Truth Worth Fighting For (Galatians 2:11-21)

Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. Circumstances determine which course is wisest. Even Jesus did not speak out on every occasion against everything he that knew was wrong. A modern-day maxim says that one should pick his battles wisely.

In today’s devotional reading, we encounter a historic situation where the Apostle Paul chose to pick a battle – with none other than Peter. Wow! Saints Peter and Paul in a dust-up! Readers of the Scripture seem to more often remember the occasion in the book of Acts where Paul had a serious conflict with another giant of the early church – Barnabas. And look – Barnabas shows up in this passage today. He is on Peter’s side of the equation and standing justly in the firing line also for the verbal tongue-lashing Paul lays on Cephas (Peter).

Antioch was a great church in the earliest days of the Gospel going worldwide. There were Jews and Gentiles and all sorts of diversely-gifted people. If you know the story of Acts, you know that Peter certainly understood that the message of Christ was not an exclusively Jewish truth. It was the good news of the final work of Christ that had benefit for all peoples, Jewish and Gentile. Peter openly associated with Gentiles in Antioch, that is, until a group from Jerusalem (“from James”) came to be with them. Among these were those who were of a “circumcision group” – meaning that they had not yet accepted the full message of the Gospel of grace abounding, and they were hence still of an opinion that the only way one could be right with God was to believe in Jesus AND still keep the Law.

The stiff, traditional, old-timer, “we’ve never done it that way before” group in the early church were the believers in the church in Jerusalem – very predominately Jewish. Apparently they also were quite intimidating. I imagine that Peter knew them well from the days of following Christ, the passion week, and the resurrection appearances and Day of Pentecost. Even Barnabas was caught up also with Peter in separating themselves off from fellowshipping and eating with the large Gentile elements in Antioch.

For Paul, this was an unacceptable situation that had to be confronted. It was a physical evidence of an insufficient understanding of the work of Christ and the very nature of the Gospel.  This segregation failed to see that the message of the cross was not merely the latest Jewish thing, it was a totally new work of God for all people. In Paul’s mind, what was at stake … and what needed to be clearly affirmed was the very issue of justification – that it was a work of grace and not at all a work of the Law.

Some of Paul’s arguments in this passage are difficult to understand, but the essence is that any combination of the Law with belief in Christ was a total mixing of oil and water.

I have always loved verse 20, having memorized it as a young boy. Paul says he is identified with Christ in his death, being so loved by the Lord that Christ is worthy of Paul’s whole life being dedicated to serving him in faith. And that application is in the category of what I often speak about as a “timeless truth.”

Paul Opposes Cephas – Galatians 2:11-21

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

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The Childless Father Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21)

Down in my neck of the woods locally in what might be called River Rat Country along the Potomac border of Maryland and West Virginia, so many of the long-time locals have unique nicknames. And no, I’m not just talking about “Bubba and Cooter.” Guys often got their names very early in life and have been unable to outgrow them – like one kid named “Pockets.” I don’t think anyone in Williamsport actually knows what his real name is – hopefully his parents remember. They named him that because he always had his pockets full of stuff when he was a tiny kid. And then there was this other boy everyone simply called “Tubby.” You would think that he was a rather rotund fellow, but the last I saw him he was rather small in height and weight for his age – which I am guessing was dissimilar to his shape as a toddler. There are tall guys named “Shorty” and chubby guys named “Tiny.”

There was likewise a fellow in the ancient Near East who had such an unusual name relative to his appearance and circumstances. It was “Exalted Father” (Abram). The problem was that, until age 86, he had no children; and beyond that, the child came through a means other than his wife. And then, before his second child was born 13-14 years later, God came along and changed his name to “Father of Many” (Abraham). This name changed actually occurs two chapters after our passage today:

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

Imagine what it was like for him when he used his credit card at the local Home Depot. The cashier would look at it and say, “So, Father of Many, of how many are you the father?”  And Abraham’s face would turn as red as if burnt in the desert sun. (I’m not sure if she then said, “You can do it, we can help.”)

Though it must have been difficult at times to sustain, on the bottom line at the end of the day, Abraham had a promise from God that his offspring would number like the stars of the sky. And his faith was solidly placed in that promise that it would indeed happen. This faith was “credited to him as righteousness.” It was imputed to his account (to use the word from last week).

The content of his faith in God’s promise secured for Abraham his standing with God, so it would be true to say that he was indeed justified (declared righteous) by faith. And that is a definition of our word for this week – justification: it is a declaration of righteousness applied due to faith in God’s revealed truth.

There were a lot of circumstances to challenge Abraham’s confidence. Years of childlessness did little to bolster any natural security that this was going to happen. At the beginning of today’s reading, Abram simply states his reality – that without children to inherit his estate, it would fall to the steward of his household, a guy named Eleazer. But God restated his promise (originally given in a covenant in chapter 12), and Abram believed in it. God reaffirmed the covenant, and though the fulfillment would ultimately come, there were to be even more challenges of passing time and circumstances.

