Outlook Standard Lesson for October 15, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Galatians 2:11-21
Recently on social media, I saw a group of people discussing the small things that cause conflict in churches. The answers were both comical and sad, including choosing appropriate bulletin covers, changing the carpet color, and who was authorized to buy toilet paper.
While it may not include details about bulletins or toilet paper, Scripture is full of disagreements as old as time and as recent as yesterday’s news. Those with power and authority, legitimate or self-imposed, wield it over others and set the standard for acceptable ways of being and doing in certain situations – big and small, important and frivolous, and everything in between.
This wielding of power happens in the church too. For example, some churches see the same set of “powerbrokers” rotate through the session, never giving others the opportunity to use their gifts and passions to govern the church. Oh, and let’s not forget those who hold the keys to the kingdom like Mr. John, who is the only person with a key to the thermostat lock box. You have no choice but to go through him to change the temperature in the sanctuary.
Manipulating power for influence happens outside of the church, too. Who defines what is the “right” way to behave? I think of Trayvon Martin. Evidently for some in Sanford, Florida, walking around with mocha colored skin in a hoodie, eating Skittles, and talking on a cell phone is suspicious behavior. Trayvon Martin paid with his young life in the conflict between those who have power and those who do not.
The specific conflict Paul addresses in Galatians 2, is the conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. At the time, Jewish Christians were insisting that Gentile Christians (non-Jews) must observe Jewish practices to be “real” Christians. This includes circumcision of males according to Jewish customs, following their dietary regulations, and observance of the Sabbath.
Paul boldly tells the circumstances of Cephas, also known as Peter, who was being fickle about this very situation (v. 11). Formerly, Cephas was indeed eating with Gentiles (not according to Jewish dietary restrictions), but after this sect of Jewish Christians came, he joined them in this hypocrisy of imposing Jewish practices on the Gentiles (v. 12-13).
The true gospel
In addition, to these Jewish requirements being just plain wrong (my words, not Paul’s), the larger issue at hand is that the Christian Jews were advocating that the law led to justification and righteousness. Paul nearly shouts from the rooftop, “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law” (v. 16). In other words, Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17) and by the grace of God, we are made righteous through Jesus. This is the true gospel.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been talking about the law. We’ve discussed how it was given by God to teach and guide but was never a substitute for the Triune God. And we’ve noted how it was a difficult task for Jewish Christians to understand that they died to the law in Christ. These same struggles are evident in Galatians, and, as he did in Romans, Paul continues to use the language of death and resurrection: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God” (v. 19).
Christ’s death and resurrection changed the religious paradigm for Jewish Christians tremendously. Change is hard. Change is inevitable. Change is growth. However, in this case regarding justification and the law, the good news of Jesus Christ is at risk! Paul declares this clearly in verse 21 “If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily” (The Message).
Our faith is an inward commitment to God through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. This faith cannot be lived out by following a list of rules. In fact, our outward words and deeds will many times betray our inward commitment. Each moment is a new opportunity to live in the faith of Christ.
Questions for discussion:
- Who or what pressures you to perform or “do” things to be considered a “good” Christian?
- Do you feel free to question the source/validity of those pressures? If not, why not?
- Consider the ways you might put expectations on others regarding how they live out their faith. What standards do you impose?
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