“Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision.”
Galatians 2:12 (MSG)
Sooo…have you ever spoken out in front of a group of people, with a perceived deep conviction about an issue and then find yourself getting caught up on the other side of the equation? For example, you’re telling the folks around you how you value the importance of maintaining a well-balanced diet in your life and then you caught with a quart of Rocky Road in one hand and a spoon in the other? This must have been how the apostle Peter looked to the apostle Paul at Antioch after Peter gets caught ordering his filet mignon rare and then suddenly pushes the plate away when the Judaizers came into the restaurant. “Hey!! I didn’t order this. I ordered the poached halibut with a side of bitter herbs.”
Now, of course I’m taking a little writer’s license here (embellishment and exaggeration to be exact) on the interpretation of Galatians 2:12 but don’t let that take away the seriousness of what’s going on here. Because the end result of this action can be read in the following verse, “And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.” (Gal 2:13) It might have been better to say, “…and then after a healthy meal, a little ice cream makes a nice a finisher.” Better to upfront if you’re gonna perceive yourself as principled, and yeah, I gotta do better in this area myself, after all, I do like my Rocky Road. Anyway…
I like how Martin Luther puts it, “Paul does not reprove Peter for transgressing the Law, but for disguising his attitude to the Law.” The guy that had no problem, in Acts 2, calling out all his brethren, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36) and the guy that’s confronted, by God Himself, in Acts 10 (“Arise, Peter, kill and eat!) along with many other acts of zaniness, all of sudden cowers at the Judaizers roaming the known Roman world instead of the Romans.
Paul was using this moment to illustrate, to the Galatian church, how a weak attitude endangers the principle of Christian liberty. It must have really vexed the Gentile population Peter was hanging out with when, just like that, they get shelved so he could hang with “hierarchy’ that just blew in from Jerusalem. Imagine how it must have felt when those same people saw Peter in the street turn from them as they were sending greetings and salutations his way. Kinda echoes of “I don’t the Man” don’t it?
Now Paul was eating and hanging with the Gentiles, after all, he was using his liberty to be all things to all men in order to win some to Christ. So, Paul isn’t gonna shy away from people just because a different group of individuals show up. The Gospel is the Gospel and he’s gonna preach it, even if it means to use words. Theologically speaking, Peter’s pendulum swung from being an antinomian (someone who sees that under grace, the moral law is of no use because its faith alone that saves) to being a, dare I say, wacky Pharisees. So, Paul called him out on it. It wasn’t a matter of sin as much as it was a matter of ethics.
So, what’s in this for us? Well, I’ll tell ya…don’t be a hypocrite. That might easy for me to type to you but is it easy for me to show you (and visa-versa). I remember having a very hard time receiving someone’s message on how I needed to stop my addictive lifestyle, all the while their saying this to me with a bottle in their hand. It’ll be the same thing if you’re preaching the need of salvation to someone all the while they know that you’re a hot head at work with a potty mouth. The message will fall on deaf ears.
I know preaching the liberty we have in Christ can be tricky to do, so maybe it’s a better thing to do and be upfront by saying you struggle in certain areas of your life as well. Paul had no problem calling himself the chief of sinners and I believe that should be our attitude as well. And if you one of the mature Christians on the block, always remember those that look to you for encouragement, even if it’s simply returning a greeting as we pass each other by along the way. Amen?
Written by Chris Hughes: Chris is a husband, a father, has an education in Biblical doctrine and is a graduate of The Colony of Mercy. He has been a Freedom Fighter contributor since 2008. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org