1-2: Paul is showing that the Gospel he is proclaiming has been agreed upon by those who were influential (most likely people including James, Peter, and John). In order to give validity to what he taught them about Jesus.
3-8:Circumcision was a big debate among Jewish Christians, some of whom believed gentiles (non-Jews) needed to be circumcised to be accepted into God’s family. Paul is saying that people are free in Christ to be circumcised or not, as their salvation has nothing to do with that.
9: James, Cephas (Peter), and John gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul. Meaning that they approved of and agreed with Paul’s message.
Question: It is human nature to want to add conditions to what people must do to be saved and receive God’s grace. In the 1st century, circumcision was often one of those things. What are expectations, when we are not careful, that we tend to add to the Gospel today for people to do in order to be saved?
Question: Knowing we are saved by grace, and not having grown up in the 1st century as a Jew and having so many of your preconceived ideas on what it means to be saved challenged by Jesus, why is it still such a struggle for us to want to add conditions for people to meet in order to truly be “saved?”
Paul then opposed Cephas (Peter) about his practice of only eating with Jewish Christians (when before he also ate with Gentile Christians), as most Jewish Christians still followed the Old Testament dietary restrictions.
Paul is calling out Peter’s hypocrisy as Peter lived like a Gentile in that he no longer followed the dietary restrictions, and yet his example of now only eating with Jewish Christians was making people think Gentiles did in fact have to observe circumcision and the dietary laws to be included into God’s people.
Question: Though Paul here is writing to the Galatians, what he is telling them is what he already confronted Peter about. So he isn’t talking behind Peter’s back (and the issue was resolved). However confronting people is hard, and the easy way out is to avoid it, and thus never fix the issue. What can we learn and apply from Paul’s example?
15-16: Though Paul and the other apostles he mentioned were Jews by birth, he mentions that even they are not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Showing that the law doesn’t save people, Jesus does.
17-18: Jews referred to the Gentiles as “sinners,” so some Jewish Christians accused Paul and others of being “sinners” since they associated with them. Ironically, it is the law itself that produces sinners, since no one can perfectly uphold it. So it is a good thing we aren’t justified by the law (because we would all be found guilty).
21: Paul is saying that if it were possible to be justified through the law, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to have come.
Question: Even though the law was difficult to follow, religious people liked it because it provided a way for them to check off how well they were following it (and condemn people they felt weren’t following it well enough). Being saved by grace means we can’t easily judge whether or not we think people are “saved.” Why do you think we have such a problem with that?
Question: With all this discussion about circumcision and following dietary laws, how grateful does it make you feel that we are saved by grace? How often do you forget that and get down on yourself for living as well as you think you should be?