Our chapter falls quite simply into two parts. First, verses 1 to
10, in which the Apostle recounts what happened on the occasion of his
second visit to Jerusalem after his conversion. Second, verses 11 to
21, in which he tells of an incident that happened at Antioch not long
after his second visit to Jerusalem, and which had a very definite
bearing upon the point at issue with the Galatians.
The first visit was about three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:
18), so the second, being fourteen years later, was about seventeen
years after that time, and is evidently the occasion as to which we
have much information in Acts 15. That passage therefore, may
profitably be read before proceeding further. From a careful reading
several interesting details appear.
Acts 15 begins with mentioning "certain men who came down from
Judaea," who taught circumcision as essential to salvation. They are
not termed "brethren," we notice. In our chapter Paul unhesitatingly
labels them "false brethren unawares brought in." Thus early do we find
unconverted men getting amongst the saints of God, in spite of
apostolic vigilance and care! It is sad when they are brought in
unawares in spite of care. Sadder still when such principles are
professed and practised as leave the door open for them to enter.
In Acts we read that "they determined" that a visit to Jerusalem was
needful. But here Paul gives us a view behind the scenes of activity
and travel, and shows us that it was "by revelation" that he went up.
The temptation might have been strong upon him to meet these false
brethren and vanquish them at Antioch, but it was revealed to him by
the Lord that he should stop disputation and carry the discussion up to
Jerusalem, where the views his opponents pressed were most strongly
held. It was a bold move; but it was one which in the wisdom of God
preserved unity in the church. As a result of his obedience to the
revelation the question was settled against the contentions of these
false brethren in the very place where most of their sympathizers were.
To have so settled it amongst the Gentiles at Antioch might easily have
provoked a rupture.
Further, in Acts 15 it is just stated that "certain other of them"
went up with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. Our chapter reveals that
amongst these "certain other" was Titus, a Greek. This of course raised
the point at issue in its acutest form. The apostle gave no quarter to
his opponents. He did not submit to them for an hour, and in result
Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.
This being so, Paul's action in regard to Timothy, related in Acts
16: 1-3, is the more remarkable. It is an illustration of how that
which has to be strenuously resisted under certain circumstances may be
conceded under other circumstances. In the case of Titus circumcision
was demanded in order to establish a principle which cut at the very
root of the Gospel.
In the case of Timothy no such principle was at stake, the whole
question having been authoritatively settled, and Paul did it that
Timothy might have liberty of service amongst Jews as well as Gentiles.
By birth Timothy was half a Jew and the Apostle made him completely a
Jew, as it were, that he might "gain the Jews" (1 Cor. 9: 20). To Paul
himself and to the Corinthians, and so to us, both circumcision and
uncircumcision are "nothing" (1 Cor. 7: 19).
It is possible that you might observe some servant of Christ acting
after this fashion today. Pause a moment before you roundly accuse him
of gross inconsistency. It may after all be that he is acting with
divinely-given discernment in cases where you have as yet perceived no
difference. The apostle speaks of "Our liberty which we have in Christ
Jesus." It was liberty to refuse circumcision where legal bondage was
involved, and yet a year or so later to practise it when nothing of
principle was involved.
Then again during this visit to Jerusalem Paul took opportunity to
convey formally to the other apostles the Gospel which he had preached
among the Gentiles. Though he had received it directly from the Lord he
was not above conceiving that possibly error might have crept into his
understanding of the revelation. This is indicated in the latter part
of verse 2. In effect however it was far otherwise. The most instructed
amongst the apostles and elders at Jerusalem had nothing to add to
Paul's gospel when they conferred upon the point. The rather they
recognized that Paul was clearly called of God to carry the Gospel into
the Gentile world, while Peter had a similar commission in regard to
the Jew. Hence the three apostolic leaders, perceiving the grace given
to Paul, expressed the fullest fellowship and sympathy with him in his
This fact had a very definite bearing on the point at issue with the
Galatians. If the men who had been at work in Galatia attacked Paul as
being an unauthorized upstart, he was able to counter this by showing
that he had received his message from the Lord by first-hand
revelation. This established his authority. If on the other hand they
attacked him as a man proceeding thus on his own authority and so being
in opposition to those who were apostles before him, he countered this
lie by the fact that James, Peter and John had shown fullest confidence
in him and fellowship with him after thorough conference had taken
It remained for him to show that there had been a time when even
Peter had yielded somewhat to the influence of men similar to those now
opposing Paul, and to relate how he had opposed him then, and the
grounds on which he had done so.
