The Body of Christ is as diverse as the snowflakes that fall on the Colorado Mountains. In every corner of the globe you will find those who bow their knee to the King of all kings. When Christians gather across the planet you will find Chinese Christians singing their favorite hymns in the Mandarin language. In Nigeria-men, women, boys, and girls gather together to pray and dance to the beat of the drum. In many places in Russia today school kids learn to read English by reading and singing the Holy Scriptures. In Mexico, this very morning, Carlos Jimenez is singing “Gloria Dios” – “Glory to God!” with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Matamoras. In Ecuador, where missionary Jim Elliot was killed by tribesmen for sharing Christ many years ago, five of those who killed him are now elders in a church started by Jim Elliot’s widow, Elizabeth. In England, Princes and pipe fitters gather in ornate cathedrals, listen to the booming sounds of pipe organs, and recite the Apostle’s Creed.
All over the world the cause of Christ has made, and is still making its mark on hearts and souls of people who vary in dress, style, and appearance like the colors of the rainbow. What it is that ties all of these various people groups together into a family that is closer than any bond that blood can produce? Quite simple – it is the message of the Cross.
As diverse as the Body of Christ is today, there is a unity that transcends culture, class, education, and socio-economic backgrounds. The message that is being preached from pulpits of cathedrals, in apartment living rooms, dirt floor sanctuaries, and grass huts is not diverse – it is one – the message of what God has done through Jesus Christ for sinners!
In our study last week we took a look at Galatians 1:11-24 where the Apostle Paul was defending his gospel. He wrote to the brothers and sisters in Galatia that he did not receive his message from men, but as a revelation from Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to refute the claim being made by the false teachers that he was somehow a renegade understudy of the true Apostles who had gone out on his own and contorted and twisted their message of Truth. Paul wrote,
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NIV)
Paul was ministering, he was teaching, he was declaring the Good News of Jesus Christ under the authority of the One who called him and set him apart from birth. He didn’t need the approval of men since he didn’t receive his message from men.
In our study for this morning we are going to begin to take a look at our next section of Scripture found in Galatians 2:1-10 where Paul makes it clear to the Galatians that although he was called and commissioned by Jesus Christ and was acting independently of the other Apostles-he stood with them in total unity when it came to the content of the message of salvation by grace through faith. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today. Read along with me.
1Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2I 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. 3Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. 6As for those who seemed 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. 7On 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. 8For 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. 9James, 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. 10All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:1-10 NIV)
There are many questions surrounding our Scripture for today, but let me assure you that none of the questions have anything to do with the content of Paul’s message or the unity of Paul’s mission and message with the message of the Church leaders in Jerusalem. Neither do the questions have anything to do with the application of this section of Scripture for your life or mine. With that said, I want to let you in on a couple of the questions that have puzzled Bible teachers throughout the years.
First, was Paul’s visit to Jerusalem fourteen years after his first visit to Jerusalem or was it fourteen years after his conversion? Who knows? There are folks on both sides of the discussion, but it really doesn’t make that much difference.
Second, was Paul’s visit to Jerusalem his second visit that was in response to a severe famine going on or was it really his third visit which came about because of doctrinal issues that resulted in the great Jerusalem Council? That is a much more important question and once again there are Bible teachers that will line up on either side of the discussion. I’m sure most of you are wondering what I am even talking about when I mention the “famine visit” and the “Jerusalem Council” so let me take a minute to fill you in on the two visits of Paul.
First of all, we’ve already read about Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion in Galatians 1:18. Read along with me so that we can refresh our minds.
18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18 NIV)
Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem took place while Claudius was reigning over the Roman world. Claudius was the Roman emperor from 41-54 A.D. so Paul’s visit had to have taken place during this time period. Paul decided to go to Jerusalem because a prophet named Agabus came to Antioch from Jerusalem and predicted a horrible famine over the whole Roman Empire. In response to the need in Jerusalem a love offering was collected and sent to the believers in Jerusalem by way of Barnabas and Paul. Read along with me from Acts 11:27-30 and you can see this situation for yourself.
27During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 NIV)
The second visit that we want to take a look at this morning is viewed by some Bible teachers as the visit Paul was referring to in Galatians 2. This visit is referred to as the famous Jerusalem Council that came about because of doctrinal tension in the Body of Christ caused by the Judaizers. The Jerusalem Council is found in Acts 15. Turn there with me and let’s read together.
1Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. 4When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. 5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” 6The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:1-11 NIV)
At the Jerusalem Council the Church leaders from Jerusalem along with Paul and Barnabas were in agreement that it is through the grace of Jesus Christ that one is saved, and not by keeping the Law of Moses.
