August 1, 2017

July 16, 2017 - Galatians Series Part 2

Theme: The Difference Between Hypocrisy and Liberty
1)    Hypocrisy is self-motivated, Liberty is God-centered
2)    Hypocrisy helps yourself, Liberty helps others

Psalm 125:1-2 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, So the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.

The Lord surrounds us with His Word today from Galatians 2, as we continue in part 2 of our series. Those words for study and consideration this morning were read as our second Scripture reading.

Dear fellow believers in Christ -

Residents of our Seattle metro area have long wrestled with traffic issues. Our area continues to rapidly expand. Roads are packed with cars at all hours of the day. Summer construction projects, which seem to be endless, only serve to further congest the flow. In such as a setting, there will inevitably be times when angry and stressed out drivers come into contact with one another, whether literally or figuratively. We call it “road rage”, and I’m sure we all have interesting tales to tell in that respect. 

No doubt, we all have also been on both the giving and receiving end of road rage. It never feels good either way. Sometimes, when I’m overcome with frustration at someone else’s driving incompetency, I think of a memory from my childhood. When I was in high school, I spent a summer helping construct a home. I worked closely with a construction professional who would pick me up every morning for work. He was an older man, from a small town, who was slow to anger. One morning, we were on our way in his old pickup truck when another driver pulled carelessly pulled out right in front of us in a busy intersection. It was completely their fault, and we easily could have gotten into an accident; and with his truck just destroyed their vehicle. I fully expected my boss to lay on the horn and yell something at the other driver, for surely in those moments we all feel justified to do that very thing. But, he didn’t. He stopped to avoid the accident, waiting for the person to react and keep going, and gave them a polite and forgiving wave with his hand.

As we got going again he commented. “I’d honk the horn if I never did that myself.” If only more people could have such an attitude with road rage.

That story reminds us that we should be careful about how we treat others, because things can change quickly. We could quickly find ourselves on the receiving end, rather than the giving. We shouldn’t look down on those in need, because one day we might need something. We shouldn’t make fun of those who struggle because one day we might not have all the answers. And as we see in our text for today, we should be careful about what we say we believe, because we could easily be exposed as a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy is despised by all people. The world sees it as a main hindrance to faith in Christ. After all, there’s all these Christians talking such a good game, but none of them actually live it. Hypocrisy can really push people away from Christ and we should always do our best show sincerity in our faith. But, what most people ignore is that there has always been a connection between pride and hypocrisy. Pride, although it is really at the root of hypocrisy, is often considered a virtue in our society. People see it this way because pride flows right into liberty. We are encouraged to take pride in who we are because we have the right, or the freedom to. But, what does that mean for sinners? Should we be proud about who we are? Should we ignore God’s calls to repentance just because we are free to ignore them?

God calls us to something different, something higher. Peter wrote: 1 Peter 2:16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 8:9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 1 Corinthians 9:19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more.

The way the world practices freedom more often mirrors hypocrisy than it does true liberty. People use their freedom to sin when God calls them to use it to serve others. People look down on others because they are free too, not realizing that we all suffer from the same thing. Paul tackled this very issue in his letter to the Galatians, and it becomes the focus of our thoughts today.

Part 1: Hypocrisy is self-motivated, Liberty is God-centered

In this letter, Peter was playing the hypocrite. He was abusing his freedom and knowledge as a more mature Christian, and in so doing, was also leading others astray. When it suited Peter’s desires, he would live with his Jewish heritage on display and compel other Gentiles that they too live that way. But, in other cases it suited his desire to forgo the Jewish traditions, and so he would. Paul pointed the hypocrisy out.  

But, wasn’t Paul just as much to blame? Chapter two begins with his explanation of how he did not compel Titus to be circumcised. But in Acts 16 Paul commanded Timothy, another young pastor, to be circumcised. Wasn’t Paul simply playing both sides like Peter was? How could he point out hypocrisy, yet pick two different paths to follow himself? In fact, the word for compulsion in verses 3 (describing Paul) and verse 14 (describing Peter) are the same word. They were literally doing the very same action.

The difference, as it is with many specific cases of applying the Word of God, rested in the intent. Paul’s focus was to preserve the “truth of the gospel.” Peter’s focus was to preserve his own interests. Timothy was in a situation which involved fellow Christians, who were Jews and who didn’t yet understand that circumcision was no longer a requirement of God. The knowledge of the gospel truth that Christ had fulfilled this command of the Old Testament had not yet had time to sink in. And so, Paul practiced the advice he gave to the Corinthians – take all stumbling blocks away from the gospel. Sacrifice your freedom for the betterment of others.

Titus’ situation was much different. He was dealing with false teachers. Actually, they were hypocrites themselves. Paul calls them “false brothers,” people who professed to be Christians but wanted to also hang onto certain restrictions of the Old Testament. In the context of Galatians these individuals are often called Judaizers. Their mission was to mix Christianity with Judaism and retain elements of both as necessary to salvation. It was, as Paul warned, a direct attack on the gospel. In this case, Paul blatantly stood for his, and Titus’, liberty in Christ and did not compel him to be circumcised.

