In our previous studies in Galatians, we have seen that some Judiazers in Galatia are trying to distort the gospel by adding to it human works. In an effort to support their case, they are saying that Paul is not really a valid apostle, and therefore, his message should not be taken seriously.
Paul's response includes a list of reasons as to why he is a valid apostle, beginning with the fact that he didn't receive his gospel from any man, including the other apostles:
Galatians 1:11-12 (NASB) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
He explains that the risen Christ personally gave him the gospel. Paul then went into
Arabia for a time of study, and it wasn't until three years later he finally met some of the other apostles. Paul found that he and the other apostles were teaching the exact same thing as it related to the gospel.
In our text last week, we saw how Paul takes away any doubt as to his apostleship by showing how the other apostles accept him as one of them and give him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, which infers that they have been embraced in the work:
Galatians 2:9 (NASB) and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.
Each of these respected leaders gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas, indicating their support of his ministry to the Gentiles and their acceptance of Gentile believers as full brothers in the Lord. And according to verse 6, they added nothing to Paul's message. They didn't think his gospel was watered down; they didn't admonish him that he had abbreviated it so it could be marketed better to the Gentiles. They just recognized God at work.
And so, when we come to our text this morning, Paul takes one more opportunity to prove his independence from the Jerusalem apostles. If anyone in Galatia should get the notion that after the meeting in Jerusalem, Paul functioned only at the endorsement and guidance of Peter, James, and John, then 2:11-14 should dispel that notion immediately. Not only is Paul not guided by Peter, he becomes Peter's guide:
Galatians 2:11 (NASB) But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
This is a painful contrast to the heartwarming expression of unity that we saw in verse 9. Some early church leaders (Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome) could not believe that this conflict really occurred. They explained that Paul and Peter must have staged the conflict to illustrate the issues at stake.
No one knows with any certainly exactly when Peter had come to Antioch. In all likelihood, it happened before the council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.
Antioch in Syria (distinguished from Antioch in Pisidia) was Paul and Barnabas's base of operations. Antioch, during Paul's day, was the third largest city in the Roman Empire with more than 500,000 citizens. It was the capital city of the Roman province of Syria and was called the "Rome of the East" by many of the Roman Emperors. The city was largely non-Jewish, although there were about 65,000 Jews who called Antioch home during Paul's day. The majority of the people spoke Greek and not Hebrew as they did in Jerusalem. Gentiles were the driving force of the city in every arena of life, while the Jews were just tolerated for the most part.
The Christian church in Antioch was thriving during Paul's day. Barnabas, Paul's closest friend, was the first pastor of the flock in Antioch after the Gospel had spread beyond Jerusalem following the persecution of Stephen. Look with me at:
Acts 11:19-26 (NASB) So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 And the news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. 23 Then when he had come and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. 25 And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
Paul knew the folks of Antioch. He had seen the gospel take root in the hearts of many Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had taught the Word of God and watched the church grow beyond anything they could have ever imagined. Word must have gotten out, because Peter decided to take a trip to Antioch to see what was happening.
Paul goes on in our text to say, "I opposed him to his face." "Opposed" is from the Greek word anthistemi, which carries the meaning of: "hindering or forbidding." This is an act of incredible courage. Paul stood face-to-face with Peter and rebuked him in front of everyone.
Considering who Peter was, this took a lot of guts. Remember, it was Peter who walked on water; Peter who was personally called by Jesus; Peter who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead; Peter who came to the empty tomb on the morning of the resurrection. Peter was the first apostle to publicly preach the gospel after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and three thousand were added to the church in one day. He was the first to have the Holy Spirit work through him in miraculous ways. We're all familiar with the first recorded instance of a healing through Peter:
Acts 3:1-8 (NASB) Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer. 2 And a certain man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. 3 And when he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms. 4 And Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze upon him and said, "Look at us!" 5 And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, "I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene-- walk!" 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.
It was this same Peter, in light of this incident with the crippled man, who boldly confronted the religious leaders of Jerusalem in such a way as to rebuke them for not being true to their Scriptures regarding the Messiah:
Acts 4:8-12 (NASB) Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead-- by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone. 12 "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
It was Peter who was used by the Holy Spirit to put the fear of God in the church when Ananias and Sapphira lied to God about what they had done with their possessions. As each came into Peter's presence, he pronounced God's displeasure with them, and they immediately fell dead.
Peter was a heavy weight in the church, and people loved him and admired him and respected him for his work in the church and among the Jews of his day. It's no coincidence that the Roman Catholic church places Peter on the pedestal. Though they are entirely wrong about declaring him to be the first Vicar of Christ on earth, or the first pope, it shows us that early on Peter was held in high esteem.
And yet, Paul has no problem in confronting this beloved apostle and rebukes him to his face for what would be a denial of the true gospel. This is what Paul means when he says at the end of verse 11, "...because he stood condemned."
