The Tension Between Unity and Truth (Galatians Bible Study)

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1 Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
(Galatians 2:1-5 ESV)

Key Observation: Paul worked hard to preserve the unity of the church without sacrificing the truth of the gospel.

Paul has been demonstrating that his message and his commission came by God’s direct intervention. In this next episode, Paul claims that the leaders of the Jerusalem church recognize Paul’s message and missionary practice to be valid. Because Paul cannot sacrifice the first point, he makes it clear that he made his second journey to Jerusalem at God’s orders. He was not a lackey being summoned by his superiors.

Why does Paul fear that he may be working in vain? It is unlikely that he has doubts about his own message. It is more likely that he is concerned for the unity of the church’s mission. Paul serves a vision for the church in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, since all are “one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). If he is not working in partnership with the Jerusalem apostles, however, the result will be far from unity.

We don’t know why Paul and Barnabas took Titus along with them. Had he already become an important part of their ministry team? Did they want a Gentile Christian to be part of their delegation as a kind of Exhibit A? The important point for Paul is that Titus walked away from that meeting uncircumcised. Indeed, this point is so important that Paul jumps to it right away with no warning or preparation! If the Jerusalem apostles felt it necessary to correct Paul’s message and practice, that would have been the time to do so. And if not Titus, then no Gentile Christian needed to be circumcised to be part of God’s people in Christ.

The push for circumcising Titus wasn’t coming from the Jerusalem apostles. Rather, it came from troublemakers pushing their way into conversations where they didn’t belong. Paul calls these people “false brothers” (2 Cor. 11:26 ESV), though they would have no doubt regarded themselves as genuine believers. Indeed, they would have regarded themselves as champions of God’s Law, much as Paul had been before his conversion. Therein lay the problem, however. They hadn’t perceived what Paul saw so clearly in his own conversion. God was no longer defining his people by who followed the law of Moses. It wasn’t necessary to become a practicing Jew to be part of God’s people. It was necessary to be created anew by the Spirit into the likeness of God’s Son, the Righteous One.

The images of slavery and freedom will run throughout Galatians. Paul himself looks back on life under the Torah as slavery under a harsh taskmaster. Experiencing Jesus’ love and the Holy Spirit’s guidance and empowerment was liberating for Paul. False brothers had tried to impose that slavery on Titus in Jerusalem. The rival teachers, by implication, are now seeking to impose slavery on the Gentile Christians in Galatia. Paul draws out another point of relevance for the Galatians. The “truth of the gospel” survived long enough to reach them thanks to Paul! This episode gives further proof that Paul is no people-pleaser. Rather, he has championed the truth of the gospel wherever this was jeopardized by others’ short-sightedness.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How have you nurtured unity among Christians of different traditions where the truth of the gospel is not at stake? What further opportunities do you see?
  2. When have you perceived the truth of the gospel to be in jeopardy? How did you respond?

What is the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament? How does Christ fit in to the larger story of salvation reaching as far back as Abraham? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life?

These are just some of the principal questions that Paul addressed as he wrote his letter to his converts in the Roman province of Galatia, and they remain as relevant today as they were then. Discover the whole of Paul’s proclamation of the “good news” afresh – the good news that not only delivers us from the consequences of sin, but from its power. Get the Bible study on the Letter to the Galatians by David A. deSilva from our store here.

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David A. deSilva (PhD) serves as Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is the author of two dozen books, including An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, and Ministry Formation, which has nurtured thousands of Christian workers in English, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean contexts. He is an ordained elder in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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