Bible Passage: Galatians 2:1-10
This section of Galatians continues Paul telling his own story of his experience with the gospel and with the other apostles. His purpose is to help the Galatians remain confident in the gospel that he has shared and resist the pressure from false teachers to add to the gospel by keeping the Jewish law. The story picks up 14 years after the brief visit to Jerusalem that he had spoken about in chapter 1.
Gospel Truth: In these verses Paul speaks of another visit to Jerusalem, that he made with Barnabas and Titus. The visit was prompted by another revelation from God, and the motive was to speak to the Jerusalem apostles about the gospel that he was proclaiming. He wanted to explain to them what the content of his teaching ministry was (which he had received directly from Jesus), and compare notes with what James and Peter and John were teaching in the Jewish context. Pauls was keen to let these men speak into his ministry and to ensure that he had not been ‘running in vain’.
The response of the apostles to Paul was acceptance. They recognised that God’s hands was with him, and that he had been entrusted with a ministry to the Gentiles just as they had been entrusted with a ministry to the Jews. They agreed with and endorsed his teaching and recognised him as a co-worker in the gospel.
These verses are helpful in showing how Christian fellowship works. There is no place for tribalism or possessiveness, and it is good to be quick to recognise what God is doing in the ministry of somebody else and treat them as a partner in ministry. The grounds for this partnership can be clearly seen here to be the gospel. It is as somebody is holding true to God’s gospel that this partnership can happen.
Gospel Freedom: As part of account of his trip, Paul mentions in a decision that had to be made about Titus. As a Gentile, Titus had not been circumcised. This made life harder in the Jerusalem context, as keeping the Jewish law was normal for God’s people in this place. Perhaps it would have avoided trouble and helped with the mission if Titus had gone along with it (and indeed this is what happened with Timothy in Acts 16). In this case however, there were some pushing for circumcision as a theological necessity not just a missional help. Given these circumstances Paul wanted to make a stand to challenge the false gospel that these people had been promoting and insist that in the gospel there is freedom from the rules and regulations of the law.
This incident highlights the issue of gospel freedom. There may always be helpful practices that people might recommend to a Christian, but when it moves beyond this and is presented as something necessary for salvation, then it must be resisted. The freedom given by the gospel is too important to go along with such legalistic teachings.
Gospel Response: Once Paul had explained his message to the other apostles, they were all in agreement that they were teaching the same thing. They recognised each other’s ministries and acknowledged the different calling that God had given to them.
As the meeting was finishing and the apostles extended the right hand of ministry to Paul, they made one parting request and that was that Paul remembered the poor. Paul asserts that this is exactly what he wanted to do. At first glance it seems odd. With such a big focus on grace, a call to a particular action at the end feels out of place, but it is not. The gospel knits people together into a new family in Christ, and part of this new family means we take care of another.
At the time this request was made, the believers in Jerusalem were experiencing a famine, and there was an opportunity for Paul to step up and show gospel love to his brothers and sisters in need. This is a request that Paul took very seriously, and we see mention in many of his letters of the collection that he was taken up among the churches for this very purpose. Paul brought the gospel to the Gentiles and invited them to give to meet the needs of their fellow believers back in Jerusalem.
- Paul’s humility here is very challenging. It can be easy to think that we have all the answers, but we should always be ready to listen to trusted and wise believers can help us make sure that we are on the right lines.
- Challenge people to think about what legalistic demands they make of others or allow others to make of them. Are there areas were we need to insist on applying gospel freedom?
- Invite people to think about how they are remembering the poor? Both in their own congregation and in the global church.