Paul was dealing with circumcision in both circumstances, yet he came away with two different results, and each one was the right call. This was not hypocrisy, rather it was exercising Christian wisdom when it comes to freedom. In each case, you could say that Paul was helping each side out. With Timothy, he helped the weak brothers. With Titus, he helped the false brothers, by exposing their error. To allow them to continue living in their lie would not be a loving thing.

The impetus for Paul’s public admonishment of Peter was the necessity of the gospel. What Peter was doing on the surface was not unscriptural. The Bible doesn’t give us a command about who we should eat with. It is absolutely a matter of personal choice. But, that also means we can’t point the finger at others and start making demands. Peter went even further than this when he started making it a matter of God’s command. Essentially, he was adding to the Word. Paul’s basis for the rebuke is in the latter half of the chapter. What’s ironic is that Paul provides some of the clearest explanation of the direct gospel in the entire Bible. Galatians 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Peter was leading people away from Christ, Paul was trying to bring them back. The same is true of hypocrisy versus true, Christian liberty.

Part 2: Hypocrisy helps yourself, Liberty helps others

It’s in this same vein that we see the second part of our theme. Hypocrisy helps yourself, Liberty helps others. Peter probably thought he was doing a good thing by trying to play both sides. Surely the argument could have been made that he was just trying to preserve the peace between Jews and Gentiles. But, as soon as he went beyond the Word of God, his reasons didn’t matter, it was the wrong choice. The same is true of anytime we go against the Word of God. Don’t we often convince ourselves that one or two teachings here and there aren’t all that important, especially if they don’t involve the gospel. God’s point is clear – everything in His Word is connected and to change anything is an attack on the gospel truth. Remember, Peter was simply choosing who to eat with. These matters can start as non-religious things. They can attack the very foundation of our faith much faster than you think. Don’t try to outsmart God. What He says is true, take His Word for it and don’t try to change it.  

Paul’s rebuke of Peter further pointed out its seriousness. In verse 11, Paul says that he condemned Peter. Peter’s hypocrisy was not to be taken lightly. It was a sin that separated him from God and marked him as a condemned person. Here’s where pride reared its ugly head. Even if Peter may have been trying to help, he was doing the opposite. In this way, it’s even possible to be a hypocrite without even trying to. At the core of the two actions, we always see the same lesson, hypocrisy helps yourself, Liberty helps others. As soon as Peter deviated from God’s truth, it no longer mattered what his intentions were. That action was condemned by God.  

Our flesh does not naturally promote unadulterated freedom. Sinful pride seeks to preserve the self, first and foremost. Because of this, our attempts at freedom are often laced with sin. We use our liberty, both as Christians and as citizens, to demean others, to get what we want at all costs, to keep our sinful pleasures intact. This is not the way of Christ. True, Christian liberty seeks to help others. As Paul practiced it, at times that may mean foregoing what you have every right to do. In other circumstances, it means standing for the truth in the face of evil. Either way, you will need Christ to help you out, if you want the prefix of your liberty to be “Christian” then you need Christ.

It’s only the crucifixion of Jesus that destroyed the old barriers of sin – the sayings that tell you:
·       “You’re not good enough, you have to do this.”
·       “You have to be just like that person or God isn’t happy with you.”
·       “It’s okay to do it differently than what God says, follow your heart.”

These are all traps that lead us further into bondage of sin and away from serving God and others. Peter had been so careless in this regard that our text describes the effect of his actions in unique ways. In verse 13 Paul states that part of his rebuke of Peter was because he led the rest of the Jews to “act hypocritically with him.” This phrase is all contained in one Greek word and it is the only passage in the entire Bible that uses it. This was a serious action. In verse 18 Paul likened the hypocrisy to rebuilding something that had previously been torn down. In anyone did that literally, with building supplies, they’d be called crazy. That is the same for hypocritical Christianity. It is completely devoid of all logic.    

What we need to remember is that it is hypocritical to use our personal freedom to attack God’s truth. When we take a stand for our own desires, instead of God’s will, it rebuilds what Christ destroyed on the cross. When we make faith about requirements and piety of character, instead of the work of the Holy Spirit, it constructs a dwelling place for Satan, not God.

As grievous as Peter’s sins were and as grievous as ours have been, the gospel truth that we strive to protect heals all. That’s precisely why we strive to preserve it! Christ crucified is the antidote to all our sins. Paul didn’t correct Peter because of a power struggle in the early Church. He was looking out for Peter’s well-being before God. He was doing the most loving thing he could do for Peter. The same is true when we speak out against our own sins, and when we take the time to show the same care for fellow Christians that we see straying from the truth. Sharing the freedom of forgiveness in Christ is the best thing we can do for others.

No one likes being shown to be foolish by failing to uphold what they require of others. But, as Christians, we will always make mistakes that betray our confession. Let us not cover up our hypocrisy by changing the word of God to fit our lifestyle, but rest confidently and humbly in the forgiveness of Christ and have that be an example of faith in action for others. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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