Gospel to the Nations, Generosity to the Poor

Missions Week

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) - those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

Today is the second Sunday of our Fall Missions Focus. It has been our pattern for many years to close this service with a call for everyone to come to the front of the sanctuary who believes God is stirring in your life to move you sooner or later toward cross-cultural missions longer term. So please pray with me that God would confirm in this service what he has been doing in your life, or may begin to do today.

The first thing I want to do is walk you from Galatians 1:6 to 2:10 so that you can see the flow of Paul’s thought. Then we will work our way backwards and focus on three things: the poor, the gospel, and the call—finally, your call. Seek to hear it as I preach.

Paul’s Gospel Is From Christ, Not Man

Paul is astonished. The Galatians are about to abandon the gospel because some professing Christians had come among them preaching the necessity of circumcision for salvation. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone on the basis of Christ alone was at stake, and Paul could hardly believe what he is hearing. Verse 6: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.”

Then he tells them there is no other gospel that can save anyone from sin and hell, and if anyone tells you there is . . . well, listen to his words in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” In street language, but very literally: To hell with him.

Then he argues that his gospel is truly from Jesus Christ, not from any man or from his own head. Verses 11:-12, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Then he defends this amazing claim by reminding them how incredibly his life had changed. In verses 13-14 he reminds them what a zealous persecutor of the church he was. Then in verses 15-17 he describes the change in his life and that it came without going to Jerusalem: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” Then (verse 18) after three years he made a 15-day trip to Jerusalem and met Peter and James the Lord’s brother; then disappears for 14 years into Syria and Cilicia.

The point of all that was to say: My gospel is from Christ and not from man. I am not a secondhand apostle. My authority and my message are not derivative. They come from the risen Christ, not Peter and James.

But now in chapter two he continues this emphasis but adds an emphasis on unity with the original twelve apostles. Paul knows that if his gospel and his apostleship are rejected by the original twelve apostles, there would be an intolerable split in the foundation of Christ’s church and he would be running in vain. So he must establish his independency and his unity with the original apostles. That is the point of 2:1-10.

Verses 1-2

Then after fourteen years [a long time to establish his independence] I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me [taking Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile convert right into the hotbed of Jewish legal conservatism as a test case of his gospel of freedom]. 2 I went up because of a revelation [Christ told him to go, this is not a human strategy] and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.

The gospel of Paul must be coherent with the gospel the twelve apostles preach or the unity of the apostleship crashes, and with it the church.

Verses 3-5

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” Things got very tense for a while as the circumcision party—he calls them false brothers!—tried to force the issue of the necessity of circumcision. But Paul would not budge because the gospel was at stake. This is the “other gospel” that he called damnable in chapter 1 verse 8.

Verses 6-9

And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me [He continues to stress his independence. His gospel is from Christ, not man]. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.

That is one of the most important moments in history—all of history! Unity is reached among the founding apostles of the Christian Church, and the gospel is safeguarded from one of its earliest threats. I think it would be fair to say that for the first and greatest missionary to the Gentiles the most essential thing in missions was to get the gospel right—exactly right. Otherwise he would be running in vain.

Verse 10

Then, finally, Paul adds verse 10. There is one other thing we agreed on: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Paul agreed with the apostles that concrete financial compassion for the poor was a crucial part of apostolic ministry.

Now let’s turn around and go backward through this text and this time only focus on three things: the poor, the gospel and the call, and end with your call. Pray that God would make it plain as I preach.

Poor

First, the poor. What I want us to see is four things: That the apostles were of one mind about this, that it was important enough to mention alongside the purity of the gospel, that Paul was not just willing to do it but eager to do it, and finally, that the passion and this priority for the poor came from Christ himself. The first three are crystal clear from verse 10: “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” They are agreed. They mention it explicitly along with the gospel they share. And the eagerness of Paul is made clear. “The very thing I was eager to do.” Not a burden but a blessing. I love to bless the poor.

But where did this passion and this priority come from? For Paul I think we should say it flowed out of the heart that the gospel created (2 Corinthians 8:9). A forgiven heart is a compassionate heart. But for the original twelve apostles, they have not only the new heart of compassion, but also memories of the way Jesus himself lived.

