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Lowell Brueckner

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Competitors or Brothers?


CHAPTER 2:1-10

V.1-2. “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I 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.” 

Why is Paul focusing on Jerusalem and almost belittling it, I ask? The answer is obvious. It implies that the Galatians are overly obsessed with the Jerusalem church and its leadership. They see it as an ideal model of Christianity and as the fountain of spirituality for all churches. Most of them, being Gentiles situated a long distance from Israel, would have no natural reason for this kind of attention towards one of its cities.  

Could this emphasis possibly have come to them through Holy Spirit revelation? That certainly was not the case, because it is not His way to pick out a physical place and declare it to be the center for Christian instruction and example. He will point us to Christ and His cross. He will bring us to inspired Scripture and teach us to come before God’s throne in prayer. He will be concerned with spiritual blessings in heavenly places

No, this teaching was not something, to which the Galatian were naturally drawn, and certainly, it did not have anything heavenly in its content, but was something contrived by human sources to fulfill a special interest for its perpetrators. Judaizers from Jerusalem had come purposely to divert the Galatian’s attention away from grace and point them towards works. The Galatians, simply, had been brain-washed.

Paul dares to demonstrate that, as far as he is concerned, Jerusalem plays no outstanding role towards God’s interests in Galatia. Before this chapter is over, we will see him severely criticizing Peter, the outstanding and most influential Jewish leader. He is forced to do so to awaken people to the error of the teaching, into which they have fallen. The reason that this letter is written in your Bibles, is because similar situations occur throughout church history. 

Barnabas and Titus accompanied him on this trip. Titus was probably taken along to give an example to the Jerusalem church of the spiritual work being accomplished in the Gentiles. It probably occurred in Acts 15 and dealt with the very problem that Paul continues to solve in this letter. However, although the stay at Jerusalem was profitable towards finding a solution, Paul did not find it essential. He did not go there to get the support of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. He went there because of a revelation that he received from the Lord, which may have also instructed him to take Titus. 

Albert Barnes confirms: “It is to be remembered that the design for which Paul states this is, to show that he had not received the gospel from human beings. He is careful, therefore, to state that he went up by the express command of God. He did not go up to receive instructions from the apostles there in regard to his own work…”

Paul has already shown to us, emphatically, that there is only one gospel. However, for the apostle to the Gentiles, the gospel was even better news among the non-Jews, than it was to the Jews. They were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph.2:12). We, as the Syrophoenician woman, have no right of access to Israel’s Messiah, except through faith (Mk.7:24-30).

Something different about Paul’s teaching, however, compared to the teaching among the Jews, is that he excluded all the Jewish ceremonialism. Let this be a lesson to the trend in these times, when non-Jewish people are returning to the celebration of Jewish feast days. Herbert W. Armstrong taught his deceived followers to adopt these customs, including the weekly Sabbath, and added the lie that the European and American people were the lost tribes of Israel. All these are uninspired concepts springing from corrupt minds. 

Privately, Paul talked to a few of the leaders in Jerusalem about the door that God had opened to the Gentiles, although they already knew this through the ministry of Peter in Caesarea. He was careful, with whom he conversed, and avoided public discussion, because he knew of the Judaizing element that was there, which endangered the church. They might think that his ministry was in vain and he wanted this journey to be completely successful.

V. 3- 6.  “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet 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— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And 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.”
The leadership in Jerusalem had a clear understanding of the gospel and knew it to be, for all people, a work of grace. The Gentile, Titus, sat with them as an equal in the faith, and they did not require him to be circumcised. However, once they opened this conversation to the general body, a party of “believing” Pharisees protested and insisted that Gentile Christians be circumcised and required to keep the Mosaic law (Ac.15:5). This particular branch had already sent representatives to disseminate their tares in Antioch (Ac.15:1) and it would not be long before they moved west into Asia Minor. Later, Paul seemed to collide with them everywhere (see 2 Co.11:13, 26).

We can know, by following Paul’s arguments throughout the letter, what kind of people these were and what they claimed to believe. They lied and tried to discredit Paul’s teaching and credentials. There was dishonesty among this whole branch of “believers”. The account states that they were brought in secretly and that they slipped in… which brings up an additional question… Who brought them in? The Jews, who came to Antioch, were said to have come from Judea, so that they were not necessarily all from Jerusalem, but also from surrounding churches. Years later, James tells Paul, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law.” He persuaded Paul to take four Jews under a vow, to purify himself and shave his head with them (Ac.21:20-24). You see the Jerusalem tendency to hold on to ceremonial laws.

Showing again the characteristic dishonesty of the false “brothers”, they found ways to covertly observe what was happening in this conference between Paul and the Jerusalem apostles. They were spies. They caused considerable trouble: “There had been much debate” (Ac.15:7), until Peter recounted his initial experience with the household of Cornelius and the outpouring of the Spirit upon them. He reaffirmed that salvation upon Jew and Gentile was a work of grace.

On that occasion, Peter mentioned a yoke (15:10) put upon the Gentiles by the pharisaical party, and here Paul showed again that their intention was to enslave. They would enslave believers to the law, to themselves and to their particular party and system. Man-made religion can always be recognized by this kind of slavery. Slavery is a personality trait of the devil, but the purpose of the true gospel is to loose chains.

