CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XIV)

This principle of not judging a person by their looks became vital when God sent Samuel to visit Jesse’s family to pick out the next king of Israel. God told Samuel: “Do not look at the way he looks on the outside or how tall he is, because I have not chosen him. For the Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[1] And in the Book of Jubilees we read: “And He [ADONAI] is not one who will regard the person (if any), nor is He one who will receive gifts, if He says that He will execute judgment on each: if one gave everything that is on the earth, He will not regard the gifts or the person, if any, nor accept anything at his hands, for He is a righteous judge.”[2]

This same instruction was given by Jesus when He told His disciples: “When you go without food so you can pray better, do not be as those who pretend to be someone they are not. They make themselves look sad so people will see they are going without food. For sure, I tell you, that’s all the reward they are going to get.”[3] The use of this word as a reference to “the face” is the most prominent in the Scriptures. While clothes, body language, gestures, are other expressions that people use to communicate, it is clear that a person’s face is like a fingerprint of their personality. But we must remember that Paul says that what they were “formerly” did not matter to him, implying that in the course of events their overinflated status in the eyes of many diminished.[4]

Messianic writer Lancaster labels this as “Paul’s dismissive tone.”[5] He says that by those who seemed to be influential, Paul was referring to James, Peter, John, and any other elders of the community who were present at the big meeting. I disagree somewhat with Lancaster. Paul already mentioned these top Apostles by name so there would be no reason to repeat them anonymously. I believe that among the members of the Jerusalem Council were members that were not only respected as fellow Christian brothers but were also esteemed as high-ranking converted Pharisees. In other words, if anyone on the Council could stand toe to toe with Paul, it would be these gentlemen.

It sounds like he dismissed their authority when referring to them as those who seemed to be influential and when he said what they made no difference to me; God shows no partiality. Lancaster goes on to note that despite the negative atmosphere, Paul submitted to their authority. He conceded that for them to reject his Gospel of Gentile inclusion meant he ran his race in vain. They exercised the power to utterly discredit the Gospel message he presented. Therefore, he certainly did respect their authority. It was important in Paul’s mind that the Galatians understood that he successfully passed the test of authenticity with the Apostles. This would be an encouragement to those in Galatia who supported him, and a slap in the fact to those there that were opposing him and his authority.

Paul does not deny the importance of these Apostles or their positions. Therefore, it appears that he uses the term big-shot to help the Galatians understand the difference between appearance and reality: the leaders of the Jerusalem congregation seem to be prominent people, and should be recognized as such.  But in reality, their worth depends not on their looking like big-shots but on what they are in God’s eyes. Claims of Paul’s emphatic disdain for the apparent importance of these leaders is better understood when we realize Paul was merely attempting to show that the original apostles were his peers in calling, commission, and position in God’s congregation.

Martin Luther, who himself grappled with those in the Roman Catholic congregation, experienced firsthand, those in authority still hold sway over the thoughts and minds of the people who are willing to be open to the truth.  He comments that Paul possessed the right to make refutation of any suggestions offered by those in authority.  After all, it was not they who called him, it was the Lord Jesus Himself.  Yes, the congregation in Antioch did send him out as a missionary, but even they did not dictate to him what to say, because they respected his calling as being directly from God.

This turns out to be a straightforward jab by Paul against those who sought to gain importance because of who they claimed to know, or the influence they supposedly brought with them.  Paul says that during his visit to Jerusalem with the most respected leaders of the congregation they found no differences between the Gospel they preached and the Gospel he preached.

Let’s listen to Paul now, “Hey you critics, you must learn that God does not make a judgment of importance based on a person’s position, or the suits they wear, or the name tags they carry, or the titles behind their names, or where they sit on the platform.  After we talked and discussed the things, I shared with them, they found no reason to correct my views or give me a different understanding of the Gospel.  Furthermore, they found no need for me to report to them or follow any particular evangelistic outreach program they sponsored.  They agreed that since God appointed me to do the work I was in, that if I needed any advice, He’d give it to me.”  Wow! You talk about taking the wind out of their sails or the air out of their balloons!  If you want to read the whole findings of that meeting you read it in Acts of the Apostles.[6]  Not only did the council rejoice and support what Paul was doing, but the congregation’s leading statesman, Peter, who spent most of his time converting Jews, offered no objections either.

Current Bible commentator Robert Gundry is impressed by how the abundantly gracious revelation of God’s Son to Paul the persecutor made him so confident of the freedom believers are given in the Anointed One Jesus because of His sheer, unimaginable grace, that what the prominent members of the Jerusalem congregation thought about him didn’t faze him at all. He even sets his indifference to their being so renown alongside a similar indifference on the part of God Himself! And despite their celebrity status they “added not one thing” to Paul by way of requiring him to make changes to his Gospel with the addition of circumcision for converts, or with any other demand that would distort sheer grace.

On the contrary, we see a twofold emphasis placed on those leaders’ acknowledgment of God who entrusted Paul with the Gospel he’d been proclaiming to Gentiles, an acknowledgment that put this entrustment on par with God’s having entrusted Peter, the leader of the twelve original Apostles, with the Gospel he’d been proclaiming to Jews. This acknowledgment drew no distinction between Peter’s Gospel and Paul’s Gospel of sheer grace. Paul ascribes the acknowledgment to God’s having activated Paul’s and Peter’s respective Apostleship. In other words, Paul success in converting Gentiles, Peter enjoyed in converting Jews. This made Paul’s Apostleship so obviously God-ordained that not only Cephas himself but also James and John the Apostle recognized the grace given to Paul. This grace refers at one and the same time to the grace that God gave to Paul in his conversion, in his commission as an Apostle to the Gentiles, and in the Gospel, he proclaimed to them.[7]

Alfred E. Bouter sees Paul’s emphasis here on God’s practice of not looking at a person’s position in making an evaluation, but at their potential. This is similar to what we read that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of the Anointed One merely from a human point of view. How differently we know Him now!”[8] Paul represented this new order of things that God introduced on the basis of the resurrection. This is the basis on which we stand and this has nothing to do with what is part of human nature. That is why Paul even went so far as to say even if we Jews thought of the Anointed One as human Messiah, we do not judge Him on that basis anymore, because we now envision Him crowned with glory and honor, and we serve Him as such, not as the One who was human and subject to the law.

The Lord Jesus Himself was indeed subject to the Law, but He fulfilled the Law, and now has replaced Law as the object of our attention and obedience. The Mosaic law can lay no claim on us anymore. That is why now we see the Anointed One in all His risen glory and are able to from Him by looking at His journey here on earth. He is the ultimate model for us all.[9] So rather than looking for some ideal person to imitate, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. After all, He wrote the book on faith because He put faith into action in a marvelous way.[10]

2:8-9 For, the same God who worked through Peter as the Apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the Apostle to the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as prominent leaders of the congregation, recognized the gift God gave me; they even shook hands with Barnabas and me in accepting us as co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews.

Whatever these intruders expected Paul to say after they confronted him in front of the Council about not requiring circumcision of the male Gentile converts, they may not have been prepared for how he disassembled their argument.[11] He was not there to defend his actions as some personal opinion, but to show that such converts already are accepted as fellow believers by the senior Apostle Peter. According to the will of the Holy Spirit, He approved their status by indwelling them without their being circumcised [12] and witnessing miracles,[13] as well as their shared experiences under Paul’s ministry.[14] So how could these self-righteousness brethren dare question the spiritual status of born-again believers filled with the Spirit of God?[15]

It is clear that Paul wants the Galatians to know that plenty of opportunities existed for Peter, James, and John to take charge of the congregation’s ministry to the Gentiles. But they all agreed that Paul held that special area and they respected his calling to that ministry. In fact, this fit very neatly into the commission that Jesus gave His disciples that after they received power when the Holy Spirit came into their lives, would empower them to tell about Him in the city of Jerusalem and over all the countries of Judea and Samaria (the Jews) and to the ends of the earth (the Gentiles).[16]

Of course, Paul accepted the prophecy that Ananias received from God to back up his claim of being especially chosen to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Ananias heard about Paul but didn’t know him, and Paul never heard of Ananias. And yet, the Lord made it clear for Ananias to go and anoint this Saul of Tarsus. He told him, “This man is the one I chose to carry My name among the people who are not Jews and to their kings and to Jews. I will show him how the many hardships he will go through because of Me.”[17] So it was no surprise that when the congregation at Antioch was inspired by the Holy Spirit to send out missionaries, He named Barnabas and Saul as the ones chosen.[18]

[1] 1 Samuel 16:7

[2] Book of Jubilees 5:16

[3] Matthew 6:16

[4] Don Garlington: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 60

[5] D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 70

[6] Acts of the Apostles 15:12-35

[7] Robert H. Gundry: On Galatians, op. cit, loc. cit., Kindle Location 340-365

[8] 2 Corinthians 5:16 – New Living Translation

[9] Alfred E. Bouter: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Hebrews 12:2

[11] See Galatians 2:14; 3:8-9, 14; 3:26-4:7, 8-9; 5:2, 5; 6:12-15

[12] Ibid. 3:1-4, 7

[13] Ibid. 4:12-16

[14] Ibid. 3:5

[15] Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 82

[16] Acts of the Apostles 1:8

[17] Ibid. 9:13-15

[18] Ibid. 13:1-2

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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