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 XVIII)

2:10 The only suggestion they made was that we continue helping the poor, which, I informed them, is something I always did with enthusiasm.

While the Council in Jerusalem did not mandate that Gentile believers undergo circumcision or be responsible for following the Jewish Laws, rites, rituals, ceremonies, etc., it appears that the Council did see some of their long-held Jewish customs on having charity toward the poor as also something that should be incumbent upon the Gentile believers. From the time of Moses, Jews were told to leave the fallen grain in their fields for the poor to come and freely gather for themselves.[1] Furthermore, they were also told that at the end of every third year they should bring the tenth part of that year’s grain into their towns. And if a Levite claims no share of what is given to them, then strangers, orphans, and widows who are in your towns may come and eat and be filled.[2]

But the congregation at Antioch already showed its charitable spirit when the Holy Spirit spoke through Agabus and told that a famine was coming and that those living in Judea would be most affected. So, the congregation agreed that each one should give what money they could to help the Christians living in Judea. They did this and sent it to the congregation leaders with Barnabas and Saul.[3] Later on, Paul would tell Felix the Governor of Judea how on his return from Asia he brought love offerings to help the people living in Judea. The Complete Jewish Bible renders it as “a charitable gift to my nation.”[4]

Likewise, the author of Hebrews instructed the recipients of his letter to remember to be charitable and help each other out. Gifts like that please God.[5] Also, the Apostle James, who wrote part of this reminder concerning the poor to Antioch, shares that claiming to have faith but not putting it into action is a terrible sign. He wrote that if a Christian does not possess sufficient clothing or food and one of them says to that person, “Goodbye, keep yourself warm and eat well,” but do not give them what they need, how can they claim that they helped them? A faith that does not do things is a dead faith.[6] And the Apostle John is not silent on this subject, either. For him, if a person makes enough money to live on and sees their fellow believer in need of food and clothing if they do not help them, how can they claim that the love of God is in them?[7]

However, Paul wasn’t finished telling his story yet. He needed to make a confession. There was one vital rule that the council asked him to follow; one very important addition to his ministry that they insisted he carries out: “Continue to help the poor.” He must have looked shocked and bewildered. Were they suggesting that a brilliant, talented, former Pharisee like him must now be told to remember the poor? What were they thinking, if they were thinking? But Paul admits, he didn’t let it bother him; he accepted the advice with grace.

This was nothing new to Paul, he was aware of the instructions given by God to Moses: “When you go out to harvest your crops, don’t cut down the grain along the edges of your fields, and don’t pick up what the harvesters drop.  It is the same with your vineyard—don’t strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and don’t pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them there for the poor and the foreigners living among you to gather up.  Listen to the LORD your God.[8]  According to one Jewish Rabbi, all the things that are contained here were meant to expose character faults that every Jew must strive to correct.[9] So even before he was converted, Paul was taught the value of giving to the needy and what it meant to God.

In Paul’s day, the poor were not just those down on their luck or without a job, because when a Jew converted to Christianity or a Gentile gave up their gods, they were often shunned and became outcasts from their segment in society. Not only that but in many places, Christians were persecuted and their countrymen plundered their goods and burned down their houses.  As such, they needed the love of their brothers and sisters to help them make it through until God gave them their own source of income. So, the Council’s suggestion that Paul and his co-workers continue to remember these hurting people was more than just offering them financial assistance, but keeping them in their prayers and passing on the news to other congregations to stir up compassion so they might also contribute to their needs.

One Jewish scholar points out that giving money to the poor and raising money for the underprivileged are paramount virtues in rabbinic piety.[10] We find this clearly outlined in the Mishnah, with special instructions to farmers.[11] Also, in other writings concessions are given to the poor in relation to their obligations to the Temple. Also, one Rabbi offered this maxim: “When the poor stand at your door, remember that their Maker stands at their right hand,[12] and consider it a high privilege for you to help them.[13]

Today, when people refer to their “church” it means a building, a denomination, a congregation, or their faith. However, in reality, it is the invisible body of the Anointed One. Years ago, I wrote an article for the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) EVANGEL Magazine entitled “Where’s the Church on Monday Morning?” So often when people walk out the sanctuary door, they leave the Church behind. To them, the church is a building in which the congregation gathers together several times a week. Because of this attitude, the “Church” became more of a museum of pious saints touting their status, open every Sunday for all to visit and admire; rather than a mission filled with dying sinners and wounded saints who need the healing power of a forgiving God.