The NIV says, "because he was clearly in the wrong." This is a very weak interpretation of what our text actually says. The KJV and NKJV puts it: "to be blamed." The Greek word is kataginosko, and it could literally be translated: "condemned." And so, the NASB correctly translates this as: "he stood condemned." What he means to say is that just as a criminal is found guilty of a crime and has been proven to be wrong in a court of law, Peter has been found guilty of a wrong which can be proved. What Peter was doing was to be condemned as being out of accord with the Word of God, and there were to be consequences; in this case a rebuke to set the matter straight.
Now, in the next verse of our text, Paul explains what this wrong is:
Galatians 2:12 (NASB) For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
"...he used to eat with the Gentiles" - Here's what's going on: In Antioch's fully integrated congregation of Christian Jews and Gentiles, Peter had regularly followed the custom of eating with Gentile Christians. His practice of sharing meals with non-Jewish Christians must have also included sharing the Lord's Supper with them. Undoubtedly, his presence at table fellowship with Gentile Christians was taken as an official stamp of approval on the union and equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church. We can imagine that the Gentile believers in the church were especially encouraged by Peter's wholehearted acceptance of them.
But the idea of Peter eating with these Gentiles was not accepted by a lot of Jews.
The common Jew was brought up believing that the law spoke very clearly on the issue of what was considered clean and unclean food. In other words, this was a moral issue for them. Their perspective on diet had more to do with how can they please God, or at least not displease Him, rather than what is the best diet for them so as to maintain their best health.
So here's the problem: Every Jew knew that to deviate from such diet laws made them feel guilty of being out of favor with God. But it went one step further, because any Jew worth his salt would not even consider eating a holy meal with an unholy Gentile.
Remember that even the apostle Peter would never have considered eating unclean meals with Gentiles. The classic case regarding this is recorded in Acts when a Roman Centurion, by the name of Cornelius, was given a message by an angel from God to call for Simon Peter to come to his house to share the gospel with Cornelius and his family. Shortly after this, the Lord was giving Peter a vision:
Acts 10:9-16 (NASB) And on the next day, as they were on their way, and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he beheld^ the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat!" 14 But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." 15 And again a voice came to him a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." 16 And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky.
Peter couldn't believe it! There was pork loin, BBQ rabbit, shrimp cocktail, alligator steaks, and camel sausage in the big sheet that was let down for him to feast upon. Peter said, "No!" but God said, "I have cleansed it, it is no longer unholy, eat." God was preparing Peter for his trip to Antioch so that Peter would know that it's not what we eat, but Who we trust that makes us right with God!
This is a tremendously important turning point for Peter, and indeed, for the mission of the church and for world history. God was saying, "Peter, a new era of redemptive history has dawned, the Messiah has come. The sacrificial and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament have done their preparatory work, let them go (cf. Mark 7:19). I will show you something great at the house of Cornelius."
After Peter's trip to Cornelius' house, he went back to Jerusalem. The men of the church had heard the news that Peter had been socializing with Gentiles and when he arrived in Jerusalem they were waiting on him:
Acts 11:1-3 (NASB) Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those who were circumcised took issue with him, 3 saying, "You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them."
Peter stood up to the men and told them what had happened, and how God had moved upon the Gentiles in a way that no Jew could dismiss. Peter said:
Acts 11:15-17 (NASB) "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, just as He did upon us at the beginning. 16 "And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 "If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?"
Do you know what happened to Peter? Peter had a paradigm shift! He now saw Jews and Gentiles as one in the Church of Jesus Christ. And he realized that he could eat whatever he liked. Peter's experience prepared him to go to Antioch and to freely fellowship with all of the brothers and sisters there in the church.
Our text in Galatians says: "...he used to eat with the Gentiles" - the imperfect tense of the Greek verb indicates that Pater's eating with the Gentiles was continuous, that is, habitual and regular over some period of time. Then something happened that changed Peter's eating habits. Our text says: "...prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles."
Who were these men, and what did they do to influence Peter? We don't know! But everybody wants to speculate that they were Judiazers, and they put a bunch of pressure on Peter. John MacArthur says, "The certain men were Judaizers who had come to Antioch claiming to be from James but were not." The text says they were "from James," but MacArthur says they weren't. All we know from the text is that they were "from James," and they were of "the party of the circumcision." All this really tells us is that they were Jewish Christians from Jerusalem.
So Peter is in Antioch having a good time eating Lobster and ham until some Jewish believers from James show up. Then, because of fear of these men, Peter quits eating with the Gentiles and begins to eat only what the Jewish law allowed him to.
James was a leader in the Jewish church in Jerusalem. He was a notably godly man who was meticulous in his following after righteousness. Because he ministered among Jews, following after righteousness meant giving no offense to the Jews. That, in turn, meant that he was a close adherent to the customs of the Jews. If he had not been a minister to the Jews, he would not have been so meticulous about Jewish customs. So these men from James would no doubt have also followed the Jewish dietary laws.
