2 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. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) – those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.
When the joy and delight of one’s life on centered on Christ, there will inevitably be those who desire to usurp that joy by laying restriction and rule atop of freedom. Indeed, those who do not know the freedom of Christ will either long for it, or they will seek to control it. Such was the case in the Galatian church. Those who had been given freedom in Christ Jesus were being instructed by others who had come to join in the community to lay aside that freedom for the sake of an appearance of holiness. This holiness was not genuine but was a legalistic and self-righteous attempt to achieve holiness through their own actions.
Their message was antithetical to Paul’s own commission. As he recounts in verse 2, Paul corroborated his preaching of the Gospel by setting it before the Jerusalem council so that he could make sure the Gospel he was teaching was correct (Acts 15). Fourteen years after beginning to preach the gospel, Paul sought to ensure that the gospel he was teaching was correct. Paul’s efforts to validate himself by seeking the wisdom of the apostles stands in stark contrast to those who demanded such legalism professed by those who were infiltrating the Galatian church. There are no arrogant demands that people submit to his message. Rather there is a humble submission to the message as it stands clear in Christianity.
Paul submits to the clear message of the gospel. Influence and prestige, once so highly esteemed in the life of Saul the Pharisee, were cast aside for the sake of truth. Paul does not bend to the influential or nor does he bend himself to become influential. As is often the case with the most influential people in Christian history, Paul is more concerned with the message than with his own honor and prestige.
Further, Paul does not slip in. Paul’s efforts to teach the gospel are extremely transparent. He lays his teaching out before the apostles with a brother, Barnabas, alongside to hold him accountable. He stands exposed, ready to be corrected. Those who would profess self-made righteousness do not present themselves so clearly. They hold back their message, crafting words in such a way as to hide their true meanings and agenda. This is not the way of Christ! Christians speak boldly the gospel and when we are wrong, we seek the admonition and correction of the community of faith.
Finally, Paul does not accept the voice of the famous. Take note, dear reader, there are no accolades or praises given to men and those in authority in this passage. As Paul recounts his experience it is as one who has sought truth within a community of gospel believing Christians. He does not slip in, he does not seek to control the faith of others, and he does not attempt to demand that others live by his own convictions. He simply and purely lays out the gospel with clarity and strength.
Sometimes it is difficult to recognize when false teachers attempt to slide in and usurp freedom. This passage gives us some characteristics to look out for.
- They force their morality on others. These legalists prize morality over truth. Paul offers a contrast in Titus, explaining that he was not required to get circumcised in Jerusalem (v.3). The gospel relies on Scripture and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the heart of believers. Thus, those who follow Christ trust the Scripture to convict and call others to changed lives and particular morality.
- They slip in, unnoticed. False teachers are never obvious at first. It takes time for the revelation of falsehood to be revealed. More often than not, those who seek to rule over the church and deprive others of gospel life appear first as friends and even Godly leaders. Yet, time will reveal their deceptions and motives as contrary to the gospel.
- They prize influence over transparency and submission. Those who know not the redemption of Christ value their own authority and the fame and prestige of others to a higher degree than humble submission and honesty. These false brothers will speak with great admiration of those who have accomplished much with worldly success while disparaging the persistent ministry of faithful saints who bear much spiritual fruit with little material gain. They will quote famous false teachers and excuse overt sin or error if there is material success. They will appeal to positional authority instead of trusting the truth to defend them. They will cite their position as if it was given them by God and state that as their authority to make decisions.
When seeking to lead the church, we must be diligent to watch out for those who are false teachers.