This week, we continue to harvest the life-giving spiritual
fruit found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
As we have seen in our last two messages from Galatians, Paul is working
in these first two chapters to re-establish his credibility as an apostolic preacher of the gospel among these
Galatian believers. These
new converts had been led astray about both Paul and the gospel by false teachers.
These Judaizers came in after Paul had left and ravaged these Galatian churches
with their lies about Paul and the gospel. One of the lies the false teachers propagated about Paul was that he was little more than
a lackey to the apostles in Jerusalem. That is, he was dependent
for his understanding and preaching of the gospel on those apostles, Peter in particular.
As we have seen, he has dispelled that myth in many ways up to this point.
In 2:11-14, to which I would invite
you to turn, he reveals perhaps his most compelling argument to bring down this lie. He employs a uniquely powerful
story detailing an earlier incident involving himself and Peter.
This personal anecdote about himself and Peter profoundly makes the case
that Paul was certainly not dependent upon the Jerusalem
apostles for his gospel, Peter in particular.
Let’s read this story beginning with 2:11.
Paul continues to write autobiographically and says, “But
when Cephas [Peter] came to
Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated
himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of
the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said
to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force
the Gentiles to live like Jews?"
We need to unpack some of the cultural
and grammatical elements within the story to more fully understand and accurately apply the truths in these verses. Let’s begin with Peter.
Peter is the leader of the apostles and in that sense, the recognized human leader of the church.
According to Paul, Peter, for reasons we do not know, had earlier journeyed
where Paul and Barnabas were living and had been greatly used of God to help build the church there. Antioch
was a very large city; the third largest in the Roman Empire with about half a
million people. From
about the time of the birth of Jesus, the Romans had worked diligently to make this a glorious city and so it was
at this time in history. Jews
had been living in Antioch for centuries and
by this time accounted for about one in seven people in this city at this time.
At this point in history, the Jews
and Greeks in Antioch were very tolerant of each
Jews enjoyed high civil positions and rank within this pagan culture.
Likewise, there were many Gentiles in Antioch
who regularly attended the Jewish synagogue, who believed in the God of Israel and held to the ethical teaching
of the Hebrew Scriptures. Because
of their familiarity with God’s redemptive plan in the Scriptures, many of these God-fearing Gentiles became Christians
when they heard the gospel. That
was doubtless true in Antioch.
With this very cordial relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Antioch,
it’s not hard to see why this metropolis became the most important city outside of Jerusalem
for the development of the early church. We know from Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were sent out from this church
to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. One scholar rightly says, “Antioch
became the birthplace of the Church’s foreign missions program” [Longenecker,
This fellowship in Antioch
was something of a prototype for the expanding church because, almost from its inception, it was comprised of a
mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Here
were Jews and Gentiles worshipping the God of Abraham and Jesus Christ, his Son.
This church was acutely different in personality from the church in Jerusalem
where the walls separating Jews and Gentile “dogs” stood much higher and were much more deeply rooted. The Jews
in Antioch had learned to work and live beside
Gentiles long ago. That
made it much easier to have a strongly racially mixed church there than it would have been in Jerusalem. It was because the
church had so many Gentiles in it, that they were in need of a racially accurate nickname by which to call themselves. Up until this time,
the church had been a predominantly Jewish sect and as a result followers of Christ were identified with the Jews. In Antioch,
this was a predominantly Gentile church. That explains why we read in Acts 11:25 that, “in
Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” This mixed Jew/Gentile church could not be identified with the Jews, so they invented
the name “Christian” to identify themselves.
That racially mixed context is important to help us better understand the dynamics of
this story. Into
Antioch, Peter comes for a visit.
It says in verses 12, “he was eating
with the Gentiles.”
The tense of the verse indicates that he regularly, consistently ate with
the Gentiles. Eating
with the Gentiles was his practice while he was in Antioch. That is just what we
would have expected from Peter on the basis of Acts chapter 10.
Perhaps you remember from Acts ten that Peter, while staying in Joppa with
Simon the tanner, had a vision from God that he saw three times.
In the vision, he saw something like a great sheet coming down from heaven. Verse 12, “12In it were all
kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air.
there came a voice to him: "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
14But Peter said, "By no means, Lord; for
I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean."
the voice came to him again a second time, "What God has made clean, do not call common." Peter is initially
very disturbed by this because God through this vision ordered him to eat food that was considered unclean under
the law—this was Gentile food!
As Peter is laying there perplexed about this vision, men representing a Gentile Centurion
named Cornelius arrive at the house where Peter is staying.
