“And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (Galatians 2:4, 5 NKJV)
Read Galatians 2:1-14.
This was a crucial time in the life of the early church. The way of salvation was at stake. Would the gospel remain pure or would it be polluted? We owe Paul a great debt of gratitude for his efforts in preserving the gospel.
The gospel is the power of God unto salvation. If it were to be distorted (such as the teaching which says that salvation is earned by our performance and is not a free gift of grace received by faith), the result will be people will be deprived of the only way to be saved.
1. THE COMMUNICATION OF THE GOSPEL (APOSTOLIC AUTHORITY, NOT PERSONAL AUTONOMY) (verses 1 and 2)
Although Paul received the gospel directly from Jesus Christ, he recognized the fact that the proclamation of the gospel was primarily entrusted to the apostles (Matt. 28:18-20). In and of themselves, the apostles were not superior to Paul, but the gospel which was entrusted to them was authoritative because it was Jesus himself who gave it to them (John 14:25-26; 16:13).
Thus, although he apostles were not infallible, they were very influential: their words carried weight. Paul did not fear so much for the truth of the gospel but for the progress of the gospel. There were already people trying to discredit Paul, and had the Jerusalem apostles been swayed by them and rejected his message, his credibility would have been damaged and his ministry would have suffered.
That is why it was necessary for Paul to COMMUNICATE or humbly submit the message that he preached to the other apostles for their endorsement in order to confirm in the eyes of all that the gospel he preached was the same as that which they preached.
The thing to remember here is that Paul was not seeking man’s approval; he was obeying a revelation from God. God was at work to preserve the truth of his gospel by unifying the testimony of his apostles. This became decisively clear in Acts 15 to 16.
The fact that things turned out in favor of Paul was God’s working. The gospel would have been adversely affected if the apostles’ authority were damaged by disagreement on what the gospel is. But now it is very clear that the gospel which the apostles taught as embodied in the New Testament is unified and authoritative because it is one and the same gospel which they all received from the Lord.
This means we cannot just teach or preach what we think is right or what we think people want to hear (2 Tim. 4:2-4); we must preach what the apostles taught as contained in the New Testament (Acts 2:42).
2. THE CONTRADICTION TO THE GOSPEL (LIBERTY, NOT SLAVERY) (verses 3 and 4)
The Judaizers taught that believing in Jesus Christ was not enough in order to be saved; one also had to keep the law, such as the requirement to be circumcised. Paul opposed this because he knew that giving in to this would result in slavery to the law. If faith were not enough, if law-keeping were also required in order to be saved, where does it end? How many laws do we have to keep before we can be sure that we have done enough? This is a heavy burden which we can’t carry (Acts 15:10-11)! If salvation were also a matter of law-keeping, our consciences would never be at peace. We will always feel condemned because we know in our hearts that we can never do enough to earn God’s favor. This would render Romans 5:1 virtually useless! The Judaizers’ teaching therefore CONTRADICTED the gospel and would lead people back to the slavery and futility of trying to save themselves by obeying the law, instead of enjoying freedom in Christ.
3. THE CONFIRMATION OF THE GOSPEL (UNITY, NOT SUPERIORITY) (verses 5 to 10)
By CONFIRMING that Paul’s gospel to the Gentiles was the same as that of Peter’s to the Jews, the leaders in Jerusalem in effect upheld the truth that God shows no favoritism: he saves both Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ, not by law-keeping. The Jews are not superior to the Gentiles just because they are the physical descendants of Abraham and have been given the law of Moses. God gives his grace and Holy Spirit to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15:1-11) when they put their faith in Christ apart from the works of the law. We are all one in Christ and equal in him (Eph. 4:4-6). That is why we should not show favoritism or behave as if we are superior to others (James 2:1-4; Gal. 3:28).
4. THE CONFRONTATION FOR THE GOSPEL (CONSISTENCY, NOT HYPOCRISY) (verses 11-14)
Peter’s actions were inconsistent with the unity and equality that the gospel brings. Sadder still, because he was an influential person, his error caused others to stumble! Paul therefore had not choice but to CONFRONT him regarding his hypocrisy.
For the sake of the gospel and the people who look up to us, we should live lives worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27; Mark 9:42).
1. Do we abide by the apostles’ teaching as embodied in the New Testament? Do we uphold the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone? Do we look down on other Christians?
2. Are we preserving the truth of the gospel by our words?
3. Are we preserving the unity of the gospel by our lives?