They Are Wrong
They Are Wrong
I The Explanation (2:1–2)
II The Example (2:3–5)
The purpose of the meeting was to make quite clear to these men exactly what it was that he preached. He had not come to learn the gospel from them. He already knew what the gospel was. He had received it directly from the Lord. He had it firsthand on much higher authority than any they could bestow. But, because of the brewing storm, the center of which was the Jerusalem church itself, it was essential that these responsible brethren should hear from Paul himself just exactly what it was that he preached. He did not need their endorsement to preach it. Nor would he have stopped preaching it even if they had disagreed with it or even commanded him to stop preaching it. They had no authority or jurisdiction over him. Paul had absolutely no doubt that what he preached was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. He did not need for them to tell him so. But it would be to everyone’s advantage if they could be brought to see that this was so.
If they thought that they would deceive or intimidate Paul, they were very much mistaken: “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” Submit? Never! Not for a moment! Paul was adamant. He knew all about “the circumcision,” as he called these Jewish bigots. He had been down that road. They could tell him nothing about rules and regulations.
Paul had already tried living the Christian life on their terms.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.… For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do … I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:14, 18–19, 21–24)
That was before he struck it rich in Christ (Rom. 7:25) and learned “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2).
He was not going to have a few narrow-minded, unsaved, and carnal Jews, who could not keep the Law themselves, clamp it back either on him or his converts. Their concept of the gospel was false in precept, futile in practice, and fatal in purpose. It offered no salvation for the sinner and no sanctification for the saint. They could not fool Paul. Both before and after his conversion, he had tried their recipe and tasted the bitterness and poison of its brew.
II The Ending
The miniconference with the leaders of the Jerusalem conference was a resounding success. There would have to be a major conference later, but at least Paul and Barnabas had carried the men who really mattered in Jerusalem right through theologically to resurrection ground.
Paul now mentions the big names: “But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man’s person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me” (v. 6). This sheds new light on the case. The Judaizers who were now storming Paul’s Galatian churches were busy boosting the reputation of the Jerusalem church and the greatness and stature of the original apostles, those who for three and a half years had been the companions and disciples of Christ. “You Galatians are making so much of this Paul,” they were saying. “You should see and hear the real apostles. This Paul of yours! He would not cut much of a figure in Jerusalem, let us tell you. He would be ‘Mr. Little’ indeed alongside Peter or John. Ah! There are men for you! You should hear Peter preach! You should hear John recount the Upper Room experience! You should hear them describe the miracles of Jesus. They were there! They saw Him turn water into wine! They saw the Master raise the dead! This Paul of yours needs to come to Jerusalem. He would soon be trimmed down to size.”
When Napoleon was told that Wellington had been put in charge of the British army in Portugal, he simply sneered. He had heard of Wellington’s successes in India. He called him “the Sepoy general.” So! He had won victories over a handful of Sepoy barbarians. Well! Just wait until he faced French troops led by the genius who had brought all of Europe to its knees. Wait until he came face-to-face with Napoleon! But when at last the two men met on the field of battle, Wellington soon proved himself the master of Napoleon.
Paul went to Jerusalem to face these men whose fame was being touted throughout Galatia. With all due respect for these men, giving all honor where honor was due, Paul was not greatly impressed. The story of the life and death of Jesus might be in safekeeping with these men. But when it came to the significance of that life and death—well, they added nothing to him! Indeed, Paul was not even concerned to find out what their position was. God is not impressed by a man’s office. And when it came down to the bottom line, these men had absolutely nothing to add to him. They told him nothing that he did not already know. They were certainly in no position to give him any new commission. Nor could they subtract a single word from the gospel that he had been set apart by God to preach. And, Paul might have added if grace had not stayed his pen, what had they done? They had been commissioned to begin at Jerusalem and all Judea, then to evangelize Samaria, and to reach out to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). Well, they had achieved success in Jerusalem and Judea. Samaria had been evangelized—but by one of the deacons, not by one of the apostles. And, as for “the uttermost parts of the earth,” they had done little or nothing about that.
