Trying to win approval can consume our lives. We do what our bosses require so that they will approve us and give us our paycheck. When small, children go to great lengths to gain approval from their parents. We gain approval from obeying the laws of our land and thereby stay out of jail or avoid paying fines for behavior not approved of by society.
Churches are not exempt from seeking approval. The pastor seeks approval for certain things he does as well as do individuals in the church. Some committees must have the church’s approval on the decisions they make.
In school, we approve the grades of students so that they might pass the course or graduate from high school. We often just merely seek approval from others for our actions and attitudes simply because we want to be liked and accepted. We desire unity or admiration.
But we should desire God’s approval above all others. His is the final approval and the approval that counts. Without his approval, we are at risk of eternal separation from him. Without his approval, we cannot have forgiveness.
Paul wanted the approval of God—and received it—but failed to receive the endorsement of many of his contemporaries. Judaizers hounded him, seeking to undercut his authority as an apostle and destroy his credentials. They sought sanction from God by obeying the ceremonies and traditions of the Mosaic law now outdated by the work of Christ. They tried diligently to get others to seek approval from God in the same way. In these verses, Paul continues to defend himself against these accusations and in so doing alludes to the way we live a God-approved life.
LISTEN FOR GOD TO SPEAK
Paul tells a little of his background. He had little contact with the apostles during the first years after his conversion. It was not until three years after his Damascus Road encounter that he saw any of them, and this was only briefly. He met Peter and James and later went to Jerusalem for a second time. During this second visit, he helped Barnabas take a collection to Jerusalem from the church at Antioch.
For seventeen years, Paul preached the Gospel without any human instruction. His message came directly from God. After his first missionary journey, he and Barnabas returned to Antioch. Here they reported about Gentile conversions, conversions that came by the grace of God through faith. This report upset the Jewish legalists in Judea. They, in turn, went to Antioch to teach that a Gentile had to become a Jewish proselyte before becoming a Christian.
Titus accompanied Barnabas and Paul. He was Paul’s spiritual child and co-worker. Paul probably went to Jerusalem to attend the council where it would be decided what a Gentile must do to become a Christian. Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile, a product of Paul’s ministry—the ministry the Judaizers were criticizing.
The reason Paul went to Jerusalem was because of a revelation from God. Otherwise, he might not have gone. When he arrived, he submitted to the people the gospel he preached to the Gentiles. It was the gospel that all people are saved because of God’s grace and by trusting in Jesus through faith. Salvation wasn’t about observing ceremonies and traditions now outdated by the work of Christ.
Paul’s report did not please some of the Pharisees. They believed it was necessary to circumcise the Gentiles and have them obey the Law of Moses. Peter, however, declared to them that God made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas were certain God had saved the Gentiles because he accompanied their belief with signs and wonders. The matter of what requirements to place on the Gentiles was settled at the Jerusalem Council.
Having Titus along to prove the saving grace of Christ to the Gentiles was proof the revelation from God Paul preached was true. He listened for God to speak to him, and then he spoke God’s word to others. It was because of a revelation from God that Paul was willing to go to Jerusalem to confront those who were teaching salvation by works to Jew and Gentile alike. He listened for God to speak and acted accordingly.
God is still in the business of speaking to his children—although not by direct revelations as he did to the early apostles. The means vary but include prayer, circumstances, his Word, others, the Spirit, and the church. Our responsibility is to hear and act accordingly. God cannot use us to our full potential unless we hear and act in good faith.
LIVE IN LIBERTY NOT BONDAGE
Titus was a Gentile and according to the Judaizers needed circumcision for salvation. Paul disagreed. Here he states that Titus was not compelled to do this while at Jerusalem. Titus was a true Christian and living proof that circumcision and obedience to Mosaic regulations were not necessary for salvation. The Jerusalem Council agreed with this and refused the demands to have Titus and other Gentile believers circumcised.
Some years later, Paul had Timothy circumcised. He may have done this because Timothy was half-Jewish. Still, this circumcision had no bearing on his salvation. Circumcision was a part of the covenant God made with the Jewish people. It never, however, had anything to do with salvation. They were to undergo it as a Jew and as a covenant person of God, but their salvation did not depend on it. Since Christ’s work on the cross, it was of no use whatsoever.
Had Paul had Titus circumcised, it would have undercut the gospel message he preached and would have meant a monumental victory for the Judaizers. Titus became a living testimony that the Judaizers were teaching a message rejected by the rest of the church.
We need not doubt the sincerity of the Judaizers. Some of them no doubt believed what they taught was the truth. Others, Paul says, sneaked in to spy out the liberty exercised by the Christians. They wanted to sabotage this liberty by bringing Gentiles into the bondage of legalism. They wanted to place them under the works system again. Paul would not yield to this legalistic bondage.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of legalism. It is impossible to be a legalist and a Christian. We see such legalism rebuked here, and we hear it often from the lips of the Savior as he rebuked the religious leaders of his day for believing their good works would gain them acceptance by God.
Christians live under liberty. The grace of Jesus Christ sets us free, not our good works. Our faith in him leads to acceptance by God, not anything we might do. There is nothing we can do to earn or merit our salvation. It is God’s gift to those who ask. Jesus himself said; “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are no longer slaves to sin. Being free does not give us license to sin. It gives us the freedom to obey the commands of Christ. God’s people need to live in liberty, not bondage. This mindset of liberty will set us free to be God’s people on the move with vision and excitement.
BE CONFIDENT OF YOUR COMMISSION
Paul had to defend himself against the accusations of the Judaizers. They accused him of not comparing with the Jerusalem apostles. They said he was a false, self-appointed, and inferior apostle. Paul did not need their approval though. Christ had appeared to him on the Damascus Road and given him his credentials. He commissioned him as an apostle to the Gentiles. This made Paul confident of his commission. He needed no human approval when he had divine sanction.
The Judaizers may have reminded Paul he had not been with Christ during his earthly ministry. This wasn’t a problem because Paul did not believe God showed partiality. Their unique privileges did not make them any more legitimate than Paul. His calling was equal to theirs. He had preached for seventeen years without them having any part in his ministry. God gave him all the knowledge he needed. When he finally came to Jerusalem, it was not for their approval but for them to know what God was doing among the Gentiles.
Paul maintained the same God who worked in Peter as he ministered to the Jews also worked in him as he ministered to the Gentiles. The same Holy Spirit energized them both.
Like Paul, we must remember God commissions us. Our commission involves a call to salvation and a call to service. When we are confident of God’s commission on our life, we will stop seeking approval from others. With God’s commission, we need no other approval. His approval authorizes us to do his work.