|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: First Opposition
Gal 2:3-5 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Very often if we think of opposition, we think of persecution, people coming against us to stop us expressing our faith, but there is another form of opposition which the enemy sends, that of opposition to the Gospel in the form of an alternative belief system. In other words the enemy tries to throw us off track by getting us to change our thinking and then soon our behaviour changes, and then the outcome of who we are as a church completely changes.
Let's take two opposite ways of thinking in respect of the sovereignty of God, to see this applied. Group one believe God is utterly sovereign and that we can do nothing, so they are totally passive in respect of those around them, and then they wonder why no one becomes a Christian. The opposite group believe they have got to do everything and so are ultra busy, completely worn out and those who do turn to the Lord find themselves in a tense church environment. Ways of thinking determine activity and activity determines outcome.
Although those were examples of activity, it happens more in respect of how we view our salvation and what we think of God. Some of us believe that we still need to impress God and so work, through a variety of strategies, at doing that. Paul is about to face up to one of those strategies. So far, his talk about his past has been to justify his authority and confirm his background that allows him to be a genuine spokesperson for the Gospel. He has just written about the second time he went up to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles there. This reference in this chapter is likely to be his second trip to Jerusalem because in Acts 15 we see the cause of it: “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.” (Acts 15:1,2)
There was the problem simply laid out: there were Jews who had become Christians but who wanted to hold onto the marks of Judaism. For them this was a major issue. From the earliest days of their history they could remember Abraham receiving the rite of circumcision for all males and so it had continued right through their history. This was a sign of their relationship with the Lord and they could not think of giving it up, and yet here came these new Christian preachers who said you no longer had to be circumcised if you were a male. They found this very difficult to take.
It is the subject of circumcision that Paul is addressing in a major way in this letter. Our temptation as non-Jews is to think, well I've never thought of being circumcised so it's not an issue with me. Well, no, but we do have other ‘add-ons', things that we feel we ought to do to make us right with God. We aren't satisfied with simply receiving the gifts of forgiveness, Sonship and eternal life; we want to do something that confirms or earns them. We can't believe it's so simple that it's just a matter of receiving; we feel we ought to do something.
So Paul went up to Jerusalem to discuss this with the Jerusalem apostles, taking with him Titus who was a Gentile believer but, he points out, there was no question of Titus having to be circumcised, the apostles were quite happy with him as he was! We may still think that this issue of circumcision was no big issue, but it really was and that is why this letter to the Galatians is so important. Like no other writing in the New Testament it separates off Old Testament practice from New Testament belief. It shows us that Christianity is just about receiving and not earning.
We learn this lesson in many different ways in life. Many years ago I used to travel abroad in ministry in a team, and whenever we went we fasted for ten days beforehand, by way of spiritual preparation. Then one day I went to take my own team and the Lord clearly said to me, “You will not fast beforehand.” I couldn't believe that this was the Lord, and so I started to fast and was so sick! Literally crawling around on the floor, I heard the Lord say, “I told you not to fast. Get up and eat,” so I did. On that trip the Lord blessed my ministry double anything I had known before.
What was He teaching me? That I didn't have to twist His arm to get His blessing; He wanted me to have it as one of His ambassadors anyway! I had to learn that He loved me so much and I couldn't earn it. He wanted to bless my ministry and bless others through me; it wasn't to be me, but all of Him. I could take none of the glory. I just went in weakness and dependency and received His blessing. That is how it is, that is why we don't need to try to impress Him or twist His arm. He desires to bless us, more than we desire to be blessed! Believe it!