The Letter of Paul to the Galatians
Paul’s Rebuke (2:14–21)
"But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
"We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good."
This entire section deals with the same topic: our liberty in Jesus Christ. We will assume that the entire section represents Paul’s rebuke of Peter. It is interesting to note that Paul builds the entire rebuke on doctrine. There are five basic Christian doctrines that were being denied by Peter because of his separation from the Gentiles. Let's break each one down.
The unity of the church (v. 14). Peter was a Jew, but through his faith in Christ he had become a Christian. Because he was a Christian, he was part of the church, and in the church there are no racial distinctions (Gal. 3:28). We have seen how the Lord taught Peter this important lesson, first in the house of Cornelius and then at the Jerusalem Conference.
Paul’s words must have stung Peter: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
Peter himself had stated at the Jerusalem Conference that God had “put no difference between us and them” (Acts 15:9). But now Peter was putting a difference. God’s people are one people, even though they may be divided into various groups. Any practice on our part that violates the Scripture and separates brother from brother is a denial of the unity of the body of Christ.
Justification by faith (vv. 15–16). “How should [a] man be just with God?” (Job 9:2) was a vital question, because the answer determined eternal consequences. “The just shall live by his faith”(Hab. 2:4) is God’s answer. So important is this concept that three New Testament books explain it to us: Romans (see 1:17), Galatians (see 3:11), and Hebrews (see 10:38). Romans explains the meaning of “the just”; Galatians explains “shall live”; and Hebrews explains “by faith.”
But what is justification? Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous in Jesus Christ. Every word of this definition is important. Justification is an act and not a process. No Christian is “more justified” than another Christian. “Having therefore been once-and-for-all justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Rom. 5:1, literal translation). Since we are justified by faith, it is an instant and immediate transaction between the believing sinner and God. If we were justified by works, then it would have to be a gradual process.
Furthermore, justification is an act of God; it is not the result of man’s character or works. “It is God that justifies” (Rom. 8:33). It is not by doing the “works of the law” that the sinner gets a right standing before God, but by putting his faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul will explain later in this letter, the law was given to reveal sin and not to redeem from sin (see Rom. 3:20). God in His grace has put our sins on Christ and Christ’s righteousness has been put to our account (2 Cor. 5:21).
In justification, God declares the believing sinner righteous; He does not make him righteous. (Of course, real justification leads to a changed life, which is what James 2 is all about.) Before the sinner trusts Christ, he stands guilty before God; but the moment he trusts Christ, he is declared not guilty, and he can never be called guilty again!
Justification is not simply “forgiveness,” because a person could be forgiven and then go out and sin and become guilty. Once you have been “justified by faith” you can never be held guilty before God.
Justification is also different from “pardon” because a pardoned criminal still has a record. When the sinner is justified by faith, his past sins are remembered against him no more, and God no longer puts his sins on record (Ps. 32:1-2; Rom. 4:1-8).
Finally, God justifies sinners, not “good people.” Paul declared that God justifies “the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). The reason most sinners are not justified is because they will not admit they are sinners! And sinners are the only kind of people Jesus Christ can save (Matt. 9:9–13; Luke 18:9–14).
When Peter separated himself from the Gentiles, he was denying the truth of justification by faith, because he was saying, “We Jews are different from—and better than—the Gentiles.” Yet both Jews and Gentiles are sinners (Rom. 3:22–23) and can be saved only by faith in Christ.
Peter’s Relapse (2:11-13)
"Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade."
Apparently, sometime after the important conference described in Acts 15, Peter came from Jerusalem to Antioch. He enjoyed fellowship with all the believers, Jews and Gentiles alike. To “eat with the Gentiles” meant to accept them, to put Jews and Gentiles on the same level as one family in Christ.
Raised as an orthodox Jew, Peter had a difficult time learning this lesson. Jesus had taught it while He was with Peter before the crucifixion (Matt. 15:1–20). The Holy Spirit had reemphasized it when He sent Peter to the home of Cornelius, the Roman centurion (Acts 10). Furthermore, the truth had been accepted and approved by the conference of leaders at Jerusalem (Acts 15). Peter had been one of the key witnesses at that time.
Before we criticize Peter, perhaps we had better examine our own lives to see how many familiar Bible doctrines we are actually obeying. As you examine church history, you see that, even with a complete Bible, believers through the years have been slow to believe and practice the truths of the Christian faith. When we think of the persecution and discrimination that have been practiced in the name of Christ, it embarrasses us. It is one thing for us to defend a doctrine in a church meeting, and quite something else to put it into practice in everyday life.