They tell Peter that four days earlier while he was praying, Cornelius had
a vision of an angel who told him to send for Peter, who the angel disclosed was staying in Joppa at the house
of Simon the tanner. Peter
puts all this together and responds in verse 34, “So Peter opened his
mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,
in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Peter immediately changes his behavior and began eating with these Gentiles. He soon returns to
Jerusalem and began to speak with the Jews about
what God was doing among the Gentiles. As this report circulated among the Jewish believers back in Jerusalem,
not everyone was excited about it. Some of the believers in Jerusalem
were not feeling at all blessed. Acts 11:3 says, “the circumcision party
criticized him [Peter] saying,
“You went to the uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Good Jews simply did not break bread with Gentiles and the fact that Peter
had done so was scandalous within elements of the Jerusalem
culture. Peter however had seen the vision and so he knew that this racially mixed fellowship was fully pleasing to God and he lived out his theology
while he was in Antioch.
He ate with both the Gentiles and the Jews in Antioch,
which included Barnabas, Paul’s co-worker in Antioch.
The unity between Jews and Gentiles at Antioch
was a beautiful thing—it clearly communicated the unity of Christ’s church and the oneness of Christ with his body. That unity was all
the more powerfully on display because Peter, the leader
of the Jewish church, was living out this inter racial unity Christ forges
in people’s hearts through the cross. At some point however, this unity is shattered as Jewish believers from Jerusalem
appear on the scene. Paul
says in verses 12, “certain men came from James…”
James is almost certainly the Lord’s half brother who was another leading figure among the Jews in Jerusalem. We cannot know precisely
why they came. There
was a clear purpose behind it because it says they “came from James.” These
were not simply friends of James—James sent them, almost certainly with a message from him.
These were envoys from James and
the impact of their message on Peter suggests that it could have questioned Peter’s judgment on his selection of
dinner guests. We
don’t know for certain what these men transmitted to Peter.
What we can say for certain is--upon the arrival of these men from James
in Jerusalem, Peter’s dining companions change. Verse 12 says, “…when they came he drew back and separated himself,”
The verb tenses in the original communicate that Peter made this change gradually,
not all at once. He
probably stopped inviting Gentiles over to dinner and when there were Gentiles in a public place; he chose to avoid
them, preferring to eat with the Jewish believers.
The stated reason for this change in his behavior is he “fear[ed] the circumcision party.”
Peter knew that some of the boys back in Jerusalem
were not blessed by his racially mixed dinner parties and something in this message from James drives that point
of his “scandalous” behavior was probably causing quite a stir within the Jerusalem church who had not had the
benefit of Peter’s first hand experience with Cornelius. They certainly had not internalized the freedom in the gospel as Peter had so clearly
The influence of Peter on the Jewish
believers at Antioch was so strong that even Barnabas
was “led astray by their hypocrisy.” This is remarkable
because the picture we have of Barnabas up to this point is anything but that of a compromiser.
When everyone else was scared to death of this former Christ-hater, Saul
of Tarsus, it was Barnabas who had the grace to build a bridge with him.
Acts 11 tells us that Barnabas had seen God’s work among the Gentiles in
Antioch and searched out Paul to work with him. He had been in Antioch
for more than a year ministering beside Paul and seeing many converts won to Christ.
That means that when he separates himself from these Gentiles, he is pulling
away from some of his own spiritual children—those whom he had led to Christ!
Put yourself in the position of
these Gentiles. These
were probably relatively new believers from the account in Acts 11. They are enjoying fellowship with the storied
leader of the church, Peter—the leader of the apostles—the great preacher of Pentecost.
He is eating with them, Gentiles.
Oh, how this gospel of Christ had torn down the wall of separation existing
between the races. You
are feeling incredibly blessed and all the more because you are also fellowshipping side by side with your other
Jewish brothers and sisters who long ago accepted you in Christ and are also eating with you.
Faithful, gracious Pastor Barnabas completes the picture.
Life is good for these Gentile believers.
Then, a few Jewish believers sent
from James in Jerusalem and who obviously knew
Peter—come onto the scene. And
things change. You
notice that Peter doesn’t come to the common Gentile eating places anymore.
You don’t get invited to eat with him.
Maybe he even stops breaking bread at the Lord’s Supper with you. That’s hard enough,
but your Jewish brothers in Christ from Antioch—those
who were saved with you, those who were baptized with you, they also leave you.
Even Pastor Barnabas who perhaps led you to the Lord takes a hike. They all abandon you. You hear rumors about
the influence of the group from Jerusalem and out
of your hurt and confusion, you question among yourselves if the unity Paul and Barnabas had preached about in
Christ really did exist. Are
Gentiles destined to be second class citizen in Christ’s church?
