Often when we think of defending the Gospel, we think of the attacks from Muslims, atheists, Jews, or just secular men of the world. Defense of the Gospel is often associated with debates, with explaining why a viewpoint is wrong, and with declaring irrefutable acceptance that what you believe, as a Christian, is Truth. Here in Galatians 2, we have a different kind of defense. This is one that deals with actions, and not words.
The chapter begins with telling of what took place in Acts 15, where the counsel (or is it council?) at Jerusalem gathered to discuss whether Gentiles need to become like Jews. In the first century, the Gospel was not for the Gentiles first, as we have put it, but rather a Jewish phenomenon. Jesus was Jewish, a Pharisaical rabbi to be exact, who was born in Bethlehem of Judea, which was the city of King David, who taught 12 Jewish youth (somewhere between 14 and 25), spoke parables to the Jewish people everywhere He went, debating the Pharisees (which was common in-house debate as being a Pharisee), and speaking of a time when Jerusalem shall be judged and redeemed, and all of Israel with Jerusalem.
The Gospel is very Jewish.
By the time that Acts 10 comes around, we’re probably looking at around a decade of time that has passed since Pentecost. It is in Acts 10 that Peter visits a Gentile named Cornelius. As soon as Peter enters the house and begins to speak, the Spirit comes upon these Gentiles to the same degree that it came upon the disciples gathered together in Acts 2. Instead of rejoicing, Peter and his companions are flabbergasted. The shock is real. Questions of how it could possibly be that God would pour out His Spirit upon Gentiles arose quickly, but we also quickly responded to by baptizing these Gentiles. If God would grant them the Spirit, then why withhold from them anything else?
Peter comes back and receives scrutiny. How can he eat with Gentiles, when we know full well that Jews are not to associate with Gentiles? Peter tells the story of the vision he had, the whisper of God to go, the Spirit falling, and eventually the baptisms. The other apostles and disciples, in awe, admit that God must indeed be accepting the Gentiles, then.
What is interesting to me isn’t that they thought this was a Jewish thing, but that so many misunderstood the prophets. You have example after example of people who were not “Hebrew”, and yet dwelt among the Hebrews, lived like Hebrews, and died as Hebrews. For example, when Israel came out of Egypt, it is said that many Egyptians came with them. There is never an iota of separation mentioned between the Egyptians and the Israelites, all the way through past Sinai, until you have a half-Israelite, half-Egyptian curse God’s name in Leviticus 24. Even then, the point isn’t that he is Egyptian, but that he isn’t truly Hebrew, for if he were, he wouldn’t have cursed God’s name and blasphemed.
We see the story of Ruth, that she, as a Moabitess, declared, “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” In this, she is no longer a Moabite, but now embraced as a Hebrew (even finding herself in the genealogy of Jesus). Bathsheba, from whom came Solomon, was also half Hittite. Her ex-husband, Uriah, was also a Hittite. Yet, there is nothing in the text of 2 Samuel 11 that suggests these two as anything less than Hebrews.
The prophets even declared things like, “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants… even them I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:6-7, but read the whole context).
So, the question for me isn’t so much of how they could think that it is exclusively Hebrew. God’s Kingdom has always been about Israel, and then Gentiles have been grafted in. What surprises me is that for years the first disciples found themselves practicing the same segregation of Ezra, who wouldn’t even consult the LORD when ‘foreigners’ came to help build the Temple of God. Instead, quite quickly and harshly, he declared that they should have no part in this work (not to mention forcing people to divorce, which God detests, because they married foreign women, but refusing to consider that maybe they would be like Ruth or Bathsheba, and embrace the God of Israel). In this, Ezra cemented the already long rooted separatist mentality, rather than the Deuteronomic mindset that would declare, “And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you,, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 14:29, which puts the “foreigner” or “stranger” hand-in-hand with the Levites, orphans, and widows). Or even Deuteronomy 23:1-8 that declares even the ‘cursed’ Gentiles who shall not enter into the congregation of Israel are welcomed into the congregation of Israel after so many generations. Or what about Deuteronomy 32:43 that commands Gentiles to rejoice with Israel, thus putting the two hand-in-hand before Him?
For this reason, we have in Acts 10-11 and 15 the debate settled that Gentiles are indeed welcome into the Kingdom of God. The regulations that they are to uphold are mentioned in Acts 15:23-29. Here in Galatians, Paul is remembering these things, and reciting them to the churches in Galatia, so that they might also remember and hold fast to the faith. It is at this time that Paul also mentions how he stood up and rebuked Peter to his face, even in front of everyone, because the truth of the Gospel was at stake. Whereas some would call this arrogance in church today, for Jesus has told us to go to them privately, and then after that to take greater measures, Paul declares again later that those who sin are to be rebuked publicly (1 Tim 5:20).
This isn’t to go against Jesus, but from the example of Paul here in Galatians 2 we see that Peter knows better, he was the one who saw God move among the Gentiles first, and he is causing for others to go wayward through his actions. Because he is without excuse, and because of his influence, Paul wastes no time in taking him aside privately. It is for the sake of the Truth of the Gospel that Paul rebukes Peter to his face in such a confrontational manner.
We cringe at this. Something upsets us. He should have been nicer. He should have been less confrontational. Didn’t Paul recognize that Peter was a brother in the faith? Why was he so harsh? In these words, we’re asking without asking, “Why was Paul so unloving and cruel?” You know what I call such an action? Compassionate love. Paul so loved the man Peter that he could not allow another moment of him to live out the lie. What if Peter didn’t even recognize what he was doing? Did not Jesus even rebuke him in front of the other disciples, calling Peter Satan? No, what I think is transacting here is love that only the Spirit could have possibly breathed.
Which brings us to conclusions. For we in this generation, what does it mean to defend the Gospel? How might we take these words as a pattern to lay our lives according to, so that we might be the saints in our own generation? It isn’t about rebuking Peter to his face, as much as it might seem to be. Rather, it is about realizing that the Truth of the Gospel is not in our creeds. Truth is more than just words on a page. It is either the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or it is simply not true. If our lives contradict our statements, especially if blatantly, then what we are preaching is simply not truth.
We might be saying all of the correct words, and we might even believe them on the fundamental doctrinal level, but how much of what we say and what we live go together? Can you actually claim that you have faith in Jesus Christ, only to then use His name as a curse word? Can you truly claim that you believe God is complex in His unity, being Triune, and yet then reject any hope of that unity in your own life with your husband, wife, Christian brother and/or sister across the street, etc? Can you honestly tell me that you are saved by grace through faith, and yet then continue to clutch onto the petty works that we’ve taught ourselves are “proper” in church-ianity?
What this means in our day and age is a reassessment. It takes effort, willingness, and discipline. It requires that we search through the pages of Scripture to first find out what God is like, and what God approves of, and to then implement it in our own lives. This process takes time, takes introspection, and takes community. When you have multiple people who are trying to live like this on a daily basis, seeing one another regularly, your flaws and faults will become obvious, and your need to change demanded on the basis of defending the Gospel. Change isn’t easy, but it is necessary.