Fourteen years later I went up to Jerusalem again with Barnabas and Titus. I had a revelation and went up to set before them the gospel that I preach to the heathen (privately before the seemingly influential) in order to make sure I was not in error or out of line. Titus was not forced to be circumcised even though he was a Greek. [MVP]
This is a radical jump forward in time. Paul doesn’t tell us where the 14 years are measured from. The important thing for this narrative is that the leaders of the Jerusalem church had not required Titus to become circumcised though he was an uncircumcised Gentile believer.
- What is it?
- Why is it required?
- An act of obedience?
- A physical sign of commitment?
- The shedding of blood is required to make a covenant.
- Some feel it is to sanctify the seed passing through the sign and thereby bless the resulting children.
- What is God doing with this requirement?
We talked about this problem because some false believers had infiltrated our group. Like spies they came to thwart the freedom we have in Jesus the Messiah. They wanted to enslave us. But we did not give in to those troublemakers at all. We wanted the truth of the gospel to continue for you. Those seemingly important leaders didn’t change what I preach even a little bit (their importance is a matter for God to determine). [MVP]
This is radically paraphrased to give you understanding of what Paul saw happening in the church. He saw it as a secretive, evil attack on the Gospel. It seems to irk Paul that he feels compelled to check things out with people who he doesn’t seem to feel have any real authority over him. But that is just my opinion.
But these leaders saw that I had been given the work of telling the gospel to non-Jews, just as Peter had the work of telling the Jews. God gave Peter the apostleship for the Jews, backing it with power. But he gave me the same power and apostleship for non-Jews.
James, Peter, and John, who seemed to be the leaders, understood that God had given me this special grace, so they accepted Barnabas and me. They agreed that they would go to the Jews and that we should go to the non-Jews. The only thing they asked of us was to remember to help the poor—something I really wanted to do.
Paul wants us to be sure that we realize that the church leadership approved of his ministry and agreed with his calling. He’s being very careful.
- Why Paul?
- How did the church leadership come to accept Paul’s calling to the Gentiles?
- Can you see any reasons?
When Peter came to Antioch, I called him out. He was wrong. Peter ate with the Gentiles until some Jews sent from James came to Antioch. When they arrived, Peter stopped eating with those who weren’t Jewish. He separated himself from the Gentile believers and held himself aloof being afraid of the circumcision group.
This was more than simply requiring circumcision. It appears that these Jews were keeping kosher. It is likely they required most of the Jewish lifestyle.
So Peter and the other Jewish believers who joined with him were hypocrites. Even Barnabas got caught up in what these Jewish believers did.
When I saw they were not following the truth of the gospel, I spoke to Peter in front of them all. I said, “Peter, you are a Jew, but you are not living like a Jew. You are living like a Gentile. So why do you now try to force those who are Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Paul is irate—with good reason. Peter’s behavior was really bad. Talk about a bad witness! Yet, it is very easy to get caught up in what the church organization tells us we should be doing.
You will notice, as you grow in the Lord, that most Christian organizations have strong cultural positions. In most churches, the core people all look the same. Men, women, and children commonly dress that same, use the same lingo, come from the same background, and worship the same.
Unity or conformity?
Ephesians 4:1-6 talks a lot about unity.
oneness of mind, feeling, etc., as among a number of persons;
concord, harmony, or agreement.
I, a prisoner in the Lord, encourage you to live the kind of life which proves that God has called you. Be humble and gentle in every way. Be patient with each other and lovingly accept each other. Through the peace that ties you together, do your best to maintain the unity that the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit. In the same way you were called to share one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over everything, through everything, and in everything. [GW]
How is that different from conformity (defined below)?
action in accord with prevailing social standards, attitudes, practices;
compliance or acquiescence;
There is very strong pressure to conform—even if it does not fit your personality or culture. Often, it no longer fits your current beliefs—yet the pressure is there.
In this case, Peter seems to have been intellectually convinced that Gentile believers were fine and he fellowshipped with them freely.However, when his cultural roots showed up in the group sent from Jerusalem, he could not resist slipping back into the old ways of living. We need to watch that in our lives.
What traditions matter?
- How do you sort out meaning from taste & style?
- What is the authority in “this is how we have always done it”?
- Are traditions fleshly or spiritual?
- How can an anointed leader turn tradition into a rhema for each participant?
This is also the danger of hanging with bad company, old pre-believer friends, office buddies, et al. It takes moral character to resist the pressures of the group. You need to make your behavioral actions a decision based on scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
A good guiding principle is found in Ephesians 5: 15&16
Look carefully how you walk, not as fools but wise, making the most of the time…
Our behavior is important. We can get ourselves into messes and actual serious spiritual trouble very easily by simply not paying attention.
- How are you expected to conform in the church?
- How do you handle this pressure?
- Have you been in or are now in a group that pressures you to conform?