Defending the Gospel
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. 6 But from those who seemed to be something—whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man—for those who seemed to be something added nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter 8 (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), 9 and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Paul continued to show his independence from the twelve apostles during a visit to Jerusalem at the meeting of the church council (Acts15:1-29). Paul took Titus with him on this visit.
The church council at Jerusalem convened to discuss the conflict over circumcision. Certain false brethren had been teaching that obedience to the Mosaic law, and in particular the rite of circumcision, must be observed in order to complete one’s salvation.
Paul preached “his gospel” to those in authority in the Jerusalem church with the unity of the church at stake.
It must be remembered that Jerusalem was still the center of apostate Judaism. If the prejudices of those in authority in Jerusalem resulted in opposition to Paul’s gospel of grace free from Mosaic ritual a split between the Jewish and Gentile members of the church would be created. A schism of this magnitude would effectively destroy the fledgling church.
Paul brought Titus as a “test case” for the decision in front the the council. He was a Greek saved during Paul’s missionary work. Where this confrontation first occurred at the church in Syrian Antioch, the truth that salvation was by grace alone without any additional requirement such as circumcision.
The council in Jerusalem agreed with the church at Antioch and upheld the unity of the church.
The false brethren referred to in verse 4 were the Judaizers. Judaizers were unsaved Jews who had infiltrated the church. These people had accepted Jesus as Messiah, but knew nothing of salvation by grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They clung to the salvation by works system of apostate and legalistic Judaism. This very system is what they were trying to bring into the church to displace the precious blood of Jesus.
As an aside… How many of people sitting on pews in our churches have accepted Christ as their “Messiah” –– a political position in their lives? How many are still trusting in themselves –– their good deeds or offerings or sacraments to get rewarded with heaven? How many have still not surrendered to Jesus Christ and accepted the gift of salvation only available from and through Him?
Notice the reason Paul gives for not submitting to the ritual of circumcision: so the truth of the gospel would continue.
Although Paul stressed his independence from the twelve apostles he also recognized their leadership. They weren’t superior to him, but he describes Peter, James and John as “pillars” of the Jerusalem church. They recognized Paul’s leadership in his ministry to the Gentiles as being equal the Peter’s ministry to the Jews. Paul and his commission are affirmed and symbolized by the three apostle leaders giving to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship.