In Jim’s sermon on this passage a couple of weeks ago he returned to the idea that we are saved by faith and not through a list of do’s and don’ts that we can somehow compile through a lifetime of good works. This has been a common theme in the message series Jim has entitled God’s Blog. Again we see salvation is by grace, nothing more. But I would like to take this message – this scripture in a slightly different direction.
To be certain; Christians in general, and North-goers in particular, must not judge people walking through our doors based on what they wear or the style of worship they prefer. Though we may (at times) have difficulty getting unanimity of the congregation on this point, I think we can generally agree that it is a virtue we should aspire to. People may not look just like us – but we should welcome them into the presence of the living God.
But let’s get a bit more radical with the scripture here – suppose we transpose the text to read, instead of gentiles, some of our more despised groups…
“Peter regularly ate with the homosexuals (street people, abortionists, drunkards). But when that conservative evangelical group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his “struggling with sin” friends. That's how fearful he was of the conservative evangelical clique that's been pushing the old system of circumcision.” - Galatians 2:12–13 (italics added where words have been changed)
I recently read of a Christian group ministering to AIDS patients whose funding was pulled because they would not condemn gay behavior as sinful. This ministry provided material support – food, shelter, and medicine – to desperate dying men. They did not condone homosexuality, but neither did they openly condemn it. Instead, they chose to let God judge the sin and focus on ministry to the sinner.
Jim’s sermon is easy to apply to the “gray sins” of drinking, dressing appropriately, and wearing make-up or jewelry. But the gentiles were NOT a “gray” group to these Jewish conservative Christians – they were repugnant, obscene, and foul. To eat with them was to endorse their sinful non-circumcision as OK. In the eyes of these Jewish conservatives, gentiles (that’s you and me remember) were reprobates.
Paul rightly chastises Peter for his hypocrisy. God wants us to reach out to all people.
Questions for discussion:
If God called you to minister to one of these groups could you do it without hypocrisy? Are the rules that we follow so assiduously potential stumbling blocks when it comes to unabashed ministry to those in need?
Which groups of people are the ones that you would find it most difficult to minister to and why?