In a previous post we looked at the importance of partnership between churches not dependence. We saw how in Galatians 1-2 Paul resisted any claims that the Gentile churches were unequal partners with the church in Jerusalem or under its authority.
But what about 2:2? ‘I went there [to Jerusalem] because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.
At first sight, this looks like Paul does want the approval of the church in Jerusalem.
To understand what’s happening we need to remember Paul’s special calling. Four times in Ephesians 3 Paul says he was called by God to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:2, 7, 8, 9). Why? Paul says: ‘This is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News … are part of the same body.’ (3:6) Paul’s great purpose in life is to preach the gospel to the Gentiles to create one united church. Jews and Gentiles together, as a testimony of God’s grace and God’s victory (3:10).
But what happens if Jews won’t accept Gentile believers? Then you get two churches. And Paul’s great life purpose is wrecked. As he puts in Galatians 2:2, he has wasted his effort; he has run his race for nothing. That’s the issue when he takes Titus to Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-3). The issue is not will they approve of Paul’s message, but will they accept Paul’s converts. He doesn’t need their approval of his message – he knows his message is right because it’s from God (1:11-12, 15-16). What he wants is their acceptance of his converts. He wants one united church as a testimony of God’s victory.
So Paul doesn’t want the Gentile churches to be dependent on Jerusalem. But neither does he want them to be independent. He wants unity, relationship, partnership: partnership instead of dependence and partnership instead of independence.
That’s why he organises the collection of money from the Gentiles for the poor Christians in Jerusalem (see 2:10) – as an expression of that unity.
It explains why Paul seems concerned that the Jerusalem church will accept this gift and so why he urges the church in Rome to pray that it will be well received (Romans 15:30-31). Why pray for destitute people to accept help? Because there really is a possibility that Jewish Christians might not accept this gift from uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul prays that the collection will be accepted because he intends it to be a sign of the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in one church.
Equal partners. Partnering in mission.