15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
In 1936 Polish athletic star Stella Walsh (Stanislawa Walasiewicz) lined up against Helen Stephens at the Olympic games in Berlin and lost. Walsh was the established champion of the 100m race and Stephens a young upstart. The defeat was a shocker but not as shocking as what happened next. Poland accused Stephens of being a man disguised as a woman and for the first time in history an Olympic athlete was subjected to an examination of her genitals. Stephens passed the test but many years later Walsh was killed in a botched robbery attempt and an autopsy revealed she was the one with physically ambiguous genitalia that made her more male than female.
Yesterday I told you this passage used to make my blood boil but I didn't tell you why. For some the reason is obvious. For others maybe not. I also want to share why it doesn't have quite the same effect any more.
Paul was preaching the truth about Jesus but others followed him who claimed he wasn't doing it right. It turns out the accusers were in the wrong just as the Polish were in the wrong when they accused Helen Stephens. The guilty attacked the innocent. Paul was telling the truth. His accusers said he wasn't when really they were in the wrong. You can see now why it made my blood boil. Here is a man literally risking his life to make Jesus known and then a crew follows along behind who have no idea what they are talking about telling these new Christians that he wasn't really teaching them correctly.
Now let me tell you why it doesn't make my blood boil any more. Life has a way of teaching us humility. We find at as time passes that we were wrong about some things. When we find out that there were things we were sure we right about and were actually wrong it really changes one's perspective. You start to question everything or you dig in and deny you were ever wrong about anything.
It would take too long to explain here but let me assure you I have been humbled along the way. The self-righteous pride that permitted my blood to boil against the "ignorant" Jewish Christians has had some holes shot through it. I have come to realize that although they were wrong in what they were doing they sincerely believed they were right. It's hard to hate people for trying to do what they believe is right.
They were raised knowing that men who were true followers of God were circumcised and they were right. God designed it that way and they were right. What they failed to understand is why God established the custom to begin with. Had they understood they would have realized that circumcision for religious reasons after the arrival of Jesus was as unnecessary as killing animals for religious purposes after Jesus died once for all as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world.
These Jewish Christians were passionate because they believed they were right and Paul resisted them because he knew he was right and why he was right. After all he had been a chief Pharisee and was himself a Jewish Christian.
The lesson for all of us is simple yet often painful and humiliating. Firstly never be closed to the idea you could be wrong even if you are sure you are right. Secondly always dig until you understand the "why" behind the "what" of everything you believe. They were right about the "what" but didn't know the "why" and as a result ended up fighting against the very person of Jesus whom they were trying to follow. Worse they were causing confusion and division in the church.
Better to be humbled and get reoriented than to ignorantly hold to our false ideas because we refuse to examine them openly and honestly.
You can be assured of this much. When there is a sharp controversy there is likely some truth on both sides but until humility prevails the full truth will never gain the day. There are seven things God hates and pride is one of them. It's an evil only He can wash away. As unsettling and even frightening as it may be no one can afford to assume they are never wrong.