Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. 2 I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.3 But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. 4 Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— 5 to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. 7 On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised 8 (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), 9 and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do. – Galatians 2:1-10
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:1-5
It seems that Paul gives contradictory answers to the same question in different circumstances. Titus, a Gentile, went with Paul to Jerusalem to a church conference. He was not required to be circumcised. Timothy, also the son of a Gentile father and Jewish mother, was asked to join Paul and Silas on Paul’s second missionary journey. Timothy was from Lystra, the city where Paul had been stoned and left for dead by the Jewish uprising against the gospel. Before the mission band headed out for Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia, Paul had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews who were in those places.” Doesn’t this seem contradictory? Is Paul of two minds about circumcision, unstable in his understanding of the gospel? Not at all.
Love rules the day.
In the first instance, the refusal to circumcise Titus was out of principle to enforce the New Covenant teaching that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The added rite of circumcision would only take away from the message of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit by the grace of God.
In the second instance, Paul, very much aware of the extreme legalistic commitment of the Jews in the region of Galatia wanted Titus’ liberty to not create a barrier to those Jews being able to hear the gospel, so he had him circumcised.
Love guided both situations.
The first, love for those who would forever be influenced by the decision of the church leaders about the relationship of the law to the grace of God. I for one am overwhelmingly grateful to Paul for “not yielding in submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for” me.
The second instance demonstrated the love of God through Paul that he would not have Timothy create a barrier to the gospel among the Jews, even the Jews who had run him out of town in Iconium and Antioch in Pisidia. This is a demonstration of the heart of love Paul had for his fellow Jews.
In both of these instances, the love of God extended in the gospel drove the actions taken with seemingly contradictory results. However, I believe that if Paul were put to the test in the cities of Galatia and were required to have Timothy circumcised, he would not have done it.Why? Because, again, the issue would have been the truth of the gospel which is the message of love to all who are separated from Christ. There are priorities even in love.