Probably the party "from James" ate at first by themselves, while the rest, both Jews and Gentiles, ate together. Then, because Peter feared these Jewish guests, he joined them and eventually all the other Jewish Christians (except Paul). Finally, there were two groups at meal time, the Jewish party and the Gentile party.
One thing is made explicit in verse 12: Peter feared this group. Why? We don't exactly know, but we can speculate; What would they think about him? What would they tell James when they got back to Jerusalem? Would he be ruined back at the office? All of these thoughts may have run through Peter's mind, and he slowly pushed his plate away from in front of him. Peter lost his smile. Peter lost his joy. Peter lost his liberty. He turned his back on his new friends.
It is a sorry spectacle to see the bold apostle give up his freedom in order to placate these men. Write over the whole story the words of:
Proverbs 29:25 (NASB) The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.
Peter feared these men, so he compromised his convictions, even though he knew it was wrong. God had personally shown Peter that it was okay to eat with Gentiles. But his fear of men weakened his faith in God. And worst of all, his bad example caused the other Jewish Christians to follow his example.
Peter had a tendency to compromise his convictions when he was under pressure (cf. Matt. 16:16-23; 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62; John 18:15-18, 25-27). We often hear that Peter was a different man after Pentecost, but we see here that Peter still struggled with the same weaknesses.
We are a lot like Peter, aren't we? When was the last time fear tainted your faith? When was the last time fear caused you to shrink away from what was right so that you could avoid discomfort? When was the last time fear led you to push away people that God had led into your life? Discomfort, distress, fear, and embarrassment will always leave us looking back with remorse and regret.
Imagine how these Gentile believers must have felt. Our text tells us that Peter began to draw back and separate himself from them. The phrase "began to withdraw and hold himself aloof" indicates that this didn't happen over night. In fact, this is a term which was used by the military in those days, which suggests a military disengagement to find safer ground. It's not a term which suggests immediate flight as in a full fledged retreat.
Paul goes on to tell us that Peter's hypocrisy spread like gangrene to others:
Galatians 2:13 (NASB) And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Peter, Barnabas, and the others were being two-faced when they withdrew from eating with the Gentile Christians. They were saying one thing with their actions and believing another in their hearts. They sought to avoid censure from the circumcision party at the expense of their principles. They feared what man might do, and so they put up a front.
The hypocrisy of their actions was based on the fact that what they still believed, they had ceased to practice. They had not deliberately departed from right doctrine; they had simply deviated from it in practice.
The word hypocrite, in the original language of the Bible, means: "one who puts on a mask," referring to an actor. In this case, Peter, Barnabas, and the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch knew that these Gentile believers were really Christians. Yet, because of the pressure from the certain men from James, they acted like they were not Christians at all.
"Even Barnabas was carried away." Can you hear the heartache of Paul in those five little words? It is like Julius Caesar's, "Et tu, Brutus". Paul would have expected that Barnabas would remain loyal to him and the gospel even if everyone else turned away. After all, Barnabas, as the first pastor of the church in Antioch, had warmly welcomed Gentile believers. He had worked alongside Paul in that church and in their mission of planting Gentile churches in Galatia. How could even loyal Barnabas deny the truth of the gospel now? Didn't he, of all people, know that Gentile believers were to be fully accepted? Yes, he knew that. But the emotions stirred up in the crisis swept him along to act contrary to his convictions. And so, along with the rest of the Jewish Christians, he was guilty of hypocrisy; behavior inconsistent with basic beliefs. Barnabas withdrew with him leaving Paul standing all alone.
Standing alone is a lonely place. Standing alone is uncomfortable. Standing alone is almost intolerable, unbearable, and impossible. Stephen stood alone and was stoned to death. Jesus stood alone and was hung on a cross. Now Paul stood alone what would he do? Paul writes:
Galatians 2:14 (NASB) But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
He saw that they were not "straightforward about the truth of the gospel." The Greek word for "straightforward" is orthopodeo, from which we get the English word orthopedic. Paul understood that Peter's hypocrisy was really a compromise of the gospel itself. Withdrawing from the Gentile believers under these circumstances was to deny the truth that all believers are one in Christ. It established two classes in the church and implied that one class of believers (the Jewish Christians) was superior to the other (the Gentile Christians). This must not be done, and, therefore, Paul must take drastic action. That's why he rebuked Peter face to face in front of the whole congregation,
Peter had contradicted the gospel. The gospel proclaimed that salvation for both Jews and Gentiles was by way of the cross of Christ and union with Christ. But Peter's separation from table fellowship with Gentile Christians implied that salvation for Gentiles required strict adherence to the law and incorporation into the Jewish nation. No doubt Peter would have denied that he meant to communicate this requirement to the Gentile believers. But how else could his action be interpreted? The Gentile believers could not help but conclude from Peter's withdrawal that they were lacking something; that they were unacceptable outcasts. If they wanted to enjoy fellowship with Peter and the mother church in Jerusalem, they would have to become Jews.
Paul led Peter back to his own deepest convictions by asking him a question: "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? By his practice of eating with the Gentile believers when he came to Antioch, Peter had already demonstrated that, even as a Jew, he had complete liberty to live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. In other words, Peter had already made it clear that his convictions permitted him to be free from Jewish food regulations. But now his separation from table fellowship with the Gentile believers forced Gentiles to follow Jewish customs. So while Peter, a Jew, had the freedom to live like Gentiles, his recent act of separation from Gentiles robbed them of their own freedom to live like Gentiles! They were being forced to live like Jews if they wanted to remain in the same church with the Jewish Christians.
If we feel that Paul was unnecessarily harsh or rude for rebuking Peter in public, we need to recall that the freedom of all Gentile Christians and the whole future of the Gentile mission was at stake. What if Peter's separation had set a precedent for the future so that all Gentile Christians really were required to become Jews? From a human perspective, such a precedent would have spelled the end of the Gentile church. It is not conceivable that Gentile churches could have been planted or would have grown if this requirement would have been enforced. And furthermore, if the division along racial lines had been allowed, the church would never have been able to exhibit a new humanity unified by faith in Christ, which transcends the racial and social divisions in the world. The truth of the gospel would be negated by such division.
Peter was adding to the gospel. He was adding the works of keeping Jewish law. When you add anything to the gospel, you destroy it.
There is a group today that is often identified with evangelical Christianity, and yet it has clearly added an element to the gospel of pure grace. Let me quote from this church's web page: "It is necessary to respond to God's free offer of salvation by faith, repentance, and baptism. As we confess Christ as our Lord and are baptized by immersion, God meets us, forgives our sins and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers each of us."
This is the web page of Oak Hills Church of Christ with Max Lucado as it's senior Pastor. Now, it should be noted, Max Lucado takes a much softer view of this doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but the fact that he is still a Pastor in good standing in this denomination makes it clear that he still subscribes to this heretical teaching regarding water baptism.
Paul confronted Peter, and the course of church history was changed forever. That may sound like a mighty big statement to you, but the Father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther wrote:
In the matter referred to in Galatians 2, Peter not only went astray but committed a great sin; and if Paul had not resisted him, all the believing Gentiles would have been made to accept circumcision and keep the law. The believing Jews also would have been confirmed in their opinion that observing the law was necessary for salvation. In this way they would get the law back instead of the Gospel, Moses instead of Christ. (Martin Luther, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Galatians, pg. 79)
We need to be encouraged by Paul's courageous stand to take our own stand against Christians who repeat Peter's mistake in the church today.
In closing this morning let me ask you a couple of questions:
"Why didn't Paul go to Peter privately?" Doesn't Matthew 18:15-18 teach us to go to our brother privately when he has sinned against us? The answer is, "yes," but that applies most particularly to a personal offense. If my brother sins against me, I am to go to him privately and admonish him privately. Then I take another person with me. Then, and only then, do I "tell it to the church." Why didn't Paul follow that pattern? The answer is: Peter's compromise was not against Paul personally. It was a public sin that hurt the whole body of Christ. Therefore, it must be dealt with publicly. There are times when the sin is of such a nature that a public rebuke is necessary. This was one of those times. Notice what Paul taught about sinning church leaders:
1 Timothy 5:19-20 (NASB) Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.
We need to keep in mind that what Peter had done in Antioch was a public violation of God's word. He had publicly ostracized the Gentiles. He had publicly coerced the Gentiles to follow Jewish customs.
"How did Peter respond to the public rebuke of Paul?" I think that Peter's acceptance of the reproof is implied, just as all the other incidents Paul mentions were resolved in favor of the gospel of grace. At the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which I think took place some time after this clash at Antioch, Peter stands to his feet to argue the case for accepting Gentiles on the basis of salvation by faith alone:
Acts 15:9-11 (NASB) and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are."
It appears that Peter took the correction to heart and didn't back down at Jerusalem when the debate got hot.
This text is an exhortation to us as a people to recognize how terrible a thing is hypocrisy. Hypocritical Christianity is probably genuine Christianity's greatest enemy. A Christian faith that says one thing but acts differently, a Christian faith that declares truth and lives by lies is devastating to the cause of Christ.
As I come to the end of this message, the clearest application that comes to my heart is this: None of us are beyond temptation. None of us are so spiritually strong and so mature that we don't need prayer. If Peter and Barnabas could get caught up in hypocrisy, so could any of us. We need to pray for each other.
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