Know Your Enemy & Your Friends
Text: Galatians 2:1-10
Date: 18 Feb 2018
Having worked our way through Galatians 1 we now come to 2:1 where we find that fourteen years have elapsed since the end of the passage in 1:18-24 that we looked at a couple of weeks ago. In Galatians 1 we heard about the gospel Paul preached and how he castigated those who deserted the gospel of truth that he had preached to follow a perverted gospel that was being peddled by false teachers. We also learned more about Paul’s incredible conversion and how God showed totally unexpected grace towards him.
Today’s passage centres on a visit to Jerusalem made by Paul and Barnabas when they met with Cephas, James and John. These verses in 2:1-10 are closely intertwined with Acts 15:1-21 and you may wish to read that later. In that passage in Acts we see Paul and Barnabas in “sharp dispute and debate” with the false teachers who had infiltrated Paul’s work (Acts 15:2). It was this dispute that was one of the reasons for their visit to Jerusalem for what became known as the Council of Jerusalem.
This particular trip would have well taken place somewhere around 46 AD, a little while before Paul and Barnabas embarked on their first missionary journey. Whilst it is difficult to be 100% sure, the visit described here was probably Paul’s third post-conversion visit to Jerusalem the first being mentioned in 1:18, a visit he made a little while after he had returned from “Arabia” with the second, the so-called relief visit, not being mentioned at all in Galatians.
I’m sure most of you have seen those TV detective shows such as Miss Marple, Lewis and Midsomer Murders where the story opens with a sepia tinted scene and then a few minutes later a caption appears saying 6 or 12 months later or some such time frame. The sepia tinted prologue is intended to set the scene for what is to follow. Well this passage is no different since it opens with these scene setting words “Then after fourteen years ...” (2:1); that seems to be quite a time lapse since we left Paul in 1:21-24.
One important question we have to ask though is: fourteen years from when? It isn’t immediately obvious just how Paul was measuring time although after a lot of digging I think I’ve come up with a reasonable answer to that conundrum. Paul appears to have been counting the years from his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road that led to him becoming such a faithful and powerful follower of Jesus. We know from 1:17 that after his conversion Paul didn’t immediately go to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles but rather went to “Arabia” for three years or so. It was only after this stay in “Arabia” that Paul made a short visit to Jerusalem to “get acquainted with Cephas” (1:18). Whilst there seems some disagreement between commentators as to which particular visit this was, I believe that that was Paul’s first visit follpowing his conversion. We then have the period covered by 1:18 to 1:21 when Paul spent time in Tarsus and Antioch; a period that the commentator John Stott suggests lasted seven or eight years.
We learn from Acts 11:25-26 that Barnabas searched for Paul in Tarsus and when he had found him they both went to Antioch; and it was during his stay in Antioch that Paul heard the appeal from Agabus regarding raising funds to help those suffering as a result of the famine in Judea. Paul and Barnabas helped with raising funds and were then authorised to take the money to Jerusalem in what became known as the relief mission. Details of this trip, Paul’s second post-conversion visit to Jerusalem, appear in Acts 11:27-30 although there is no mention of it in Galatians since this may have been regarded as a pastoral visit whilst the Epistle is only concerned with theological issues.
I said something about Antioch in Syria in an earlier sermon and it is a city that appears to have become a great centre for followers of Jesus almost by accident. Following the stoning of Stephen the followers of Jesus scattered far and wide with many of them heading for Antioch and some heading to Cyprus; moves that had the unintended consequence that Antioch became a safe haven for believers. Rather interestingly one follower of Jesus already on Cyprus was Barnabas who before too long headed to Antioch to join the other Jewish followers of Jesus who were already there; somewhere they were able to pursue their faith openly and seemingly without hindrance. Not too long after his arrival Barnabas headed to Tarsus to seek out Paul, then still known as Saul, and having found him took him back to Antioch where they spent a year or so working together in the church and building up believers (Acts 11:26).
I always find timings in Scripture to be a bit vague and not necessarily totally accurate and so there has to be some leeway in the way that these years in Paul’s life add up. However, with all that he did in Tarsus and in Antioch I think it is safe say that Paul didn’t waste any of his time from the moment of his conversion through to the time he began this first missionary journey to Galatia.
When Paul travelled to Jerusalem with his close friend Barnabas he also took along Titus who we see mentioned for the first time in 2:1. For those of you who are interested in such things, there is no mention of Titus in Acts! It is important to point out that Titus was a Greek follower of Jesus and so had not been circumcised. Now whether Paul took Titus along as a test case or as a provocative move is difficult to know although we do know that Judaism at the time was focussed on rites, rules, regulations and customs with circumcision forming a major part of that focus. The former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, writing in his commentary suggests that Titus may have been circumcised before the visit even though he was a Greek. Since no other commentator mentions this it seems a strange thing to suggest and if true would surely show a devious or ultra cautious side to Paul. It is true that later in his ministry Paul had Timothy circumcised so that he could work in synagogues although in the case of Titus there seems no reason for him to be circumcised. As it happened, we learn from 2:3, that the subject didn’t come up at the Council of Jerusalem and so there was no need for Titus to be circumcised anyway.
