Who Are the Circumcision
(Delivered March 8, 2006)
The key issues of why Grace Bible Church is here and why we don’t just join another congregation to be a bigger congregation than what we are is because there are some doctrinal issues of truth we stand for that other people don’t, and rightly dividing God’s word is key. We’re commanded, and it is necessary for us to be approved of God, to be workmen that aren’t ashamed (II Tim 2:15). So some of the things we’re going to teach today from the book of Colossians stretches beyond this book and is based upon a statement that the Apostle Paul makes. You need to have keen insight as to why he’s making the statement and when you do, you’ll find you can glean doctrinal growth from it and you’ll understand the importance of who you are as far as the Bible is concerned, as God is concerned, and who you are not, as far as God is concerned and therefore, where it is you will find God’s will and direction for your life. So the things we are going to study in the next few weeks are very important and I’ve actually listed them in six statements.
I realize in right division we occasionally hit upon something which brings up a question regarding another facet. And although I know you understand right division and Paul in the age of grace, sometimes you have some questions. However, I believe that if you can hang on to these six points there will be a lot of insight that will answer questions you may have had. This is way over the head of many assemblies (and I’m talking about the Pastors, too).I’m not saying this as a conceit, I’m saying this as a disappointment because it’s important.
I’ll show you what I mean, Colossians 4:11. As Paul is concluding this, he mentions several people that minister with him. Three or four of the people are in verse 10, Aristarchus, Marcus, and Barnabas and then he says in verse 11, “And Jesus,who is called Justus, who are of the circumcision. These only are my fellow workers unto the Kingdom of God, which have been a comfort unto me.” He calls these four men, Aristarchus, Marcus, Barnabas and Justus (also called Jesus) “of the circumsision.” At the point when he wrote this book these men were the only ones “of the circumcision” that had been of a comfort to him in the ministry of the Kingdom of God. You have to stop and ask, why is he calling them “of the circumcision?” And, to understand that, we concluded last week how much Paul writes against being circumcised in the age of grace. The reason why Paul is so adamant about this is because it goes all the way back to the calling out of Abraham whom God called out and separated from the nations. He made a promise to Abraham to make out of him a great nation. All the other nations of the world are cut off from God: Gentiles, dogs, unclean. But the nation of Israel was God’s nation and it became God’s nation because God created that nation through a man named Abraham and waited until he was 100 years old before he gave him a son who was named Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons which are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and that’s where the nation of Israel came from. God created them and they were his people.
The sign that they were God’s people was circumcision. So, when Paul came along, people thought it was necessary to get circumcised. But, the number one thing you need to understand is that when the Apostle Paul came on the scene, God interrupted what he was doing with the nation of Israel and began a new dispensation. A new economy. A new administration to this world. He began to dispense a different program. This is covenant. God made promises to the nation of Israel and was fulfilling the law and the promises to the nation of Israel. But, when he interrupted his dealings with Israel, he started something new, it’s called Grace.
The first thing to help you in understanding who you are, who you’re not, what God’s purpose for you is, and what is God’s will for you, is to understand who the Apostle Paul is and how God began something new with him by calling out a new group of people with a different message than was being preached before him. It’s so clear that God had a special purpose for this Apostle who wrote 1/3 of the new testament (if not more).
Paul says in Ephesians 3:1 “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for youGentiles…” Paul was called out to be an Apostle to Gentiles (people who used to be cut off from God). He wasn’t called to be an Apostle to the nation of Israel. The beginning of the New Testament begins with John the Baptist, and the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He appointed twelve apostles to minister with him and he left them in charge when he ascended back into heaven. The twelve apostles are made up of men such as (we’ll just use three names) Peter, James, John (John the Apostle eventually dies early in Acts). But Paul is not one of the twelve apostles. These men (the twelve apostles) ministered to the twelve tribes of Israel. But, when Paul was sent to the Gentiles, God was doing something new. He says in Eph.3:2, “If you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward (Paul to us Gentiles): How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery (the word mystery means a secret)…” God revealed to the Apostle Paul what he was going to do in the world (in this time that we’re living in today), and it was never revealed before God revealed it to the Apostle Paul. And, it was made known to him so you would know what God is doing today because you are the Gentiles that God has turned to. “How by that revelation he made known unto me the mystery ;(as I wrote afore in a few words, Whereby, when you read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).”
Now where do you have to read in order to find out Paul’s knowledge in the mystery of Christ? Paul’s epistles….because it was given to him and he wrote it down “in a few words” and when you read his epistles you understand the revelation God gave to him for you and me. That’s why I said that what we are studying is going to tell you who you are; and who you’re not, and what God willed for you, God’s direction, and what God’s purpose for your life is. It’s going to be found in Paul’s epistles. It’s not going to found in Peter, James or John. Paul says, “Whereby when you read me, understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Now verse six. You’ll understand more by the time we’re done with our study. I just want to make sure you understand that the first key to realize starts with the Apostle Paul:
Point #1 God began a new dispensation and was now ministering to a different group of people with a different message.
