"Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing." (Galatians 2:1-2 NLT)
Diving right into this one, I find it quite interesting that Paul says in verse two, "I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing." Paul received his assignment, his message straight from Jesus himself on the road to Damascus, which we looked at just yesterday. Remember that he didn't consult with the other apostles about his message. In fact, the large majority of the other apostles were afraid of Paul. He'd spent years persecuting them and having them killed. They suspected he was a spy. The apostle who came forward and embraced him as one of their own? Barnabas! Barnabas was a respected Jewish Apostle whose name literally means "Son of Encouragement." In Acts, we get to see him standing up for Paul and letting the other apostles know that he was okay. He was a literal encourager for Paul and with a name like that, you can be sure he was encouraging others as well. In one commentary I've read, it says that Barnabas' given name is actually Joseph. Barnabas is a nickname given to him by apostles because he was so encouraging. *aside over*
Getting back to these verses- When I first read this passage, I thought it perhaps meant that Paul had some doubts about his message. And who could blame him? Despite the fact that he'd received his message straight from God and very likely spent years alone in Arabia listening to God's voice (all amazing things, by the way), he had no confirmation from anyone who'd walked alongside Jesus while he was here on Earth and sometimes, as imperfect people, we think we need approval from others. That isn't what this is though. In reading through some commentary on this passage, this is really the start of a meeting in Jerusalem to unite the church as one. Everybody needs to be on the same page so they can grow this church- not the building, the body.
"And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile." (Galatians 2:3 NLT)
Titus was a Greek Apostle. This means that he was a Gentile. He wasn't Jewish. He wasn't following any Jewish customs. And up until this point, there were many preaching Jesus Plus. Jesus Plus could be defined as needing to accept Jesus's gift PLUS follow along with all of the Jewish customs, including circumcision. But the leadership said nothing about that.
I love that these leaders of the church came together and met with one another, praying and discussing the gospel. They met with one another and made sure they were all on the same page, united as one body in Christ. And they embraced one another right where they were. They demonstrated an amazing truth for us all: God loves and accepts us exactly as we are. We don't need to fix anything to come to Jesus. We don't need to try to be perfect in order to come to him and have a relationship. We can come in the midst of our mess and Jesus will love us right there.
Paul saw through the demands of others to have his companion circumcised and had this to say: "Even that question came up only because of some so-called believers there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations. But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you." (Galatians 2:4-5 NLT)
"And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way, their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)" (Galatians 2:6 NLT)
There are a couple of things to point out in this verse. First, Paul received the confirmation he needed to keep going from these leaders of the church, creating unity among them. They let him know that they agreed with what he was saying and urged him to keep up the good work. They had "nothing to add" to what Paul was preaching. The other interesting thing here is the aside that Paul includes- "God has no favorites." Have you ever noticed that when you get a coffee from a fast food place, it says "Caution: contents are hot and may burn you (or something like that)?" Or that your hair dryer warns you not to use it in the bathtub? When I see these "obvious" warnings, I always wonder who was crazy enough to try some of these things? Why do we need this warning? But you know if it's there, it's there for a reason. I suspect that this little aside from Paul is the same. I wonder if he has added this because it was something that came up over time among the new believers?
"Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as he had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews." (Galatians 2:7-9)
The Bible Gateway Commentary* had this to say about this passage: "Paul says that when the leaders saw something (vv. 7-8) and recognized something (v. 9), they gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas and agreed that they should continue their ministry to the Gentiles. What they saw was God at work in Paul's ministry (v. 8). What they recognized was the grace given to him (v. 9). Just as the miraculous work of God in Peter's ministry validated his call to preach the gospel to the Jews, so also the miraculous work of God in Paul's ministry was irrefutable evidence that God had given him the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 7-8)." Isn't that amazing? It basically means that the leaders of the church could see evidence of God at work in Paul's ministry! They could see the fingers of God and therefore knew that Paul was telling the truth. They encouraged him to keep going. They only added one thing:
"Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do." (Galatians 2:10)
I've read suggestions that this verse points more specifically to the church in Jerusalem, that the leaders wanted to be sure Paul's gentile mission wouldn't harm the Jerusalem church. I'd like to believe that it means exactly what it says- help the poor.
I'm going to take a break over the weekend, but I'll be back with more of this study on Monday. So far, Galatians has been very interesting. I hope you're learning as much as I am. Have a great weekend!
* Bible Gateway Commentary: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Gal/Conference-Jerusalem