© C. O. Bishop 10/25/14 THCF 10/26/14
Galatians 2:1-5; Matthew 23:13-29
We have come a fair way with the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians: we know what his primary concerns were, in his writing to them; namely that his authority came from God, not Man, and that the gift of Eternal Life was just that: a gift, neither earned by any sort of works, nor to be maintained by human effort.
As we begin chapter two, keep in mind that Paul’s purpose is to confirm in the reader’s mind that
- The authority of his message is the Word of God, not humans, and that
- Legalism is not from God.
- Those who preach legalism are also not from God.
1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:
4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
Paul’s first major contact with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, the remaining nine apostles, and whoever else was in Jerusalem, after his own conversion, was fourteen years after the first, minor contact. Barnabas and he had taken along with them Titus, who was a Gentile believer. Paul holds Titus up as proof that the Apostles accepted him as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace, without any outward mark of conversion.
Paul had talked privately with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to make sure that they were not at odds with one another. As it turned out, there was no problem. The Judaizers (legalizers) did show up, however, and try to convince the leadership that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish proselytes to be saved. It is really odd: what they were essentially saying is that it did not matter what God did inside a man—it was what people do on the outside that counted for eternity. Doesn’t that seem monumentally backward? Well it did to Paul, too.
Paul pointed out, using Titus as the example, that he had not subjected himself or Titus to their insistence at all, so that the truth would not be muddled. (Contrast this with Romans 14, 15 where the strong try not to cause the weak to stumble. These were not “weak believers” – they were false teachers…not believers at all.)
One counterpoint that gets mentioned frequently is the fact that Paul did circumcise Timothy. The difference was that Timothy was technically a Jew who had been raised by a Gentile Dad. I was unaware of this until a Jewish believer, a Godly woman, was in a Bible Study I was teaching, and informed me that, from the Jewish perspective, “Jewish-ness” is passed on through the mother, not the father. So Timothy was a Jewish young man, from Jewish perspective, and had been raised in a severely limiting environment. Perhaps Paul felt that embracing his heritage in that way would make him better able to serve. But Titus, who was strictly a Gentile had no such heritage to embrace, and was better off remaining as he was.
In both cases, the physical state had no effect whatever on the Spiritual reality. Both were Godly young men, setting out to serve the Risen Christ. Both honored God in their flesh, and neither was any closer to God because of the physical status of their body. The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and claim that those who do not conform to them are also rejected by God. God says that is not how we are saved…and not how we serve.
So, What did Jesus say?
Do you think Jesus was silent on this matter? Think back—from whom did he encounter the most opposition? The Established leaders of the Jewish Religion, right? The Pharisees. The Sadducees hated him too, but they were the liberals of the day, and actually rejected the concept of a literal resurrection, any sort of spiritual reality, and angelic existence, for starters. The Pharisees were the conservatives of the day, and they supposedly believed the whole counsel of God, but were going to interpret it in such a way that they themselves were put firmly in command, and everyone else had to follow their lead. (Sound familiar? It happens a lot today, too, doesn’t it?)
So, when Jesus preached His Gospel of Grace, both sides hated it, but for different reasons. The Sadducees were just wrong about so much that he spent very little time on them: he exposed their error, and left them to stew in their own juice. But the Pharisees, along with their companions the scribes—the intellectually religious of the day—who claimed to believe all of God’s Word, He confronted over and over, as total hypocrites. Think about some of his accusations against them:
(Matthew 23:13-29) Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees:
- Hypocrites (seven times in this passage)…remember that “hypocrite” means an actor—a professional phony; a pretender.
- Blind; blind guides (five times)
- Fools; (two times)
- You close up the kingdom of Heaven against Men; you won’t go in yourselves and won’t let anyone else enter. Remember, we pointed out earlier that anyone teaching a works-earned-salvation was actually serving to keep people out of heaven. Jesus said so, right here. The Pharisees, convinced of their own righteousness, and willfully ignorant of the righteousness of God, were not only satisfied that they really did not need a savior, but refused to let anyone else have one. They were, in fact, partnering with Satan, as we pointed out earlier.
- You devour widows’ houses (buying up the land of the poor, leaving them with no way to earn a living) and, for pretense, make long prayers. They were making an outward show of piety, but doing things that are patently self-serving. They looked good on the outside, but their motives were evil.
- You practice Proselytism, but not Evangelism. Jesus did not use these words at all: he described the behavior. Even so, that sounds strange—why would one be different than the other?If I am preaching the honest Gospel of Christ, the “good news” of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, along with the truth that all God asks us to do is to believe in his chosen sacrifice for salvation, then the only thing that can happen is that, if they believe it, God makes them over into His That’s Evangelism.If I go out with the “good news” of my particular organization, church, para-church organization, etc., creed, or whatever; the probable outcome is that certain people will join the church, because they see the social advantages, but they will never believe the gospel, because, (a) I didn’t preach it, and (b) they do not see a need for a savior. They are being made over into my image, and a poor copy at that. That is Proselytism.The Jews were practicing what they considered to be “evangelism”. Jesus said they “compass land and sea to make one proselyte” but that the result was people even more confused and lost than the false preachers who led them into Judaism. They did not preach the Grace of the God of Israel. They apparently did preach His holiness, to some degree, but slyly pointed out that we can “get around” the sin issue, by “just” keeping the Law. Then, once someone was snared by this false gospel, they had to do more and more works, trying to please a God who simply was not impressed. They could not keep the law, and were even more devastated by the attempt than were the ones who trained them.Jesus said “you make him twofold more the child of Hell than yourselves” So he labeled the false teachers and those who followed them as “children of Hell.” This is nothing new: he had already called them children of the Devil…John 8:44. God was not impressed with them or their religious works, especially not their brand of “evangelism”.
