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October 20, 2019 | Doug Sauder
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“But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.’”—Galatians 2:14-16 (NKJV)
People may have said Paul was unimpressive in presence and his speech was of no account (2 Corinthians 10:10), but he was like a mother bear when it came to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the section of Scripture above, Paul relates back to a time when he stood up to Peter. It was at Antioch, when Paul was rather fresh in his faith. Many believed he didn’t have the credentials of a true apostle. He had not followed Jesus in His ministry, had not been present at His transfiguration, had not watched the loaves of bread be multiplied, nor seen Lazarus rise from the dead. He was what we would label a “newbie.” So to stand up to Peter, a seasoned apostle, well, some might have thought him foolish.
But it was actually Peter who was being foolish. He and others had withdrawn from eating with the Gentile believers despite knowing (literally through a divine vision) that God shows no partiality and neither should His people (Acts 10:34-35). Anyone who believes in Jesus is “welcome to Him.” Paul wrote that Peter and company were not “straightforward,” meaning they were not walking a straight or upright course. They were negating the true gospel—and that brought out the bear in Paul.
The motivation to rebuke Peter wasn’t to shame him, but he did single him out based on who Peter was. As the apostle to the Jews, Peter had an enormous responsibility to reflect the truth he was taught by Christ. To deviate from it could cause others to veer off course. John Trapp brings this together by writing, “The sins of teachers are teachers of sin.” Paul’s aim was to correct Peter, to remind him that “man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16 NKJV).
The exchange between them created no ill will. In fact, in Peter’s second epistle he refers to Paul as “beloved” and filled with the wisdom of God (2 Peter 3:15). Scripture doesn’t allude to any dissolution of their brotherhood, while it does make note of others who parted or fell away. They exemplified “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1 NIV).
Paul’s bold proclamation of the gospel teaches that anyone who stands on truth, even a newbie, should correct and guide those who veer off course. There are biblical ways to do this, and we should practice them so that we, like Paul, might live for God (Galatians 2:19).
DIG: Why did Paul rebuke Peter?
DISCOVER: What is more important to God—keeping the law or having fellowship with Jesus and one another?
DO: Do you tend to fall into traditions that could misrepresent the true gospel? Do you see others doing this? Paul tells us that “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1 ESV). Reflect on these wise words to live by.