The Stamp of Approval

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Paul's Message has the Apostolic Stamp of Approval 

In our competitive world we know a lot about mind games, one up man ship and subtly undermining people. Our politics seems to be almost as much about trying to shred other people's reputations as it is about doing anything positive. Think about Michael Gove pulling out the big knife and doing Boris Johnson in immediately after Brexit. Or think about the turmoil the labour party has been in. Or think about the psychological warfare of the football managers – Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson going toe to toe, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola going at it. Jose Mourinho calling Arsene Wenger a 'specialist in failure' and so on… Some people are genius at finding a weak spot and offering some sly dig that totally humiliates others and gives them power.

We know how potent words can be. And it seems that the false teachers in Galatia knew it too. As we come to this morning's passage in Galatians 2 we see Paul working ever so hard to undo the damage that has been done to the gospel. The damage done by false brothers making out that Paul and his ministry is defective and he needs to Jerusalem apostles to correct him.

It's been a couple of weeks, so I won't be surprised if you've slightly lost track of the flow of thought in Galatians, so let me briefly remind you where we've been. The apostle Paul writes this letter to the churches of the region of Galatia. He writes because of these false teachers leading them away from simple trust in the Lord Jesus. These teachers say that to follow the Messiah you have to become a Jew and follow Jewish law. Paul writes to say it's absolutely false – Jesus is enough, he's done it all for us; we can't add to what he's done, and if we try we only lose what he's already won. So don't listen to anyone who tries to add anything to what Jesus has done for you – such a person is a false teacher, condemned by God and offering you only death. That's Gal 1.1-10

But then how can we know who to listen to? vs 11-24 Paul says we can trust him because he got the gospel direct from God himself – he had been a persecutor of the church; no one told him the gospel without getting locked up! But he heard the message from the risen Jesus himself and, without consulting anyone, had gone from a persecutor to an evangelist. So he says we can know that he got the message direct from the source – we can trust his message because it's the authentic gospel given by Jesus himself. He did meet Peter a few years later, but the rest of the churches didn't know him from Adam, they only heard about him from his deeds.

So Paul claims independent authority from the apostles at Jerusalem.

Ah yes, but the problem is Paul's been smeared by the false teachers – they've been insinuating Paul's out of step with the Apostles back in Jerusalem – you know the guys who actually knew Jesus and lived with him and so on – they're the real deal, Paul's nothing next to them … and if they knew what Paul was getting up to they'd be furious.

You can see how that would undermine Paul's position can't you? It's true Paul didn't know Jesus, hadn't followed him and heard his teaching. And worse still, Peter and the others were still observing the law back in Jerusalem. Do you remember Acts 10 when God had Peter go and deliberately share the gospel to gentiles for the very first time? God showed Peter a vision of all sorts of unclean foods and told him 'go and eat' because to share the gospel with gentiles would make him unclean, just as eating unclean food would. And do you remember how Peter reacted? Acts 10.14: 'Surely not Lord!' he says 'I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.' Peter was horrified at the prospect of breaking the law because he was still living as a Jew under the Law. Everyone was back in Jerusalem, because all of the Christians were Jews. They hadn't had to think things through like Paul had with all his gentile converts.

So now when Jews come from Jerusalem, claiming all the authority of the big guns, and they act one way and Paul acts another – well it does look suspect doesn't it?

So Paul has to answer this issue of his relationship with Peter, James and John. And he says two key things about it here :

1. They added nothing to my message
2. They recognised me as an Apostle

So firstly

1. They added nothing to my message.

this is the end of verse 6

'Those men added nothing to my message.'

Some 14 years after his conversion Paul went to Jerusalem to meet them. And Paul introduces this meeting carefully - notice, verse 2, Paul took himself there in response to a vision – a word from God – not because the other Apostles summonsed him to their presence for an examination! And notice that he took along Barnabas – who was one of them, a Levite, a man the apostles called 'son of encouragement' (Acts 4.36-37). But he also took Titus along, a gentile convert, a living, breathing test case of Paul's message – a man who was following the Jewish Messiah, but who was not following the Jewish law.

If Paul's message was out of step with the Apostles Titus would certainly bring their differences to the surface! And so Paul sets his gospel before them. And they do talk about whether Titus had to obey the law – but not because the Apostles were concerned about it, because of false brothers who had crept in to cause trouble! And what was the outcome of the discussion – did Titus have to become a Jew, did he have to submit to the law and be circumcised.

NO. No he did not.

Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.

He converted to Jesus, he didn't have to convert to Judaism.

The judgement of the apostles was that Paul's gospel was complete and sufficient. It needed no additions, it certainly didn't need observance of the law. They added nothing to his message, but left it exactly as it was.

Now this might seem like a long time ago and a long way away and pretty much irrelevant to us. But let me tell you Christianity would look a lot different today if things had gone the other way. You only have to go over to Bensham to see what churches would look like – and how isolated from their surroundings we would be.

But it's much more than that. It's not just aesthetics, not even just relationships, it goes to the very heart of the faith. Paul says in vs 5 that he would not give in to them for even a moment – why? So that the truth of the gospel might remain with you!

