KO (Galatians 2:11–16)

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” —Galatians 1:11

Paul has already delivered a powerful one-two punch defending his apostleship and the gospel, now he finishes with a vicious uppercut. First comes the left jab in 1:10–24 where Paul demonstrates that his gospel did not come from or through men but through Christ. Paul didn’t get his gospel from Jerusalem to distort it. Second, Paul follows with the right cross of 2:1–10 showing the unity of the apostolic gospel. Paul took his gospel to Jerusalem where they recognized it. Now, in 2:11–16 he finishes with a strong uppercut for the KO. Here, Paul demonstrates that his apostolic authority stands even over another apostle when their conduct is contrary to the gospel.

Paul isn’t throwing Peter under the bus out of envy to establish that he’s the better apostle. The point in this isn’t the supremacy of Paul over Peter, but the supremacy of the apostolic gospel even over those who are apostles.

That this is so is evident in that our text opens not by contrasting Paul with Peter, but Peter with Peter. The “but when Cephas” of v. 11 is first in contrast to the “and when… Cephas” of v. 9. The contrast is between Peter as an apostle of the gospel and Peter’s behavior as a sinner saved by grace. Luther comments, “The apostles were not superior to us in anything except in their apostolic office. We have the same gifts they had, namely, the same Christ, Baptism, Word, and forgiveness of sins. They needed all this no less than we do; they were sanctified and saved by all this just as we are.”

Paul has already placed himself under the same standard in 1:8. The gospel is supreme, I don’t care who you are. And by the gospel, Paul has centrally in mind justification by faith alone. It isn’t Peter that Paul knocks out here, but the damnable teaching of salvation by works of law rather than faith in Christ alone.

The August Theologian: A Tale of Two Cities

“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the litter up of mine head.’ ” —Augustine, The City of God

Entertaining Ourselves to Hell (Galatians 2:1–10)

There were multiple apostles, but there is only one gospel. Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, Paul, to the uncircumcised, but this speaks not of two gospels, but of the one gospel being preached by both despite distinct ministries. Phil Ryken comments, “The church can allow diversity of mission only where there is unity of message.”

Today this has been inverted. So many act as if we are all on the same mission despite the variety of messages. Paul is at pains in the first part of his letter to the Galatians to establish his apostleship and the gospel on which it was centered. In 2:1–10 he goes on to demonstrate that when the apostles compared notes, it was clear that were all sitting under the same teacher—Jesus Christ. Their gospel math was identical. Jesus is everything. Add anything to Jesus, and you lose Jesus.

There is the gospel and there are other gospels, which are no gospels. When one preaches Christ, even out of envy or ambition, Paul rejoices (Philippians 1:15–18). When one preaches a perversion of Christ, Paul pronounces a divine curse on them (Galatians 1:8–9).

The apostles didn’t lay multiple-choice foundations, but one foundation, perfectly square with the cornerstone Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–20). A shared name on the church sign doesn’t mean there is a shared foundation. With our eyes glued to the screens, we’ve failed to look down and see the cracks beneath and the abyss visible below. We are spectators instead of inspectors. If the crowd is big and the show is good, we assume all is well. Neil Postman was afraid that Western society was amusing itself to death. I’m afraid the western church is entertaining itself to hell. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but as I look at much of the modern church, judging by the foundation, she’s not the church anymore.

The August Theologian: Love Isn’t a Virtue in Itself

“The right will is, therefore, well-directed love, and the wrong will is ill-directed love. Love, then, yearning to have what is loved, is desire; and having and enjoying it, is joy; fleeing what is opposed to it, is fear; and feeling what is opposed to it, when it has befallen it, it is sadness. Now these motions are evil if the love is evil; good if the love is good.” —Augustine, The City of God

Autobiography or Apostleship? (Galatians 1:10–24)

“In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” —Galatians 1:20

Galatians 1:11–2:14 forms the largest autobiographical section within Paul’s letters. Indeed, they comprise the largest autobiographical material in the entire New Testament, excepting of course Jesus Christ as both the supreme author and subject of the New Testament.

Paul is a fascinating figure. His conversion is most dramatic. His post-conversion life is worthy of imitation. It is not without good reason that he tells the Corinthians “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16). But if this is as far as you go with this passage, you have missed the forest for the trees. If you miss the gospel for the apostle, you’ve also missed his apostleship which centers on the gospel.

