Thursday, February 28
14:24 They passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25After they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28And they spent a considerable time with the disciples.
15:1 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2After Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this issue. 3When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they brought great joy to all the brothers and sisters.
4When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
Act 14:24 - 15:5 (CSB)
Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey and returned to Antioch where they reported “everything that God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Notice where they focus—on what God had done. Not what had happened. And a lot had happened. In addition to a grueling multi-city schedule and intense Jewish opposition, a small Jewish contingent chased Paul and Barnabas from city to city, until eventually Paul almost died from stoning. Rather than complain about those Jews or consider retirement, though, Paul and Barnabas celebrate that Gentiles were coming to faith.
The celebration didn’t last long, though, because soon Jewish opposition of a different sort showed up: the circumcision party. This is a general term that refers to Jewish Christ followers who insisted that circumcision remained a prerequisite for salvation through Christ. This stance was not new. After the Roman centurion Cornelius came to faith in chapter 10, Peter faced intense opposition for preaching, eating and staying at a Gentile’s house, but he cited his vision from God and the Gentiles’ receiving the Holy Spirit as proof that faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord had superseded old covenant stipulations.
The men arguing with Paul are not the same ones who confronted Peter. Peter convinced his opponents back then, but this new group is not persuaded even by the sign of the Spirit. To be fair to the troublemakers, circumcision was the sign of the covenant, established in Genesis 17 by God with Abraham, centuries before the Passover, Exodus, Torah, or entry into the Promised Land. Even though the message of Christ is truly an extension of Judaism by finally fulfilling all Yahweh’s covenant promises, to devout ethnic Jews abandoning the Temple and sacrificial system would have felt like the end of their world. To now abandon circumcision was a bridge too far.
Paul had zero patience for this sentiment, though. As a Jew of Jews and Pharisee of Pharisees, no one had matched Paul’s zeal for the God, Torah, and rituals of Judaism. He understood and had experienced the freedom of the Gospel that came through Christ’s fulfillment of Scripture and longed for others to do the same. This opposition wasn’t isolated to Antioch in Syria; the Gentile churches Paul had planted on his missionary journey in the province of Galatia now had false teachers preaching the necessity of circumcision, which infuriated Paul’s pastor heart.
Paul expresses his thoughts on the issue—in blunt, impatient and sarcastic Pauline fashion—in Galatians. Not all scholars agree, but many believe that Paul wrote Galatians during the time between Acts 14 & 15 when he “spent considerable time with the disciples” in Antioch. Written to the churches he had nearly given his life to plant, Galatians is Paul’s magnum opus on freedom in Christ. God’s anointed king has fulfilled every Law and every ritual so that in Him nothing else is required.
Ideally, take time today to read the book of Galatians with this setting in mind. Paul gets fired up in Galatians. Hear his passion for the Gospel and his concern for the people he had led to faith in Christ.
If you don’t have time to read the whole book (but it’s only 6 chapters and will take you about 20 minutes—the running time of one sitcom), here’s a verse for the day: “I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). There are probably more translations for this verse than any other verse because Paul is being making a sarcastic and slightly crass play on words. He wants those insisting on the circumcision to ‘go the whole way and cut themselves off’ (the most literal translation). We aren’t used to the Bible beings so…blunt…but it is a genius play on words. In addition to the physical application, Paul sees those who add to the Gospel as spiritually “cut off” from the true faith. After reading that line, his audience would never forget his point.
We are used to the Bible fitting a sort of puritanical sensibility, but the Bible is not always that tame. Especially Paul. Paul was passionate and fiery for the Gospel, and we do a disservice to both him and the text to constantly tame it. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, some passion and fire once in awhile is not sinful. We often show more passion over a Vols game than the Gospel. So get fired up. It’s the only thing that ultimately matters.
Heavenly Father, make me holy and passionate. May I not use my freedom as a license to sin, but make me zealous for the freedom that I do have through Christ. Make me zealous for the faith of others, that I would oppose false gospels as vehemently as Paul did. May I do all these by the power of Your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pick Four More Activities
Listen and Worship.
Pray a Psalm.
Read a Book.
Retell the Gospel to Yourself.
Take Some Notes on Today's Devotional.
Pray for Yourself, Your Family, Your Church, and the Lost.
Memorize a Verse.
List Five Things You're Thankful For.