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“But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.” – Gal 2:18
This phrase penned by the Apostle Paul follows the prophetic impulse of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-11 (NIV)
For those of us with that same prophetic impulse, I hope that you will be fueled with a passion to “build” what God is wanting to build and “tear down” those systems, beliefs, and practices which God does not approve. The apostolic and the prophetic are essential to the laying of foundations of the Church (Eph. 2:20). The “builder” anointing and impulse of the apostolic and prophetic is coupled with the “destroy and overthrow” anointing. The Spirit of God resists the proud. Anything, temples, kingdoms, or belief systems which resist the gentle flow of the Holy Spirit are marked for destruction.
Isa 57:14 And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
Then, after the destruction, the anointing to build takes the lead. Those whom God has rescued, the poor and the needy, the ones who have humbly sought God for grace, then become the builders.
Isa 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
The caution Paul offers in the building process is to beware of building systems that will resist the gentle flow of God’s Spirit as He seeks to rescue and restore the poor and needy.
Our table is the center of our home. It’s the place our family comes together, the place we welcome friends, neighbors, and strangers. We invite others into the kitchen where we chop and sauté vegetables, bake bread, stir sauces, pour the fruit of the vine (juice or wine, you choose), and prepare to savor the meal. Rich conversation with others around food is how we live, how we love each other, how we teach our children, and how we learn about others and our world.
We thought everyone enjoyed meals as families. We thought everyone invited people into their homes to share their lives. Sadly, we’ve met a growing number of people who rarely if ever sit at table with their families, let alone anyone else. By sharing our table with international students, young people from various religious and non-religious backgrounds, happy homes and broken homes, we’ve learned how very desperate this generation is for authentic relationships.
But that’s not all. The simplicity of sharing meals and intimate conversation may be more than we thought.
Think about it. Table fellowship was central to early church gatherings. Long before all the complex religious practices, the beautiful sanctuaries and the hierarchy of leaders were added to the simplicity of sharing life in Christ with others, believers shared meals from house to house. Though some gatherings may have been in the synagogue or a rented hall, much of the growth of the church came about in the intimate spaces, especially table fellowship. Without the New Testament scriptures, people gathered to remember the words Jesus spoke. They experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke the simple gospel message and the church rapidly grew. People opened their homes and others brought their appetites, desiring to grow in their relationship with Jesus, which caused the growth of the “spiritual house”, the new temple of worship. It appears Jesus intends, and the early apostles taught, that we should be priests offering spiritual sacrifices from the altar of table fellowship. Peter writes:
“Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:2-5
There’s more. The New Testament “priesthood” is very different from the Old Testament priesthood and their focus on Temple worship. Before Jesus went to the cross, he prophesied the total destruction of the Temple, which came about before the end of the first century, and which resulted in the end of Temple worship. Jesus instituted a new form of altar worship, table fellowship. He instructed his followers to remember his sacrifice. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers:
“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:22-24
Jesus instructed us to “remember” and Peter instructed us to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Priests offer intercession, prayer for the people, including all nations. The Old Testament priests were born priests; they were from the tribe of Levites. The Levites offered the blood of bulls, goats, and doves for the remission of sin. Some became corrupt, seeking and maintaining power, and failing to intercede for the nations. Of all the words Jesus spoke, he spoke most harshly to those corrupt leaders that failed to be priests and a light to the Gentiles.
The “tribe” of priests in the New Testament are also born to a priesthood; they are born of the Spirit. They are not individually priests with special callings. The priesthood is all those born of the Spirit. New Testament priests do not shed blood, as the Levites did. Instead, they recall the complete and finished work of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, our high priest:
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” – Heb. 7:23-27
So this priesthood is not for a select few in the Church, not a specialized role that must be earned and not a special class of people within the Church. This priesthood of all believers is the call to intercede, to pray and offer a different kind of “sacrifice” on a different kind of altar.
Table fellowship had become very controversial in the early church. Peter struggled with the issue and Paul confronted him about it:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” – Gal. 2:11-12
Jewish believers needed to learn Christ’s mission. They needed to be free from their cultural and religious systems of power. They needed to recognize how those systems resist Holy Spirit.
Finding freedom in the Spirit will lead us to cooperate with him. He is here to make Jesus known in all the earth. The Holy Spirit is spreading the good news. Our part is to be that priesthood, inviting our neighbors to table fellowship. Preaching is important, but we must not neglect breaking bread with neighbors as part of our intercession for our neighborhood as a kingdom of priests.
The letter to the Galatians may be Paul’s most important, representing the life and death struggle for the universal Church. It may have been followed by what may be the most important event in early church history, the Council of Jerusalem.
Paul also exhibits his most combative attitude in this letter. He does not open with any sense of gratitude for the church at Galatia, as was his custom. Paul, instead, must take on those other “teachers” who are presenting a “different gospel”, which undermines Paul’s gospel of justification by grace. Those other teachers were what Paul calls the “circumcision faction” (NRSV), who were demanding Gentile believers to observe the law of Moses, to become circumcised, which is to rely on Jewish Heritage.
Paul had met with Peter, had joined him at table fellowship with Gentiles, and later rebuked him for pulling away from that fellowship when those “Judaisers” arrived. Even Barnabas pulled back and joined in this “hypocrisy.” Paul calls into question the motives of those teachers; was it to avoid persecution or to gain some advantage?
It’s unclear exactly who those other teachers are that are putting Gentile believers under a “yoke of slavery,” but his words for them are as biting as ever. He claims they will “pay the penalty,” that they are “accursed,” and he wishes that they would “castrate themselves.”
Paul declares that the believers who have come under that “yoke” are “stupid” and “foolish.” They are by their actions denying the sufficiency of Christ, the gospel of Grace Paul preached to them. They are willing to “add” something, as if something more were necessary, to their simple trust in God.
Paul’s argument is that everyone, even Jews who do ‘works of the law’ in accordance to their heritage, must abandon their hope for a right relationship with God through trust in any other means, including Jewish Heritage. We must all find our hope and place our trust in Christ alone. Paul argues that Jewish heritage is more than adherence to Mosaic Law. Their father is Abraham, whose faith in God and not his adherence to any law. Therefore, Paul argues that reliance on law is finished for all Christians. The law does not and cannot foster the kind of faith and trust that leads to life. The Law was an imperfect agency, added as a kind of tutor, which identifies sin.
Followers of Christ are to emulate the trust of Abraham. The controversy called for the Council of Jerusalem. The consequences of this letter and this issue had divided churches, and if it had not been resolved, may never have allowed for Gentile believers without conversion to Judaism. The consequences would have dramatically hindered missionary efforts. The core of this issue may be the strong tendency of many Jews to place their trust in their ethnic and religious identity.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians calls us to eliminate all barriers to full religious participation based on race, sex, social status, etc. This is the challenge, I believe, for any cross-cultural transmission of the gospel. For that reason, if this controversy had not been sufficiently quelled, it would have done irreparable violence to the gospel of grace.