By opposing Peter, Paul shows how to avoid self-condemnation.
Galatians 2:6-14: And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to
me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
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?” (ESV)
Recently, two church members, Dan and Lucy, shared with me the story of a woman named Mercy, who went to be with the Lord after a brief battle with cancer.
By profession, Mercy was a pediatrician. Her superior was a feared man at her hospital and cursed all the time, taking the Lord’s name in vain. Disregarding whether she would lose her job or not, Mercy confronted him and asked, “Why do you take my Lord’s name in vain?”
This man stood condemned for his own actions.
Some would argue, “But that’s just a cultural thing. People do not mean it when they curse and use Jesus’ name.” Sarah, my wife, is a firefighter with the Metuchen Fire Department, and one evening I was invited to join her fellow firefighters for a meal. One gentleman at this meeting, out of habit, unnecessarily flavored his conversation with curse words. When he realized that I am a pastor here, he immediately apologized.
Why would my presence cause him to reflect on his speech? I’ll tell you why. The man knew his foul language was inappropriate but, perhaps without even realizing it, accepted it as a social and cultural norm.
No matter where we are, our presence should oppose ungodly behaviors and attitudes. Sometimes it may mean opposing a fellow believer, the culture that surrounds us, and the established norms that have rotted our societies and communities and even infiltrated our homes and family.
In this passage, Paul is resisting the social and cultural pressure of Jewish cultural influence over Christianity. He even opposes the apostle Peter, a fellow believer, a fellow apostle, a fellow Jew, and one of the pillars of the church.
Why? Because Peter is giving in to the social and cultural pressure of the circumcision party. Is it a big deal? Yes, it is. While the circumcision party wants segregation between Jews and Gentiles based on ethnoreligious superiority, the Gospel truth in Galatians 2:6 says, “God shows no partiality.” They want Gentiles to adhere to the Jewish culture, tradition, and customs.
Peter stands condemned because he is playing right into their hands. Listen to Paul’s charge against him: “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?’” (v. 14). Even Peter, as a Jew, was not following Jewish customs.
When believers do not resist or oppose what is wrong and in opposition to the truth of the Gospel, they stand condemned no matter the reason behind their silence. Church, if we don’t resist the cultural push to dismiss the truth of the Gospel out of fear of being judged, being looked down upon, or even out of fear of losing a job, we too stand condemned.
How do you resist and oppose what is wrong, ungodly, and in opposition to the truth of the Gospel? Do you remain silent and play it cool so that you won’t be seen as odd?
When we give in to social and cultural pressure and compromise the truth of the gospel, our words and actions, or lack thereof, condemn us. The Bible teaches that we are no longer under condemnation because of the truth of the Gospel, but when we withdraw from the truth of the Gospel, we stand condemned because of our own fault. The good news is, we can avoid self-condemnation if we learn how to avoid it.
This passage identifies three causes of self-condemnation.
Fear of Man
First, we condemn ourselves when we fear man rather than God and compromise the truth of the Gospel. In this section of the text, Paul moves from his visit to Jerusalem to Peter’s visit to Antioch. If Jerusalem was the main church for Jewish background believers, then Antioch was the main church for Gentile believers.
We see that when Peter visited Antioch, Paul opposed him to his face. The Greek word for “opposing” is a compound word, antihistemi. Anti means against, and histemi means to stand. It is to take a complete 180-degree stand against a position, which is what Paul is doing.
In classical Greek, this word is a military term with the meaning “to strongly resist an opponent.” But Peter is not the opponent. He is a fellow brother and fellow apostle.
There are two reasons behind Paul’s logic to oppose him.
First, in Jerusalem, we see the agreement between the apostles over the nature and source of the Gospel. There was no dispute over the truth of the Gospel. John, James, Peter, and Paul agreed that Jesus is enough, and there are no additional works that a man can do to be saved. But now, by his actions in Antioch, Peter is negating what he agreed to in Jerusalem.
Second, the Greek grammar tells us that Peter may have been in Antioch for some time, during which he had no problem eating with Gentiles. However, when some men came from Jerusalem, suddenly Peter began to act as if he had lost his way. He stopped eating with Gentile believers, the verse says, out of fear of the circumcision party. Peter’s 180-degree turn away from his own position on Gentile believers was the thrust behind Paul opposing Peter by taking a complete 180-degree stand against Peter’s position.
The Greek word for condemned, kata-ginóskó, in verse 11 further enforces these two reasons. Kata is “over against” and ginṓskō is to know, especially through personal experience. Peter’s actions were over and against what he knew through personal experience to be untrue and in opposition to the truth of the Gospel. Paul is taking a stand to oppose Peter so that he can shake him of the influence of the false teachers and remind him of who he is. He is the apostle of the truth. Verse 12, when translated literally, says Peter “began to withdraw and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” This indicates Peter was in the early stages of the process of withdrawal and separating himself from the Gentiles to please the circumcision party. Nevertheless, it shows the power of fear behind his actions.
Sarah and I met at a camp just outside of Boston. During my first year at that camp, I was the only New Yorker. At one point, the camp director decided to take us to Boston for a baseball game between the Red Sox and the Yankees. One of the leaders told me to take my Yankees hat off, or else I will be assaulted by some hardcore fans. Out of fear I did what I was told.
