This week, we return to our series of messages from the book of Galatians. You’ll recall that
the apostle Paul was greatly alarmed by what had been occurring in these newly planted churches in Galatia. We know from this letter
that Jewish false teachers who claimed to follow Christ had covertly infiltrated this largely Gentile church. In a very short time,
they had convinced many of the believers that the gospel Paul had taught them was an incomplete gospel. They worked to persuade
these churches that in order to be saved, they must not only believe the gospel of grace that Paul had preached
to them, they must also be circumcised and keep the Old Testament law.
In other words, they taught that these Gentiles must first convert to Judaism
before they could become genuine followers of Jesus.
Paul knew that all would be lost if these believers rejected the gospel of
grace for a way of salvation that was dependent upon good works or attempts to obey the law.
This was a catastrophic shift away from what he taught them that destroyed
the gospel of Jesus. This
teaching would have shipwrecked the faith of these new believers.
What we have been studying in this
letter of Galatians is Paul’s long distance response to this situation.
In it, he fights for the true gospel of grace and for the freedom in Christ
these Galatians had been given through their faith in Jesus.
Part of Paul’s challenge was that the Judaizers, in their efforts to pervert
the gospel, had also attacked his own credibility as an apostle.
Last time, when we studied the second half of chapter one, we saw that part
of Paul’s task in this letter was to dismantle the lies these false teachers had spoken about him. Then he would be in
a better place to attack their wrong doctrine.
In that first major section of the letter we began last time, Paul begins
a lengthy autobiographical outline of his apostolic ministry, telling of his first visit to Jerusalem
and the apostles there. His
intention is to re-assert himself as a valid apostle who preached a complete gospel to these Galatians.
In the verses we will examine today, Paul continues this autobiographical
narrative as he writes of a subsequent visit paid to the Jerusalem
many others, I believe Paul is referring to his second visit to Jerusalem
mentioned in Acts 11. The
book of Acts and Paul’s letters record four visits by Paul to Jerusalem.
The first is the one Paul mentions in Galatians 1:18-19 when he had been a believer only three years. I believe the second
visit is this one in chapter two where Acts tells us he and Barnabas took a gift to the poor believers in Jerusalem
who had been ravaged by a famine. His third visit was at the Jerusalem council when the church
met to formally decide the questions he had earlier confronted here with the Gentile believers in Galatia. The were questions
like—“What does God required of all these
Gentile in order for them to be saved?” Finally, Paul visits Jerusalem a fourth time when he is
arrested and sent off to Rome.
This visit he discusses here in chapter two comes more than a decade after
his first visit to this city that was the early capital of Christendom.
This autobiographical section in
chapter two broadly describes a fight for the gospel Paul had waged earlier against false teachers in Jerusalem. He uses the account
of that fight to re-establish his place as a credible spokesman for the gospel.
Because this is not only Paul’s fight, but one we must also wage, the major
truth we want to stress and which is supported by all these autobiographical details is—the
fight for our freedom in Christ supplied through the gospel must be waged on many fronts.
He writes of this second visit beginning with Galatians 2:1 and says, “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the
gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4Yet 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— 5to them we did not yield in submission even for
a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
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.
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 8(for he who worked
through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9and 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. 10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the
very thing I was eager to do.”
That is Paul’s account of his battle
for the truth of the gospel in this second visit to Jerusalem. Through it, he uses
truth to tear down the lies about himself and his ministry the false teachers in Galatia
had carefully spread about him. The main weapon we use in our fight for spiritual freedom is the truth—truth that is proclaimed—truth
that is prayed—truth that is believed and truth that is lived out by the power of God.
I see three truth fronts in these verses.
On these fronts, Paul wages his battle for the liberation of these Galatian
churches that had been enslaved by false teaching.
The first truth front we could call the
front to re-establish Paul’s personal integrity in the gospel.
The Judaizers had labored to convince the Galatians that Paul was simply
a mimic of the “real apostles,” a phony who simply repeated what he had heard from the Jerusalem
pillar apostles. They
propagated the lie that any visit Paul made to Jerusalem would have either been
to rub shoulders with the “real apostles” in the hope that something good would wear off on him or worse, that
he had visited the Jerusalem apostles at their
request so they could scrutinize this upstart preacher to the Gentiles.
Paul labors this point because believers
have a need to know that their spiritual leaders are genuine.
That is, that they own and earnestly seek to live out what they teach. They are not simply
ventriloquist dolls who woodenly repeat what they have read in a book or commentary.
The Judaizers had painted that picture of the apostle Paul.
