In chapter 2 Paul continues arguing from the same premise that His gospel is from Jesus Christ, but acknowledges the gospel’s harmony with those that were eyewitnesses and direct disciples of Christ.
2:1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Galatians 2 is where we’re at this week. Galatians is, in large part, about one simple thing. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what is at stake in the Book of Galatians. That is the central issue that Paul is defending and hammering out. And when I tell you “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” what I mean is this: the story of Jesus as found in the Bible. When I say “gospel,” if I could define it for you as simply as possible, that’s what I’m talking about.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about Jesus being God who has come and died for our sins according to the Scriptures. It’s the story of Jesus as found in the Bible, that we were created in God’s image and likeness. Everything was created for God’s glory. We have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. The wage for sin is death. God told us what would happen if we sinned. We disobeyed him. Death has come into the human equation. God, though, had mercy and compassion on us. He came to us as the Lord Jesus Christ. He lived without sin. He revealed God to us. He died, and upon His death our sins were placed on Him and He was punished in our place, the place of all of His children. He died, death being a form of punishment. He was laid in a tomb. There He laid for three days, and then He rose from death demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is God, the one true God, and that He has conquered our enemies of Satan and sin and death. He gives us this gift of salvation, forgiveness, and cleansing that comes solely by grace. Nothing that we do or merit or earn, it’s just what He gives to us out of His kindness and His love and His mercy. That is the story of the Bible about Jesus.
Jesus has now ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, where He is our high priest, our intercessor, our advocate and King, and He is coming again to judge the living and the dead. That’s the story of the Bible about Jesus.
Now, the problem is, is that that simple message often gets very confused. Jesus knew that it would, and He warned us about it in John 17. In His high priestly prayer, He warns us against two pitfalls, one being syncretism, where we take the Gospel and we mangle it up with culture and human opinions and philosophies; the other being sectarianism, where we keep the Gospel pure, but we’re so afraid of having it polluted that we don’t even talk to people who aren’t Christians and we don’t involve ourselves in the world that we live in. So Jesus prayed that we would not be taken out of the world – sectarianism – but that we also would be protected from the evil one, syncretism.
The problem is, is that syncretism leads to unfaithfulness, and that sectarianism leads to complete irrelevance. God doesn’t want for us to irrelevant or to be absolutely compromised. He wants us to be in this world, faithful and committed to him, guided by the Gospel, seeking to tell as many people as we have opportunity to about Jesus Christ, our great God and King, and what He’s done for us, and how His love has utterly transformed us. And to do that Jesus told us before He ascended into heaven in Acts 1 that we would absolutely need the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Not to get caught in culture or tradition or into human philosophies. To navigate through those things and to stay true to the Scriptures and to stay true to Jesus, we would need the Holy Spirit’s ministry of discernment and conviction and leading and guiding and teaching us. And so the spirit of God has been sent out into the world and God has sent us out into the world as His people, with the Holy Spirit in His children, to lead us and to guide us through this world.
Now, this is important because the issue we’re dealing with in the Book of Galatians is a confusion about these things. I’ve put together a very simple graphic. I am not a tech guy. If you’ve been around Mars Hill for any amount of time you have seen this. This is the basic philosophical structure that guides our entire church. Okay? And that is this: that the Gospel is the most important thing in the whole world. It says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the Gospel is of “first importance”. The story about Jesus as found in the Bible is more dear to us and of higher priority to us than absolutely anything else.
But that, that Gospel exists in human cultures, different nations and races and tribes and languages and people groups all over the world, that this Gospel has to go forth and to be spoken in such a way that people in different parts of the world or people in different cultural expressions can hear about Jesus in a way that they understand. What happens then is that God saves people. They become Christians and they gather together into a community that the New Testament calls, “the church.”
What happens then is that the church must continually go back to the Gospel. Otherwise, what can happen is the culture and/or the church become at the top of that pyramid, and they become more important than Jesus. And it happens all the time. The issue in Galatia is that Paul is arguing for the absolute authority of the one true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and there are false teachers who are saying, “No, no, nope. The most important thing is also our culture.” And they’re trying to push their culture up to the top of that triangle saying, “Well, Jesus plus the way that we do things in our cultural form.” And in that they’re advocating a form of works. Jesus plus things that we do.
This will all make sense as we go through the rest of the book. I want you to begin with me in Chapter 2 verse 1. They’re challenging Paul. They’re saying that Paul does not speak from revelation from God, that he’s not preaching the true Gospel. He has this polemic argument against his detractors. And what Paul has told us is that he was converted by Jesus Christ, come down and knocked him on his rear and blinded him, and utterly transformed him, and that was the hinge point in his whole existence. After that he was taken off and he spent a couple years in Damascus and Arabia, possibly being trained by Jesus himself, and that then he went and met Peter for 15 days (he told us in Galatians 1), not to be trained, but to develop friendship. He’d already been trained by Jesus. Then he worked for 14 years preaching and teaching and leading, and now he’s coming back to defend himself after 17 or 18 years of fruitful ministry against his false teachers.
So he says, Chapter 2:1, “Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation” – he doesn’t explain what that is, just tells us that it was a fact – “and set before them the Gospel 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.” Here is Paul saying. “I’ve been preaching and teaching about Jesus to all these different nations and languages and cultures. Now there’s a huge controversy about my teaching. Is it in agreement with Scriptures? Is this, in fact, the truth of God as revealed in Christ? There are questions about this issue.” And what I love about Paul, Paul does not submit the truth to the – to, rather the authority of others. He won’t change his Gospel. He’s already told that in Romans 1, that the Gospel comes from Jesus. It’s the revelation of Jesus from Jesus. It exists to God’s glory, not to man’s glory. It’s not passed on through human teachers as if men made this story up, but it comes directly from God, and that if we preach another Gospel we go to hell, so you shouldn’t play with the thing. It’s been very clear.