  • The vision of the judgment in  Matthew 25 (35-36) where Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
  • Zachaeus gives half of his possessions to the poor, and Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9). The evidence of salvation is practical, financial compassion for the poor.
  • Jesus’ words to the man who invited him to a feast, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:13-14).
  • And inauguration of Jesus’ ministry in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

And so many more places could be cited. The point is: the apostles were agreed on the importance of ministry to the poor because it flows from the center of the gospel—the cross—and because Jesus lived it out. The apostles were eager to bless the poor. It was part of their foundational ministry. I assume therefore it should be a crucial commitment in the church today—in missions and in the ongoing ministry of the church.

And it isn’t just the Christian poor. Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Yes, take care of your own. But the heart of Christ does not neglect unbelievers. Paul said in Romans 12:20, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Christians who have the heart of Christ and who follow in the paths of the apostles remember the poor to do as much good for them as we can.

Gospel

Then we take our second step backward through the text to the centrality and purity of the gospel in verse 5: “To them [those who were insisting on circumcision for salvation] we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” How attractive it may seem at times—especially in missions—to alter the gospel and make it fit the situation so as not to offend anyone. But Paul doesn’t do that. The Jewish Christian cultural and religious expectation of many was that circumcision was necessary. Can’t Paul concede that for the sake of peace? And not only did Paul refuse to submit “even for a moment,” he says, but he even called them “false brothers” (in verse 4). This is really strong. One slight adjustment to justification by faith alone, and Paul calls the change damnable in Galatians 1:8 and calls the people false brothers.

So the point is: What gospel our missionaries take to the nations is really important. Let our missionaries be utterly clear about what the gospel is! Let none of them say that doctrine doesn’t matter. Let none say that small changes to the gospel can’t hurt anybody. May every missionary under pressure to compromise the gospel say with the apostle Paul, “We did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” This is tough love at home for the sake of the nations.

And that includes the poor. May every missionary to the poor say with the apostle Paul, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18)—the real good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, to the glory of God alone—the good news worth dying for.

Call

Finally, take a third step backward in the text to look at Paul’s call—and ponder your own. The great gospel promise and hope is Romans 10:13, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That is true in a jail at midnight in Philippi where a Gentile jailer listens to two Jews singing in their chains. It’s true in the inner city projects of Bangkok. It’s true in the rubble of Pakistani mountains and Guatemalan villages. It’s true among Somali refugees in Minneapolis. It’s true in Mexico and Kazakhstan and Kenya and Cameroon and Russia and Papua New Guinea and Philippines and Senegal and Japan and Bosnia and Germany and Ethiopia and Peru and Bolivia and Ecuador and Brazil and the Czech Republic and Austria and Syria and Ivory Coast and Turkey and China and Oman and United Arab Emirates and England and Uzbekistan and Indonesia and India and Zambia. The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God saves all who call upon him in truth.

“But,” Paul asks in Romans 10:14f, “how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

This is what God did for Paul. He called him and sent him. And this is what God does today. God sends people. He does it in a thousand ways. It is amazing how he does it. He is doing it now, I believe, in this room. Just awakening it for some. Bringing others to deep conviction.

Look at what happened to Paul in Galatians 1:15-16: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” Notice how Paul says it: God revealed his Son to me, in order that I might preach him. The way Paul met Jesus and knew Jesus became his call to be a missionary. God revealed his Son to me and the effect was: I became a missionary. I crossed the cultures from Pharisaic Judaism to all the forms of Gentile unclearness in the Roman world.

I don’t know how God is doing it with you. He has his ways of stirring us to the point where we know we must move. We must venture. We must go toward the unreached and toward the poor. And you know that these are almost the same now. 85% of the poorest of the poor live in the 10-40 window (from West Africa to the Pacific Rim 10 degrees North to 40 degrees North). And 95% of the least reached peoples live in the 10-40 window. In other words, globally speaking, the most unreached peoples and the poorest peoples are almost the same.

A call to the unreached peoples is almost the same as a call to the poorest of the poor. Oh, that God might raise up more and more from among us to go.

In a moment I would like to invite all of you who believe that God is moving you toward cross-cultural missionary work sooner or later longer-term (not just a few weeks but for some years), to come to the front and let me pray for you and give you a card to fill out so that our mission leaders can be in touch with you and serve you in whatever way will help you. I am thinking of children who are old enough to have thought this through and young people and young adults married or single, mid-lifers and retirees. God has his ways to loosen your roots. If you can discern what he is doing, I hope you will come.

It will mean a love for the poor and trust in the gospel and a sense of God leading and God’s provision. To stay in your seat I hope means: I rededicate myself to be a good sender, a good rope holder. Let’s pray.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org