In Galatians 2:1, Paul continued to show his independence of the other apostles by staying away from Jerusalem for fourteen years. In Acts 15 we have an account of the church leaders (apostles and pastors) coming together to discuss the false teaching that a person must be circumcised in order to be saved. It was during this meeting of the church leaders that Paul returned to Jerusalem. We learn that this false doctrine was being taught by a group of believing Pharisees (Judaizers). The church leaders were united in the fact that salvation was by grace apart from the Law. Therefore, they sent representatives to the Gentile churches to confirm the fact that they gave no such commandment that circumcision was necessary for salvation.
Galatians 2:2 states that Paul went to Jerusalem because God, by special revelation, had told him to go there. Upon his arrival, he communicated the Gospel of grace. Communicate is the Greek word “anatithemi” meaning to set forth, to impart and to set up a thing for the consideration of others. This is the message that Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. Notice that Paul communicated privately the message that he had been preaching to those in Jerusalem who were “men of reputation.” The idea here is that Paul laid before the church leaders the Gospel what he had been preaching, showing that he had not learned the Gospel from any of them. His message of grace was what had been revealed to him by God. We see similar phrases in Galatians 2:6,9. Paul was putting himself on the same level of authority as the rest of the apostles.
Paul’s next statement shows his concern, that after all his efforts to evangelize and establish churches, that it would all have been in vain, if the Jerusalem church adopted this false message of keeping the Law for salvation and for the execution of the Christian Way of Life. The reason should have been obvious. Keeping the Mosaic Law cannot save a person nor can it make one spiritual. And, Paul’s teaching applied equally to Jews and Gentiles.
It is thought by some that Paul intentionally bought Titus, who was a Gentile believer, to test the church at Jerusalem and the church leaders to see if they would require him to be circumcised. This controversy regarding circumcision began in the church at Antioch, which had said that no such requirement is necessary for Gentile believers. This decision was upheld by the church leaders in Jerusalem. (Acts 15)
Galatians 2:4 gives a lot of insight into the identity and character of the Judaizers. The term “false brethren” is a reference to the Judaizers, who were apparently the same believing Pharisees of Acts 15. Brought in unawares is the Greek word “pareisago” meaning to bring in alongside or secretly. Privately is the same root word, meaning they came into the conference in Jerusalem without the knowledge of the church leaders. Their purpose for being there was to spy out the freedom (liberty) that the believers had in Christ, with the hostile intent to place them back under the bondage of the Mosaic Law. This attempt by the Judaizers was a well thought out plan to discredit grace.
The maximum expression of God’s grace is the Cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for all sin. Therefore, sin is no longer an issue at salvation. (I Peter 2:24) We are free to accept or reject God’s free gift of eternal life. The plan of God calls for everyone to know His Son, Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:9) Because Jesus Christ completely satisfied the righteousness and justice of God, God is now free to give eternal life and the other 40+ spiritual assets at salvation. (John 2:1-2) Our salvation brings glory to God and when we trust Christ as our personal Savior we are adjusting to God’s grace. (Hebrews 2:9; Romans 3:24)
In the Christian life, the believer must choose to allow God the Holy Spirit to produce the character of Jesus Christ in him (but it God Who is doing the work). (Romans 8:29, Galatians 5:22-23) We should be truly thankful that God’s plan does not depend upon us, but upon Him. If you have your eyes on what you are doing for God or even what someone else is doing for God (even the pastor) you will never be grace-oriented. Our focus should always be on what God is doing. God treats us in grace because of His character. Therefore, we are able to treat others with grace by using Divine Viewpoint Thinking.
