Threats to Gospel Unity
False brethren secretly . . . slipped in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage. Galatians 2:4
When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. Galatians 2:11
Galatians 1 has introduced us to the fact that there were those who were seeking to pervert the Gospel. Now Galatians 2 focuses our attention on issues more purposefully, even as it continues Paul’s validation that the gospel is foundational for unity and that what he preached is the same as what the other apostles preached. Now the first fourteen verses of Galatians chapter two, brings to light even more threats to Gospel unity and Paul is defending his authority as an apostle.
The Threat From Jerusalem
The first threat is from the “false brethren” from Jerusalem. Isn’t it interesting, that I have often found that the first threat that an organization faces is not external threats, but threats that develop from within, and in this case, from within the church, the community of believers at large.
Throughout chapter one, Paul has shown that his gospel came not from man, but from God himself. That his call or commission from God happened on that dusty road from Jerusalem as he drew near to Damascus. At that time, Paul changed from Saul the persecutor to Paul the evangelist. Here comes the tricky part, for Paul shows that his gospel was not different, but precisely the same as that of the other apostles; yet it was different. As our lessons continue over the next several weeks we will see how this comes to be. Paul, to stress this point, plainly states that he has paid only one visit to Jerusalem and at that one visit, his gospel was endorsed and approved by the other apostles.
Galatians 2:1-10 divides quite naturally into three sections, with the verses one and two forming the first section. These two verses provide the reason Paul had traveled to Jerusalem.
Let’s note several things about these verses:
- He went up “because of a revelation” (verse 2). That thought is especially important for him to make known to the church in Galatia. Why? Because he points out that he was not summoned to Jerusalem so that his teachings and gospel could be scrutinize. Instead it was God revelation that had propelled him toward the Jewish Capital.
- The second reason for this visit was to lay before the Jerusalem leaders the gospel he had already been preaching to the Gentiles. As he states: “For fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain (verse 2). It is important to realize that Paul wasn’t unsure of his gospel in the sense that he needed human approval, but rather that he feared the divisive work of the Judaizes might have a destructive impact on his work. For this reason it was crucial that he overthrow their influence by demonstrating that he and the Jerusalem apostles were in agreement on the nature of the gospel.
- Paul is eager to have others understand that he is no anarchist, who rejects church order – that he is not someone who has a vision of truth and is going to strike out on his own. Instead, Paul believed in church order and in working with other leaders even when serious differences stood between them.
- Paul took Titus with him and this was no accident. Titus was an uncircumcised Greek convert to Christianity. By being a Gentile convert he served as Paul’s test case against those in Jerusalem who were teaching that “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).
In Jerusalem, Paul faced a touchy problem. After all, the Jerusalem apostles had been operating in a Jewish context in which all males were circumcised and had been aligned with the Jewish laws from their birth. Paul having preached before the Gentiles had a different perspective of what it meant to preach Christianity in the Gentile context verses the other Apostles who preached Christianity in the Jewish context. After all, Jewish males had been circumcised for centuries. Yet for the Gentile, it amounted to what they believed it to be, genital mutilation which then created a stumbling block.
It is kind of like the old saying: “You can take the boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy.” For the gentile believer, they could not get past how they had previously felt toward this.
Paul is faced with a dilemma of potentially saying to much or too little on the subject. He must walk a tight rope in that he must maintain his own independence and yet, he must not compromise the position of the other twelve apostles. He had to find a way to justify his position without seeming to condemn them. How was he able to perform this delicate task? By speaking privately before those who were of repute. He went to Jerusalem to specifically speak with the other apostles in this regard. He spoke before them and let them come to a decision without involving the whole community.
The result, the other apostles understood Paul’s reasoning and so did not compel Titus a full Gentile to become circumcised.
At stake was something more important than mere circumcision. Circumcision was the tip of the iceberg with the real issue being that the Christian has been set free. The Judaizes attempted to place back in bondage those who had been freed. What then is this freedom and this bondage? What had the Christian been set free of? A casual observance one would say from their sins, but there appears to be no attempt by those preaching a false gospel to make those new converts subject to their past sins. So, what then is it? It is freedom from the law!
Oh, wait, are you saying that we are no longer subject to the law? No, but yes, and yes, but no, for here is where the waters become muddy. Why? Because we must first understand what law is being referred to.
Let’s try and shed some light on this. The Christian has been set free from the law in the sense that his acceptance before God depends entirely upon God’s grace and the death of Jesus Christ received by faith. In short, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith in the saving power of Christ who was sacrificed upon the cross that we might live.
Then if we are saved by grace through faith, then to reintroduce the works of the law and making our acceptance dependent upon our obedience to rules and regulations bring us not freedom, but once again under bondage.
This brings us to a good stopping point, allowing us to talk about and define the “law”. What law is being referred to here? The Bible has three separate laws and each was given to us from God. So, is this referring to all three laws? Law 1, Law 2 or Law 3 or a combination of?
We will pick this up this thought with our next post.