Galatians 2:1 Then after fourteen years I (apostle Paul) went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (Christian leaders in Jerusalem) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain. 3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek… when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.
After 14 years of gospel ministry Paul finally went to Jerusalem to meet the church leaders there. James, Cephas (Peter), and John are specifically named. These are the same three who comprised Jesus’ inner circle while he was on earth. There are two things I find interesting in this passage.
First, v.3 says “Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised”. Male circumcision was a big deal in ancient Israel. However, the gospel of Jesus Christ as Paul understood it did not require Christian believers to follow Jewish laws of circumcision, dietary laws, and other rules. Those were requirements of the old covenant of the law of Moses. Jesus ushered in a new covenant of grace through faith in Christ. Daring to present Titus uncircumcised was a bold move by Paul, but a smart move. If James, Peter, and John (original apostles under Jesus and senior elders of the Jerusalem church) didn’t make a fuss about uncircumcision, other Christian leaders would be less likely to give Paul a hard time about it.
Secondly, though Paul waited 14 years to finally appear before the elders in Jerusalem, he DID meet with them and ask for their blessing. There is something important about making oneself accountable. Paul’s willingness to submit his teachings to the Jerusalem elders for approval showed a bit of humility that would go a long way toward silencing his Jewish critics. Every leader needs to be accountable to someone.
By nature I’m a bit like Paul. Rules can often feel more like an impediment to me than a help. However, over the years I’ve learned that rules can be important guardrails to keep me from driving into a ditch – which I have done more times than I can count. Rules aren’t necessarily my enemy. Are some rules idiotic? Absolutely. But I’ve learned to have respect for rules even if I don’t often like them.
Lastly I have learned over the years how important it is for me to be accountable. I may be the senior pastor of my church but I am accountable to the congregation via our church council. They often ask me questions about our church – how it’s being run, how our staff is being managed, the rationale behind important decisions, where we’re headed in the future, and so on. They check my thinking and help me ask good questions before taking action. I’m so grateful for them.