Now go to the book of Galatians where we were studying last week. Galatians 2 matches an event that’s recorded as well in Acts 15 where Paul meets with Peter, James, and John,(the twelve apostles) and the elders in Jerusalem. He met with them because they were confused as to whether Gentiles could be saved apart from circumcision. Well, the reason why they were confused is because they understood that God was going to save people through the nation of Israel. Circumcision was how you became identified as God’s people. But now you can get saved apart from circumcision (because God’s not doing that anymore). He’s now doing something different. But the twelve apostles didn’t know that until the Apostle Paul met with them and explained it to them. That’s why Paul says in verse 7, “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter,(For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:) And when James…” (and that’s not the Apostle James, but the elder James who’s the pastor of the church in Jerusalem; the half-brother of the Lord who is the writer of the book of James that is later on in your Bible, which is very important for what is about to be said) “…And when James, Cephas, (that’s Peter’s other name) and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” Remember, the question that we’re answering concerns the four men who are of the circumcision. Why does he call them “of the circumcision”? Well, apparently in this verse Peter, James, John, Paul and Barnabas have a very clear understanding that there’s a group of people called the circumcision and another group of people who are not of the circumcision. And, Peter, James and John are going to continue to always minister to the group that’s called the circumcision, and Paul is now going to minister to the heathen.
Now what we did at the very end of last week’s class, after we read this verse, we looked over and saw this event occurred in Acts 15. Just a short time after that, in Acts 17, the Bible says, Paul (as was his manner) went into the synagogue and reasoned with them three Sabbath days alleging that Jesus was the Christ and so forth. He did this after Paul said to Peter, James and John “You minister to the circumcision and Barnabas and I, we’re going to go the heathen.” Then Paul walks out of that meeting and walks into a Synagogue and preaches to a bunch of Jews!! Either Paul is a liar, or he understands that when God called him to minister, any unbelieving Jewish person was no longer considered “the circumcision” but were now considered “uncircumcision”. Since they are considered heathen, he went to minister to the heathen Jewish people (because there are heathen Jewish people and heathen Gentile people)…and they needed to be saved.
Point #2 God’s attitude and his dealings with the Nation of Israel changed with the conversion and the commissioning of the Apostle Paul.
Paul’s very clear when he goes to Jewish people, and as he does all the way through the rest of Acts, he promised he was going to the heathen. So they’re not, in his mind, the circumcision, otherwise, he wouldn’t minister to them. So unbelieving Israel at the time of Paul’s conversion and commission are considered to be heathen.
Paul says in Galatians 6:16, “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” This is just an additional verse I wanted you to see where this group called the circumcision Paul now calls the Israel of God which is a different group of people other than the people Paul’s ministering to. I want you to get used to the fact that there was a time in Paul’s ministry where there were actually two types of saved people; two groups of saved people co-existed at the same time. And you can know that because there’s Peter, James and John, and Paul. They minister to different people and their message is different. But they’re God’s people, both groups. One group is called the circumcision and they’re the Israel of God. Peter, James and John’s ministry is to the saved, believing Jewish remnant.
Let’s look at Romans 2:24. In theology, people start messing up at this point. They make some statements that are actually biblical statements, but applied the wrong way. We could study more verses here, but I just want to look at this one verse, so I can make the points you need to think clearly and then you can actually get into the deeper things. In Romans Chapter 2, Paul is dealing the nation of Israel and he’s actually saying “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” Instead of Israel being a testimony of God’s name, God’s name was blasphemed. They weren’t a good testimony. He indicted Israel for never being the people that God called them to be. He says in verse 28: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Lost Jews, unbelieving Jews, at the time of Paul became heathen. But at the time of Paul, the believing Jew, Paul said, weren’t just physically circumcised, they were circumcised in the heart. And he says, He who is a Jew is one who had a circumcised heart, a believing heart, a clean heart, a contrite heart before God. See, some people look at that and say, “See who we are today. We’re really spiritual Jews.” You know what Paul is saying in that verse? He’s saying only the believing Jews are spiritual Jews. He’s not saying the Gentiles are now Jews. He’s saying that a true Jew is one that is not just physically circumcised, but had their heart circumcised.
