June 6, 2010
Proper 5
Galatians 1:11-24

“As I have already said, so now I say again:  if anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9).

We might wish there never were church feuds, but we are too human for that to be a reality. Or maybe we are not human enough. Some church feuds are like the cat fight described in the limerick: “There once were two cats of Kilkenny./ Each thought there was one cat too many./ So they fought and they spit,/ And they scratched and they bit,/ ‘Till except for their nails/ And the tips of their tails,/ Instead of two cats, there weren’t any!”

In Galatians, we are confronted right away with a first-class church feud; but there are some things we can learn from this passage. If we have a fight on our hands, let’s learn how to do it right.

I. Let it be an issue that really matters. The issue in this text was not about the color of the carpet or the style of music in the worship service. It was an issue of eternal consequence. Ultimately it was not about whether or not Paul was a true apostle. He just needed to deal with that to get to the real issue—the certainty of the gospel he proclaimed. A group we call Judaizers believed that a number of the ceremonial practices of the Old Testament were still binding on the New Testament church—particularly circumcision. Paul insisted that Christ Himself had personally set him apart for the task of proclaiming the one and only gospel. He didn’t get his commission from the Jerusalem apostles. In fact, on occasion he found it necessary to rebuke the Apostle Peter publicly for treating Gentile members as second-class Christians. The gospel of pure grace really matters.

I heard Evangelist Hyman Appleman tell about when he was a young pastor of a church feuding about where the organ should be placed. One group was sure it should be on the right side of the chancel. The other was determined it would be in the middle. Every few weeks, the church would gather to find one group had come during the night and moved the organ to its preferred location. Soon the instrument would appear back in the other spot. Appleman said someone came with an axe in the middle of the night one Saturday and chopped the organ to splinters. He added, “I never did tell them who did it!”

II. Let the conflict be about issues, not personalities. While Paul’s apostleship is an issue, it is not the issue. Paul would come into a new region and preach the gospel. From the converts, he would establish a church before moving on to do the same somewhere else. Behind him would come these Judaizers saying that Paul was not a true apostle and not preaching the true gospel. Paul had to answer that. Paul did not gloss over the issue, nor did he beat around the bush. He spoke frankly and plainly. It matters whether one believes one becomes a Christian by faith in Christ alone or by keeping rules and regulations. It matters whether one believes living the Christian life is a matter of faith or of works.

III. Let divine revelation settle the matter. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul has two lines of argument. First, he argues from his own personal testimony. His life was radically changed by Christ—not by keeping the law. The law never could work such a change as to make the chief persecutor of Christians into the chief proclaimer of Christ. Second, he argues from Scripture the utter inconsistency of adding works to faith. Does the gift of the Spirit come by works of the law or by faith hearing the gospel? If you begin by faith, can you go on to completion by works? Paul insisted it was a matter of faith from beginning to end. He appealed to the prophet Habakkuk to say those who are righteous by faith shall live. The law was like a babysitter bringing us home to Christ our true Teacher and Savior (chaps. 3, 4).

If we are going to have a church fight, let’s do it right!

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