“Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles – but privately to those recognised as leaders – so that I might not be running, or have run the race, in vain. But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. This issue arose because of false brothers smuggled in, who came in secretly to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. But we did not give up and submit to these people for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.
Now from those recognised as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism) – they added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the One at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John, recognised as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do.” – Galatians 2:1-10
If there were two things the apostle Paul was constantly on fire about it was the gospel and missions. His books overflow with rich, gospel, doctrine but at the same time the love of God, through Paul, pours out for the lost. I’ll give one example. Arguably, the book of Romans is his big one, his magnum opus; it is where the gospel is most clearly outlined at great length. In the first 8 chapters, it is straight up, hardcore, gospel doctrine but then in chapter 9 his heart finally bleeds, and what spills out? Take a look. Verse 1:
“I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit…”
Translation: what I am about to write is no exaggeration, it is 100% truth confirmed by none other than the Holy Spirit. Verse 2:
“… that I have intense sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could almost wish to be cursed and cut off from the Messiah for the benefit of my brothers, my own flesh and blood.”
There are no words to describe the amazement of this man at this point. I have never, and highly doubt I would ever, flirt with the idea of exchanging my salvation for anybody. With the prospect of an eternal hell, is Paul mad? And yet the Holy Spirit testifies with him that what he’s saying is true. By the way, Paul, of all people, knows that this is impossible, but his heart still yearns with all honesty. There are 2 other people like him in the Bible that come to mind: the first is Moses. In Exodus chapter 32, we find him at wit’s end with the people of Israel. They’ve just committed the ultimate blasphemy against God, creating a false god in the form of a golden calf and worshiping it. It says in verse 30:
“The following day Moses said to the people, ‘You have committed a grave sin. Now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I will be able to atone for your sin.’
So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Oh, these people have committed a grave sin; they have made a god of gold for themselves. Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.’”
Just like the apostle Paul, what kind of love is this? It is astounding. Well, of course, it’s the love of Jesus Christ, who not only offered up His life for people but was capable of following through with it; He was strong enough to take the wrath of God for His people, atoning for their sin, but unlike these human beings named Moses and Paul, Jesus had the ability to come out victorious, rising from the grave, seated in heaven, where we shall see Him face to face. This is the gospel, the good news, for all who believe.
Study Moses, study Paul, and study Jesus Christ. But why do I say all this? Aren’t we in Galatians? Well, this is a prerequisite of sorts. Everything else I say tonight will be in vain if we don’t get what they got: love for God, His saving gospel, and people.
Which finally brings us to Galatians 2. There are 6 things you need to know from this text if you want to be a good missionary. I say “good” because the fact is if you are a Christian you are a missionary. The only thing that remains is if you live it well like an Abraham or if you live it horribly like Abraham’s nephew, Lot.
We’re going to go through these 6 things but I may as well list them for you now so you get a feel of where we’re heading:
1) Know where the gospel came from.
2) Know what the gospel is.
3) Know what the gospel is not.
4) Know your network.
5) Know your mission.
6) Know the poor.
“Then after 14 years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.” – Galatians 2:1
Here we find the Apostle Paul, over a decade in ministry, heading back to Jerusalem for a second time. The question is, why? Paul’s authority has been questioned: not his human authority but his apostleship, the authority of God. If we can gain anything from such a trip it is this: the authority of God in Scripture is absolutely essential for being a missionary. We need to know where the gospel came from, and I’ve got daunting news for us all: it came from the whole Bible, Old Testament and New. We ought to be continually growing in our knowledge of the whole Word of God.
But here’s a question from this text: if Paul is defending his authority here, do we, as missionaries, need to defend the authority of the Bible? As a missionary: no. If that is your mission: yes. Charles Spurgeon made the point in his usual brilliant fashion:
“A great many learned men are defending the gospel; no doubt it is a very proper and right thing to do, yet I always notice that, when there are most books of that kind, it is because the gospel itself is not being preached. Suppose a number of persons were to take it into their heads that they had to defend a lion, a full-grown king of beasts! There he is in the cage, and here come all the soldiers of the army to fight for him. Well, I should suggest to them, if they would not object, and feel that it was humbling to them, that they should kindly stand back, and open the door, and let the lion out! I believe that would be the best way of defending him, for he would take care of himself; and the best defense for the gospel is to let the gospel out.”
Some of you are able defenders of God and the Bible, otherwise known as apologists, which would be a part of your mission field, but that is not the essential quality of a missionary. First and foremost, we need to know the Word of God itself in order to know where the gospel came from. And my warning to all apologists: you don’t need to know the word of God in order to defend it well, and that’s a frightening prospect. I understand this because it’s the same with theology. You can be an able theologian, have some great answers up your sleeve, without being devoted to the Word of God. Scary indeed.
