They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.
(a) Remember the poor. Some give to the poor out of duty while others give because they believe God will reward them with mansions in heaven. But giving to the poor for these sorts of reasons accomplishes nothing (1 Cor. 13:3). We remember the poor because when it comes to the gospel, they are the low-hanging fruit.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20), he was saying the poor are closest to salvation. It’s harder for the rich to enter the kingdom because their comforts and concerns numb them to matters of eternal significance. Jesus said he had been anointed to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). It’s not that he had anything against the rich, it’s just that the poor are more receptive to the gospel of grace.
(b) The very thing I also was eager to do. Paul was prepared to become all things to all people and travel the known world to win souls for the Lord. And he was eager to remember the poor because he knew that the poor were a good investment.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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.
(a) When Cephas came to Antioch. Cephas, or Simon Peter to use the name that Jesus gave him (John 1:42), visited the church in Antioch. Perhaps he came in response to Barnabas’s glowing report (Acts 11:23). The church in Antioch was thriving under the grace of God and many people were turning to the Lord. Barnabas and Paul were teaching “great numbers” of people (Acts 11:26), and Jews and Gentiles were fellowshipping together.
Peter came from Jerusalem to see these things for himself and he liked what he saw. Even though he was a Jew, he was happy to join in and eat with the Gentiles. But it didn’t last.
(b) Certain men from James makes it sound as if the men were representing James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. But Paul clarifies that these men belonged to “the party of the circumcision” which James famously opposed (Acts 15:24). They came to Antioch to push law on the young church.
(c) He began to withdraw and hold himself aloof. When the legalists from Jerusalem arrived, Peter withdrew from the Gentiles in fear. He went and sat with the Jews. Peter’s behavior was so astonishing and Paul’s subsequent rebuke was so confronting that some of the Church Fathers had trouble believing that this was the same Peter who preached boldly on the Day of Pentecost.
Peter had a revelation that Christ died for all people, both Jews and Gentiles. He even had a vision where God told him it was okay to eat food that the Jews dismissed as unclean (Acts 10:9–28). As he allowed the heart of Christ to be revealed in his own life, Peter began to accept Gentiles even to the point of eating with them. But when the law-lovers showed up, he drew back in fear.
Sadly, Peter’s fall from grace is not uncommon. A believer gets a taste of grace and is set free from the endless demands of DIY religion. But soon a preacher of law tells them that they need to balance grace with other things. They need to become holy, they need to pray more, they need to evangelize and attend every meeting. “Jesus died for you, what will you do for him?” The believer faces a crisis of faith. Will they stand firm on grace or will they withdraw like Peter?
(d) He stood condemned. Because the legalists were more confident of their self-righteousness than he was of his righteousness in Christ Jesus, Peter’s conscience began to condemn him. Doubts began to creep in, and instead of bringing these doubts to the Lord, he caved.
The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
(a) Hypocrisy. They believed one way but acted another. Peter and the Jewish Christians knew that it was okay to eat with Gentiles, but when the law-lovers showed up, they acted like it wasn’t.
(b) Even Barnabas. Did Paul weep when he wrote these words? Barnabas was his best friend. It was Barnabas who had brought him out of obscurity and preached alongside him in Antioch. Yet even Barnabas, the preacher of grace, turned tail when the law-lovers showed up.
These defections give us pause. If Peter and Barnabas can be intimidated out of grace, anyone can. We need to pay attention to what we have heard and what we are hearing, so that we do not drift from grace and wander from our first love.
But 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?
(a) Not straightforward. Peter and the other hypocrites were no longer walking in the truth of the gospel. They had turned to another gospel, which was no gospel at all.
(b) I said to Cephas. Because Peter’s hypocrisy inspired others to turn from grace, Paul opposed him publicly. It was a pivotal moment for the young church. The stakes could not have been higher. On the one side were the legalists, who were no doubt thrilled that Peter and Barnabas had joined them. But opposing them was the lone apostle of grace, and this is what he said:
(c) “If you, being a Jew…” Paul exposed Peter’s double-standard by saying, “First you embrace the Gentiles, then you shun them. You shared a table with them, now you won’t. You can’t have it both ways. Make up your mind.”
“We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles;
Having exposed Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul cut to the heart of the matter by discussing righteousness. “If anyone has reason to have confidence in their own righteousness, it is God’s chosen people, the Jews, rather than sinful Gentiles.”
“Nevertheless 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.
(a) Not justified by the works of the Law. We are not justified or made righteous through our behavior, but by faith in Christ who gives us his righteousness. This claim was so central to Paul’s gospel, that he says it twice in this verse and repeats it later (Gal. 3:11, 24). See also Rom. 5:1.
(b) But through faith in Christ. We are justified by faith rather than law-keeping (Rom. 3:28).
“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
(a) I have been crucified with Christ. Many Christians are trying to crucify the flesh or their old self, but the good news declares, “You died.” The sinful person you used to be was crucified with Christ, and no longer lives. You are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
This is just about the most important thing that happened to you, yet many Christians are ignorant of it. They do not know that when they were baptized or placed into Jesus, his history became their history. His death and resurrection are your death and resurrection. What does this mean? It means you no longer have to reform the old man (he’s dead). It means you no longer have a sinful nature (also dead). It means you are hidden in Christ who is your life (he’s lives!).
(b) Christ lives in me. Here are two great truths that will set you free from sin: One, you died with Christ; two, Christ lives in you (2 Tim. 2:11). You have been raised to new life and given a brand new nature. You are not a sinner but a saint because Jesus makes you so.
(c) The life which I now live in the flesh. Christianity is not a religion characterized by rules and rituals. Nor is it a philosophy that seeks to answer the question, “What would Jesus do?” Christianity is Christ living in you.
(d) I live by faith in the Son of God. A better translation may be the “faith of the Son of God”. We love because Christ loved us and we can be faithful because Christ is faithful. It is his love and faith that enable us to love and trust him.
(e) Who loved me and gave Himself up for me. The cross is the answer to the question, how do I know Jesus loves me?
Further reading: “What happened to me at the cross?”
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
(a) I do not nullify the grace of God. We nullify, set aside, or frustrate the grace of God in our lives whenever we rely on our own abilities instead of trusting in the Lord. This is what happened to Galatians. They had heard the gospel of grace and put their faith in Jesus. But then they heard another message, one which led them to rely on their own understanding and effort. They didn’t lose their salvation, but they set aside grace. Instead of allowing Christ to live his life through them, they cut themselves off (Gal. 5:4).
(b) If righteousness comes through the Law. No one is made righteous through the law (Rom. 3:20).
(c) Then Christ died needlessly. If you think you can do anything to improve your standing with God, you are effectively saying “Christ died for nothing.”
From verses 15 to 21, Paul has been telling the Galatians what he said to Peter. In the next chapter, we will hear what Paul has to say to the Galatians.
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- Galatians 2:10
- Galatians 2:11-12
- Galatians 2:13
- Galatians 2:14
- Galatians 2:15
- Galatians 2:16
- Galatians 2:20
- Galatians 2:21