How many times do we leave the sanctuary after experiencing the joy and presence of the Holy Spirit, where we sang hymns of praise with heartfelt admiration to our heavenly Father and our precious Savior, Jesus the Anointed One, and were we felt so blessed and fulfilled, and the Pastor’s message stirred our hearts to deeper dedication to our Redeemer? But then it just becomes a memory. Why do we not share it what we experienced with our neighbors, our workmates, our other family members? Are we trying to hide something? Then we are surprised when our week begins to go bad and we become despondent. Sharing what God does for us with others is a source of joy.

2:11-13 However, later on when Peter came to Antioch, I was forced to openly oppose him to his face. What he did after he arrived there was totally wrong. He was eating with Gentile Christians who never went through the rite of circumcision, but when some friends of James came Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was scared to death that these friends of James, who insisted on the necessity of circumcision, might reprimand him. As a result, the Jewish Christians broke away to follow Peter in being two-faced, and even Barnabas was led astray by this act of hypocrisy.

At this point in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he decides to confront their faulty mindset that was exhibited by their current defection from the Gospel Paul brought them. It appeared to be a matter of ingratitude on their part, both toward what God did for them in the Anointed One [14] and toward Paul himself.[15] And he challenges their failure to remember what they ought to already know,[16] that which should be shared with both their fellow believers, friends, and even families to be more considerate and not allow, in his absence, such inappropriate behavior to surface among themselves. Why did they not see that it was proper to be just as jealous of what was good in his absence as well as when he was with them.[17] .[18]

Many Bible scholars believe that this incident took place sometime after the events recorded in Acts of the Apostles 15:30-35.[19] For some reason, Peter decided to go to Antioch to see what effect the letter sent by the Council made on the spirit of fellowship between the Jewish and Gentile members. While it is not mentioned in Acts, there is one clue that may be key to understanding it as a direct result of Peter’s visit.

Paul now tells the Galatians that when he called out Peter for being a hypocrite by separating himself from the Gentile believers in order to eat with the Jewish believers, that it caused a split in the Antioch congregation. What disappointed Paul the most was that even his friend Barnabas sided with Peter and the Jewish contingent. So, going back to the Acts of the Apostles, we read that after the Peter incident Paul told Barnabas that he wanted to return to every city they visited to strengthen the believers there. Then Barnabas suggested that they take Peter’s nephew John Mark along. But Paul was not happy with that. It ended up causing an argument. As we read before, Silas was one of the delegates that the Jerusalem Council sent to carry the letter. Silas liked it so much he stayed in Antioch. So, Paul asked Silas to also go with him. That’s why Barnabas and John Mark set sail for Cyprus – Barnabas’ home country, on their own while Paul and Silas headed for Syria and Cilicia – Paul’s home territory.

While Paul does not mention this incident again, we find the same theme of standing up for what is right scattered throughout Paul’s writings. For instance, in his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote: “Do not listen to what someone says against a congregation leader unless two or three persons say the same thing. Show those who keep on sinning where they are wrong in front of the whole congregation. Then others will be afraid of sinning. I tell you from my heart that you must follow these rules without deciding before the truth is known. God and Jesus the Anointed One and the chosen angels know what I am saying. Show favors to no one. Do not be in a hurry about choosing a congregation leader. You do not want to have any part in other men’s sins. Keep yourself pure.[20]

[1] Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 4:19-11

[2] Deuteronomy 14:28-29

[3] Acts of the Apostles 11:27-29

[4] Ibid. 24:17; see Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

[5] Hebrews 13:16

[6] James 2:15-17

[7] 1 John 3:17

[8] Leviticus 19:9-10

[9] Tzror Hamor, loc. cit, p.1393

[10] Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Z., The Jewish Annotated New Testament, loc. cit., p. 637

[11] Mishnah, Masekhet Pe’ah, Chapter 4

[12] Psalm 109

[13] Leviticus Rabba, p. 103

[14] Galatians 1:4-6; 2:21-3:5, 14, 22; 3:25-4:11; 5:1-5

[15] Ibid. 2:5, 14; 4:12-20; 5:10-11; 6:12-14, 17

[16] Ibid. 1:8-9; 3:1-5; 5:7, 21

[17] Ibid. 4:18

[18] Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 49-50

[19] Acts of the Apostles 15:30-35

[20] 1 Timothy 5:19-22

About drbob76

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