This week we continue through the book of Galatians. Last week we learned Paul was rather ticked off when he wrote to the church in Galatia. He was ticked off because it seems there are people coming into Galatia who are trying to convince the Galatian church to take on certain aspects of Jewish law which Paul feels is not right.
This week we see how Paul explains his calling in regards to who he is supposed to reach out to compared to Peter. He believes they have both been entrusted with the Gospel message, but God has called them to evangelize to different people. Peter is called to preach to the Jews and Paul has been called to preach to the Gentiles. Paul has no problems with that, he knows the Gospel is for all people. Circumcised or not, the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not discriminate.
But someone got to Peter. Peter began to shy away from certain groups of people, namely the uncircumcised Gentiles. He wouldn’t eat with them anymore, he wouldn’t talk or travel with them anymore. So Paul confronted him.
Paul asserts certain people came to him and forced him to retreat into associating with only Jews and Jewish Christians. He couldn’t be around Gentiles any longer because of they were unclean. They weren’t following customary Jewish rituals around cleanliness. Namely circumcision, which marks a man as being Jewish. Jewish, not Christian would be Paul’s argument.
Peter became afraid of those who were seen as holding greater authority than he had in the church. So he began to teach what they thought he should teach, and according to Paul, it limited his ability to be a faithful witness of the Gospel message.
And here comes Paul’s main argument, his main reason for why Peter is going in the wrong direction by following what the Jewish-Christians are telling him he needs to teach, and who he needs to teach it to.
It begins in Galatians 2, chapter 15. “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but thought faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.”
This is the main argument, this is Paul’s main point, his reason for writing the letter to the church of Galatia.
It’s about faith, it’s not about law.
For generations and generations, thousands of years people have been told how they need to act to be Godly people. It started with Moses when he gave the Israelites a list of rules to follow. Why did he give these rules? It was about purity, about preserving the people through whom God had chosen to bring his grace to the world. Other nations were doing these things, and they were seen as almost barbaric, and the Israelites needed to stay focused on God, to not fall into the temptation of becoming like the other nations.
So the laws were not about how to be close to God, but how to be seen as a nation of people who had chosen a certain way of life. It was to set them apart from other nations.
Jesus came and now these laws were no longer in effect. Now it was about being as close to God as possible. Which means to follow Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit guide and work within you.
Paul states it plainly, “… we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ; and not by doing the works of the law.”
We are judged by our faith and not how well we follow rules.
Some of you have told me about how you remember church growing up. How on Sunday’s you did nothing it seemed but go to church. There was the morning service, afternoon Sunday School, then back again for the evening service. You had to dress a certain way. As a child you had to act a certain way and sit in a certain place. And you had to go no matter what your friends were doing out in the field.
There were expectations placed on you as a church-go’er. At least there was on Sunday’s, that’s for sure.
The world has changed a bit since then hasn’t it. No longer are children dragged off to church, as least not as much as they were before. No longer do we spend most of the day in the church building. Look around you, see how many are here this morning? It seems many people don’t spend much time at all inside churches on Sunday anymore. Did you know we are one of the bigger churches in Sydney Mines in weekly attendance?
I had a conversation with some folks a couple weeks ago where we talked about everyone who has moved away. The Sunday school, the children’s choir, the pews, each full of people. And now they are largely empty. Why are they empty. Well, a lot of familiar faces have passed away.
Our kids from the Sunday School and the children’s choir? They’ve grown up and are off in school or have moved away. For some of you sitting here this morning, you are the only members of your family who have remained in Sydney Mines. Everyone else has moved away to find work.
But this is an indicator to me. I’m willing to guess that if we went into most of the other churches in town who have long histories here, we would find the same stories being told.
And it’s true. A lot of people have moved away from not just Sydney Mines, but Cape Breton. In talking with Bev, she never would have guessed she would be moving back to the island after leaving for university, and especially after we made the move to Ottawa.
So, it’s not just us, but all the churches who are facing this struggle. The problem is, we became comfortable in the successes of our past. They days when families were larger, the days when people were dragged to church because it was the thing to do on Sunday. Nearly everyone was expected to be in church. In fact, for some people, if you wanted work, you better be seen in church on Sunday.
We’re victims of our own success. All the things I just mentioned filled the pews of all the churches in town. So, we enjoyed it. People gave generously. The finances were great, we had lots of people, so we stopped looking outward. That’s not to say there wasn’t outreach ministries, not that we didn’t help people, it’s that we stopped trying to grow the church. We stopped spreading the Gospel message. We stopped evangelizing and encouraging more people to join us through the sharing of our own faith stories.
In simpler terms, we stopped looking ahead and lived in the present. Everybody does it. But to look ahead means being focused on God. It means focusing on the risen Christ and the impact his life, death and resurrection has on us today.
It means letting go of the things we hold onto as ‘laws’ in our lives and turning to Jesus Christ and asking him to bring us into a life of faith, where our actions are not dictated by tradition or history, but instead by the Holy Spirit who places the truth of the Gospel in our hearts.
Paul wrote in his letter, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I may live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I know live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
This is how Paul does his work. This is how Paul inspires people to come to Christ Jesus and turn their lives to God. He lives and breathes the Gospel so people, wherever they meet him, can see Christ in him, and it moves them in their own faith journey to become members of Christ’s body by joining becoming Christians and joining the church.
Even after forming new churches in areas all over, Paul never stopped sharing, he never stopped encouraging the churches to keep growing, he always asked them to continue living a life of faith, in whatever way God was calling them to serve.
He did not hide, he did not ask people to change, to become like all the other Christians, he just asked them to follow Jesus Christ and let God work through them in the power of the Holy Spirit. And don’t let anyone else tell you any different.
The struggle for us is, how do we do the same?