Paul had been traveling from place to place, preaching the good news to everyone he met, including Gentiles. It would cause a problem, as we see in his letter to the Galatians. The dichotomy between Jew and Gentile was so wide. It was not only a theological gap, but also a social divide. They did not eat together, and their lives did not intersect. The problem in the letter to the Galatians is whether circumcision should be required of a person of faith, who was a Gentile.
When God created a covenant with Abraham, circumcision became the mark of God's people. Paul was now saying that it was no longer necessary. The people struggled with this theological shift, but they also struggled with letting go of a central mark of their identity. The mark of the people of God was now faith, which Paul argues was the true mark of Abraham's life from the beginning.
With this theological shift came the need to overcome the social divide as well, for the "tie that binds" was now faith, which is shared by Jew and Gentile. This proved to be difficult. After Paul left Galatia, other leaders came through preaching "another gospel," which required circumcision. Trying to discern who was correct caused confusion, especially since Paul's gospel challenged people to change.
In Galatians 2, Paul recalls the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where he met with the acknowledged leaders to discuss the mission to the Gentiles. Peter, James, and John gathered with Paul, who says that Titus and Barnabas were there as well. They sat down to discuss the dilemma and made the decision that the only requirement of a person of faith is the grace of God, allowing Gentiles to enter the family of faith without the practice of circumcision. Paul essentially says, if you do not believe me at least take the word of people like Peter, James, and John.
The grace of God begins to emerge if we sit back and look at that meeting in Jerusalem. Paul is standing there with the three strongest apostles. Peter, James, and John were the closest to Jesus, standing with him when the other disciples were not present. It is remarkable that Paul is meeting with them as their peer, for Paul is constantly trying to defend his authority. When his authority is questioned, as in the letter to the Galatians, he has to spill a great deal of ink to defend himself.
It is remarkable that Paul is gathered with these apostles, but then there is Titus. Even Titus is standing with them. Titus is a Greek, who did not choose circumcision. He was a Gentile. In many ways, he is at the center of this dilemma. If we stand back and look at the scene, we see the grace of God in the presence of Titus. The practice of circumcision would have kept Titus out, but Titus was there.
The tradition and practice of circumcision had become a filter by which people saw the world, but it now skewed their vision. In Georgia, where I live, you can sit down around any table with a group of people and ask them where they go to the beach for vacation. It seems like a benign question until it is asked. Two groups of people will speak up. One group will prefer driving to the beaches on the Gulf Coast. They love the white sands, blue water, and big waves. If you ask this group about the beaches on the East Coast, they will complain about how dirty the sand and water looks. They would never vacation on the East Coast if they could help it.
If you ask the group that goes to the beaches on the East Coast, they will tell you that the sand is brown, but it is clean. The water is wonderful. They will question why anyone would drive so far to the Gulf Coast for vacation. Why would anyone drive so many miles when there are great beaches so close? Each group will have its prepared arguments. The difference is the filter by which they look at the beaches.
After asking them which beach they prefer, ask them which beach they went to as a child. Most of the time, we prefer the beach where we went as a child. We all have filters. We look at the world through these filters. We must be careful that good things, or even great things, about who we are and our sense of identity do not overshadow the one "tie that binds."
Part of maturity in our faith is learning to see our filters. We must learn to be aware of the filters by which we see the world, so we do not let our vision become skewed. We are to look and see that even Titus is standing there in the room. Even Titus is with us.