Paul turns now to the big news. The Jerusalem leaders had done one thing, and it was good news, big news for the Gentiles. “They … added nothing to me,” Paul says. “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles:)” (vv. 7–8). Facts were facts. In the end, the leaders of the Jerusalem church had turned out to be fair-minded men. They recognized that the gospel for the Gentiles was as much Paul’s call and commission as the gospel for the Jews was Peter’s. Peter had seen some outstanding successes in his labors among the Jews. There was no denying that! Paul had seen some outstanding successes among the Gentiles. There was no denying that either! So Peter and Paul were equals!
It is not that Paul is disparaging the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Their personal stature and prestige was high, especially in the Jerusalem church. What Paul did object to was the attempt being made by the Judaizers to use their status to diminish his own. Well! The Jerusalem elders had now acknowledged Paul’s status to be every bit as impressive as Peter’s. Paul did not need that recognition for himself, but his beloved Gentiles needed to hear it. It would silence at least one argument of the Judaizers.
In writing the book of Acts, Luke seems to have made a special effort to show that everything Peter did, Paul did. Thus, he tells us the name of both Peter’s first Gentile convert (Cornelius) and Paul’s first Gentile convert (Sergius Paulus). He tells how Peter was visited by an angel and how Paul was visited by an angel. He tells how Peter healed a lame man and how Paul healed a lame man. He tells us how Peter raised someone from the dead and how Paul raised someone from the dead. He tells how Peter was miraculously released from prison and how Paul was miraculously released from prison. He gives, at length, Peter’s first sermon and Paul’s first sermon. He tells of the miraculous influence of Peter’s shadow and the miraculous influence of Paul’s handkerchief. He tells how Peter had a confrontation with a magician and how Paul had a confrontation with a magician. He tells how once Peter was worshiped by some Gentiles and his reaction, and he tells how once Paul was worshiped by some Gentiles and his reaction. Yes, indeed! Paul was every bit as much an apostle as Peter was, and the elders at Jerusalem had the common sense and spiritual discernment to see it.
(2) Paul’s mission accepted (2:9–10)
Now Paul mentions by name the pillars of the church: “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision” (v. 9). That was not hard for them to do because they were not that keen on going to the heathen themselves anyway, at least at that time (Acts 10:14–20).
We tremble when we think how much swung in the balance on this occasion. But the Lord knew what He was doing years before when, walking along the seashore of Galilee, He had stopped to watch Peter and John mending their nets. Here were two ordinary, hardworking, down-to-earth individuals of quite opposite temperaments but both practical, sensible, impressionable, and teachable—indeed, just the kind of men eventually to entrust, under His Holy Sprit, with the destiny of His church. Probably, Paul and Barnabas had more trouble with James, the Lord’s brother, than with the other two apostles.
James comes first, although he, like Paul, was a latecomer to the ranks of the Lord’s redeemed people. When Paul had gone to Jerusalem on the previous occasion, it had been to see Peter (1:18). He adds, almost as an afterthought, that he also saw James. But James was not the kind of man to remain in the background. He had a forceful personality (2:11–12), was inclined to be a legalist himself, and was known for his asceticism. He seems to have taken the lead, on Paul’s final and disastrous visit to Jerusalem, in forcing upon Paul, in the name of unity among God’s people, the somewhat compromising concessions that, in the end, led directly to Paul’s arrest in the temple (Acts 21:18–39). He wrote the first New Testament document. Martin Luther, who thought that he detected elements of legalism in the epistle, called it “an epistle of straw.” It certainly has a very Jewish texture, but if it was written that early in the history of the church, that would account for that fact. The time of its writing is often placed as before the Jerusalem council. It belongs to the Pentecostal years when the church was still Jewish and when all of their meeting places were still called “synagogues” (James 2:2). Perhaps it was the publication and circulation of this encyclical epistle that catapulted James to prominence.