Peter’s freedom was threatened by Peter’s fear. While he was in Antioch, the church was visited by some of the associates of James, a strict Jew even though he was a Christian believer. No doubt they belonged to the “circumcision party” (Acts 15:1, 5) and wanted to lead the Antioch church into religious legalism.
After his experience with Cornelius, Peter had been called on the carpet and had ably defended himself (Acts 11). But now, he became afraid. Peter had not been afraid to obey the Spirit when He sent him to Cornelius, nor was he afraid to give his witness at the Jerusalem Conference. But now, with the arrival of some members of “the opposition,” Peter lost his courage. “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25).
How do we account for this fear? For one thing, we know that Peter was an impulsive man. He could show amazing faith and courage one minute and fail completely the next. He walked on the waves to go to Jesus, but then became frightened and began to sink. He boasted in the Upper Room that he would willingly die with Jesus, and then denied his Lord three times. Peter in the book of Acts is certainly more consistent than in the four gospels, but he was not perfect—nor are we! Peter’s fear led to Peter’s fall. He ceased to enjoy the “love feast” with the Gentile believers and separated himself from them.
There are two tragedies to Peter’s fall. First, it made him a hypocrite (which is the meaning of the word dissembled). Peter pretended that his actions were motivated by faithfulness, when they were really motivated by fear. How easy it is to use “Bible doctrine” to cover up our disobedience.
The second tragedy is that Peter led others astray with him. Even Barnabas was involved. Barnabas had been one of the spiritual leaders of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:19–26), so his disobedience would have a tremendous influence on the others in the fellowship.
Suppose Peter and Barnabas had won the day and led the church into legalism? What might the results have been? Would Antioch have continued to be the great missionary church that sent out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13)? Would they, instead, have sent out the “missionaries” of the circumcision party and either captured or divided the churches Paul had already founded? You can see that this problem was not a matter of personality or party; it was a question of “the truth of the gospel.” And Paul was prepared to fight for it.
Let's get personal and reflect a bit, How are do we live like hypocrites and is that leading others astray?
The Letter of Paul to the Galatians
The Personal Confirmation (2:6–10)
v.6-8 "As for those who were considered important in the church, their reputation doesn’t concern me. God isn’t impressed with mere appearances, and neither am I. And of course these leaders were able to add nothing to the message I had been preaching. It was soon evident that God had entrusted me with the same message to the non-Jews as Peter had been preaching to the Jews."
The Judaizers had hoped to get the leaders of the Jerusalem church to disagree with Paul. By contrast, Paul made it clear that he himself was not impressed either by the persons or the positions of the church leaders. He respected them, of course. Otherwise he would not have consulted with them privately. But he did not fear them or seek to buy their influence. All he wanted them to do was recognize “the grace of God” at work in his life and ministry (Gal. 2:9), and this they did.
Not only did the assembly approve Paul’s gospel, and oppose Paul’s enemies, but they encouraged Paul's ministry and recognized publicly that God had committed the Gentile aspect of His work into Paul's hands. They could add nothing to Paul’s message or ministry, and they dared not take anything away. There was agreement and unity: One gospel would be preached to Jews and to Gentiles.
“The gospel to the circumcision” and “the gospel to the uncircumcision” are not two different messages; it had already been agreed that there is only one gospel. Rather, we have here two different spheres of ministry, one to the Jews and the other to the Gentiles. Peter and Paul would both preach the same gospel, and the same Lord would be at work in and through them (Gal. 2:8),but they would minister to different peoples.
v.9 "Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews."
We need to recognize the fact that God calls people to different ministries in different places; yet we all preach the same gospel and are seeking to work together to build His church. Among those who know and love Christ, there can be no such thing as “competition.” Peter was a great man, and perhaps the leading apostle; yet he gladly yielded to Paul—a newcomer—and permitted him to carry on his ministry as the Lord led him. Previously, Paul explained his independence from the apostles (Gal. 1); now in Galatians 2 he points out his interdependence with the apostles. He was free, and yet he was willingly in fellowship with them in the ministry of the gospel.
v.10 "The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that."
We move next from the theological to the practical—helping the poor (Gal. 2:10). Certainly these things go together. Correct doctrine is never a substitute for Christian duty (James 2:14–26). Too often our church meetings discuss problems, but they fail to result in practical help for the needy world. Paul had always been interested in helping the poor (Acts 11:27–30), so he was glad to follow the leaders’ suggestion.
How are we remembering the poor today and doing justice?
The Letter of Paul to the Galatians
To Paul, his spiritual freedom in Christ was worth far more than popularity or even security. He was willing to fight for that freedom.
Paul’s first fight for Christian freedom was at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1–35; Gal. 2:1–10); his second was at a private meeting with Peter (Gal. 2:11–21). Had Paul been unwilling to wage this spiritual warfare, the church in the first century might have become only a Jewish sect, preaching a mixture of law and grace. But because of Paul’s courage, the gospel was kept free from legalism, and it was carried to the Gentiles with great blessing.
