Paul’s remarks in Galatians chapter 1 as well as chapter 2 might give us the impression he was only concerned about his reputation. He continued in the second chapter to defend his authority as an apostle.
But remember Paul’s humility when he wrote to the Corinthians. To them, he spoke of himself as a miserable preacher with his only redeeming quality being the gospel he preached (1 Cor. 2:1-5). Even when it seemed he was willing to bend over backwards to make himself appealing to everyone, he confessed it was only for the gospel’s sake (1 Cor. 9:20-23).
The gospel was his only concern. It is a subject worthy of the passion Paul expressed in his letter to the Galatian churches. His frustrations are understandable when we realize the Judaizing “Christians” who followed him around were discrediting him and perverting the gospel he had preached (Gal. 1:6-7). If they managed to undo his labors, his labors were in vain (Gal. 2:2).
Of course, the theology of the Judaizers had been around long before the time of Paul. We first saw this issue manifest itself during the days of Cain and Abel. Cain’s offering was rejected, I believe, due to a heart/faith problem and not because of the offering itself. Time and time again, Israel was warned about their polluted offerings and Jesus later summed up the matter by saying, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matt. 15:8).
Cain, as well as the Judaizers, had come to believe they stood on their own merits by the works they did and the offerings they made. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because it was made by faith (Heb. 11:4). He recognized God’s grace at work and believed his sacrifice was merely a type of the Lord Jesus Christ to come. In short, one believed he was saved by works and the other by grace.
To add to Paul’s frustration over this matter, he had previously warned elders it was coming by saying, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:28-30).
The other apostles agreed with Paul (Galatians 2:1-10)
In the previous chapter, Paul defended his authority as an apostle by relating his personal testimony. In the first part of chapter two, he attempted to show the Galatians how he was not the only one preaching the true gospel.
In Acts 15, Paul was laboring in Antioch when some of the Judaizers came in among the brethren from Jerusalem and tried to persuade the Gentile believers they must first be circumcised–or become Jews–before they can be saved Christians. Paul and Barnabas did hesitate to go immediately to Jerusalem and speak to the church there about the matter.
In Galatians 2, Paul is recalling that event and what transpired. He even provides details not given in Acts 15. For instance, he took Titus with him (Gal. 2:1). Titus was not a Jew which meant his presence at the Jerusalem meeting made the subject of circumcision, not only theological, but also personal.
We also learn here what prompted Paul to travel to Jerusalem. He was actually given divine revelation (Gal. 2:2). Of course, when he arrived, he preached the same gospel of liberty in Christ he had been preaching since his conversion.
But notice the latter part of verse two. He spoke privately to “them which were of reputation”. Paul used that expression several times in this chapter. Who was he talking about? Well, as we read later in the text, he was talking about none other than Peter, James, and John–also the Lord’s apostles.
This title Paul gave them was meant to be sarcastic. It wasn’t sarcasm directed at Peter, James, and John, but the Judaizers who felt those particular apostles were on their side and against Paul. Paul knew he needed to speak directly to the other apostles, leaders among the Jewish Christians, to encourage them to be more bold and direct about their support of him and the gospel of grace.
In Galatians 2:3-5, Paul summarizes the events in Acts 15. Even though Judaizers made every effort to pervert the gospel and bring the Gentile Christians under bondage with their false doctrines, the truth won. Even Titus, possibly the only Gentile at the meeting, left uncircumcised and unconvinced it was necessary (Gal. 2:3).
Not only did the truth win, but the other apostles had nothing to add to what Paul had preached (Gal. 2:6-9). James did request a footnote be included that encouraged the Gentiles to avoid idols and fornication, but not because it had any bearing on their salvation (Acts 15:20). Likewise, they requested support from the Gentile believers (Gal. 2:10).
The other apostles were corrected by Paul (Galatians 2:11-21)
Paul showed the Galatians how he had been called and taught by Jesus Christ. He showed them how those at Jerusalem–even the apostles they thought so highly of–had accredited him. In this part of Galatians 2, he showed how even corrected those apostles.
In the Syrian city of Antioch, there was a time when Paul and Peter clashed (Gal. 2:11). It was not personal. It was not a matter of who was greater. Also notice Paul “withstood” Peter. In other words, Peter was the aggressor and Paul rose to defend the truth.
Peter had spent time dining with the Gentiles while he there (Gal. 2:12). That was a remarkable step for any Jew given the long-standing practice of avoiding such things. Not only did certain Old Testament laws forbid the meats eaten by the Gentiles (Daniel 1:8), but many man-made traditions had been imposed over the years (Matt. 15:1).
Peter had no apprehension eating with Gentiles until some Judiaziers from Jerusalem showed up (Gal. 2:12). He withdrew himself and would only eat with fellow Jewish Christians. He even led other Jews, including Barnabas their pastor, to do the same (Gal. 2:13).
When Paul realized they were committing a great offense to the gospel itself, he set Peter straight in front of the entire crowd (Gal. 2:14). He shined a light on Peter’s hypocrisy by reminding him of how he once lived after the manner of the Gentiles, knowing it was right, but had changed to live in such a way that expressed it was wrong.
Paul went on to persuade them of a blessed truth they all embraced–we are justified by Christ and the faith he provides and not by our works (Gal. 2:15-16). Teaching or practicing anything else makes Christ a sinner since it was by his design we should live by faith and embrace the Gentiles–those without the law–as recipients of the new covenant (Gal. 2:17).
This was a harsh rebuke on Paul’s part but he softened the blow by confessing he was capable of committing the same error (Gal. 2:18). No, God’s people are dead to the law because the law cannot kill us twice (Gal. 2:19). We have already been crucified when we were crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). In short, we are righteous before God because of Christ’s atoning, finished work.
As a result, we should never frustrate the grace of God by denying it (Gal. 2:21). If we come to believe anything apart from Christ can or has saved us, we have to believe a doctrine which says Christ died in vain.