This is from Tim Kellers document on Galatians (unmodified, no emphasis added)
SCRIPTURE | Galatians 2:4 –16 (NIV)
4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. 8 For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. 11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? 15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified
by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
In our culture, freedom is highly valued and truth claims are devalued because they are viewed as oppressive and freedom-stifling. Truth cannot simply be truth in and of itself; it must be subjective — truth for me. Your truth about God and ultimate reality can be completely different from mine. What light can this passage shed on the relationship between truth and freedom? In his letter to the Galatian church, Paul is defending the truth of the gospel against a group of people who were undermining his preaching. They were spreading lies about him and distorting his message by making new believers in Jesus comply with additional “entrance requirements” for membership in the faith community, such as circumcision and adherence to specific dietary laws. Against this false teaching, Paul asserts that faith in Christ is ALL that is necessary to be saved from sin and welcomed into the community of believers. Therefore, all who profess faith in Christ are welcomed at the table. All are equal in the community regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or class. No additional qualifications are needed beyond a faith in Christ. Paul is adamant in his defense of this truth claim, yet in verse four he mentions the freedom believers have. What could this freedom be? Our culture defines freedom as complete autonomy of choice. Paul describes it as freedom from the curse God’s law pronounces on sin. This is the freedom a person receives when he or she accepts Christ. (See Galatians 3:10–14; 5:1, 13). This new liberty is not a liberty to sin but a liberty to freely choose not to sin — a choice that a person without Christ does not have. When individuals put their faith in Jesus Christ, they no longer are irresistibly drawn to sin, because their hearts are now inclined towards God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, they have the right to enjoy full fellowship with God without entering through the doorway of ceremonial laws. In the first century, this had amazing implications for the new Christian community, as all kinds of Gentiles (non-Jews), women, and racial outcasts from “the nations” were embraced by followers of Christ. Paul knew it was a truth claim worth fighting for.
1. What kinds of freedoms do you think believers in Christ specifically enjoy? What kinds of obligations do they have? Do you sense a tension here?
2. How could something that constrains a person’s freedom (such as a regular commitment or obligation) expand his or her freedom in other areas of life?
3. How does Paul’s insistence on an absolute truth claim promote social justice in this instance? Read verses 11–16 carefully. What do you notice in Paul’s words and actions about how to confront someone who is in the wrong? How might it relate to his description of the behavior of the “false brothers” in verse four?
4. Table fellowship in the Middle East of the first century was a very intimate social occasion. To intentionally remove yourself from people you once broke bread with
was a great insult.
Why was Paul unwilling to let Peter find “his own truth” in this matter?