“When is it time to stand for truth?” Doesn’t this kind of thing strain relationships and make things awkward? Yes! So, why do it?
Look at Galatians 2:5-to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
Prop: Paul models what is necessary to stand for truth
1. Paul had a Credible Testimony (vv. 1-2)
This is simple history, Paul is making his visit to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). Paul had visited Jerusalem 3 years after his conversion (cf. 1:18) and now it’s been 14 years since his conversion. Paul’s point is, a lot has happened in these 14 years and most being independent of the direct influence of the 12 Apostles.
Paul’s story is embedded in these opening words – serving as prologue to the conflict he’s now commenting on in Chapter 2.
- This is Paul’s visit at the Jerusalem Council where the issue of Galatians is being addressed.
- Acts 15 matches and picks up on where we are in Galatians 2.
- Paul and Barnabas have completed their 1st missionary journey and come to Jerusalem.
- Paul and Barnabas had a new disciple, Titus, a “true child in the faith” (Titus 1:4).
- Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile, who is a new believer and he serves as exhibit A for Paul’s argument!
Verse 2 makes the point that Paul was coming to this dispute based on a “revelation” – God told him to go, directly. “I went up because of a revelation” (v. 2). Even 14 years later, after hearing from God at his conversion and his calling to the mission field (Acts 13:2) his steps are still being directed by God!
Paul and Barnabas approach this meeting in a more private setting as a pre-council meeting. The circumstances with Titus make the reason for this obvious. Interestingly Paul refers to “James, Cephas, and John” as “influential.” Paul refers to them this way 4 times in our text (v. 2, 6 [2x], 9).
- Paul is being sarcastic to warn Christians of overestimating their authority.
- This isn’t directed toward the three but toward the false-teachers or Judaizers.
- Who were elevating Peter, James, and John as true leaders claiming to be on their side teaming up against Paul.
Now notice that Paul with his reputation of Apostolic (and Jerusalem) independence is now bringing himself under submission to them. Paul “set before them…the gospel” he had been “proclaiming among the Gentiles” during his 1st missionary journey. Paul’s laying it on the line. “Was Paul’s whole ministry and experience a sham?” “Vain?” “Empty?”
So here’s what happened at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
- Judaizers from Judea, came to Antioch and taught circumcision was necessary to be saved.
- This was blatant and outright.
- Paul and Barnabas “had no small dissension and debate” which is a gentleman’s way of saying, Paul and Barnabas were throwing down!
- So Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed and sent to bring this to the mothership church in Jerusalem.
- This was no small walking trip. The distance between Antioch and Jerusalem was 496 miles, an 18-day journey.
- On their way down they described Gentile conversions bringing “joy” or validation to what’s happened. Paul and Barnabas were not confused.
- Also, Paul and Barnabas being welcomed by the church leadership and preaching freely further validated their ministry.
- Verse 5 says those from “the party of the Pharisees rose up” and said it’s necessary to circumcise [Gentiles] in order to keep the law of Moses.
- This was a way to finesse heresy differently than how blatant the Judaizers were at Antioch (Acts 15:1).
- In verse 7 Peter stands up to answer! He clearly defines his mission as one being chosen by God (as a Jew) for the express purpose of sharing the Gospel message to Gentiles so they would hear and believe.
- Verses 8-9 refers to Gentiles like Cornelius in Acts 10 who heard and believed and experienced the post-Pentecost work of the Holy Spirit falling upon he and his colleagues.
- Peter speaks of the “no distinction” of race “between us and them” nature of this! This was about racial reconciliation!
- This is a major transition from the Old Covenant to the New! Peter being the spokesperson is serious!
- The issue is that God has cleansed their hearts by faith! (v. 9).
- In verse 12 Paul and Barnabas weigh in with their experiences winning Gentiles.
- Now in verse 12 James, the half-brother of Jesus starts to preach. He references Simeon, the prophet, awaiting the birth of Christ in the temple! He had been promised by God that he would not die until he beheld the Messiah. This in Latin is called the Nunc Dimittis which means, “Now I can die!”
- Simeon quoted the prophet Amos and so does James. This end times prophecy begins its fulfillment here with Gentile conversions in the New Covenant!
- The restoration of David’s throne will come in the millennium; the remnant speaks to the ingathering of the Jews in the end and then the engrafting of the Gentiles which makes up the church.
- This is happening now and foreshadows the end.
- James in verses 19-21 wrap things up with a proposal to not trouble the Gentiles who turn to God.
- There are moral matters – “abstaining from sexual immorality” – to be obeyed and preferential concessions that should be made for there to be peace.
- There’s also the sense that for Gentiles to be an evangelistic witness they need to be willing not to be a stumbling block to the Jews, who were in every city, spread out in Synagogues (Acts 15:21).
Back to Galatians 1:3 where we are introduced to Titus who had come along for the ride.
