galatians…week 6 **GRACE**

I hope your mid-week is finding you well! Mine is busy with family things, since my little sister, Jennifer, is in town for a week before she heads to San Francisco for the summer! She is an opera singer and has a gig (yes, I just said “gig”) out there all summer. Prayers for her would be greatly appreciated!

Anyways, on to Galatians 2:6-10…

6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

This is a continuation of Paul’s argument/defense that he preached the correct gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul presented the gospel that he proclaims among the Gentiles to those who seemed influential (2:2) and he tells us that “they added nothing” to it (2:6), thereby confirming its validity. He then gives the reasons that they accepted him and “his” gospel:

  1. they saw that he had been entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the Jews (“the circumcision”)
  2. they perceived the grace that had been given to him

I love this: Paul’s validity had NOTHING to do with him, in and of himself! The two reasons noted as to why they extended the right hand of fellowship are complete and unmistakable works of God. GOD called him and entrusted him with the gospel to the Gentiles and GOD gave more and more perceivable grace to his soul. It doesn’t say, “and James perceived that Paul was a talented speaker” or “Cephas knew of Paul’s background as a Pharisee and knew he was a qualified religious man, learned in the Scriptures” or “when they saw Paul’s written, detailed, and organized plan to reach the Gentile world” or “when they saw that he hadn’t done much sinning for the last fourteen years…” No. Praise the Lord, no.

Your calling has nothing to do with you. God has called you and entrusted you with His purpose for your life and He will give you grace upon grace upon grace to complete it.

Can I ask you something? How do you think James, Peter, and John “perceived the grace that was given” to Paul? Think about it. Have you ever encountered someone who you didn’t know and thought, “I bet that person is a Christian.”? I have. Can I suggest to you that every syllable that Paul spoke was drenched in humility and gratitude? And that every movement of his body spoke submission, yet strength? And that every facial expression he made silently proclaimed, “I was lost, but now I’m found!”?

It makes me wonder if people “perceive the grace that is given” to me, daily. When I am driving in my car, does the person driving on the highway next to me perceive that I am a wretched sinner who was bathed in grace, mercy, and love, earlier that day as I spent time with my Redeemer? When a person asks me to serve them in some way, do they perceive by my response that just that day the Savior served me with abundant grace to cover a multitude of sins? Does grace or condemnation fall on people as I speak to them? Does dignity or shame seep into people’s pores as my eyes look on them? Is my tone harsh and demeaning–a tone my Lord never takes with me? Are my words cruel, mean, or even just indifferent–again, things that never cross my Beloved’s lips. Am I proud and think myself better than others–an attitude diametrically opposed to the Son of God, who though he was in the form of God made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6-7).

This much I know: we will not wholeheartedly give grace until the grace that has been freely offered to us has been received by us. One of the most life-changing verses that I speak over myself every day is James 4:6a, “But He gives more grace…” So simple. It’s the Gospel. Preach it to yourself every day.

galatians…week 5 **RUNNING**

Chapter 2, here we come! Thank you so much for joining me on this journey…

1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (2:1-5)

So, when I memorized this passage on Sunday, I thought for sure I KNEW what I was going to share with you…but I hadn’t yet had the chance to get on here. Then, today when I was doing my memory work, I believe the Lord changed my plan! 🙂 Although I am going to focus on something different for the whole of this post, I would like to draw your attention to the very last phrase of the text: “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Can you just pause and thank God for sending Paul out to the Gentiles? Can you thank Him for empowering every faithful believer who labored and even died in order that we might have the text of Scripture in our hands (and stacking our bookshelves!)? Can you thank Him for saving and leading Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis? Our spiritual legacy is traced back to these faithful saints and of course INNUMERABLE more! Can you thank Him specifically for the person who shared his/her faith in Jesus with you? We are blessed indeed by those who “preserved the truth of the gospel” for US!

As I mentioned already, I was struck by something in the text earlier today during my memory work. As I am memorizing a new book, I am still continuing to recite the previous books I have memorized. So as I go through Galatians for the next several months, every day, I start with Galatians 1:1 through whatever the week’s newest passage is. Then, I recite James since that was the book I last memorized. Then, I recite Philippians, then Colossians. Retention is crucial to me. I say all that because it was actually during Philippians that the Holy Spirit turned a light on for me. 🙂

Philippians 2:14-16 says:

14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

See something similar?

