By Stephen W. Hiemstra
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28 ESV).
Are you led by the spirit?
One of the most striking things about the Apostle Paul is that he was led by the Holy Spirit. Paul writes: I went up [to Jerusalem] because of a revelation (v 2). In Acts 16:7-9, 14, we read that Paul was forbidden by the spirit to enter Bithynia and later had a vision of a man of Macedonia bidding him to come. Following this vision, Paul entered Macedonia where he met a woman named Lydia in Philippi—an unlikely place to start a church because it was a Roman city. Yet, the Philippian church was not only established, it became one of Paul’s strongest supporters.
Why would the spirit lead Paul to Jerusalem and into open controversy even with Peter over the relationship between Jews and Gentiles?
Paul’s ministry was on the line. He writes: 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 (v 2). Paul was teaching that salvation was available to anyone—Greek or Hebrew—through Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone (v 4). Others were teaching that one needed to become a Jew and obey the law of Moses in order to become a Christian (v 16).
After Paul shared his teaching with church leaders in Jerusalem, it was resolved that Paul and Peter taught the same Gospel. However, Paul’s ministry focused on Gentiles while Peter’s focused on Jews (vv 7-9). Paul was reminded, however, that he needed to remember the poor—which he was happy to do (v 10).
The Jerusalem discussions did not, however, settle the problem. Peter and others, such as Barnabas, were pressured to adhere to Jewish dietary regulations (vv 12-13). The pressure must have been great because Peter himself was one of the first to argue for evangelization of Gentiles and he personally witnessed a Gentile Pentecost in Jappa (Acts 11:1-18). For this reason, Paul felt compelled to confront Peter openly during a visit to Antioch about his backsliding on the question of eating with Gentile converts (vv 11-14).
What was the heart of Paul’s concern? Our salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ, not through obeying the law of Moses (v 16). Our faith is in Jesus alone; our faith is not in Jesus plus other things.
While the Holy Spirit may lead us into different ministries and we must all care for the poor, Christian unity lies in Christ alone.