Know what the gospel is
“I went up according to a revelation and presented to them the gospel I preach among the Gentiles – but privately to those recognised as leaders – so that I might not be running, or have run the race, in vain.” – Galatians 2:2
It is not clear what this “revelation” was and so we can neither say exactly why Paul is in Jerusalem nor can we be dogmatic about it. But we can say one thing with certainty: Paul went to Jerusalem because God wanted him there. We know that much. And one of the reasons God wanted him there was to have this conversation about the gospel with Peter, James, and John. By the way, the James spoken of here is Jesus’ brother; the Disciple, James, had already been murdered, by this stage.
Now, again, this is Paul over a decade into his ministry. Whatever gospel he’s presenting to Peter, James, and John is his gospel. There will be no 2 ways about it: whatever gospel Paul has been preaching will be labeled true or false. The readers of Galatians know this. That is what Galatians is all about: the true, pure, undiluted, Gospel.
Between Peter, James, John, and Paul, we have the majority of New Testament writers. And so I ask: what does this mean for us as missionaries? How do we know what the Gospel is? What is the best way to know what the Gospel is? We must know what the gospel is by lining it up with the whole counsel of New Testament teaching, or else it will be lacking. We must refine our gospel and sharpen iron with iron, Paul with Peter, Matthew with John, James with Luke. Otherwise, like Paul warns, we might be running our race in vain.
Know what the gospel is not
“But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. This issue arose because of false brothers smuggled in, who came in secretly to spy on the freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. But we did not give up and submit to these people for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you.” – Galatians 2:3-5
We need to know what the gospel is and we need to know what the gospel is not. Both are important. In Paul’s day, the current issue was circumcision. Paul is emphatic: circumcision has no part in the gospel. In fact he goes on to make 2 judgments:
1) Circumcision is the teaching of false brothers, in other words, supposed Christians.
2) This teaching is slavery, as opposed to the true gospel of freedom in Christ Jesus.
This point logically flows from the last one: if you know what the gospel is, you will know what it’s not. And, most importantly, you will preserve it for future generations in your Church.
I’ll use something from my own Church denomination to illustrate the point: I grew up in the Christian Family Centre at Seaton, which is a Charismatic Church. My Senior Pastor, thankfully, was the leader of the denomination during the early to mid 90’s. What happened in the 90’s, you might ask: a so-called “blessing” poured out in America in a city called Toronto. This was characterised by nothing that glorified Jesus Christ; laughing in the Spirit (haven’t found that verse yet), rolling around on the floor, barking like dogs, the unbiblical use of tongues, and more. This sent the whole Charismatic and Pentecostal world through the roof: oh, some said, a revival has broken out in Toronto, let’s go and be part of what the Holy Spirit is doing. The same thing happened about 6 years ago when a false teacher named Todd Bentley led a supposed revival in Florida.
Parts of my denomination were split. Some people wanted to chase this “revival” of the Holy Spirit. My Pastor, as leader of the denomination, drew a line in the sand and said that is not the gospel. This very act of saying ‘that is not the gospel’ literally preserved the gospel for generations to come. If some Biblically uninformed wacko was at the helm of my denomination and allowed this absolute falsehood to creep in, the gospel would slowly but surely perish from it.
We must know what the gospel isn’t in order to protect it, therefore preserving it for generations to come.
Know your network
“Now from those recognised as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism) – they added nothing to me.” – Galatians 2:6
There’s a certain wisdom here and I think Christians today have stunted their own capacity in serving the Church by not following it. It goes like this:
Step 1) Know the gospel so much that it becomes your gospel.
Step 2) Find a Church where your gospel lines up with their gospel.
Step 3) Be united, as a Church, in that gospel.
As missionaries you have your gospels. Now that might be a strange thought but if you read the letters of Paul he sometimes refers to the gospel as my gospel. This gospel is personal to me, it is personal to you; it’s how God saved you. It is your gospel. So as missionaries you’ve read your Bible, you’re getting to know Jesus, and all of a sudden you start to build this framework of the gospel in your mind. If you reflected on the gospel for yourself, as every disciple of Jesus ought to do, and came to the conclusion that Calvinism was the worst thing that’s ever happened to it, that’s great for you but, please, there’s no point sticking around in this Church. You will only stunt your capacity for what you can do. As well as finding a Church where your gospel lines up, also find a church where your framing of the gospel lines up. If speaking in tongues freak you out, probably stay away from Pentecostal churches. If you studied Scripture and really believed with all your heart that the office of elder/pastor is reserved for men, you will stunt your capacity to serve the Church if it has female pastors.