So he’s not willing to submit the truth of the Gospel of Christ to anyone. But he is willing to submit himself. He’s very humble in that regard. Some people are arrogant. They won’t allow their teaching or themselves to be under authority. Other people are very weak and they’ll submit their teaching and themselves to other people and they’re willing to change their teaching in order to maintain peace and friendships. Paul says, “I will submit myself, but I won’t submit the truth.” And he distinguishes between those two.
So he says that he goes up to Jerusalem where the leaders are of the early church, including Peter, and he tells them, “Here’s the Gospel that I preach to the Gentiles. Here’s what I’m teaching. Check me out. I know it’s in agreement with the Scriptures. I know it’s in agreement with Jesus. This should settle any controversy about my instruction. This is what I teach.” And I love that humility of Paul. If you think about it, if there was ever anyone who had a great argument for being unteachable and unsubmissive and unyielding, it’d be Paul: “And Jesus came down from heaven just for me and saved me, and said, ‘You’re gonna be an apostle now.’ He made me an apostle, not just a pastor. Then he came down, discipled me in Damascus and Arabia and I speak for him, so, you know, that’s just tough. You’re gonna have to live with it. That’s the way it is.”
Paul said, “No, no. I went to those who love the Lord. Perchance I’ve been running my race in vain. Perchance I have become astray. Perchance I had somehow lost the good news of the Gospel of Christ and was preaching something else. Didn’t think I was. Didn’t seem that I was. But I’ll go meet with good Godly pastors and I will ask them, just in case.” Ultimate humility on Paul’s behalf. He is strong and bold and courageous. He is also very humble and he’s very submissive to authority and he has respect for those that God also honors and works through. I love that about Paul’s integrity.
And as he goes, he brings someone with him. Verse 3, “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was Greek.” Okay, we read this and we go, “Circumcision? What’s the big deal?” It is a big deal to these people. The reason it’s not a big deal to us is because Paul won the argument. Had Paul lost the argument it would still be a very big deal to us.
But we’re talking about culture. Circumcision was a part of the traditional Hebrew Jewish culture. In the Old Testament, men would all need to be circumcised if they wanted to be part of that covenant people of God and to attend synagogue. So, if you were circumcised as an infant you were shown to be part of the nation. If you came to faith later, in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you have to be circumcised as well to be included in that people. It was an outward sign of what God was going to do inwardly, which was circumcision of the heart. It started with Abraham as an old man circumcising himself and his entire household of maybe 300+ men. It continued historically all the way up to the time of Jesus.
And what these guys were arguing is, “You can’t be a real Christian unless you’re also circumcised. You need Jesus plus our culture.” It’s like people today who say, “Well, to be a Christian you need Jesus plus speaking in tongues,” or “Jesus plus being baptized,” or “Jesus plus a magic prayer,” or “Jesus plus some experience,” or “Jesus plus something else.” Paul says, “No. You just need Jesus. That’s all you need is Jesus dying for your sins, and you trusting him. That’s all you need.” And what these legalists have done, they’ve elevated culture up to the point of the Gospel, and they’re now doubting the sincerity of other Christians who have not been circumcised.
Now, if we had to be circumcised in the Old Testament, why do we not need to be circumcised today? Because of Jesus. Matthew 5 tells us that Jesus fulfilled all of the Old Testament. So we don’t need to be circumcised. We don’t need to sacrifice animals at the temple. We don’t need to take our animals for sacrifice to the priest. We have Jesus. He’s our priest. We have Jesus. He’s our temple. We have Jesus. He is all that we need. We need Jesus. And we have Jesus. So now what we don’t need is all of the laws of Moses. What we need now is Jesus, and Jesus has fulfilled all the laws of Moses. Jesus didn’t abolish the Scripture. He didn’t contradict the scripture. He fulfilled every jot and tittle, every word of the scriptures. He fulfilled it, perfectly.
So when Paul says Jesus was dead, buried, and raised according to the Scriptures, that’s what he’s talking about. Just as the Bible had promised through the prophets in the Old Testament.
Now you start to think about this as well. We don’t need rules and regulations for salvation. We need Jesus. That’s all we need. And these legalists have made an amazing rule. I’ll tell you the one thing about legalism, I don’t know if you caught this. I was thinking about it as I was reading the text this week. How do you check this? Have you ever thought about the practical implications of this? This is what legalism does. Legalism makes rules that aren’t in the Bible, and they’re impossible to enforce, so you end up setting up really bizarre modes of checking.
And again, when you start making rules that are outside of the Bible and you start enforcing them, you have to start to do bizarre things. There was someone in this church that’s recently come to Christ out of a cult. And the cult told them, “To be a member of our cult, you have to share your faith.” People weren’t doing it. “Okay, you gotta share your faith so many nights a week with so many people, and you need to write down their names and their addresses, and then someone is going to go check and make sure that you actually went and knocked on those doors.” It’s like, “Wow!” Can you imagine even going to the door? “Would you like to join me and do what I do?” “Well of course not! It’s not very appealing. This isn’t a great pitch here you got for me.” It’s “My life stinks. Would you like to join our movement?” No. No. That’s totally fine.
That’s where it always goes. Legalism makes dumb rules that aren’t in the Bible. They sound holy and pious and good, but then when you go to enforce them they become really absurd. So he uses this argument of Titus because what they’re saying is, “All good Christians are circumcised. If you’re not circumcised you’re not a Christian.” So he brings Titus up for this argument, for this debate to defend himself against these false teachers. “Was Titus circumcised?” He says, “No. No. Titus wasn’t.” “Is Titus a good Christian?” “Yes.” He has a book of the Bible named after him. Okay? Just a general rule – if you get a book in the Bible named after you, odds are you’re a Christian. Okay? Titus is a Christian. He loves Jesus. Jesus died for his sins. He loves the Lord. He’s a pastor. He’s preaching, teaching, leading fruitful ministry. Everybody knows Titus is a Christian. Paul brings Titus along for this argument with these legalists who are saying, “There are no real Christians who aren’t circumcised.” And the obvious question is gonna be, “Are you saying that Titus isn’t saved? Is that what you’re saying?”
