Setting the scene…
The issues that had arisen to the writing of this epistle were, firstly, a false gospel taught (which we explored in the previous study), and secondly, that Paul was not a true apostle of the gospel. After his introduction that dealt with this false gospel, Paul continued to affirm that he was a true apostle, commissioned and sent by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important for us to understand, from the perspective of the early church, that an apostle was not just a disciple of Jesus Christ but someone who had also witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ.
After the suicide of Judas Iscariot, there was a need to find another disciple to take his place to fulfilling the Hebrew Scriptures; thus, we find Peter saying:
Therefore, it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22, NIV)
Paul, to our knowledge, did not fit these criteria (although, while he might not have been a disciple initially, he might have witnessed the ministry of Jesus) he did have an authentic claim to his apostleship. In Paul’s words, “I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (1:12). However, Paul did not testify on his own accord but, if you remember the conversion of Paul (see Acts 9:1-19), Ananias was able to testify of Paul’s conversion and apostleship as God had told him, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
To add to the argument, Paul, also, had a reputation—a reputation that the Christian world knew well—he persecuted them. Before Paul’s conversion, he was a passionate persecutor of the Christian faith because he, truly, believed that they were a cult. All over the Christian world, they knew Saul of Tarsus (Paul), they knew who Paul was. However, Paul pointed to the work of grace in his life that enabled him to become an apostle to the Gentiles, reminding them that it was by the grace of God and not the command of men (1:16b-17).
Accept one another…
Paul’s relationship with the Twelve did not begin until approximately 17 years after his ministry began; by this time, Paul had a fairly established reputation throughout the Gentile Christian world. It is interesting to note how Paul told the story of meeting the Twelve; look at what he says: “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek” (2:3). Why would Paul say something like this when he is telling the story about how he met the Twelve? If we remember Paul’s introduction to the epistle, the false gospel that Paul had dealt with involved issues like circumcision; so, as Paul wrote, he still sought to remind the Galatians that the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ were not on restrictions of the Law but “the freedom we have in Christ Jesus” (2:4b)—this Paul says is “the truth of the gospel” (2:5). What looked like a story about meeting the Twelve quickly became another argument against the false gospel!
Paul reminded the Galatians that “God does not judge by external appearance” (2:6). Paul reminds us that we should not seek men’s approval as we serve God, but it is God’s judgment and opinion that counts in life, and also that when we are faithful in serving God others will see the fruit of our work and recognise the task (2:8-9), just as they saw that Paul “had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews” (2:7). As we are faithful in the tasks that God has given us, whatever they might be, people have nothing that they can criticise. Abraham Lincoln once said:
“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
Likewise, when we recognise that others are doing what God has made them to do, we should encourage them in their tasks and offer them “the right hand of fellowship” when we “recognise the grace given” to them by God (2:9). The purpose of the Church—the body of Christ—is to build up and not tear down, so let us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
Opposing one another…
While there is a need to build one another up, there is, also, a need to, not tear one another down, but rebuke our brothers and sisters when they are wrong. Such, is the case with Paul and Peter: Paul rebukes Peter for his actions in Antioch, contrary to the gospel and the practice of Peter (see 2:12 and Acts 10-11). How do we explain Peter’s actions? Paul tells us that when Judaizers (see previous study) arrived in Antioch, Peter’s actions changed—most likely, out of fear and a desire to avoid conflict with the Judaizers. However, Peter’s actions had severe consequences as other Jewish Christians and one of Paul’s companions, Barnabas, was led astray (2:13).
Paul’s confrontation with Peter is public! “In front of them all” Paul confronts Peter that “they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (2:14). Paul uses this opportunity, not only to rebuke Peter but, to teach all the hearers that our salvation is based on “faith in Christ and not by observing the law” (2:16). Paul reminds them all that “if I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker” (2:18), what Paul means is that, in Christ, you and I are free from the Law; however, if we seek to live by the Law then we live contrary to the freedom of the gospel and prove that we are lawbreakers. Paul’s famous words, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (2:20), firmly remind us of the freedom given through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, “for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing” (2:21).
Yet, if “Christ lives in me” then why do we still sin? I think Paul illustrates this best when he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Is that to say that we don’t strive for sinlessness and perfection? Of course not! It is because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we are motivated to live godly lives. What Paul is pointing to is the fact that we are still human beings with sin living within us and Jesus also said, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matthew 26:41). The reality is that we are still physical, human beings and until our bodies are completely made new, sin is a reality we must deal with each and every day. Yet, let us takes Paul’s words as an encouragement, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25).