Hypocrisy, traditions and the fear of man
Galatians 2:1-16 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
In today’s text Paul speaks of a hypocrisy which was part of the early church. There were many who still held tightly to the Jewish traditions and to the law. It is not that the traditions themselves are contrary to the gospel of Christ, nor is the law. In reality both the God ordained rituals and traditions and the law itself point to Jesus. Jesus Himself says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus came to fulfill the law, to do what the law itself could not do, redeem men from their sin. Adherence to the law though, was not the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy was in trying to hold non-Jewish believers to the law rather than to the grace that comes through the cross of Christ.
Paul talks about the real hypocrisy and its root. He says: he (Peter) used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy. The fear of man, peer pressure, wanting to fit in with and please others is one of the reasons people give in to the hypocrisy of valuing traditions and regulations over the grace of God, given through Christ. It is not that our denominational traditions are bad. If you take the time to understand why many of the things that are done and said are part of the tradition, most times you will find that they too, like the law itself, point toward Christ. The spiritual parents who gave us those traditions did so to remind us of Christ. Unfortunately many people are part of a denomination or a church and have no idea what the values and traditions of that denomination really are or mean. Christ, the cross and the grace of God become secondary to the traditions of man. People begin to follow the traditions simply to fit in, to connect with people rather than to connect with Jesus.
I have been part of a number of different church bodies, from a variety of denominational and non-denominational backgrounds. One thing I think is a common theme, expressed regularly by most churches is that they welcome visitors. They welcome sinners, those who are seeking the Lord, but whose lives are more than a bit messed up. Most churches would publicly say, “come as you are, Jesus loves you just as you are.” Jesus own life and ministry showed His commitment to seeking the lost, to associating with sinners. He was often accused of fellowshipping more with sinners than with religious people. I believe most churches truly want to follow Jesus in that. Most churches truly want to be welcoming and hospitable to those who are seeking Jesus, those who Jesus seeks. Unfortunately though, while the public written value may be “come as you are” in many churches, the unwritten but clearly expressed value is come as you are, but if you want to stay become like us.
Throughout his letters to the early church, Paul constantly warns the churches not to return to the law and tradition rather than the freedom of the grace of Christ. In today’s text he says: nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. We today, in our churches, need to recognize that Jesus Christ, and Him crucified is the key to our message. The love and grace of God should be valued above and beyond our traditions. If we hold to traditions, we should take the time to understand how and why those traditions were valued by our spiritual parents. If the root of the traditions is in Christ, then they are good and we can faithfully hold to them. If we ask others, those who are not part of that tradition, to be like us, to do what we do, we should at least be able to show them that Jesus Himself is revealed in what we do. If Jesus is not revealed in our traditions, then they are works of men and no one will be justified, reconciled to God through works. Man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit, thank You for the love and grace by which I have been saved and justified, the love and grace demonstrated by the cross of Christ. Thank You for revealing Your love and grace in many ways, even through our traditions. May I never be guilty of the hypocrisy of valuing tradition above Christ and may I never hold others to the traditions I value rather than the love and grace of Christ. Amen