But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.
We are an insider/outsider people, having hearts filled with various “us” and “them” filters ranging from gender, school allegiance, education, race, political affiliation, social class and, of course, spirituality. Us church-folk can be brutal in this. We have learned all the loving and unifying Bible words to use, but in our hearts we crucify those who disagree, relegating different Christ-followers to either second-class spirituality, or, even worse, to hell itself. When we do this (and we are usually sly enough to only do it in our hearts, not in our words or overt actions), we are might be mistaking fruit for root. We list different behaviors (many of which God has clearly commanded while others are more cultural distinctives that we’ve elevated to universal truths) as mandatory for a person to be adopted into God’s family, rather than realizing that the only requirement for being adopted is to believe that our only hope is in Jesus alone, the very Son of God, has come to live, die, raise and ascend so that our treacherous sins can be forgiven and Jesus’ life can be our own. Full Stop. Plus nothing. But we get the ingredients inverted, making the fruit that God’s love produces in us the requirement of God’s love.
In this passage Paul has gone to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders so they can be of one mind regarding the Gospel because there were “spies” who had infiltrated the church, saying that salvation comes from Jesus, but you have to become a Jew first in order to then be a Christian and be acceptable to God. In their church meeting (everybody’s favorite thing) the leaders unanimously agreed that God’s love and gift are offered without string (5b “the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”). This is because they realized the ultimate and true “us vs. them” is not horizontal between us, but between all of humanity and God. In our rebellion we’ve rejected the One True King, pitting us against him. But God didn’t treat us the way we treat others, Thank God!
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners (the ultimate outsiders), Christ died for us.”
God shattered the barrier that we created which justly divided us from Him in the person of Jesus so that membership in The Family is secured by Him, not by us, making the Family of God wildly and ridiculously diverse. Firmly keeping to the Essentials of Jesus as our Foundation and Cornerstone, we can now live and move through disagreements, diversity and freedom. We can sing differently, pray differently, baptize differently, eat differently, vote differently, play differently etc etc. This by no means waters down our firm belief and conviction in Jesus, neither does it water down our beliefs about the other aforementioned points of theology. Rather it draws us into more dependence and trust in Jesus, who is the author of our faith. Not only do Christians not have to be all alike, we SHOULDN’T be all alike. We need to listen to the Spirit of Christ personally, but also corporately (which is what Paul was doing when he went to Jerusalem). We need a miraculous spirit of humility and discernment to live out this motto:
In Essentials, Unity
In Non-Essentials, Liberty
In All Things, Charity
Yes, this is super messy, and scary. It forces us to deeply ask “What is essential?” Here’s a hint, not everything you believe is essential, even things you are extremely confident about.
Let’s finish with this story. In John 9 a blind man was healed by Jesus, which infuriated the Religious Elite because Jesus wasn’t following what they thought were essentials (they were wrong). When they asked the blind man for a testimony against Jesus, all he said was the Gospel: “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
- What “us vs. them” dominates your average day?
- Who is inside and who is out?
- What things do you treat as “essential” that might not be?
- What “cultural distinctives” do you treat as “theological imperatives”?