“In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do” (Galatians 2:9-10 NLT).
This portion of Scripture provides us with a short list of individuals who played an important role in the life of the early church. The first person named for us is James. While there are several “Jameses” within the New Testament. this particular James was Jesus’ half-brother as noted earlier. The fact that James was named first among this trio of leaders speaks to the position of influence he held among the members of the first century church.
“Cephas” is a reference to the Apostle Peter. In fact, Peter is called by three different names within the pages of the Scriptures: Peter, Cephas, and Simon. Peter held a prominent position among Jesus’ original group of twelve disciples and he was later inspired by God to write the letters we know today as the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Peter.
The Apostle John was another of Jesus’ first disciples (Matthew 4:18-22). His brother James (a different James from the one mentioned above) had earlier been killed by a political leader named Herod, an act that gained the favor of some local religious authorities (see Acts 12:1-4). John was the person who was used of God to author the New Testament Gospel of John as well as the books of 1, 2, and 3 John and the book of Revelation.
These key leaders were recognized as pillars of the first-century Christian community and their solidarity with Paul the Apostle was based upon two important things: the authenticity of his gospel message and the recognition of his God-given ministerial gifts. This becomes more significant when we stop to consider that Paul once sought to imprison (and potentially kill) people like James, Cephas, and John at one point in his life. This serves to illustrate God’s unmatched ability to effect genuine change in human lives.
The only suggestion these leaders had for Paul involved a request to continue to help the poor, a recommendation that Paul was eager to implement. So everything seemed to be going well but as we’re about to see, a serious problem arose. We’ll begin our look at that problem -and Paul’s aggressive response- next.