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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS.
Let’s review last week’s lesson.
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren (the saved Gentiles), “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). We discovered these men were believing Pharisees. They believed Jesus was the Christ, a.k.a. Christians and were members of the Jerusalem church; they just didn’t believe in Paul’s apostleship or his gospel. They preached a works-grace type gospel amongst the Gentiles. You pick up this truth in Acts 15:5: “It is necessary to circumcise them (the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria) and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
Paul went up to Jerusalem because of a revelation and he submitted to them the gospel which he preached among the Gentiles but he did so in private to those who were of reputation (Galatians 2:1-2). The Lord had commanded Paul through a revelation to go up to Jerusalem to confront the twelve. This matter had to be settled once and for all so that God’s gospel of grace could be communicated to the gentile world without hindrance from the Jews.
I want y’all to think about this private meeting of the minds. Paul had all these men of reputation assembled together in one room with the future of God’s Church at stake. Therefore, Paul did more than explain his gospel to them. He clarified the doctrines of grace or “the mysteries” to them as well. In other words, he put “all his cards on the table.” This doesn’t mean they understood it. Peter refers of these mysteries in his second letter, many years later, saying, “speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). In case you missed it, besides saying he doesn’t understand Paul’s teachings, Peter just acknowledged Paul’s writings as Scripture.
Peter wrote his second letter somewhere between the years 65-68 A.D, near the end of his life. No one knows for certain when Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Galatia, however, Bible scholars date it between the years 40-60 A.D. My point in mentioning this is to show y’all, even though many years passed after the Jerusalem Council, Peter still didn’t understand the things Paul explained to him about the mysteries. He knew they were divine truths, so he accepted them for what they were Scripture.
These same believing Pharisees demanded Titus be circumcised. In plain English they were saying Titus had to become a Jew in order to be member of the Jerusalem Church (the Mother Church) and to participate in this council meeting (Galatians 2:3). Paul and Barnabas refused to give in to their demands. The twelve apostles did not insist upon circumcision as a matter of necessity for salvation, so there was disagreement between the apostles and the Judaizers on this particular issue.
Please open your Bible at Galatians 2:5.
5: But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you – an hour was the smallest increment of time in the Koine Greek language. So, Paul’s saying he gave them no time at all. Not for one minute, did he consider giving in to their demands to circumcise Titus, using our English equivalent. Paul and Barnabas did not yield to the persistent pressure that salvation involved anything more than God’s Grace (alone). And that’s because our salvation comes from God, and not from us, meaning we can’t earn it. It’s not complicated. However, the Judaizers were trying to complicate it by bringing the Gentiles back under their legalistic system (the Mosaic Law), and denying their liberty in Christ Jesus in the process. However, Paul would not yield (for the building up of the Body of Christ or), so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
6: But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.
Paul’s referring to the pillars, those who were of high reputation, specifically speaking of James, Peter, and John. What they were and who they were in times past, makes no difference now for God shows no partiality (2 Corinthians 5:16). Remember to ask questions as you move along, why is this true at this particular point in time? Paul’s saying their religious rank and reputation, as apostles, had zero affect on his apostolic authority, his ministry, or his present argument. This is because the gospel he preached came by divine revelation as did his apostleship, which means they contributed nothing to either one.
As you read through the pages of the book of Acts, by the time you reach chapter 9 it soon becomes obvious God is doing something new by converting Saul of Tarsus, a Jewish rabbi, the persecutor of God’s Jewish Christian Church, and commanding him to preach a new gospel to both Jew and Gentile, “for now there is no difference” (Romans 10:12).
Why do I keep repeating this? I’m glad you asked? Although I’ve been teaching this truth, right out of the Bible, for many years, people still don’t understand it. They’re not rightly dividing the scriptures, and it’s quite possible they’re relying on “the teaching of men” instead of what God has said. They’re choosing to go with something they’ve heard from someone, somewhere, telling them that Jesus came ministering to all, both Jew and Gentile and that simply is not the truth (Matthew 10:5-7). Starting at Acts 9, after the stoning of Stephen, God begins to turn away from His Prophetic Program of “Jew only” (Acts 11:19). The gospel, or good news message of that program was “Believe in Him and be saved” (John 3:16), then repent, and be baptized with water. But now God is going to the Gentile world, with some Jewish exceptions, with His gospel of Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).
But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised (the Gentiles), just as Peter had been to the circumcised (the Jews) (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),
Here Paul continues to build on his statement of Galatians 1:1. I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised – Paul is emphasizing his ongoing role as the Lord’s steward of the Gospel of Grace and the equipping through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:3).
I think most of you know this already, but for those of you who are unaware, the early church divided the people they ministered into two groups 1) the Jews, which are the blood descendants of Abraham; they called these the circumcised; and 2) the Greeks, a catch-all phrase for everyone else, these were called the un-circumcised (the Gentiles). Our Apostle Paul’s primary ministry was to the Gentiles, and Peter’s ministry was to the Jews. There are accounts in scripture of each ministering to the other groups; Paul more so than Peter. Paul is saying just as Peter was an apostle and identified as such among the other apostles, Paul was also recognized as an apostle with a divinely ordained ministry to the Gentiles by these same apostles. It was hie time the Judaizers “got with the program” and recognized Paul’s apostleship and his ministry.
