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- Galatians 2:1 - 10
So Paul is at it again…. This time he is going to jump forward 14 years to continue his distancing from the apostles and any notion that he got his gospel from man.
Let’s pick up at verse 1 and 2……
So here Paul decides to go up to Jerusalem along with his ministry partners, Titus and Barnabas. We know of Barnabas from Acts 4:36 where he is called the “Son of Encouragement.” Later in Acts he is seen as the first church leader to support Paul and commend him to the apostles, even before the apostles believed that his conversion was genuine (Acts 9:27). We need to remember that Paul was greatly feared by people and some did not believe that Paul had truly converted. So Barnabas was one of the first to say, “Yes, this is real what has happened to Paul. He is a fellow worker and laborer with me.” He then recruits Paul into his ministry in Antioch and they go on to be effective ministry partners who traveled together preaching the gospel. So Barnabas is a merciful person. He and Paul later get into a sharp disagreement over whether or not to allow John Mark to join them in their ministry (Acts 15). They actually go their separate ways but later, Paul agreed with Barnabas that John Mark was valuable for the ministry. So it is Barnabas’ nature to extend mercy to those who were suspect to others.
Titus is also named in this passage and he was considered one of Paul’s fellow co-workers (II Cor. 2:13;7:6). Obviously, Titus was an important enough person that Paul wrote a letter to him – the book of Titus. But neither of these men are part of the original 11 or 12 disciples of Jesus.
So that’s who Paul traveled with, so obviously we see that Paul was not always alone in his ministry. Paul does not distance himself from the apostles because he is a lone ranger in the ministry. He distances himself for the sake of preserving the purity of his message and his credibility as a divinely appointed apostle. Paul is not like Matthias, who was chosen to replace Judas after straws were drawn. That is not how Paul’s apostleship began. It began as revelation and summoning of Christ Himself and he is seeking to maintain that distinction,
But this does not mean that he ministered alone. He had fellow laborers, co-workers and brothers in the faith.
So why did Paul go up to Jerusalem? It was not at the summoning of the apostles or for the sake of having his ministry validated but because of a revelation. Paul really did not need the apostle’s stamp of approval on his ministry. Nor did he need their money. He in fact takes a collection for the church of Jerusalem at one point during his ministry. So the only possible reason he would go is because of a revelation. So that is established early on that this trip to Jerusalem is not some kind of validation mission. It is rather an extension of Christ’s commissioning of Paul to preach the gospel. Jerusalem was not his target location nor were Jews his target ministry.
Nonetheless, here he is in Jerusalem.
So it says that he set before them the gospel he had proclaimed to the Gentiles. Now the “them” here is James and Cephas and John, who are later referenced in verse 9. So he privately met with them to “set before them” the gospel in order to find out if he had run in vain. So what is meant by “run in vain?” This “run in vain” is not the sudden realization that his gospel was all wrong and he didn’t teach it or preach it correctly. It was rather that he was afraid that his ministry was not bearing fruit, that somehow the church would be swept away or led back to strict adherence to the law in order to earn salvation.
The answer to his question or fear that he had run in vain is found in verse 3 “but even Titus who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised.” So there is the answer, when Paul laid out the gospel to these men, they did not dispute him or put up a fuss over Titus, a Gentile (or Greek), not being circumcised. They basically said plainly, “he doesn’t need to be.” So Titus was perhaps in some sense the “test” over whether or not the true gospel as been accepted by the apostles. Here is Titus, a Gentile believer…how will these Jewish believers respond. Has the gospel gotten through to them that circumcision is not necessary? The answer is yes. Titus is fine the way he is.
The false brothers
But this is not only a meeting for the Paul, Titus, Barnabas and the other apostles. Verse 4 says that there were false brothesr who had slipped in among them to spy on them and to try to bring them back into slavery. So as is typical with Paul, anytime he preaches the gospel there were always agitators and false teachers with him trying to disrupt his ministry. So if Paul was a light, these are like moths and bugs coming around to mess with him. And this is true of all those who follow the light and live in the light of the gospel. If you light a candle in a dark place or speak a word of truth in a place full of lies, you will be noticed.
So, in a college classroom when you open your mouth and say, “I believe in the Bible and that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God,” you will quickly have enemies. If you hadn’t said anything, you probably would have been well liked by everyone, “Oh yeah, him? He’s the guy who doesn’t say much.” But when you open your mouth and speak against darkness or lies, you will suddenly face opposition.
That’s how it was for Jesus. People, both good and bad, were obsessed with him. His radiance drew two kinds of people: 1) those who were attracted to him, his words and the abundant life He offered, and 2) those who despised his words, those who burned inwardly as he spoke, those who hated him so much, they decided to kill him.
