When I was in high school (In Arizona), my youth group participated in a program called Bible Bowl. If your teens have the chance, it is such an amazing opportunity.
Every year a committee chose books of the Bible to be studied, and youth groups studied, formed teams, and attended competitions in host churches across the country. Families from each church provided overnight housing for the teens. Lunch was served at the church. They gave out plaques or trophies for the top team and individuals with the highest scores.
Every week, those of us who wanted to participate met on Sunday evenings to introduce the chapters we were to study that week. Often we were given materials to help, like printed text with words blacked out to help with the memorization. I remember listening to the Bible on tape and falling asleep to it. The next Sunday evening we’d gather again, take a test with questions written in the same style that is used in competition, and then introduce new chapters for the coming week.
Questions were all multiple choice. If there were two verses that were the same, but only one little difference? Better memorize the address and the difference, because it will definitely be in the competition!
Our youth pastor kept track of our scores, and he formed teams of 4 based on our performance so that teens were in groups with others who performed similarly. Competitions had 5 rounds of 20 questions each, and a final round with another 20 questions for the top teams. It was no small thing… one year we memorized John, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. Another year we covered Galations through 2 Thessalonians.
I learned so much and made many friends from other churches in other states. Many lasted for decades.
I’m sad to say that I cannot recite whole books anymore, but I am so enjoying this study of Paul’s letters. I dare say I am learning with greater understanding for application, and that makes it easier to recall content.
As I dug into Galations, chapter 2, I found scripture actually said more about the situations that Paul described. Luke, in Acts, does a great job of setting the scene. I’ll be interjecting passages from Acts.
Acts 15:1-2, and 4 NIV
“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.”
“When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.”
Galations 2, vs. 1,2– Paul received a revelation which prompts him to return to Jerusalem (14 years after the instance he describes in chapter 1). He presented the gospel that he was teaching the Gentiles to the church leaders in private.
“5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
Galations 2, vs. 3,4– Paul calls the men false brothers, or Judaizers. By requiring that those who are saved by faith and rely on grace for salvation to return to the law, Paul says they wanted to enslave them. Titus was apparently with Paul, and was an uncircumcised Gentile. Paul notes that he was not convinced by these men.
Acts 15, verses 6-11–The apostles and elders of the church meet to discuss this question. Peter, in one of his more powerful speeches addresses them. He recounts how God sent him to teach Cornelius and his family, Gentile believers. He shares how they were saved, and visibly received the Holy Spirit. (They weren’t required to DO anything but have faith in Jesus in order to receive this free gift.) In this example God reveals that he shows no favoritism between Jew or Greek. The keeping of the law, he claims, was a yoke even the Jew’s ancestors were not able to bear, and to place it on the Gentile would be to test God. “No!” he exclaimed. “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Wow, huh? Go Peter!
vs. 12–“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.”
Luke explains really clearly what happens next. Note the men who were sent back to Antioch, how their letter to the Gentiles was the result of the church leaders being in agreement with the Holy Spirit, and the encouragement the Gentiles received from those who were sent:
vs. 2-35–Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.  [d] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.”
Ah, happy endings, right? Uh, wrong.
So when the Jerusalem church sent Paul and Silas back to Antioch with Judas and Silas, Paul says that:
Galations 2, vs. 6,9,10–the church leaders (James, Peter and John) recognized Paul’s apostleship and that He was a friend and partner in the same ministry. They gave Paul and Barnabas their blessing and asked them to remember the poor, something Paul says he was eager to do. We see evidence of this in Corinthians when Paul takes up an offering to return to Jerusalem for the poor.
vs. 7, 8– They recognized that the same Holy Spirit who partnered with Peter in reaching the Jews was with Paul and Barnabas in reaching the Gentiles.
vs. 11–At some point, Peter visits Antioch. Some of these “Judaizers” showed up claiming to be sent by James. Paul is not talking about Judas and Silas. At this time, Peter begins to withdraw from the Gentiles, no longer eating with them (prior to Christ’s gospel to the Gentiles, they were considered unclean so Jews could not eat with them or associate with them). Because Peter feared these Judaizers, he acted hypocritically.
vs. 11-16–Paul opposed Peter (confronted him) and asked him how he (Peter) could live like a Gentile (free from Mosaic law because of what Christ did) but expect the Gentile Christians to live like Jews who were bound to the law. We are not saved by the works of the law, but are justified by faith.