2. Paul chose a character witness who was irrefutable (v. 3)
Titus was the perfect character witness. Though not mentioned in Acts during Paul’s 1st missionary journey, it is assumed Paul led Titus to Christ while on the field. In other words, Titus is the fruit of Gentile mission work. Titus was a full blooded Greek and so if anyone would be required for circumcision for salvation it would be Titus. Obviously Titus’ faith was on display and was enough to convince the church that he was an example of someone who’s heart was regenerated apart from the Law.
What’s amazing is how quickly an external can be viewed as a requirement for conversion or acceptance. Faith is always the overflow of what happens on the inside the heart which moves it toward outward obedience.
What’s amazing here is how a single act like human circumcision can turn into a stumbling block – an alleged requirement for salvation. This both in terms of doctrine and faith.
If you add circumcision or any work to the gospel, then you no longer have the gospel. So, when Titus came into the Jerusalem church – others seeing he was a different race – assuming he had not been circumcised they wondered what would happen. “Do you want in?” “Do you want to truly be saved?”
- Paul’s saying, “Titus, though a full blooded Greek” was not “forced” to be circumcised!
- Paul’s point is that conversion is a matter of having a changed heart!
This is what circumcision for the Jews always represented! Hear the words of Moses from Deuteronomy 30 just prior to Israel entering the Promised Land.
ESV Deuteronomy 30:6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
Listen to how Paul applies this in Romans 2, speaking to the early church still predominantly Jews.
ESV Romans 2:25-29 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
So circumcision is clearly a matter of the heart still being clarified to the early church at Rome.
So what about the issue of Timothy. Didn’t Paul force him to be circumcised?
ESV Acts 16:1-3 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
What’s amazing is that this is placed right at the end of Acts 15 – the Jerusalem Council. This cannot be coincidental. Timothy is half-Jewish and half-gentile. A Greek.
And the gospel has just been clarified that circumcision is not required.
- Timothy, his circumcision wasn’t muddying the message that the gospel of grace through faith!
- This was not an act of merit but deference.
- Timothy, was willing to remove any stumbling block that might hinder Jews being saved.
- He didn’t want to be perceived as better than they were.
- Christianity is not anti-semitic!
- Jesus was Jewish! We are being grafted into their plan not vise verse (cf. Romans 11).
ESV Romans 11:18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.
- He could have just said, “Hey I’m more Greek than Jewish.” My dad was a Greek so I’m good!
ESV 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
This is not a call to Contextualizing in the church. Nor Relevance. This is a call to sacrifice and service. We serve others to win others!
- To be unyielding for the sake of the saving message to be “preserved” is noble!
- And: To yield and lay down your rights to “win” others to Christ is equally noble.
I know there are times when people will resist the church and her systems.
- Matters like church membership which (more implied than commanded in Scripture) are viewed with contempt.
- An extra-biblical issue?
- However, even issues like: regular grace giving, submitting to elders, regular church attendance, doing the spiritual disciplines, and believer’s baptism which are explicitly commanded are often viewed as unnecessary for spiritual growth or as matters of obedience.
At the same time, when any of these are foisted upon you as an obligation for salvation – then these should be avoided at all cost!
OUR CHRISTIAN FREEDDOM COMES IN BOTH FORMS – FREE TO ABSTAIN – FREE TO ACT
3. Paul persevered with an implacable resolve (vv. 4-5)
Another key characteristic Paul displays is what I’m calling implacable resolve. Paul showed toughness in the face of who he calls, “false brothers” (v. 4). The language pictures these fake believers covertly coming inside the church as “spies” – to spy. The “slipped” in like poisonous snakes intruding inside a home through a small crevice. They were called “false brothers” which means they claimed to be believers but are not. These are unlike the “false brother” from 1 Corinthians 5:11 who’s obviously false based on known patterns of immorality.
ESV 1 Corinthians 5:11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one.
These pseudo believers are “undercover agents who took on the role of conspirators.” What’s amazing is how Paul’s describing them as those who are “spying out [their] freedom” that Christians already have. The picture is people literally “lying in wait” to pounce on a believer’s freedom. They want to “enslave” believers.
First, I want to ask the question, “How malicious was this behavior?” Were these brothers really trying to ruin people’s lives? What you have to understand is that a “false brother” is someone who believes he is truly a Christian. And worse this person believers he is doing the Lord’s work.
For the legalist, motivations are bound up in following God’s law. And, in this case, as we’ve said, they were imposing “circumcision” as the prerequisite for salvation – bringing damage to other people’s spiritual lives.
This is the subtle nature of false teaching. Perhaps one of the saddest realities within the church is the fact that the church has those within it who are self-deceived. A self-deceived, deluded, religious person is often a threat who is unawares.
What’s at stake? Your freedom is your joy! Galatians 5:1 is perhaps Paul’s clearest statement on what the wealth of salvation really is!
ESV Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
It’s is very easy to lose your “freedom” (Gal. 5:1). Circumstances come and go. Emotions rise and fall. But your “freedom” does not have to rise and fall with it.
You might say, I lose my joy fast. My question is, “are you standing firm” are you digging in saying, “I will not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” This is literally saying, “I have a grudge against losing my joy!”
One of the number one personal experiences I had when I was saved was losing guilt. It was like shedding a massive weight off my back and this very weight that people will actually try to re-shackle you with.