Because, see, what legalists do, and what these people are doing, they’re making all kinds of interesting, speculative arguments. Paul really lands the plane and says, “Let’s just talk about this practically. Here’s Titus, our pastor buddy who loves the Lord. Are we gonna tell him that he’s going to hell because he hasn’t been circumcised yet, but as soon as he gets circumcised then he gets a magic key to heaven? Is that what we’re saying? Are we saying that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t enough, and when Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ that he didn’t really mean that?” And see, that’s the greatest argument that Paul could have. It’d be like someone saying, “Well, you’re not a Christian unless you’re baptized.” Well, let’s just bring someone who came to Christ last week and hasn’t been baptized and let’s ask that person. Are you saying this isn’t your brother or sister in Christ? Are you saying that God doesn’t love and forgive them? Some say you’re not a Christian unless you speak in tongues. Well, let’s bring someone along who doesn’t speak in tongues but really does love Jesus and is fruitful in their ministry, and let’s ask, “Are they a Christian or not?” Let’s make the honest hard call here. It’s not a hard call. The issue is, “Yeah, well they’re saved ‘cause of Jesus, not ‘cause of them.”
And that’s what Paul’s arguing with Barnabas – excuse me – with Titus. Now, there was another young man that Paul also worked with who was like Titus. And Titus, really, too, must have loved Paul. Can you imagine – “Okay, here’s the deal Titus. They think I’m preaching a false Gospel. It’s all about circumcision. So here’s the deal. You go show ‘em that you’re not circumcised and that you’re a really good Christian. Come on, let’s go, Titus. Help me out.” There’s, I mean, isn’t there something else we could do? Write a letter? Do we have to go? “Gotta go!” “All right, Paul, I love you. I’ll show ‘em I’m not circumcised and I’ll tell ‘em about Jesus. This seems kinda weird, but all right, if that’s what we gotta do.”
Now, there’s another guy who was circumcised that Paul worked with, a young man named Timothy. Okay? Timothy was like Titus. Paul loves ‘em both, writes letters to ‘em both, trains ‘em both for ministry. They’re very helpful to him. They’re good pastors who preach and teach and lead biblically. They’re great. The question is, “Well, Titus doesn’t get circumcised. Timothy does. Well, which one’s right?” They both are. They both are.
Titus was working primarily to non-Jews. Timothy was working in large part to Jews. Does it matter a lot to Jews whether or not you’re circumcised, even to this very day? It does. You couldn’t get into a synagogue unless you were circumcised. So if Timothy wants to go into a synagogue and tell people about Jesus, he would need to be circumcised. So what did he do? He got circumcised.
In the same way, if I got invited to a Jewish temple or a synagogue today to talk about Jesus and Christianity and they said, “Well, to do it you have to wear a yarmulke.” Would I wear a yarmulke? Sure I would, what do I care? To me, that’s just culture. I look good in a yarmulke. I look great! But when I get there what am I gonna talk about? Jesus. I’m there for one reason. Let’s talk about Jesus as revealed in the Bible. If I need a yarmulke, fine. Put a yarmulke on me. What do I care?
The issue is you do whatever you need to do without sinning to get an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus. And if you’re gonna trip over their cultural functions, just lay those down and do what you gotta do to love them and talk to them. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “I became all things to all men so that by all means I can win as many as possible.” He’s not saying, “To the alcoholics I started drinking really heavily so that I could relate to them.” Okay, he’s not talking about sinning. But what he is talking about is, “Well, if you do things that way, I’ll do things the way you do them so that I get a chance to talk to you about Jesus.”
I had an opportunity to do this this last year. I went to Visakhapatnam in East India. There’s a good buddy there, Arjuna. I’m gonna see him this week. He’s played in 84 churches, orphanage, Bible college, seminary, amazing man. Just amazing guy and loves the Lord. And he’s a Hindu convert. He’s an East Indian national. And I went there to teach and went to one of their rural village churches where they have never had a Christian pastor, and they bring me up to teach, and everybody’s sitting on the floor. It’s a simple, little, sort-of hut structure and to preach there you need to sit ascended master style on the platform on the ground with your legs crossed. Okay? Now, theologically, do I care? I do care practically because I don’t bend well, right? I mean, you look at me, “That guy’s, he’s not gonna make it! If he does that he’s never gonna get out. He’s stuck.” I’m not the most flexible man. Sometimes I can tie my shoes and stuff. See, my shoes don’t even have laces. There’s a reason for that. I am not the most flexible man.
So I’m looking at this. I have no theological problem with this. I may have a practical issue sitting cross-legged for an hour and a half. But there, that’s how their teachers teach, is by sitting down cross-legged. So, when I got up to teach, I thought, “This is different. They’re using different instruments, different music, different clothing, different dress, different food, different culture, different land, different nation, different people. I get up, I got a translator because I’m a white guy and I start talking about Jesus. The translator translates, the people start crying, clapping, praising the Lord, shouting, they’re really excited, they love Jesus. They love Jesus.
Now how sick would it be, for me, to tell them, “Well, if you’re good Christians, you’ll now change your culture. You’ll look like I do, be a pasty white guy. And you’ll do things the way that my church does them.” No.
When Titus goes out to non-Jewish people, he functions in that world. When Timothy goes out to Jewish people, he functions in that world and the culture is secondary. The issue that’s primary? Do we get to talk about Jesus. Do we get to talk about Jesus so that these people can hear what Jesus has done, because that’s what we want to talk about.
And so Paul is arguing from this issue of Titus, “It doesn’t matter. Circumcision, non-circumcision, hymns, no hymns, robes, no robes, liturgies, no liturgies, communion in a little wafer, communion in a big loaf, drums, no drums, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And as it goes in to different cultures it’ll look different. Not the Gospel, but the forms.” Okay? We’ll keep going with Paul’s argument.