Now, let me tell you that for you and me and our daily walk with the Lord it doesn’t matter a hill of beans whether Paul was talking about the “famine visit” or the “Jerusalem Council,” but it is good for us to search the Scriptures for ourselves when it comes to matters like these so that we are not just relying upon what others think.
I’ve done my own study this past week and I believe that Paul was referring to the “famine visit” when he wrote Galatians 2. The reason I have arrived at this conclusion is based upon two things.
First, in Galatians 2, Paul says that he went to Jerusalem in response to a revelation. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Council came about because he was appointed by the church leaders in Antioch because of the teachers who were causing trouble by saying, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” There is a difference between being appointed and having a revelation.
The second reason why I believe Paul is referring to the famine visit is because in Galatians 2 Paul says that he went to Jerusalem and he spoke with the leaders privately. There was nothing private about the Jerusalem Council. I believe that the issue of the Judaizers and the battle over salvation came to a head after the visit that Paul is referring to in Galatians 2. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at our Scripture and see if we can gain some insight into how this Scripture applies to our lives.
In verses 1-3 we can see that Paul took Barnabas and Titus with him to Jerusalem to meet with the Church leaders. Paul writes, 1 “Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also.” Paul took them to meet with Peter, James, the brother of Jesus, and John, those who were leaders in the Church at Jerusalem. I want to show you how rich God’s Word is for those who will take the time to dig deep into its pages.
Paul could not have taken a better team with him to Jerusalem to demonstrate to them the way that God was working among the Gentiles by His grace. Titus was a Gentile convert, an uncircumcised Gentile convert who had come to know Jesus through Paul’s ministry. Paul called Titus “my true son in our common faith” (Titus 1:4 NIV). The book of Acts is the most detailed account of Paul’s missionary journeys and even though Titus’ name does not appear in Acts there is no doubt that Titus was with Paul because of the way Paul writes about Titus in his letters to the churches.
In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth he refers to Titus as “my partner and fellow worker” (2 Corinthians 8:23 NIV). In 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 we read that Titus was given the task of delivering Paul’s “harsh” letter to Corinth and correcting problems within the church there (2 Corinthians 7:13-15). Titus was successful in handling the problems in the Corinthian church as he reported to Paul. Titus also went with Paul to Crete and after Paul left there, Titus stayed behind to oversee the church. Paul wrote to Titus and the letter is included in the New Testament. In the letter to Titus he asks his partner in the ministry to join him in Nicopolis, on the west coast of Greece (Titus 3:12). According to church tradition, Titus was the first bishop of Crete.
Having Titus accompany Paul to Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish tradition and the birthplace of the Church would have been irrefutable evidence that God was at work among the Gentiles and not just the Jews. Titus’ life of faithfulness, gentle humility, and passion for the work of God would have been validation of the transformation of the change that Jesus had brought about in his life.
Along with Titus, Paul took along with him a man named Barnabas – a Jew who worked alongside of Paul. Barnabas’ name pops up 23 times in the book of Acts and 5 times in Paul’s letters. Barnabas’ real name was Joseph, but all of the brothers nicknamed him Barnabas. After I tell you his story you will understand why.
Barnabas was a Levite who was from Cyprus. The first time that we run into Barnabas is in Acts 4:36-37. In the fourth chapter of Acts we are told that there were no needy folks in the church at Jerusalem at the time because all of the Christians gave to those who were in need. Immediately after this statement we find the specific illustration of the generosity of the believers as Barnabas sold his property and laid the proceeds at the disciples feet. What an encouragement to the leaders and all of the people of the church!
In Acts 9:26-27, right after the conversion of Paul, the disciples were scared to death of him because of his past, but Barnabas introduced Paul as a brother in Christ to the church. What an encouragement to Paul!
Barnabas joined up with Paul’s mission work and when they heard that the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem were in the midst of a deep famine, they took an offering to the church. What a great encouragement to the believers in Jerusalem!
Paul and Barnabas had been on one missionary journey with a young man named John Mark. John Mark was young and inexperienced and he got homesick and left Paul and Barnabas. When Paul and Barnabas decided to go on another missionary journey Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul refused to allow John Mark to go, so instead of telling John Mark “no,” Barnabas split with Paul and took John Mark with him (Acts 15:36-41). What an encouragement to John Mark! Is it any wonder that the church renamed Joseph the “Son of Encouragement” or as you and I call him, Barnabas?
Paul took these two men, one a Jewish Levite who had accepted Jesus and one a converted Gentile, with him to Jerusalem to present Paul’s message to Peter, James, and John. As Paul, Barnabas, and Titus walked through the streets of Jerusalem a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ was present for everyone to see.
