Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 4: Galatians 2:1-10 (video)
The Church Challenged
The book of Galatians was written to deal with some problems that were troubling the early church. The gospel of Justification by Faith alone, through Christ alone, because of God’s Grace alone, was under attack from a few groups of people. Some of the attackers actually claimed to be God’s people.
The Jewish people had been the keepers of God’s word for hundreds of years. But their powerful and large Synagogues had a superficial understanding of the Bible. They taught that those who were descendants of Abraham, and who kept the law, were God’s special people. Many of them who came to profess faith in Jesus Christ, were being taught a distorted form of the gospel.
False teachers had slipped into the churches and were getting an alarmingly large following. They blended the errors of apostate Judaism with a bland version of Christianity. They preached a promise of salvation from eternal punishment, and a hope of heaven. But it depended upon human efforts, rituals, and our own obedience. They talked about God’s grace – but it wasn’t grace alone. If it’s not grace alone, it’s not grace at all.
The Jewish Synagogues, from which the early churches were forced to separate, were the center of social life for the community. It’s where young single men and women met one another, where children played with friends, where men planned business deals, and talked about politics and sports, where women could talk with one another about their personal interests and struggles. These are good things, but worship there had been corrupted. The focus was shifting to needs that centered on personal benefits, rather than the grace of God.
The funds the Synagogues controlled took care of the poor, the orphans, the sick, and the widows. But the power of their leaders over the community, and all their complex rules made the people dependent on the Corrupted Synagogues. The Rabbis were respected by those who depended upon them. They quoted selected Scriptures, and boasted of great scholars, so they appeared to be wise.
But there was a problem — they were deceptively wrong. The Scriptures the Jewish leaders quoted were taken out of context, not considering other clear teachings in the Bible. They believed that man needed to earn his place in God’s eternal Kingdom. To them, God was great but had little control over human choices. They knew we were sinners, but not incapable of deserving heaven and blessings.
So when the Christian message started to spread in the Jewish communities, believers had to make hard choices. By admitting their trust in Jesus Christ they lost the benefits the Synagogues offered. They were cut off socially, in business, and lost support for the needy among them.
The Synagogues didn’t just cut them off, they saw the Gospel of Christ as a threat. They attacked the leaders of the church, and tried to discredit the teaching of the Apostles. They said Paul had been deluded by the other Apostles, then turned against even them. Answering these personal attacks was one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia.
But there’s more in this letter than just that. Some who joined the new churches were still sympathetic with the Main-Line-Synagogues. They didn’t see the problem since both claimed to worshiped the true God, and both quoted from the same Bible. But the understanding of some of the early believers was immature and uninformed. Judaizers tried to mix these two different ways of salvation together. They wanted the non-Jewish believers to accept the rituals of the Old form of God’s covenant. They held on to the idea that we could do good works and rituals that helped us toward salvation.
Many popular churches today make similar mistakes. They’re not from a Jewish background so the things they promote are different. But similarly they believe that God’s grace depends on our choices and decisions. They teach that until sinners give God permission to save them, they can’t be saved. Human effort and human decisions are still confusing the gospel of Grace. The principle Paul is dealing with in this Epistle is very important now as always. God’s spiritual enemies always present a modified gospel which is not a gospel at all.
Galatians chapter 2 gets right to the heart of these issues. In Chapter 1, Paul explained how amazed he was that some of them were so easily confused. He reminded them that it wasn’t the influence of the Apostles that changed his mind about Christ. God had spoken to him directly by the appearing of the Resurrected Christ while he was on his way to persecute Christian believers in Damascus. By a work of God’s grace alone, he became a promoter of the Christian Faith he once persecuted. He didn’t go to Jerusalem to meet other Apostles for about 3 years after his conversion.
His point couldn’t have been said more clearly and directly: God gave him his message. Now in Chapter 2 he explained more about his relationship with the other Apostles and their message.
He begins by telling them about his trip to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus.
1. Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me.
2. And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.
Barnabas was a Christian, and by birth he was a Levite, a member of the priestly family of Israel. He had been sent by the Christian Church in Jerusalem to lead the church in Antioch of Syria. He had traveled with Paul on his First Missionary Journey.
Titus was a Gentile who had come to Christ. He was a leader of the new churches on the Island of Crete.