“This matter arose because some false brothers have infiltrated our ranks,” I’ll just stop there. You know where these dumb issues come up in church? It’s not from people in the church. It’s from people outside of the church bringing them in. The people in Galatia didn’t fight about this stuff: circumcision, non-circumcision. “I’ll split the room in half, we’ll just go to war over it.” You ever seen a church go to war and split over things that aren’t even in the Bible? Don’t have anything to do with the Gospel? They’re just culture, like music or form or whatever it might be. He says, “Other guys came in and they brought their agenda and they’ve just wreaked havoc in our church. This wasn’t a problem previous to that.”
He says, “This matter arose because some false brothers – ” Are these real Christians? No. These are people who have an agenda. Their commitment isn’t to Jesus. Their commitment is to something else and they’re using Jesus as a means to that ends. Jesus is secondary to them. What’s primary is their culture. Okay?
Some people say, “Oh, I knew this Christian. He did this or that or the other thing,” or “Christians are all this or that.” And you know what? Maybe not. But maybe so. Maybe those people aren’t Christians. I’m not God, I don’t know. But at the same time, just because you say you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you’re a Christian, right? We gotta see. We gotta see if you love the Lord. Who knows? Just ‘cause you say you are doesn’t mean you are. Did you guys know I’m a basketball player? Well I’m not. And if you ever got to go out and hang out with me you would realize that that’s an obvious fact. But, maybe I could convince you if I threw a lot of slang around. “Oh, I gotta crossover dribble.” I don’t. But just ‘cause I use the language, maybe I could fool somebody. That’s what’s going on with these guys. I have no jump-shot; they have no Jesus. That’s the issue.
These guys are not Christians. They’re false. They’re pretending to be. Satan masquerades as a what? Angel of light. It’s masquerading, pretending. I’m not saying that everyone who struggles or is legalistic is not a Christian. But some people are. They have agendas other than Christ. These matters arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ. And to make us slaves. Slaves to them.
Okay, what these are – these are people who annoy the rest of us. Have you ever met someone who doesn’t really go to a church, but they feel like it’s their job to visit all the churches and tell everybody how they’re supposed to be? These guys are awesome. We had one of these guys recently. I know he’s not here because I told him never to come back, but I go down to get a drink of water between one of the morning services and the guy corners me. He says, “Are you the pastor?” And I could just see it coming. He just had that look, there’s something like that glossed-over baby eyes or something. I said, “Yeah, I’m the pastor.” He says, “Well, I just want to ask you a question.” And I was like, “Oh, great. What?”
He pulls out a sheet of paper with bunch of questions on it. I’m like, “Do I have to take a test? I’ve got like five services today and I would just like to, you know, drink water, if that’s cool. Is that in the Bible? Can I drink water?” I say, “What are your questions?” He says, “My first question, do you take communion every week or once a month?” Oh, man. “We take it every week.” “Now, when you take it, do they sit down or come forward?” I said, “They come forward.” “Do they use a little wafer or take a chunk off a big loaf?” I was like, “Oh, come on! They take a chunk off a big loaf.” “Do they use wine or grape juice?” I said, “We have both.” I felt like crying. I’m like, “What now?” He says, “Well, do you drink it out of the cup or do you dip it?” I’m like, “What does this have to do with anything? Where are we going?” He says, “Well, I just want to make sure you do it right.” I was like, “Right? Right is realizing Jesus died for your sins and you love him so you take – right? Right is who you do it for. That’s what’s right. What are you talking about?” I said, “What else you got?” He says, “Well, I got other questions.” And I’m like, “I’m sure you do.”
“Do you use drums?” And I said, “I don’t personally use drums. I have no rhythm. But some people, yeah. They play the drums in this church.” And he’s like, “Oh, okay.” And he’s, sort of, got this little list. It’s like I’m a car in for an inspection, and he goes on through all of his questions, and at the end I said, “Look,” I said, “What church do you go to?” He says, “Well, I haven’t found a church yet that I think is Biblical, but I’m looking for one.” I said, “How long have you been looking?” He says, “About ten years.” I said, “Do you think maybe you’re a cult leader that’s just not very popular? I mean, if you’ve been looking for a church for ten years and you can’t find one, I’m telling you you’re a freak. That’s what I’m telling you. You’re just, there’s just something amiss in you.”
And I said, “You know what? The problem with guys like you is they say, ‘I’m holy, therefore everyone should look like me if they want to be holy.’” And I said, “The problem is, I don’t think that we’re called to be imitators of you. I think we’re called to be imitators of God.” And I said, “Have you even been to our church?” And he said, “No, I haven’t been yet. I’m gonna go to the service upstairs in a minute.” I said, “No, you’re not. No, you’re not.” I said, “That clipboard you have in your hand – honestly – did you come here to take notes because you have a list of things that you’re critical about and you want to make notes and then schedule a meeting with me or one of the pastors and tell us how we should do everything so we can all be like you – honestly – is that why you’re here?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Then go right now.” Because there’s over a thousand people here and many of these people love Jesus, and if what you’re telling me is that now we should just sort of put you on a throne somewhere and everyone comes before you for investigation, who are you? And what are you doing? And when did it become about you and not about Jesus? You’re a false brother here to spy on our freedom in Christ. Just sit here to judge us. If you want to love the Lord, you want to worship the Lord, you want to open the Bible, you want to talk, you want to grow in Christ, good to have you. But if you want to come in here and declare war and pick a fight, no time for it. Because we’re not going to get off the Gospel of Jesus.
That’s what Paul tells us. What do you do with these guys? Verse 5, “We do not give into them for a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you.” See, we didn’t even start with these guys. If you start with these guys, how long will it go?
Forever. ‘Cause as soon as you’re done with music, then it’s mode of baptism. Once you’re done with mode of baptism, then it’s communion. Once you’re done with communion, then it’s the color of the carpet. Once you’re done with the color of the carpet, it’s the style of the music. Once you’re done with the style – I mean it just goes. These people are not about Christ. They’re about control. And they’re not about freedom. They’re about making people slaves to their own rules and agendas.
And Paul says, “We didn’t even give in to these guys. We didn’t even get started. We didn’t even begin the argument. We didn’t even start because, if we start with them, we will get sucked away from the good work of the Gospel. We’ll get tied down in all this other stuff and we’ll – the truth of the Gospel won’t remain. We’ll get off track.”
