What kind of masks do people wear?

I can barely deal with backstabbers, with people who have chameleon qualities, acting one way around one person and another way around another. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

What kind of falsehoods do people put on to make us believe that they are trustworthy and then later we find that they are the furthest from someone we’d want to put our trust in? Why are some people so good at this, so convincing? What issues do we have deep within us that we are so easily fooled?

In Galatians 2:3-10 we see the contrast between the way the Church on earth was meant to be and what happens because of sin in the world. Do not be mistaken: The church is always worth being a part of, but Paul introduces us to one of the hardest parts of life in a community of believers – false brothers:

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

There are all kinds of people in this story, but it comes down to people who are trustworthy and people who are not. You would think it’s clear-cut, but it never is. People who wear masks don’t also wear sandwich boards that say, “False brother here!” (Bummer.) Instead, the masks serve a purpose: they easily fool.

Some false brothers, people pretending to be brothers in other words, pretending to be affectionate, to only want what’s best for everyone, slipped into the church in Paul’s time and demanded circumcision. What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair? How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations?

The today’s text in Galatians gives us three clues:

False brothers offer false gospel.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel never demands, it invites. Paul calls out the “spies” for bringing a form of gospel that brought slavery, not freedom. Where are the suggestions of our brothers leading people? Deeper into the Word? Filled with peace and grace in the Gospel of Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, or filled with fear for acceptance by God or by man?

True Gospel reaches a hand into the pit and pulls us out from the muck; it does not stand above the pit and point out our issues.

Psalm 103:1-4 proclaims this Gospel truth:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy... (emphasis added)

False brothers sidle up to power.

Galatians 2:6 points out the distinction –

…those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

These false brothers were looking for power wherever they could find it, real or “seeming” influence. That screams falsehood if I’ve ever seen it. People sliding on over to bend the ear of anyone that seems important enough. Yikes. Lord, may we not be fooled.

The Jerusalem leaders, thankfully, came through with wisdom and humility rather than power – a mark of true leadership in the Lord. See the leadership’s response in Galatians 2:9:

…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me…

The leadership perceived grace – true Gospel, entrusted to Paul and entrusted to Peter, indeed entrusted to all of God’s people.

False brothers forget that it’s a group effort.

If we’re identifying true Gospel v. falsehood, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a team player. The person who constantly brings up their agenda, their desires, their needs, rather than others’, while may simply be immature, probably shouldn’t be given a giant measure of trust with ministry, leadership, or care in the church, but rather be put in places where teaching can still occur regularly.

Paul and Barnabas are blessed to share the Gospel with the Gentiles, Peter and others are blessed to share the Gospel with the Jews- all entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (v. 7). Different contexts, ministry together. In Galatians 2:10, Paul identifies that they all have a common goal – remembering the people who need an extra measure of care. That looks, sounds, and feels a whole lot like real Gospel.

False brothers will find their way in, but in Jesus’s words:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 

It’s a challenge, but we cling tight to the Word. Somewhere along the way we just have to trust. Trust God to be in control and guide us. Trust Christ to fill in the gaps where we are unsure. The best way I have found to combat this struggle is this:

Look for where freedom can be given in our fellowship, rather than following fear.

More freedom, less fear among the faithful. Always in and by the power of Christ Jesus, our Lord.


Discussion questions:

What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair?

How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations? How do we deal with even these people gently and with grace?

Practically speaking – how do we identify areas of fear in our local congregations? If you have any ideas on how to alleviate fears for people and bring more freedom into our congregations, please share!

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