Galatians 2:1-10 The Council at Jerusalem
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Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.

Paul here is continuing to give an account to the Galatians of that which had transpired at the church in Antioch. There really shouldn't be a chapter break here (which was added by men later and aren't part of the original letters), as this is a continuation of what is being said at the end of the last chapter which last placed Paul in Syria (and Ciliciam Gal. 1:21) which is where Antioch is located. There are a couple times in Acts where Paul goes to Jerusalem from Antioch, the first is in Acts 11, the other in Acts 15. Given the account Paul walks us through in these 10 verses it is considerably more likely he is speaking of his visit in Acts 15, as the encounter in Acts 11 only records Paul and Barnabas bringing a gift to help our the church in Judea given the severe famine taking place (Acts 11:27-30). Antioch was special to Paul, it was his own home church that would send him out on missionary journeys (Acts 11:26, 12:25, 13:4, 13:14-50, 14:21-28, 15:30-35, 18:18-22). While the church in Jerusalem was a church comprised of Jews, the church in Antioch was comprised of gentiles (i.e. Greeks, Pagans, non-Jews). It was there the term Christian was first coined (Acts 11:26).

 

Paul and Barnabas were both Jews, Titus however, like Timothy (Acts 16:1-3), was a gentile (Gal. 2:3). Paul considered Titus "my true son in a common faith". For Paul to bring along Titus is very interesting as Titus was an early church leader and living proof that circumcision was unnecessary for gentiles to be indwelled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:15-18). These Judaizers were claiming apostleship from the church in Jerusalem. So Paul goes to Jerusalem to not only solidify the gospel in the minds of the people but mostly like to also expose those who named dropped these "pillars" of the church in Jerusalem on their apostolic resumes.

 

"Fourteen years". We don't know for sure if that was fourteen years since his conversion, or fourteen years after the three years mentioned in verse 1:18. There is not much written about the early years of Paul's ministry. This may have been times of inward growth before outward fruit in Paul's life and ministry. Often God will commission people for ministries that train the minister up in a way that prepares them for what God has planned later. Young believers often will get discouraged during this phase because what they want to see and what they actually see are quite different. It may very well be that it was during these early years that Paul was trained up in the wisdom manifested in his later letters that we're now beneficiaries of.

 

Before we continue in Galatians we should read and cover the account recorded in Acts 14:26-15:12 to better understand what Paul is referring to. Here we'll dive a few layers deep in scripture and swim back up to the book of Galatians, God willing, to gain a better understanding of what is happening to the churches in Galatia and why Paul is fiercely contending for them (and us).

 

From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been entrusted to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all the things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they spent a long time with the disciples.

Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And after Paul and Barnabas had a heated argument and debate with them, the brothers determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. Therefore, after being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they were bringing great joy to all the brothers and sisters. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were received by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to keep the Law of Moses.”

The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Since this is the case, why are you putting God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles. - Acts 14:26-15:12

 

"Giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith". Peter's conviction here may have been derived from an earlier encounter recorded within Acts where Peter was given the vision of the animals being lowered down and for Peter to "kill and eat", Peter took offense initially (Acts 11:8). But after God sent gentiles to meet up with him (Acts 11:13) so that he could preach the gospel to them, Peter watched the Holy Spirit fall on them just as He had on Peter (Acts 11:15), therefore Peter realized what was being said in the dream, specifically "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy" (Acts 11:9) referring to the Gentiles. God was giving them the exact same gift of the Spirit He was giving the Jews after they had believed. Therefore Peter concluded "who was I that I could stand in God's way?" (Acts 11:17) and the group he was with glorified God saying, "Well then, God has also granted to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18).

 

Exercise: Imagine a group or a person you despise, perhaps unwanted neighbors that have tormented you, coworkers who drives you nuts, or a political party you just wish would go away. Perhaps you've looked upon a bunch of blue-haired, abortion-promoting, gender-fluid, free-loading liberals, and had some less than pleasant thoughts. Now close your eyes and picture that group and picture the Holy Spirit falling on them, baptizing them, embracing them, accepting and receiving them without any regard for their sins, their lifestyles, or the evil they've done. No correction, no punishment, just a warm embrace from God for no other reason than they let Him (John 1:12, Mat. 22:9-10). (Open your eyes.) Such was the friction of Jews toward Gentiles. Jews viewed Gentiles as unclean and beyond the reach of God's grace and they had a long running disdain for the Gentiles. So much so, it is reported they would actually add miles to their trip when they traveled north just to circumvent Samaria rather than walk the shorter distance through it for risk of having to come near them. This is why it was such a shock that Jesus would be seen talking to the Samaritan woman at the well in the middle of the day (John 4:9).

