Liberated from Legalism - pt 6 [5-30-21]


Let's start out with two points of clarity.


First, while sarcasm can be a valuable rhetorical device, and I appreciate well-placed sarcasm, and Paul, at times, employed sarcasm, there are two things to remember here with Galatians 2. Sarcasm is not a spiritual gift, and Paul does not use it in chapter 2. It just vaguely sounds like he does.


Here's what I mean. In Galatians 2:6 Paul writes:

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.

Sounds like sarcasm, right? While Paul can be sarcastic, this isn't one of those times. Paul isn't downplaying the apostles' leadership and importance here. Paul is simply saying that God's grace levels the playing field. Remember how Paul also spoke about himself. He has already said that what looks like his personal achievement and accomplishment is

garbage compared to the grace and mercy of God. It doesn't matter who anybody was before Christ. All that matters to Paul is the gospel they proclaim. No one ought to be intimidated by anyone's status. As I shared last month, a young pastor wrote something I would have loved to have articulated when I was his age - "Ministry Goals: Preach the Gospel; Give Glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Die; Be Forgotten." We all stand together preaching the one true gospel that saves sinners.


The second point is Titus. Titus was a Gentile convert and co-worker with Paul. Here's how he puts it in Titus 1:4-5:

To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…

Titus was a living, breathing illustration of the effectiveness of Paul's ministry to the Gentiles. The leaders in Jerusalem could not interact with Titus and deny the one true gospel of grace and mercy to all people.


All of this brings us to 2:10:

Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Verse 10 says a lot, and gives us a lot of ground to cover.


First, the obvious. Paul was in full agreement that financial compassion was an important expression of ministry. Understanding that, here's something you might want to write down:

Gospel Ministry is God's Work Done Through Us, not Our Work Done for God.

Here's why that's an important distinction. It's not a far leap from thinking about it as work we do for God to it's how we earn God's favor, grace, or mercy. Instead, the ministry we do is an extension of His working grace and mercy in our lives. It is our privilege to have God helping others through us. That is grace and mercy.


So, let's now move on to the context of verse 10. Who are the poor of verse 10 and why are they poor?


Lest we do what's in vogue today and blame it on one sort of systemic

thing or another, let's let the Bible speak for itself:

"For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you."

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

- Luke 12:30-34

Jesus instructed his Jewish followers to sell their possessions. Preoccupation with money and worry over money posed a distraction to these particular people who were there for a particular purpose. They would form the core body of believers essential for serving God's purpose after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There was also the question of when Jesus would return following his ascension into heaven, so this core group needed to maintain their vigilance.


And they did just that.

Acts 2:42-47 describes what happened:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.


You can imagine how this passage has been abused by those of a particular economic philosophical persuasion. Those with a careless or a lazy Biblical interpretation will try to make it sound like God's economy runs on socialism. "They sold everything and shared what they had." Easy, right? Not so fast, Karl Marx. {Now there's the sarcasm for which I'm known and loved!}


In their specific context, these believers were doing what Jesus

commanded them to do. He warned them not to become attached to material riches. That's always a good thing. So they were living out of that truth, in a time of expectation and anticipation. They were called by God

for that purpose.


Here's something that's connected to that purpose:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

- Matthew 6:33

These Jewish Christians were not attached to material riches. However you view them, they were following Jesus. And they were trusting God for their physical needs. They lived off a fund of pooled resources.


But then something happened. A famine compounded their austerity. So here's the beauty of the Body of Christ. Honoring God's Word, other Christians, especially Gentile believers, gave money and material goods to Paul and Barnabas to aid the poor saints at Jerusalem. And so Paul said, in verse 10, "Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." The Gentile saints blessed the Jewish saints. That is the Body

of Christ.


Here's something else you might want to write down:

Helping the poor is not the gospel, but it is one necessary result of the gospel.

We get that from the placement and wording of verse 10. Helping the poor is not an afterthought, but it does come after a thorough and thoughtful discussion of gospel truth. In other words, Paul made sure not to connect helping the poor with salvation. That is huge. We can see happening in the first church what continues to be a threat today - the danger of adding our own requirements to the only thing God requires for salvation, which is faith in Jesus Christ. Our sins are many. But God's mercy is more. Paul made that very clear. Our help for the poor is a response to our salvation, not the reason for it. Never forget, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else. No one else. No way else.


Ralph Warnock is a Senator from Georgia. He was senior pastor at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Here's what he tweeted about Easter last month {I am not making this up}:

The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whether you are a Christian or not, through a commitment to helping others we are able to save ourselves.

One word describes that - Blasphemy. Which is why Paul did not want anything added to what Jesus Christ did on the cross for our salvation.

Make no mistake. There are plenty of Biblical exhortations to help people in need. People with all kinds of needs. Help coming from the church for those in the church as well as those not in the church. The Bible makes that clear. In Romans 12:20, Paul says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink." We do as much good for others as we can.


Here's another way to look at it. While ministry to the poor isn't the primary purpose of the gospel, neither is it an afterthought. I hope that makes sense. It's not a good thing when helping others is an afterthought. Neither is it a good thing when helping others supplants the ministry of sharing the one true gospel of grace and mercy.


Here's what we know from Jesus about helping those in need {and why

Paul said it was the very thing I was eager to do]:

  • Matthew 25:35-36 - "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."

  • Luke 19:8-10 - "And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, 'Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.'” We see here how the evidence of salvation is practical, financial compassion for the poor.

  • Luke 4:18-19 - “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” You hear in this not an either/or to the gospel, but a both/and.


We could cite more passages. Suffice it to say that after Paul went to

Jerusalem, they were all in agreement on the importance of ministry to the poor. Such ministry flows from the heart of the gospel - the cross - because Jesus taught it.


We end with this from Martin Luther. He summarizes what is at stake for

the one true gospel:

The issue before us is