Given that Paul conducted a very public and powerful ministry I find it rather strange that, according to 2:2, he met “those esteemed as leaders” in private. The purpose of this private gathering was to allow Paul to present his version of the gospel to the Apostles. I can’t quite understand though why someone as powerful a preacher and advocate of the gospel of Jesus Christ should want to do that. He had received the gospel by direct revelation from Jesus Himself and had been happily and successfully preaching that gospel to the Gentiles. Why should he now seek approval for what he had been preaching? After all, Paul had already said in 1:10 that he was not seeking to please people on the basis that if he were “still trying to please people, [he] would not be a servant of Christ”.
Paul gives us a small clue in 2:2b when he says, “I wanted to be sure I was not running my race in vain.” Could it be that the Apostle was having a crisis of confidence? I know myself that preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ carries with it a huge responsibility; it is not a pain free experience and it is always important to constantly seek God’s approval for what is being prepared and delivered. In Paul’s case he had been preaching the gospel to Gentiles for a number of years whilst Peter and the other Apostles had been working among the Jewish community. It was vital that it was the same gospel being preached to both communities lest there be any lack of unity, a theme explored by Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22. Very importantly Paul’s gospel message did not include any mention of submission to the law or adopting the Jewish way of life since he only ever preached salvation through faith in Jesus by the grace of God. Submitting his version of the gospel to the Apostles at Jerusalem seems therefore to have been a great concession on Paul’s part. However, he was confident in what he was doing since he had learnt the gospel directly by revelation from Jesus and not from man or by associating with the other Apostles. Despite that Paul was still willing to submit his views to the Apostles since gaining their approval meant that they could continue to work together in sharing the gospel.
Paul himself said in 2:4 that “this matter arose” because “false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ”. The people that Paul was referring to were the Judaisers who later gave him so much trouble during his mission in Galatia; and they were at work wherever he endeavoured to preach the gospel. It is worth repeating my earlier comment that the gospel that Paul preached was simple: salvation came as a result of the work of Christ on the cross and may only be received through faith in Jesus Christ by the grace of God. This was what Paul meant when he talked of the “freedom we have in Christ” in 2:4b. The aim of these Judaisers was once again to make the people slaves to the Law; I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that this was an example of the classic battle between grace and the Law; and sadly this ongoing battle was not unique to Galatia but was happening wherever the “truth of the gospel” (2:5) was preached. Paul had already heavily criticised those who were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (1:7) by preaching “a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6-7), and he was most anxious that “the truth of the gospel might be preserved” (2:5). As you might expect the Amplified Bible expands that somewhat and suggests that Paul was anxious “that the truth of the gospel might continue to be preserved for you in its purity”. That thought still applies today and it is imperative that all preachers continue to bear that in mind when they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 2:2 Paul refers to those he was meeting as “those esteemed as leaders”. In 2:5 he refers to them as “those who were held in high esteem – whatever they were makes no difference to me”. Is it me or is there a strong hint of sarcasm in those comments? I may be wrong but I get the feeling that Paul didn’t have too much time for these esteemed leaders in Jerusalem. I’ve checked a number of other translations and it seems to me that they all carry the same inference; Paul had little time for them. Paul’s main point seems to be that “God shows no favouritism” or as the Weymouth version of the New Testament puts it, “God recognises no external distinctions”. The message that I detect from that is that in God’s eyes all Christians are equal and there are no differences in status. Whichever way we take Paul’s comments, he was pleased to say that “they added nothing to my message”. Paul also seemed pleased to add in 2:7 that, “On the contrary, they recognised that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.” God was at work in both ministries and to God they were of equal importance. It doesn’t matter who we share the gospel with, whatever their race or colour, whatever their circumstances or current religious situation, it is the same gospel that should be preached. Jesus didn’t die on the cross of Calvary for just one group of the population; He died for everyone who would accept Him as their Lord and Saviour.
The three Apostles; James, Cephas and John, all recognised that Paul was preaching with the clear authority given by God and they gave Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of fellowship when they recognised the grace given to” Paul (2:9) which could undoubtedly be seen as the seal of approval. Once again though we may detect a hint of sarcasm as Paul again referred in 2:9 to these three Apostles as “those esteemed pillars” whilst the Amplified Bible describes them as “those reputed to be the pillars of the Jerusalem church”. I see trouble ahead!
Whilst clearly approving of Paul’s ministry, the three Apostles did ask Paul to do one thing; they wanted him to “continue to remember the poor” (2:10). Paul was happy to comply with that request as he himself said he “had been eager to do [that] all along”. You may recall that one of the reasons Paul and Barnabas had made an earlier visit to Jerusalem had been to deliver the funds that had been raised in Antioch to help with the famine relief. To Paul, complying with this latest request was obviously no hardship at all.
This passage centres on a major visit made by Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem in order to hold private discussions with Cephas, James and John. Quite why Paul should submit his preaching and the content of his sermons and ministry to these “esteemed leaders” is difficult to discern. However, submit he did and these three Apostles happily extended the right hand of fellowship as a sign of their acceptance of what Paul was doing. One commentator suggests that had they not done that Paul would have gone away and continued on his own without bothering them again. That is of course sheer conjecture but gives us a clue as to how Paul may have felt about the gospel and the other Apostles.
The final result of this meeting was that Paul was able to continue with his mission to the Gentiles whilst the other Apostles took the same gospel to the Jewish community; which can only have been a good thing. They may have reached agreement but it is not totally obvious what Paul really felt about Cephas and we may learn more next week when we look at a few more verses in Galatians 2.