Thursday, January 23, 2014

Galatians 2:11-14 Oh, Peter!

Many of us would agree that we love Peter, because we can so identify with him! He was the passionate, impulsive disciple, who dropped everything to follow Jesus, fervently acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah, got out of the boat to walk on water to Jesus, swore he would never deny Christ, and rushed in to defend Jesus by cutting of Malchus’ ear when the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, he’s the one who also tried to keep Jesus from going to Jerusalem to die for us, one of those who fell asleep when Jesus asked him to stay awake in His hour of anguish, and the one who denied Jesus three times only a few hours after swearing his undying allegiance.

I love that man! He is the perfect example of our imperfection. And also the perfect example of the unlimited grace of God! Even though Peter was one of the big three apostles of the early church in Jerusalem, he, too struggled with some of the same weaknesses we all have, including the desire to please men!

As Paul finishes his defense of his own call to be an apostle, he tells the story of how he had to confront Peter over a major issue facing the early church - legalism:

But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.  When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision.  As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? (Galatians 2:11-14 New Living Translation)

Paul, who had been an avid follower of every Jewish ritual and tradition, knew that the gospel of Christ was a gospel of grace. He knew that we could never be made right with God by keeping the Law. So, when he saw Peter appearing to negate the gospel by following the Law, he felt compelled to speak up, because Peter’s actions, as a church leader, were stumbling others, including Barnabas. Requiring the following of the Law as a means of righteousness is in direct opposition to the truth of the gospel message, so Paul could not let Peter’s conduct slide. Remember that it was Peter who received the direct revelation from God that the gospel was also for the Gentiles. ( see Acts 10)

Think of the courage it took to confront Peter! Have you ever had to confront, face to face, someone you love and respect, maybe even someone who is in authority over you, to correct him regarding behavior? That is hard stuff. But Paul knew that there was too much at stake in this situation to overlook it. Not just for Peter, but for everyone watching him.

In fact, this entire letter to the Galatians is just such a confrontation. Paul is telling the Galatians, “Look! These false teachers who are trying to lead you astray from the truth of the gospel and to rely on your keeping of the Law to save you, are WRONG! And even Peter and the other church leaders agree with me on this! They received me as an apostle, and Peter took correction from me as a fellow apostle. So pay attention one more time as I clearly go over the true gospel that I already delivered to you!”

We will see his argument, his defense of the gospel, next. This is life-changing stuff!  

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