In any case, by the time of Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem, James had not only become increasingly influential in the church but also is named first. Doubtless, the fact that Peter was forced to flee from Jerusalem about this time because of Herod’s murderous intentions (Acts 12:17) gave James an opportunity to increase his leadership role. When Peter, John, and the other apostles finally embarked on a genuine ministry abroad, James remained in Jerusalem more or less in charge of the church. Certainly none of the other elders would dispute the authority of this rather formidable individual. He was able to cow Peter (v. 12), but he did not awe Paul.
Peter and John were among the Lord’s very first disciples and are almost as familiar to us, from the Gospels and the book of Acts as well as their own writings, as people we meet every day. Before their call to follow Jesus, they had been business partners. They were men of quite different temperament. Peter was bold, blustery, impulsive, and given to speaking and acting before thinking. John was more contemplative, visionary, and impressionable but not without a temper. Peter was a doer; John was a dreamer. We often find them together in the later part of the gospel story and in the book of Acts. They were a good pair and made for a well-balanced team.
Paul was willing enough to give all three men credit for being “pillars,” but evidently he was not that much impressed by their position and certainly felt himself under no obligation to defer to it. So! They had known Jesus in His earthly life and ministry. What they once were made no difference to Paul now. They had their place, but that gave them no authority over him or his converts. He had received his call and commission directly from the nail-pierced hands of the risen and ascended Christ. Indeed, “the Lord from heaven” was Paul’s favorite designation for the Christ of God (1 Cor. 15:47).
On the whole, then, the meeting had gone very well. The “pillars” had recognized the grace given to Paul and Barnabas. The word for “perceived” is ginōskō, which carries the idea of acquiring knowledge, of getting to know something by experience or effort, of learning something. We can well believe that a meeting with Paul would be a learning experience for these three Galileans! At least they were teachable. The Holy Spirit saw to that.
They sealed their mutual understanding with a hearty handshake. Or, as Paul puts it, they gave him and Barnabas “the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” The Lord had charged them to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), to witness for Him to earth’s remotest bounds (Acts 1:8), to go, indeed, “into the world” (John 20:21), to “the end of the earth” (Luke 24:47), no less. They were willing, it seems, to settle for less. If Paul was willing to do it for them, more power to him. They were quite willing to shake hands on that deal. Eventually, they were thrust out into the wider world (1 Peter 1:1; Rev. 1:9–11), a world where Paul had already plowed, planted, and reaped the first abundant crop. Both Peter and John later addressed themselves to churches in western Asia Minor, long since evangelized by Paul.
Paul also mentions the poor of the church: “Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do” (v. 10). Paul and Barnabas, indeed, had brought with them, on this occasion, relief money to help victims of a prevailing famine. Paul was always zealous to raise money in his Gentile churches far and wide to relieve the poor saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25–28; 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 2 Cor. 8:1–9, 15).
We can picture Paul sitting in his first church service in Jerusalem. The number of widows and orphans would impress him. The heart of the great apostle would go out to them. Why are there so many of them? he would ask himself. Then he would see them looking at him. He would try to read the expressions on their faces. Some of the mothers would point him out to their children. He might overhear a sibilant whisper: “That’s Saul of Tarsus over there. Yes! The one who martyred your father.” Suddenly, it would dawn on him. No wonder there were so many poor saints in Jerusalem! He had once wreaked havoc among them. He had made many of them poor. The tears would come to his eyes. He would get up and ask for the forgiveness of the church. “I did it in ignorance,” he would say (1 Tim. 1:13). It would be his only excuse. But those faces would haunt him ever afterward. He did not need a James, a Peter, or a John to urge him to remember the Jerusalem poor. It was almost impertinence that they should do so.
2. Paul’s unwaver