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 XV)

So, when Paul and Barnabas went to the city of Iconium (called Konya today, and located in central Turkey), and attempted to preach to the Jews as well as to the Greeks. Yet, when the Jews turned against them, they did not become discouraged. In fact, Luke tells us that they stayed there for a long time preaching with the strength the Lord gave them.[1] And while Paul took this privilege of preaching to the Gentiles as being normal, when Peter shared about his opportunity to preach to Gentiles he said it was God who was pleased to let him have that experience.[2] Also noteworthy is that Paul experienced the same type of reverence from the people in Ephesus that Peter did in Jerusalem. Namely, that people put such faith in them that just being in their presence resulted in the healing of the sick.[3]

Even when Paul faced persecution and was in danger of being harmed, he still did not shy away from telling even his enemies about his call to be a missionary to the Gentiles.[4] And when his possible freedom or incarceration were held in the balance, Paul’s was quick to testify before King Agrippa about his calling to the Gentiles.[5] That’s why Paul’s assurance to the Gentile Corinthian believers was so reassuring that their being added to the family of God was all part of God’s plan.[6] So whatever the Judaizers where saying about Paul not being a true emissary of the congregation, and, therefore, not an Apostle called by God, this information should make it clear as to who was telling the truth.

But Paul was not finished. He carried another shoulder bag full of information to offer them. Not only was Peter fully behind his ministry, but the Apostle James gave his stamp of approval. He stood up before the Council and Assembly in Jerusalem and told them this: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon Peter told how God first visited the people who are not Jews. He was getting a people for Himself. This agrees with what the early preacher said, ‘After this I will come back and build again the building of David that fell down. Yes, I will build it again from the stones that fell down. I will set it up again. Then all the nations may look for the Lord, even all the people who are not Jews who are called by My name. The Lord said this. He does all these things. God made all His works known from the beginning of time.’”[7] [8]

It is worthwhile to take note of how Paul refers to Peter and John with the Greek noun stylos, which is translated by the KJV as “pillars.” It is a literal reference to a pillar or column that holds up the roof on a building, especially ancient Greek temples and buildings.[9] It is used here as a figure of speech to identify those for whom a movement owes their prestige. We see this exemplified in John’s revelation when the Angel to the congregation in Philadelphia announced that the One who overcomes, or wins the victory, will be made a pillar in the Temple of God and He will never forsake it.[10] In other words, just like strong pillars held up a building so Peter and James were holding up Paul’s claim of being a congregation approved Apostle to the Gentiles. Referring to such people in that way was not new, it was done before in Jewish tradition, especially of eminent Rabbis.[11]

Paul did not take this commendation as something he automatically deserved or felt that it was owed to him. He said it was a matter of their loving-favor. In other words, it was a gift from these pillars of the congregation sealed with the right hand of fellowship. So Paul was able to add this to the favor he received from Jesus who was the One who called him to this ministry.[12] In fact, Paul said it  was also God’s loving-favor that helped him write his letter to the believers in Rome.[13] And because of God’s loving-favor, he turned out to be a better missionary than most expected.[14]

The Apostle Peter also appreciated this loving-favor of God. He told his constituents that God gave each of you a gift. Use it to help each other. This will show God’s loving-favor. If a person preaches, let them do it with God speaking through them. If a person helps others, let them do it with the strength God gives them. So, in all things God may be honored through Jesus the Anointed One. Shining-greatness and power belong to Him forever. Let it be so.[15]

At this point Paul wants to summarize the outcome of his going to Jerusalem. And who does he focus on? Peter?  No!  James?  No!  John?  No!  He focuses on God.  Paul declares that the same God who worked through Peter in his ministry to the Jews was the same God who worked through his ministry to the Gentiles. This made it clear that the Judaizers’ were not really registering a complaint against Paul, but against God. One Jewish commentator made this observation: “Contrary to the claim by some in today’s non-Messianic Jewish community that Jews should not be approached with the Gospel, let alone singled out for special attention, Scripture teaches precisely the opposite.”[16]

Early congregation theologian Haimo of Auxerre gives his take on the controversy between Paul and the higher-ups in Jerusalem. He hears Paul saying to the Galatians that the same one who made Peter the teacher and leader of all the believing Jews also bestowed upon him the duty of preaching to all the Gentiles. Augustine says somewhere that the blessed Apostle received greater wisdom than all the other Apostles precisely because he planned to preach to all the Gentiles and philosophers in Greece. Hence, his preaching would prove to be effective among these Gentiles and philosophers. But someone might say here, “Does this mean that if Peter, as teacher of the Jews, were to see Gentiles who wish to be converted to the faith, he would not accept them unless they agreed to be circumcised? Or does it mean that Paul, as teacher of the Gentiles, did not accept any of the circumcised among the Jews?” Of course, Peter accepted Gentiles without compelling them to be circumcised, as in the case of Cornelius.[17] Paul did not reject Jews on account of circumcision; he only instructed them not to preserve the legal observations in a ceremonial manner.[18]

