Why Paul Had to Rebuke Peter
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. 12 For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. 13 Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” — Galatians 2:11-14
Confrontation. It’s not something that many of us enjoy, especially if you are a 9 on the Enneagram. That’s one of my top two scores, which means I am generally a peacemaker. I tend to steer away from polarizing topics and shy away from heavily partisan news sources, partly because I don’t like the conflict and divisiveness it foments.
But I realize that confrontation is sometimes necessary in the Christian life. We are called not only to encourage one another, but also to confront others in certain situations, especially when the truth of the gospel is at stake.
In today’s passage we see an unusual situation where one apostle of the church (Paul) rebukes another (Peter). And he doesn’t apologize for it. In fact, he recounts it publicly to the church at Galatia to make an important point about the gospel. Okay, here’s a little background.
Boundary Markers. Every society has them. It’s the way we separate “us” from “them.” It may be the way we dress, how we worship, what team we pull for, or anything that defines our tribe. The Jews had these. Two examples were circumcision and having table fellowship only with other Jews who ate Kosher.
The church at Antioch was a mixed bag of Jews and Gentiles who seemed to get along relatively well. They worshipped together. They ate together. But then some Jews arrived who wanted the boundary markers to stay in place. First, Peter succumbed to their influence and stopped eating with the Gentiles. Soon other Jews followed. Now you had a divided church through the re-establishment of the common boundary markers.
Why this mattered. When Paul rebuked Peter, it was not simply because he was being sensitive to the hurt feelings of the Gentile Christians. Paul knew that by separating themselves, the Jewish believers were “deviating from the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). The gospel is not simply an individualistic way of getting right with God. It is that, but much more. The vertical relationship with God also has many horizontal implications for our relationship with others.
If we are right with God simply based on grace through faith in Christ, and not because of our efforts or ethnicity, then so is everyone else. There is no “us” and “them.” All boundary markers of race, culture, ethnicity, and economic status are destroyed. If the church does not act in accordance with this, then we are communicating a false gospel to the world. That is why Paul had the audacity to confront a fellow brother and apostle of the Church. The truth of the gospel was at stake. How are you doing defending that truth?
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What boundary markers do I allow to separate myself from other believers? Do I allow my nationality, race, or politics to keep me from other brothers and sisters in the family of God?
- There was a certain hostility between Jews and Gentiles that Jesus came to destroy. What hostility between groups exists today? How is Jesus calling His church to break down walls of hostility to preserve the truth of the gospel?
- What might it cost me to show appropriate solidarity with those outside my tribe? Am I willing to pay the price for the sake of preserving the truth of the gospel?
- What does it look like to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God today?