I know that most people read right over this first verse of Galatians 2 and don’t get a thing out of it, but it brings tears to my eyes. The Gospel is for all people! People like Barnabas, a man who was a Levite, of the tribe of Levi, given the responsibility of tending the people of God. The tribe of Levi was the only tribe to stand with Moses against the people who worshipped the golden calf in Exodus 32:25-29. Barnabas had a proud religious heritage. He grew up listening to the Word of God, attending church, and praying with his family, but the Gospel is not just for those like Barnabas.
The Gospel is also for folks like Titus, a Gentile, a God-forsaken Gentile by all estimations of the Jews of Jesus’ day. Of all the nations of the world the Lord God chose Israel to be His Chosen People. They were chosen to bless the others nations of the world, to shepherd them and bless them, and to lead them to an understanding of God’s purpose in history. The Chosen People turned God’s mission into a badge of pride and looked down their noses at the other nations. As a result, the Gentiles were looked upon as “dogs,” less than human, and not worthy of anything except ridicule and scorn. The perception of Gentiles was so skewed that one of the morning prayers found in the Talmud and recited by Jewish men went like this: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has created me a Jew and not a Gentile, a man and not a woman, a free man and not a slave.” You need to know that although the Jewish people may have viewed people of other races and nations as less than human, the Lord had a much greater plan for the foreigners. In Isaiah 56 we read the glorious vision of God’s call to the nations.
3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” 4 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant- 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. 6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant- 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:3-7 NIV)
Titus was one of the foreigners who had been looked down upon his whole life, but who was looked upon with favor by God. Titus heard the call of salvation and turned his eyes and heart to Jesus. The Lord radically changed Titus from what he was and what he was perceived to be into what He had intended for Titus’ life.
All of the ridicule and scorn that Titus had endured throughout his life perfectly equipped him to oversee the church in Crete. Titus may have been a Gentile, but the Cretans were even looked down upon by Gentiles. Paul quoted the Creten prophet Epimenides when he wrote, 12Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” (Titus 1:12 NIV) Titus could minister among a people who were looked down upon and talked about, and who probably did plenty of ungodly things to earn their reputation, because he knew there was hope for all people who would turn to Jesus.
What an incredible example Paul, Barnabas, and Titus set for us when they strolled down the streets of Jerusalem. If you look around at the typical church today you would think that God was into cloning. When the worship bell chimes across America those who stroll into sanctuaries are gather like birds of a feather. The people look alike, they dress alike, they talk alike, they hang out at the same restaurants, read the same books, and like the same music. The white middle class worships with…well, let’s be honest, white middle class. Black folks worship with black folks. Hispanics gather with one another. Traditional church proponents get together and sing the same old songs they’ve always sang. Young folks who are wearied by tradition gather with other young college aged folks and worship in a new way, but with the same old crew. The view from the pulpit looks like the store shelves in a local Wal Mart – all of the same dolls are placed together in a nice tidy row. What a distant, distorted image the Church gives to the world who is looking on today!
In Revelation 7, John gives us a glimpse of heavenly worship, the people of God gathered together for the purpose of praising God. It is heavenly in that John’s vision was of Heaven itself and yet Jesus prayed, “Thy Kingdom come, They will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Read along with me from Revelation 7:9-10.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIV)
What a glorious vision of what will be one day! My question, and it would be Paul’s question as well, is this: Why wait until we get to Heaven when we could experience heavenly worship right now? I can tell you why. Better yet, I think I will let someone else tell us why. Ira M. Taylor wrote,
In church life today the advocates of homogeneous church-growth principles such as, “People feel comfortable with people like themselves,” lends itself to the continuing separation of believers along the lines of race and class, and certainly this does not foster the spiritual exercise of selflessness and the expression of unconditional love that it takes to bring about togetherness and harmony. (Wesleyan Advocate, March 1998, p. 13.)
Why can’t we come together now? I would have to agree with Rev. Taylor – it is because we desire our comfort more than we desire God’s will for our lives. Paul, Barnabas, and Titus were first and foremost brothers in Christ! Differences remained in culture, class, and opinion, but these difference were overshadowed by the precious blood of the Lamb who gave His life so that all people could come to know the love and glorious salvation of God.
There is diversity in the Body of Christ and it is glorious. I don’t know from which side of the tracks you came from today as you left home for worship, but know that God is the One who drew you to this place so that you might come to know the message of salvation. Won’t you lay down your sin, lay down your shame, lay down whatever has kept you from receiving God’s promises for your life and accept Jesus as Lord of your life this morning?