After about a decade and a half God directed Paul to take these two men with him to Jerusalem. He was sent to communicate to the believers there about the Gospel he’d been preaching to the Gentiles. Questions and accusations were circulating. Lies were told about the message he brought to the non-Jews in the Gentile regions.
Paul made it clear that even in Jerusalem the Apostles didn’t expect Gentiles to follow the old rituals.
3. Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
God made Circumcision to be the sign and seal of his covenant until the coming of Christ. Those symbolic rituals were no longer meaningful since Jesus fulfilled what they represented. Titus was respected by these Apostles as a full member of the Church without having to be circumcised.
There’s only one Gospel. It’s the promise of Grace, that God would send a Redeemer to pay for his people’s sins. Christ would take their guilt, and credit them with his own righteousness.
This Gospel had been represented by the Sacrifices and Jewish Rituals before Jesus came. But after that, it was all fulfilled by the one all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus. His Redemption and Covenant were now to be represented in a different way. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper replaced the old signs and seals of the Covenant. These new sacraments represented the same things the old ones represented.
But always, the good news is that redemption is the work of God’s Grace alone. What believers do is the result, not the cause, of the new life they have in Christ their Savior.
In verses 4-5 Paul explained the challenge he was dealing with.
4. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage),
5. to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.
These false brothers had infiltrated the churches to gather information for their attacks. They were not true brothers in Christ, but used his name and claimed to be believers. Because of their misunderstanding, they thought they were the “true Christians”. They openly argued against what Paul and the other Apostles taught. They wanted the old covenant signs to continue because of their distorted understanding of God’s law.
Instead of believing that the ceremonial laws and rituals of the Temple era were fulfilled in Christ,they insisted they were necessary for salvation, and should continue in the church. They wanted to spy out how they could better oppose the gospel of grace alone. They attacked the gospel idea of “liberty in Christ” as if it meant liberty from what God said in the past. They missed the whole point that in Christ we are set free from the condemnation of the law, and we are set free from the rituals which had now completed their purpose. We are also set free to truly glorify God in all we do.
The law of God still and always has revealed sin, exposes spiritual death, and directs us how to live for Christ’s glory. Jesus submitted to the condemnation of the law in our place, and made us his people by grace.
There’s nothing evil about the law of God. But to believe that it, or that any human work, contributes to our salvation is a total contradiction of the message of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. That was never the purpose of the law to begin with.
This is what Jesus said to those deceived scholars in Matthew 22:29, ” … You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
The true Gospel does what the law could never do. The law showed what pleases God, and what God promised in the coming Christ. To us who are fallen, it reveals our lostness and spiritual death at our conception. The liberty we have in Christ is our enablement by grace alone to finally see the truth in Scripture, and to begin to have the right motive in living for God’s glory.
Paul, his companions, and the Jerusalem Apostles didn’t yield to this confusion for even a moment. These ceremonial laws had nothing to do with God’s eternal moral principles. They were strictly redemptive symbols God required in the time before the Messiah came. To require them after the cross, would be to deny the complete sufficiency of the life and work of Jesus.
This requirement of human effort was never just a minor difference. It’s a false gospel, which is no good news at all. Human works and decisions should not be on an equal standing with the completed work of Jesus. It denies the barrier of our guilt, the power and nature of God, and the wonder of the Gospel of Grace.
The Apostles understood how vital this message of grace is in preserving the Good News about Christ.
But what a great truth is it! God looks on us with a love undeserved. There is nothing in us that can either earn our salvation, or cause us to lose it once we have it. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, paid it all and calls us to himself, and will never let us go.
When we struggle with our own weaknesses, when our loved ones are hurting and confused, when all seems lost or insurmountable — God is there as our Loving Redeemer and Lord. Our own efforts neither earn his love, nor alienate us from it. We are alive by grace alone through the faith he puts in our otherwise foolish hearts. Because of that, we undeserving creatures rest in the perfect work of Christ. That never lets us fall short of God’s eternal mercies which never fail.
The modified gospels so many have preached down through the ages and still preach today, are no gospel at all, as Paul said in the beginning of this letter. They tell people to feel good, to have hope, but in reality it burdens them instead of setting them free.
Paul and the others who led the faithful churches in the First Century saw the problem.
So Paul set the record straight so the believers in Galatia would understand.
