Verses 1-5: 14 years had passed since Paul began his ministry to the Gentiles in Syria and Cilicia (Galatians 1:21-24), so Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to report in. While there, a few things happened: they preached the same message of grace and peace, and, some “pretending to be Christians” (see 1:6-9) snuck in. Wow. I am blown away by that last “happening”. In chapter 1, Paul says that anyone preaching a gospel of law was lying about God, and now, he is saying that these same people are not even Christians! We know that Paul is linking these two because he writes, “Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude.” Make no mistake, people that desire a return to the law…ANY law, want to put you (and I) in bondage.
Verses 6-10: Paul is not caught up in pomp and circumstance. The people that are “considered important” within the body? He remains unimpressed, and stated that they were so neutered by their adherence to the Law that they had nothing to add to the Gospel of grace and peace. They then left for ministry, their task confirmed by the church leaders (the “pillars of the church”, as opposed to those “considered important).
Verses 11-13: Paul shares a confrontation that he had between the Gospel of Grace and Peace and the gospel of law. In Antioch, all was well initially between Peter and Paul, until “the conservative group” (those pretending to be Christians? Proclaimers of lies about God?) showed up. When they did, Peter acted like the Gentiles did not exist, and had nothing to do with them. What’s more, even the other Jews joined Peter, including Barnabas in “this charade”!
Verses 14-16: Paul, apparently not in a “Matthew 18” kind of mood, (the one who does not “speak strongly to manipulate crowds, or curry favor with God, or get popular applause”-see chapter 1:10) went to Peter in front of the whole crowd and called him on it. In essence, Paul tells Peter that the old rules just don’t apply anymore, and that it is the height of hypocrisy to act like they do…especially just to impress Peters’ “old Jerusalem cronies.” Paul reminds Peter that the Jews had the best system of rules ever devised, and that they were, and are, utterly worthless.
Verses 17-18: Paul continues this public assault by telling Peter (and now everyone) that no one is perfect. If perfection is not automatic through Christ…is Jesus causing them to sin? No! If Paul was simply “trying to be good”, the entire concept of the Gospel of Grace and Peace is a joke , a failure. So, should we revert to the law? The law that we know brings death?
Verses 19-21: Paul busted his hump trying to keep the law, even resorting to the punishment of those that did not “keep up.” Because that’s what happens when the law reigns supreme, especially a law impossible to keep. So, Paul quit trying. He died. That’s was the Damascus experience really was. The death of Saul and the birth of Paul. He died and became a new creature, the scales were removed and, like Jesus, he became fully alive. And, it’s not about Paul! He is no longer interested in appearing righteous or looking good. Why? He is dead. Christ lives in him. Ultimately, the return to rules = death, an unnecessary death of Christ Himself.
- Is the true Gospel, the One of Grace and Peace being preached, discussed and proclaimed in your church? In your youth ministry? In your conversations with people?
- If God is not impressed with appearance, why do we try so hard to “adjust our suit of figs” (thanks to Derek Webb!!)?
- Do we confront people that proclaim a false gospel?
- Once we participate in Grace and Peace, why do we seek to return to the law?
- How have you died in Christ?