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. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. (Galatians 2:9-10 NIV)
We are so accustomed to viewing the early church as a loose-knit band of believers we sometimes forget there were established authorities, and a fairly well-developed system of accountability for doctrine and practice. This doesn’t fit our individualistic filters formed by modern culture, but it is, nonetheless, fact.
I don’t mean to suggest James, Peter and John sat in big cushioned chairs waiting for church members to kiss their rings. But they were reputed to be “pillars” and two of them were from Jesus’ original Twelve. Incidentally, the James mentioned here is the brother of Jesus, not the brother of John. James, the brother of John and the other piece of the “Sons of Thunder” was run through with a sword by Herod’s administration soon after the birth of the church.
I love this passage because it provides valuable insight into some of the more relational activity that took place during the Jerusalem council of Acts 15. This is the kind of stuff that would have taken place at Starbucks (or McDonalds, as the Jerusalem church was on a tight budget), after the evening council session. I can hear the apostle Paul sharing the story of Jesus’ appearance to him on the road to Damascus and his special meeting with Ananias where he received clarity concerning his mission to the Gentiles. And I can hear Peter talking about his vision of unclean animals on a sheet before his visit to the home of Cornelius.
“So, Peter, which one of us is going to take on the Gentile world?”
“Well, Paul, to be truthful, even though I accept God’s plan to invite the Gentiles into His church, it still makes me feel awkward. And since you spent all of those years in Tarsus…
“It’s settled then. Peter, you will focus on Jews, and I will go to the Gentiles: deal?”
Maybe it didn’t happen exactly like this, but at some point at the Jerusalem council the strategy was set and everyone came to a consensus on how they were going to pursue God’s mission. And I should also point out Paul uses the word “they” and “we” suggesting Peter was going to work in collaboration with James and John and Paul with Barnabas.
As to why James, Peter and John requested that Paul remember the poor, it is possible they perceived Gentile merchants to be more affluent and they feared Paul might get wrapped up in the high life and forget the needs of his Jewish brothers. This would not be the case as one of the defining aspects of Paul’s ministry would be his campaign for a special collection for the church in Jerusalem.
It is always great to see how God’s people come to agreement on how they can all be used for his glory. It is great, but not always easy…as we are about to see…
Dear God, make me open to Your vision. In Jesus’ name, Amen.