Galatians 2v4-5 “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 – to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.”
So even in Jerusalem there were people who were suspicious of this gospel message of freedom in Christ Jesus. They slipped in to spy out this freedom that these Christians had, and didn’t believe it could possibly be a good idea to teach people that their justification was nothing to do with their obedience to the law, so they thought they better introduce a few rules to make sure people would behave.
Paul says they did not yield in submission to these people even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
So if Paul was preserving the truth of the gospel by refusing to submit to the slavery the false brothers were trying to impose, then that must mean that if he had submitted to them, it would have compromised the truth of the gospel.
If anyone imposes limits on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, adding things that we need to do to earn God’s favour, then they’re not preaching the true gospel.
And if you accept teaching from people who give you lots of practical advice on how to live a good life so that God will be pleased with you, you will find yourself in slavery.
If we obey God’s law either because we want to earn some kind of wages from him or because we’re scared of what will happen to us if we don’t obey, then our motive for obedience is selfish, not loving. And if we believe that obedience to the law is the way to make sure God’s pleased with us so that he’ll reward us with some sort of wages, or at least not send us to hell, then we’ll become slaves to the law.
But those of us who are in Christ are freed from the need to obey the law to try to make God pleased with us. We know he already is pleased with us because we’re in Christ. Our salvation is secure because it’s not based on our attempts at righteousness; it’s based on Christ’s perfect righteousness (Romans 8v1: “There is… no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”). And that frees us to obey God’s law out of love for him, rather than out of selfish fear of what will happen to us if we don’t obey.
So Paul is concerned about false brothers bringing Christians into slavery by adding things that we need to do (like being circumcised) to make sure God is pleased with us, rather than teaching that we’re already fully accepted if we’re in Christ.
But I note that Paul’s motive for refusing to yield his freedom to these false brothers was not about Paul selfishly wanting to indulge in that freedom. In v5 he says they did not yield in submission “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul describes how he willingly gave up his rights for the sake of others. v19 says “though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win more of them.”
In fact, in Acts 16v3 we hear that Paul did have Timothy circumcised, so as not to put up an unnecessary obstacle to the gospel for the Jews they were preaching to at that time.
So Paul’s concern is not so much about his own freedom, or even that of his fellow church planters, but about how other people will be won to the gospel. People won’t be won to the gospel of freedom in Christ if what they hear about Christianity is a list of things you’re supposed to do to keep yourself in God’s good books. They might become convinced they should try to live a Christian lifestyle, but that’s very different from being won to Christ and knowing God is pleased with you because you’re in Christ. Hence Paul was concerned to preserve the truth of the gospel for his listeners.