“Fourteen years after that day when I met Jesus on the road to Damascus, I returned to Jerusalem, Barnabas and Titus, another of my companions, with me. God gave me a vision, telling me to go to the apostles and speak to them about the message that I preach to the Gentiles. I went to them and did as God led me to do in private. I did not want an audience, because I did not want to be seen as trying to teach these men what they should be doing, nor did I want them to disagree with my teaching in front of an audience. I did, however, have Titus with me, because he is a Gentile who has been working closely with me in my ministry. There have been many people claiming to be Christians joining the community of believers both in Jerusalem and in all the scattered churches, but they are really spies for those Jews who are very much against the Church and are trying to plant seeds of discord among us. They have been urging the apostles to tell Titus, and all the Gentile Christians, that they must be circumcised in order to be real Christians. But even with all of that, after hearing my argument, the apostles did not tell Titus that he must be circumcised. They agreed with me, that the Jewish spies are trying to destroy the beautiful freedom given to us by our faith in Jesus as our Messiah and bring us back into slavery to the Law of Moses. I made my argument passionately, never once giving in to the idea that we should concede to the wishes of these spies in order to avoid conflict. We are cleansed, made whole, and found not guilty through the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross, not by following any laws or doing anything in and of ourselves. If I gave in to the wishes of these people who want to divide us, I would be conceding that in order for us to receive salvation from our sins, we must be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. While the Law of Moses is given by God, and therefore good and holy, it cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. Saying that only by circumcision can a man become a Christian is like saying that Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross was not enough to save us from our sins. Though the men I spoke with are apostles, and walked with Jesus and learned directly from Him on a daily basis while He lived on the earth, they were unable to contradict me. They had to concede that I was in the right. They realized then that God had given me a ministry to the Gentiles, just as He gave Peter a ministry to the Jews. When Peter, James, John, and Cephas, the highest authorities among all the apostles, realized this, they determined that we must follow what God has given each of us to do, and gave their blessing to Titus, Barnabas, and me to go and continue in our ministry to the Gentiles just as we have been with no changes. They only urged that we remember to care for the poor among us, which we are only too happy to do. They, meanwhile, will continue in their ministry to the Jews and Jewish believers.”
Paul continues in his letter to the Galatian churches: “I wish grace and peace upon you all as given by God the Father of our Messiah, Jesus, and of all who trust in His sacrifice on the cross to save us from the penalty for our sins, and as given by and through Jesus Himself. Jesus died for us, sacrificing Himself for our sins, in order to grant us safe passage away from this world of darkness, because that is what God, His Father, wants for us. All glory and honor go to Him forever and ever, Amen! Now, to business. I cannot believe that you are already turning away from what I taught you when I was with you! You are turning your back on Jesus, who called you to Himself and to His Father, and turning instead to false teaching. Those who proclaim anything other than what I taught you when I was with you are trying to lead you away from the true teaching of Jesus. If anyone, be it myself, or any other person, or even an angel from Heaven, tries to change Jesus’ message to something it was never meant to be, he is working against God! I will say it again, so that you do not miss the importance of this statement: If anyone tries to teach you anything other than the true message of Jesus, he is working against God. Am I trying to persuade God to come around to my way of thinking? No, only humans. Nor am I trying to win popularity with people, because God’s opinion of me is the only one that matters to me. I am Jesus’ servant, and His alone. I tell you, my brothers and sisters, the message that I preached to you was not given to me by people. I did not learn it from anyone here on earth. It was revealed to me by Jesus our Messiah Himself. You know who I used to be when I was in Jerusalem. You have heard that I sought out the Christians with a vengeance, seeking to imprison them and hand them over to the High Priest to be punished. I wanted to completely obliterate Christianity and the Church. I was so ambitious in my attempt to be the best Jew possible that I was way ahead of my peers in knowledge of the Jewish laws and traditions and in keeping those laws and traditions. But God, from the moment I was born, set me apart to do His will. And when He determined that the time was right, He called me on the road to Damascus, showing me in no uncertain terms that Jesus is His Son, and charging me with the teaching of His message throughout the world, I didn’t go and talk about it with people right away. I didn’t return to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles. Instead, I went into the desert of Arabia to pray and receive God’s teaching and His blessing on my work, then I went into Damascus. Three years later, I went to Jerusalem and stayed with Peter for just over two weeks. James, Jesus’ brother, was the only other apostle I saw during that time. And I swear to you before God that I am telling you the truth in everything I write to you here. After I left Jerusalem, I went to Syria and to Cilicia, and nobody in Judea knew what I looked like. Only my reputation preceded me, causing people to say in wonder, ‘Is this the same man who was trying to destroy Christianity, now zealously preaching it?’ And because of this, they gave God glory.”
