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Galatians 2:1-10 "Unity in Jerusalem and the Church"

A visitor to a mental hospital was astonished to note that there were only three guards watching over a hundred dangerous inmates. He asked his guide, “Don’t you fear that these people will overpower the guards and escape?” “No,” was the reply. “Lunatics never unite.”

Sometimes we act like act a little like lunatics refusing to unite with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It's crazy because there's so much that could be accomplished if we were more united and we didn't let our petty differences get in the way.

Gospel unity was at stake and it wasn't something that happened all of a sudden. Fourteen years went by before Paul felt the need to go up to Jerusalem again. He had been busy ministering to the Gentiles while Peter and others had been busy ministering to the Jews in Jerusalem.

But Paul had to go up to Jerusalem to solve what was potentially a divisive matter within the church. Verse 1...

1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.

This was a critical meeting for the church, the consequences of which we still see today.

So we're going to look at why he went, what was at stake, and what was the outcome.

1. Why did he go?

Because of a revelation from God (verse 2a)

2a I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles,

We don't know exactly what the revelation from God was. But God doesn't give revelations to people unless he has a clear purpose. He had given the gospel to Paul originally through a revelation, now with another revelation he knew it was time to make sure those in Jerusalem were on the same page.

Which leads to the second reason he went...

To be sure he had not been running in vain (verse 2b)

2b but privately to those recognized as leaders. I wanted to be sure I was not running, and had not been running, in vain.

It wasn't that Paul was unsure of himself or seeking confirmation. Paul had been in communication with God and didn't have any doubts. Remember, Paul had said that we should reject anyone, even himself, if they preach a different gospel.

So, it wasn't that Paul was doubting the message. The reason he went was because he was concerned about his fruitfulness. For the last fourteen years he had been faithfully preaching the gospel but others were preaching a message that threatened to undermine his efforts.

Paul didn't want that to happen and, more importantly, God didn't want that to happen which is why He gave him a revelation.

It wasn't that those in Jerusalem didn't have the true gospel. Paul needed to know if they were applying it consistently in a predominately Jewish culture.

So, he went because of a revelation from God and to be sure he was not running in vain.

2. What was at stake?

There were two things at stake: Freedom in Christ and the truth of the gospel.

Freedom in Christ (verse 4)

4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us.

The freedom to be a fully accepted Christian despite your nationality was at stake. On one side there was Paul who said the gospel of Christ is for all cultures. On the other side false brothers were claiming that while not all Jews are Christians all Christians are Jews.

The freedom to be a Greek Christian, an Italian Christian, an African Christian, even an American Christian was at stake. Was the church just a sect of Judaism or was it the international family of God?

So, freedom in Christ was at stake and so was...

The truth of the gospel (verse 5)

5 But we did not give up and submit to these people for even a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.

Are we saved by faith in Christ alone or not? It would have been really easy for those in Jerusalem to expect true Christians to eat Kosher since that's what they were used to doing. But expecting all Christians to be kosher put the truth of "Christ alone" at stake.

The truth of the gospel is still at risk when churches expect believers to dress in a certain way, to act in a certain cultural manner, in order to be accepted. Do you realize you have more in common with a believer in Pakistan than you do with your unsaved next door neighbor even if you root for the same football team and attend the same political rallies?

The very unity of the church was at stake because each side was distrusting of the other. If those in Jerusalem took the side of those who taught you must be Jewish, or even just allowed that teaching, it would have split the church in two. Their Jewishness would have become the foundation for their unity, not the gospel, and this would have split the church apart.

3. What was the outcome of Paul's visit?

There are four things that resulted: acceptance, gospel purity, freedom, and unity.

1. Acceptance

Titus was accepted (verse 3)

3 But not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.

Paul was putting them to the test with Titus. Titus was a pork eating, unclean Gentile yet they accepted him. They didn't make Titus become a Jew.

By God's grace, they accepted Titus for who he was: a Christian rescued Christ's love for him, just like they were. This acceptance was proof positive that those in Jerusalem had indeed worked out the implications of the gospel.

They knew it wasn't clothing, or washings, or food, or even commandment keeping that makes us clean. It's Christ alone who makes us clean.

So, they extended the...

Right hand of fellowship (verse 9)

9 When James, Cephas, and John—those 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.

In other words, they made it official. It was more than just shaking hands. These "pillars" of the church officially agreed with Paul's message and the implications of gospel unity. They in essence said "don't change a thing, Paul, we fully support you."

So, there was acceptance that resulted but there was also gospel purity. This seems to be the point of verse 6...

2. Gospel Purity: Nothing was added to Paul's message (verse 6)

6 Now from those recognized as important (what they once were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism)—they added nothing to me.

The gospel remained pure. Nothing was added. Christ plus nothing. Humanly, we like to add things and show favoritism to those we like. But the gospel rejects favoritism because God didn't love us because of our race, our nationality, or our past. We were only chosen because God was pleased to do so.

That's the pure gospel.

Another thing that resulted was freedom. We've already mentioned freedom but let's look at it in a little more depth.

3. Freedom, both cultural and emotional freedom

Cultural Freedom Let's read verse 4 again...