 

Now if you felt a disdain for someone you feel you shouldn't have, don't worry you're not alone. Notice how the disciples responded. "Well then...." (Acts 11:18). The King James Version states "When they heard these things, they held their peace...". The book of Jonah is largely about a prophet who knew God was gracious and would rather die than see God give grace to those he despised (Jonah 4:2-3). Then there's the Pharisees vs tax collectors and sinners (Mat. 9:11, Luke 18:11), and in this case the Judaizers who insisted the gentiles needed to do better before God will accept them, heaping on them requirements that they themselves didn't follow (Acts 15:10).

 

Peter viewed himself as standing in God's way (Acts 11:17), maybe you feel this way about yourself. If that's the case. Consider what God told Peter regarding the gentiles and apply it to your self, "what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy". (Acts 11:9). In the same way that the Holy Spirit fell on the unruly gentiles without regard for their performance or lack thereof, He does for you too. Just as the Holy Spirit didn't hold their sins against them, neither does God hold yours against you. Therefore don't disqualify yourself when God qualifies you. Or rather, "what God has cleansed (you), no longer consider unholy". It's okay to call out your sin, but stop condemning yourself the sinner, the one whom God has cleansed! God's grace is for you even in your sin of hypocrisy to the same degree it is for them in their sin. On the other end of the spectrum, If you were to picture someone you favor, or rather someone whom you feel God favors, know that the reward for them is exactly the same as it is for you (Mat. 20:10). Grace is the great equalizer.

 

"Heated argument and debate". Unity within the church is very important (Eph. 4:3), but one should never sacrifice the gospel for the sake of unity. The preservation of the gospel is one of the times that warrants dissension if need be as we'll see Paul even stress later in his letter to the Galatians. I suspect the reason for going before the church counsel is not because Paul and Barnabas needed clarity, but was done so to expose this fallacy at large and in the interest of preserving unity if possible.

 

Question: In the beatitudes Jesus said "blessed are the Peacemakers" (Mat. 5:9). What is the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking? Peacekeeping is avoiding conflict at all costs. Peacemaking is willing to fight for what's right. Peacekeepers are passive, while Peacemakers engage. Peacekeepers minimize conflict while Peacemakers maximize crucial questions and conversations. Peacekeepers are content with surface level serenity, Peacemakers dive deep to uncover source problems and misunderstands and seek to correct things at their root. Peacekeepers learn to tolerate and attempt to smooth over conflict, Peacemakers attempt to reconcile, working to resolve conflict and restore the parties involved. Peacekeepers tend to hide their sin if they can, Peacemakers are quick to initiate reconciliation and apologize and repent when they have wronged others. Peacekeepers move away from conflict, peacemakers commit to moving toward it. Jesus was not a peacekeeper (Mat. 10:34-36). He upset the tradition of the elders and societal norms often (Mat. 15:3), but He did so with the intent to make peace. Likewise Paul and Barnabas even got into a heated argument and debate with these men, other translations used the verbiage "great dissension". Paul knew what he was saying would be upsetting to men, but he was more concerned about pleasing God than man (Gal. 1:10). It's not that Paul didn't love the Galatians, it's that he loved them so much he was willing to endure the persecution it brought in order to bring them the true, liberating gospel of Jesus, knowing full-well that doing so may make him their enemy (Gal. 4:16). Jesus physically took punches (John 18:23) and worse, and ultimately was crucified for His pursuit of peacemaking, yet thanks to Him we have peace with God through His preordained plan (Acts 2:23, Col. 1:20).

 

"Pharisees who had believed". This is perhaps what is the hardest to detect. Those within the church who are seemingly believers. They say the right words, they speak of grace, they talk of Jesus paying our ransom, all the while covertly heaping burdens on others through their distorted view of the gospel and hypocritical example, convinced they are doing it right. There are most definitely people within the church today who come in the same spirit as these Pharisees (Jam. 2:19), disturbing others who are enjoying freely what Jesus has done for them.

 

Question: How do we know Paul and Barnabas were right and not the Pharisees who believed? (Hint, see verse 12 for the answer.) Because God was performing through them attestations by way of miracles specifically among the Gentiles, witnessed by many, thus stamping them with a seal of approval only God can give. Jesus used this same argument for people to believe in Him (John 10:37-38, 15:24).

 

[Good spot to break and resume next time]

 

Question: In chapter 1 Paul said these men were distorting the gospel? How do we see them distorting it here? By adding legalism to it.