Let me show you what I mean, let’s look at Romans 9:3. Now Paul’s talking about Israel and he’s pretty much talking about Israel in the flesh as the people that had God’s special promises. He says, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; (now that’s just nationality) to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises (when God was ministering in promise, it belonged to Israel); Whose are the fathers of whom concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all. God blessed for ever, Amen. Not as though the word of God had taken none effect…” Stop for a moment. God had elevated the nation of Israel and gave them all kinds of special promises. You’re going to see in a minute that Israel has fallen from that place of promise. But before Paul deals with that, he says, God made all these promises. Does that make God’s word of none effect? Does it mean that if Israel is fallen, then everything that God had said to them is a lie? No, God forbid. But look what he first acknowledges: “Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect, For they are not all Israel, which are ofIsrael.”(Ro9:6) Now remember that statement in Galatians: Peace be on all of you who believe the things Paul says about grace AND peace be upon the Israel of God. Who’s the Israel of God? Every Jewish person? No. They are not all Israel who are of Israel. Remember Abraham’s grandson’s name? Jacob, which was changed to Israel. To everybody who could trace their genealogy to Israel (the man Israel), God doesn’t look at them as the Israel of God. Who does he look at as the Israel of God? The believing remnant: Peter, James, John, those 3,000 who were saved on the Day of Pentecost, the 5,000 that were saved the next day to whom Peter and the others were ministering to. All those Jews in Jerusalem who were responding that Jesus was their Messiah, they are the Israel of God. Remember, not everybody of Israel is Israel. Only the believing remnant is Israel. See, there is a group of people from God’s promises that were still around when Paul came on the scene, and they are still the Israel of God. But God in his grace is offering all heathen (lost Jews, and Gentiles) an opportunity to become saved and become a part of something new in the dispensation of Grace. So you have to realize that when God’s attitude toward Israel changed, it changed towards the lost Jews but not toward the believing Jews.
Point #3 When we talk about this circumcision of God, know that when lost, or unbelieving Israel fell, believing Israel never lost (now listen to me) their standing or their promises.
See there’s a group of people (multitudes) who were believing in the nation of Israel after Christ rose from the dead, and the Holy Spirit came. They believed the things God promised them that have to do with a Kingdom being established here on earth: that they’re going to be a part of it; that Christ is going to come back and reign over them; and that they are to be the Kingdom that God will established in the earth. All the things that they were promised will be true. So, when God’s attitude toward lost Israel changed, the standing and the promises of the believing Jews, called the circumcision, called the Israel of God, these things didn’t change.
Look at Romans 3: 1. Now this is extremely important because of what theologians have done not understanding this secret program that’s been introduced by the Apostle Paul. They have tried to say that everything that God promised to Israel is being spiritually fulfilled in us today and we are replacement Israel and we’re the replacement of all the promises of God. And, actually taking God’s word when he showed Abraham all that land saying, “See all that land, that’s yours, an ever lasting possession.” But they say, God didn’t really mean that land, he meant heaven. Ah, they’re playing loose with God’s word. When the Apostle Paul came on the scene he wanted people to realize that even though God changed his dealings with men, his promises to Israel stand. Romans 3:1, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” The faithfulness of God. The trustworthiness of God. Everything that he promised. So some Jews didn’t believe. Some did. Some didn’t, right? So if some didn’t believe, what about the faithfulness of God? Is that not effective? You need to write down Romans 3:4 in your heart and stand on it. “God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.” Don’t ever think that what God promised, he’s not going to fulfill. You let every man in this world be a liar and you let God stand true, and what he promised the believing remnant, they’re going to get it.
God called out a group of new people, and gave us different promises and a different purpose But, for the people who had previously believed, nothing changed that God promised them. He will be faithful to the things they believed and to what he promised them. Romans 11:1, Paul said, “ I say then, Hath God cast away his people?” (See, the nation of Israel was God’s people.) “God forbid, For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.” Now basically, what he’s saying here is God’s people, the nation of Israel, has God cast away his people? He didn’t cast away his people that he knows as his own; the believing remnant, those are his people. But, the unbelieving, did he cast the unbelieving away? Look at verse 11:5 “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” The believing remnant is who God elects to be his people. The unbelieving he didn’t elect to be his people. That doesn’t mean God chose individuals to be believers, he just chose that the believers were going to be his people. The unbelieving part of the nation he chose not to be his people. Therefore, the things that God promised Israel, the “elect hath obtained it.”
He didn’t change their promises, did he? And the rest were blinded. But guess what? They now have another opportunity in the age of grace to become God’s people in a different way: according to God’s Grace. My point to you is that when the lost fell, and they did fall, look down in verse 11: “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them (So did they fall? Yes) be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” This verse tells you that not only has the lost Israel fallen, and now it’s riches for the world, but now they’re part of that world, and God’s offering them an opportunity in Grace to be saved. He says if God’s able to take their fall and make it the riches of the world, how much more their fullness? In other words, God’s still going to fulfill his promises to them. Verse 13: “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them." So if Paul is preaching to Jewish heathen, they come just like a Gentile by the grace of God to get saved. They get saved right along with the Gentiles and Paul pushes his Gentile ministry to save some Jewish people along the way. Verse15: “For if the casting away of them (boy, that’s pretty strong) be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” So the lost people of that nation were blinded and the lost were cast away, but the believers were never cast away. God has never changed his program. When God cut off Israel, he only cut off the unbelieving nation.