Paul and Barnabas are in Corinth now, about to set out again to go back to Jerusalem with the offering given to help the Jerusalem Christians during the famine that is now taking place. After meeting with the leaders of the Corinthian church, news starts to reach them of all the goings-on all over the Roman world. They learn about the issues with the scattered Jewish Christians and James’ letter to them, which makes Paul feel guilty all over again, since he is the reason they had to flee in the first place. He spends several hours on his knees pouring out his heart to God, lamenting his role in the hardship these people are facing and asking God to cleanse him of these feelings of guilt, since he knows he has long been forgiven for his actions. Soon, word reaches him that some of the Jewish believers in the regions he and Barnabas have just come from are attempting to persuade the Gentile believers among them that in order to be real Christians, they have to first convert to Judaism and follow all the Mosaic laws. There are some reports that are even saying that these Jewish Christians, especially Pharisees, doubt Paul’s authority in teaching Jesus’ words to them. Paul is both angered and saddened at these reports, and decides to follow James’ example. He sits down with a Christian scribe and begins to draft a letter to the Christians living in Galatia, the area in question, to address these issues. “I want to make sure they understand right from the beginning that Jesus Himself gave me my authority when He spoke to me on the road to Damascus. It seems there are some who believe that I was reluctantly given my position by the other apostles, and that I have no more authority in my teaching than anyone else who is well versed in Mosaic law. Are you ready?” Paul says to the scribe, who nods and bends over a fresh wax tablet, stylus in hand. “I, Paul, an apostle appointed directly by Jesus, not by man, nor even by Jesus through another man, but by the words Jesus Himself spoke to me, and through His Father, God, who raised Him from the dead, along with my brothers and sisters who are here in Corinth, send my greetings to the churches in Galatia.”
Galatians 1:1-2, http://hermeneutics.kulikovskyonline.net/hermeneutics/galromhc.pdf, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistle_to_the_Galatians
If you are suffering now, take comfort in knowing that God will hear your prayers and give your soul peace. If you are joyful, sing out your joy so that it might be contagious to others. If there is any among you who is sick, let the elders of the church know. They will come and anoint those who are sick and pray over them in Jesus’ Name. God always hears and answers the prayers of the faithful, and if it is His will, He will heal the sick. Whoever is sick and has sinned, call on Jesus and ask for forgiveness, with a repentant heart and believing that He will forgive, just as He has promised. Confide in those close to you about your sins, and pray for each other. Empty your souls of the weight of your sins, so that God might heal you. If you are right with God, regularly confessing and repenting of your sins, and asking forgiveness, your heartfelt prayers have great power. Remember Elijah, who was a man just as we are, and even worse off than we are, because he did not know Jesus. But he prayed from deep within his heart for God to not let it rain on Israel, and God withheld the rain for three and a half years. And when he prayed for the rain to begin again, God opened the skies and the rain fell, making the ground fertile again. Please remember, my brothers and sisters, there may be times when some among you fall back into their old sinful ways of living. Temptations around us are great, and Satan will not give up pursuing us, trying to lure us away from our salvation. If you see any of your brothers or sisters falling away, try your best to bring them back to their faith. Because if you succeed, you will be assisting Jesus in saving them from their sins and from eternal death.
Now, to return to those who are being oppressed by the rich, both Jews and Gentiles, in the communities you are now living in. Jesus spoke of what is coming soon, the destruction of Jerusalem and many surrounding areas in Judea by the Romans. Those who place their riches at the center of their lives, who worship them over God Himself, will be mourning bitterly the loss of everything they hold dear very soon. Those who obtain their riches illegally or unethically, those who use their riches to mistreat and abuse others, and those whose riches are their god will be judged and torn down in the coming destruction, and on the Day of God’s Judgment as well. Their riches are dirty and tarnished. Their fine clothing is full of holes and falling apart. They have withheld wages from their workers, condemned and even killed in their quest to get more, building up their wealth dishonestly and living like royalty. But they do not realize that they are like calves being fattened up to be slaughtered. Those they have trampled in their lust to gain more for themselves have been crying out to God, and He has heard them. So I exhort you, my brothers and sisters, to be patient. God knows everything that happens, and He will not turn His back on you. Be like farmers, who wait patiently for their crops to be ready to harvest. When the time is right, God will come, so take comfort in this knowledge. And remember, do not judge each other, unless you wish to also be judged in like manner. God is the only true Judge, let Him judge and none other. Think of the prophets, how they had to endure persecution in order to fulfill their duty and proclaim God’s messages to His people. Even through all their suffering, they did not stop doing what they were called by God to do, and we revere them now because of it. Think of Job, and all of his suffering. While he was enduring it, it seemed like more than he could bear, but he did not give up, and God blessed him for it richly, because He shows mercy to those who are faithful to Him. And most importantly, my brothers and sisters, remember what Jesus taught us about swearing oaths – do not do it! Oaths are used by those who try to cheat people, and they are usually cleverly worded so that the one swearing the oat can get out of it without condemning himself in the process. As Jesus said, ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no,’ in other words, simply be truthful at all times and your reputation will show people that your word is trustworthy.
