Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kingdom For All (part 1 of 2)

But when the one who set me apart was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles… - Galatians 1:15-16a  (NET)

This mention of Paul’s call to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles is an excellent precursor to what follows in the second chapter of this letter to Galatia.  Raising the issue of Gentile inclusion under the banner of the covenant, which is the purpose of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles, necessarily invokes considerations of adequate covenant marking.  In regards to this, as Paul relates the story of his journey to Jerusalem in the years following his own conversion, and as his ministry and message of Gentile inclusion among God’s covenant people based on confession of Jesus as Lord has been established for quite some time, he writes “not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek” (2:3).  This is key, as it assists Paul in laying the foundation for his arguments concerning justification---what it is, how it occurs, and what it represents---which comes later in the second chapter. 

Why is it significant that Titus, a Gentile, was not compelled to be circumcised?  It’s significant because of who it is that did not do the compelling, namely, the “influential people” (2:2) in the Jerusalem church.  If these “influential people,” located in Jerusalem, which was the obviously the bastion of Judaism and the geographical source of those that went out to other churches in other areas insisting on the need for Gentiles to Judaize in order to properly and legitimately participate in the covenant and to enjoy its promised blessings, did not insist on circumcision for Titus (with circumcision also standing in for the other covenant markers of Sabbath-keeping and food laws), then this spoke volumes for Paul’s message and his understanding of the justification that he had been preaching for fifteen years.  In fact, Paul makes it clear that the only ones that insisted on Gentile circumcision and their performance of the works of the law were “false brothers with false pretenses” (2:4b).  By deduction then, true brothers with true motives were those that recognized the basis for Gentile justification as belief in Jesus as Lord. 

Further elaborating on his time in Jerusalem, and further validating the argument that he is presenting to the Galatian brethren, Paul informs them that “those who were influential… added nothing to my message” (2:6a,c).  Not only was his message about justification and its corresponding covenant markers that allowed Gentiles to enter the covenant people as non-Judaizing Gentiles accurate, but there was no fault to be found with it.  It is also possible that Paul meant this statement as a double entendre, insisting that nothing needed to be added to the acceptance of the Gospel, such as circumcision, Sabbath keeping, or adherence to food laws (this is not about doing “good works”), to validate one’s justified status. 

With what immediately follows, we see that Paul never loses sight, and never allows his audience to lose sight of the all-peoples inclusion and world-encompassing nature of what the God of Israel had accomplished and set forth through the Messiah Jesus, as he adds to the lack of the addition of anything to his message, writing “On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the Gospel to the uncircumcised just as Peter was to the circumcised… they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (2:7,9b). 

Though there is a distinction drawn in terms of ministry focus, there is no distinction drawn between Jews and Gentiles in terms of their position relative to the covenant God or in their participation in His kingdom that has been inaugurated through the Resurrection of Jesus, nor is there a distinction in the message that is to be preached to Jews and Gentiles.  Both groups are to hear and accede to the message that confession of the Gospel’s claim is now the basis for God’s ongoing covenant with His people, and that His people now consist of people drawn from all nations, without distinction. 

This cannot be said enough, as it is the ground in which the concept of justification is rooted.  We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by an incorrect approach to the issue of justification, especially as it is addressed in Romans three and Galatians two, which would have us considering the subject in terms of attaining an individual salvation that looks to an eternity in heaven as the reward of “faith alone” that stands against an attempt to achieve heaven via performing “works” in accordance with a code of law.  This approach, which would not be recognized or understood by Paul himself, must be removed from the field, as justification has primarily to do with being included in the covenant people of God. 

“Faith alone” versus “works” is only relevant to a discussion of covenant markers, inseparable from the Jew/Gentile divide and the barriers that had heretofore prevented the enlargement of God’s covenant people, with “faith alone” standing for the new covenant marker that coincides with the new age of the kingdom that has dawned and the new creation that manifests itself whenever a person confesses the Lordship of Jesus and so is “in Christ,” while “works” stands for the old covenant markers that Paul now equates with the old age that preceded the coming of the kingdom of God (that must exist and already be ongoing because of the claim that Jesus is Lord and King) and the old creation that is steadily passing away in the face of the victory of God foretold and begun in Christ’s victory over death and the grave.             

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