In response, in verses one and two he asserts his complete and independent
ownership of the message of the gospel. He says, “Then after fourteen years I went up
again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before
those who seemed influential) the gospel I had proclaimed before the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not
running or had not run in vain.”
Notice three truths here Paul stresses to assert his independent ownership
of the gospel. First,
he had waited a long time to return to
to see these church leaders.
If Paul was so dependent on these apostles in Jerusalem,
he had a curious way of showing it. He waited more than a decade to “check in” with the apostles in Jerusalem. His point in mentioning
this time lag between visits is to smash the lie that there was a spiritual umbilical cord stretching between him
and the Jerusalem “pillar” apostles—James, Peter and John.
That was evidently what the Judaizers had been claiming about Paul.
Paul’s response communicates that
he was simply not dependent upon these Jerusalem
he supports his independence from Jerusalem by stressing that his trip there was
not rooted in his own sense of need, nor was he being reeled in by the other apostles in Jerusalem. He
made this trip to Jerusalem
in response to a revelation from Jesus.
He says he “went up because
of a revelation.”
Just as Paul’s conversion and call to apostleship had been a personal matter
between him and the Lord Jesus, so too was this second trip to Jerusalem. Third, Paul works to deflate the inflated super-hero status
the false teachers had given the Jerusalem apostles.
You may have noticed that four times Paul refers to these Jerusalem
apostles in ways that seem to diminish their stature.
In verse two he says they were those who “seemed influential.”
In verse six, he uses that same phrase twice more.
In verse nine he says these apostles “seemed to be pillars.”
He also reminds the Galatians in that context in verse six that “God shows no partiality” or “God has no favorites”
and he clearly directs that toward the Jerusalem
Why would Paul refer that way to
those who he knew to be genuine apostles? He certainly wasn’t being disrespectful, neither was he resentful of their place in Christ’s
was not tearing them down to make himself look better.
That’s not his tone.
What he is doing here is trying to help the Galatians see that these apostles
in Jerusalem were not super-heroes, as the Judaizers
had made them appear them to be. An important element of the deception of these Judaizers was to place the apostles on
a very high pedestal. They didn’t do that out of love or respect for these men but because, after having placed
these apostles in Jerusalem on that pedestal, they
would then identify themselves completely with them. “They
teach just what we teach.”
If you elevate someone on a pedestal and then place yourself up there with
them in some way, you are ultimately just elevating yourself.
That’s what the false teachers were doing.
Paul counters that for these Galatians by referring to these Jerusalem
apostles in more measured terms like “those who seemed influential.” In
the context, he is saying that although the apostles were chosen for a unique role, God had no more love for them
than for anyone else, like Paul. Once he puts the apostles in their proper place, it is easier for him to put these false
teachers in theirs’. That’s
He says in verse two that his reason
for this private meeting with these apostles was, “in order to make sure
I was not running or had not run in vain.”
We know that Paul is not saying, “I
wanted these men to examine me to expose any mistakes in my preaching.” He’s not like Apollos,
another first century preacher who needed coaching from Priscilla and Aquilla to “explain
to him the way of God more accurately.”
If that had been the case with Paul, he would never have waited so long for
this instruction. He
had been preaching he gospel for more than ten years.
No one was more burdened for doctrinal accuracy than Paul, and he would never
have delayed any necessary further instruction.
His motivation here is more complex.
Think about it--he had been ministering to these Gentiles for quite some
time and was seeing the fruit of many new converts.
As the apostle to the Gentiles,
he knew that it would have been a disaster for the church if his converts were not embraced as genuine brothers
and sisters by the predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem,
which was the “mother church” of Christendom.
Christ is not divided (1 Cor 1:13) and neither should his church be. He is probably checking
in with these apostles to the Jews to ensure that his converts who had believed the gospel would be accepted as
the genuine article by these leaders of the Jewish wing of the church.
If they had refused to do that, then Paul’s work among the Gentiles would
have been in vain because they would not be recognized by the mother church in Jerusalem
and as Jesus says, “A house divided cannot stand.”
A second front on which Paul wages
his battle for the liberation of these Galatian believers is the
front to vindicate the grace of God in the gospel.
Paul says in verse one that when he took this trip to Jerusalem
he brought Titus along with him. That decision was no accident—it was strategic.
Titus, who Paul describes as being like a son to him in Titus 1:4, was undoubtedly
a powerful example of what God’s life-changing grace through the gospel can do in a Gentile.