This text is very much about Paul and yet it is not about him at all. It is as though Paul is testifying in court before these Gentiles. Yet, though he defends his apostleship, it is really the apostolic gospel he is zealous to defend.

It is too easy to take a biographical passage like this, as we do with many Old Testament narratives, and twist them into the very kind of man-pleasing Paul so adamantly denies here. One could come to this passage and preach a “be like Paul” message in such a way that is all about Pharisaical glory-seeking before men. We must beware of preaching what Bryan Chapell calls “the deadly be’s.” “Be this, be that, be like Paul.” And when I say “preaching” I refer to what you do with yourself as you read and study the word as well. Such an approach to the text is often all sting devoid of the sweet honey of the gospel. We should indeed wish to be holy as our God is holy, but if you only come to this text only wanting to be like Paul, you’ll likely indeed be like he was, before his conversion, a Pharisaical self-righteous people-pleaser.

The central truth that should bear down on us here is the verity of Paul’s apostolicity, the veracity of His claim to be an apostle, and thus the truthfulness of His gospel. If this isn’t appealing to you, ask yourself, is it because you would like a man-centered application? If you think you’ve got no beef with Paul, you fail to realize there is a Galatian residing even in the saints this side of glory.

The August Theologian: Terminal

No sooner do we begin to live in this dying body, than we begin to move ceaselessly towards death. For in the whole course of this life (if life we must call it) its mutability tends towards death. Certainly there is no one who is not nearer it this year than last year, and tomorrow than today, and today than yesterday, and a short while hence than now, and now than a short while ago. For whatever time we live is deducted from our whole term of life, and that which remains is daily becoming less and less; so that our whole life is nothing but a race towards death, in which no one is allowed to stand still for a little space, or to go somewhat more slowly, but all are driven forwards with an impartial movement, and with equal rapidity. For he whose life is short spends a day no more swiftly than he whose life is longer. But while the equal moments are impartially snatched from both, the one has a nearer and the other a more remote goal to reach with this their equal speed. It is one thing to make a longer journey, and another to walk more slowly. He, therefore, who spends longer time on his way to death does not proceed at a more leisurely pace, but goes over more ground. Further, if every man begins to die, that is, is in death, as soon as death has begun to show itself in him (by taking away life, to wit; for when life is all taken away, the man will be then not in death, but after death), then he begins to die so soon as he begins to live.  —Augustine, The City of God

Curse or Be Cursed (Galatians 1:6–9)

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” —Galatians 1:6–9

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The church is like a nuclear power plant. In his letter to the Romans Paul says, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” The church’s receiving and being entrusted with the gospel is like her being entrusted with nuclear power. To be clear, the church is not the power, but she is the authorized custodian thereof.

There are attacks against the gospel from without, and so we do well to build strong walls of defense around the church, but the greatest potential threat always lies within. It is the spy within the church, tampering with the nuclear core that can cause the greatest devastation. This is precisely the danger the Galatians find themselves on the precipice of—a nuclear meltdown of the church and their souls.

This is why Paul open this letter with rebuke instead of thanksgiving. In nearly every other letter Paul writes, thanksgiving follows greeting. Consider the following example from Philippians.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3–11).

That letter, Philippians, written while imprisoned, is one of Paul’s warmest letters. The tone there is the complete opposite of Galatians. You may reason that this is because there are no serious errors being embraced by the Philippian church at this time. And this is mostly true, but, then what are we to make of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians?

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4–9).

Is there any church to whom Paul writes that had such a diversity of problems as the one in Corinth? Among them were divisions, sexual immorality, failure to exercise church discipline, suing one another, syncretism, disorder in the church gatherings, perverting the Lord’s Supper, and a denial of the resurrection of the saints. All of this and Paul still says, “I give thanks to my God always for you.” 

With the Galatians, thanksgiving is not only absent but replaced with a scathing rebuke. Why? Because the very core is being threatened. They are on the cusp of the worst possible spiritual catastrophe, a Chernobyl of the church; and thus it is that Paul expresses astonishment at the Galatians and anathematizes the false teachers. Concerning his cursing the false teachers, no more severe statement could be made and no lesser statement could be justified. When heretics have made their way to the core, it is curse or be cursed. If false gospels are not damned, men are.