This Sunday I’ll be preaching a passage of scripture in the 2nd chapter of Galatians where the apostle Paul calls out the apostle Peter. We read in these verses, “11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. 13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?“ (V.11-14, NASB). In this passage Peter is guilty of great duplicity, Paul calls it hypocrisy. Before the brothers came from James, Peter (Cephas is his Jewish name) was enjoying bacon and eggs and ham sandwiches with his new Gentile brethren. The eating speaks of fellowship and sharing in each other’s lives. But when the Jewish brethren came from Jerusalem Peter begins to withdraw from sharing with the Gentile believers. This may seem like a minor point to us but it wasn’t according to Paul. In fact he refers to it as “the truth of the gospel”. Paul couldn’t ignore this hypocrisy nor the party spirit that was being fostered by Peter’s actions. He confronts Peter before the other brothers because Peter’s sin had been before the other brothers. In the body of Christ it is necessary and sometimes imperative that we confront one another. When we ignore sin in the camp it becomes a cancer that easily spreads to other members of the body of Christ. This was seen in the others joining in with Peter’s hypocrisy.
Later on in the 6th chapter of Galatians, Paul gives us more instruction about confrontation when he writes “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted” (v.1, NASB). The fact that Paul called Peter out for his hypocrisy in chapter 2 illustrates for us how important it is that when we see a brother or sister going the wrong way that we challenge them to considerate the long term implications of the choices they are making. As a pastor who’s had to use church-discipline throughout my ministry, I know this is always a painful process that frequently doesn’t work the way we want and yet it is the God honoring thing to do.
But how did Peter response to Paul’s confrontation? The Scripture in Galatians doesn’t record his response yet I believe we can be confident of his repentance and confession. I can say this confidently because later on Peter would write in his 2nd epistle, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (V.15-16, NASB). In this passage Peter equates Paul’s writing with Scripture even though in one of Paul’s letter Peter is openly rebuked. Peter surely came to see Paul’s rebuke as from the Lord as certainly Jesus has no desire to divide the Jews and Gentiles along food lines. So we can state with certainty that there is in the body of Christ a place for confrontation and confession for God’s glory.
Shalom, Pastor Rich Sivo