THE GOSPEL AND THE POOR
Galatians 2: 1-10
Last week we entered into Paul’s testimony a bit. Today we will talk about the gospel and the poor. Galatians is a book about the gospel of Jesus Christ. The message that sinners can be forgiven by grace through faith in Christ alone. This gospel has always come under attack.
In chapter 1, Paul described how his message came from Jesus not from any man. He explained how he received his message independently from the other apostles through revelation from Jesus. Because of this, he was no second-class apostle.
In chapter 2, Paul describes how even though he received his message independently from the other Jerusalem apostles his message was identical to theirs. There is only one gospel.
In today’s passage, we will see Paul and the other apostles were in total agreement on: (1) the nature of the gospel, and (2) the need to care for the poor.
THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL
a. Identical Gospel (vv.1-3)
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.
To prove that his message was identical to the other apostles, Paul stresses how he paid a visit to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion, along with two trusted members of his mission team, Barnabas and Titus (v 1).
In verse 2, he tells us, why did he go? “I went up because of a revelation” from God and set before them the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.
It was crucial that Paul “took Titus along ” (v 1). Because Titus was a Greek. A flesh and blood example of a Gentile Christian. Paul tells us in verse 4 that these false leaders were insisting that in order to be saved, Titus must trust Christ and live according to their traditions, which would have included circumcision. So, Paul brings the Apostles a test case. Would they require him to become Jewish? Or more specifically, would they require that Titus gets circumcised? Paul tells us.
“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek” (verse 3)
By God’s grace, the answer was no. The apostles in Jerusalem affirmed there is one true gospel, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and this gospel supersedes cultures, languages and people groups. That means Titus can remain distinctly Greek, and distinctly Christian. This was revolutionary. Paul’s opponents were saying, “Not all Jewish persons are Christians, but all Christians must also be Jewish.” But Paul was saying that the gospel is for every culture.
The implications of this decision are fundamental to our understanding of what the Christian faith is.
According to these false teachers, we need to make ourselves more clean and more acceptable to God through strict obedience to the laws. In other words, we only become clean according to our ability to follow the law well enough.
But according to the Bible, we are only made clean through faith in Christ. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves clean before a perfect and holy God. Look at what Paul says in another letter he wrote. Colossians 1: 21-22
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
He says that it is through the death of Christ we are made holy and clean. So let me say this clearly. There is nothing you can do, NOTHING, that will ever make you clean before God.
The Jerusalem apostles agreed that it is faith in Christ alone, and not any other performance or ritual, that is necessary for salvation. Their acceptance of Titus was proof that they had accepted Paul’s ministry and these radical implications of the gospel.
Application: So, just as Titus was not “forced to be circumcised” (v 3), so today we must not insist on additions to gospel belief.
Some churches teach that we must believe in Christ plus be baptized in order to be saved.
Others insist that we must belong to their church in order to be saved.
Many types of Christianity add their distinctions, such as belief in predestination, abstinence from alcohol or speaking in tongues, to the gospel as ways we can be sure we are Christians. My Example: My experience in one of the Bible College: Speaking in tongues was a must to know that you are saved.
In other words, many churches will say that we are saved by faith alone, but we can only be sure that we are real Christians if we have these distinctions.
So the acceptance of Titus by Jewish believers was a vivid illustration of this principle, that an individual becomes spiritually clean and acceptable through Christ, and not through any deeds or rituals or distinctive beliefs. We need to keep repeating this truth to ourselves and each other, just as the New Testament believers did. Because we often forget this truth. The acceptance of Titus was a radical public statement of the implications of the gospel.
So, what is the outcome? Why is Paul telling us this? Freedom. Let me explain.
b. The Outcome: Freedom (vv4-5)
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.
Look at verse 4. The “false brothers” he says, “want to make us slaves,” and they are trying to take away the “freedom that we have in Christ”. Paul is saying that the true gospel gives us freedom, but the other “earn your salvation” message would lead people into slavery.
So how does the gospel give freedom?
First, the gospel leads to cultural freedom. Religion tends to make its members follow very specific rules and regulations. How to behave, how to dress, how to pray, how to worship, what you can eat, what you can’t eat, what you can say, who you can spend time with. It makes your faith much less about a personal relationship with God, and much more about how you act and behave in regards to your religious involvement. However, in the gospel, we are free to be ourselves. But the wonderful news is that the power of the gospel changes us to be a better version of ourselves. Sin slowly dies in us, and we begin to live a life that is more and more pleasing to God.
Second, the gospel leads to emotional freedom. Anyone who believes that our relationship with God is based on our ability to follow his law, will always feel a sense of guilt and insecurity. You can never truly enjoy God’s presence because you never fully know if he is pleased with you. This is why people typically experience shame when they enter church. Or why they are so afraid of dying. “Is God happy with me today? What if I wasn’t good enough? Will he accept me right now, for who I am?”
When we truly understand the gospel, when we understand grace, it changes everything. As Christians, we seek to please God by following his word. But we don’t do it in order to be accepted by him. We don’t obey because we are afraid or insecure. We obey God in freedom and gratitude, knowing that we are already perfectly accepted through Christ.
Paul says anyone who adds works of the law to the gospel of grace is promoting slavery.
Verse 5: Paul says that they “did not yield in submission even for a moment!” The truth of the gospel would not have been preserved if they had yielded to their demands for Titus to be circumcised.
The true gospel brings freedom. The “other gospel” enslaves us. It is only “in Christ Jesus” that we can enjoy the freedom of acceptance by God, regardless of our performance
c. Different callings (vv7-9)
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.
