Galatians 2: 1 – 10 Paul accepted by the apostles
Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel may be preserved for you.
As for those who were held in high esteem – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism – they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognised that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognised the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
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Paul says that he went to Jerusalem in response to a revelation.
We don’t necessarily expect such specific direction from the Holy Spirit nowadays, but it still happens. It doesn’t need to be dramatic, but it can be very powerful. I’ve had the experience several times; it’s very distinctive, and it’s always validated by the outcome. For example, the Spirit once told to knock at the door of a house displaying Christian posters. When I’d recovered from the shock of being stopped in my tracks by the ‘still, small voice,’ I did as I was told. The family in the house insisted I ate dinner with them and then took me to a Pentecostal house group. I’d never experienced Pentecostal worship and this was a real eye-opener. It made me receptive for a subsequent Pentecostal renewal at a church that I attended years later.
Paul was used to such direction from God, so it’s not surprising that he travelled to Jerusalem in response to a revelation. And he had doubts in his mind about his ministry: “I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.” The doubts were probably more to do with how he carried out his ministry rather than about his gospel message. However, he may have wanted to test his message against the arguments of the other apostles, to regain confidence that his doctrine was from God and not from men.
Paul was writing to a church where controversy had arisen. The Galatians, the people to whom the letter was written, knew what the controversy was all about. Living 2000 years later, we don’t, so to understand Paul’s letter we have to read between the lines. “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel may be preserved for you.”
Paul’s gospel had always been that salvation is a free gift from God. It does not require compliance with every detail of the Jewish law. In particular, it does not require circumcision, which is the physical symbol of the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants.
When he got to Jerusalem, Paul was tactful: “…meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.”
The meeting may have been quite contentious because Paul writes, “We did not give in to them for a moment”. And Paul’s arguments prevailed. He was able to write, “Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.”
He also says “As for those who were held in high esteem – whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism – they added nothing to my message.” Although this looks very dismissive of others, Paul isn’t boasting here; he’s just stating a fact. The apostles – and probably others – didn’t require him to add anything at all to his gospel.
Paul leaves James, Cephas (Peter) and John with cordial handshakes and the agreement that Paul shall continue his ministry to the Gentiles, while the other apostles shall take the gospel to the Jews.
Paul can feel confident that the gospel he preaches is sound, and so can we, his readers 2000 years later. Paul’s experience of the Holy Spirit’s instruction and direction can also give us confidence to ask God for such direction in our own lives. And if we ask for it, we will be given it.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11: 11 – 13)
Thank you for the great gift of your Holy Spirit. Please help me to listen attentively and obey the direction your Holy Spirit gives me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen