March 1 Lenten Devotional Series- Galatians 2:1-5

Galatians 2:1-5 KJV (NIV link below)

1Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Link to NIV Text

The Jerusalem Council and the Freedom of Christ

Paul, who had been serving as a missionary, returns to Jerusalem. The last time he had come as someone needing to be mentored. Now he comes with a partner in ministry, Barnabas, and someone whom he (Paul) is mentoring: Titus. This is interesting to keep in mind in light of what was discussed yesterday.

Paul is retelling the incident of the Jerusalem Council (which you can read about in Acts). It is important to note that Paul did not come as a lone crusader ready to form the Christian faith as he saw fit (as some commentators of the events in Acts have argued). Instead, he came humbly as part of the church. He had been given a particular revelation to preach the Gospel to gentiles and came to make sure he had not misinterpreted it; especially since the message as Paul preached it meant the loss of almost all of the external indicators of the Judaism from which the Christian faith grew. The central question was: is Christianity a Jewish sect or did Christ start something new and broaden the covenant of God wider than it had ever been before. Paul wanted to be sure he wasn’t working in vain. He needed the broader community of the Church to help him, because he understood that though he had received a divine revelation, he was nevertheless human. Keep this in mind as we read the bible. Yes, it is the revelation of God to us. Nevertheless, we are human and not yet perfected. We need the broader community of the Church to help us confirm our interpretations, to ensure we are not deviating from the truth of the Gospel, or pursuing novelty for the sake of novelty. We need to read the bible in community, not isolation. The Lord’s Supper/Communion signifies this community. In most Baptist traditions, we all take the wafers together. In most liturgical traditions, the bread is taken from a single source. In both instances it is meant to show a picture of unity. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (the British one at least) even includes the line “though we are many, we are one, for we all share in one bread.” And this unified Church, despite those who argued to the contrary, confirmed the gospel of freedom.

Freedom is a major theme in the book of Galatians. It is the substance of the Gospel. It is what Grace means. It means freedom. About a week ago, I posted about how to translate the bible to today’s society. One of the things I said was to use the language you use every day. Perhaps we should understand our salvation in terms of freedom. Of course, it means more than that, but freedom is essential. Grace is, of necessity, free. This means that we needn’t worry about our status. Because we did not save ourselves, we cannot “unsave” ourselves. That is grace. That is the Gospel. That is freedom. And it is not to be compromised.

Join the conversation and add your thoughts, comments, or ask questions you’d like me or other readers to address. Let’s build each other up. If you need help getting started, here are some reflection questions: What does it mean to understand the Gospel as freedom? Do you find it difficult to read the bible in community? What suggestions do you have for doing this?


February 29, Lenten Series- Galatians 1:17-24

Galatians 1:17-24 KJV (NIV link below)

17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24And they glorified God in me.

NIV Link

In Training

(Sorry, this one is slightly longer than the other reflections.)

Although Paul was called and immediately acted upon his calling, that didn’t necessarily mean he assumed his role as a church planter and itinerant pastor right away. Instead, he went to the dessert of Arabia, and then back to Damascus, the church that he first had contact with after his calling. He reflected and studied for three years before going to meet a single apostle. It is interesting to note that Jesus, at least from what we can gather in the Gospels, spent roughly three years with his disciples. The point, however, is not a specific length of time, but that there was a time of training, and of preparation.

Now, I need to be careful at this point. Far too many Christians excuse themselves from doing any sort of service to the church because they “don’t have the training.” That is almost always a lie. You are likely better trained than you think you are. The point isn’t the delay in time, but the purposed and systematic nature that Paul took with this activity. The point is that Paul didn’t start out as the “super hero” apostle we often picture him to be. It took time and intentionality and purpose. The point is no one is born as a perfect disciple of Christ; we are made into disciples of Christ. The great commission doesn’t instruct Christians to save souls and then leave people. It says we are to “make disciples” and to “teach” in addition to “baptizing them.” So let me be clear on this one thing: being a good disciple of Christ, and faithfully following his call on your life is not a natural ability you are born with, nor is it something you immediately receive upon becoming a Christian. As with any plant (such as a vine or the fruit of the spirit), it must be cultivated. This takes time. Even once Paul began his missionary work, he still needed to grow and mature.

Once Paul finished his semi-solitary period of making this new faith his own he went to see Peter. This is particularly telling. You can’t make yourself a disciple in isolation. Paul sought out a mentor, then began to get involved in the larger community. If you don’t have, or have never had, a mentor in the Christian faith,  I encourage you to seek one out as Paul did with Peter/Cephas. These mentoring relationships may be long term or short term, but they are important. The proverbs tell us that “As iron sharpens iron so one man does another.” Typically, you should approach a Christian who is a bit older than you, seems more mature in the Christian faith, and is of the same gender. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind acting as a mentor for you. Come up with a plan. It may be a good idea to have a book or bible study you would want to go through together. Now, for those Christians who have been engaged in the church for some time, especially those who have some sort of formal training (I’m looking at you ordained ministers), be open and receptive to mentoring someone else younger in the faith. You should seek them out as well. Granted there are seasons of our lives where this is not practical, but don’t neglect the practice. Both parties can learn from the mentoring relationship. This brings us to the next phase of Paul’s spiritual journey.

