Monday, November 19, 2018

The Apostle Paul's Letter To The Galatians. Day 4, Paul Scolds Peter For Being A Hypocrite

The Bible shows us people as they really are, and the truth is that even in the church disagreements sometimes arise. In today's passage Paul will tell us about having to scold the Apostle Peter for behaving like a hypocrite. It ought to comfort us knowing that the great men and women of faith made mistakes just like we do. God did amazing things with their lives, not because they were perfect, but in spite of their imperfections. He can do amazing things with us too.

Before Paul recounts his upsetting encounter with Peter he concludes his account of meeting with the council at Jerusalem regarding the message he preaches to the Gentiles. We learned yesterday that he shared the message with them because some of his enemies claimed there were problems with it and/or were accusing him of not urging the believing Gentiles to become circumcised and to obey the law. Paul put forth the reasonable argument that Gentiles don't need to observe the law; God accepted them while they were without the law because of their faith in Christ. There is nothing the law can add to their salvation.

The council agreed with him. "As for those who were held in high esteem---whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism---they added nothing to my message." (Galatians 2:6) The leaders of the church at Jerusalem believe Paul is correct. Salvation for the Jews did not come through the law but by faith. The same is true for the Gentiles. The law merely revealed to man his sinfulness and his need for redemption; it is man's faith in the Lawgiver that brings salvation, for only the One whose laws have been broken can grant anyone mercy for breaking them.

"On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along." (Galatians 2:7-10) Famous apostles like Peter and John and the Lord's brother James give Paul their blessing. Some of their own countrymen who have come to Christ still don't feel God should show mercy and grace to the Gentiles, but these great men of the early church set an example for everyone by putting their stamp of approval on Paul's ministry. If God has chosen to include the Gentiles in His family, who can argue with Him? If God is always right (and we know He is) then it is wrong for anyone to oppose His decision.

Speaking of Peter, even he messes up sometimes. "When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray." (Galatians 2:11-13) It must have been difficult for Paul to stand up to someone like Peter, but he had no choice. The Apostle Peter was one of the Lord's disciples and he was a Christian long before Paul was. Peter is a great preacher, a pillar of the church, and one of the most famous of the Lord's followers. Yet his mistake is so great that Paul, who came to Christ long after Peter did, must take him to task for it. Paul isn't intimidated by Peter's status; on the contrary, Peter's status makes his sin even more sinful because he is in a position to influence so many people. His influence is so great that even Paul's close and trusted friend Barnabas becomes confused and imitates Peter instead of Paul.

The men who came down to Antioch from Jerusalem still did not view Gentiles as equals, therefore they would never consider eating with them. Until they came Peter had no problem sitting at the same table as Gentiles, but when they arrived he felt self-conscious about it because he knew they disapproved. Because Peter was a man of high authority in the church, others at Antioch followed his example, including Barnabas. Imagine how this must have made the Gentiles feel! Until they came to faith in Christ they had always been on the outside looking in. Finally they were a part of the family of God, and like a family they enjoyed sitting around the table with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. But suddenly a man like the Apostle Peter treats them as if they are unclean when men come down from Jerusalem, proving to them once again that they will never be good enough in the eyes of some.

Paul deals with the hypocrisy of Peter and Barnabas and the other men by confronting Peter to his face in public. "When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, 'You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?'" (Galatians 2:14)

Paul says in front of the men who have made even the Apostle Peter feel intimidated, "You don't live by the law. You eat in the houses of Gentiles and you eat whatever is put in front of you. You know that the Gentile Christians are accepted in the sight of God just as much as the Jewish Christians are, so you have been treating them as equals. Now all of a sudden, just because men of high status who hold prejudice against Gentiles have come down from the big city, you behave as if you are still living by the law. You act like you can't eat with the Gentiles unless they have been circumcised and keep kosher kitchens. What a hypocrite you are! You've told me and everyone else about the day the Lord said to you, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' (Acts 10:15) You knew the Lord was talking to you about the Gentiles. You knew He was saying He had made them clean and acceptable in His eyes through their faith in Christ. You knew the Lord didn't expect them to live under the law. Why then are you acting, for the sake of these visitors, like the Gentiles are second-class citizens?"

I don't know whether Paul was practically shaking in his shoes while confronting a leader of the church in this manner, but he may have been shaking with righteous indignation. Peter was wrong and he had to be confronted before the problem continued to grow. If Paul hadn't said anything there would have been a huge division in the church, an ever-growing chasm between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. To compare the situation to something in more modern times, the Gentiles would have had to sit in their own section at church or else would have had to attend a separate church. There would have been Gentile bathrooms and Gentile water fountains. There would have been inns and restaurants where Gentiles were not welcome. Segregation would have become the norm and the church would not have had the unity that is so vital to it. The problem had to be corrected quickly and publicly because the hypocrisy of a man as high up in the church leadership as Peter would have had long-lasting repercussions, perhaps on down to our own day. Just as there was no truth in the "separate but equal" slogan in our own nation when we were practicing segregation between black people and white people, there would have been no truth in the "separate but equal" slogan in the church while segregating Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians.

If we feel we must be separate, then obviously we do not feel we are equals. As Paul will say later on in his letter to the Galatians, we are all one in Christ Jesus. It doesn't matter whether we are Jew or Gentile. It makes no difference if we are male or female. It doesn't matter whether we came to Christ while dressed in a fancy suit and sitting on a church pew or while hearing the gospel through a prison ministry while we were incarcerated for a crime. In Christ we are the same---clean, equal, and acceptable in the eyes of God.

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