1Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also.
2It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.
From the time of Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem to the visit he describes here was fourteen years. He went along with Titus and Barnabas. God had given him direct revelation that he should go to Jerusalem which gave authority to what Paul was going to tell them. Paul first shared the gospel in private to the “high-ranking” leaders of the church, probably Peter, James (Jesus’ half-brother), and John, explaining to them about how he shared the gospel with the Gentiles. The issue on the table at this occasion was whether or not the Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law. Paul’s concern was that the gospel message would be hindered from going forth to the Gentiles because some Jewish Christians wanted to force them to be circumcised and under the Law before they could be saved.
3But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.
Paul points out that even Titus who had been traveling and probably preaching with him had not been circumcised. He was a Greek by birth, and interestingly those who were “of reputation” hadn’t objected to Titus’ lack of circumcision.
4But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.
Yet Paul points out that what was happening is that false brethren had come in for the purpose of promoting a different gospel, a gospel of the devil, a gospel hostile to the Gentiles, and a gospel that would remove the liberty that is in Christ. Christ had fulfilled the Law, and these, who acted as Christians and participated in the early church, were denying this fact by seeking to place all believers under the Law. These false brethren were very clever in what they were doing, likely winning over people for the sake of promoting their agendas. Their purpose was to undermine the gospel and alter it, which Paul vehemently condemns.
5But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you.
Paul makes it clear that he didn’t give these false teachers any say or power. He didn’t let them exercise improper authority, given that God had appointed him as a true apostle. If he hadn’t stood for the truth boldly, many would have been deceived into accepting a false gospel and forcing Gentiles to rely upon circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law for salvation rather than faith in Christ.
6But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)--well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me.
Paul is saying that he stood against the false teaching on the basis of his own apostolic authority. He didn’t need the support of those of “high reputation,” though they would come to support him (Acts 15). Paul was not intimidated by others regardless of who they were, and he did not depend upon others who had a higher reputation than his own. God shows no partiality, and neither did Paul. He stood for the truth and for the Lord, no matter who was with him or who was against him.
7But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised
8(for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),
9and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
10They only asked us to remember the poor--the very thing I also was eager to do.
Paul came to Peter, John, and James as an equal in terms of apostolic authority. He knew God’s grace had called him as an apostle to the Gentiles, while Peter’s call was to bring the gospel to the Jews. One was to the uncircumcised, and the other was to the circumcised. John, Peter, and James recognized that Paul was preaching a sound gospel and that he was indeed chosen of the Lord, and they extended Barnabas and him a hand of friendship and support. Though Paul didn’t depend upon the support of the “pillars” of the faith, their support did give him added credibility in standing against those who required circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law.
11But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
12For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
13The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Early in the life of the church, Peter fell back into his old patterns of being afraid to stand for the truth. He didn’t deny his relationship with Christ this time, but he did deny the truth that he knew that God had made all things clean (Acts 10:9-22). For the sake of appearances with those in the church who wanted to live under the Law and force the Gentiles to be circumcised, Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles. He started acting as if he didn’t know or didn’t care that Gentiles were being spurned and that the gospel was being perverted to a works-based system. He did this all because he didn’t want to offend certain Jews. Since Peter was of “high reputation,” his defection from the truth led to others being carried away either out of fear or deception. Either way, their actions were hypocritical. They were talking out of both sides of their mouth for the sake of keeping opposing parties happy. Even Barnabas was taken by this hypocrisy. This was a severe problem because all of the Jewish believers, at least in the area where Peter was, were perverting the gospel. This is what can happen when a “pillar” of faith crumbles. All the sheep follow the shepherd. Peter knew what he was doing was wrong, and he stood condemned by his own heart. Paul thus had an obligation to confront him of his hypocrisy which he did to his face. Paul didn’t back down from confrontation when it was necessary for the sake of the gospel. He always stood for the truth, no matter how low or high a person’s reputation was. He wasn’t intimidated. These false teachers claimed to have come in the authority of James, and Peter knew that they were false. Yet Peter didn’t do what was right, and Paul rebuked him.
14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
Paul saw the hypocrisy in that Peter, who was a Jew, chose to live as a Gentile, apart from some of the requirements of the Mosaic Law. Yet he acted as though the Gentiles should keep the Law which he himself was not keeping. Thus, it made no sense for him to require circumcision of Gentiles or adherence to all of the Jewish traditions when he himself wasn’t living out all of the traditions himself.
15"We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
16nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
The Jews had been called as the chosen nation of God, set apart from pagan rituals and immorality. The Gentiles lived in ignorance for a long time, though some had the law of God written on their hearts (Romans 2:15). The Jews had the Law of Moses, but this Law could not save. The gospel that Christ handed down to the disciples was one of justification by faith in Christ, not through the works of the Law. Peter had believed this gospel, trusting in Christ’s righteousness to save him rather than his own works. He knew that no person can be declared righteous on the basis of works.
17"But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!
18"For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
To preach a different gospel is sin. To be hypocritical is to sin. It makes no sense to stand for justification by faith in Christ and then to require certain adherences to the Law for salvation on the part of others. If we are indeed believers who are redeemed by the work of Christ and not our own, we must preach that same message to others and not live in sin. To preach a gospel of works is to doom others to unrighteousness, for no one can be justified by works. Thus, Peter, in his hypocrisy, was making Christ out to be a minister of sin, which He most certainly is not. To start living by works even though we have died to the Law is to start sinning again because it is not living by faith and the power of Christ.
19"For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.
The point of the Law was to show mankind that he cannot keep the standards of God. It was to reveal to him his sin and his need for God (Romans 7:5-9). Thus, the Law shows us where we need to repent, and it leads us to Christ. We die to self-righteousness and works-based righteousness so that we can live to God in Christ. Our only hope for righteousness is Christ who has alone fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law (Romans 8:4).
20"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
It makes no sense to put ourselves under the Law when our old selves which stood condemned by the righteous requirements of the Law were crucified with Christ. We are reborn spiritually into new life in Christ and made new creations in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old self is dead, and we no longer are forced to live self-absorbed because Christ reigns and rules in our hearts. Our new self is very alive as Christ lives out His life in and through us, our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us (1 Corinthians 6:19). The lives Christians live are by faith in Christ Who is our righteousness. He gave up His life so that we might live. Thus, having conquered sin and death and having fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law through Christ, it makes no sense to go back to living as those under the Law or to require others to keep the Law for salvation. To do this is utter blasphemy to the work of Christ which was apart from the work of man.
21"I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."
Righteousness cannot come through the Law for the Law shows us our unrighteousness. Only through Christ can righteousness come. To preach a gospel that requires works is to nullify the Law. Paul’s message of grace, which Peter knew well and good, does not nullify the Law. It gives the Law its proper place, and it demonstrates that righteousness is by grace through faith in Christ.