Two truths about fear:
Fear is a strong motivator to do something you do not want to do.
Fear is also a strong tool to cause others to be fearful and to do what they do not want to do.
When we fear man rather than God and compromise the truth of the Gospel we too stand condemned like Peter. But when we do not fear man, stand our ground, and do not compromise the truth of the Gospel like Paul, we can bring many to Christ and restore those who stray from the gospel of the truth.
The second cause of self-condemnation is hypocrisy. We condemn ourselves when we live hypocritically and cause others to stray from the truth of the Gospel.
Notice that verse 13 does not say that Peter and the rest of the Jews were hypocritical, it says they acted hypocritically. The word in the Greek text for “acted hypocritically” would be “to play a part with.” The focus here is how their actions played a part in leading others astray from the truth of the gospel.
Peter’s hypocritical action caused confusion and division. The false teachers took this as an endorsement of Peter for their false gospel. Paul’s mention of opposing Peter in our text is not to disrespect Peter or the office of the apostles that Peter holds, nor is he being self-righteous.
On the contrary, Paul wants the Galatians to know that he took a stand on behalf of a brother who failed to hold his position under pressure. In opposing Peter, Paul actually opposed the growing influence of the false teachers that caused Peter to act hypocritically which caused others to stray from the truth. Paul said that he did not submit to false brothers even for a moment, he expects Peter, the Galatians, and us to do the same and not live hypocritically.
The second year when I went back to the summer camp in Massachusetts, I brought a fellow New Yorker. When we went to a Red Sox game together, I told him to take his Yankees hat off. But he was a die-hard Yankee fan, so he refused. It was clear that he would rather be assaulted than take his hat off.
I was not a hypocrite, but I had acted hypocritically because when I was in New York I was a Yankee and when I was in Boston, I was a Red Sox fan, at least in appearance. I did not realize this until my friend showed up and exposed my hypocrisy. To me that was not a big deal, but to him it was majorly against his principles.
You may be influenced by other Christians who are acting hypocritically without being truly hypocritical. Perhaps you are that Christian, unable to see your own hypocrisy and causing others to stray from the truth of the Gospel. Barnabas was doing fine when he was influenced by Paul. Peter, whether unintentionally or not, led even Barnabas astray from the truth of the Gospel. It is one thing to condemn ourselves by acting hypocritically but it is another thing to cause others to stray from the truth of the Gospel.
The third cause of self-condemnation is when we are not conducting our lives in step with the truth of the Gospel. This cause may seem the same as the above, but there is a difference. In verse 13, the point is how our hypothetical lifestyle impacts others, even if it is a momentarily lapse of judgment and causes them to stray from the Gospel of truth. Here the focus is on how damaging it is to our own witness.
The first two causes are the reasons for opposing Peter to his face but here we find the purpose for confronting Peter and the exact wording that was used. Verse 14 reads, “But when I saw [notice, he saw with his eyes. He is the eyewitness of the action and the manner in which Peter conducted himself] that their [probably referring to the men who came from Jerusalem including Peter and Barnabas] conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all [why? Because he has the authority as an apostle of Jesus not any other person in the circumcision party. He is responsible for the confusion as an apostle], “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
The Greek word here for the phrase ‘their conduct was not “in step with”’ is from which we get the word orthopedic. It has to do with being straight-footed. The idea is that they were not walking uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel. The purpose of this rebuke is to call Peter and others to act uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel. Peter is not straightforward with what he believes, says, and lives.
I know the illustration of a Yankee baseball hat is not very compelling, but it does show that I was conducting myself as the social construct demanded and not what I believed or thought to be right. The major separation between a nominal Christian and a true believer is how they conduct every aspect of their lives on a daily basis.
Abandoning his fellow believers from a non-Jewish background in the midst of the heat of battle was not upright according to the gospel. When they truly needed him, Peter was not there. This is the same Peter who denied Jesus three times in the very hour when Jesus as a human could have used some support. Peter was quick to give in to social pressure, and he did exactly the same thing now. Peter stood condemned then and he stands condemned now.
When culture decides good is bad and bad is good and we sit quietly and let culture take its course, we become silent contributors to suppress the truth and advance evil in this world. By doing so we condemn ourselves. Mercy refused to be a silent contributor. She refused to be a passive Christian. She refused to suppress the truth out of fear that she may be ostracized. Mercy refused to let the fear of losing her job paralyze her not to act, and she resisted her superior’s disregard for the Lord and opposed the cultural norm set by others.
If the culture is promoting wrong, we ought to resist and oppose it; however, by being silent contributors we endorse the wrong practice in society. Peter became a silent contributor to the false teachers and had to be opposed, or else Paul would be a silent contributor too.
We have two choices here, either we can sit on the sidelines and say nothing at all and hope that others will eventually realize that they need Jesus, or we can engage others in conversation and build relationships. You may say, “Pastor, I am not an evangelist type.” No, you do not need to be an evangelist type. You need to be you.
Ask yourself two questions:
Who are you?
Whose are you?
If you say you are a Christian and you belong to Christ then, my friend, you have no other option than to resist and oppose anything and everything that attempts to stand against who you are and whose you are, or else you will stand condemned by your own words and actions.
Whatever you do, do not be a silent contributor to suppress the truth of the Gospel. The reality is, either we will be influenced by the culture, or we influence the culture.
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