The point is this: if you’re framework of the gospel doesn’t line up with my framework of the gospel; one of us is in the wrong church and is a poorer missionary because of it. I believe that Citylight Glenelg, under the banner of Acts 29, is clear about their framing of the gospel, and I think it’s a fine time to review it together as a Church. These are the 5 distinctives of any Acts 29 Church (the full statement can be found here):
1) We are passionate about Gospel centrality.
2) We enthusiastically embrace the sovereignty of God’s grace in saving sinners.
3) We recognise and rest upon the necessity of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit for all of life and ministry.
4) We are deeply committed both to the fundamental spiritual and moral equality of male and female as well as the principle of male headship in the church and home.
5) Acts 29 embraces a missionary understanding of the local church and its role as the primary means by which God chooses to establish his kingdom on earth.
And so I ask you:
· Do you know your gospel?
· Do you know your framing of the gospel?
· Do you know your Church?
· Are you united with them in that gospel?
Know your mission
“On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the One at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles. When James, Cephas, and John, recognised as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” – Galatians 2:7-9
Once you know where the gospel came from, what the gospel is, what the gospel isn’t; and once you use that knowledge to find your local church to be united in that gospel… how do you then know your personal mission? Peter was for the circumcised; Paul and Barnabas were for the Gentiles. What about you?
Knowing your mission directly coincides with knowing your gifts. If you like, turn with me to the fourth chapter of Ephesians, verses 1 to 16, and notice the similar structure of what I’ve been preaching tonight:
“Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift. For it says:
When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity; He gave gifts to people.
But what does “He ascended” mean except that He descended to the lower parts of the earth? The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. There is one Gospel. All of us are united in that!
Now that that has been established: there are different gifts, there are different missions. As it said in that passage, “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift”. God has given you a gift, and he’s given you the grace to use that gift. You may think, oh, this gift I believe God’s given me, it’s too much. I don’t deserve it. I’m not anyone special. This is too hard. What if I fail? What if I’m wrong?
Let’s be crystal clear on this: you have grace to do your mission. That’s it. That’s your fire. That’s your fuel. Be a grace-empowered disciple of Christ, and do your mission! The day God saved you, without you even knowing it, you were given pre-determined spiritual gifts. Why? Because God has a mission for every one of his disciples with no exceptions, and knowing your mission directly coincides with knowing your spiritual gifts. What is the whole purpose of a gift, apart from mission? There is no other purpose; this is it.
So I ask then: what are your spiritual gifts? Well, let me help you out. The Apostle Paul listed 22 gifts in three of his letters. I’m going to read out 14 that I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, are available today for the Church. Remember, if you are a Christian, you have at least one of these gifts and, to be honest, probably more than one:
5. Distinguishing between spirits
Some of you are thinking: that’s a gift? I think I might have that one. Let me just say: that is a gift, you do have it, and it’s an integral part of your mission.
Know the poor
“They asked only that we would remember the poor, which I made every effort to do.” – Galatians 2:10
I believe more can be said about this besides: make sure you give to charity! Rather than attack your wallet I’d like to attack your mindset, your worldview. And, let me just say: this is hard stuff. I preach this word in rebuke of my own choices in life.
I’ll illustrate the point: last year I was browsing social media/making myself angry: they kind of go hand-in-hand. I came across this church; I think it was an Instagram pic of a couple of the church guys in suits. The caption was something like: Suit up! Tonight, at church, come dressed in your favourite suit!
Well, tonight was apparently suits night. I only have one question: how is that remembering the poor? I felt sick when I saw that post because I immediately thought of all the people in that town who didn’t have suits… couldn’t afford suits… I thought of those who might walk in the church that night, needing the gospel, only to find a bunch of morons in suits thinking they’re cool, most likely trying to impress the opposite sex.
In everything you do, as a missionary, as a disciple of Christ, and together as a Church, remember the poor. It is striking (isn’t it?) that this verse is in here. Galatians is all about the gospel: the true, pure, gospel. In this scene we have Peter, James, John, and Paul, the majority of New Testament writers, gathered together, talking about the gospel! This is a talk about gospel essentials.
1) Know where the gospel came from.
2) Know what the gospel is.
3) Know what the gospel isn’t.
4) Know your network.
5) Know your mission
But what’s more essential than this?
“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent a message by his disciples and asked Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the gospel.” – Matthew 11:2-5
The poor finally get some Good News.