September 10, 2017

A Fight Worth Fighting

Galatians 2:1-10

In the passage this week, we see the Apostle Paul going out of his way to pick a fight.   Paul is willing neither to keep his head down nor stay out of trouble.  He actually goes looking for a fight.  Some might find this perplexing but we need to remember that there are some things worth fighting for.

Martin Luther puts it this way:

“In short, we can stand the loss of our possessions, our name, our life, and everything else; but we will not let ourselves be deprived of the Gospel, our faith, and Jesus Christ. And that is that.”      [Lectures on Galatians (1535)]

Paul is fighting for the gospel and he takes that fight directly to Jerusalem.  This city is significant because at that time it was the center of the early church activity.

The Circumstance of His Visit

1Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.     Galatians 2:1-2

It’s been more than a decade since Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  During this time the gospel was slowly taking root in his heart.  Paul doesn’t rush off for his missionary journeys quite yet though it would seem he was active in preaching.  We saw in the last chapter of his letter, that Paul is adamant that the gospel he preaches did not come from any man.  He had no need to make an extended visit to see any of the other apostles (who were in Jerusalem) as the gospel came to Paul from divine revelation not human methods.  But now after many years Paul has decided that it’s time to go to Jerusalem.

Why did Paul go?  One view would be that he had been active in preaching the gospel for all those years and he wanted to make the pilgrimage to see the other apostles to seek confirmation.  He wanted to be certain the gospel he was preaching was the true gospel.  Look at verse 2.  This view does not fit.  Why did Paul go?  “Because of a revelation.”  He received his gospel from God.  He wasn’t seeking other men to validate him.  So why did he go?  He went because God directed him to go.  He wanted to make sure his church planting work wasn’t in vain.  Because it would seem that wherever Paul preached the gospel and people came to faith, false teachers came and perverted his work.  He is not uncertain over the truth of his gospel but rather questioning whether his work would stand.

And notice who Paul brings with him.  Barnabas, the “son of encouragement” who like Paul converted to Christianity from Judaism, and Titus.  Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile convert.  And don’t think for a moment the this was not intentional. Paul knew what he was doing.  He knew there would be controversy.  And just in case you don’t know, circumcision is not a publicly viewable sign!  He brings Titus in and must have let it be known that Titus was uncircumcised.  Paul is looking for a fight.

The Conflict of His Visit

3But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.     Galatians 2:3-6

The stage is now set for an epic showdown.  We are relieved to hear in verse 3 that among the church leadership (“those who seemed to be influential”) there was no concern over Titus.  The apostles had allowed for believers to be circumcised but never required circumcision.  And here they do not require Titus to be circumcised.  This could have settled the issue but it doesn’t.

There are “false brothers” who have snuck in.  These are the Judaizers — honest, God-fearing people who believed the gospel was too good to be true.  They professed faith in Christ but still clung to their Jewish customs, and insisted that everyone else do the same.  Paul puts it in black and white terms:  These Judaizers want us to become slaves.

And notice what Paul says is at stake here.  This isn’t a minor conflict over what would be better or best.  It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death.  Paul says in fighting this fight with the false teachers he is preserving the truth of the gospel.   Indeed there are somethings worth fighting for.

The Consequence of His Visit

7On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8(for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.  Galatians 2:7-10

So what happens after Paul stirs up all this trouble?  The other apostles come to see that Paul has indeed been entrusted with the same gospel.  They differ not in the message but in the mission.  Paul will take the gospel to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews.  They enjoy fellowship together.

In the last chapter of Galatians Paul makes the case that his gospel is the true gospel because it comes from divine revelation not human invention or human tradition.  In other words it is an independent gospel.  Independent of any human source (but completely dependent on God).  We see here as result of this Jerusalem visit that it is also a consistent gospel.  It is consistent with what has been revealed to the other apostles.  This further confirms the truth of what Paul is preaching.  What he received from the Lord is the same as what the other apostles received.


There is a difference between fighting for something and fighting with someone.  We’ve seen in this passage that Paul is fighting for the gospel.  And that fight for the gospel took him right to the doorstep of the false teachers.   We need to keep in mind, however, that his opposition to the false teachers sprang not from some personal vendetta but came rather from a fight for the gospel.

Are there ways you need to fight for the gospel?   How so?

Discussion Questions

Circumstance of His Visit

  1. What 2 reasons does Paul give for going to Jerusalem?
  2. Why would it be a mistake to suggest that Paul was going to Jerusalem to make sure that the gospel he was preaching was actually true?
  3. In Acts 16 we see that before Paul took Timothy along with him on a missionary trip, he made sure to circumcise him. Yet here he brings Titus to Jerusalem (of all places!!!) but does not circumcise him. Why not?
  4. Based on what we’ve seen in Galatians so far, what do you think was the substance of the gospel that Paul “set before” the brothers in Jerusalem?


Conflict of His Visit

  1. Why is it significant that Titus was not forced to be circumcised?
  2. The false brothers who were secretly brought in taught that to be accepted before God you need to have faith in Chris AND be circumcised. Why is Paul so adamant that salvation comes through faith in Christ ALONE?
  3. What kinds of things are we tempted to add to the gospel to make ourselves more acceptable to God?
  4. What steps can you take to live every day in this freedom of Christ?


Consequence of His Visit

  1. Paul reports in this section that it is discovered that there is no difference in the substance of message which the apostles are preaching.   The only difference is in the mission. How do the apostles divide the work of sharing the gospel?
  2. Why might some find it surprising that Peter is being sent to the Jews and Paul is being sent to the Gentiles?
  3. The apostles were concerned that the poor not be forgotten. How can we be sure to not neglect the poor?


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