It happens, though, right? Can it happen to us? Because each of us has this propensity to take cultural issues or church forums and say, “These are things that I’m passionate about, even though they’re not in the Bible,” or “This is the way I think church should be done,” and then fighting over that rather than rejoicing over Jesus. Okay?
It happens all the time. I’ll give you an example. I had a guy come in this week. He’s a pastor from out of state. Good pastor, good guy. He’s gotta church of 4,000 people. I learned some things just visiting with him. He was very helpful. He loves the Lord. We’re sitting there talking, and he asks me, he says, “What is your position on smoking?” Give you an example. Okay?
I said, “Do you want my personal opinion, or do you want the Bible?” He said, “Well, what’s your personal opinion?” I said, “I’m asthmatic. I don’t like cigarettes or cats. I don’t like to smoke cats. I don’t like cats who smoke. I don’t like cigarettes or cats in any combination or form. I don’t. Okay?” True story. And he says, “Well, what’s the Bible?” I said, “Cats aren’t in the Bible, and neither are cigarettes, so I can’t outlaw either of them, though I would like to.” Okay? I would like to get rid of cigarettes, cats, and Country Western music. If I had three wishes, that’s what I’d do. No more cats. No more cigarettes. No more Country Western music. Okay? That’s what I would ask for. But you know what? It’s not in the Bible.
So, do I have the right to make rules about things that aren’t in the Bible? I don’t. Now, I would like to. I would like to be God and set myself on a throne and make judgments about everyone else, especially country-western chain-smoking cat owners, especially. Okay? But, because my name isn’t Jesus, I can’t do that. I don’t have that kind of authority or right. So, I said, “Well, here’s the deal. It’s not a sin; it’s an issue of conscience.” He said, “Well, what about people who say that your body’s a temple and the Holy Spirit, and you gotta take good care of the temple?” I said, “Well, that’s a good argument, but usually those people also drink a lot of caffeine and they eat Twinkies and, you know. Half their food comes out of a clown that comes through the window of their car. There’s other issues with the temple. So they have to – if they’re gonna be consistent, they gotta talk about the whole thing.” And I said, “Well, why do you ask?” And he said, “Well, ‘cause I wanna go have a cigarette.” Okay?
See, comedy’s all about timing, you notice that? It’s about timing. He said, “Well, I wanna go have a cigarette.” “Okay, fine! Go have a cigarette!” Whatever. “And pet a cat.” What do I care? You know? Because in the Bible, there are principles, okay? Those principles are universal and binding. They are for us all. Love your neighbors, serve the Lord, use your spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ. Give sacrificially, cheerfully, generously, read the Scriptures, pray, principles. Methods vary according to cultures and churches. They just do. So people read their Bible in the morning, some in the evening. Some churches preach through a book at a time, some preach topically. Some churches have long-winded pastors like me, some have short-winded pastors. Okay?
Those methods vary from church to church and from culture to culture. What legalists like to do is make the principles and the methods binding. Not only, “Love your neighbor,” but “Love ‘em like this.” Not only “Read your Bible,” but “Read it at 6:00 am for a half hour in the King James, or else.” Liberals tend to take the principles and the methods and chuck ‘em. “Well, the principles aren’t binding, neither are the methods.” Biblical Christianity says the principles are binding, and the methods are flexible. So we need to obey all of the Bible, but we need to find out a way to do it faithfully in the time and the place that God has put us, right?
And this issue of culture, it makes sense when you go overseas. You say, “Well, yeah. We’re not gonna do a church just like this in East India, or in Kenya, or in Haiti, or Mexico or Brazil, because that’s a different place.” But let me ask you this: Is Redmond a different place? Yeah. It is. It’s a different culture, completely different culture. You say, “But it’s not that far.” But it is a different culture. So the churches here and the churches there will have the same principles, different methods. They will love and serve the same Gospel of Jesus Christ, but they’ll do things in some different ways.
I’ll give you an extreme example. In Seattle, we have Capitol Hill and Queen Anne Hill. Okay? These are two hills, in the city, close to each other, looking at each other, on the top of each hill people live. Okay? Now, are those different cultures on the top of those two hills? Yeah, they’re different, right? It’s a totally different culture, right? Totally different culture. So we have to be sensitive to the time and the place that we are. That would include such things as humor and musical style and dress, those sorts of issues.
Okay, now I’ll ask you this. I’ve got a buddy up on Queen Anne. His name is Bill. He’s an Assemblies of God pastor, wonderful guy. Loves the Lord. Preaches the Jesus of the Bible. He’s a really great guy. Loves the Lord. Just started a church up there on Easter. He’s off and going. Had another buddy, Tommy, who’s got a Presbyterian church over on Capitol Hill, going well, also. Tommy’s a good man, preaches the Gospel of Christ as found in the Bible. Both of these men, brothers in Christ, preaching the Jesus of the Bible, committed to the Gospel, their churches will look different because they’re on those two different hills and those two different hills are really different. What that means is as people become Christians in those places they will help shape the forms of the church and so it will look a lot like those people. Is that okay?
It’s beautiful. It’s great. What it means is is that Christianity is not a culture and Christianity is not just a particular church. Christianity is a living God working through his children, giving them principles and guidance and teaching and freedom at the same time. That’s the beauty of it. We live by grace and the Holy Spirit and there’s a lot of freedom there, and a lot of joy.
Paul talks about these kinds of people who run around judging us, judging other people, going from church to church just feeling like they’re the professional referees. He says in Verse 6, “As for those who seem to be important, whatever they were makes no difference to me.” Some people seem important, they’re not. Don’t listen to everybody who makes demands. Don’t listen to everyone who yells. Don’t listen to everyone who comes in with their agenda. Just because they seem important doesn’t mean they are. You go to a baseball game and there’s a guy up in left field screaming out balls and strikes. Do you think either team pays attention? They don’t care. Guy says, “That was outside!” Look. You’re not the umpire. You may seem to be important, at least to yourself. But to the rest of us you’re a guy who couldn’t afford a decent seat.
