Series on Galatians, I The Apostolic Authority, G The Agreement, Text: 2:1-10, Title: Fostering Unity

Introduction

In the first chapter of Romans Paul says the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Thus in most places Paul’s mission took him first to the synagogues. Even in an idolatrous Gentile city like Ephesus Paul taught first in the synagogue before he was forced to move to a school. He was forced to move because of opposition from  his own people. In Acts 19:8-10 we read, And he entered into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for the space of two years; so that all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. The Judaizers whom Paul opposes in this letter and in many of his writings, because they harassed him throughout his ministry, were trying to preserve the Jewishness of the faith by perpetuating Old Testament ordinances that were no longer valid in the New Testament Israel of Jesus and the Apostles. God had brought something better, but persuading the Jews of this was extremely difficult. This is why John, a Jew himself writes of Jesus in John 1:11, He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. This became the cause celebre in the early church, that is, an issue arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning and heated public debate. Thus we have the apostolic agreement of our text. We are looking at different aspects of this agreement: the private conference, the powerful motive, the passionate plea, and the positive conclusion.

I A Private Conference

Paul continues his narrative in 2:1 and 2 referring to the way in which he handled the issue, Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. The conference in view was 14 years after Paul’s first trip which is mentioned in 1:18. That means 17 years after Paul’s conversion and during that time Paul had a very active and successful evangelistic ministry. An example of this is found in Acts 11 where we read that after Barnabas found Paul they went to Antioch, and we read in verse 26, And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people, and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. During this period, then, Paul has had a ministry equal to or exceeding the labors of the other Apostles, yet he comes, as it were, meekly with a hand out offered in fellowship and privately. He does not stand on a street corner as some have and bellow his disagreement. Notice that he refers to those with whom he met as men who only “seemed to be leaders.” As we read on we discover that the Judaizers favored these men over Paul because they were against Gentiles being included. Four times Paul speaks of “those of repute.” The apostle is quoting the phraseology of the opponents. He is not trying to belittle or ridicule the men of prominence in the church at Jerusalem. The language is not directed at James, Cephas, and John, but at the legalists who have made it a habit to exalt these three at the expense of Paul, a man they considered a merely second-hand apostle, not even worthy to be called “apostle.” This becomes clearer later for example in 2:6 where we read, As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. This is vital to Paul’s argument in this letter to the Galatians because it shows that the people that the Judaizers considered to be important agreed with Paul. When Paul speaks of running the race in vain he is not in any way doubting his calling or the work God has done through him. He says this because his mission work among the Gentiles would have been seriously undermined, and the effectiveness of that which Paul had been doing in the past and was still doing would have been decisively weakened if the other Apostles were soft on this issue. As it turns out they probably were, but they came through with the right decision.

II A Powerful Motive

We see Paul’s motive in verses 3-5, Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. The good news is that the leaders of the Jerusalem church did not insist on Titus being circumcised. The bad news is that there were a lot of people in the churches who were false teachers and who were attempting to undermine Paul’s teaching, probably without realizing the seriousness of what they were doing. After all, falsehood does not come in an identifiable garb. It is disguised as the Devil himself appears as an  angel of light. I am sure many of these Judaizers sincerely believed that they were helping people and guiding them to a better fuller way of salvation by keeping the law. But they were sincerely wrong. Paul is powerful in his defense of justification apart from keeping the law and through faith in Christ Jesus alone. He is dedicated in his effort to keep people from being chained in sin and condemnation. This is his motive. He is on a life saving mission. Notice he does this, “that the truth of the gospel might remain.” Where would they be and where would we be without  the good news which is the gospel. We would be left with nothing but bad news.

III A Passionate Plea

So Paul takes his plea before the apostles and leaders of the Jerusalem church in verses 6-8, As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. The apostle Paul is the great apologist and the master of argument in defense of the faith. In the history of Christianity few have equaled his natural abilities, and he was God’s chosen messenger. It would be easy to conclude as some historians have erroneously done that it was Paul that won the day for his views. Actually it was Jesus whom he served. It was the risen Christ who sent forth His spirit to the Gentiles because He had promised that in the seed of Abraham all nations would be blessed. It was Christ who worked in Paul and Barnabas and others to bring all those pagan Gentile idolaters to Jesus feet. They could not deny what God had done. As we read in Matthew 28:18 and 19, Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Oddly enough Paul was not even there when Jesus said that, and the other disciples were, but it took a passionate man like Paul to understand and carry out Jesus’ mission while the other disciples vacillated over their ancient prejudices.

IV A Positive Conclusion

A positive conclusion is reached in verses 9 and 10,  James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. We need to understand that the kingdom of God was undergoing an enormous convulsion. The form of the covenant that had stood for ages was being changed, but not the substance. It was a Church with developing understanding so that those of repute may not have been quite so adamant in their convictions as Paul and not  quite so clear in their understanding, but in the end they shared Paul’s view. The difficulty of this is evident, for in the end they also divide the responsibility. Let Paul do what he wants to do and Peter will stick to what he does. When this issue is ultimately resolved for the Church, however, it is Paul’s view that is triumphant. We should ask ourselves if Paul’s actions have anything to do with the outcome. Some people seem to think that when they deliver their word from the Lord, all discussion should stop. They do not allow any questions or debate about their message. They feel they have delivered the last and final word. But Paul did not approach this conference in that spirit. Paul instead brought along Barnabas who was called the “Son of Consolation” and who was outstanding Jewish Christian leader in the early church who was noted for his ability to be a bridge-builder between diverse factions of the church. Paul had a diverse committee because he also brought Titus. In this action he silently affirmed his conviction that it was not necessary for Greek Christians to change their ethnic identity by becoming Jews in order to be included in the church. If we, today, could combine Paul’s zeal and his finesse we might settle more of our disputes amicably. Sometimes arguments in the church are like arguments between a husband and wife where the anger of the moment spawns criticism, name-calling, fault-finding, and nit-picking, and when it is done the parties have lost sight of the real issue. They may even say, ”What started this argument?” Some churches are divided because some like contemporary choruses and others prefer traditional hymns. While they argue over their tastes in music, they lose sight of God’s work in their midst. The intensity and vehemence on both sides obscures rational discourse. Frankly if I were Paul would have to tell myself not to be bitter over the lack of appreciation for the work of God that others were showing. It’s an important lesson as we study this ongoing dispute in the early Church.