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. 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. 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.
~ Galatians 2:1-10
Continuing his defense, Paul describes his next visit to Jerusalem where he brought with him Titus, a Gentile. This may have been a challenge to the Jewish Christians who were still mainly focusing on converting Jews to Christ, or it may have been that he was just bringing him to show the kind of conversions that he has been experiencing and so that they could examine him to see if the conversion was real. During this time he sought out the approval of the apostles who “seemed influential”. This would have certainly included Peter and John, and possibly James whom he had met on his previous trip. Paul was concerned that there would be two separate groups in the church, a Jewish sect and a Gentile sect. When he says that he was in fear that he had run “in vain”, what it means is that he wanted to be certain that there was unity between these groups. Many of the Jewish Christians had believed that Paul’s work with the Gentiles was a wasted effort because he wasn’t holding them to the Jewish law. It was Paul’s mission in this visit to prove that his work had been beneficial in soundly saving many and to show them that the law was dead with the old covenant.
Paul, who had been present at Titus’s conversion, insisted that he not be circumcised. Circumcision was a practice that showed allegiance to the old covenant, which Jesus had fulfilled – signified in the tearing of the veil in the temple upon His death. There was now no separation from the people, as was previously displayed by the veil in the temple which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the people – both Jews and Gentiles. All could come freely to God directly through Jesus.
False brothers (read: false-converts), of the same type who were assaulting the Galatian Christians, were merely Jewish spies who were sent in to see what was going on inside of the Church and to try to turn their affections back to the temple and the law from which Jesus had purchased their freedom. Paul remarks that they recognized their deception and, for the sake of the gospel, they refused to change the presentation of the gospel to include adherence to the old testament laws. This meant that they were free to preach the gospel of reconciliation to the Gentiles just as it has been preached to the Jews.
Here in verse 7, Paul makes a parenthetical remark that’s of some import. “And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me, God shows no partiality)”… This comment is directly opposite that of the way that people tend to look at “rock star” pastors and theologians. If, say, John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, or John Piper were to come to your church, there would be a line of people seeking to have them sign their bibles. Why? Paul is absolutely right, God shows no partiality. We are all at the same level before Him. Damned sinners, saved by the grace of a good God who sought us out, died in our place, and took our shame and guilt and replaced it with love and mercy and peace. I stand before God, just as all the rock star “men of influence”, and Paul, and Peter – unashamed and forgiven. Okay, back to the text –
So, what did these “influential” men add to Paul? Nothing! They neither added nor took away from the gospel he was presenting. More than that, all of them found that they were all using the exact same gospel to bring sinners to Christ both to the Jews and the Gentiles. We also learn in verse eight that each of the apostles had roles – Peter ran an apostolic ministry that was focused on Jews while Paul’s was toward the Gentiles. This shows us that they were peers with separate realms of influence as opposed to Paul being subordinate to the higher apostles as the Galatian Christians had been informed. Then James, Cephas (Peter), and John realized how much the Holy Spirit had been working in the ministry and life of Paul they encouraged them that they should both preach to the Gentiles AND the Jews.
Their parting request reveals a little something about the nature of the church. The request that they “remember the poor” was a reference to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. At that time, Jewish converts to Christianity were seen as turncoats and were abandoned by their families. As a result, they were also unable to get work and many went without food and shelter. The request that they “remember the poor” was a request that they seek to obtain a collection for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. This same verse has been used in defense of churches who have ministries dedicated to the poor and downtrodden and, while it’s a very good idea, it’s important to remember that their first responsibility was to the poor IN THE CHURCH, and not the unregenerate poor. We’ll cover this in more detail in a week or so when we get to Galatians 6.