God does not judge by what? External appearances. He said, “Those men added nothing to my message.” We’ll see next week they did add something to Peter’s message. Peter caved into them and Paul had to rebuke him to his face. If you change your message to fit legalistic people that are making demands on you, if you change your gospel to accommodate other agendas and movements and –isms, that’s a problem.
But God doesn’t judge by external appearances because Christianity is not a culture. Christianity is Jesus Christ dead, buried and raised for our sins. If Christianity were a culture we could come up with a uniform. Some churches have a uniform, right? Gal’s got the doily, or her hair’s in a bun, right? Is it bad? No. It might look cute, I don’t know. Some guy wears a leisure suit that’s really out of touch. You say, “Well, they’re Christians, look at ‘em. It looks like the ‘50s.”
Could we become the absolute other church, making our own sort of external appearances and judgments? “What? You wear pastels? Are you sure you’re saved? Because Christians wear black, at least one part of their outfit has to be black. All the Christians I know wear dark colors. You don’t have any tattoos? Are you a legalist? You don’t play guitar? I don’t know. Maybe you’re saved, maybe you’re not, but I’m telling you, man, if you want to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, learn how to play an instrument, because all good Christians have at one point or another played in a rock band, at least at my church.” We could become the other guys, making a uniform. Making an external appearance. “You don’t drink? Are you sure you’re Christian? Jesus drank, wicked man that you are. Why are you not drinking?” We could become the totally other team. We could become like the punk-rock, Guiness, chain-smoking legalists! Right?
But the goal is stick to Jesus. And don’t judge by external appearances. Right? The other day when the guy’s out in front of our church smoking a cigarette, I’m sure there would have been people driving by saying, “That’s good, that’s a good place for him. He needs Jesus. He needs to get saved.” He’d be like, “Saved? I’m a pastor of a church of 4,000. I’ve written a stack of books this high. I’m the head of my own Bible College, praise the Lord. I’m free in Christ.” You can’t just judge by external appearances. Okay?
Can someone – if you do say that Christianity is a culture and you make it into external appearances, can someone put on the uniform and still not love Jesus. That happens all the time. You can’t just judge someone. You have to get to know them and say, “Well, are they a Christian or not? Let’s talk to them. Let’s see if they love Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. Let’s see if he’s working in their life and His Gospel is demonstrating its power and we’re seeing transformation and commitment to Christ.”
He says, on the contrary, here’s what he says, verse 7, “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, for 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.” It’s great, isn’t it? He says, “You know what? Jews need Jesus and non-Jews need Jesus. So God sent Peter to the Jews, he also did work among the Gentiles. Cornelius was converted through his preaching in Acts 10, as well as his household. And Paul says, “You know what? The non-Jews need Jesus, too, so God sent me out to the non-Jews.” And Paul was also preaching to the Jews, he preached in the synagogues. He says in Romans 1 that he was obligated to everyone.
“But Peter’s focusing a lot of time going after Jewish people, and I’m focusing a lot of time going after non-Jewish people.” And Paul says that God was at work where? In both. God was at work in both. God was blessing Peter and Jewish people were falling in love with Jesus, and God was blessing Paul’s work and non-Jews were falling in love with Jesus. The issue isn’t do you start out as a Jew or a Gentile? The issue is do you end up loving Jesus? That’s the issue. And they’re both seeking to pull people toward the Jesus of the Bible to have their sins forgiven and live in right relationship of joy and freedom and grace with God the Father through God the Son by the work of God the Holy Spirit. That’s what they’re all about.
And it’s beautiful. What I hear all the time from people is, “Christianity is nothing but a fragmented religion. They can’t agree on anything.” That is not true. “Well, look. Some people meet in the morning, some in the evening. Some meet on Saturday, some meet on Sunday. Some do communion every week, some do it once a month. Some people preach out of this translation, some preach out of that translation. Some sing just out of the Psalms, some sing out of the hymnal, some make up their own songs, some sing contemporary worship. Some guys wear suits, some just wear ties, some don’t wear suits or ties, some wear robes. Oh, they have nothing in common. They can’t agree on anything.” But if you ask all the children of God, “Is Jesus God who died for your sins, according to the scriptures,” would we all raise our hand? We agree. We absolutely agree. There’s no controversy on that at all. We are unified. It’s not in our culture, and it’s not in the way we do church. It’s in what? Jesus’ work. It’s in Jesus that we’re unified.
And to me, that’s the beauty of it. We don’t all need to be the same. We just need to preach the same gospel and love the same Jesus. Dead, buried and raised for the sins of all of His kids. It’s like a parent gets three left-handed kids and one right-handed kid and says, “Where did I go wrong?” What the – ? That’s still your kid. Just ‘cause they’re different doesn’t mean they’re wicked. Now sometimes different is because of sin, but sometimes difference is just style. That’s all.
So the way we do things will be different, but the principles never change or vary. And Paul says, “God’s at work in both of those.”
Okay, we’ve been privileged to help start two churches in Portland. We didn’t start ‘em, God did. One on Kirkland, one in Mt. Vernon. We’re hoping toward one in West Seattle, a service in the U-District, one in South Seattle. If you go to those services what you should see is the same principles. Jesus of the Bible. And different methods. It should look different, and it should fit the people that are coming to Christ. And the same thing should happen in churches that are in different parts of the region, different parts of the country, and different parts of the world.
Is that something we should fight over, or rejoice in? We should just rejoice. That’s beautiful. Look at that. God loves those people and He enables them to sing to Him in their own language that He gave them. God loves those people, and He has given them the freedom to love and serve and worship Him in a way that fits who He has made them to be. That’s beautiful.
God is not just running around photocopying one type of person, but He is sending the good news of Christ out into all nations of the earth, so that all can love and obey Him. That’s beautiful. And if at any point we say, “Well, there’s only one culture that’s acceptable, that we judge by external appearances or there’s only one way to do church and it’s this way.” What we have done is we have said that the issue is no longer Jesus and his finished work, it’s us and how we prefer things to be.