Paul, Barnabas and the Jerusalem leadership worked no compromise to bring unity; they gave no ground whatsoever. A change in one clause of the gospel of Christ would have been disastrous for its future. Their thoughts were on the common believer among the Gentiles and towards the preservation of the gospel through to the end of the age, including this 21st Century. They preserved the opportunity to serve God freely and develop a personal, working relationship with Him.

Above all, they were concerned about the triumph of truth… “So that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”, and according to the essence of truth, “no lie is of the truth” (1 Jn.2:21).  Brothers in Christ are in agreement with the following principle: Loyalty is not basically to people or to a party or movement, but to truth. One small falsehood spoils truth and cannot be tolerated among God’s people!  

I want to point briefly to the lack of professionalism and the unimportance of position in the early church, which comes across through the terms, “who seemed influential” (v.2) and “seemed to be influential” (v.6). Of course, there must be pastors, overseers, and elders (all the same office) among God’s people, and they are to be respected, but there is to be no hint of superiority. They are all brothers and special authority is given by God to some, so that they seem to be influential. All this is in accordance with the teaching of Christ in the gospels, establishing the principle, as Paul states, “God shows no partiality”.

When Paul continues by saying that the leadership in Jerusalem made no difference to him, he was not saying roughly, “I don’t care about them, nor do I need them.” He is not being disrespectful, but is simply upholding the premise, which he presents from the beginning of this letter: His apostleship does not depend upon them nor do they change in anyway, who he is and what he has to do. No man could add or take away from his divine calling.

V.7-10. “On 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 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and 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. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” 

There was no laying on of hands in this encounter, which would signify an ordination by a body of elders to a candidate for the ministry, but simply a handshake among equals. Good brethren in Christ recognize divine calling and in sincere fellowship, there is an absence of envy and competitiveness. Where they treat one another as brothers, the Lord will raise up, whom He will. If God has called, then God will determine the boundaries or limitations upon the ministry, and no true fellow servant will try to reduce or detain it. Nothing more has to be said, once it has been determined that God is in control. It is settled; the Lord wants Peter with the Jews and Paul with the Gentiles.  James, Cephas, and John, (notice again the term, “who seemed to be pillars”) because they are true servants of God, filled with the discerning Spirit of God, come to agreement and fellowship with Paul and Barnabas.

The leadership in Jerusalem is particularly attentive to humanitarian ministry, and Paul shared this concern with them. Since the subject is before us, let me comment on that which is truly Christian compassion and that, which is not. First of all, we need to recognize that someone can be humanitarian in nature without being born again. They are compassionate from birth and the world gives us many examples of these good people. In fact, society almost always applauds humanitarian effort. It is a mistake to think that it is basically spiritual, when in fact, it can be full of ugly pride.

I once heard a story about a man in a certain town, who was known for love for his fellow man. It was a self-sacrificial love. He would bring a homeless person into his house and lend him his bed. He would empty his purse to pay a poor man´s bill and go without his dinner to give it to a hungry beggar. His praise was on the lips of every citizen and his name frequently appeared in the newspaper.

Then a stranger came to town and, lo and behold, this fellow was even more generous than the first, more willing to go without, in order to help his neighbor, and relieve the burdens of the poor, Quickly, he got the attention of the public and they began to forget about the one, who had for so long been outstanding among them because of his charity. The first humanitarian also heard about the newcomer and avoided him at all costs. So did the latter treat the former, crossing the street, should be see him walking his way. We could lengthen this story, but I think we have learned enough.

What is wrong here? Paul said, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love…” Just a minute, Paul! I heard somewhere that love is not what we feel, but is something that we do. Give away… deliver up my body… is that not love? Ah, but the apostle is writing about God’s love, in contrast to human love. He goes on, “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” (1 Co.13:3-4). Here is where our two friends in the story came short.

John said, “In this is love (true love, God’s love), not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn.4:10). Let’s go for just another minute to the gospel and compare the love of a woman with an alabaster box of expensive ointment to the love of Jesus’ own disciples. You know the story; she pours it, in its totality, over Jesus. The disciples reacted angrily, “This could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor” (Mt.26:6-9). To this, I will only add the ending to Jesus’ high priestly prayer to His Father: “That the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn.17:26).

The love of the Lord is not human love, in fact, it is entirely different. His love will motivate us, first of all, to love God and do all to glorify Him. It will move on behalf of our neighbor, prioritizing his eternal soul over his temporary needs. It will work towards bringing him into a position, in which he will give glory to God, by reconciling him to God.

This motivation will come through the Holy Spirit within, and He will guide His yielded vessel and empower him, in order to bring it to pass. Does the Holy Spirit work to relieve the suffering of the poor? Of course, but always with the intention to help him in a much higher way. Four things always characterize the work of the Holy Spirit: It is spiritual, it is heavenly, it is supernatural, and it is eternal. The only real good that can be done for the poor is by giving him that, which he can take with him to heaven.  “Yes,” Paul says, “I also am eager to remember the poor.”


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