Galatians 2:11-13 (Paul Opposes Peter)
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.”
On the face of it this is this just an account of the conflict of two men. One of whom represents Legalism and the Law, the other who represents Grace and Freedom. Paul and Peter stand, it seems, in different camps – Peter is in the camp of legalism and rules, Paul in the camp of grace. Peter allows legalism to direct his actions so Paul (so full of grace!?) bawls him out in front of the church! He reveals his hypocrisy and uses it as an example in this letter to the Galatians to show how wrong the circumcision group (the Judaisers) are, and how they can even influence someone like Peter!
I believe this is more than a falling into legalism which had to be corrected though. These verses give us some insights into exactly what legalism is and how it works, what some of the characteristics of it are, so that we can recognise it and stand against it. Not with an “I hate rules” kind of grace which frankly misinterprets the grace and freedom of God into licentiousness where anything goes because “God is a God of grace not legalism”, but to understand how legalism creeps into the church – and to recognise some of its characteristics.
v12 Legalism threatens fellowship
Galatians 2:12: …before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself…
Paul really singles Peter out, but I believe the issues that we need to learn run deeper than the weaknesses of just one man, Peter was merely the focus of Paul’s frustration about this issue. Peter represents something GOOD that has gone awry, he started well, but allowed circumstances / people to lead him astray:- Initially things went well, but starting well and falling away is so often a chorus in the story of the People of God (here are just 4 examples) :-
- Judges 3:7 – The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
- Nehemiah – The people had been released by Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem, but had not.
- Haggai – The people had neglected the house of God for their own comfort, they had started well and look at the result everything had gone pear-shaped.
- Revelation 2:4 – Ephesus “you have forsaken your first love”
In this instance, Peter’s falling away centres on mealtimes – or does it? Again, I don’t believe that even with kosher issues between Jew/Gentile foods etc., that this is primarily about sharing meals – it is all about fellowship and acceptance.
Peter was a Jew, but through his faith in Christ he had become a Christian. When he became a Christian, he became part of the church, and we know that in the church there are (or should be) no distinctions. We have seen how the Lord taught Peter this important lesson, in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10) which he talks about at the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15). Peter himself had stated that God had “put no difference between us and them” (Acts 15:9). We are God’s people and we are one people, even though we may be divided into various groups, there is an essential unity amongst us that the Bible talks about – Ephesians 4 / John 17:11 / Psalm 133 / 1 Corinthians 12 for example.
Any practice on our part that violates the Scripture and separates brother from brother is a denial of the unity of the body of Christ. But in this situation, Peter does exactly that, he allows a distinction to develop – between “Jewish Christian” and “Gentile Christian” – he acts on that difference and creates a barrier, he creates a “them and us” situation or at least or allows it to develop. You see, this is not so much about meals or eating together or not eating together – it is about the unity of the Gospel and how legalism eats it away.
When Revelation 3:20 talks about God coming and eating with us, it doesn’t mean that God is going to come round for tea, eating and meals together are a reference to depth of fellowship, and this verse shows us very clearly that that depth of relationship is something we can expect with God.
Acts 2:42 – gives 2 descriptions of the first disciples eating together – “they broke bread together”. Whether this was just eating to gather or actually reference to communion as well is another preach, but something at least is clear – fellowship meals were an integral part in the lives of the first believers. What is is that the Anglican service says? … “Though we are many we are one body because we all share in the one loaf”
One of the marks of a church which is in danger of falling into a legalistic attitude is that people start making judgements on one another. Separation and cliques are one of the first indications that something is going astray in the family of God. Paul writes to Corinth …
1 Corinthians 1:10-17: I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe ‘s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ” I follow Paul,” or ” I follow Apollos,” or ” I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?
What legalism does is set rules and regulations that divide us into us and them – those who comply or are successful in keeping the rules and those who are not – and those judgments can be about all sorts of things :-
- Form of Baptism,
- Style of Worship,
- Centrality of Scripture,
- Role of Women
- etc., etc., etc.,
The list is almost endless, and when we start to label people in this way, we start to draw away from one another and to “faction” – cliques form. (Don’t misunderstand, I am NOT saying some of these things are not important, what I am saying is, these things do not bring salvation – only Jesus does that!).
Now I know that Jesus use this kind of language – he uses phrases such as sheep and goats, wheat and weeds, light and darkness, He says whoever is not for me is against me, but actually once we have made the transition from death to life, divisions are swept away – we read again and again that once we were like that – but now we’re not.
Fellowship and unity is KEY to our witness, and is FOUNDATIONAL in our faith – fellowship with God and fellowship with one another…
What legalism does when it creates a dichotomy between people is to deny the unity we have in Jesus Christ. It puts up the barriers that Jesus died to take down, and as Paul writes elsewhere (and in a different context) “you died to that stuff – why live in it again?”, “you left your old life behind – why do you want to go back to it?”. for example Colossians 2:20.