Let me ask you this: Is it also possible for us to end up like the Judaizers in Galatia because all of a sudden our church is going well, we like what we have, and we don’t want it to change. We don’t want other cultures to come in and change the way we do things. Or maybe the greater culture changes and we are unwilling to adjust the way that we do church because this is the way we do it. Today, people are arguing, “We should not get rid of the organ.” Do you think in a hundred years people will be arguing, “We can’t get rid of the electric guitar. That’s tradition”?
Because see, the hymnals started out – excuse me, the organ started out where? It started out in a bar. It started out in the pub. It started out singing anthems of drunkards. So they thought, “Well, people seem to like that, and they do make good jingles off it, so let’s put it in the church and see if we can pick up the pace in this dump.” And it worked pretty well. And present day rock music is nothing but an adaptation of what was initially the organ. At first everyone was against the organ because it was secular. It was heathen. Ozzy played one, right? It’s awful. Oh, my word! And now it’s sacred. And what happens is things that are in culture are considered profane and common, and then they get brought into the church and then we baptize them and say, “Oh, now they’re holy. Can’t get rid of ‘em.”
What could happen at Mars Hill is this. In a few years, things keep trucking. The culture in Seattle changes. It’s changing all the time. Should we be willing to change not our principles, but our methods in order to continually hit the city with the goodness of Jesus as best as we can? We should. What that means is, things in this church will always, always, always, change. If you’ve been here for more than a year, you know that it’s always changing. It’s really different all the time. Now, the principles are the same and the gospel is the same, but the way we do things is different. All the time.
Some of you are a little concerned moving into this new building, “Oh, the church is gonna change. We’re not gonna be in this little room.” It will change, and that’s good. We want things to change, not just for the sake of change, but for the sake of, “Well, circumcision, non-circumcision, big building, little building, rock music, no rock music, Sunday night, Sunday morning, what do we care? Let’s just make sure that the gospel moves as freely as it can through the city to hit as many people as it possibly can.” That’s what we care about.
Let me ask you this: Do we do things at this church that I don’t even like? Of course we do. Do you know we have an outdoor ministry where people exercise? That wasn’t my idea. Do you know we have concerts that we run to people that are specifically hard-core straight-edge vegetarians? Look at me. Do you think I thought of that? Do you think I ever thought of anything vegetarian? No. No. I have never thought of exercise or vegetarianism. But, vegetarians, and people who are physically fit are coming to Jesus, so I’m really excited. But people come to me and say, “Well, that was a great idea for the outdoor ministry. How did you think of that?” I didn’t. I’m more into indoor ministry, right? I like to read and nap, watch baseball. I’m really committed to indoor ministry.
“Well, how about the vegan straight-edge hard core? How did you, how’d you – ” I didn’t think of that. Somebody else did. They love Jesus, wanted to have a place for their friends to come to hear about Jesus, and they put it together. It’s great, it’s beautiful, ‘cause the issue is Jesus. It’s great.
Will we continue to do things as a church that you don’t even like? We should. You know, many of you are young, and as we get older, you should, eventually, you should get to the point where you hate the music. You should. If you go, “Man, the music here stinks!” – I’m not saying just awful, I’ve seen that, where it’s “Make a joyful noise.” And you’ve got about half of that right. I’m not talking about that. – What I’m talking about is – let’s say in a few years a bunch of 18-year-olds or 16-year-olds or 14-year-olds come to Christ, and they want to write music and they want to use whatever form and style they’re using to worship the Lord. The rest of us are going, “Man, okay. Now I’m old. That bothers me, it’s loud, I don’t understand it. It sounds evil.” Right? All of a sudden Archie Bunker just sort of rises up within, right? Should that mean anything to us? What do we care? “I don’t like it.” What does that got to do with anything? Is it helping the gospel and are people worshiping Jesus? That’s what makes it good. That’s where Philippians says to consider others more highly than yourself and take on that attitude of Jesus, who wasn’t always in it for himself, but was wondering whether or not you and I were being taken care of.
What this means practically, as well. If you go to another church, friend or family or whatever, relative, and you don’t like it. You say, “Oh man, the music I don’t like. That preacher, he’s worse than mine. I didn’t think that was possible. This place is – this is not good.” But if you look around and the people love the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of the Bible is preached and proclaimed and the gospel is clear, and people seem to love the Lord, should you rejoice? You should rejoice. Well, they love Jesus, that’s the whole point. That’s great. You should. And don’t come in with a critical, judgmental attitude.
Let me ask you this, though. If people are teaching another gospel, or they’re compromising the principles of the Bible, is that something where we have the right and we have the obligation to speak clearly, as Paul does to the Galatians? Yes. We don’t compromise the truth, but we are flexible on our methods.
So what happens? That we have all these churches, all these groups, all these organizations, all these perspectives, all these things. Here’s what happens, verse 9: “James, Jesus’ brother, Peter” – some of your translations will say Cephas – “and John, the beloved, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me, they agree that we should go to the Gentiles, and they should go to Jews.” You see this? Friendship. God’s called you to go work among these non-Jews. God bless you. God’s called you to go to China or to go down to Tacoma, or to go to Nebraska, or to go to Haiti. God bless you. Go do it. Tell ‘em about Jesus. Tell ‘em about the Jesus of the Bible, and watch his loving grace transform them. That will be great.
You say, “But we do things a little different.” Well, we worship the same Jesus. We love the same God who loved us first. He’s made us brothers and family. Let me shake your hand and love you and pray for you and support you. You’re not in sin. You’re not violating the Bible. You’re just going out and doing whatever is most effective for the gospel. That’s beautiful.
Are there other churches in the city that proclaim the gospel of Christ and love the Lord? Yes. And what should we do? Extend a hand. They’re family. And we should rejoice when they succeed and we should pray and mourn when they fail. Are the other churches in the city competition, or family? They’re family. God is our father; we’re brothers and sisters.
