience of Christ was different from that of Peter and James and John, who knew Jesus when he was here on Earth. He knew, as he stood toe-to-toe with Peter, the Peter who was there on the Mount of Transfiguration and saw Christ in his glory, that Peter was there to see the miracles. He was there on the night of his betrayal. He was there at the crucifixion and he was there at the resurrection. Peter knew Jesus as a human being. Paul didn’t. But he has to confront Peter and hold him accountable for standing by his professed convictions. Hey Peter. Remember that meeting you and I had in Jerusalem when you extended to me the right hand of Fellowship, when we entered into a significant relationship with one another, recognizing our common relationship in Christ, and the common nature of our gospel, you remember that? You need to live by that now.


Unity in Christ doesn’t mean we’ll never have conflict. Paul knew that in this moment the only way to maintain the unity of the body of Christ, to stop a separation, between Jewish Christian and Gentile believers in Christ, was for him to confront Peter and hold him accountable for maintaining, in his words and in his actions, the grace that had both been teaching. Paul didn’t confront Peter because he liked conflict and wanted to stir the pot. He confronted Peter because Peter was wrong and Paul knew it.


And deep down Peter knew it too. He knew it because he repented that’s not recorded in Galatians, and it’s not recorded in Acts. But look at what Peter himself said years later, in a letter that he wrote to one of the same churches Paul had written to. In 2 Peter 3:15, Peter says, Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him …” Our beloved brother Paul, the one I entered into a significant relationship in a meeting room in Jerusalem. The one who went toe to toe with me in front of the congregation gathered in Antioch. The one who held me accountable. He’s still my beloved brother Paul and he wrote to you too, “… according to the wisdom given to him and as he does in all his letters when he speaks of them and them of these matters, there are some things that are hard to understand in other words.” Paul is a pretty smart guy and I’m just an old fisherman. I don’t understand all of what Paul writes. “… and because they’re hard to understand some ignorant and unstable people twist them to their own destruction as they do the other scriptures.” Did you hear what Peter just said about Paul? Not only is he his beloved brother in Christ, his partner in ministry, his writing is scripture. Listen to this guy. He’s telling you the truth. Listen to him. honor his ministry. It’s scripture.


That is biblical unity. That is a life of grace marked by a focus on Jesus Christ, by actively loving one another, and by engaging in relationships of mutual accountability. Those are the marks of the Holy Spirit at work in our midst. The marks of life lived full of the grace of Jesus Christ.