- You diminish the Temple of God by exalting the outward trappings in place of the inward reality. This starts to get close to the real heart issue: They did not see the house of God as being as important as the gold decorations in that house. They did not see the Owner of the home as being as important as his tableware! How incredibly insulting to God, and how clearly revealing as to where their true heart was.They thought the outward trappings were more important than the inward reality. Remember that Solomon’s Temple was relatively small, but incredibly richly ornate. However, the only thing that was important was the fact that God moved in and took up residence. Also, the second temple, though far less glorious, shared that unique difference: God resided there! Even the Renovated second Temple, renovated by an ungodly King, over a period of 46 years, still carried the name of the House of God—Jesus referred to it as “My Father’s House”, but in the same breath accused the Pharisees and their companions of having “made it a den of thieves”. Incidentally, Ezekiel, in three stages, had been burdened with the vision of the Spirit of God leaving that temple, and leaving Israel; so, in the most important sense the temple was already gone, as the “home-owner” had given it up. Historically, of course, we know that 40 years later it was completely destroyed.Think though: in the sense of the Church-age, the Church proper is THE temple of God, in the New Testament, and the physical body of each believer is each individually the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. So, we have to ask: what matters more; the outside, or the inside? Does it matter more that a person wears a certain kind of clothing, drives a certain kind of car, or cuts their hair a certain way, does (or does not) do certain things on certain days, eats or does not eat certain foods, etc., or does it matter most where God is (inside or outside) in relation to that individual? And, finally, whether He is allowed to actually reign in his chosen temple? Think about that one.
- You Major in the Minors: You give accurately in areas that matter hardly at all, but not at all in areas that matter deeply. People put a lot of emphasis on whether a person formally and publicly prays before meals. Even that is an outward trapping. Unbelievers can do this as well as believers. People say they “pray all the time”…so do the pagans, and some more than others. Jesus was not impressed with how much of the worlds’ goods were being given back by the Pharisees, but how much of themselves were given back (or not). He said you have left out the things that matter; justice, mercy and faith. A good heart in the major things will dictate a good heart in the minor things, too. The reverse is not true. He said they were blind guides who were fastidiously picking a tiny bug out of their food and yet swallowing something that would make any normal person choke (a camel). A person genuinely concerned about the cleanliness of their food would obviously take out the biggest things first, but not fail to also remove the small things.
- You clean and polish the outer man, leaving the inner man unchanged. They were so concerned with the trappings of holiness, the outward symbols, that they had utterly abandoned the reality of holiness in the inner man. He said they “clean the outside of the cup” but that the inside was filled with extortion and excess.There is no way a person can put such things as extortion in a physical cup; the obvious metaphor is the human life. They made the outer man look good, but the inner man was unchanged, or even getting worse. He compared them to whitewashed tombs that looked pretty on the outside because of the whitewash, but they were ignoring the fact of the deadness within. He made it completely clear what he meant, because he bluntly stated, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
- You glorify the tombs of the prophets instead of glorifying the Word of the God who sent them. This one would be easy to miss: what’s wrong with honoring the dead? Well, nothing.But let’s say I made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I lay a wreath on his grave, and I publicly engage in prayer there, shedding a pretentious tear, but in fact I was a raging racist myself? Wouldn’t the people who knew the reality be offended that I was defiling his grave by my pretense? And yet this happens every year. People who are publicly extremely racist and divisive visit the grave of Dr. King, and make a public show of mourning his death, while despising his stand for brotherhood and equality irrespective of race. The only thing they really shared with him is the color of their skin…they despised what he actually stood for.The people Jesus to whom spoke were honoring the dead prophets by building monuments over their graves…but ignoring the words for which those prophets had died. A better tribute would have been to embrace the truth for which they died.
Jesus spoke to a group of false teachers, the Pharisees, and condemned them for their hypocrisy, their blindness, their folly, and their evil, unbelieving hearts. Paul echoed that teaching, here in Galatians, as he pointed out the hypocrisy, blindness and folly of the legalizers who attempted to force the Gentile believers to become Jews in order to please God. They too are false teachers, and he has already warned us as to where they stand with God: they are accursed!
We will constantly be tempted to engage in legalism at one level or another: it pleases our old sin nature to believe that “I can do good things for God on my own!” The fact is we cannot…the old nature is completely opposed to God, and cannot be subjected to Him. The new nature is born again in the image of God, and knows it cannot achieve right standing before God. That right standing is what Jesus supplied at the Cross. There is nothing I can do to improve it.
Think: as your first-born child began to learn to walk, was he or she any less or more your child? Did you love him any more or less because he was learning to walk? Of course not, but you were pleased at his infant efforts, and saw it as evidence of healthy growth. God sees our efforts in a similar vein. I am not more pleasing to God because of my efforts to please him. And, if those efforts became my primary focus, instead of seeking to know him and worship him, then my relationship with Him would be set aside, and my relationship with the Law would be all that was left. This is what Paul warned against.
The Judaizers and legalizers who preyed upon the infant church sought to enslave it, not set it free. Paul was determined that it should remain free. We have to watch our own hearts to stay free from legalism, even today. It is so easy to think, “Well, I know I have a better walk with God than he does, because I (…fill in the blank).” The fact is; if your relationship with God is all about works, you may not even be a believer. If, on the other hand, your works are all about Jesus, and responding to him, then the peace of God should be seen in your life, as well.
If that is not the living, growing reality, in your life, then perhaps you need to re-examine the core issues.
God help us to recognize the difference between zeal for the person of Christ, and zeal for the trappings of orthodoxy. Help us to be ambassadors of Christ, not sales representatives for a church. Help us to feed on your Grace daily, and offer that Grace to the World around us in the Person of the Savior.