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Lesson 3: The Unity of the Gospel *

Introduction: Last week we learned that Paul made some amazing claims for the source of his message. He claimed that Jesus personally taught him, and that no person was responsible for the message that he was proclaiming. When we investigated this, we learned that both Luke and Peter believed Paul's claims and thought that Paul was sharing a message that he learned directly from God. This week we continue the discussion about whether Paul has a message that differs from that of the rest of the leaders of the early church. Is unity important? Is disagreement in the church healthy? Should we have "Christians" and "Paulites?" Or, is the gospel of righteousness by faith the unified message of God's church? Let's dive into our study of Galatians and learn more!

  1. Return Trip

    1. Read Galatians 2:1-2. Recall that in chapter one of Galatians Paul says that he went to Jerusalem to visit Peter and James. Paul now returns. Why? (God told him to return. He says it was "in response to a vision.")

      1. What do you think was God's purpose in having Paul to return to the "home office?" (Notice that Paul says that he "set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles." God must have been concerned about a uniform gospel being taught to both the Jews and Gentiles.)

      2. Paul says that he has some fears, and for that he reason spoke privately to the leadership. What fear is Paul likely speaking about?

        1. Is it Paul's fear that he is wrong in his theology?

        2. Is it a fear that the leaders in Jerusalem will not agree with him? (The whole tone of Galatians so far has been that Paul received his message from Jesus. He is not indebted for his message to any of the leaders back at the home office. Thus, it hardly seems that he fears that he is wrong. He doesn't seem too concerned about the leadership at the home office either. It must be that he is mostly concerned about the unity of the church.)

      3. How could Paul fear that he has been running a fourteen year race in vain? (Recall that Paul is fighting against a false gospel in the Galatian church. If he does not have the backing of the home office, how can he expect to convince the Galatians that he is right? Unless there is unity in the message, his detractors will claim he is wrong.)

      4. Why would Paul request a private meeting? (He obviously had opponents in Jerusalem and Galatia. Large meetings are often swayed by appeals to passion, rather than reason. By meeting with the top leaders, he could explain exactly what he was doing and teaching, and the reasons why.)

        1. What does this teach us about democracy in the church?

    2. Read Galatians 2:3. Was Paul successful? (Recall that one of the main issues was circumcision. The leadership did not suggest that one of Paul's primary assistants should be circumcised.)

    3. Read Galatians 2:4-5. Explain how you think this "spy" thing worked? (Paul was not working in a day of phones, e-mails and television. How could the leaders of the church in Jerusalem know what Paul was teaching unless he (or some others) reported on what he was doing? The suggestion is that Paul's theological enemies were bringing back false reports to the leaders in Jerusalem. God revealed to Paul that he should make a trip to the home office to get the truth before them.)

      1. Who is Paul speaking to when he says "We did not give in to them for a moment?" (Paul is speaking to the members of the Galatian church and he is referring to his theological opponents.)

        1. What is Paul's motive for saying this? Put yourself in the place of a Galatian church member when you answer this. (Just as the leaders in the home office did not know what Paul was teaching the Gentiles, so the Galatian church members did not know what Paul was saying in his report to the home office. He could be saying to each group just what they want to hear. Paul assures the Galatians that he is doing no such thing. He has a consistent message whether his audience is the Jewish home office, or the Gentile churches.)

    4. Read Galatians 2:6-9. Who are the important leaders? (Paul names them: James, Peter and John.)

      1. Does Paul sound like a rebel here? (Yes. Have you ever noticed that someone will "overcompensate" because of a background of certain problems? I've seen this - a church focused on some problem goes overboard in that area. Paul does not need to cast doubt on the importance of James, Peter and John to enhance his own authority. Yet, that is how I read his statements which seem to reduce the importance of the leadership in the home office.)

      2. Does it seem odd that Paul would have some personality defects? (Time, culture, context and translation make my conclusions about Paul's attitude uncertain. But, if I'm right it simply raises the importance of grace!)

    5. I asked you earlier about democracy in the church. Paul says that he received his message directly from Jesus ( Galatians 1:11), and that he shared it with the top leaders first. It seems clear that Paul is not looking for a majority vote among the people to confirm his views. He seems to be looking for confirmation of his views from the leaders at home office, rather than being willing to receive direction from the leaders. What kind of church organization would result from these kinds of attitudes? (The only way to reconcile Paul's statements and conduct here with church organization is to believe that Paul was certain that his message was from God, and that God would make His will plain to the leadership.)

  2. The Poor

    1. Read Galatians 2:10 and Acts 2:44-47. Is the poverty mentioned in Galatians the result of the economic decisions of the early church? (Historically, when you remove the incentive to work for profit, poverty follows. (See Proverbs 16:26 & Proverbs 14:23.) However, Acts 11:27-29 suggests a famine might be part of the problem. Note that this famine hit the entire Roman empire.)

      1. Of all the theological requirements the church leaders could have put on Paul, this is the only one. What does that suggest about the importance of helping the poor? Or, does this teach that helping the poor is just a suggestion?

      2. Notice that the Gentiles were not asked to model themselves after Acts 2:44-47. Why is that? (Wait. Acts 2:45 says that believers were given what they needed. The suggestion to the Gentiles in Galatians 2:10 is to help the poor - those in need.)

  3. Peter Versus Paul

    1. Read Galatians 2:11-14. Let's discuss this in some detail. Paul publically confronts Peter, a prominent church leader. Should we publically confront our church leaders when we think they are wrong?

      1. If the answer is, "yes," then who should do this? Anyone, or just other leaders like Paul?

      2. What is the nature of the problem created by Peter? (The problem is public. Not only is Peter compromising on an important, current theological issue, but the Gentiles are being shamed into thinking they are second-class Christians. I do not think leaders should be publically confronted about private problems, only public problems.)

        1. What about the question of who is entitled to confront a leader? (Paul received his message from Jesus. His message was confirmed by the leaders of the church. Those two facts are very important on the issue of confronting church leaders.)

      3. Look closely at the text and notice the difference between what Paul is thinking and what he actually says. What kind of difference is there between the two? (His thoughts are harsh, but what he says is mostly a statement of uncontested fact followed by a question.)

        1. What is the reason why Paul would use a question to confront Peter? (He wanted Peter to answer the question in a way that convicted Peter of his error. Compare 2 Samuel 12:1-10 where Nathan seeks King David's advice. The question is presented as a story, and David's answer convicts him of sin.)

        2. Is this a lesson on how we (or church leaders) should confront church leadership? (This seems to be a great example. Only make public confrontations for public issues. The confrontation should not be harsh, but rather should seek to convict the leader of the sin problem. It is best for leaders to confront other leaders. Confrontation should not take place without the backing of the church leadership on the subject and the direction of the Holy Spirit.)

    2. Friend, God is concerned about the unity of His church. Will you pray and work for a unified church?

  4. Next week: Justification by Faith Alone.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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