Galatians 2:11-21 “Love Enough to Warn”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and (from) the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
God has blessed us with some very special people in our lives. People who care about us, who love us. And we care about those people too. Who comes to your mind when we were talking about those special people? I mean people who you really care about. People that you would do anything for. Your family and friends. These are the kind of people that, if they called you for help, you would drop everything to be there for them. You would even be willing to protect them with your life. That’s a lot of love. We would go anywhere, do anything, help them in any way we can. Because we love them. We care about them. But what about when they sin? Do we love them enough? Do we care about them enough to warn them about the dangers of their sins?
This is a pretty important subject to God. In fact all three of our readings for today are reminders that we are called to warn people about their sins. And there are some common themes that we always find when God talks about warning others of their sins. God tells us not to act out of sinful self-righteousness or arrogance. We don’t warn people because we’re better than them or because they should be more like us. Instead we know that we ourselves are sinners and we know how tempting sin can be. And so God tells us to always act out of love and concern. In our Old Testament reading we see God reminding Ezekiel about his responsibility. God calls Ezekiel a watchman. Now watchmen are extremely important. Talk to anyone in the military who have been stationed in dangerous locations. Watchmen are the first line of defense. They carefully scan the nearby area to make sure that no enemies sneak up and attack. Now obviously God isn’t saying that Ezekiel was a guard against enemy armies, but instead something far more important: he was supposed to keep watch for the spiritual safety of God’s people. He didn’t tell Ezekiel that he was supposed to snoop around looking for sin. He wasn’t supposed to look for sin where it didn’t exist or to make up new rules and laws. But Ezekiel was supposed to keep a careful watch over the Israelites. God knows the weaknesses and temptations of his people. And God loved them and wanted them to be safe; and so he called Ezekiel to keep a watch and to warn them if they found themselves in sin and spiritual danger. Ezekiel was supposed to love them. God told him, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)
In our Gospel for today, Jesus gives us this great instruction of what we should do if someone sins. He tells us that we should go to them, one on one. To warn them. If they listen and repent? Wonderful! But if they don’t then we bring another person or two along to talk to them again. If they still refuse to listen, then we bring the situation to the church. From beginning to end, we’re supposed to act out of love. To warn the sinner and pray that God will work through these warnings and show them how dangerous their sin is. We want them to repent.
But does it work? How about a real life example? Enter Paul and Cephas! Just a quick explanation for those who don’t know who Cephas is. He’s Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter! Then why is he called Cephas? Because when Jesus gave Simon the nickname “Peter” it meant rock in Greek. But in Aramaic it would be Cephas. So this is the same guy. To avoid any confusion, let’s just call him Peter for today. The problem with Peter was that he sinned. When he first came to Antioch he used to eat with the non-Jewish, or Gentile, Christians. That wasn’t the problem. In fact it was a good thing. But was a small group of Jewish Christians from something that Paul calls the “circumcision group” who didn’t like that. Some of them believed that it took more than just faith in Jesus to be saved. They taught that it was faith and also living according to Jewish tradition that mattered. They taught that you had to be a Jewish Christian to be saved. And here is Peter eating with some Gentiles. A big no-no for the Jews. And this is where things go wrong: when some Jews come to Antioch who were from the “circumcision group”, Peter is afraid of what they might think about his eating with the Gentiles so he stops. Is that really a sin? Was it really such a problem that Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles? Yes, because by Peter’s actions it looks like he’s agreeing with these other Jews who say that the Gentiles are fake Christians, or at the very least that they are lesser Christians. And not only that, but others began to follow Peter’s example: “The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.” (Galatians 2:13) It’s not just Peter anymore, it’s also the other Jewish Christians who should know better, but also the Gentile Christians being affected by this. They are confused and hurt.
What should Paul do? I mean, he cares about Peter. He cares about the Jewish Christians. He cares about the Gentile Christians. But if he goes to Peter, it’s going to be messy. What if he hurts Peter’s feelings? What if Peter ignores him? What if he is laughed at? Yeah. It would be so much easier to just be quiet. But Paul loves. He loves all of these people enough to warn them. After all, that’s what warning Christians about their sins is all about. It’s not about proving that you’re right. It’s not about acting better than them. It’s about caring enough for them to warn them of the danger of sin. So Paul, filled with love and patience says to Peter: “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:14-16) Paul lays it out there. He tells Peter that by his actions he is leading people into false teaching.
Bold. Paul was very brave. Or maybe a better description would be that he loved enough to warn. Is that a description that others say about us? Are we filled with love? Do we love enough to warn others of their sins? And I’m not talking about patting ourselves on the back for not being like those sinners. I’m not talking about feeling good about ourselves because I’m such a better person. I’m talking about looking at ourselves and recognizing our own deep and endless need for God’s forgiveness and mercy. I’m talking about looking at the sins of those people we love and being worried for them. Worried because we know that sin is a dangerous disease. When we ignore that one little sin in our lives or the lives of others it can grow. Our sinful nature wants to push us away from God, and sin is that wedge that keeps shoving between us and our Savior. How often have we been too scared, to embarrassed, to concerned about earthly things to warn others? How often have hidden behind the lie that we love them to much to say anything? Instead, true love would move us to lovingly and patiently go to them and to warn them. Instead fear and sin have kept our mouths shut far too often. We are unworthy and don’t deserve God’s love.
And that’s just plain true. We don’t deserve God’s Love. But he loves us anyways. In fact, he loves us enough to speak to us through his Word to warn us of our sins. He loved us enough to rescue us by taking our place on the Cross. He loves us enough to forgive us. To forgive us for every time we have kept silent when we should have been moved by love to warn someone of their sins. He has loved us enough to pay for each and every one of our failures and mistakes. Jesus loves us completely. And that’s what’s truly amazing. God has loved us who were his enemy. He wasn’t ashamed to come live among us. He wasn’t embarrassed to walk and talk and eat with us. The God of perfection spent 33 years on this earth and he never rejected anyone. His messages of warning is for all people and his message of forgiveness is for the whole world. All because he loved us enough. He loves you enough. There isn’t any separation between us and God anymore, because he has taken it away. He has fixed our relationship with him. We have peace with our God.
And now, our God of love has called us to love others. We have been given this task, this great responsibility. Jesus, who is the highest description of love, sends us to our fellow Christians to warn them. Not because we are better than them but because we know our own desperate need of forgiveness. We go to our fellow believers with humility and concern. We go to them with both warnings but also the comforting promises of God. And he goes with us. He gives us the confidence, the power, and the patience to lovingly go to those who are in danger. Just like Paul who, moved by his love for Peter and his fellow Christians, we don’t turn away from the sins of others. Instead love them enough to speak to them. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21). Amen.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Amen.