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 that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet 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— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And 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. On 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 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me 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 the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Understanding And Applying the Text
Paul preached justification by faith in Christ alone. The works of the Law were not required for salvation. This is the gospel he reported to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. The “false brothers” could not accept such freedom. God had required circumcision for the Jews. He even threatened to kill Moses because Moses failed to circumcise his sons. Why would God suddenly not care anymore? They could not wrap their head around the fact that Jesus fulfilled the Law. The Law had no power to save. They opposed Paul and asserted that the Gentiles must also keep the Law. The false brothers asserted circumcision was essential for salvation. This was in direct opposition to what Paul preached, justification is by faith alone.
Paul’s opposition to this false doctrine is an important example. First, it is easy to understand why the false brothers erred. They were taught the importance of circumcision their whole life. It was difficult to accept it was no longer required. Second, they were sincere in their belief. They did not intend to teach error. They were only trying to teach what they thought God required.
None of that made any difference to Paul. He was not gentle in his rebuke. They were teaching false doctrine. And alse doctrine must be opposed will all vigor.
The lesson here is from both the false teachers and Paul. We must take extreme care we are not teaching what we think is right. We only teach what God says. The second lesson is from Paul. We must oppose false doctrine with all our might.
Paul was not summoned to Jerusalem by the apostles. He went to Jerusalem in response to a revelation he received from God. While in Jerusalem, the apostles asked: “Is the observance of the Law a requisite for justification?” The idea that salvation required obedience to the Law was gaining in popularity. But the gospel is not determined by popular vote.
Paul pointed out to the Galatians, that the Jerusalem apostles did not correct him. They did not add or subtract anything from what he preached. Paul even names names, Chephas (Peter), James, and John. Sometimes even today people will try to set Paul against the other apostles. But the theology of Paul is the theology of Peter, which is the theology of James, which is the theology of John. Any attempt to divide the apostles’ teaching is claiming they preached different gospels. That is the error the false teachers in Galatia made. Claiming Paul’s teaching is in opposition to Peter’s teaching twists scripture.
Paul drives his point home. Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, accompanied him to the council in Jerusalem. Titus stood there in front of the church leaders, an uncircumcised gentile. They could have required Titus to be circumcised but they did not. The outcome of the council was obedience to the Law was not a requirement for salvation. But Paul never condemns circumcision. But he insists it should not needed for salvation. And as a result, the false teachers cannot force it upon the Gentiles.
The false teachers could not accept the liberty Christ gives. The Law was from God. The Law was divine and holy. But the Law cannot justify us. It can only point out we are not righteous. The Law cannot deliver from sin. It reveals we are sinners destined to death and hell. The Gospel though says, not what I must do, but what Christ, the Son of God, has done for me. Therefore the Law cannot be a requisite for salvation.
Paul refers to Moses (Lev 19:15) in verse 6 when he says, “What they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.” Paul confronts the claim he was the least of the apostles head-on. The false teachers claimed to represent the greater apostles. Their logic is lacking. They acknowledge Paul is an apostle. They are not. They represent apostle. So by definition, they are a lesser authority than Paul. Paul points out, that we are to fear and honor God alone. As Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Paul also turns the false teachers’ attack on him on themselves. All the apostles agreed. Peter was to be an apostle to the circumcised. Paul was to be an apostle to the uncircumcised. In other words, the apostles agreed with Paul’s teaching and not with the false teachers.
Some have claimed Paul is boasting here. But Paul is not boasting. His concern is the Gospel. His concern is that the Gospel is taught right. That is the reason why Paul is taking such pains to show that he is teaching the same gospel as the other apostles. That is the reason he demonstrated he was equal to the other apostles. The Galatians were to receive his teaching as truth from God. Why? Because it is truth from God. Paul received it from God but was not taught it by anyone else. There was no intermediary to confuse it.
Paul reminded the Galatians that he confronted Peter about the very thing. Peter did not keep the law until the Jews, from James, arrived. Again this demonstrates Paul was not less than Peter, he corrected Peter when Peter was in the wrong. Paul was Peter’s peer as an apostle.
Paul went on and said Peter even led Barnabas astray. It is comforting to know that even the great saints can and do sin. Paul’s reproof of Peter was for no small thing. It was for the central and chief article of Christian doctrine. Justification is through faith alone. Peter’s hypocrisy had endangered himself and others who followed his example. But to Peter’s credit, he took correction and acknowledged his sin.
God was patient with the Jews. It was impossible for new converts from Judaism to suddenly break away from the Law. God is also patient with us. As we stumble through life we get many things wrong. Often our theology is wrong but God is full of mercy and grace. But we dare not abuse God’s mercy. We need to accept His correction. We need to study the scripture. We dare not continue in error now that He has revealed the truth in His scripture.
But men continue to add to the gospel. Man cannot accept the fact that the good news is that good. We believe we have to do something to be worthy of salvation. We have to add something to what Christ has done. We cannot accept the fact that Christ is enough. Like the false teacher in Galatia, we believe we must add to the work of Christ. For them it was circumcision. For many in the church today it is the belief that you have to “accept Christ.” In other words, we believe we must add to what Christ has done. Christ’s work, by itself, is insufficient.
The Gospel declares that salvation is a gift from God. But here again, we try to pervert that gift by claiming we must decide to receive that gift by faith. We forget that even that faith is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2: 8-9) Our faith is not our own.
Human reasoning only thinks in terms of Law. i.e. rules and regulations. We search for a cause for God’s mercy. We reason “I have done this, I have not done that.” We search for a reason why some are the recipients of grace and others are not. We reason that it must be because of something they have or have not done. But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and what he has done. He gave his life for our sins. To turn away from Jesus means to turn back to the Law. True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone. But we deny Christ and hold to our works.
But praise God for his rich mercy! As he was patient with the Jews He is patient with us. Though we rebel against Him, God’s love for us is without measure. He corrects and nurtures us. Throughout human history, God has shown His mercy. Job and Jeremiah cursed the day they were born. When life overwhelmed them, Elijah and Jonah both prayed for death. The great saints of history have fallen into despair. Peter, the rock, fell but Christ raised him. No one is so secure in themselves that they cannot fall. But we can take comfort in the fact that the one who raised them up will raise us up. We have the same gift they had. We have the same Christ, the same baptism, the same Gospel, and the same forgiveness of sins.
When we fall we should not seek counsel from either reason or the Law, but rest on the grace of God and in His Word. The Law has its place, to convict us of our sin. But rest in the grace and mercy of the Gospel. Search the Scriptures with humility, praying that we may never lose sight of the Gospel.