Keeping the law and trusting in Jesus' righteousness are irreconcilably different ways of approaching God – you can try one or the other, you can't do both… and if you're trying to keep the law then you're not trusting in Jesus. If the gospel said 'become a Jew and God will accept you', then the gospel would no longer rest on what Jesus has done for us, but on what we do for ourselves. I'm sure you've heard this a thousand times, but it is so natural for us to look to our own performance that it bears repeating – what you do does not bring you closer to God; only what Jesus did can bring you closer to God. So watch very carefully that you don't inadvertently tack a measure of performance onto your gospel. Or that you don't start to judge others by the things they do, as if they needed to meet your expectations in order to come close to God. If you want to stay Christian you'll need to read your bible and pray, you'll need to share your faith in evangelism and conform your life to the word of God – I think those things are essential for us … but they don't make us acceptable to God, and failing to do them doesn't move us further away from God. We stand or fall on Jesus and what he's done. We enter into relationship with God by Jesus – the rest is living it out.

Paul's message was 'repent of living for yourself and your small gods and put your trust in Jesus'. And when he met the apostles in Jerusalem – the big guns, Peter, James and John – they agreed with it with no objections and, no additions, not even for gentile convert Titus. They agreed with Paul that Jesus is enough, we don't need to be Jewish to follow him, we don't need to keep the law. Point one, these men added nothing to Paul's message.

What's more, point two, they recognised Paul's legitimacy, they recognised him as an apostle.

2. They recognised Paul as an Apostle

This is 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. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognised the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews."

Paul went to see them of his own accord and set the gospel he preached before them. And they recognised his gospel as the true gospel, because it was. And they went further than that and recognised his apostleship as genuine too, because it was. They even acknowledged that Paul had been entrusted by God with a ministry to the Gentiles that was equivalent to Peter's ministry among the Jews – Peter the leader of the disciples, recognises Paul's ministry as parallel to his own. Collectively they recognise Paul's ministry as on a par with theirs – they agreed that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the Jews.

Paul doesn't need Peter to recognise his ministry – his ministry is God-authenticated, everywhere he went people became Christians – his ministry has the stamp of God's approval. So Paul didn't need Peter's approval, but it certainly helps the rest of us that Peter gave it.

See earlier on in verse 2 Paul said he was afraid he was running or had run his race in vain.

What did he mean by that? Fourteen years after being appointed by Jesus was he now beginning to doubt that he really was an apostle? NO, certainly not. He's spoken with such conviction on this already in this letter – it's how he starts the whole thing, he is, verse 1 he is 'Paul, an Apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father'. If you'd met Jesus as Paul did you would need no more assurances either.

NO, it's not Paul who needs assurances, it's everyone else. Paul's life has been dogged by these false teachers who keep coming out of Jerusalem and claiming some sort of authority from Peter or from James or from John. And they go around undoing the good work that Paul has done – undermining his message and add to the gospel so that it becomes a matter of works of the law rather than trusting in Jesus. They threaten to overturn all that he's established, they're ruining the churches, bringing all Paul's labours to nothing.

Could it really be that Peter and the other Apostles were sending them out deliberately? And even if they weren't was there more they could do to put a stop to them? False brothers had secretly infiltrated the church – the mother church, the church led by the apostles – and from there they were spreading and doing untold damage with their false versions of the gospel.

But when Paul met with the leaders of the Jerusalem church and they recognised him as the real deal and recognised his gospel as the full gospel, needing no additions, they ruled out all these false brothers once and for all. The weight of the support of the leaders of the church of Jerusalem wasn't behind the false brothers at all, it was behind Paul!

It was like Peter, James and John were tweeting happy snaps of Paul coming to their offices – maybe like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in the gold elevator, but with a bit more class! You go into Peter's office and there's a framed, signed photo of Paul on his wall. You go to the prayer meeting at Holy Trinity Jerusalem and it's Paul and his mission that they're praying for. It's like Peter writes a letter to the churches and makes sure to mention that Paul is his dear brother, writing with God's own wisdom, writing no less than scripture – well he actually did do that in 2 Peter 3:15 and 16.

Can you see how this is devastating to the argument that Paul is somehow out of step with the Apostles in Jerusalem, or that he is somehow less than them? How could these men who claim to come from the church in Jerusalem not know all this, if they were so tight with the leaders there? Either they did know it and they were lying about it, or they didn't really come from the leaders in Jerusalem. Either way, their argument collapses like a house of cards, like a balloon meeting a pin.

And yet today you will still hear again and again that Paul is somehow wrong about God. People try and drive a wedge between Paul and Jesus, as if Paul hijacked the simple faith that Jesus taught. Or people will take the metaphorical scissors out and snip out sections of Paul's letters – 'well he got that bit wrong'. But Paul and those who knew Jesus best were in complete agreement. Between Paul, Peter, James and John you have about half of the New Testament. Throw in Luke and Mark, who travelled and ministered with Paul and Peter and you've got almost all of it.

Paul represents authentic Christianity, Paul represents Jesus. And today it's the same as it was in Paul's day. People who dismiss Paul's teaching are false teachers. You can't ignore Paul and follow Jesus, because Jesus appointed Paul to speak for him. You're all free to dismiss Paul and his letters if you want – but you can't dismiss Paul and his letters and call yourself a Christian, when you do that you've stepped outside of biblical Christianity and all of the Apostles agree you're no longer one of Jesus' disciples.

And we live in a world where the things Paul said are increasingly making us uncomfortable, let alone the world at large. But that's what we should expect - God's word will make us uncomfortable because we want to go our own way. But when you find yourself out of step with the bible don't go thinking it's the bible that has to change – that's when Jesus is calling you away from your false gods to a purer trust in him. So lean in at those points and listen very carefully and listen to God as he speaks through his word, written by his apostles and prophets so we can know him.

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