Read Galatians 5:13-21

“But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.” (Galatians 2:11 NLT)

In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

FierySWORKS OF THE FLESH: Strife. If there was anybody who knew what strife was out of the authors who wrote the Bible, Paul was certainly on the top of the list. We love to look back at early Christianity, as if it was a singular, cohesive, monolithic religion gelled together by peace, single-mindedness, harmony and accord. We sing songs like “Give me that old-time religion” as if the discord and strife we have today never used to exist, but that could not be further from the truth. All one has to do is read Galatians, the very letter that this devotion series is pulling from, to see that Paul certainly was well acquainted with strife in the church.

Paul believed that the risen Christ had been revealed to him by God and that in that revelation he found his true calling: to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Following a few years in training in Saudi Arabia, and following a meeting with Peter and James, the brother of Jesus, Paul set out to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. What was that Good News, you ask? It was that salvation had come to the rest of the world through Jesus the Christ and, through faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they were now included in the covenant made by God to Abraham.

This is truly good news, right? Wrong! Or so thought James and the Jewish church in Jerusalem. For them, only Jews were saved by virtue of the covenant that God made with the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Yes, following Jesus was the ultimate expression of their Judaism; however, faith in Jesus was not enough. One still had to obey the laws, including restricting his or her diet to kosher foods and through circumcision (for males). Those things set one apart from the Gentile world and marked the Jews as God’s people. James and the Jerusalem Church were very much opposed to Paul’s version of the Gospel; even Peter had his reservations because of James’ position, leading Paul to publicly call Peter a hypocrite.

Yes Paul knew much about strife. Paul also did everything he could to eliminate it. Though he disagreed with James and the Jerusalem church, he still tried to partner with them and find common ground. He still called his Gentile churches to support the Church in Jerusalem, which had taken a vow of poverty. Our challenge is, even in the midst of controversial and heated debates, to work harder to maintain a sense of harmony with other Christians who see things differently than us. The church today is divided on a host of different issues. Human sexuality, marriage equality, abortion, social justice, church and state, as well as theology and other things have all been issues that have proven to bring much strife in Christianity. While these are important issues, and Christians need to take a stand for what they believe in, God is calling us to do so in a way that does not demonize Christians who disagree with us. Remember, there are Christians on either side of any given debate. Let us, while holding fast to what we believe, approach each other with that kind humble understanding. Let us join Paul in his quest to eliminate strife.

“When you are full of pride on the inside, it makes you stiff, stubborn, and creates strife with others.” – John C. Maxwell

Lord, inspire me to be a person who balances the need to fight for what is right and the call to see you in my Christian brothers and sisters who are opposed to the dictates of where, in my heart and conscience, I believe the Holy Spirit is leading the Church. Amen.

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