Written by Kevin Cunningham
In a small village located in Colombia’s Pacific coast jungle, we awaited the arrival of a king. Our team’s excitement could not be denied that God had chosen us to preach the gospel for the first time in history to the Epena Pedee tribe. But, the tribe had a king. He sent us a message saying they had enough gods already and we were not welcome. We went anyway. When the king arrived, his countenance revealed he was not happy.
Then he saw me, an unguarded, unarmed white person in one of the most dangerous areas on the planet. His expression changed to one of bewilderment. “What are you doing here? Don’t you know you could die here?” he asked me. I responded, “God loves you so much he sent me here today to tell you his story. I love God so much that I came here to tell you about Him even if it costs me my life. But, the important story is that God already sent his Son, Jesus, to earth for you; he already gave his life for you.” The king, silent in thought for a moment then declared, “Gather the entire village into the main hut. We will hear more about this Jesus.”
Occasions arise in the Christian life when we must count the cost of delivering the truth of the gospel message and either pay the price, or compromise or even abandon the gospel. In Galatians 2, Paul stood squarely at the crossroads of the formation of the new Church. Paul must count the cost of taking on the entire church leadership over the Gospel he knows to be the truth. To Paul, it is the Gospel of Grace; it is the end of the Law.
Fourteen years before, the Jerusalem council created a truce between the Jewish law keeper and the gentile grace factions of the early church. The object of this visit was to discuss a vital principle of the gospel – the right of the Gentiles to the privileges of the gospel without observing the works of the Jewish law. A misunderstanding could have imperiled the liberty of the gospel.
There is great significance in the presence of Barnabas and Titus – the one a pure Jew, a man of gentle disposition and generous impulse, and the other a Gentile convert, representing the world of the uncircumcised. Contrary to their strong Jewish prejudices, the Church leaders at Jerusalem admitted the legal rite of circumcision must not be imposed on Gentile converts. They knew this was the authoritative will of God-sanctioned as an essential feature of the gospel. Yet, certain ‘false brethren’ insisted Titus should be circumcised. This was promptly and stoutly opposed. A concession on this point would have been fatal to the universality of the gospel – the whole Gentile world would have been ensnared with the bondage of legal ceremonies. At this council, the great battle of Christian liberty was fought and won. The victory stands as another testimony to the validity and power of the divine commission God entrusted to Paul.
Two things Paul saw clearly:
- A church ceases to be Christian if it contains class distinctions. In the presence of God, people are neither Jews nor Gentiles, noble nor of low birth, rich nor poor; they are all sinners for whom Christ died. All children of God, all one family.
- The forceful action was necessary to counteract a drift which occurred. He did not wait; he struck. It made no difference to him that this drifting had gone as high as Peter and even ensnared Barnabas. This reversal into hypocritical behavior toward the Gentile believers had caused them to separate themselves during the love feasts and gave the allusion of two distinct Christian groups and two Gospels. It was wrong, and that was all that mattered to Paul. A famous name can never justify an infamous action. Paul’s action gives us a vivid example of how one strong individual by determination can halt a drift away from the right course before it becomes a tidal wave.
Paul counted the cost before his journey back to Jerusalem knowing he entered a life or death struggle for the purity of the Gospel. As we go into “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8), we should be aware of the cost. This journey to Jerusalem turned out well for Paul and the gospel. But Paul did not go without persecution and beatings when he entered synagogues with the truth of the gospel. When we stepped into that log canoe and traveled up the Guapi River and into the jungle, I knew the cost. Sometimes all is the cost required for the Gospel to advance. All for Jesus.