The Council at Jerusalem
The Private Consultation (2:1–2)
v.1 "Fourteen years after that first visit, Barnabas and I went up to Jerusalem and took Titus with us."
Paul and Barnabas had returned to Antioch from their first missionary journey, excited about the way God had "opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). But the Jewish legalists in Jerusalem were upset with their report; so they came to Antioch and taught, in effect, that a Gentile had to become a Jew before he could become a Christian (Acts 15:1).
v.2 "I went to clarify with them what had been revealed to me. At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry."
When the deputation arrived in Jerusalem, they met privately with the church leaders. Paul did not go to Jerusalem because the church sent him; he “It was because of a revelation that I went up”—that is, the Lord sent him (compare Gal. 2:2 and 1:12). And the Lord gave him the wisdom to meet with the leaders first so that they would be able to present a united front at the public meetings.
“for fear that I might running, or had run, in vain.” (Gal. 2:2) does not mean that Paul was unsure either of his message or his ministry. His conduct on the way to the conference indicates that he had no doubts (Acts 15:3). What he was concerned about waste future of the gospel among the Gentiles, because this was his specific ministry from Christ. If the “pillars "sided with the Judaizers, or tried to compromise, then Paul’s ministry would be in jeopardy. He wanted to get their approval before he faced the whole assembly; otherwise a three-way division could result.
What was the result of this private consultation? The apostles and elders approved Paul’s gospel. They added nothing to it and thereby declared the Judaizers to be wrong.
The Public Convocation (2:3–5)
v.3 "Significantly, Titus, non-Jewish though he was, was not required to be circumcised."
It seems that Titus became a test case at this point. He was a Gentile Christian who had never submitted to circumcision. Yet it was clear to all that he was genuinely saved. Now, if the Judaizers were right (“It wasn’t long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: “If you’re not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can’t be saved.”” Acts 15:1), then Titus was not a saved man. But he was a saved man, and gave evidence of having the Holy Spirit; therefore, the Judaizers were wrong.
How does this argument play out today in the church? Paul’s concern was "the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:5, 14), not the “peace of the church.” The wisdom that God sends from above is “first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17).“Peace at any price” was not Paul’s philosophy of ministry, nor should it be ours.
v.4-5 "While we were in conference we were infiltrated by spies pretending to be Christians, who slipped in to find out just how free true Christians are. Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude. We didn’t give them the time of day. We were determined to preserve the truth of the Message for you."
Ever since Paul’s time, the enemies of grace have been trying to add something to the simple gospel of the grace of God. They tell us that a man is saved by faith in Christ plus something—good works, the Ten Commandments, baptism, church membership, religious ritual—and Paul made it clear that these teachers are wrong. In fact, Paul pronounced a curse on any person(man or angel) who preaches any other gospel than the gospel of the grace of God, centered in Jesus Christ(Gal. 1:6–9; see 1 Cor. 15:1–7 for a definition of the gospel). It is a serious thing to tamper with the gospel.
How is the gospel "attacked" today and what role do we play in "preserving the truth" for others?
Paul Defends His Ministry
1:16b-17 Now Paul affirms that he was free from human influence after his conversion as he was before it! Paul met with other followers, but did not consult them on doctrine. If he wanted to discuss doctrine, he would have surely gone to Jerusalem and set up shop with the apostles. Instead, he went immediately to Arabia. He most likely did not go to evangelize or plant churches, but to isolate himself to the Lord for study, pray and to receive further revelation from God. It was in Arabia that Paul received the Gospel of Jesus Christ that would be preached forever.
1:18-20 Only after spending three years in Arabia and Damascus did Paul finally make his way to see the apostles, but only meets with Peter. He spent 15 days with Peter and it was more of a personal gathering and not a discussion on doctrine. Paul mentions that he met James, the brother of Jesus.
Because of Judaizer's accusations that Paul had misrepresented his relationship with the apostles, Paul put himself on oath, calling God to be his witness that he was telling the truth.
1:21-22 Paul now informs them that he wasn't commissioned by the apostles nor under their oversight, that he was in Syria and Cilicia, too far to be in constant communication with Peter and the other apostles. Paul would not have been known in Judean churches.
1:23-24 This was a telling blow to the false teachers and accusers of Paul. The Jewish Christians in Judea rejoiced in the same gospel the Judaizers sought to undermine. The church in Judea has forgotten about Paul, but began to hear reports that a former persecutor of the church had begun preaching the gospel he once tried to destroy... the very gospel he was reminding the Galatians that they were turning from.
What does God want to teach us through this scripture?