A key indication of the presence of grace is the presence of true fellowship. When grace starts being taken over by something else, then unity and fellowship are amongst the first things that get lost. One of the key ways to recognise legalism is to notice the breaking down of relationships in the body of Christ. Fighting legalism by it’s very nature INCLUDES fighting for unity in the body…
Titus 3:9-11: avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self- condemned
2 Timothy 2:23ff: flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord ‘s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
v12 Legalism Bullies People
“…because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group”
Peter listened to the “certain men” – if we are not confident of the grace of God over us, we can become unsure of ourselves and be swayed by the opinions of men.
We have a story in the Gospels that give us a hint about Peter … When Jesus was being crucified, Peter denies Him 3 times…
“Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “ You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “ This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath:“I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “ Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.”
I believe that fundamentally it was fear of man which caused Peter to deny Jesus that night. Yet in Acts 11 we read about Peter being criticised by the “circumcision party” … Acts 11:2,3: the circumcision party criticised him, saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them”. at that point, Peter had the inner conviction and strength to stand up to them, so we read that he defended himself and that When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “ Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life”. Acts 11:18
However here we can see that Peter has gone full circle and has listened to this faction and withdrawn from the people he so vigorously defended in Jerusalem – so much so that Paul has to call him out on it.
We have a number of proverbs and other texts which talk about how we should regard other people’s view of us…
- The fear of man lays a snare (Proverbs 29:25)
- The LORD is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)
- Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions … I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them (1 Samuel 15:24)
- … don’t worry or be afraid of their threats (1 Peter 3:14,15 NLT)
One of the biggest battles Peter faced (and this passage suggests it was an ongoing battle) was one that I would suggest that we all face to a greater of lesser extent. That is: to maintain His own walk and convictions in the face of fear.
Antidote to fear?
1. Encouragement (literally = to put courage into someone). Gather around us those who will put courage into us to stand strong. This is partly why fellowship is so important! When we are in fellowship with, and encourage one another, fear withers and dies! It is no coincidence that people who are alone are more prone to fear than those who are not. If you don’t want to give in to fear – get into fellowship!
2. Fear – the RIGHT kind of fear (i.e. fear of God). Fear of God is not a popular or fashionable concept today, we prefer to think of God as someone we access through Jesus, who like some kind of talisman for many turn him into some kind of cosmic pussycat. Yet Jesus says And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28), and Paul says “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). I would suggest a right and proper fear of God will put our fear of man into it’s rightful place – the bin. Acts 4:19 shows the result of this working out … “… Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God”
v13 Legalism Likes to Influence
v13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
Peter drew other people away from the grace of God. Most notably Barnabas, who is one of the supreme examples in the Bible of godliness – He was one of the leaders of the church in Antioch, and instrumental in introducing Paul and starting his ministry. his pedigree is there in the Bible for all to read. He was not someone who would easily be led astray I think, that is why I believe there is almost a sense of surprise in Paul’s writing when he says “even Barnabas was led astray”. This just goes to show how influential our actions can be.
“Do as I say and not as I do” my Dad used to say, but the truth is that people don’t follow our words, they follow our actions – and the Bibles well aware of this.
2 Kings 14:3 (of Jehoash) – In everything he followed the example of his father Joash
John 13:15 – I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you
1 Corinthians 11:1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ
1 Timothy 4:12 – be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity
1 Corinthians 4:16 – Therefore I urge you, imitate me
We cannot underestimate how much influence out actions have on those around us – our good or bad actions have consequences…
- Some people will evaluate the validity of our faith through them
- Some people will emulate them
- Some people will evaluate our character by them
The book of James speaks into this – he is NOT saying that our actions determine our salvation (only the how we respond to the cross will do that), he is saying our actions reveal the validity of our faith.
Our actions do not replace our faith – they reveal it for what it is
The bottom line is this one – we ARE an example to people around us. The choice you and I have to make is this: will I be a good example – or a bad one?
Responses /Questions for each one of us to consider … / discuss (?)
- Am I living under a legalistic attitude – and judging others according to some arbitrary measure other than that which Christ uses? As we come under the grace of God in our own lives, let’s commit to showing that grace to one another.
- Am I worried about the opinions of others? Do they affect me or influence how I act? Let’s commit personally to working to ensure our “fear” of others does not divert us from the path, and to help one another to stand.
- Am I aware of those I influence by my actions? Can I identify my “apprentices” who are more influenced than the casual “acquaintances” in my life? Think about who they might be, and pray for God’s strength to be that right model for them to see and follow.