A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. – G.K. Chesterton
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Galatians #5. Chapter 2:6-14
This time around, I’d like to take these verse one piece at a time. The overall message from 1:6 to 2:14, is that there is one true gospel, and Paul received that gospel from Jesus Himself, and preaches it to all people, including the Galatians. But within that overall message and context, there are several “lesser” messages that contain a lot of wisdom for us. We need to keep the context in mind, so we don’t mistake what the Bible is actually saying; however, I would like to look at each of these smaller bits of wisdom also.
This whole section is one where it is easy to misunderstand Paul and his attitude. He says the apostles added nothing to his message. He says “what they are makes no difference to me.” He tells us that he refused to bow to pressure about circumcising Titus, and later, rebuked Peter in front of a whole church.
When we read this quickly, we tend toward two opposite extremes. Some people read it and say, “Whoa! Paul is an arrogant little twerp. He has no respect for anything or anyone except himself.” Other people read this and say, “I like this Paul guy. He doesn’t let anybody push him around. That affirms my own attitude. I don’t take crap from anyone, and I’m proud of it.”
But I think both of those views of Paul are misinformed. Let’s look at this carefully. In verse six Paul says:
Now from those recognized as important (what they really were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism1 ) — they added nothing to me.
It sounds arrogant. But it has nothing to do with personal pride. Paul is actually referencing Deuteronomy 10:17 which says:
For the LORD your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe. (Deut 10:17, HCSB)
Paul’s point is this: The apostles hold important positions. But that does not make them, personally, more important to God than anyone else. What God does through the apostles is good and important. But it is God’s work that is important, not the people themselves. Martin Luther, interpreting and applying this verse in his own time said this:
I am not to fear the judge or love the judge; but my fear and my trust are to be in someone else beyond the judge, namely, in God, who is the real Judge. I ought to respect and honor the civil judge, who is the mask of God, for the sake of God. But my conscience dare not repose its trust in his justice; nor dare it be intimidated by his tyranny.
Paul is not advocating disrespect for authority, nor is he even acting disrespectful personally. His point is, people are people, either used by God, or not. The person we ought to fear and obey is the Lord himself. We listen to the apostles not because they are great people, or even because they are apostles, but because the Lord is speaking through them.
In the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, there is a junior officer who is reluctant to salute a senior officer whom he disrespects. The senior officer stops and says, “You salute the rank, not the man.” His point is, your respect should be for the military, for its authority. You don’t salute a person whom you have personal feelings about. You salute the ranks that are above you in authority. Paul’s point is actually quite similar. What he respects is the true gospel. The people who bring the gospel are instruments – what is most important is the true message.
More than a hundred years ago, G.K. Chesterton said this:
A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.
Paul was not arrogant about himself. He was undoubting and unyielding concerning the truth of the gospel message. These days, we often say of things that we believe, “that’s just my opinion.” Well, of course it is your opinion. Whatever you believe is your opinion. But you are not the important factor here. The important question is this: is it the truth? If the gospel is just your opinion, you’re sunk. Paul says, “personal opinions don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what or who the apostles are, because the gospel is not just their opinion. It came from Jesus himself. What matters is the truth of the gospel.” If it’s true, it’s true, and it doesn’t matter who you are.
It is not arrogant to say “this is the truth.” But it is arrogant in the extreme to say, “this is just my opinion.” Your opinion? Twenty-five thousand ancient, verified manuscripts testify the same gospel message. This is not opinion. Thousands of archaeological discoveries confirm that it is trustworthy even in small details. That is not opinion. The gospel has been believed and taught by billions of people – billions – through two-thousand years of history. Men, women and children from every country on earth have come to see it as truth. From starving peasants in India to rich kings and queens in Europe, humans from every walk of life have put it to the test and believed it. Uncounted miracles have been reported in connection with this gospel. This gospel message has fundamentally transformed cultures. It led to the abolition of slavery in Europe and North America. It was the catalyst for modern democracy. Millions have suffered for holding fast to the gospel message, and hundreds of thousands of people have died for it. And you call it “your opinion?”
