Bible Gems #97
Question: Galatians 2:2 reads, "And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain” (Galatians 2:2 NKJV).
Why did Paul preach privately to people of reputation? Was it a secret because those people might get in trouble for listening to Paul? Why would he have potentially run in vain?
The background (and the answer) for Galatians 2:2 is found in Acts 15:1-2:
Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.
Paul had been proclaiming salvation through faith alone in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles for 14 years—since the last time he had met with the apostles in Jerusalem. His message had consistently been “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). He never placed any requirements upon these new, non-Jewish believers to adhere to Jewish laws or customs such as circumcision. But for all of those years there had been some Jewish Christians who had followed him around trying to convince Gentile Christians that in order to be really saved they had to submit to Jewish laws and customs.
When Paul received confirmation from the Lord (Gal. 2:1) that he should meet with the apostles in Jerusalem to get this question settled once and for all, he did not know for certain whether they would agree with his position or not. If they did not, Paul was not about to change his gospel message. But at the same time, a public hearing of the issue—no matter how it turned out—could create a lot of confusion and mistrust of authority within the Gentile sector of the fledgling church.
The apostle Paul’s deep love for the Body of Christ, the church, guided his decision to meet with the leaders in Jerusalem privately. He did not want any potential disagreement between them to create division within the church at large. Creating division within the church he worked so hard to establish would render all his efforts and sacrifice meaningless. So he spoke “privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.”
Paul’s discretion and diplomacy is a good example for all who want to know how to bring up issues in the church that they feel strongly about. Paul’s first concern was for the purity of the gospel message he preached, and secondly to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Too often people get so focused on their need to stand firm on an issue of importance that they become blinded to the damage they could cause the church as a whole by not practicing a little tact and diplomacy.
Remember this adage that Paul practiced as well as preached:Phil. 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.