The Final Showdown
by Jonathan Bailey
1 Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2 It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3 But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
4 But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5 But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)–well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
10 They only asked us to remember the poor–the very thing I also was eager to do.
It was time for the final showdown. The long awaited meeting of the Jesus’ disciples and the tent-maker Paul. I think Paul wanted so badly for this not to turn into a massive church fracture. My guess is, he was praying like a mad-man on his way to Jerusalem that this encounter would be one of building and not tearing down. So, Paul is back to finally get confirmation on His apostleship, not merely to get permission but to put aside the whole mess and mix up of Jews and Gentiles. Actually, I think he’s not so much looking for confirmation as much as he wants unification. He wants the message (gospel) to be the same, to be united. Then he can go forward in his apostolic duties heralding the good news of the kingdom of God and Jesus.
These verses have a major thread running through it, indeed the thread runs through the entire letter as we shall see. That thread is the idea of liberty in Jesus. Paul says in verse 4, some mosaic followers of Jesus were wanting to spy out their liberty and thus bring them into bondage or legalism. This thread Paul is talking about is not really and addendum for life in the kingdom of God, but more so a leg of a wooden chair. Without one of the legs it is an awkward balancing act that leads to repeated falls and pick-me-ups. It is better to have all 4 legs in place, then and only then can you sit comfortably and confidently in the chair.
Here is what the “perfect law of liberty” is, and what Paul is trying to convey to the Jewish disciples: There are no ethnic distinctions. Christ is all and in all. NT Wright puts it a beautiful way…
“The gospel is the announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus is Lord over the whole world. And if he is Lord over the whole world, then those who believe in him, who give their allegiance to him, must form a single family. There cannot be divisions based on nationhood or race.”
What did the Jewish disciples of Jesus want? They wanted the Gentile disciples to follow the Mosaic Law. But Paul knew well and good that we are not under the law but under grace. We are being led by the Spirit not the letter. Paul is not preaching a watered down gospel that makes it easier for gentiles to follow Jesus, he is giving the full all-inclusive gospel that says, you don’t have to do anything or be anyone to follow Jesus. We are all in this together. We are a family-no distinctions allowed.
So, the reason Paul goes to the pillars of the church is because they will know the heart of the gospel and this Galatians passage confirms that indeed Paul is preaching the true gospel. There is now an understanding of two different roles to be played by the circumcised and uncircumcised but more importantly, there is a unity between both parties. If you want to get circumcised, go for it! If you don’t want to be circumcised, thats fine! Circumcision doesn’t make you more of a true follower of Jesus and neither does uncircumcision. There is liberty! Thus the right hand of fellowship is given, which signifies a partnership, a willingness to give of our strengths to one another.
Verse 10 is my favorite of this selection because it underlines the unity that was already there and highlights the same Spirit was working in both groups. James, John and Peter wanted Paul and his associates to make sure they did not forget one thing, remember the poor. Give financially to the poor. Paul’s response is great, I can almost see him, a smile begins to crack through a bushy beard as he leans in and hugs the apostles and tells them, “Of course, of course, I have been doing this all along, I love doing this, I am always eager to associate and give financially to the poor! Jesus taught me all about it!”
So we start with a showdown that could have gone bad. It could have caused an enormous fracture in the church, but Paul led by the Spirit of Jesus navigates it beautifully. The apostles respond with unity and agape and this meeting sets the stage for the global church to begin it’s kingdom invasion on the entire world.
Thanks for reading