9: and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas (Peter) and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
Although these names have appeared elsewhere in our study, for the first time Paul identifies them as the three pillars of the Jerusalem Church. The Greek word for pillars is Stulos (stoo’-los), Noun Masculine, Strong’s Greek #4769, meaning: a prop or supports. In selecting this word, Paul means to say these people wield great influence, that is, in support of the church in and around Jerusalem.
I pay close attention to every word in scripture and here I note a series of names with James’ name appearing first. Don’t overlook this detail. It means Peter is no longer leading the twelve apostles in Jerusalem. James has taken over this position. We’ve had hints of this before. Do you remember what Paul said in Galatians 1:19? “But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.” Compare that to Luke’s account in Acts 15:13, “After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, Brethren, listen to me.”
What brought about this change of leadership? Opinions vary. We looked at Peter’s visit to the home of Cornelius, the Roman Centurian, per God’s command last week. He delivered his testimony after his arrival and the entire household was saved. They also received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). But don’t overlook the fact that Peter did not want to go. You see, it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with Gentiles. However this was the point of God’s vision; God was changing His current “Jew only” program. Peter was not to call anything God called clean “unclean” any longer. Peter struggled to understand the meaning of this all his life (2 Peter 3:15-16).
When Peter returned to Jerusalem he was called on the carpet for this unlawful act by his brethren (Acts 11:1-3). He explained in detail why he went and what took place at the home of Cornelius, but the twelve made no change in their ministry to “Jew only,” per this book. And that’s because they received no instructions to do so from God.
The biblical account skips ahead a few years and now were at the reign of Claudius, the first emperor of Rome (41–54 A.D). He persecuted Christians by expelling all of them from Rome. King Herod Agrippa I has the Apostle James, the brother of John beheaded. We are not told why he put him to death, but we are told it “pleases the (non-believing) Jews” (Acts 12:1-19). So, King Agrippa I arrests Peter during the Passover in Jerusalem and tosses him into prison meaning to kill him too.
However, God intervenes miraculously freeing Peter from his prison cell during the night with the help of an angel. He rejoins the Believers who are meeting at the home of the Apostle John Mark. This is when he hands over the leadership of the Jerusalem Church to the more traditional James (the brother of Jesus) saying, “Report these things to James and the brethren. Then he left and went to another place.” This book doesn’t say where the other place was, but I’m certain it was some distance away from the present danger, i.e. from those seeking to put an end to his life. Peter could no longer perform his ministry effectively, so this leadership change was in order, but his work for the Lord wasn’t over.
For instance 10-12 years later we find Peter in Caesarea visiting Cornelius’ home, against his will, but according to God’s will. One of the purposes for his timely visit surfaces many years later, as the pillars of the Jerusalem church, the Judaizers (believing Pharisees), Paul, Barnabas, and others debated over whether the Gentiles should be circumcised and observe the Mosaic Law, in order to be members of the Jerusalem Church, and to be saved (Acts 15). Peter came to Paul’s defense at the Jerusalem Council recalling the events at the home of Cornelius, a Gentile. So it wasn’t just for Cornelius’ and his households’ benefit that Peter traveled to his home that day. God also had Paul and the Body of Christ in mind as well.
Turn with me to Acts 15:12 please. If you’ll recall, last week I asked y’all to remember this verse because we’d be getting back to it because of two words in the text: signs and wonders. Well, here is the reaction of the Jews at the Jerusalem Council after Peter gave them his account of the events at Cornelius’ home on the wonderful day in Caesarea: “All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.”
Why are we here? The reason is right there in the text, and it’s probably the other reason they were persuaded to accept Paul’s apostolic authority and his ministry, for the Jews require a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22a). The LORD God instigated “the sign” program in scripture, predominately in the Old Testament, so that God’s people would believe in His prophets and in His messages. Moses throwing his staff on the floor facing Pharaoh was the first sign. It was done to prove to the LORD God had sent him to free His people. But signs, miracles, and wonders were also performed by the apostles in the N.T. Jesus Christ performed signs, miracles, and wonders to prove who He was to the nation of Israel (Matthew 11:23-24; John 20:30-31).
In Acts 15:13-21 James is clearly one of the apostles (because he fulfilled the requirement of apostleship including being a witnesses of Jesus resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:7) and its leader because both Peter and Paul report to him. He also gives the deciding statement of the Jerusalem Council, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:19).
Gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised – This is a very important statement from Paul, and I dare say most Christians aren’t even aware this passage is in their Bible. This event marks a significant event in church history, and it climaxes Paul’s entire argument. It clearly says the pillars embraced his gospel of justification by faith (alone) apart from works. They shook hands in agreement and parted company as brothers in the Lord.
10: They only asked us to remember the poor – the very thing I also was eager to do.
If you’ve been with us for the past few months, then you know when Paul mentions the poor he’s referring to the impoverished saints in Jerusalem. The Jews who’s “all things common program” failed (Acts 2:44, 4:32); were now poor and “on the breadline,” literally, because their resources ran out. The Lord did not return as quickly as they thought He would (Romans 15:26). Therefore the apostles in Jerusalem were very concerned about their welfare. This is why they encouraged Paul to remember the poor among the Gentile churches, should they have the means to help them financially. Paul was eager to lend a hand, after all God commands it, and Paul had a heart for his countrymen and countrywomen (Proverbs 14:31, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 28:27).
(To be continued)
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