And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me…
These four pillars of the Church stand before us for our contemplation.
1. For example, we see that the widest diversity of gifts can be employed to advantage in winning souls to Christ. It would hardly be possible to sketch four characters differing more in essential particulars than these apostles. Paul was the theologian of the early Church. Peter had an undeniable headship in organization. But James brought his cool temperament into service in decisions involving difficult points of casuistry, while John was of all the best calculated to labour for spiritual eminence in the converts. Now when results are before us, no one could venture to pronounce which was the most useful in the grand work Christ gave them all to do. Each was the best for his own work.
2. So this would suggest a second lesson: failure in one particular field or sphere of action does not preclude great after-success in another for the same man. As a home missionary he was a failure. The Lord had other work for him to do.
3. Then once more: we might learn that the individualities of personal character are in no wise destroyed by the new life under the gospel. Paul, after his conversion, was just as earnest and driving as before. James carried his carefulness as a Pharisee into his demeanour as a Christian. Peter left his boats and tackle to become a skilful fisher of men, with the same adroitness and patient business absorption put into his fresh profession. So John was affectionate to Jesus' mother, because he had grown up affectionate to his own. Naturalness is one of the best evidences of grace, for it excludes assumption and hypocrisy. No one will ever succeed in making himself better by making himself over into another man's likeness.
4. In the fourth place, we see that true religion in the heart is a powerful helper in intellectual advancement. The history of all these four men affords an illustration of the Scripture text: "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." We all know how Simon Peter was reared. How is it possible that he could reach literary attainments sufficient to enable him to write two such Epistles as those which bear his name?
5. Again, we can learn from these men's biographies and writings that the very best Christian excellences may be, unfortunately, marred by personal weaknesses. For every one of them was faulty enough to make some notable mistake, which has been handed down to us in the imperishable record. Paul quarrelled sadly with Barnabas about Mark. James refused to welcome Paul at Jerusalem.
6. Just a suggestion now, which may or may not be called a lesson. Perhaps the ideal Christian might be made up of the best excellences in all. Put Paul's orthodoxy in doctrine alongside of James's morality in behaviour; put Peter's activity in impulse with John's extensive experience; join all these into one man.
7. Finally, we cannot fail to learn, as the sweetest and best lesson of all, that the truest Christians are those who are most like their Leader, and most loyal to Him as supreme.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.
WEB: and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcision.