Summary: What do you rely on for how you behave? That might seem like a simple question but who and what influences you can mean the difference between relying on your own abilities or falling on the grace of Jesus. The answer is simple: die!
We start out so well. We come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and we’re filled with excitement and that “first love” feeling. Once the realities of the flesh with dwell with and the world we dwell in begin to sink in—we face a fork in the road of our Christian maturity. We experience difficulties and feel defeated or insecure. We make mistakes and start feeling bad about ourselves and that God must not love us as much.
So we slowly begin to take control back from God. We control our environment by putting ourselves into a Christian bubble and we control our behavior by looking to a list of things to do and not do in order to please God. We fall into legalism.
This becomes even more probable when we see others around us who seem to have “success” by doing this. Such was the atmosphere in the Galatian churches with no less than the Apostle Peter providing support (unintentionally, I’m sure). Thank God for Paul, who isn’t afraid of calling anyone on the carpet for violating the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s pick up the letter as Paul defends his gospel to the Gentiles free from the traditions of the Jews.
Paul continues his narrative around just who was the source of and who approved of the gospel that he preached that included the Gentiles in the church without becoming Jews or following the Mosaic Law. He visited Jerusalem to get to know Peter, not to get the gospel from him or get his gospel approved.
In Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30), he came to provide famine relief in response to a prophecy from Agabus (Acts 11:28) who prophesied about a famine in Jerusalem. The date was probably around 46 A.D. or so. This is fourteen years was after his conversion. He took, among others, Barnabas—the man who accepted him as a Christian and went with him on his first missionary journey, and Titus, a Gentile believer.
This was not the Jerusalem Council visit that Paul will allude to later, but this meeting was in private so as to settle differences between leaders. It was not for Paul to get approval but to simply “inform” them of the revelation of the gospel that Paul had received from Jesus. Paul doesn’t use the word “Apostles” to refer to the leaders he met with. There is a note of derision here, as the meeting he had was apparently infiltrated by Judaizers who maybe wanted to make trouble for Paul, who was merely stating that Gentiles could become Christians without becoming Jews or being circumcised. The “real” church leaders were apparently not even there.
But Paul wanted to make sure that the church leaders in Jerusalem had not gone along with the Judaizers and against the direct revelation of God to him. Otherwise he’d be spinning his wheels.
3 – 4
As a sign that Jerusalem did not disagree with him, he notes that Titus, who was a full-blooded Gentile, had not been asked to become circumcised. So Paul reveals that the issue arose because some Jews (whether Christian or not we don’t know) had snuck into the church and wanted to bring everyone under the Jewish system, with its laws and traditions.
Their philosophy is summed up here: Acts 15:1-2 “Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved!”
Notice the motivation was to “enslave us.” Bringing yourself back under the Law will enslave you to a set of rules, rather than to a freedom-based, dynamic relationship with God.
Isn’t that nice of Paul? Had he not prevailed, we all might have had to submit to Jewish customs and the Mosaic Law. In fact, we’d all be sunk because, as Paul will state in a moment, no one except Jesus has ever been able to actually adhere to the Law.
6 – 10
Paul isn’t dissing the Apostles, but he is making it clear that he is independent of them, while unified with them. They added nothing to his gospel and even encouraged him in his mission to reach the Gentiles. There is mention of “remember the poor.” Palestine was a poor area filled with poor people. Interestingly, helping the poor was the exact thing Paul came to do!
11 – 14
This incident, in Antioch, Syria, may be why Paul is a little guarded in his praise for the Jerusalem church leaders. Antioch, where people were first referred to as “Christians” was filled with Gentile believers who ate and fellowshipped with Jewish believers. Paul records an incident where when Peter arrived from Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians withdrew from fellowship with the Gentile believers. Paul, standing for the truth, had to confront him, no matter how “important” he was.