You couldn’t have helped but notice that, “As
long as it won’t cause any trouble for these Jews to eat with us, you’re ok, but as soon as Peter gets a little
pressure from the mother church, you’re out of the picture.”
The question is--where Paul is while
all this is happening? We
don’t know. We
know he couldn’t have been a consenting participant because he never admits to any of his own culpability. He has probably been
away from Antioch for a time and comes back to
walk into this mess. He
obviously apprises himself of these very changed relational dynamics within the flock and as soon as he puts it
all together, he acts. Boy,
does he act! In
front of the Jewish believers from Antioch including
his friend and mentor Barnabas, in front of the Jerusalem Jews from James and in front of the Gentile believers,
he publicly rebukes Peter, the leader of the early church.
To publicly castigate someone—especially someone in leadership, was considered extraordinarily
bad form within Jewish tradition. Even today in our culture, a military officer will very seldom publicly rebuke a fellow
officer in front of his troops. But Paul doesn’t hesitate to takes this extreme step.
He publicly rebukes the uncontested leader of the church.
He totally busts Peter for his hypocrisy.
Why does Paul step so far away from accepted, conventional procedure here
and publicly paste Peter? Why
on earth didn’t Paul take Peter aside out of deference to his apostolic office—out of respect for his longer time
in service to Jesus? Think
about it. The
Corinthians, doubtless with some justification, say that Paul is “humble
when face to face…”
What that means at least is that Paul was not known as some sort of loud,
obnoxious person given to rash bursts of emotion.
He wasn’t a man who took arrogant pride in being someone who “will say what’s on
my mind.” That’s not Paul. Paul is self controlled. Beyond that, later
on in this letter to the Galatians he will exhort them, “Brothers, if
anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in
a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Why
doesn’t Paul follow his own counsel here? He publicly says to Peter, “If you, though a
Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews.” That’s in… your….face.
Unlike everyone else who had remained silent through this process, Paul publicly and specifically
condemns the behavior all of those present had witnessed.
We must understand the dynamic here.
It’s one thing to publicly rebuke another person.
It’s even harder to rebuke someone in front of others who should have rebuked
means that in explicitly rebuking Peter, he is also implicitly rebuking the Jews from Jerusalem
and all the others who in their cowardice had remained silent.
Everyone knew that Peter had been comfortable living like a Gentile, eating
with them and enjoying non-kosher food at times.
Everyone had witnessed his change in colors, but Paul nails him on it. To make this pointed,
public statement could not be classified by anyone as something done “in
a spirit of gentleness.”
So why does Paul feel the freedom to do this and some time later even relate
this incident in a publicly read letter to the Galatians?
There may be several reasons for this—here are four.
there is a God-endorsed double standard between apostles (and by extension,
church leaders) and those who are not
in positions of spiritual authority.
In our culture we are trained to believe that double standards are always wrong. That’s simply not Biblical. Peter was an apostle—the
leader of the 12 and was uniquely called to be an example to the flock.
He WAS an example whether he wanted to be or not.
You can see his enormous influence in this story.
The other Jewish believers in Antioch—even
Barnabas, the missionary to the Gentiles and pastor to these believers, followed Peter in his sin. When someone with that
kind of authority and influence sins in a way to injure the flock, they must be rebuked publicly.
The same principle is seen First Timothy chapter five.
Paul says to Timothy in verse 19, “Do
not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” On the one hand, Paul
protects the leaders from unsubstantiated charges and rumors.
But on the other, he says that if the leader does not repent of known sin,
public rebuke is in order. If
he will not set an
example of godliness, he will be made an example. Other believers in Antioch
who were confused about how grace related to food laws could be gently taken aside, not Peter.
Second, and related to the first reason, the
nature of Peter’s sin was overtly public.
Everyone had seen this behavior.
This was flagrantly done over a period of time before the entire church. A private rebuke would
have been inconsistent with the public nature of the sin.
Everyone needed to know this was sin—not just Peter.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the
immeasurable seriousness of the sin committed.
The gospel was at stake here and Paul knows it. Through Peter’s actions,
he is implicitly adding observing Jewish food laws to the one requirement of faith in order to be saved. That’s
what Paul is referring to when he says that “their conduct was not in
step with the truth of the gospel.” Peter had placed the opinion of people
over the truth of the gospel of grace. He is dividing the body of Christ between Jew and Gentile.
He is making the Gentiles second class citizens of heaven.
