Summary: Paul and Barnabas face first century bullying.
If you’ve been paying any attention to the media reports lately, you’ve probably noticed how much attention bullying, especially in schools, has been getting the headlines. I think there has always been bullying in school, though I agree, it’s not something that should be tolerated.
When I was in school in Hawaii growing up, I didn’t really encounter bullying until I got to intermediate school in the seventh grade. We all remember that we had many friends in elementary school, but when we graduated to intermediate school, we joined kids from other elementary schools who didn’t know us. And because they didn’t know us, we became targets of these bullies. I remember one bully in particular - Roger Tsukamoto.
Roger liked to wait for me along the back road entrance to our school. He, and a couple of his buddies from a different elementary school than mine, would wait by this little corner grocery a block from school. They harass me, slap at me, and attempt to get me to engage in a fight. I was an easy target because back then, I was very overweight and fat, and couldn’t have out run them if I tried, and I did.
Of course there was another way to go home, and frequently I took that street, walking with a couple of others - and I wasn’t bothered by Roger when I did it. But then he’d catch on and be waiting for me on that street corner, too, so I’d have to put up with him and his bullying again. And because it was off school property, administrators never got involved with it. Just me and Roger.
Peter and Barnabas faced some first century bullying by those in the church that advocated circumcision for Gentiles that became Christians. They were so intimidated by the Jewish converts that they withdrew fellowship from some of the Gentile believers. This was cowardly and hypocritical of them.
Paul refused to compromise on this issue and once again took a stand for the truth of the gospel. The false teachers and preachers that were trying to steal the Galatian believers’ freedom by imposing circumcision on them, were reprehensible to Paul.
Paul the Defender
“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.” (2:1-2)
In verse 18 of chapter 1, Paul refers to his first visit to Jerusalem. During that time he stayed with Peter and James. This he did three years after his conversion on the road to Damascus. This is not recorded in the book of Acts, but the visit he makes note of in these verses does refer to his visit in Acts 11, a visit made because of the famine that was ongoing at that time.
Notice that Paul doesn’t go alone. Remember, Jewish law required that testimony be substantiated by other witnesses, at least two was required. Barnabas, a respected Jewish Christian and missionary on the first journey, could testify to God’s work among the Gentiles. Titus, an uncircumcised Gentile, authenticated his salvation experience as entirely by faith alone.
Paul’s visit, he notes, is made because of a revelation. He doesn’t explain the revelation, just that he had one and was there in response to it. He could be referring to what the prophet Agabus had said about a famine occurring in Jerusalem, and wanted to make them aware of what would soon be coming. With this in mind, Paul came to Jerusalem to defend the gospel of God’s grace.
Paul sets his gospel before the leaders at Jerusalem in the hope that he “might not be running, or have run, in vain.” His conviction that his gospel came from God and not from any human channels doesn’t mean that he felt he needed their endorsement. God’s authority was the only authority Paul needed.
It is likely that Paul feared for the future of the mission work to the Gentiles, and even the church at large, if the Jerusalem leaders rejected the Gentile Christians as full brothers and sisters apart from the rite of circumcision. If they rejected this, they would not be rejecting Paul - they would be rejecting God’s plan of making one people of God - both Jew and Gentile.
Titus the Example
“Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the mood the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” (2:3-5)