6. But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me.
7. But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter
8. (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles),
9. and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
10. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
When Paul uses the word “they” he’s talking about the Apostles in Jerusalem. The enemies of grace seemed to perceive these Apostles as self-promoters with great power in the church. They made that mistake because of how they always promoted themselves. The Priests and Rabbis saw themselves as great men who stood above the rest. They assumed that in the Christian Church, the leaders must have the same status.
But Paul reminds us that that’s not the way it is with church leadership. God sees us all as his children, sinners unworthy except by his saving us through Christ. These seemingly important leaders in Jerusalem were just men redeemed the same as all believers. They had apostolic authority, and the Elders of the church had authority too, but they were not there independently of what God himself made them to be. Godly leaders guide the people to glorify God, not themselves.
It was clear, even to the other Apostles, that Paul’s ministry was valid, and consistent with their own message. God had called Peter to bring the good news to the Jews that their Messiah had come. Paul was called to take the same message to the Gentiles who had no background in Scripture. But it was the same truth, the same salvation.
Those who were considered by some as the “Pillars of the Church” agreed with Paul. James, Peter (called by his Hebrew name Cephas here), and John clearly accepted him.
When they heard the facts, and met with Paul privately, they received Paul and Barnabas into fellowship, and fully recognize their ministry to the Gentiles.
What Paul told them was good news to the leaders in Jerusalem. The Gospel was going beyond the boundaries of those born to the Jews. This was exactly what God had promised to the Patriarchs and through the prophets.
There was no need to correct Paul, and there was no new information they were able to give him. Instead, to the frustration of their critics, the leaders of the church rejoiced in what Paul had done and taught.
The Apostles with Paul and his co-workers deliver an important final reminder.
10. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Once it was clear that they were in full agreement about the basic matters that brought them together, there was one final reminder about what God’s grace has redeemed them to do.
The critics of Paul, and those confusing the Gospel with a distorted view of God’s law, had been making it hard for the believers that would not compromise their faith. As the big Synagogues expelled believers and cut off help to their needy loved ones, the smaller churches became burdened with an enormous challenge.
They didn’t have large funds and investments to take over care of those unable to work: the sick, the disabled, the orphans and the widows. These were the real suffering victims of Paul’s critics.
This is why the office of Deacon was set up for the church in Acts 6. The teachers of the church were overburdened. They needed leadership in conducting the mercy ministries to the brave followers of Christ. Social ministries are not the Gospel. They are the results of the Gospel in the lives of those redeemed.
When the Jerusalem Apostles recognized Paul’s faithfulness to the truth God had made known, it was reasonable that they commented on the need they would face in the local churches. This was never just an intellectual doctrinal issue. When God’s truth is compromised, when his character and worship are distorted, it effects the daily lives of believers and their families. It means real sacrifice of time, money and personal comforts.
Though it was costly to separate from the Synagogues, it was a price they must be willing to pay. God’s truth had to be preserved and promoted for the glory of him who made them and had saved them.
The True Church is gathered from many backgrounds and diverse personal interests. But together, united by a deep love for God, for one another, and for his truth, they are a true spiritual family. The church is the center of caring for one another, and for preserving the ministry of our Savior.
In writing in Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul described the deep inner love that unites us and drives us, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ –”
All through human history; under the power of Empires, Dictatorships, and corrupted elected leaders, through hard economic times, periods of horrible violence, disasters, and moral decline, through heresies, popularly distorted versions of the gospel, and open unbelief, the true church has persevered, and has rallied to care for one another as those who are redeemed.
The gospel is more than just evangelism of the unsaved, it’s the ministry of the risen Christ to those redeemed by God’s grace. He commissions each of us, even those who sometimes take the church for granted, to spend our time, efforts, and resources, to gather the lost into the spiritual family as they trust in the gospel, to befriend them, and then to care for them.
The church isn’t just another worship agency, mission board, social network, or charity. It’s the Kingdom of God, and a responsible spiritual family.
We stand together united, redeemed from different backgrounds, decades, and experiences. We are a spiritual family that will spend all of eternity united in the presence of our Savior. We hold onto, and hold out to others, a real answer to the needs that trouble, confuse, and deceive human hearts.
The gospel of Christ really sets us free not free to disregard the moral principles and promises of God’s word, but free to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)