There is no mention in the Acts of this visit of Peter to Antioch,
but it evidently happened after the decision of the council in
Jerusalem as narrated in Acts 15. In that council Peter had argued in
favour of the acceptance of Gentile converts without the law of Moses
being imposed upon them. He had then spoken of the law as "a yoke . . .
which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear." At Antioch however
when certain came down from James holding strict views as to the value
of circumcision he no longer would eat with the Gentile believers but
withdrew himself. His example had great weight and others followed
it-even Barnabas who had formerly stood with Paul, as recorded in Acts
15: 2, and 12.
To many doubtless such action would have seemed a very small matter-
just a little prejudice to be condoned, a fad to be smiled at. To Paul
it was far otherwise. He perceived that under this apparently small
question of how Peter took his food, grave principles were at stake,
and that Peter's action was not upright "according to the truth of the
Oh, that we may all seize the point so strongly enforced here!
Departure from the truth, even of the gravest kind, is generally
presented to us under cover of seemingly trifling and innocent
circumstances. Most of us would have been tempted to exclaim, "Oh,
Paul, what an exacting man you are! How difficult to please! Why make
such a fuss over a small detail? If Peter wants now to eat only with
Jews, why not let him? Why disturb our peace at Antioch and make things
unhappy?" We are so often ignorant of Satan's devices. He sees to it
that we shall be diverted from truth over something of an apparently
harmless nature. The railway engine runs from the main line into a
siding over very fine points.
Incidentally let us at this point take note that the idea that
church in the apostolic age was the abode of peace and free of all
contention has no support from Scripture. From the outset the truth had
to be won and maintained through conflict-a great deal of it internal,
and not merely with the world without. We have no right to expect
absence of conflict and trouble today. Occasions are sure to arise when
peace can only be purchased by compromise, and he who sees most, and
hence is constrained to raise his voice in protest, must be prepared to
be accused of uncharitableness. Failing such protest peace is
maintained, but it is the peace of stagnation and spiritual death. The
quietest spot in the throbbing heart of London is the city mortuary! So
If we find ourselves in a position where we feel morally bound to
raise our voices, let us pray earnestly that we may be able to do it in
a way similar to Paul. "When I saw . . . I said unto Peter . . ." Our
tendency always is to launch our complaints into the ear of someone
other than the culprit himself. Notice, for instance, in Mark 2, that
when the Pharisees object to the action of Jesus they complain to His
disciples (ver. 16), and when to the action of His disciples, they
complain to the Lord (vers. 23, 24). We shall do well to make it a
rule, when remonstrance is needed, to make our remonstrance directly to
the person concerned, rather than behind his back.
Paul however did this "before them all." The reason for this is that
Peter's defection had already affected many others and so become a
public matter. It would be a mistake in a multitude of cases to make
public remonstrance. Many a defection or difficulty has not become
public, and if met faithfully and graciously in a private way with the
person concerned it may never become public at all, and thus much
trouble and possible scandal be avoided. Public defection however must
be met publicly.
Paul began his protest by asking Peter a question based upon his
earlier mode of life, before the sudden alteration. Peter had abandoned
the strict Jewish customs in favour of the freer life of the Gentiles,
as he himself had stated in Acts 10: 28. How then could he now
consistently retreat from this position in a way that was tantamount to
saying that after all Gentiles should live after the customs of the
Jews? This question we have recorded in verse 14.
In verses 15 and 16 we have the apostle's assertion which succeeded
his question. In this assertion Paul could link Peter with himself and
Peter could not deny it. "WE," he says. "We, who are Jews by nature"
have recognized that justification is not reached by "the works of the
law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ," and hence have turned from law
to Christ and been justified by Him. Thank God, that was so!