Look at what God did through Peter: his walking on water; curing the beggar that was lame from his birth; people cured when his shadow passed over them; bringing Tabitha back to life; and striking Ananias and Sapphira dead for telling lies. Not only that but his message with the help of the Spirit, brought about the conversion of three thousand by one sermon on the Day of Pentecost.  And look at what this same God did through Paul: striking Elymas the sorcerer blind, healing the cripple at Lystra, raising Eutychus from the dead, with many other signs and wonders among the Gentiles, through the power of the Spirit of God.  Could they not see that the same Spirit that inspired Peter also inspired Paul to preach the Gospel, so that multitudes were converted, including Jews and Gentiles and the establishment of many famous congregations throughout Asia?

So powerful was the agreement between Paul and the pillars of the congregation that they quickly extended to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship in ministry.  In the Jewish mind, leaders who were called “pillars” met the highest standards of ethics and veracity. As John Gill points out, these men were called pillars in response to their constant availability and stability in preaching the Gospel, and suffering for the sake of the Anointed One. They proved to be steadfast and immovable in their work, nor could they be shaken or deterred from it by harassment, reproaches, and persecutions by their opponents. Also, they proved to be the means of supporting others that were feeble-minded, and of defending and maintaining the truths of the Gospel. They were set, as Jeremiah was, as a defensed city, an iron pillar, and brazen walls against all the enemies of the Anointed One.[19] Such were those among the Jews who stood out like pillars.  In one instance we read in Jewish writings that when Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai fell ill, his disciples went in to visit him. When he saw them, he began to weep. His disciples said to him: “Lamp of Israel, pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer!”[20]

They all agreed that the mission work among the Gentiles belonged to Paul, and the mission work among the Jews belong to Peter, James and John. And what was the main point of their agreement?  Was it Paul’s style of preaching; or Paul’s use of the Greek language; or maybe Paul’s attire, shiny sandals, toupee to cover his bald head? No! No! They concluded that he was preaching the same Gospel under the anointing of the same Holy Spirit that they were. So why mess with it, leave it alone, let the Holy Spirit do the work and reach the lost. But Ambrosiaster concludes that there was only one thing about which Paul and the Apostles agreed on teaching the Gentiles all those things contained in the Torah pertaining to faith and conduct, not Jewish ceremonial law. That meant, reminding those to whom they preached to remember the poor in order to exhibit the same mercy by which they were redeemed by God. It was for this reason that Paul explains the agreement between him and the Apostles, so that the Galatians now knew that what they received from him was true as agreed upon.[21]

John Calvin writing, on the necessity of having unity in the congregation, begins by pointing that we all, from Peter and Paul down to the ordinary believer today, were made equal partakers of the salvation and timeless life that the Anointed One paid for on the cross. And He didn’t pay any less for yours than he did for Peter and Paul. That’s why whenever we cite our creeds or declarations of faith, not only are we making reference to the visible congregation but also to the unseen elect of God all over the world, those who are still with us and those who’ve gone on before us. Furthermore, it is our brotherly and sisterly love that define the term “communion of saints.”[22]

[1] Ibid. 14:1-5

[2] Ibid. 15:7

[3] Ibid. 5:15; 19:11-12

[4] Ibid. 22:21-22

[5] Ibid. 26:17-18

[6] 1 Corinthians 1:6-9

[7] Amos 9:11-12

[8] Acts of the Apostles 15:13-18

[9] See 1 Timothy 3:15; Revelation 10:1

[10] Revelation 3:12-13

[11] Babylonian Talmud, Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Barachoth, folio 28b

[12] Romans 1:5

[13] Ibid. 12:3; 15:15

[14] 1 Corinthians 15:10; cf. Ephesians 3:8

[15] 1 Peter 4:10-11

[16] David H. Stern: Jewish New Testament Commentary, loc. cit.

[17] Acts of the Apostles 10:17-48

[18] Haimo of Auxerre, Complete Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[19] John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, On Galatians, The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Digitized Version 1.0, 1999, p. 42

[20] Babylonian Talmud, Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berakoth, folio 28b

[21] Ambrosiaster, op. cit.

[22] This is a line found in the original Apostles’ Creed. It is also noteworthy to observe that the term “holy catholic congregation” which precedes “communion of the saints,” the word “Roman” placed before the word “catholic,” using the lower case “c,” make “catholic” a common noun, meaning “universal,” not a proper noun.

About drbob76

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