 

Followup Question: What is legalism? Legalism is performance based acceptance through works based on laws, rules, standards, traditions, and common practices. In this case the Judaizers were misappropriating the Mosiac law as something required for righteousness instead of it's intended use to lead people to Christ (Gal. 3:24); they compelled the Galatians that such was required of them in order to be saved. Later we'll see the Galatians had heavily bought into this false teaching not only as a requirement for salvation but they employed it toward their sanctification as well (Gal. 3:3) thus abandoned trusting in God and thereby falling from grace (Gal. 2:21, 5:4).

 

"Why are you putting God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our forefathers nor we have been able to bear?" There is perhaps no better question to ask those who wish to impose legalistic rules, regulations, or standards upon other people than to turn it back on themselves. If someone says you need to go to church every Sunday, ask them if they've never missed it? Or better, ask them if that's enough or if church should be something that should be done more than just one day a week. If someone says you have to pray every day, ask them if they have? Or better, ask them if they are following Paul's command to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17). If someone is saying you need to observe the law of Moses, then inquire similar to Paul, "you who boast in the law, do you break the law?" and "you, therefore, who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself?" (Rom. 2:21,23). Anytime someone puts a requirement on you, don't let them leave without bringing them to the extreme requirements that they may be missing and let them be crushed by it so they'll see it's futility (Gal. 2:21). If you are your own worst enemy you can address yourself in the same way.

 

It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that somehow I might be running, or had run, in vain. - Galatians 2:2

"Did so in private", had Paul submitted the gospel publicly he may have caused an uproar by the Judaizers who were also present (Acts 15:5) who took offense at the gospel Paul was preaching. Had that happened, the entire trip to Jerusalem may have been in vain. "To those who were of reputation". Likely referring to James, Peter, and John as seen in verse 9. James here would be the brother of Jesus, as James the brother of John had already been martyred at this point.

 

But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. - Galatians 2:3

Paul is stating that Titus, though uncircumcised, was never compelled by "those who were of reputation" to be circumcised though they knew he was a Gentile. What's interesting is Timothy was also a Gentile, yet Paul circumcised him before sending him to the Jews (Acts 16:3). Not because it was required, but because Timothy was being sent to the Jews who would have discredited him on the basis of circumcision before he ever spoke a word. Timothy was therefore circumcised so their efforts to reach the Jews he was going to would have the best chance of succeeding.

 

Question: Timothy let another grown man circumcise him before anesthesia was invented. Not because he had too, not because it was required, but because of his love for the Jews and for God, that he might reach them with the gospel. Similarly Paul said if eating meat caused his brother to stumble, then he would never eat meat again (1 Cor. 8:13). Timothy was entitled to not be circumcised but he chose not to hang onto that right for the sake of the Jews. What freedoms may you be hanging onto at the cost of your fellow man?

 

Yet it was a concern because of the false brothers secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy on our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. - Galatians 2:4

Antioch was a busy city with many travelers and many roads leading to other cities including those that lead south through Samaria to Jerusalem. Antioch was the leading city of Syria and the 3rd leading city in the Roman Empire. The church in Antioch, being a Gentile church, was growing mightily as the hand of the Lord was there (Acts 11:21) and news of that reached those in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22). Therefore they sent Barnabas to Antioch to help minister to them. Secretly however, Judaizers who had also heard of the liberty the many were enjoying at Antioch sent there own people to spy out their freedom they had in Christ with the intent to bring them under the bondage of the law.

 

Question: What does it mean to have freedom in Christ? In what ways are we free? What would take away that freedom?

 

"in order to bring us into bondage" The opposite of freedom. Later Paul likens it to a "yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1) Peter refers to it as an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10). It's a sad reality how easily men will return to captivity. Instead of enjoying the much easier, restful, joyful, freedom in Christ, we choose enslavement. Like prisoners who are so used to prison that freedom makes them uncomfortable. Long term prisoners have been known to actually commit crimes specifically to be thrown back into jail because it's what they know, it's what they are familiar with. We are not so different having great experience in legalism, so easily then we fall back into a rut we've traveled so many times and we know the path well.