Now comes a second question. If it were true, as Peter's action
seemed to suggest, that even when standing in all the virtue of
Christ's work we still need something, in the way of law-keeping or the
observance of Jewish customs, to complete our justification, is not
Christ then discredited? He puts the proposition with extreme vigour of
language,-is He not even "the Minister of sin" instead of the Minister
of justification? To ask such a question is to answer it. It is
impossible! Hence he adds, "Away with the thought," or "God forbid."
This was followed by a second assertion in verse 18, a statement
which must have fallen as a sledge-hammer on Peter's conscience.
Peter's action had inferred that Christ might be the Minister of sin;
but it also was without a doubt of the nature of building up again the
wall of partition, between Jew and Gentile who are in Christ, that the
Gospel had thrown down, and which Peter himself had destroyed by his
former action in the house of Cornelius. Whichever was right, Peter was
wrong somewhere. If he was right now, he was wrong formerly. If right
formerly, he was wrong now. He stood convicted as a transgressor.
As a matter of fact he was wrong now. Formerly he had acted as
instructed of God in a vision. Now he was acting impulsively under the
influence of the fear of man.
In these few words from the lips of Paul the Spirit of God had
revealed the true inwardness of Peter's action, however innocent it may
have appeared to most. Only two questions and two statements, but how
effective they were! They quite destroyed Peter's false position.
Not content with this however the Spirit of God led Paul to
forthwith proclaim the true position. He had perceived at the outset
that Peter and his followers "walked not uprightly according to the
truth of the Gospel," so now he very plainly, yet in fewest possible
words, states the truth of the Gospel. He states it moreover not as a
matter of doctrine but as a matter of experience-his own experience. He
does not now say "we," but "I," which occurs no less than seven times
in verses 19 and 20.
In the Acts we have striking examples of the preaching of the Gospel
through the lips of Paul. In Romans 1-8 we have the exposition of the
Gospel from his pen. In Galatians 1 we have the defence of the Gospel-
by setting forth its characteristic features, which hall-mark it, as it
were. Now we are to consider the truth of the Gospel.
In the closing verses of this second chapter, Paul speaks for
himself alone. Previously (verses 15 to 17) he had said, "we," since he
spoke of truth generally acknowledged by Christians, Peter included.
But now he comes to truth which Peter's action had challenged, and so
he could not assume that Peter acknowledged it. However truth it was,
and Paul standing in the enjoyment and power of it could set it forth
in this personal and experimental way.
At that moment Peter had the law before his soul: he was living to
the law. "For myself," says Paul, in effect, "I have God, and not law
before my soul, and am living to Him." How much greater is God, who
gave the law-God, now revealed in Christ-than the law He gave. But what
set Paul free from the law, under which once he had been, as well as
Peter? Death had set him free. He had died to the law, and that by the
law's own act! This is stated in verse 19.
Nevertheless, here he was very much alive, and boldly confronting
Peter! How then had he died to the law? And in what sense was it true
that he had died through the law? Both these questions are answered in
that great statement, "I am crucified with Christ."
In those words we have Paul seizing upon the truth of the Gospel,
and giving it an intensely personal application to himself. The Lord
Jesus, in His death, not only was the believer's Substitute, bearing
his sins, but also thoroughly identified Himself with us in our sinful
state, being made sin for us, though knowing no sin Himself. So really
and truly did this take place that one of the things we are to know, as
a matter of Christian doctrine, is that "our old man is crucified with
Him" (Rom. 6: 6). The crucifixion of Christ is therefore the
crucifixion of all that we were as fallen children of Adam. But here we
have Paul's personal appropriation of this. As crucified with Christ he
had died to the law.
Then again the crucifixion of Christ was not merely the act of evil
men. Viewed from the divine standpoint, the very essence of it is seen
to be that act of God whereby He was made sin for us, and wherein was
borne for us the curse of the law (see Gal. 3: 13). As dying under the
curse of the law, Christ died through the law, and as crucified with
Christ Paul was able to say that he had died to the law through the
law, in order that he might live unto God.
