The Epistle to the Galatians - Chapter 2
William Trew, Cardiff
We continue with the development of the four ideas contained in the section Galatians 1. 6 to 2. 16.
(c) The Confirmation and Consolidation of the Work of the Gospel among the Gentiles, 2. 1-10. We have already read of Paul's visit to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Peter three years after he was saved. Fourteen years elapsed before he visited Jerusalem for the second time, and during these years he had made no contact with the apostles in Jerusalem. The occasion of this second visit is given in Acts 15. "Certain men which came down (to Antioch) from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved". It seemed to be a charge laid by these men against Paul that his teaching to the Gentiles was contrary to the teaching of the apostles in Jerusalem, and that his aim was to form a party around himself, comprised of his converts from among the Gentiles. The Lord revealed His mind concerning what they should do about these charges, and, on behalf of the saints, Paul and Barnabas went up to Jerusalem, that the whole matter might be carefully examined and thoroughly thrashed out, in order that "the twelve" and Paul might be seen to speak with one voice, that thus the unity of all the churches of God might be secured and the truth of the Gospel preserved for the saints of future generations. Paul deliberately took Titus with him, who was a pure Greek and uncircumcised.
He first of all consulted with the apostles and elders of the church in private, explaining to them the Gospel that he preached among the Gentiles and reporting how the power of God had worked mightily with him. This he did because of many false brethren, who had crept in among the saints surreptitiously, and who would have opposed him in public session thereby making it well nigh impossible to get a fair hearing. To these Paul refused to yield, that the truth of the Gospel might be preserved. Titus was not compelled to be circumcised. The leaders communicated nothing to Paul, having nothing to add to his message and unable to take anything from it. But unitedly acknowledging the apostleship of Paul to the Gentiles and heartily concurring with the Gospel that he preached, they gave to him, and to Barnabas with him, the right hands of fellowship, and with one voice the testimony went forth. The answer of Paul to his traducers was complete. Equality with Peter was assured, acknowledged and asserted; the work of the Gospel among the Gentiles was confirmed, and the saints were established in the "true grace of God", 1 Pet. 5. 12.
(d) The Conflict against Compromise for the Preservation of the Testimony) 2. 11-16. After this the Enemy intervenes in a new way to thwart, if he can, the accomplishment of the intention of God in the salvation of men. That this should happen subsequent to the conference in Jerusalem of which we have been reading, makes it all the more difficult to understand. The assembly in Antioch was composed of saved Jews and Gentiles, who, in the uniting bonds of life and love in Christ Jesus, enjoyed the closest fellowship. Peter came to Antioch on a visit, and, for a time, enjoyed the most unrestricted fellowship with all the believers there. But certain, professing to be brethren, came from Jerusalem, of the kind who were now troubling the Galatian believers, seeking to destroy the work of God. Immediately there was a division. Because of the fear of man, not being keen-sighted enough to foresee the full, ultimate consequences of his act, Peter withdrew his fellowship from the Gentile saints and separated the Jewish members of the assembly, and even Barnabas was led away by his hypocrisy. It was Paul who saved the day; in the interest of the future work of God he preserved the truth of the Gospel and the unity of the churches of God. The supreme importance of the issue was clear before him. He knew that the testimony was exposed to the greatest peril. The very foundations were threatened, and consequently the whole superstructure of the Christian faith was in danger. It was a matter altogether of the truth of the Gospel and the preservation of the heavenly calling and character of the churches of God.
These were the considerations that made his words of protest vibrant with passion as he resists the effects of the compromise led by Peter. "If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of die law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified", Gal. 2. 14-16. Peter learned the lesson finally that day, and lived to write his two Epistles, in the first of which he exhorted and testified that "this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand", associating with himself the name of Silas (Silvanus) the co-worker of Paul; and in the second of which he speaks of the importance of being "established in the present truth", 2 Pet. 1. 12. It is not to be forgotten that Peter wrote his Epistles to these very "churches of Galatia", 1 Pet. 1. 1.
