Galatians 2:1-10: Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 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. But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 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—to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 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. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Recently my wife and I went to a Turkish restaurant in Patterson. The food was good, the service was excellent, the environment was welcoming, and the price was not too bad either. However, the sole reason we had chosen this particular restaurant was the fact that it had 300 positive reviews.
Why do we rely so heavily on the testimonies of others? Why do we care so much about the experiences of others? As humans, our shared experiences give us confidence in making decisions. These reviews, or testimonies, help us to make informed decisions based on others’ experiences.
Personal life experiences have always played a role in discovering and evaluating the truth. From a courtroom to a marketplace, we rely on testimonial evidence to assess and decipher the truth. This is also true in spiritual matters. Testimonies of faith are powerful tools to encourage, inspire, and move hearts and minds to explore and evaluate the truth of the gospel.
In Galatians, Paul, his gospel of grace, and his fellowship with other apostles are all under attack. Yet in the midst of this, we see him sharing his story, his life experience, and his testimony to inspire the Galatians and move their hearts and minds to explore and evaluate the truth of the gospel. He wants to show what God has done for him and for the Galatians.
Sharing our testimonies and our personal life experiences draw others to the Lord and encourages us to never yield to any other but the gospel that saved us. On Friday, I checked in with a brother who has been struggling with some health issues. With his permission, I am sharing a text from him, and my hope is that it encourages you as it encouraged me.
He writes, “By God’s wonderful grace, my faith is strong, and I’m totally content with His good and perfect will for me. It’s a very hard time health wise but I’m at peace spiritually. Once I’m well, Lord willing, I believe our Lord has lots for me to do for Him. May He be glorified in my afflictions.”
When God does something in us, and we share that with others it encourages us and encourages others. Many people come to the Lord because of the testimony of the faith of others. Paul’s unyielding faith can be rightfully credited to his conversion experience and what God accomplished through him to advance the gospel.
Is your testimony a source of consistent encouragement to you and others? The testimony of every believer is also the key to establishing whether they are saved or not, whether they are followers of Jesus or not. It is the key to evangelizing others by presenting the hope of the gospel that is evident in their lives.
If you examine the format of Paul’s testimony here, you will notice it shows the progression of God’s work in his life resulting in an unyielding faith, a source of encouragement that ends up producing unyielding faith in others.
By its very function, the idea of unyielding faith demands yielding and submitting to no one, no situation, and no person. Yet, Christians are called to submit to one another out of reverence for the Lord (Ephesians 5:21). So, are there times when we should not submit to other Christians? The short answer is yes.
Attacks from Within
First, it is permissible not to yield and stand up when the attack on the truth is from within.
Paul tells us that he went to Jerusalem out of submission to the Lord’s revelation and not because of any man. Paul did not go to Jerusalem because of the pressure he was facing from his opponents to seek the approval of other apostles. He didn’t need any man’s approval because Jesus himself called him and gave him the gospel of grace. Believers do not need any man’s approval to share their testimony of faith either.
The issue of circumcision discussed in this passage is not the hill Paul wanted to die on. Previously he circumcised Timothy who was half Jew and half Gentile. He may not have had any problem circumcising Titus either, but the problem arose when circumcision was presented by a certain group as a condition to become Christian. This was an attack on the truth from within that came from false teachers.
In verse 4, Paul says, “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.” The phrase “secretly brought in” in the Greek text is pareisektos, an adjective that appears only here in the New Testament to describe the intruders that Paul calls “false brethren.” Pseudadelphoi in Greek is also a term only used twice in the New Testament, here in verse 4 and in 2 Corinthians 11:26 where Paul says he is in danger among false brothers. The Greek here also indicates deceitfulness.
It’s clear that Paul is talking about potentially violent and dangerous intruders who will go far to harm the church. They joined the churches in Galatia to bring down the church from within and destroy the gospel that saves.
Satan does not need to attack the church directly when he can cause believers to yield to him by doubting or abandoning the gospel of grace. We need to be very careful about doctrinal truth because minor details can cause us to step out of grace and fall right into his hands. These false brothers continue to infiltrate the church. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Gospel Truth under Attack
Second, it is permissible not to yield and stand up when the truth of the Gospel is under attack.
In verse 5, Paul presents the reason for writing this letter. He says, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” The attack was on the truth of the Gospel.
This phrase, “God shows no partiality,” is the first part of the truth of the gospel that Paul fought to preserve for them and us. The false teachers wanted to make Gentile believers like Titus second-class citizens in the Christian faith by imposing Jewish law on them.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, prosperity preachers, and many others like them can sneak into our houses to corrupt us if we do not exercise unyielding faith in the gospel of grace that saved us in the first place. Paul knew that someone could argue about his theology and apologetics, but no one could refute what God had done in his life, how the gospel changed him completely, and how his gospel changed others. So, he leans on his life experience and God’s faithfulness.
I suggest a simple question to help you recognize false teachers and false brothers. Ask them, “Is Jesus enough?” If the person says “yes,” good. But if the person says “yes, but you need to do so and so,” then that is a false teacher who is trying to add something to Jesus.
Fellowship and Doctrine Under Attack
Third, it is permissible not to yield and stand up when fellowship and doctrine are under attack.
It appears that here the disagreement between Paul and the apostles in Jerusalem was not a doctrinal dispute so much as a missional focus issue. Paul was focused on Gentiles and Peter on Jews.
Verse 9 is the only place in the entire Bible where the phrase “right hand of fellowship” shows up. It is the symbol of mutual agreement, trust, and the apostolic endorsement of Paul and Barnabas’s ministry and the gospel they were preaching by James, Peter, and John.
They were on the same page as far as doctrinal purity was concerned. At First Baptist Metuchen, when we receive members into our fellowship, we extend the right hand of fellowship because we know that after going through the membership seminar you have agreed to the doctrinal position of our church.
Nevertheless, we also understand God has given us all different gifts and talents. We do not dictate how you should serve and in which area you should serve but we do want you to serve. Why? Because the Greek word here for fellowship is the word koinōnias—partnership, participation, and contribution. We all are partners in this fellowship.
Our testimonies and our life experiences cannot be our own if we believe we are a part of this fellowship. They are the source of our mutual growth.
If Paul is using his testimony, which is how he came to the Lord, and what the Lord has done for him and through him ever since his conversion, to defend and present his faith and the gospel that saved him, how much more do we need to use our testimony of faith?
When was the last time you shared your testimony? How were you saved and changed because of the gospel of grace?
The gospel changed Paul from a terrorist to a preacher of the gospel. The testimony of every believer is the key to establishing whether they are saved or not, whether they are followers of Jesus or not. It is also the key to evangelizing others by presenting the hope of the gospel that is evident in our lives.
If our testimony is so critical, why don’t we talk about it more? To help you think through preparing your testimony and sharing it with others, here are three simple questions:
Who was I before Christ? What was your life like before Jesus? Before Christ, Paul was a terrorist, persecutor, religious extremist, and zealous legalist.
How did you come to Christ? Paul came to Christ by God revealing himself to him.
What is your life like now after you received Jesus? What changes has Jesus made in my life– what has Jesus done for me? Paul would say that God set him free.
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