The Apostle Paul says in Gal. 2:2 that he goes up to Jerusalem to present the gospel that he preaches among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that he hasn’t been running in vain. In the same regard, Paul is concerned that if the Philippian believers do not remain true to Christ, that ultimately he will have run in vain. The repetition between the books pricked my heart. (I love how God’s Word is absolutely alive!)

The Greek word for “vain” is kenos meaning “empty, void, devoid of truth; endeavors, labors, and acts which result in nothing; fruitless; without effect.” Paul is clearly concerned that whatever he does would be from God and would produce fruit to glorify Him. Philippians 2:16 and Galatians 2:2 are certainly not the only occurrences of Paul using this Greek word to communicate the same idea. He says something similar to both the church at Corinth and at Thessalonica.

One last observance: the idea of running is consistent between both texts too. The Greek word for “run/running” is trekho. It means “to run; to spend one’s strength in performing or attaining something; to strive hard; denotes to incur extreme peril which then requires the exertion of all one’s effort to overcome.” Paul had much to overcome in preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. He had to work hard. He had to leave family and friends. He had striven to remain firm and true to grace over law for salvation. He had to confront. He had given up his whole previous life. He had dedicated his life to Christ and to those outside of Judaism. Fourteen years. He wanted to make sure that it wasn’t for nothing.

We can shout unanimously, “IT WAS NOT IN VAIN, PAUL! We, as believers in 2012, are a testimony to your faithfulness! Thank you!”

As for me….

Am I running in vain? Am I running at all–striving hard, spending my all, incurring extreme peril in order to fulfill God’s purpose for my life? Am I spending all my strength to attain something that is temporary, rather than eternal? What am I doing with the years, months, weeks, days, minutes, even seconds that God has given me? Is what I focus on and accomplish daily, empty, fruitless, without effect?

Lord Jesus, remind us of our purpose and then accomplish it through us. Holy Spirit, allow us to be faithful and diligent stewards of time, resources, energy, and LIFE. Thank you, Lord that YOU did not run in vain, but You labored to the cross, spent Your all, endured extreme peril to overcome…and You finished the race.

Because He did, we can too.

galatians…week 4 **UNITY**

Well, we are coming right along! This week, by the grace of God, I completed chapter 1 and I am honestly amazed and humbled that God’s precious, beautiful, perfect Word chooses to dwell in my wretched mind. Grace. Then not only that, but It chooses to take root and sanctify this sin-sick heart. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace (John 1:16). I’m overwhelmed.

OK, so we ended last week’s blog in the middle of the Apostle Paul telling his story, mainly as a defense that the Gospel he preached was not one that he created or learned from someone else, but rather that it was the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus Christ. He continues in 1:18-24:

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

After three years of being discipled by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul went up to Jerusalem to visit with Peter, who is called Cephas in this passage. He apparently also saw James, Jesus’ brother, while he was there for those fifteen days. One thing that I found very interesting in my research is the Greek word for “visit” (v. 18) that Paul uses: historeo. You most certainly see the English word “history” in it. This is the only usage of this word in Scripture–so we have to wonder why Paul chose it…

Historeo means, “to inquire into, examine, investigate, to find out, learn by inquiry, to gain knowledge of by visiting.” In short, I believe Paul wanted to know Peter–wanted to know his history with Jesus, wanted to know the stories first-hand, wanted to ask questions about Peter’s faith, wanted to hear the Christ-ordained plan for reaching the world with the Gospel! Paul knew that Christ Himself named Simon “Petros”–the Rock upon whom He would build His Church. My guess is that Paul figured he was a good place to start! 🙂

It seems as though Paul’s purpose in going to Jerusalem was to “historeo” only with Peter–and as though seeing James was an accidental or an unplanned experience. Scripture gives NO additional information as to this meeting between the Apostle to the Gentiles and the Lord’s brother. This is one of those times in bible study that has my pen writing a mile a minute in my journal–asking the Lord what this could have been like for the two of them, speculating what would have been said, wishing so much for more information. But alas, it isn’t there.

Would you mind if I did some of that speculating right here with you? I can imagine that James would have been skeptical. James is, after all, the poster-child for ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17)! What had Paul done to “prove” his sincere faith and to throw out all doubt regarding his true conversion to Christ? James, being the head of the Jerusalem Church, was going to be a diligent, responsible shepherd of his flock–and do some hands-on research. I imagine that James heard he was in town and cancelled his entire appointment calendar to make sure that he spent sufficient time with Saul, the Christian-killer (Acts 8:1-3).

Put yourself in the room with them. Can you feel the tension? It’s been three years since Stephen’s death (Acts 7) and his pastor (James) is finally meeting his murderer (Paul). Not to mention the countless others from James’ congregation who were beaten and arrested under Paul’s direction. Do you think James had some difficult questions for Paul? Do you think Paul humbly stood on the promises of Christ’s forgiveness for his wrong-doings? Do you think they both raised their voices? Do you think they both shed tears? Do you think they ultimately embraced? I do.

I believe this was an incredibly intimate time between these two Christ-followers. They had different histories with Jesus. Paul had never even met Him while He was flesh and blood, but James was His flesh and blood. Paul and James had committed different sins. Paul was a Christian-killing zealot, and James was a self-righteous younger brother. They had different callings. Paul was called to the Gentiles and James was called to the Jews.

Unity between them came SOLELY in the Person of Jesus Christ. For James himself wrote, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, He who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).

With whom do you have differences? With whom do you have disunity? What issues do you have among your fellow brothers and sisters? What are you allowing to divide the body of Christ? Who do you need to forgive? Whose sins are you judging?

“For Christ Himself is our Peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).

galatians…week 3 **IN ORDER THAT**

OK, so I couldn’t resist showing you a picture of my 5-week old nephew! (It actually does have something to do with our passage today, I promise!) This is Gage Cherest Abraham. Adorable, isn’t he? I actually just got home from visiting him, and I miss him already.

Anyways, back to Galatians. Our third set of verses brings us to Paul’s testimony–or at least the first half of it. As a quick reminder, Paul has just finished warning against accepting any other “gospel” (1:6-10).

11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. (1:11-17)

**If you are unfamiliar with Paul’s testimony and want to do some additional study, please see Acts 8-9 and Philippians 3:1-10.**

As you read this brief portion of Scripture, I simply want you to be encouraged that GOD HAS A PURPOSE FOR YOU! He has had one particularly assigned to you since “before you were born.” Everyone who is in Christ Jesus has been “set apart…in order that” _______________ (fill in the blank)!

What is your “in order that” (v. 16)? Have you sought the Lord and asked Him to direct you to His specific purpose for you? Do you really believe that He actually set you apart before you were born for His purposes? Ask Him to help you believe the truth of His Word. The God of all creation is “pleased” (v.15) to use you! Remarkable.

If you have any kind of ugly sin in your past (which by the way, we ALL have), you may be thinking that you messed up too badly for your “in order that” to still happen. Or that somehow you missed your shot. This week, I spoke with a good friend, who is a mature believer, who feels like he destroyed his ministry forever because of a sin (of which he has repented). Friend, I am certainly not discounting earthly consequences, BUT as far as your set apart purpose from the Lord since before you were born, GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER YOUR SIN! I don’t understand it, but I know it–from Scripture (see Romans 8:28).

A background in the Apostle Paul’s life is key at this point in our discussion. Verse 13 says, “how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” i.e. “I ordered the death of the first Christian martyr–to protect Judaism.” Hatred. Persecution. Murder. We would easily say those are disqualifications for whatever purpose God may have had for Paul…but we would be wrong. God certainly didn’t ordain Paul’s sin, but He was still sovereign over it. Quite literally speaking, you and I are believers in Jesus Christ, because God called this man to preach Him among the Gentiles! Grace. Only grace.

Whether you are 50 years old or 5 weeks old, God set you apart before you were born and called you by His grace and was pleased to reveal His son, Jesus, to you in order that you may fulfill a specific purpose in His Kingdom. Walk humbly in that truth.

God has incredible things planned for my nephew!