This is an enormous offense Peter commits, which is why Paul says in verse
11, “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” That
word “condemned” means just what it says—it means legally condemned by God.
Peter was in danger of the judgment of God over this incident, which means
that beyond all the other reasons Paul publicly rebukes Peter is one more—He
does it out of love for Peter. Peter is clearly walking in self-imposed
darkness here and to wake him up from his man-pleasing slumber, Paul throws cold water in his face by publicly
rebuking him. “Peter, do you understand
what you are doing?—you are shredding the gospel our Jesus died to offer.”
Paul doesn’t record Peter’s response.
We are left to speculate.
We do know that later on he stood in full agreement with the ruling of the
Jerusalem council on these food laws, which was
consistent with what Paul had done here. Paul concludes this story in the next few verses, but his major purpose for telling this
story has been accomplished. That
is simply, Paul was the man who publicly humiliated Peter--this “pillar” Jerusalem
apostle for an abuse of the gospel. That proves that he is surely not dependent upon him or the other Jerusalem
apostles for his ministry in the gospel. This story supports that contention in spades.
There are dozens of applications to this story that range from the evils
of racism to not compromising to the fear of man through peer pressure.
Those lessons and more could be drawn from this story.
The main lesson however is about the gospel of grace.
What was it about Paul that caused him to strongly defend the cause of grace
when others did not? One
answer is that Paul, more than any New Testament writer lavished in God’s grace.
He is not called “the apostle of grace” for nothing.
He knew he was saved completely and totally by the grace of God and thankfully,
he never recovered from that truth…and neither should we.
Paul knew Peter’s actions here were a direct attack on God’s grace and his
love for God’s grace compelled him to react to this for at least three reasons.
First, Paul knew better than anyone else in Antioch
is what transforms lives.
Paul was in the life-transforming business. He was called according to Romans
1:5 through the gospel to “bring about the obedience of faith” among the Gentiles.
There’s only one force on earth that produces the kind of transformation
seen in radical obedience. That
is the grace of God. He
says in Titus 2:11-12, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation
for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly
passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” If you want to be trained
to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.
If you want to live a self-controlled, upright and godly life in this wicked
world, you better be living by grace. Observing food laws—living under a performance oriented ethic won’t make you any more
like Jesus—only God’s grace does that. Paul knew that and so he rebukes Peter for modeling a way of life that would do nothing
to conform a life to the image of Christ.
A second reason Paul’s love for grace compelled him to act is because only grace glorifies
God in the life of a redeemed sinner.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is
the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so
that no one may boast.”
God delights in his own glory and he is glorified only through a gospel of
grace that leaves no room for any human boasting. Paul was zealous for the glory of God and so a gospel that left
room for boasting was repulsive to him as it should be also to us.
He rebukes Peter because his behavior implied that there was something he
could do apart from grace to be acceptable to God. God is never glorified in our fleshly, performance-oriented
attempts to be acceptable to him. He is glorified as we by his grace continually place our trust in Jesus who produces fruit
in us through manifold means of God’s grace.
Finally, a third reason Paul’s love for grace compelled him to act is because
apart from grace renders the cross meaningless.
If we could be made right with God through our own works, then the cross
of Christ was the most cruel and foolish act in human history.
Paul says in 2:21, “I do not nullify
the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If you can be pleasing
to God on the basis of what you do for him apart from grace, then it was an act of cosmic cruelty for the Father
to crush his Son on Calvary.
Paul was zealous to magnify the cross, not marginalize it and so he continually
championed grace. When
Peter was living as if you could be made right with God through the law, he was heaping scorn on the cross of Christ. Paul could have just
as easily have rebuked Peter by saying, “Peter,
did Jesus die for nothing?
That’s what your actions are communicating!”
when we try to be pleasing to God on the basis of our performance, we are communicating that Christ died for no
is precisely because we can do NOTHING to be acceptable to God that Christ died for us.
Oh, beloved do you love grace like Paul did?
I plead with you to cry out to God for this same love for God’s grace--this
cross-exalting, God-glorifying, life-transforming grace of God. We must like Paul, continually cultivate a love
for God’s grace--a love so strong that we would increasingly recognize and come to hate anything in our lives or
the church of Christ that is not in line with the truth of the gospel and marginalizes God’s grace. Do we love grace like
Paul did? Would
our love for God’s grace cause us to take the kind of mammoth risk Paul did in rebuking the leader of the apostles? May God give each one
of us a love for the cross, a longing to be transformed by grace and a zeal for God’s glory that would increasingly
motivate us to treasure and live by God’s grace.
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