Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.
On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Psalm 117:1BC, 2
Praise the Lord, all you nations!
Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
In the Letter to the Galatians from which we read today, Paul, in the full force of his convictions, is speaking to a church divided over the issues of faith and works, the law and grace. This division sprang up from the culture clash as Jews and Gentiles were commingling in the budding church and were trying to learn how to be Christians together. Paul had preached to the Gentiles (with the agreement of the apostles Cephas aka Peter, James, and John) that faith in Jesus Christ alone was necessary for salvation. But some legalistic Jewish believers, in a desire to justify themselves and through a misunderstanding of Christ’s teaching that He had come not to destroy the law but fulfill it, would come in behind Paul and preach an “alternative gospel”. According to this legalistic version of the gospel, both grace AND keeping the law were necessary, and therefore, to be Christians, Gentiles first had to become Jewish by being circumcised and keeping Jewish rituals and traditions. (Ironically, these rituals and traditions had largely developed during the Babylonian captivity as a way to reinforce separation between the Jews and their Gentile captors.) So Gentiles within the church were being burdened and shunned by these legalistic Jewish Christians, and their influence was strong enough that even Peter and Barnabas, who knew better, were following their demands.
We can well understand then why Paul is so dismayed by this state of affairs under the “alternative gospel”. It has given rise to division, hypocrisy, and obstacles to salvation, and treats Jesus’s work of redemption and the believer’s relationship with Him as a mere topic within Christianity. So Paul opposes the head of the church, Peter himself, publicly and to his face, and writes to the churches to let them know; there is one gospel, there is one Savior, and He is enough. The law is not destroyed but fulfilled in the person of the Jesus. Jesus fulfilled the law by giving us direct access to the Father in the Lord’s prayer. This prayer affirms our faith, personally, in the One true God, and orders our actions to proceed from and demonstrate that faith. This is the faith that saves us; we do not, by our actions, save ourselves, and we greatly harm others by putting up obstacles to their faith rather than simply bringing them to Jesus.
Today, the ancient words of Paul and of Christ speak to us in quite a timely manner. We face a church with significant cultural divisions, laity and leadership in grave theological error, relegation of Christ to a mere topic within Christianity, and, in the midst of all our problems, a need to work out our own salvation and call others into the kingdom of God. But let us not be dismayed. God raised up Paul singularly for the time in which he lived, and God has raised up each of us singularly for the time in which we live. We must know and affirm in our inmost being that Jesus alone is Lord, that through Him and Him alone all our divisions can be healed. Today let us offer the prayer of Jesus up to the Father, meditating on the holiness and goodness of our God, and asking that we too may reflect that holiness and that kingdom, forgive and be forgiven, and bind our church to her savior through these days of trial.
Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.