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News for Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Sunday School Lesson — Bible Studies for Life
Nov. 3: Stand Your Ground
By Rick Stevens
Focal Passage: Galatians 2:1-14
This is the fourth lesson in a series on relationships that experience conflict. Certainly God wants us to experience reconciliation and grace in our personal connections, but this lesson explores the possibility that there may be times when biblical truth may disrupt relationships. In our culture, we have seen a trend of avoidance of absolute claims of truth. However, Christianity at its core includes claims that are not negotiable. When those claims are at stake, this lesson from Galatians calls us to avoid compromise.
What happens on the mission field doesn’t stay on the mission field (Galatians 2:1-5). Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch after their missionary journey. They had shared the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles. The gospel was a message of salvation by grace through faith then as it is now. Upon their return, they found a conflict on their hands which led to the Jerusalem Conference in Acts 15. This issue included the desire among the Jewish believers to include circumcision in the gospel message. They felt that the route of conversion must also include the practices of the Jewish faith. These Jewish people have been called “Judaizers.” They tied the gospel with legalistic practices they considered necessary for salvation.
In verses 1-5, Paul has been personally criticized and attacked by the false teachers because of his preaching of the gospel of grace. Paul points out that, while he was not one of the original disciples, he had encountered the risen Christ in a “revelation.” In verse 2, he mentions the fact that the gospel he preached was approved by the leaders of the early church before he preached it. His critics pointed out that he seemed inconsistent in dealing with two young pastors — Titus and Timothy. Titus was never circumcised, but Timothy was. Timothy’s mother was a Jew, so Paul allowed him to go through this practice. Titus had no Jewish roots. Both were saved the same way, by Grace. Paul never backs away from the gospel of salvation by grace. This early book of Paul’s writing shows the importance of the message of grace in the early church.
Find consensus among the leaders (Galatians 2:6-10). Paul does not want to “name drop.” However, he finds value in stating that leaders like Peter, James, and John recognized that he was saved by grace and called to preach the message of grace. Paul was a messenger to the Gentiles, Peter was primarily a messenger to the Jews. However, even Peter had a clear revelation that he was able to share the gospel with those who were uncircumcised. Paul makes the case that the gospel is not a works based faith, but a message that we are saved by grace alone through faith and not by our works. This is a key theme in the entire letter of Galatians. People will not be saved by a false gospel. Our actions will change when we are saved, but we are not saved by works.
The power of peer pressure (Galatians 2:11-14). In this passage, we see the conflict that is our example for this week’s lesson. Paul confronted his brother in Christ at some point for inconsistency with the grace message. Apparently, Paul opposed Peter in person for giving in to the false teachers and critics. When Peter feared criticism, he had avoided contact with the Gentiles. The critics claimed to represent James, the brother of Jesus. However, they were legalists. Peter separated himself and somehow seemed to agree with their message that we are saved by grace and works. We are not shown a response from Peter, but we are told of the confrontation from Paul in this setting at the church in Antioch. Paul reminds him clearly that Gentile people do not have to become Jewish to accept the gospel. Circumcision is not necessary for salvation. Paul calls Peter a hypocrite.
The confrontation from Paul is primarily a reminder that there are some issues which cannot be compromised. This is still true today. While we should speak the truth in love, we must speak the truth. Sometimes this leads to confrontation. Today, we must speak the truth. Never compromise when it is a matter of biblical right and wrong.
— Stevens is director of missions, Cumberland Baptist Association, based in Clarksville.
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