The literary classic biblical allegory of the Christian life, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress pictures this. This work, first published in 1678, now in 200 languages, book with most sales 2nd only to the Bible is worth the read. Bunyan uses word-pictures describing how it feels to shed guilt.
He [Christian] ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a Sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, That just as Christian came up with the Cross, his Burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the Sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He has given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death. Then he stood still a while to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his Burden.
Because he references the Cross you can misconstrue this as his salvation experience when this is really talking about how someone who’s become a Christian comes to grips with what he or she truly now has!
In verse 5 it is clear Paul didn’t “yield” or subordinate himself for the slightest “moment” knowing this was a gospel freedom issue. Listen, the act of yielding would be a compromise gospel doctrine.
How someone lives is always tied together with the doctrine. So, how you live does matter – things you do matter. Your choices and actions tell you where you are on what you believe.
Paul’s saying “we didn’t yield in submission toward them [so that] the gospel [is] remains toward you.”
Paul did not flinch. He had “implacable resolve.” And there are times when you have to dig in for the sake of truth. The key is not digging in selfishly. Digging in is costly. You will lose relationships! But, the reason you do it is for the sake of the spiritual lives of others. You want “truth” to be “preserved” in the hearts of others. By the way, “preserved” – “diamenei” from “meno” means to remain. When you’re a believer you cannot then become an unbeliever but you can lose heart! You can also walk away from Christ in a way that proves you have never believed in the first place. This is the mystery of perseverance. Or, continuing in the faith.
4. Paul was unswayable by superficial titles or positions (vv. 6-9)
The “influential” is a reference to Jerusalem leadership, specifically “Peter, James, and John.” These are those whom “seemed to be pillars” in verse 9. In second temple Judaism the “pillars” were the foundation of their worship centers. These men were esteemed and designated as those who had literally walked with the physical Christ. Peter and John were physically called and ministered to by God in flesh. James who grew up with Jesus as his physical half-brother. Like the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who also had extraordinary God-encounters meaning others could mark these men too as extraordinary.
It’s important to note that the church was built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20) but at the same time to remember these were just men. This is Paul’s point. Paul’s saying, as important as these men are, “their influence makes no difference to me” (v. 6). This for two reasons.
- Paul cites God’s impartiality
- And that they all have the same gospel.
Paul’s appeal is to God’s Word. Age and experience or experiences pale in the light of the gospel. The gospel governs everything meaning that personality and status really mean nothing.
Paul’s saying that his time with Peter, James, and now John has been profitable but that their gospel was not some kind of finishing school for Paul’s gospel. “Nothing” was “added” (v. 6). Their experience with Christ did not enhance their perspective on truth.
In some ways, because Paul came to saving faith after Christ was raised gives us comfort. We came to faith post Christ resurrection like he did. We too have the gospel that Paul did – that Peter, James and John did.
In today’s evangelical world with its heroes it is easy to become enamored with certain people’s positons of influence. No matter what certain doctrinal positions people take you have to bring everything back to Scripture. On a side note, having worked in a few mainstream ministries I’ve had an audience with several very influential evangelical leaders. Without fail I have found some of the most influential leaders to still be utterly human. Those who actually put their paints on one leg at a time like we do.
So, verse 7 says, these very men, whom Paul sarcastically calls “pillars” had the same evangelistic cause and effect that he did! They had the same gospel but with two different mission fields.
- Peter primarily to the Jews, those who automatically were circumcised.
- Paul primarily to the Gentiles who were not!
Verse 8 emphasizes how God is the cause of power through his gospel saving each kind of person.
This is another incredible statement on global missions and on race! We have a saving gospel that is not an American gospel! Our saving gospel works with people, all kinds of people. The gospel works on souls made in God’s image. Verse 9 says these men, “James and Cephas and John” all came to “perceive” or to “know” that “grace was given to him” (v. 9). “Grace” was operative in Paul’s life and ministry. These men discerned this and then publically affirmed this – displaying their trust in Paul “giving the right hand of fellowship” (v. 9).
5. Paul gladly submitted to every preference where possible (v. 10)
This verse is the kind of statement that keeps people’s boots on the ground. Peter, James, and John affirmed Paul – in many ways, esteeming him higher than themselves. But, Paul cannot forget the “poor” (v. 10). “Where is this coming from?” Remember, the Jerusalem church had been suffering famine. Jerusalem is where it all began.
Pentecost drew in the scattered Jews who became the first Christians. Acts 2:45 says the church held “all things in common” but with famine resources had run dry. So, Paul being a significant leader in Antioch which was well resourced and needed to remember his brothers. Paul’s response? Eagerness to act! Once gospel truth is clarified, his defenses come down. Paul is “eager” with “rushing zeal” to equip the Jerusalem church (v. 10).
Why was this response so important? This was a test Paul needed to pass. He loved the Jerusalem church. He didn’t believe he was better than them for a second! Yes, he was bold and unflinching but that was for their sake. He wasn’t any more or less deserving of grace than anyone else.
Paul knew he wasn’t better and so should we!