After fourteen years of missionary work, Paul was compelled to seek confirmation of his labors. Acts 15 records the Jerusalem Council and begins with, “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.” (Acts 15:1–2, NASB95)
In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul writes a summary from his own perspective. Paul’s defense in these verses attacks the charges leveled at him by the Galatians. Specifically, that he was a false apostle, his gospel was false, and his gospel leads to unrighteousness. Paul submitted his calling and gospel to the Council, which after some debate was affirmed, and he was welcomed with the right hand of fellowship by Peter, James (Jesus’ brother), and John.
Paul will go in to defend and explain the Gospel of grace as Galatians continues. What is valuable to point out today is Paul’s humility. That doesn’t mean that Paul was timid, far from it. He was firm in his conviction, but for the sake of the church roiled in a conflict, he submitted his convictions to the Jerusalem Council. Paul says that he did this “for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain.”
Consider that for a moment. Paul had demonstrated the effectiveness of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit had confirmed with signs, wonders, and changed lives. Churches had been established, and young men, such as Titus, were being trained. And yet, Paul worried that he might be running in vain and willingly submitted his work to the Council.
Even though the Council accepted Paul and blessed his work, the fight wasn’t over. Folks demanding obedience to the law of Moses would continue to trouble the Gentile churches for some time. It even bubbles to the surface still today in various forms. Yet, it is important to note that Peter, James, and John did not require Titus, a Greek Gentile, to become circumcised according to the law of Moses.
There will always be disagreements in the church, differences of conviction and theology that causes conflict among those following Christ. We all need a good measure of humility when we are embroiled in such a conflict. For better or worse there is no High Council to decide these matters. We must instead recognize that Christ is the head of the church and submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). We’ll see in our next entry that even Peter was in need of correction.
Our encouragement is this. Leaders (whatever your title or calling may be) stay humble and have a system of accountability for your sake and the sake of those you touch in ministry. Even though I lead Lambchow, I maintain and value a listening relationship with my pastor. For those in the body, seek leaders that are humble in their strong convictions and beware the arrogant that have all the answers. All must remember that the final arbiter of all conflict is God’s Word and the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28).