He brings Titus along as “exhibit A” of what God was doing through the gospel
among the Gentiles. As
a Greek, Titus was uncircumcised. In verses three through five, Paul takes a bit of a side trip to recount a story of a
battle for grace waged in Jerusalem between himself
and the same kind of false teachers as those plaguing the Galatians.
His point is to magnify
the glory of the gospel of grace as seen in the case of Titus to these
Galatians living under the law. Paul relates that this Gentile, in the face of the false teacher’s strongest arguments
that he be circumcised, did not feel at all compelled to do so.
It was a classic battle of grace versus law and the battleground was Titus.
contest, grace prevailed. Unlike
these enslaved Galatians, Titus never yielded to the temptation to give away his freedom through the gospel. Titus refused to become
a Jew in order to be recognized as a Christian.
Notice Paul’s intensity here in
verse five. He
knows how utterly destructive to the gospel is the false claim that in order to be saved you must be circumcised. In the face of this
opposition from the false teachers he says, “to them we did not yield
in submission even for a moment,…” Some might wonder why Paul digs in his heels so deeply on the question of circumcision. After all, (it might
be argued) it’s just a ritual. Not
in this context it isn’t. Paul
was fighting for the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone-apart from works of the law. To teach that circumcision
is necessary for salvation destroys the gospel of grace.
In this context, this argument is not about a minor surgical procedure, it’s
about mixing grace and law and that foul mixture will never save anyone.
The motive Paul gives for not caving in on this matter is astonishing. He says he would not
yield on this point, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved
for you.” Paul is saying that if he had yielded to the arguments of these false teachers and wrongly
had Titus circumcised in order for him to be made right with God, he would have had no
gospel to present to the Galatians.
This one incident with Titus had
titanic implications for the rest of church history.
It was, along with countless other moments in church history, an instance
where, if the wrong decision had been made, the gospel of Jesus Christ could have been lost.
That’s how important it is to believe and preach and live out that what saves
a person is faith in the blood and righteousness of Jesus plus NOTHING!
Paul says in 1:7, anything different than that is not the gospel. There are many matters
of secondary importance where we can believe wrong things and still be saved.
Being wrong on issues like spiritual gifts or the sovereignty of God in salvation
will not keep anyone out of heaven. But if you add anything to the one requirement of faith to the gospel, that
is spiritually lethal for an individual and a church.
Paul uses this story of Titus to illustrate how foolish the Galatians had been to be taken
in by this same kind of false teachers as they sowed their false gospel among them.
Paul point, which he uses the case of Titus to illustrate, is that just as
he did not give an inch to the false teachers on this point and neither should they.
He also implies a parallel between their false teachers and these phonies
in Jerusalem who were “false
brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out or freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might
bring us into slavery.”
These are not well-intentioned believers.
These are false teachers who are stealthy slaver masters.
They never just come into a fellowship accustomed to sound teaching and begin
openly contradicting what has been taught from the Scriptures.
No, they slip in and form relationships, building bonds of trust with the
They gain a loyal following of people who will later defend them in the event they are
confronted by the leadership for their distortions—“they’re
such nice people.”
As they are increasingly accepted by the body, they begin their subtle twisting. In their communication
of Biblical teaching, they use many of the same words as the Bible, but unknown to others, they ascribe different
meanings to these words. They
begin like the Judaizers in Galatia
did--by making negative comments about the leadership to members of the body, gradually undermining trust. They tend to target
people who already are harboring some resentment toward the leaders and they build on that foundation of sin the
person has already laid for them.
False teachers cannot prevail in the light of truth so they move in the darkness of deception
and half truth, gradually undermining those who teach the truth.
This is the way the cults work and this is the way false teaching makes its
way into an orthodox church. Paul warns the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29, “I
know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” These
people who end up being loved by many believers are in Paul’s words “fierce
wolves…speaking twisted things.”
A third and final front on which Paul wages his battle for the liberation of these Galatian
believers is the
front to assert his peer-relationship with the Jerusalem
This is his chief aim in verses 7-10.
The false teachers had placed Paul and these other apostles on very different
levels of authority. Paul
argues that they are in fact his peers, laboring together in the gospel as his fellow apostles.
He grounds that argument in three truths.
In verse six he says his
message is identical with the apostles’ message.
He says, “…those who seemed influential
added nothing to me.” One commentator puts it this way, “Paul’s law-free gospel was fully accepted and endorsed
by the other apostles [Fung, Galatians].
As James, Peter and John listened to what Paul taught, they in essence said,
“That’s just what we teach.” Second,
he says in verses seven through nine that the
source of his apostolic call and anointing is identical with the apostles’.