You know, down the street there’s an Evangelical Free church, I don’t know if you saw it. They built a big huge addition to their building to disciple more people because they needed the space. That’s great, because they preach the Jesus of the Bible. My buddy Bill’s up on Queen Anne. He got a building through the Assemblies of God and he’s planted his church. That’s great. Man, I extend my hand to that guy. Go get ‘em! Our buddy Tommy’s up on the hill, right? Green Light Press is meeting down here at Ballard High School and good things are happening and the gospel is moving forward. My buddy, Ed, down at the Vineyard a couple years ago in the U-District got to buy his building and they’re settled in and he’s a good man who loves Christ. And Scott, up at Emmanuel Bible Church by the zoo is a good man who loves Christ. And we could just go on and on and on. And Randy down at Church of the Center at the base of Queen Anne, loves Christ and preaches the gospel. You know what? Just extend a hand. Well, we do things different than you, but it’s the same Jesus and we pray that Jesus would bless you and us. We pray He bless everyone who preaches the gospel, and we pray that lots of people would become Christians because we’re in the least churched city in the United States of America. We gotta lot of work to do, and we need all of our brothers and sisters to pitch in and help with the cause, because it’s not about Mars Hill, or Presbyterians, or it’s not about independent Bible, it’s not about our Assemblies of God. It’s about Jesus. And if He died for our sins and loves us, let’s just tell that great story and let’s see how many people will come to salvation and faith and Christ, and let’s just celebrate wherever God’s people are blessed, wherever God’s work is done and where ever God is blessing, let’s send our blessing there as well.
It’s kind of exciting to be part of something that God’s doing globally isn’t it? It’s like having brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles who are succeeding and growing and maturing and saying, “That’s our family. It’s such a privilege to be a part of that.”
I hammer you guys really hard on everything that comes up in the Bible as I preach it. How to do your families, how to handle your money, how to conduct yourself, all these things. I’m going to tell you, too, though, the most important thing is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the fact that God has reconciled us to himself, and he’s reconciled us to each other, and we are to love the Lord and we’re to love each other. That’s the most important thing. Jesus is clear on that.
He says, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” What had happened was the people, the Jews, had poured into Jerusalem for Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out as Peter was preaching the gospel. People get saved, the church explodes, everything gets going. They can’t go home because now that they’re Christians they’ve been cut off from their family and their jobs and their relatives and such. And a famine hits Jerusalem. People are starving to death. People are looking at it saying, “Those are all Jews and they’re in Jerusalem, and we’re not Jews, and we’re far away. What does this have to do with us?” And the issue is, well, they’re Christians. So it has everything to do with us, because we love them. And so we should send money and food and Paul says, “I’m happy to do that.”
The issue was well, why in the world do Christians send money around the world? Why in the world do Christians feed people? Why in the world do Christians care about other nations? Because we have brothers and sisters there. Or people, that if they hear the gospel, might become brothers and sisters there. That’s why we do it.
And there are occasions where we should be doing our work wherever God has called us and each church should be functioning according to conscience, being most effective with the things that God has called them to. But at the same time, there are times when they need to pull together and to help each other and work together. Do you know that Mars Hill has succeeded exclusively on that fact? When we started, we started at the building of Emmanuel Bible Church. They gave us their building. From there we went to a Presbyterian Church. They gave us their building. We lost that building. First Press downtown gave us their building. The church that was here was down to a handful of people. They shut down their church and cancelled their services to give us the building as a gift.
I tend to have a very strong optimism for God’s people and their unity in Christ as they do the work of the gospel. I’ve seen beautiful things happen. We have survived on this fact, and now we’re at the place as a church that’s healthy and growing to be able to do the same thing. We’re able to give 10 percent of our budget away every year to help other churches get started. It’s great. It is great, because those aren’t just competition. Those aren’t just other events or other places or people. Those are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s family.
Tell you what we’re gonna do now. We’re gonna do the same thing that Christians do today all over the world when they get together on Sunday. We’re gonna collect our offering. We’re gonna take communion. We collect our offering to fund the work of the ministry and this church so we can continue to do the work of the gospel. And we take communion to remember Jesus’ body and blood shed for our sins. So, in order to partake of communion to be a Christian, you must bring your sins to God, confess them as sin, and then ask him for forgiveness. And Jesus will forgive you and cleanse you from your unrighteousness.
Here’s the good news. All over the city, all over the state, all over the nation, all over the world today, Christians did what we’re going to do. Took their offering, partook of communion, sang songs, fellowship, and went to love and serve the Lord. Some dipped, some drank out of the cup, some got little wafers and little private cups in their seat. The form is secondary. The primary issue is they were thanking Jesus for what he’s done.
I’ll pray. Father God, we do thank you. Pray, Lord God, if there are any here that are visiting that do not know you, they wouldn’t feel compelled to give, they wouldn’t feel compelled to take communion, they wouldn’t feel compelled to do anything other than just put their trust in Jesus and have their sins forgiven. Father God, please keep us all from our church preferences or our cultural agendas, and just keep us unified, humble, and committed to the gospel of Christ, like Paul. Lord Jesus, we do pray, for all of the other churches that preach the gospel, especially those in the city. We pray that you would bless our work and theirs and that we would all see people come to faith and people grow in faith, and people experience your love and be transformed by it. I pray that would be a great joy for us and a great glory to you. And Holy Spirit, thank you that you give us wisdom when we need it and conviction when we need it and teaching and guidance when we need it. That you help us navigate as a church through the culture, continuing to come back to the gospel and just seeing Christ and loving him. Lord God, you’re a great God, and we are glad to be your people, and we’re glad to be part of your greater work in this world, the one true church, where so many people have been transformed by you. We just count it a privilege to be among them. We pray that we be faithful as a church to reach the people in the city that you called us to, but not become so narrow and legalistic that we start judging all of our brothers and sisters in light of who we are. But we celebrate who we are and we celebrate who they are, and we continue to preach the good news of Christ. May we ever commit ourselves to this cause. Amen.