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Friday, January 22, 2021
Today’s Scripture Reading | Galatians 1:18–2:10
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. But because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. And from those who were supposed to be acknowledged leaders (what they actually were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) —those leaders contributed nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter making him an apostle to the circumcised also worked through me in sending me to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do. (NRSV)
The epistle to the Galatians expresses the good news of the gospel in the memorable formulation “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law” (Galatians 2:16). This insight into the good news was a pillar of the Protestant Reformation, and it produced one of the five “solos” associated with that reformation: “solo fidei” (that is, faith alone). The claim is clear und unapologetic: we are justified by God by faith in Jesus and not by adherence to a religious law.
For those of us raised in the Reformed tradition, it is hard to appreciate the implications of this claim for the believer of the first century, especially if that believer was Jewish. Yet the verses of today’s reading shed some light, as Paul narrates his own journey of faith in this regard. He reminds his readers about his earlier life in Judaism, how he had violently persecuted the church before Jesus was revealed to him on the Damascus road (an episode narrated in Acts 9) to appoint Paul to preach the gospel to Gentiles. The nub of the matter then became Paul’s relationship with Jewish church leaders once he testified to his commissioning experience. There are at least fourteen years in this part of the story, years filled no doubt with passionate disagreement between opposing factions about how to understand Paul’s insistence that the Spirit had sent him to invite pagans to Christian faith. At the time of Galatians’ writing, resolution is still elusive, and Paul’s pretty mad about it (read Galatians 3:1—“You foolish Galatians!”).
That God welcomes those whose habits and values seem to threaten our faith and our way of life is a testament to the far-reaching grace of Jesus. We won’t always see the matter clearly; sometimes we will share Paul’s perspective, but other times we will defend boundaries and norms, like the “circumcision faction” (Galatians 2:12). Yet the same grace that has always reached for humanity, sometimes through law and sometimes beyond it, also enables us to discern together the Spirit’s movement, sometimes even through long years of dispute.
Gracious God, you are reaching for your people today just as you have done in all days. Our hearts overflow with gratitude for your grace in calling and claiming us as your own, apart from anything we have done or might yet do, and we pray that your Spirit might enliven this gratitude in acts of witness to all your children today. Through Christ. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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