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?” 15 "We are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” 16 "and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified.” ()
It was an awkward moment, to say the least.
It’s always embarrassing when a fight breaks out at church, but this one was a real doozy.
For one thing, it took place during a church pancake breakfast, where everyone was supposed to be having a good time.
For another thing, one the combatants was a pillar of the church, a deacon.
Well, here It was Peter against Paul, two apostles in a face-to-face, knock-down, drag-out showdown.
This was so unexpected. What do we read of the last time that they came together? v9
Everyone knew there had been some kind of argument at Antioch, and
it would have been easy to use the incident to discredit Paul’s gospel.
Yet according to Paul, the altercation was the final proof that
he was a genuine apostle of the one true gospel of free grace.
Here it may help to review his argument to this point.
First Paul argued that he had been an apostle long before he met any other apostles (1:13–24).
Next he showed how the other apostles recognized him as an apostle in his own right (2:1–10).
In case any further proof was needed, he now shows that he
even had the authority to rebuke another apostle who stepped out of line (2:11–14).
To understand this battle we need to understand basic dining habits.
What we eat and with whom says something about who we are.
Sometimes certain people refuse to eat with certain other people.
Here’s what black Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson discovered when he made it to the big leagues.
He walked onto the team bus and saw a white ballplayer drinking an orange soda. “That looks really good,” he said. “Can I have a swig?”
Gibson’s teammate looked down at his drink, looked back at Gibson, and said, “I’ll save you some.”
What he meant was that his white lips would not share a drink with a black man.
There is racial overtones in that. Now see if you can pick them up when we re-read the passage.
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.” ()
Antioch thus became the first place where the early church had to wrestle with the issue of table fellowship.
At their former meeting in Jerusalem (), the apostles had already agreed that the Gentiles belonged in the church.
They didn’t have to keep the Old Testament law to be saved.
At the same time, it was still appropriate for Jewish Christians to maintain their heritage by keeping the ceremonial law.
Just as the Gentiles could behave like Gentiles, so the Jews could behave like Jews.
But how was a Jew supposed to relate to a Gentile when they both worshiped in the same church?
Did they have to eat together?
Table fellowship with Gentiles had always been forbidden!
How could Jewish Christians keep kosher if they had to eat with Gentiles who
ate the wrong foods,
prepared the wrong way, and in some cases
· prepared the wrong way, and in some cases
offered to the wrong gods?
· offered to the wrong gods?
Eventually Peter came to understand that it was not just about evangelism;
it was also about fellowship.
“For he regularly ate with the Gentiles” (), Paul wrote, meaning that it was his usual custom to sit down with them at the table.
Peter did not have any scruples about sharing a meal with his uncircumcised brothers in Christ.
His radical solution to the problem of table fellowship was to consider them (not separate), but equal.
Now, something is going to change...
To an orthodox Jew, sitting down to eat with pagans was an act of defiant rebellion.
So imagine what these men who “came from James” () thought when they went to Antioch!
James the brother of Jesus had given Paul the right hand of fellowship.
But this group was sent out to check up on how things are going and to check on Peter.
More than likely these men were converted Pharisees, who were very traditional in their faith.
The first thing they noticed was how lax Peter was when it came to the old traditions.
He was behaving practically like a pagan!
As Paul would put it, 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?”” ()
The pressure group from Jerusalem put Peter in an awkward situation.
Frankly, he found himself “fearing the circumcision party” ().
He knew how traditional they were, and he did not want to offend them.
After all, he was called to take the gospel to the Jews, not the Gentiles, so why worry about the Gentiles?
So Peter did an about-face: “He drew back and separated himself” ().
He stopped inviting Gentiles to sit at his table.
He started eating on the other side of the church basement.
Or perhaps, since the first Christians met in private homes, he stopped eating with them altogether, even for the Lord’s Supper.
What Peter did was not a matter of principle; it was a case of cowardice.
This was not the first time Peter had given in to peer pressure, but at least the fourth (see ).
From this we learn that even great Christians can fall into sin, sometimes more than once.
We also learn how necessary it is for Christian ministers to have the courage to defend the gospel against all opposition,
including opposition that comes from within the church.
Peter’s poor example also teaches us to stick up for the gospel.
It was his firm conviction that salvation came by grace through faith, not by the law.
He not only believed that Gentiles could be first-class Christians; he also lived in a way that demonstrated that they were.
Nevertheless, Peter retreated from his former position. He “pulled back” from his brothers and sisters.
The Greek term (hypestellen) is sometimes used to describe a military withdrawal.
In effect, Peter was ashamed of the gospel.
When push came to shove, he did not stand his ground for the truth that all Christians are saved by the same grace.
It takes courage to stand for the gospel.
When the fear of people overcomes the fear of God, we are likely to deny the gospel.
Unless we are willing to stand up for God at work on Monday, we are just pretending at church on Sunday.
So, here’s what Jesus said:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” ()
Those who promote peace, as far as it depends on them (). In so doing they reflect the character of their heavenly Father and so are called “children of God” (see ).
17 "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. 18 "And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.” ()
James focuses on virtues that will foster harmony among Christians.
The list of virtues that characterizes true wisdom is similar, in structure at least, to the list of the “fruit of the Spirit” in .
Ultimately, the Spirit produces these virtues.
10 "Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 "Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord.” ()
1 "Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about disputed matters.” ()
19 "So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.” ()
5 "Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus,” ()
2 "make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” ()
13 "bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 "Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 "And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.” ()
8 "Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble,” ()