Saying “that’s my opinion,” is not humble, it is arrogant. It puts the focus on you, instead of the message. This passage is a call to us in our generation to get beyond ourselves, to stake a claim of unwavering faith on the truth of gospel message. Paul says elsewhere that he is not ashamed of the gospel. We should not be ashamed of it either. Who we are doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who holds to it – the power and reality are in the truth of gospel, not in any person’s opinion of it.
There is a second thing I want to highlight in this passage. Paul says that when he explained what he had been preaching, the other apostles “added nothing to it.” In other words, they agreed that Paul had the true gospel from Jesus. But they did something else. They affirmed Paul’s calling to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Now this was personal, because it was about the role that Jesus wanted to play specifically through Paul. They agreed that Paul had been called to preach this true gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been called to preach it to Jews. Jesus had already told Paul that, seventeen years before. But it was still good for other believers to affirm that they saw what Jesus was doing in Paul.
There are two important things that I draw from this. First, it means that not every Christian has the same calling. Paul was called to the Gentiles, while Peter was called to the Jews. I can’t tell you how many Christians I meet who think that everyone else ought to be doing what Jesus has called them, personally to do. The first Christians did not behave this way. When the church wanted the apostles to get deeply involved in food-distribution for the poor they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. (Acts 6:2)” In other words, “that is not our calling, and we cannot abandon our calling in order to do it.” The other apostles recognized Paul’s calling. They didn’t say, “Aw shoot, I haven’t been going to the Gentiles, I’m a terrible Christian.” And Paul didn’t say, “You people need to be preaching to the Gentiles – just like I am.” Instead, they recognized that the Lord accomplishes different parts of his work through different people.
But there is a second thing here. The apostles didn’t just say, “OK, well the Gentiles are your thing. See ya in heaven.” Although it wasn’t their personal call, they recognized that it was the call of Jesus on Paul’s life. Therefore, they gave Paul encouragement and affirmation. They supported was he was doing, and agreed that it was from God.
Though people have different callings, we are supposed to support and affirm one another in our callings. No one should be a lone ranger. If you think the Lord has called you to a particular ministry, it is very good and wise to seek affirmation of that call from other believers. And as fellow members of God’s family, we should encourage and support each other in our different callings.
Finally, I want to deal with verses 11-14, where Paul records his rebuke of Peter. Paul has just explained how he went to Jerusalem, and was recognized as an apostle to the Gentiles. Afterward, Peter came and spent some time with Paul and the church at Antioch. He joined Paul in eating with the Gentile Christians, which was against Jewish ceremonial law. Although Peter had preached to non-Jews (Acts 10), he wasn’t used to Gentile ministry. He was used to living as a Jew among Jews. So when some hard-line Jewish people came from the church in Jerusalem, Peter grew nervous about not following the Jewish law, and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians, and started overtly observing the law.
Paul saw this as threat – not to him, but to the true gospel. It could send the wrong idea to the new Gentile believers. It gave the impression that it was somehow necessary, or at least important, to observe Jewish ceremonial law.
Paul has already been affirmed as someone called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. His deepest concern is the true gospel. So he asserts his authority as an apostle to the Gentiles. This is his own sphere of influence, so to speak, not Peter’s. But more importantly, he asserts the truth of gospel, that doing good works and following laws will not help any person become saved by Jesus.
This context is important, because Paul’s willingness to take on Peter was all about the truth of the gospel. It was not about personal preference or personality clashes. It was about preserving the gospel. Paul was not arrogant. And we can’t use him as justification for acting like a jerk. The bible never says, “don’t take crap from anyone,” and that wasn’t Paul’s attitude. He wasn’t unyielding in his personality or his personal preferences. He was unyielding in holding to the true gospel.
We don’t need to proud or arrogant. We don’t have to refuse to budge on personal issues. Instead, let’s be unwavering in our trust in Jesus.
Let the Holy Spirit speak to you through these verses.