4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us.

In Christ, we are set free culturally. Africans don't have to become Jewish to be Christians. Americans don't have to become Jewish. Today, we could say Christians don't have to become Americans.

Further, we are set free from keeping a set of cultural rules. Don't drink. Don't go to movies. Don't dance. Don't dress that way. Don't listen to that kind of music are some of the rules some churches require.

It is sad to say that many of our American churches seem to be preaching something other than cultural freedom. As a result our churches are racially and culturally divided. I'm sure the issues are more complicated than I understand, but it seems we each have our own cultural version of the gospel that keeps us divided more than united.

So, the gospel sets us free culturally, and...

Emotional Freedom We are set free from the guilt of trying to earn our salvation. Those that believe their relationship with God is based upon behavior are on an endless treadmill of trying to be good enough. But they can't do it so their continually filled with emotional guilt and insecurity. The gospel set us free from all that.

It's not that we are set free to live however we want. We still should keep the ten commandments. We shouldn't lie or steal or commit adultery. But commandment keeping isn't the means by which we earn salvation. We obey not to become saved but because we already are.

So, the true gospel sets us free emotionally and culturally while the false gospel destroys both.

Lastly, I want to talk some more about unity because in some sense that's what this passage is mainly about and it is a very important outcome of Paul's visit.

4. Unity - What is it?

Accepting anyone and everyone who is in Christ Jesus

Titus was fully accepted because he belonged to Christ Jesus even though he was a Greek (vs 3).

As I said before, an American Christian has far more in common with a Pakistani Christian than with the non-believer who lives next door. Christian unity isn't based upon what we wear, what we eat, or even the language we speak.

And just like Titus wasn't compelled to be circumcised, so we shouldn't compel people to become like us culturally, economically, or even theologically in order to be saved.

Some churches insist you must be baptized to be saved. Some say you must speak in tongues. Others say you have to have a certain view of predestination. Still others say you're only saved if you belong to their church.

This is all wrong. Being a Christian means accepting anyone and everyone who is in Christ Jesus.

It also means...

Recognizing we have different callings (verse 7-8)

In verses 7 and 8 both Paul and Peter recognized they have different callings. Paul had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised and Peter with the circumcised.

What this implies is that we can remain unified even when the gospel is adapted for different people. I didn't say changed but it can be adapted as long as the essence remains intact.

The essence of the gospel is what's important but it can be communicated and expressed in different ways. I won't say too much about that right now but there are huge implications.

The final aspect of unity isn't one you would expect but one I will say quite a bit about.

Unity in the church is wrapped up with...

Remembering the poor (verse 10)

10 They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I had made every effort to do.

There are different ways to express the gospel in different cultures and different times, but no matter how we express it we must be unified in our desire to care for the poor.

The Jerusalem churches would have insisted on this for one very practical reason. They were poorer than the gentile churches. They had been under Roman occupation. They were oppressed. They had been persecuted in ways Gentile churches in other regions had not.

So, they were saying in essence don't forget us. Remember the poor when you go off to minister to the comparatively wealthy Gentile churches. That's a practical reason.

But there's also a general reason we are unified by caring for the poor: God loves the poor.

Jesus became poor. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, "Though he was rich, for your sake he became poor..."

Many verses say Christians are to help the poor. One such verse is Deuteronomy 15:7-8...

If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your city gates in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has.

Jesus also taught that God will judge whether or not we have faith by our service of the poor. Matthew 25:44-46...

“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help you?’

“Then he will answer them, ‘I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

So, Christians are to be unified in caring for the poor but, sadly, we aren't always. Some say emphasizing care of the the poor is what the liberal churches do. Some avoid it because it has become so politicized.

But caring for the poor shouldn't be an issue that divides us. Rather, it should be an issue that unifies us. It should be an issue that all true Christians around the world fully support in word and deed.

Before we close we need to address...

What unity is not

Unity has its limits. The gospel is what brings us together and we go too far when we make unity more important.

Paul had his priorities right. He was concerned about the unity of the church but he was willing to risk that unity over the truth of the gospel. He went to Jerusalem hoping to be welcome and accepted but knowing there was the possibility he wouldn't be.

False brothers were causing disunity with what they taught. If the church was going to move forward these false teachers would need to be denounced by Paul and by those in Jerusalem. Paul wasn't promoting a "unity first, doctrine second" approach. True doctrine does divide and we need to remember that.

But if someone is in fellowship with God and accepted by Christ then we too should accept and be in fellowship with them. We shouldn't add to God's requirements otherwise we put ourselves in His place thinking we know better.

But if someone is not in true fellowship with God because they teach a false, works-based gospel there can be no real fellowship or unity with believers.

Only in Christ can we have the kind of unity we long for. Only in Christ can we have unity that shows no partiality and looks right past our cultural, racial, even political differences. This is what the true gospel of grace offers us. It is what Paul went up to Jerusalem to fight for and it is what we should fight for, too.

Galatians 2:11-21 "Living Out the Gospel"

Galatians 1:10-24 "Paul's Testimony of Amazing Grace"