Of course, what did Jesus with those who hated him? He died, yes, but then he rose again to defeat death, defeat sin and to reign forever beside the right hand of the Father. So if you think you can defeat or smother the truth, you are deeply mistaken. Truth always wins, light always wins. God always wins. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”
And if you haven’t seen Christ as attractive yet, I pray this morning that you would.
Don’t let these Sundays sneak by.
So these false brothers were not simply spies who just wanted to see what the apostles were up to, but they also wanted to pull them back into slavery. As I read this I thought, “man that seems like a harsh way to speak of circumcision.” Circumcision was not a bad thing that God implemented. It was rather to be a sign that you were a member of the covenant people of God. Why then does Paul call it “Slavery?” I think he calls it slavery because it had turned into a legalistic, oppressive rule that ruined the entire meaning of grace. Circumcision was never meant to enslave. It was meant to signify a covenant of grace. But some Jews began to use it as a game of one upmanship over Gentiles. We know from a few weeks ago that salvation came before circumcision based on Romans 4. But this was not taught by these “false brothers.” There aim was to enslave those who had found freedom apart from the law or Jewish custom.
But Paul sniffs out the ambush immediately. He says this in verse 5, “to them we did not yield even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
So that is how he treated the false brothers. He did not yield to them. Let’s see how he responded to the apostles who were with him.
The influential ones
He says this in verse 6 “and from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those I say whom seemed influential added nothing to me.”
This is the way Paul responds to the apostles. He calls them “those who seemed influential” and that “what they were makes no difference to me.” What he is saying is this, “I did not need the apostles to validate my ministry. They added nothing to my message or ministry”. On the contrary, instead of adding something to his message all they did was confirm it. So the apostles after hearing Paul speak give him the right hand of fellowship.
So the apostles, James, John and Cephas had to have given him something right? Yeah, they told Paul to remember the poor but then Paul says, “Remember the poor? That was the very thing I was eager to do.” So really, the apostles gave him nothing. They added nothing to his ministry. So all this really accomplished was that Paul was validated by the existing apostles, therefore his message was confirmed by the leaders of the Christian Church.
So where do we go with all of this? I think we can draw two applications from this text (and I get some of this from Tom Schreiner out of Southern Baptist Seminary)
1) Tradition is a temptation. We as a church will be tempted to go back to tradition to find our validation for what we are doing. When you step out in faith and try new things, you will be tempted to revert back to what is comfortable and familiar. In reality, what is comfortable and familiar is also enslaving. Just as the Israelites wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt instead of walking with God through the wilderness, so also we as a church may want to go back to the slavery of the past. Let’s be honest, religion is at times comforting and comfortable. Religion doesn’t ask much of you: do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. Some of you are rule people. You like your list of things to do. But if that is all you want out of God and religion then you will not find any satisfaction in Jesus. Jesus says, “I don’t want a list of things you do for me. I want you. That’s is all I want. I will not let you get comfortable hiding behind a law instead of bearing your very soul to me.” When Jesus says, “pick up your cross and follow me,” He does not speak of going to church on Sunday mornings. It is much more that. But what Jesus wants for you is not the burden of following him. No. His burden is light and easy. The life with Christ is the life of freedom. That is what Paul says that false brothers have come to spy on: their freedom.
So freedom is what we want as a church and not to get bogged down with tradition that enslaves
2) Leaders should not be venerated. Paul has respect for the early leaders of the church but he does not venerate them or hold them in higher esteem than the gospel. He had such a high view of the gospel that even those men who traveled with Jesus were not considered above reproof and correction. What if a famous Christian person came into our doors and visited us on a Sunday morning? Billy Graham, or John Piper or Chuck Swindoll or any famous preacher or theologian. Would we respect them and be grateful that they are here? Yes. But would there something lacking in our message, or the gospel that we preach that they would have to add something to it? Or could we agree with Paul: what they are makes no difference to us. We are committed to the scriptures. We are following Christ. We are seeking his approval. The success and identity of this church does not rise and fall on what someone thinks of our church but it rather rises and falls on the faithfulness of Christ. It rises and falls on our commitment to preach and teach the Word of God.
3) We are to be loyal to Christ alone. What does the scripture say, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” And then, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Our first responsibility in this life is to love the Lord. Did you hear that? He wants you. He wants your affections. He wants your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength. How messed up do our lives get when we don’t get this right, when we don’t love the Lord first, when we don’t give Him complete loyalty. Because when we are going to God to get our joy and hope, we turn to others and instead of loving them as we love ourselves. We begin to feed on them. We are not meant to feed on people. We are meant to feed on God. We are meant to hang on God. He says, “come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Need me. Love me. Be loyal to me alone.
Paul does not go to Jerusalem to get something from the people there. He is satisfied in God and confident in the gospel that Christ has revealed to him. He goes in obedience to Christ. And that is how I want to be as a church, not a church that is man-centered but a church that is Christ-centered, a church of people who do not feed on each other- but feed on God.
Pray with me.