Though Peter and Paul were preaching “the [same] gospel”, they recognized that there are different ways to go about it. Some people have a gift and ability to communicate the gospel to one group of people, and others to a different group.
Example: My wife and my calling
The implication of this is that we can adapt the gospel to different people while preserving its essence. This is an important implication for the mission. If we fail to adapt the gospel message at all to the interests of people, or if we over- adapt it and lose its essence, we will fail to persuade and win people into its joy and freedom.
Application: What are common ways in which we might fail to preserve the message today? Some churches and Christians have adapted the gospel to the modern world by removing “offensive” elements like miracles of any sort or the demand that we can only come to God through Christ. But then the gospel itself is gone, since we are left in a position of having to save ourselves by being good. That is a failure to preserve.
On the other hand, it is possible to go too far in the other direction, and fail to adapt. Many churches and Christians are so wedded to their music or organization or jargon that they are not willing to make changes to incorporate the tastes and sensibilities of outsiders.
The apostles were determined to preserve the gospel message, and the lifestyle implications of it; but they were equally prepared to adapt the medium of that message.
2. THE NEED TO CARE FOR THE POOR
10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Peter and Paul may have been called to different mission fields, but they were both constrained to look after the poor.
Notice 4 Principles at work here:
#1: Unity – The Apostles agreed on the need to care for the poor.
The poor here refers to poor believers in Jerusalem primarily, but obviously Scripture teaches us to care for those in need who may not be believers.
Galatians 6:10, “Let us do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith.” We are to care for everyone (believer or not), and especially those in the family of faith. Paul even said that we should feed our enemies! (Rom. 12:20)
Not only did the apostles agree on the gospel, but they also agreed on the need to care for the poor. What made the early church different? Their concern for people and the courageous witness.
Who can you care for this week?
#2: Priority – The Apostles placed care for the poor right after the purity of the Gospel!
“Next to the proclamation of the Gospel it is the task of a good pastor to be mindful of the poor” (Luther).
Think of all that could have been said. They could have talked about worship styles, polity, or buildings. They talk about the poor. Why? Because it is so obvious in the Bible!
One of the marks of the church is care and involvement with the poor. That is how God designed the church.
Jonathan Edwards who is not what you would call a “Liberal humanist preached a sermon called “A Christian’s duty to the poor.” In it, he said,
“This duty is absolutely commanded, and much insisted on, in the Word of God. Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more absolute urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?”
You aren’t a liberal humanist if you care for the poor. You are simply a biblical Christian.
Example: In 252AD, a plague hit Carthage city, people were leaving the city for the threat of contamination and losing everything. Church Father Cyprian gathered all the Christian leaders together in the middle of the town and said that if we are going to live like Jesus, then “I call you to fan out through this town to give to all according to their need” – even if they are not Christians. And they would not abandon the city in the midst of the plague. Later, one of the Roman Emperor Julian who hated Christianity and tried to revive the pagan religion said, “Their success lies in their charity to all. They take care of the poor, not only their own.”
I want to be that church – loving and living like Jesus. Many of the world’s poor are not only poor, they are powerless, and often abused.
Who would you expect to come to your rescue? Shouldn't be people who have been rescued?
#3: Eagerness – Paul said that this was not a burden, but something that he was thrilled to do!
Paul had a lot going on! He:
Wrote 13 letters of the NT.
Evangelized pagan cites
Established and equipped leaders
Got thrown in prison
Dealt with ongoing problems in the churches
Yet, Paul says he was “eager” to care for the poor. Are you eager? Or are you too busy?
Care for the poor was not a burden, but a blessing to Paul. “Blessed is the one who considers the poor” (Prov 41:1)
This gets us to the final point. Why? What motivated this type of love?
#4: Motive – The Apostles were motivated by their observance of the life of Jesus, and their understanding of the gospel itself.
A. Compassion flows from one who understands the life and ministry of Jesus.
The apostles watched Jesus for three years. They observed his care for the poor personally, and they heard his teaching on this subject. They watched mercy ministry embodied in the person of Jesus.
Think about a few examples:
Matthew 25:35-36, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
Zacchaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor, and Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). The evidence of salvation is practical, financial compassion for the poor.
Luke 14:13-14.“When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just”
Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
And there are many more...
B. Compassion flows from one who has been changed by the gospel of grace.
We identify with the poor, as believers. We are not better than the poor. We are the poor. We are all in spiritual poverty.
Blessed are the poor in spirit for they shall see God. (Matt. 5:3)
The Gospel says we are spiritually bankrupt and there’s only one hope: Jesus.
“Come, you who have NO Money…” (Isa 55). We have no money (no good work).
We Remember the poor because Jesus remembered us when we were spiritually bankrupt crying out like the thief on the cross saying “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
All of this is because Jesus became poor..
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9)
Jesus Christ, the rich one, became poor - the suffering servant, born in a manger, homeless, rejected, cast off; he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey; he held the Last Supper in a borrowed room, was placed in a borrowed tomb, and died naked without nothing – only because he did this, can we be saved.
What motivates a love for the poor? Simple: An understanding of grace. He became poor so we who were spiritually in poverty could become spiritually rich.
Tim Keller says, “Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to help absolutely anyone in need.”
Once you begin to see that you identify with the poor, once you begin to get grace, you will be Eager to care for the poor.
Praise God that Jesus was Eager to care for us when we were in spiritual poverty.
So, we must remain faithful to Paul’s gospel. The gospel of grace. It is my prayer, that New City Imphal would be full of people, from every culture and tribe that are set free from the guilt of religion. Set free to enjoy a new, life-changing relationship with God through Jesus Christ and proclaim the true Gospel faithfully, and help the poor compassionately.