After his time with Peter, Paul went and joined the greater community of Christ more publicly than had been the case at Damascus. It is important for Christians to understand that we are meant for community. We are part of a heavenly kingdom that exists now on this earth in the Church. It was established by Christ and is the continued presence of his eternal kingdom in the face of this present evil age. It is the body of Christ and the army of the Lord. You are not alone, and this community called the Church is comprised of individuals who are your family.

Finally, chapter one ends with the people praising God for what he has done in Paul. I really like the KJV translation of the text here: “they glorified God in me.” Wow! God is in you and it is your mission to let others glorify God even through your accomplishments.

Please leave your thoughts, comments, responses and questions below (Join the conversation). We can be the embodiment of the Church even online and help each other grow in our relationship. If you don’t know what to say, here are some questions to get started: If you currently have or have had a mentor, would you share what impact he or she had on your life? If you have ever mentored anyone, please share how that impacted you as well. Do you ever feel that you aren’t able to do ministry with the Church? Does knowing that it takes work and time make that easier? What are you doing now to better prepare yourself? Are you currently engaged in service anywhere while you are training?

February 28 Lent series reflection: Galatians 1:13-16

Galatians 1:13-16 (KJV), (NIV link below)

13For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

14And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

15But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,

16To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

Link to NIV Text

Call and Response

Paul begins, in this section, to recount his calling by God. He knows that God had set him apart for a task from birth. The thing is, God sets all of us apart for something. For most of his life, though, Paul had not been doing this task for which he had been set apart. In fact he had been actively working against it, persecuting the church and trying to destroy it. Unbeknown to him at the time, this activity, which seemed to work against the purpose of God, was preparation. God waited until the right time and then called Paul forth.

God’s calling is an act of revelation. It was an act within history directed toward Paul. Once it occurred, there could be no doubt in his mind. Paul’s response was immediate. He needed to sort this thing out for himself. This was no one else’s calling, no one else’s faith. This had to be his own faith, he needed to work it out for himself. Now he did eventually go to join the church, and most of his development and work was in the broader community, but this was a personal calling. He could not rely on someone else.

Leave your thoughts below and join the conversation, here are some reflection questions to get started:

Have you experienced a calling on your life from God? Have you responded yet? For Paul, his call to salvation and call to ministry were the same, for others they come at different times. However, Paul was already on a different career path than the ministry he later pursued. Have you considered whether God is calling you to pursue a different path than the one you are on? Instead of thinking this past time spent as wasted, do you think God has been preparing you in unexpected ways? Even if you are in an entirely secular position, how do you think you can demonstrate God’s particular calling on your life in it?

February 27 Lent Devotional Series Galatians 1:10-12

Galatians 1:10-12 KJV (NIV link below)

10For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

11But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Link to NIV text

The Other-Worldly Gospel

Paul, after mentioning a gospel that has grace as its only content, goes on to explain the origins of that gospel. He wants to be very clear, this is not a gospel that is of human origin, nor is it one designed to win the approval of people. Indeed, if you look at Paul’s life, you’d have to be delusional to think he preached the gospel for human praise. Paul was a rising star in the Jewish world, having studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the premier rabbi of his day. He gave all of that up to preach a gospel of grace and become a servant. For Paul, human praise pales in comparison to the approval of his master, God himself, from whom this Gospel comes.

Paul could not have made up a gospel like this. This gospel defies our human logic. According to the gospel of grace, there are no prerequisites for rescue and no one is so far gone that they can elude the reach of God’s arm. There is hope for every living person. God is mighty to save whomever will come. No exceptions. This is a violation of our logic.

The Gospel declares that no one is too far off from grace during his or her life. Just as no human action can save you, no human action can put you beyond God’s reach. Now that is offensive to our sense of justice, that is beyond human reason, that can only come by the revelation of God. Nobody is off limits. However, while this is offensive to some, it is good news to those in the midst of their sin. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are not too far off. God can (and wants to) save you. This cannot be taught or reasoned to, it can only be received as the other-worldly gospel it is. Salvation is not far off, but is near.

Leave your thoughts below and join the conversation. Here are some reflection questions if you need help getting started:

Does knowing that the gospel is available to anyone irrespective of who they are or what they’ve done make it easier to understand/accept or harder (or maybe both)? What do you think of the “out of this world” character of the gospel? Are your daily actions aimed at impressing others or glorifying God?