And then Paul writes those beautiful verses that so many have memorized and even put to music…
vs. 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.”
When we participate in Christ’s death and resurrection, we die to the law–Christ fulfilled it. We die to ourselves, and our purpose is to live for Christ who lives in us. He loves us, and gave Himself for us.
vs. 21– “I do not set aside grace,” Paul says… (by returning to the law). If we are still in need of the law, then Christ died for nothing.
I love that the Jerusalem leaders came to agreement with God before writing the Gentile church to admonish them about how to live. When you have important decisions to make, do you pray before you plunge? Do you wait upon the Lord, listening for His direction? Are you sensitive to the peace that He gives us when we’re in line with His will?
Making a decision that is not in line with His will often gives us a “bad our sour feeling” and we will not feel peace about what we’re doing. Scripture doesn’t give us a point by point play list for every single eventuality. It tells us right from wrong and gives us precepts: general rules that guide our thoughts and behavior. By knowing what God says, we can discern wisdom. What are the possible outcomes? Is this or that a wise choice? It’s important to seek counsel from other God fearing individuals, but their advice isn’t always sound. It can be tempting to seek the advice that justifies our desires. We need to be sure we’re seeking God’s will and not our will. We want to do not only what seems right to us, but to the Holy Spirit who guides us!!
Reading this chapter has always made me think, “How embarrassing for Peter!”
But reading Acts, we see that Peter knew the truth and believed it. But we see this glimpse of the old Peter who denied Christ. He struggled with fear of man at times. We don’t know how he pulled away from the Gentiles. He may not have premeditated this response. It may have been a gradual pulling back.
Years ago, I sat in a Wednesday night bible study with some women who shared about working in a secular environment that wasn’t exactly friendly toward Christians. They struggled with the same thing as Peter… did people they worked with really need to know they were Christians? They didn’t have to participate in wrong conversations or activities, but did they need to stand out as being different?
We do need to stand out. We’re supposed to be “lights on a hill” to draw others to Christ… “salt” in the world.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
You know the expression, “Actions speak louder than words…”? Peter knew the truth and he believed it. His speech in Jerusalem heavily influenced the church leaders to send their support and encouragement to the Gentile churches, but by drawing back and refusing to speak up when he himself was on the hot spot, the message that his actions sent lent support to the Judaizer’s cause and undermined Paul’s message to the Gentiles that salvation was by grace through faith alone.
Peter does eventually get it all together. In fact, he was martyred for living out his faith.
We are always an example of something. Let us strive to be an example that is in agreement with the Holy Spirit and leads others into the truth, not away from it.
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15
How can I use these observations to pray according to God’s will?
- Let’s continue to pray (as we did in Galations 1) that we, and the whole church, will love God and fear Him rather than the opinions of other people. May God reveal any areas of our lives where we may be regarding anything as more important than the priorities He has for us.
- Lets continue to pray that God will give us wisdom to discern the truth and how to apply it to our daily decisions, that our desires and our actions will reflect God’s heart.
- Pray that we will be sensitive to how our actions support or undermine the gospel, and that we will boldly be salt and light within our circle of influence. May God use us to flavor our world rather than simply co-exist.
What did God teach you this week? How did you see Him “show up” in your circumstances?
God bless your week! I’ll meet you next Tuesday to discuss Galations, Chapter 3! If you’d like to follow the whole series, we began the book of Galations HERE, and other devotionals can be found HERE. 🙂