So over the next several days, while talking about our cross word of justification, we are also going to see the incredible reality of Abraham’s faith … along with God’s reward.

Are you waiting for something in your life? Are you feeling like you’ve been put on hold by God? Stay faithful with the last word you had from him, do what is right and in keeping with biblical holiness, and God will be faithful to you and reward you in ways beyond your imagination.

Genesis 15:1-21—The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15:1  After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi <river> of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

PUZZLE REVELATION DAY

Today is the big day for figuring out the word search puzzle. For those viewing this on a devise, you may have to go to your computer. and probably the best and easiest thing to do would be to print it out and work on it in that fashion.

There are two final puzzles … find all 68 words from this list and there will be 17 letters remaining. These letters can be unscrambled to make a phrase in the first puzzle. The 17 letters in the second puzzle spell out one long theological word. The first person to get the answer to one or the other (or both) is a winner. Email the answer to me at randy@tristatefellowship.org

The words:

Adoption / Agape / Aloes / Assurance / Atonement / Blood / Curse / Dark / Deity / Efficacious Grace / Elect / Eloi / Eternity/ Evil / Expiation / Faith / Fall / Favor / Finish / Forgiveness / Freedom / Glorification / Glory / God / Good / Gospel / Grace / Hell / Holiness / Hope / Imputation / Innocence / Jeshua / Jesus / Judgment / Justification / Lamb / Law / Love / Mercy / Nails / Noon / Open / Payment / Peace / Propitiation / Pulse / Pure / Ransom / Reconciliation / Redemption / Restoration / Regenerate / Righteousness / Sacrifice / Salvation / Sanctification / Satan Denied / Sin / Sonship / Thief / Tomb / Torn / Tree / Truth / Veil / Vicarious / Wrath

PUZZLE 1 – this is fairly easy

puzzle day 21a

PUZZLE 2 – this one is difficult!

puzzle day 21b

Back to Egypt Syndrome (Galatians 3:1-10)

Over the years of coaching high school kids I have had some who start out with the cross country team in the fall of their freshman year and really perform well. They meet a whole new group of good kids and friends, and their high school career is off to a great start. But along the way, something happens to interfere with their early success. Usually it is something to do with a relationship – like a girl getting involved with a guy who distracts her from the disciplines of academics and athletics, or it could be a guy who simply chooses to travel with a bad crowd. It is terribly sad to see someone who started so well and had so much potential get off the tracks in the wrong direction.

But it has not only been with adolescents that I have seen this happen. Over the decades as a pastor I have sadly seen people come to know Christ, walk with him and serve well for a time, but ultimately make choices or be drawn away to a different crowd of people and perspectives. You can see them disintegrating in front of everyone and you can even confront it, but the attraction is strong and it often takes folks away from a healthy place in life.

We might term this spiritual declension “Back to Egypt Syndrome.” There were a number of times in the Old Testament where God’s covenant people ran off to Egypt when things got tough in the land of promise.

And in our passage today, Paul is writing to essentially ask the Galatians what happened that had taken them away from their previous strong position of faith in Christ. The issue was that a group of teachers had come into the assembly to promote the idea that along with the gospel message of Christ, the Old Testament Law requirements still needed to be kept. And Paul is battling this heresy by asking them in our reading today how they had come to faith originally – was it through Christ? or through the Law? … well of course it was through Jesus and their faith in him and his cross work on their behalf.

To support the argument, Paul tells them that their connection to God is not based upon their works of keeping the law, but rather upon faith. And the great father Abraham was likewise the same – not having his good standing imputed to his account because he performed a long series of prescribed deeds, but because he believed in God’s promise to him. His faith was credited (imputed) as righteousness.

The fact is that salvation has always been the same; it has always been by grace through faith. What has changed over time is the content of the faith. For Abraham, it was in God’s promise; and for the Galatians, it is in the work of Christ. But in neither case was it by the Law – which was not yet even given in Abraham’s day, and which served only to point out sin and the inability of man to be perfect. It was an instrument of condemnation, so why would they want to trust in that when they had the better way of knowing God through Jesus Christ?

People still do go “back to Egypt” spiritually. You have all that you need in Christ and by means of his righteousness imputed to your account.  Trusting God – even in the hard times – is the way of living by faith as well as being saved by faith.

Galatians 3:1-10

3:1  You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?  4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? 6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 

Cross Words for today to add to the word search puzzle:

Elect – This is a controversial word, as is the doctrine of election. But the Bible says that believers are the elect, and it is a word that does mean choosing. The argument is about what is election based upon, and that is a subject for another day!

Adoption – This is a wonderful cross word and concept – to have been taken into the very family of God as his own children!

Sonship – The New Testament speaks often that believers are members of God’s family, and this is called sonship.

Gospel – The Good News.

puzzle day 19