He says, “When they saw that
I had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to
the uncircumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also 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 me the right had of fellowship to Barnabas and me…”
Paul had been entrusted—that’s a passive verb—God entrusted him with the gospel to the
uncircumcised just as God had entrusted Peter with the gospel to the Jews.
This was God’s work and the relationship between Peter and Paul is not mentor
to disciple, it was apostle to apostle—peers at work together for the gospel.
He had also been called and anointed by God to preach the gospel. The apostles recognized
this as “they perceived the grace that was given to me.” The
same God who gave the grace of apostleship to Peter and the others had also given it to Paul.
Another way in which these men were peers was in their identical
concern for compassion and unity within the church.
This is what verse ten means when Paul says of these apostles, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” The historical context
is important here. At
this time, we know from Acts and Paul’s other letters that during this period of history famines plagued the people
living in and around Jerusalem.
There were many poor believers in this city and this was a real concern to
these Jewish apostles who lived in or near Jerusalem. Members of their flock
were in danger of starving and they needed outside assistance.
They present this need to Paul who carried in his heart these same concerns toward the
poor in Jerusalem.
In both First and Second Corinthians Paul refers to the collection he is
taking up to send to the suffering church in Jerusalem. A concern for the poor
is embedded in the DNA of the church of Jesus
Christ. This is an expression of the heart of Jesus.
He came “to proclaim good news to
That means both spiritually and materially poor.
As a follower and apostle of Christ, Paul reflected that concern for the
apostle to the Gentiles, this also provided him with a profound way to unify the Jewish and Gentile wings of the
would have been much more difficult for the Jewish believers to spurn what God was doing within the Gentile church
because the Gentile church was being used of God to keep them alive.
Likewise, it would have made it that much harder for the Gentiles to feel
detached from the Jerusalem church since they
were sacrificially giving to help their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.
That’s the gist of Paul’s argument in 2:1-10.
In closing, let me give one point of application from these verses.
This text reminds us that we
too must fight for spiritual freedom on many fronts.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The
price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
That’s even more true of our spiritual freedom and we must be vigilant on
at least three fronts—the world, our sinful flesh and the devil.
The enemy of our souls has not changed his strategy.
Perhaps the quickest way for him to suck the life out of any believer or
church is to influence them to follow a performance based gospel of works.
Just because we have the books of Romans and Galatians does not render us
impervious to the same attack on our freedom that withered these Galatian churches. We must be on guard against
his lies that plunder our liberty and steal our joy.
In addition to the devil’s lies, our
sinful flesh hates living by faith in Christ’s righteousness. We must understand
life of faith does not at all come naturally to our flesh.
It wars against it every step of the way.
Our flesh instead craves the spiritual independence found in trying to be
pleasing to God by doing good things for him.
Our flesh would much rather strive to please God through our own efforts,
than trust in Christ alone and his finished work to make us pleasing to God.
world we live in gives us zero encouragement to trust in Christ’s righteousness to make us acceptable to God. The world almost never
encourages us here—“it’s performance and
striving and working your butt off that gets you ahead in this world, pal.”
That performance-based value system wars against our need to abandon all trust in our own performance and instead
depend totally on the life and death of Jesus.
This opposition to trusting in Christ alone is so subtle at times.
For instance, on a certain day, we don’t have a quiet time, or maybe we don’t
set aside any time for prayer. As
the day goes on, we feel a sense of emptiness and our flesh or the devil takes that feeling and interprets it this
way, “The reason you feel empty is because
you didn’t read your Bible and that means you are no longer pleasing to God—you need to do better tomorrow so that
God will love you more.”
We not only let our feelings dictate our thinking (which is wrong in
the first place), but we allow a false
interpretation of those feelings dictate our perceived status with God. We should instead by
faith trust in what Jesus did for us through his sinless life and his atoning death.
Perhaps we sin a very noticeable sin—maybe we get caught in a lie. It’s impossible for
us to deny it. The
Holy Spirit convicts us of this and if we are led by the Spirit, we confess our sin to those we lied to. But then, we begin
to think that in order to be forgiven, we need to spend some time beating ourselves up so that we will feel sufficiently
sorry for our sin. Instead
of trusting in Christ’s blood to cleanse us and by faith rejoicing in our spiritual birthright, we think our own
self-condemnation is necessary for full atonement.
That’s a false gospel, beloved.
That’s adding works to the one requirement of faith to be forgiven. We must learn to war
against those lies on many fronts in order to walk in the victory of freedom in Christ.
May God give us the grace to believe the gospel through the vigilance required
for the fight of faith.
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