 

But we did not yield in subjection to them, even for an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. - Galatians 2:5

The Judaizers failed miserably in Antioch, not even being entertained for an hour, but unfortunately they gained ground with the churches in Galatia. The Galatians were running well until such men came (Gal. 5:6-7) and preached their legalism and "bewitched" them (Gal. 3:1). Because Paul is referencing what happened at Antioch recorded in Acts 15 we know that these Judaizers tried there before hitting up the churches in Galatia. This makes sense as on a map, Antioch is north of Jerusalem which is where these false teachers came from (Acts 15:1). The region of Galatia is still further to the North and Northwest. By the time we get to Acts 20, Paul is departing from Ephesus which is still further away to the West. Here he is ahead of the Judaizers, but it appears by his lament that he's gotten accustomed to them following up after him, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them." - Acts 20:29-30.

 

Question: "So that the truth of the gospel would remain with you". Have you ever thought about the fact that Paul's work here was with you in mind? God, who knew you before you were born definitely had you, His child, in mind when He sent Paul in order that the gospel would be preserved and brought to you and your brothers and sisters.

 

But from those who were of considerable repute (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism)—well, those who were of repute contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. (for He who was at work for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised was at work for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. - Galatians 2:6-9

According to Chuck Smith, these verses in the Greek are incomplete sentences that are difficult to translate to English. Paul here is choosing his words carefully. These men were held in higher regard by the Galatians than Paul, while Paul preached that we should consider others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), in this case, should he esteem them beyond measure he would do so at the cost of his authority and therefore the message he was preaching, risking validating the claims of the judaizers. At the same time Paul doesn't want to paint the other apostles in a poor light because he indeed does esteem them, nor does he want to elevate himself which is what the judaizers were doing. Therefore Paul carefully picked his words so they would know that he was not under these men of "considerable repute", that they did not control him, they were not the boss of him, they did not anoint him, they did not commission him, nor did they give him his message or add anything to it. He sought to credit them, but without discrediting himself since Paul knew who He was, a man, by the grace of God, entrusted with the gospel to the Gentiles.

 

Question: Have you ever painted yourself in a lesser view than maybe you should have and lost credibility to your audience because of it? Often people will highlight their own shortcomings without mentioning the grace of God that is working in them despite those shortcomings, thus throwing the Holy Spirit under the same bus they are throwing themselves under. Paul made known boldly the grace and Spirit working through Him, it's okay that we do too but in keeping in mind that it's not because we warrant it but because the Spirit does.

 

"God shows no favoritism". God will reward the believer who does nothing, who doesn't even attend church with the same reward as the believer who's dedicated his entire life to serving Jesus (Mat. 20:1-16). It's so important we divorce righteousness from performance since by performance no man will be justified (Gal. 2:16). Whether that be performance measured by the law of Moses, the traditions of the church, the elementary principles of the world, or your own standards and conscience. Righteousness is never earned, it's always imputed. (Rom. 3:21-31). Because of that you can rest assured you are as good in God's eyes as Billy Graham, the Apostle Paul, and amazingly, Jesus Christ. While men love to rank people, it is not so with God. God accepts you as much as He accepts Peter, James and John, and even His only begotten Son. So enjoy your freedom from the law, it's why Christ set you free! (Gal. 5:1). Don't let anyone take that away from you, only be ready to give an account to others when they ask about your hope (1 Pet. 3:15). God never blesses you because you're doing good, nor takes in account when you do bad (Rom. 4:8). He blesses you because He blesses Jesus. God gives grace without any respect for the performance of the person asking.

 

Consequently Paul is also establishing that church of Jerusalem (Jews) does not have authority over the church at Antioch (Gentiles). There was never to be a hierarchy within the church, it was always to be the head (Christ) and the body (everyone in Christ) (Col. 2:19). No church group is superior to any other church group. So often sects form within the church of people who believe they have a heightened understanding of theology, or who have overcome sins others haven't, and they began to separate themselves and hold themselves as superior. Watch someone lose weight and how quickly they disassociate with those who are overweight. The Jews thought they had a leg up on the Gentile but grace is the great equalizer (Mat. 20:12) nullifying such statuses as Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Gal. 3:28).

 

Question: Who here is righteous before God? Raise your hand. Everyone who's called on Jesus should have their hand raised (2 Cor. 5:21). Don't dishonor what Christ has done by not raising your hand. Don't let your self imposed condemnation speak louder than your Christ imputed validation.

 

They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do. - Galatians 2:10

 

"They only asked" They fully recognized Paul as a genuine Apostle, entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, that was established. Apart from that they entreated Paul and those with him to remember the poor, not as a legal requirement, but because they were provoked by the goodness of God "who shows no partiality". The contrast is interesting because the Pharisees were trying to compel people to work for their salvation. On the contrary these men had it in their hearts to share grace with those who had nothing to offer in return (Mat. 5:3).

 

Parting Question: How should the Christian view the law today?

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