Therefore, there is a group of people ever since the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, who is called the Israel of God also known as Spiritual Jews or the circumcision. These people did not get cut off. And Paul goes out and ministers to the Jews that were cut off and to the Gentiles who have been cut off ever since the Old Testament days, so they can get saved by the grace of God in this time which is God’s riches to the world before the fullness comes in. Because according the prophets, the next event is God’s judgement to purify the nation and bring the believing remnant into the kingdom that he promised. And this is where the resurrection from the dead was promised to take place for the nation of Israel. So we reiterate the third point: Know that unbelieving Israel fell but the believing Israel never lost their standing or their promises. They were promised a kingdom and guess what they’ll be raised to go into? The Kingdom.
Now before I leave here, this is the answer to Curt’s question. Peter, James and John said they’d minister to the circumcision. Who are they ministering to? The circumcision is the believing remnant of Israel who believed prior to the Apostle Paul’s ministry which began the age of grace. That’s who they said they’d minister to and, therefore, their letters are to them. Look at the book of James. Now they (Peter, James, John) said they were going to minister to the circumcision. I just want you to be familiar that when they write their epistle they tell you who they're writing to and who they’re ministering to. James 1:1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.” The twelve tribes he’s talking about, (he’s not writing to the lost Jews who are scattered out there), are the believing Jews that are scattered out there and he identifies what God’s promises are to them and how God warned them that there would be this trial of faith and that they would finally enter into this kingdom. So if they’re being persecuted now, they are to be prepared because that’s what God said was going to happen to them. James is doing exactly what he said, he’s ministering to the circumcision, the believing Jews, that are now scattered out among the Gentiles. And, when you read the book of Acts, it’s interesting they were scattered ever since the persecution that took place at Stephens persecution. Stephen marks the fall of the nation of Israel and all of a sudden rather than being blessed in the land, Israel’s being scattered. God’s now done dealing with Israel. The land is not the issue, establishing that nation on the earth is not the issue, they’re now scattered among the Gentiles, but James is ministering to them.
Go over to first Peter 1:1, (and people miss this) “Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.” When people read the word “strangers” here, immediately they say that means Gentiles. If you’re a Gentile raised in Galatia, are you a stranger? No. Stranger means a foreigner. You know who’s a foreigner living in Galatia? living Asia? living in Bithynia? living in Cappadocia? Jewish people who’ve been scattered out among the Gentiles. They’re foreigners out there. And Peter is writing to the Jews just like James said, scattered among the Gentiles, but instead, he’s calling them foreigners living among Gentile people in these Gentile cities. And we know Peter’s writing to them. Look over at Chapter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation…”
Now, remember when I said you need to know who you are, so you realize who you’re not; so you realize what part of the Bible you’re to obey, and what God is doing with you and what he’s not doing with you today? You know, a lot of people say today, “I am priest of God”. “I am a Holy nation.” But, you see, because they think that Peter is writing to them. These are the very things God promised Israel in the Old Testament: that he’d make them a great nation. In fact, he gave them the Holy Spirit to make them a Holy Nation as they were going to be priests in the earth to minister to us Gentiles. He’s writing to these Jews to tell them who they are. Verse 11, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among (who?), the Gentiles.” He must be writing to Jews who are living among the Gentiles. Just like he promised he would minister to the circumcision.
I’ll close with this, see 2 Peter 1:15 When Peter writes to this group of people, I want you to realize why he’s writing. He says in verse 15, “Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” (the things I taught you I want you to always remember.) “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his (what?) majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” Now when Peter writes notice what he’s saying to them: I want you to always remember that when we taught you we didn’t give you cunningly devised fables, but we were eyewitnesses of his cunning and his majesty. We were eye witnesses because we heard God the Father’s voice when we were on the mount. Do you know what he’s referring to? Matthew, Chapter 16, the mount of transfiguration where Jesus had just said, “Some of you will see me coming in the Kingdom before you die.” And he took them to the mount of transfiguration and then showed them the majesty of his coming to earth to reign. My point is, Peter is maintaining that the things that God promised to Israel are not cunningly devised fables, but what God promised them, God will fulfill. And, to the end of Peter’s life, he continues ministering to this group of people and continues promising the things that God taught them in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. So, during the beginning of Paul’s ministry in the age of grace, two groups of believers belong to God. A group that’s called the circumcision, and a group of people which we haven’t yet identified which is you and me, called the Body of Christ. We’ll continue next week. Because when you start seeing that, it really isn’t that confusing and it answers a lot of questions.