Introduction: What kind of unity does Paul represent? So far, he
seems most interested in saying that his gospel comes straight from
God, and not from church leaders. That seems an odd approach to
unity! Perhaps we are not as sly as Paul. Perhaps Paul knew that he
should continue on his own path teaching the Gentiles as God
instructed him. Only when he had established his work would he come
to church leadership for its approval. Let’s read what Paul writes
and see if that is his approach!
- Years Apart
- Read Galatians 2:1. Compare Galatians 1:18-19. Paul
reports that three years after his conversion he visits
Jerusalem and has very limited contact with church
leadership. Then fourteen years later, he shows up to meet
with church leadership again. If you were counseling Peter
to be in unity with church leadership, would you suggest
this course of action? (I would not. This seems just the
opposite of what should be done to promote unity.)
- Read Galatians 2:2. Why did Paul show up fourteen years
later? (“In response to a revelation.” God told him to
visit the leaders. That suggests that God did not
previously tell him to return to Jerusalem to consult with
- Do you think that Paul would have traveled to
Jerusalem at all if God had not directed him to visit
the leaders? (I don’t think so. If you have been gone
for fourteen years, and you don’t think you need to
consult with leadership, why consult at all?)
- Why do you think God had Paul wait so long?
- Read 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. How can Paul credibly argue
for unity among the leadership, when he personally is
running his own “show” among the Gentiles for at least
- Re-read Galatians 2:2. Why does Paul say that he decided
to meet privately with church leadership? (He feared that
he had been working in vain.)
- What do you think that means?
- Read Galatians 1:6-8. Paul has no doubt about the way
he is presenting the gospel, so what could Paul
possibly be talking about when he says he feared that
he had been running in vain?
- These are difficult questions! How can Paul be promoting
unity by staying away, and how can Paul think he might
have been running in vain? Is it possible that we are
looking at this in the wrong way?
- Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-19. Does God always work in a way
that makes sense to us?
- If Paul is right that he is preaching the true
gospel, how would that correct teaching appear to
those who rejected grace? (“Foolishness.”)
- Think about this for a moment. The center for support
for the law of Moses was Jerusalem. Had Paul
immediately presented his gospel of grace to the
crowds at Jerusalem, how would that have been
received? (Read Acts 9:23-25 and Acts 22:17-21. After
his conversion, Paul thought that he would be
especially well qualified to present the gospel to
the Jews who had worked with him. We see that God not
only disagreed and sent him to the Gentiles, but that
the Jews tried to kill him. The last thing Paul
should have done to promote “unity” was to present
his gospel to the Jews in Jerusalem.)
- Once Paul had been rejected by the church
members in Jerusalem, how would that have
adversely affected his work? (If Paul had not
worked separately for all of those years, he
would (it seems) have presented the issue to
the crowds in Jerusalem, been rejected (or
killed) and that would have prematurely ended
- Read Galatians 2:3-5. What is the point in controversy?
(Circumcision is mentioned.)
- How does Paul approach promoting his point of view?
(Verse 5 confirms that Paul does not think his gospel
message is wrong. Instead, we see that by meeting
privately with some of the leaders, he was able to
describe what God was doing through his approach.
This explains what seems to be Paul’s odd approach.
He stays away long enough to for the timing to be
right, he strategically approaches the leaders and
not the crowds with his message.)
- Separate Roles
- Read Galatians 2:6. Imagine that this is your pastor
writing about the leadership of his denomination? Would
you think he is a champion of unity?
- What is Paul’s reason for writing such a rebellious
sounding statement? (Again, he has a message taught
to him by Jesus, not a message taught to him by other
- Read Galatians 2:7. Can you find a unity message in this
statement? (If you look at the big picture, you can see
unity. Paul says that he has part of the outreach message
(to the Gentiles) and Peter has another part of the
outreach message (to the Jews).)
- Read Galatians 2:8. Who is responsible for this division
of duties within the church? (God. Just as Paul’s message
is from God, so is the assignment of roles from God.)
- How would you apply this approach to unity issues
today? For example, in my church denomination there
is a current dispute over the ordination of women.
What if the pro-ordination supporters said that God
had directed their position, and that God arranged
that in some parts of the world women would be
ordained pastors and in some areas of the world they
would not? Is that comparable?
- Recall that when we discussed how the early
church was faced with division, the decision
turned on observing the work of the Holy
Spirit? (See Acts 15:12-13.)
- Read Galatians 2:9. Who does Paul say confirmed his
approach and on what basis did they confirm it? (In the
end, Paul tells us that the “pillars” of the early church
confirmed his work. Notice, though, that the basis for the
confirmation is “the grace given” to Paul. What we see is
that the church leaders acknowledge the direction in which
God is leading.)
- Read Galatians 2:10. Recall that the immediate issue is
circumcision. Do the church leaders ask for any
modification in Paul’s teachings? (No.)
- Do you remember that from the beginning of his letter
to the Galatian church, Paul has been making an
argument about the authority for his teachings? Now
he reports that God is the source of his teachings
and the pillars of the church agree! What if the
pillars of your church do not agree with your side of
a doctrinal dispute?
- Why do you think the church leaders asked Paul to
“remember the poor?” Of all the things they could
have asked of Paul, does this seem to be an unusual
request? (What is the typical criticism of
righteousness by faith? It allows people to continue
to feed their selfish desires. Helping others
demonstrates a heart concerned about others. Plus,
the poor being discussed are the Jewish Christians.
By having the Gentiles help the Jews, this would help
- Read Galatians 2:11-12. What caused Peter to waiver in his
decision to support Paul’s views? (Peer pressure!)
- Think about the doctrinal disputes that concern you.
How much of your decision is based on what those
around you think? How much of your decision is based
on what the Bible teaches?
- Read Galatians 2:13. How powerful is peer pressure? (It
seems that only Paul is able to resist it.)
- Read Galatians 2:14. Analyze Paul’s argument. Is it based
on the Bible? How would you categorize it?(Paul argues
that Peter is a hypocrite! He reveals that Peter has not
been following Jewish practices. Thus, it would be
hypocritical for Peter to force Gentiles to follow Jewish
- In doctrinal disputes, should we make arguments like
that to promote unity? (We are going to stop here
with Paul’s argument, but in the next verse he makes
a Bible-based argument.)
- Friend, what do you think about Paul’s approach to unity
in the church? Why not pray that God will help you to see
the principled approach to bringing unity to the church?
- Next week: Justification by Faith Alone.