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(V. 1.) Fourteen years later, the Apostle again visited Jerusalem, accompanied by Barnabas and Titus. This visit, of which we have further details in Acts. 15 , was precisely on account of this judaising teaching introduced by "false brethren unawares brought in" who were troubling the assemblies in Galatia.
Paul and Barnabas had withstood this false teaching at Antioch, but, in His wisdom, God would have this question raised and settled at Jerusalem, and therefore the stand made at Antioch, however right, was not allowed to settle the matter. Had the question been settled at Antioch there would possibly have been a division in the Church, one section, mainly composed of Jewish converts, bound by the law with their centre at Jerusalem; the other section composed of Gentile converts, free from the law, with their centre at Antioch.
(V. 2.) From the Acts we learn that the brethren at Antioch decided that Paul and Barnabas should go to Jerusalem. Here we learn the additional fact that the Apostle went up by revelation, a further proof that though he acted in fellowship with his brethren, and with their counsel, yet he did so as guided by direct revelation from God.
The gospel being in question, he communicated to those in Jerusalem, who were held in reputation, what he himself had preached. He did not, then, receive the gospel that he preached from them, but, on the contrary, communicated it to them. He does this, not as leaving the leaders at Jerusalem to judge whether his gospel was according to God, but as opposing this outbreak of legalism which threatened to mar his work among the Gentiles, so that his labours would be in vain.
(V. 3.) In a parenthetical verse, the case of Titus is
brought forward to show that this legal teaching was not accepted, or insisted on, at Jerusalem; for, though Titus was a Greek, he was not compelled to be circumcised according to law.
(Vv. 4, 5.) Continuing his theme, the Apostle traces this legal teaching to false brethren unawares brought in, whose purpose was to bring the saints into bondage and attract to themselves ( Gal_4:17 ). To such the Apostle gave place not for an hour. Under no plea of showing grace and love will he enter into any compromise when the truth is at stake. In other Scriptures we are exhorted to "be subject one to another" ( 1Pe_5:5 ); but when it is a question of "false brethren," and the truth is at stake, the apostle will not yield subjection for an hour.
(V. 6.) Apart, however, from these false brethren there were those in the assembly "who were conspicuous as being somewhat." Such might rightly, by reason of gift and spirituality, have a pre-eminent place. Nevertheless, the fact of their conspicuous position carried no weight with the Apostle when the truth was in question. God does not accept a man's person. With God it is not the prominence that a man has before his fellows that counts - not the person - but what there is of Christ in the person. Paul may give honour to such and love them as brethren, but they added no authority to that which he had already received from Christ.
(Vv. 7-10.) These brethren, who held a pre-eminent place, confirmed the Apostle in His preaching to the Gentiles. They recognised that the preaching to the Gentiles had been committed to the Apostle Paul, even as the preaching to the Jews had been committed to Peter, and they owned that God, who wrought so effectually in Peter, also worked mightily in the Apostle Paul toward the Gentiles. Further, James, Cephas and John, instead of imparting grace to Paul, perceived and owned the grace that was given to the Apostle. The result was that the leaders in the Assembly at Jerusalem gave the Apostle and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, and confirmed them in going to the Gentiles, while exhorting them to remember the poor, a matter, indeed, which Paul was ever ready to do.
Thus the Apostle shows that for years he had laboured among the Gentiles, God working mightily by him, without receiving any authority or mission from other Apostles, and in due course his labours were fully recognised by other Apostles at Jerusalem as being of God. These details of the Apostle's work utterly condemned the Galatian assemblies for turning from the Apostle and calling in question his apostleship. So doing they not only turned from the Apostle but also ranged themselves in opposition to the pillars of the Church at Jerusalem, who refused this legal teaching in the very place where it arose. Moreover the whole passage refutes the false teaching of apostolic succession and that the Apostle Peter is the earthly head of the Church. Personally, he recognises that the mission to the Gentiles was not his service.
(Vv. 11-14.) The Apostle closes this portion of his Epistle by recalling another incident, which clearly shows that even Peter had not the smallest authority over Paul. On the contrary, an occasion arose when Paul was compelled to reprove and withstand Peter. When Peter visited Antioch, where the Church was mainly composed of Gentile believers, he showed that personally he was so entirely delivered from Jewish prejudices that he was free to eat with the Gentiles. When, however, certain Jewish believers came from Jerusalem, where the law and its ceremonies were still pressed by certain Christians, Peter withdrew and separated himself from the Gentile believers.