Against these Judaizing teachers the apostle had to contend during the whole course of his ministry. They dogged his footsteps wherever he went, as his Epistles bear witness. And when at last he laid aside his weapons and entered into his rest, these evil men redoubled their efforts. When apostolic care was completely removed, their influence became predominant, so that by the close of the second century that which professed the Name of Christ had become largely Judaized. Out of this has developed the history of Christendom prewritten in the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, and sad reading it makes. Judaism has been abolished by God morally in the death of Christ; doctrinally in the Epistle to the Hebrews; publicly in the destruction of the city and the temple in a.d. 70. But Christendom has done its best to build again what God has destroyed. This was what Paul foresaw. His profound understanding of the peril to which the testimony of the Lord was exposed through the influence of these Judaizing teachers, made him write this letter with his own hand, and made his words vibrant with a burning passion. If this Epistle had been heeded, the danger would have been averted; the attack would have been repelled; the Papacy, an amalgam of Judaism and paganism, had never been; Protestant Christendom had never existed; and all the precious saints of God would have been gathered together as churches of God, walking in the ways of God, in obedience to the Word of God and in the power of the Spirit of God. In Scripture no collective witness is described apart from the Church and churches of God. The church of God is the divinely appointed home of every true believer in Christ in each locality. To realize this is to feel the impossibility of building that which has no right of existence in Scripture, and the tremendous importance of strengthening, consolidating and preserving the character and witness of the local church of God. So that in the last paragraph of the first main section of the Epistle, the apostle shows the true Christian position into which the grace of God has brought us.
3. The Illustration, in Terms of Practical Experience, of the Intention of God in our Salvation, 2. 17-21. The apostle now again turns to the Galatians to apply to their case the truths he has taught. Rebuking Peter, he has made the most emphatic declarations that the law can never be either a means of justification before God or a rule of life for the believer in Christ. Judaism has thus been completely given up; for men cannot take up the law as they please, as a rule of life but not as a rule of judgment. They have to take it up for the purpose for which God gave it, and a rule of judgment it necessarily was. If when they had renounced the law in order
to be justified by Christ, and had been justified in this way, could it be sin to renounce it, and had Christ become the minister of sin in this matter of their justification? To build again the things that they had so deliberately destroyed was to make themselves transgressors in having destroyed them. But this they had done in obedience to the Gospel of Christ! Was then Christ the minister of sin in having destroyed these things? It cannot be. This, as we have already seen, is the crowning sin of Christendom, How much, in fact, has been taken over from Judaism, corrupting both Judaism and true Christianity. What, then, is the truth of the matter? The apostle replies in these closing verses, illustrating, in terms of practical experience, the intention of God in our salvation. The authority of the law has been upheld, and the death of Christ upon the cross has fully vindicated its sentence. The law had proved guilt and had passed sentence of judgment upon all, and, therefore, could not justify any before God. The sentence must be executed. And it was. But in executing the sentence upon us, the law itself has placed the believer in Christ where it can have nothing more to do with him, "I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God", v. 19. We have been crucified with Christ, who, as Paul afterwards says, has borne the curse of the law, its extremest penalty, beyond which it can have no claim at all. Thus those who have been justified in Christ, are free from the law, not only as a means of justification, but also as a rule of life. These words sum up true Christian position for everyone who knows the saving grace of God. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me".
Back to the cross I look and wondering see
The Christ of God in agonies for me; And looking closer on that form divine
I see with Him, myself; His death was mine.
'Nevertheless I live", in vital union with the Risen Lord Jesus, in the life of the new creation, on the other side of death and judgment, these past for Him and us, for ever.
"Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me", as the principle of a new life.
"The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God", as the principle of supply of power. It is not only that Christ is our life. It is that Christ is now our true self, the aim and object of Christian life henceforth. The Son of God, who in the wonder of His amazing grace, "loved me, and gave himself for me", has won our hearts for ever, and the power of that life produces fruit redolent with the graces of Christ, for the delight of the heart of God. Thus we live "unto God", v. 19. Here then is the end of the matter. "I do not frustrate (reject) the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain (has died needlessly"), v. 21. With these words and with that idea, we are introduced to the second main section of the Epistle; this we shall consider in our next paper.