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. 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. -(Galatians 2:1-5 ESV)
As we saw last week, Paul has issued a sharp rebuke to the Galatian churches. Now that he's completed his introduction, he will begin unpacking things. Evidence suggests that the fourteen years mentioned in verse 1 would coincide with Paul's second trip with Barnabas to Jerusalem which is referenced in Acts 11. Why does this matter? As we also saw last week, the Galatian churches were comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers. It wasn't until Acts 10:34-48 that the Gentiles heard the gospel and received the Holy Spirit. All of that amazing earlier stuff in Acts? It was to the Jews only. Such a mixed company of believers was a very new occurrence. It's important to keep this context in mind as we consider Paul's emphatic defense of the gospel in Galatians.
In verses 2-3 Paul asserts that the gospel he preached was authenticated by the other apostles and that not even Titus felt the need to be circumcised. Now we're starting to get to the heart of the matter. It's important to remember that the Church has faced false gospels since the beginning. Most of the time, these are not new gospels but rather old heresies that the church has dealt with at one time or another. Thankfully, we have Paul's defense of the pure gospel here to apply to these lies when they sneak in. Remember the illustration about real v. counterfeit money? Also, what's the big deal with circumcision here? Wasn't circumcision was the sign of the old covenant that God made with His people?
"You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you." -(Genesis 17:11)
Wow. Isn't God the same yesterday, today, and forever? How can we inherit God's covenant without the sign? Do you see how these arguments can sneak in and seem plausible at first? If at first you don't understand the covenant/circumcision thing, don't worry. You'll get it over time.
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out sour 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. -(Galatians 2:4-5)
Yikes! Not only were these Judaizers trying to compel the people to be circumcised, but they were also advocating for believers to follow the whole law. Paul will deal with the law more in the coming chapters, but the bedrock argument he makes is that the law cannot save! In fact, if they follow the law, Paul says that the Galatians would be brought into slavery. He will develop this argument by referring back to Abraham, to whom God gave the covenant sign of circumcision and show that neither circumcision nor the law are effective for salvation.
Below is a sample prayer that you might pray to reflect on this passage.
Lord, please impress upon our hearts the necessity of preserving the gospel for all believers across all time. Please root out any false gospels that we cling to and lead us in your grace back to a humility that reminds us that our standing before you is all about what you have done and nothing about what we have done. Help us to enjoy the freedom we have been given in Jesus and to never take it for granted, but rather to lovingly share your good news of grace with the world around us.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ESV)
This week's posts were written by Chris Adams.