6 JUNE 2010    TRINITY 1   PROPER 5  

Gal 1.11-24      Luke 7.11-17  

All are one in Christ

Conflict in the Anglican Communion distresses many. People want unity and peace which comes when there is agreement. Why can’t we tolerate differences they ask? Yet truth matters.  

St Paul in 1 Cor 11.10 says to the Christians in Corinth ‘I hear that there are divisions among you and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you that those who are approved may be recognised among you’.

Paul was not afraid of violent disagreement when necessary to uphold the truth as we see in his letter to the Galatians, part of which we heard this morning.  

During his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in the towns of central Turkey which in his day was called the province of Galatia . Later, when perhaps he was in Corinth, he heard that other Christian missionaries had gone there and denigrated Paul, saying that he hadn’t informed the Galatians of the true requirements of the Christian faith.

If they wished to receive the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendents they must become Jews. They must accept all the requirements of the Law given by God to Moses and especially the requirement that all males must be circumcised.

These missionaries claimed the authority of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for their teaching and suggested that Paul had no such authority. He was a newcomer who hadn’t known the Lord Jesus.  

Paul was shocked. In his letter he exclaims ‘O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?’. In the first sentence of his letter to them he claims to be an apostle, not by mere human authority but ‘through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.’ He’s clear that his mission wasn’t given to him by the leaders in Jerusalem or Antioch. It was God-given. It was revealed to him by Jesus Christ. He doesn’t say when or how he received it but presumably it was connected to his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus . ‘God revealed his Son in me’ he wrote ‘that I might preach the Lord Jesus among the gentiles’. 

Although Paul insists that his mission to the nations was God-given, he needed to show that it was recognised and approved by the first Christians in Jerusalem. He describes his visits to the city. It was some years after his call, his conversion, that he went to see Peter. It seems likely that he wanted to learn more about the life and teaching of Jesus. Apart from Peter, he saw only James the Lord’s brother who presided over the church in Jerusalem. However, there was no question of their giving him a mandate for mission. He already had it from God. So he went to Antioch and regions to the north from there to carry it out.  

If we read on into chapter 2, Paul tells us that he made another visit to Jerusalem fourteen years later when James, Peter and John approved Paul’s mission to the gentiles. They agreed that gentiles who became Christians, such as Titus, need not be circumcised.  

At the same time, Peter’s mission to Jews was also approved. This meant that Jews who became Christians might continue to observe Jewish laws and customs but non Jews were not required to do this.  

What was vital for Paul was the gospel that justification was available to all solely through the salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. So he can say to the Galatians and to us who have been baptised ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus and if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’.

  

Crispin Harrison CR