Eagerly Helping The Poor
[Galatians 2, verses 1-10]
Taking up where we left off in last week’s lesson, we find the apostle Paul continuing his recounting of his journey to Jerusalem to meet Peter as documented in the book of Galatians, and before that as documented by the apostle Luke in Acts chapters 17-21. As we continue reading, it becomes apparent that Paul is actually writing in that context. He then uses this as his point of reference as Paul continues his letter, beginning with the first verse of chapter two.
“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the Gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose when some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the Gospel might remain in you.” (Galatians 2, verses 1-5, NIV)
Barnabas is a man whose name shows up repeatedly in the written history of the early Church. His name translated into English literally means “son of encouragement”. Barnabas was obviously a man who was a very positive thinker with an upbeat personality – something the world in general, and the modern church in particular, needs a lot more of. Let me tell you all quite frankly that this approach to everyday living is something that I try to practice on a daily basis, and I would similarly encourage each of you to do the same if you’re not already doing so. It is also very clear that there must have been a whole lot of Gentiles in Jerusalem, which was the capital of Judaism back then, much the same as it is today. Also, Paul’s reference to “the Gospel I preach among the Gentiles” goes back to the book of Acts, when Paul became exasperated with his fellow Jews, who would not listen to him, and who would not accept Christ as Lord, Savior, and as the Son of God. “Your blood be on your own heads!”, Paul wrote. “I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles”. [Acts 18: 6] In so doing, he left the established church of his peers, becoming a Jewish man who had accepted Christ as the Messiah for Jews and Gentiles equally.
And what did Paul mean when he wrote, “… not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised …”? He is referring to the ancient Jewish custom of cutting of the foreskin of a man’s private parts that dates back to at least the time of Moses, and probably even before that. It was intended as an outward sign of one’s allegiance to the Jewish nation, the modern Israel of today. This was well over 1,000 years before the ministry of baptism that was first preached by John the Baptist, the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan river (you can read all about this in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter four). As such, baptism should be considered to be the modern-day equivalent of circumcision – a suitable substitute. But it is what Paul writes next that is the most revealing; “This matter arose when some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves”. Having experienced something similar to this myself, I think I know exactly what Paul meant.
A long time ago I belonged to a church like that. I would have left sooner than I did, but I was the keyboard player in the band and felt obligated to stay, which in retrospect was a mistake on my part. This was a church that was affiliated with a movement known as “Messianic Christianity”, an offshoot of Messianic Judaism, which is the belief within the global Jewish community that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, and that he was and is in fact the Son of God. I can’t help but admire these people, who have seen the Truth for what it is, and Jesus for who He is, in spite of a lifetime of their being taught to the contrary. Like Paul and the other apostles, they have overcome the traditions of the past in order to embrace their eternities in Christ, a most noteworthy trait. On the other hand, the problem with Messianic Christianity as I see it is their insistence on practicing both Jewish and Christian customs together, in the mistaken belief that it is necessary to do both in order to please God. During the holidays they observe both Christmas and Hanukkah, and in the Spring they celebrate both Easter and Passover, and so on. The problem with this belief system is that it isn’t true (see Acts 15: 1-21), even though Messianic Christians will use considerable Scripture to ‘prove’ that they are right. Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it” (see Matt. 5: 17), meaning that by His being here among us, the Old Testament is a done deal, replaced by the New Testament. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifice is required, with the shedding of its blood being an offering of contrition and atonement for the sins of the people. But in the New Testament, the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is the new atonement for our sins. The precious blood of Jesus has already been shed for us all. It is a replacement for the old, and Christ was the embodiment of that replacement.
This, I am sure, is part of what the apostle Paul was referring to when he commented on people in the early church who wanted to “make us slaves”. If one must adhere to an inherently false teaching in order to allegedly obtain eternal salvation, then that most certainly qualifies as mental, emotional and spiritual slavery. However, I also strongly suspect that Paul, in addition to his documented opposition to Messianic Christianity, was writing about the Old Testament teaching – still in use today, much to the discredit of those teaching it – that one must “tithe” 10% of their income in order to be true Christians. Never mind that Jesus Christ himself has already paid the ultimate tithe as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Churches continue to twist and distort this outdated teaching, which is no longer relevant to modern Christianity for reasons that I have already written about, and those who are knowingly spreading false doctrines will be unable to escape God’s wrath when their – and His – time comes. Having said that, let’s now continue our study, starting at verse six.
“As for those who seem to be important – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance – those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2, verses 6-10, NIV)
I find it encouraging and uplifting that Paul was very Christ-like when it came to dealing with how people look or how they dress. Paul writes, “… whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance …”. I have been in far too many churches where the congregation is dressed like models in a fashion show! Moreover, the overwhelming majority of churches here in the US only cater to one class of people – those who can afford, or who can be induced, to “tithe” 10% of their income! I don’t know about you, but I am a disabled retiree living on a fixed income, and a rather meager one at that. If I were to “tithe” 10% of my income each month, I would run out of grocery or medicine money before the end of the month. But even more basic than this is the fact that churches on Sunday morning are still the most segregated places in America. Talk about judging others by their “external appearance”!
On the other hand, the church I attend is mostly African American whereas I am Caucasian. I play the keyboards at church, so try and picture yourself walking into a mostly-black church with a black pastor and seeing some unknown white guy playing the keyboards. At first I would probably seem rather unusual – or maybe like a scene from “The Blues Brothers” – especially to first-time visitors regardless of race or nationality. But once the music starts and Christ is made welcome there, the difference in external appearances becomes meaningless, as well it should. But more than that, I make a statement without saying a word – all I have to do in that regard is to walk in and sit down. By making a silent but public stand for church integration, my greatest wish is for others of all races and nationalities to follow my example, and so to follow Christ as the rest of us do. The ugly truth is that the ancestors of every African-American citizen of the US are a very traumatized bunch of people because of slavery. It is up to white people to try and make amends if we can. After all, it’s the white race that started all this.
There is one last thing the apostle Paul wrote that I wish to comment on, when he stated, “ All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do”. Remember what Jesus taught us in the four Gospels, that “it is better to give than it is to receive”, combined with another quote from Christ, “The poor you will always have, but you will not always have me”, a clear reference to His ascension into heaven 40 days after Christ’s resurrection. Well, if we’re always going to have the poor, then I see this as being charged with the dual responsibility of helping the poor while using our lives to emulate Christ Jesus. When I was at the peak of my previous career in computer technology, I had no compunction at all about lending a helping hand wherever it was needed – whether it was financial aid to those in need, or as a musician in church – which is just another way I can give. Fast forward 15 years later, and I find myself impoverished for the most part, living on a pension that is a fraction of what I was accustomed to earning. Yet I always seem to have just enough, and I am convinced that this would not be the case had I shirked my responsibility years earlier by not giving to those in need. Remember, Paul said we should be “eager” to help those in need, as Christ said, which is that “God loves a cheerful giver”. So let’s be someone God can love to the utmost by being cheerful givers! If anyone has any doubts whatsoever about whether God really does love them, then all they have to do is become cheerful givers – and God will do the rest. We don’t have to give all the time. God doesn’t expect us to, and those who teach otherwise are trying to use you like an ATM. Get away from those people! It is the quality and not the quantity of our giving that pleases God the most, just as Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. We can go to church every single day if we want to, but if we do not act mercifully and compassionately towards others who are less fortunate than ourselves, our faith becomes meaningless and our Christianity comes up as being bogus when put to the test. Let’s not go there, people. Let’s become happier people by focusing on giving instead of seeing how much we can get for ourselves. Let’s become cheerful givers and please God to the utmost. The rewards are out of this world!