The opposite of grace is legalism (keeping the law or doing good works). (Romans 11:6) Legalism is performing human good works in an attempt to gain the favor or approval of God, either for salvation or spirituality. Producing human good brings glory to man. Producing divine good through the filling of the Holy Spirit brings glory to God. Human works added to faith in salvation cancels grace. (Galatians 2:16) Human works added to the Christian life produces legalism and cancels grace. (Galatians 5:1)
Paul tells us in Galatians 2:5 that he would not budge for a moment when it came to the truth of the Gospel of grace. It was Paul’s purpose to show the believers in Galatia that his message of grace was the true message and the Judaizers’ message was false. Failure to recognize Paul’s message of grace would naturally put these believers back under the Law, which they had recently been freed from by believing in Jesus Christ. This truth is caught up in the phrase, “that the Gospel might continue with you.”
In Galatians 2:6, Paul points out that the other apostles imposed no restrictions or commands on him with regard to the Gospel of grace (added nothing to me). Paul was referring to the church leaders, which he names in verse nine (James, Peter and John). Paul makes it clear that the position within the Church of these great apostles made no impact on him or his message. Paul had received divine revelation directly from the Lord Jesus Christ, as the other apostles had while Jesus was here on earth. Both were equal in that regard, and Paul points out that God is not a respecter of persons, and therefore, shows no partiality because of a person’s position, title or human authority.
It is interesting to note that James, one of the eminent church leaders, wrote about the subject of being a respecter of persons in the book of James chapter 2. Since God is not a respecter of persons, James says that we should not show partiality to one person over another. According to James, not being a respecter of persons is one way in which a believer can demonstrate his faith in Christ to the others. Of course, it is a matter of spiritual growth by the consistent intake and application of accurate Bible doctrine, which James also brings out in his epistle.
In Galatians 2:7, Paul confirms that the other apostles agreed with him regarding the Gospel and rejected the false doctrine of keeping the Law for salvation or the Christian life (circumcision was a part of the Mosaic Law). The “gospel of uncircumcision” and “the gospel of circumcision” are not two different messages. Paul is saying that God, as a primary mission, had commissioned him to take the Gospel message to the Gentiles and had commissioned Peter to take the Gospel to the Jews (though both preached the Gospel to both groups at times).
Galatians 2:8, is a parenthetical statement to confirm what Paul had just stated regarding Peter and himself. Paul stated that both men were chosen by God for a specific ministry and given divine authority to carry out their mission. The same Gospel message was preached by Peter and Paul. This proves that Paul was a legitimate apostle in the same manner as Peter (and by implication the rest of the apostles).
Galatians 2:9, confirms that Paul was recognized by the other apostles as an apostle with all the privileges and authority that went with the office. James, who seemed to be the leader of the church at Jerusalem and most likely presided over the meetings to discuss the matter of keeping the Law for salvation and the Christian life. James was also the brother of Jesus and a disciple of Christ, which would have given him respect among the others (including the Judaizers). Peter and John were certainly highly respected as well, having traveled with and been taught by Jesus.
“Giving the right hand of fellowship” was a custom of both the Jewish and the Greek worlds. It signified that the ones who shook hands were in agreement. In the context of Galatians 2, this custom means that all were in agreement regarding the clarity of the Gospel message of “faith alone in Christ alone.” Furthermore, all were agreement that Paul and his ministry partner, Barnabas were to go to the Gentiles and that the other apostles should go the Jews. The final agreement was they were all to remember the poor, which was common practice for Paul. (Acts 11:27-30) The Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia” and means things in common or in agreement.
God has a perfect plan for each one of us, but it is up to us to discover that plan. The filling of the Holy Spirit, which means we are being controlled and guided by Him, is a grace provision from God. This allows every believer to understand God’s Word, regardless of education or IQ. Therefore, we are commanded to be strong in grace. (II Timothy 2:1) We are to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:8) We find grace in our prayer life. (Hebrews 4:16) There is stability in grace. (I Peter 5:2) God gives us grace to become the person He wants us to be. (I Corinthians 15:10) God’s grace is always sufficient in times of suffering. (II Corinthians 12:9) God is waiting to show His grace to every believer. (Isaiah 30:18-19) The Christian life, under grace, is a system of thinking. (Romans 12:1-2)