The force of this great passage may perhaps become clearer to us if we consider the five prepositions used.
1. Unto, which indicates the end in view. To live unto God is to live with God as the End of one's existence.
2. With, indicates identification, or association. We are crucified
with Christ by reason of that complete identification which He effected
in His death for us. Consequently His death was our death. We died with
3. In, which here signifies character. Though crucified we live. We
are still living people on earth, yet we no longer live the old
character of life. We live a life of a new order, a life, the character
of which, summed up in one word, is CHRIST. Saul of Tarsus had been
crucified with Christ. Yet the individual known as Saul of Tarsus was
still living. Still living, yet in another character entirely. As you
observed him you saw not the Saul-of-Tarsus character coming into
expression, but Christ. In keeping with this he did not retain his old
name, but soon after his conversion he became known as Paul, which
means, "Little one." He must be little if Christ is to live in him.
4. By, which introduces us to the Object that controlled Paul's
soul, and made this new character of life possible. Presently, when the
life we now live in the flesh-that is, in our present mortal bodies-is
over, we shall live by the sight of the Son of God. Meanwhile we live
by the faith of Him. If faith is in activity with us He is made a
living bright reality before our souls. The more He is thus before us
objectively, that is, as
". . . the object bright and fair,
To fill and satisfy the heart."
the more will He be seen in us subjectively.
The Lord Chancellor's "Great seal" is a remarkable object. If you
wished to see it however, you would probably find it impossible to get
access to it. Possibly they would say, "No, we cannot let you see the
seal itself, but look at this large spot of wax affixed to this state
document. Here you virtually see the seal, for it has been impressed
into it." The wax has been subject to the pressure of the seal. You see
the seal subjectively expressed, though you could not see it
objectively. This may illustrate our point, and show how others may see
Christ living in us, if as Object He is before our souls.
5. For, which here is the preposition of substitution. It introduces
us to that which was the constraining power and motive of Paul's
wonderful life. The love of the Son of God constrained him, and that
love had expressed itself in His sacrificial and substitutionary death.
We may sum up the matter thus:-Paul's heart was filled with the love
of the Son of God who had died for him. He not only understood his
identification with Christ in His death, but he heartily accepted it,
in all that it implied, and he found his satisfying Object in the Son
of God in glory. Consequently the sentence of death lay upon all that
he was by nature, and Christ lived in him and characterized his life,
and thus God Himself, as revealed in Christ, had become the full End of
Thus it was with Paul, but is it thus with us? That our old man has
been crucified is as true for us as for Paul. We have died with Christ
even as he had, if indeed we are really and truly believers. But have
we taken it up in our experience as Paul did, so that it is to us not
only a matter of Christian doctrine (highly important as that is in its
place) but also a matter of rich spiritual experience, which transforms
and ennobles our lives? The plain truth is that most of us have only
done so in a measure which is pitifully small. And the secret of this?
The secret clearly is that we have been so little captivated by the
sense of His great love. Our realization of the wonder of His sacrifice
for us is so feeble. Our convictions as to the horror of our sinfulness
were not very deep, and hence our conversions were comparatively of a
shallow nature. If we track things back to their source, the
explanation lies just here, we believe. Let us all sing with far more
"Revive Thy work, O Lord!
Exalt Thy precious Name;
And may Thy love in every heart,
Be kindled to aflame!"
If in each of our hearts love is kindled to a flame, we shall make progress in the right direction.
The Apostle's closing words, in the last verse of out chapter,
plainly implied that the position Peter had taken was of such a nature
as to lead to the "frustration" or "setting aside" of the grace of God.
It would imply that after all righteousness could come by the law, and
lead to the supposition that Christ had died "in vain," or, "for
nothing." What a calamitous conclusion!
Yet it was the logical conclusion. And, having reached it, the
moment had arrived for a very pointed appeal to the Galatians. This
appeal we have in the opening verses of chapter 3.