It had been quite a while since Paul had been to Jerusalem. Fourteen years, to be exact. In Galatians 2, he writes telling the Galatians he had gone back. He told them who he went with, why he went, and what he taught there. He does so to lay a foundation for what he wants the Galatians to understand. Here’s what he shares:
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. ~Galatians 2:1-5
Why, after fourteen years, did Paul go back to Jerusalem? The text says he had a revelation. This trip was God’s doing, not his own. He wanted the Galatian leaders to understand that important fact, firstly. So Paul took Barnabas and…Titus. Titus was a Gentile believer who had not been circumcised. Neither he nor the other leaders in Jerusalem saw any issue with Titus not being circumcised after coming to faith and even becoming a minister of the gospel. Circumcision is not gospel. Stop teaching that it, among many other things, is necessary for salvation, guys.
Notice who he taught there. He taught leaders and the most influential people, privately. Why? Why not everyone and why not publicly?
Paul knew the stronghold these age-old Jewish customs and beliefs had. He knew if he went in swingin’ there was bound to be trouble. So instead, he teaches the leaders who were already fully functioning in the church. He trusts them to share the truth of pure Christianity apart from works faithfully, patiently, and gently with the rest of the followers who were still entrapped in some Jewish mix. He knew it wasn’t going to be a one sermon subject. He knew it wouldn’t be an overnight change for most like it so miraculously was for him. If it were, God wouldn’t have sent him, he wouldn’t have had the revelation, and they wouldn’t be having this conversation at all. But God did, he did, and they were. So he, in his God-given wisdom, goes to the leaders privately and makes certain that they are all on level ground regarding a pure gospel.
Paul mentions “false brothers.” These were men who had somehow found their way into the church and were skilled in the craft of espionage. Spies. Watchers. Informants. Inauthentic probers. Their main mission was to feel out every believer and gather information they could and would use against them. Ultimately, their goal was to imprison the believers through falsehood, setups, intimidation, and half-truths. They wanted slaves, not sisters and brothers.
Paul wasn’t buying. He refused to submit to their unorthodox practices even for a moment. (Galatians 2:4-5) It was for freedom that Christ set us free. The gospel is not about secrecy and spying on our counterparts. The gospel is about loving one another truly and living free in Christ.
Paul adds that, though their gospel missions were different, all the apostles and leaders loved and accepted one another without prejudice. Rather, they agreed to work together for the good of those in real need. (Galatians 2:7-10)
It is clear that Paul allowed no hybrid mix of the cultural practices and pressures to infiltrate and taint the purity of the truth he was so tirelessly teaching. For that evil, he could neither stand nor submit. The gospel is simply too important to toy with. Notice, he had absolutely no fear in teaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth despite the strong cultural and congregational pressure to do otherwise.
A pure, unadulterated gospel is as unfavorable now as it was then. Whether spies sneak in to overemphasize works in exchange for faith or de-emphasize holiness in exchange for grace, do not fear. Long-held, improper, imprisoning beliefs are bound to belabor any true disciple. When you witness secrecy, spies, or slave drivers, do not fear. Instead, follow your Father to freedom in Christ.