The root of Peter's failure, as so often with ourselves, was the vanity of the flesh that wanted to stand well with the opinion of others. He feared that he would lose his reputation with those "which were of the circumcision." This fear led him to dissemble and take a crooked path. He no longer walked uprightly according to the truth of the gospel. By his act he ignored the unity of the Spirit, denied the truth of the gospel, and brought in division amongst the saints. The fact that he held the position of an apostle only added to his offence, as one has said, "The more a man is honoured - and in this case there was true ground for respect - the greater the stumbling block to others if he fail." Thus in this case the effect of Peter's unfaithfulness was that the Jewish believers at Antioch dissembled in like manner, and even Barnabas was carried away by their dissimulation.
Under these circumstances, Paul, rightly recognising that the truth of God was at stake, "withstood him to the face" and publicly rebuked him "before them all." "If," said the Apostle, "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?"
(Vv. 15, 16.) Having fully established by these historical details the fact that he did not derive his authority from man, and would enter into no compromise when the truth was at stake, the Apostle passes on to speak of the gospel which was being perverted by this false teaching. Not only had Peter dissembled by freely eating and mixing with the Gentiles one moment, and then seeking to conceal what he had done by withdrawing and separating from them, but he had imperilled the gospel, for the bearing of his act, as the Apostle shows, was to destroy the truth of the Gospel. The truth was that those, like Peter, Paul and others, who were Jews by nature, had discovered that "a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." Having learnt this, they had believed in Jesus Christ, in order to be justified on the principle of the faith of Christ, and not by works of law; for, says the Apostle, "On the principle of works of law no flesh shall be justified."
(Vv. 17, 18.) Peter, together with other Jewish believers, had given up law as a means of justification, in order to be justified by Christ; but now, in refusing to eat with the Gentiles, he was going back to legal ordinances - the very things he had given up. If then he was right in giving up the law as a means of justification, he was clearly wrong in turning back to it. But it was for Christ's sake that he had given up the law. But if he was right in turning back to law, then Christ had led him to do wrong in giving it up. But this was impossible; for Christ cannot lead a man to do wrong, He is not a minister of sin. It is evident that if we turn back to the law as a means of justification we are building again the things which we have destroyed, and make ourselves transgressors for having given up the law.
(V. 19.) Applying the truth to himself, the Apostle gives a beautiful summing up of the Christian position. The gospel proclaims the righteousness of God to man; the law demands righteousness from man and pronounces death upon the man that does not keep it. The soul that sinneth it shall die. Seeing that we have all sinned, neither Paul nor anyone else has kept the law. Therefore the law can only pronounce the sentence of death and judgment upon us.
(V. 20.) For the one that believes in Jesus, this sentence of death has been carried out in the death of Christ our Substitute. His death was the death of our old man - the man under judgment. So the believer can say, "I am crucified with Christ." Thus having passed through death, in the death of our Substitute we are free from the law. The law can condemn a man to death because of the life that he has led; but directly the man is dead, he no longer lives in the life to which the law applied. The law can have nothing to say to a dead man. Moreover, if as believers we have died to the old life to which the law applies, we have a new life in Christ. So the Apostle can say, "Nevertheless I live: yet not I but Christ liveth in me." If I would see this new life in all its perfection, I must look at Christ. As one has said, "When I ... turn my eyes to Jesus, when I contemplate all His obedience, His purity, His grace, His tenderness, His patience, His devotedness, His holiness, His love, His entire freedom from all selfseeking, I can say, That is my life . . . It may be obscured in me; but it is none the less true, that that is my life" (J.N.D.). Thus it is our privilege to hold ourselves dead to the law that we may live this new life to God.
A further great truth is that this new life, like all life in the creature, has, and must have, an object to sustain the life. If the Lord Jesus is our life, He is also personally the object of the life. So the Apostle adds "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me." Faith sees Christ, looks to Him, confides in Him, feeds upon Him, abides in His love, in the blessed consciousness that He is for us in all the depths of love that led Him to give Himself for us.
(V. 21.) To turn back to the law is not only to make myself a transgressor for having given it up as a means of justification, but it is frustrating the grace of God, and, further, if righteousness come by the law, there was no need for the death of Christ - "Christ has died for nothing" (N. Tn.)
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Galatians 2". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29