James 5:1-12, Matthew 5:37
It is common for people to speak of their plans, telling their friends and neighbors where they will go and what they will do. But we do not know what will happen in the next moment. We can make all the plans in the world, and then in an instant be run down in the road and killed. Our lives are like a mist that comes in the early morning and vanishes with the rising of the sun. When you speak of your own plans, it is as if you are telling people you have complete control over your own future. This is very prideful and sinful. Instead, say, ‘If God wills it, tomorrow I will do…’ Remember, my brothers and sisters, anyone who knows what is right but does not do it commits sin.
You are all brothers and sisters in our Messiah. Do not speak ill of or judge each other! In so doing, you are speaking ill of and judging the Law of Moses and the Law of our Messiah, because it is forbidden in the law. When you judge your brothers and sisters, you are saying that you are above the law, and are able to judge the law, instead of acting within it. Do you think that God’s law is anything less than perfect, when God Himself is perfect? We are all sinners, all imperfect. We are not qualified to judge anyone. Only the One who gave us the law is qualified to do that, and by the law He will either save or condemn all the people on earth.
Because God is faithful to help you when you ask with a humble heart, submit to His authority in everything you say, think, feel, and do. Stand up to the temptations of Satan just as Jesus did when He was tempted in the desert, and Satan will run from you. God is waiting for you to come to Him. Go to Him, and He will close the distance between you. With our hearts and minds we conceive evil desires, and with our hands we carry them out. Wash them – hands, minds, and hearts – so that they will be cleansed of the evil we desire and carry out. Stop smiling and laughing and delighting in the things the world holds in high regard, because these are the things that are keeping you from drawing closer to God. Turn away from your old self and your old life, and grieve over the evil desires you’ve had and carried out in your life. Humble yourself in God’s eyes and He will lift you up.
Speaking of peace and wisdom, I must address the current situation as it has been reported to me. There seems to be quite a bit of fighting among you, and that should not be! Consider this, what does fighting, or war of any kind, stem from? It comes from wanting things that are not in God’s will for you to have. Evil desires of the heart take over the reasonable mind, and we follow those desires instead of Godly ones. ‘I want the position he has,’ or ‘I want my home to have the most expensive furnishings,’ there are so many things that pull us away from God, and away from peace with our brothers and sisters. And if the evil desires of our hearts are allowed to take over completely, then we justify anything we do, even murder or adultery, in the name of obtaining those desires. Killing Jesus was justified in the minds of the Sanhedrin members because it meant they could remain safely in their positions of authority over all of Judea. But what does Jesus tell us to do? If we desire something, we must pray and ask God to give it to us. If it is His will that we have it, He will give it. But if the desire comes from a place of evil, or if God knows that granting the request will result in evil, He will not give it. We do not have what we want either because we do not ask for it, or because we ask with selfish motives. When we seek after something apart from God, or out of His will, it is the same as committing adultery against Him. We must choose, either to follow God or the world, because they are enemies, and choosing one will put us at war with the other. Do you doubt the truthfulness of the scriptures that tell us that the Holy Spirit living within us as followers of our Messiah wants us to follow the commandment to put nothing else before God? But because the Holy Spirit is living within us, He gives us grace, forgiving us when we fall short of His will for us. All we must do is to come to Him and confess our struggles, and ask for His will to be done in us. He tells us, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
James 4:1-6, Proverbs 3:34
Are there any in your church who seem to have great wisdom from above and great worldly knowledge? Where does your wisdom come from, and what are you doing with it? Take care that what you do with that wisdom and knowledge is done with humility and reverence for the gift that God has given to you. Remember what the Pharisees did in their bitterness and zeal against Jesus and against His church, and don’t follow their example in the other direction. And do not bicker amongst yourselves over minute details, but remember that you are one in our Messiah. Such bickering leads to division, and as Jesus’ disciples, we are to be united in Him. Search your hearts to find your motives – are you hoping to gain importance for yourselves in your wisdom and knowledge, or to pass on that knowledge to others and give glory to God in doing so? Do not boast about a gift that was given by God, and which you had no part in obtaining for yourself. When you do this, you lie, and sin against Jesus, who is the Living Truth. This is not the kind of wisdom that is given by God; it is the kind that is given from Satan, to divide and corrupt the true wisdom. You will find every kind of evil, and great confusion, whenever something is done out of selfishness or envy. But Heavenly wisdom is pure and perfect as the One from Whom it comes. It brings peace instead of division. It is not hard and unbending, but gentle and forgiving and willing to consider other points of view. It is compassionate and comes from a loving heart, resulting in loving acts. It does not show favoritism, and does not say one thing and do the opposite. Whoever uses wisdom to make peace plants a field that will bring forth an abundance of peacemakers.