But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But 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?”
~ Galatians 2:11-14
WHO’S READY FOR A THROWDOWN? What? No Food Network fans? Meh… Okay – so here we are, Paul is explaining to the Galatian Christians that he’s not just some schmuck with bad eyesight, tons of scars, and massive ministry. He shows here that he’s so firmly committed to the holiness of God that he’s willing to stand up even to the supposed leader of this young Christian movement when he sees him acting in sin. What kind of sin is this, you ask? Hypocrisy! Here’s the back story – Peter was hanging out with some new Gentile Christians and having a bacon ham and bacon sandwich (I mean, when you can’t have it all your life and suddenly bacon is available to you, why would you eat anything else, right?) when some of the Jewish Christians came by, sent by Jesus’ brother James in Jerusalem. Peter, now feeling guilty and reeking of pork, pulls away from the Gentile Christians and the rest of the Jews who were with him did the same. Why is this? Because he was afraid of the response from the Jewish Christians. He didn’t want to appear to be breaking the sabbath laws because he knew that they were going to give him a hard time about it. Paul, however, recognizes this and firmly confronts him.
So, what can we learn from this? First we learn that as public Christians, our influence is seen by those around us and younger, weaker Christians will follow in our footsteps. As a result, we need to be aware of our actions in all situations. While it’s wise to keep our freedom in Christ on a leash when dealing with a weaker brother or sister in Christ who may have had trouble with a specific sin in their lives (so as to not lead them to sin against their own consciences ala 1 Corinthians 10:23-33), but we also must be willing to stand up for our freedoms that we enjoy. If we stop doing something that we’re now free to do because we’re afraid of what other people will think of us then we’re allowing our pride to stop us from glorifying God by acting in our newly found freedom and we’re telling the world that our freedom in Christ is determined by perceived thread of ridicule. Is that really freedom?
Second, we learn that Paul respected Peter as a Christian, but loved God more than his position. Could Peter have pulled rank and tried to get Paul removed from ministry? Maybe, but that didn’t stop Paul. He saw a sin that was influencing other Christians and that was damaging the image of Christ and he responded by firmly calling Peter out on his sin. We don’t see anything more than what is written here but it is assumed that Peter was repentant.
Third, we see that Paul was direct in his response to Peter, exactly as Jesus told us to be in Matthew 18:15-17. He didn’t write some long diatribe and send an open letter through the community regaling Peter’s sin and questioning his leadership. He simply stood before the man, made his claim, and trusted that the Holy Spirit would lead him to repentance. Can we say that we’ve done the same? If you see someone from your church or your family acting in what you perceive to be sin, confront them – ask them directly. If they refuse to listen or continue in their sin, bring in a few other Christians and if even then there is no change then bring it to your church. If he refuses to listen even then, you can separate from them. Paul, in love, firmly confronts his brother and that’s the end of it. This is the heart of Christians disputes – reconciliation and restoration. Remember, however, that we are to be careful in our dealings with Christians. They are our brothers and sisters and as such, they are to be treated with love and respect. God is the ultimate judge of all.
My prayer is that all of us can use this example in all of our dealings with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
(My apologies for the *possible* embellishments I *may* have taken with the text. As I read it, however, this is what I imagine. Seriously – who can turn down bacon?)