As I was reading Galatians tonight in my Bible, specifically the part where Paul had to oppose Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11-16), I couldn’t help but feel the horrible burden at realizing how misused, twisted, and abused this passage of Scripture has been lately in the hands of so-called “Christian” leaders as an attempt to justify their very ungodly, unbiblical, and un-Christlike actions and strongly-held opinions. They are so twisted and warped in their own thinking and thus teaching, that it is hard to “un-hear” what they have taught in order to clearly see and hear what the Holy Spirit, through His infallible, inerrant, all-sufficient Word is referring to and thus, what God means in this passage. That’s how dangerous it’s getting, folks.
May I start off by saying, that Paul, in Galatians 2:4-5, states that these people (the people I referenced above) are “false ones.” They are “so-called believers” who were “secretly brought in” and “snuck in,” who, according to Galatians 1:6-7 preach “a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all” and in fact “deliberately twists the truth concerning Christ” in an attempt to fit it to their own actions, ideas, opinions, and viewpoints instead of submitting themselves and their viewpoints to the Gospel. Of these people, Paul states in Galatians 1:8-9 that God’s curse is upon them for preaching “a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.” This is important b/c the passage concerning Paul’s opposition to Peter’s face has EVERYTHING to do w/ the Gospel and the preservation of the Gospel message in-and-of-itself, as well as in the eyes of those who were watching, and thus, is a stark reminder that those who abuse, misuse, mishandle, and purposefully twist this passage to mean something other than what it was originally intended to mean are literally encouraging another gospel by encouraging misunderstanding of this text, which has to do WITH the Gospel, and in so doing, are false teachers and so-called believers who are under the curse of God for doing so.
With that said, we can now address the passage in Galatians 2:11-16, in which Paul opposes Peter to his face. The passage reads (in the NLT):
But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what He did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate w/ the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat w/ the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? You and I are both Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet, we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Jesus Christ so that we might be made right w/ God b/c of our faith in Christ, not b/c we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right w/ God by obeying the law.
First, Paul begins by stating that he absolutely HAD to oppose Peter to his face, and Paul states the reason: b/c what Peter did was “very wrong.” The NASB translates vs. 11 as “stood condemned.” Paul was compelled, due to the dire seriousness of the matter, to confront Peter b/c Peter was the one responsible for this confusion.
Notice, Paul did not pull Peter off to the side. He opposed him to his face in front of everyone b/c Peter’s example reflected poorly on the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Faulty example of the Gospel would lead to faulty misunderstanding of the Gospel, and thus to faulty belief in a false gospel. Paul could not let that happen. When it came to the content of the Gospel, the message of the Gospel, the preservation and the purity of the Gospel, and the understanding of the Gospel, Paul thought it important enough and serious enough to confront and correct in public, not to merely ridicule the opponent, but to bring correct understanding PUBLICLY concerning the content, the message, and the understanding of the Gospel, so that there was no misunderstanding, confusion, or denial of what the Gospel is and is not. Souls were at stake, and Paul knew it. After all, he had previously stated in Galatians 1:10, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Paul took His calling to tell the Gospel seriously. Paul took the content of the Gospel seriously. Paul took the purity, and thus, protection and preservation of the Gospel seriously. Paul took souls seriously. Why? B/c Paul took GOD seriously.
Next, we see Paul explain just what it was that Peter did that was “very wrong” and caused this very public rebuke and correction. At first, Peter ate w/ the Gentile believers, who were uncircumcised. This was in line w/ what God had shown Peter in Acts 10:9-16. However, when friends of James arrived, Peter was afraid of the criticism he would receive from them regarding his eating w/ the Gentiles (since they insisted on the necessity of circumcision), and so he wouldn’t eat w/ the Gentiles anymore.
(Notice the phrase, “Peter was afraid…” This Peter– this SAME Peter who had denied Jesus out of that SAME fear, who had then been forgiven, empowered, and emboldned by the forgiveness and love of Christ and by the Holy Spirit to preach such a powerful sermon at Pentecost– had resorted back to that same ‘ole fear of man. He may have had to be rebuked and corrected here by Paul, but thank God we know, that Peter regained His strength and boldness to the point of writing more books and of eventually being martyred on an upside down cross, according to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, b/c he stated he was not worthy to die in the same manner as His Lord! I am SO THANKFUL for the example (even in this rebuke) of Peter as one who loved the Lord and preached the Gospel faithfully, remaining faithful ultimately, even unto death, to the Lord, and yet still getting hung up from time- to- time and in need of rebuking, correction, redirection, forgiveness, grace, teaching, and love.)
So… as a result of this “very wrong” thing Peter did, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocritical example, and even Paul’s co-worker, Barnabas, was led astry by the hypocrisy of it all! Peter’s actions alone were cause for rebuke and correction. Perhaps, if it had just involved and only effected Peter PERSONALLY, Paul would have rebuked and corrected Peter PERSONALLY. However, Peter’s hypocritical error was not only intentional, but it was far from being a mere “personal problem.” It was a very PUBLIC incident that led others astray, and BECAUSE it led others astray, Paul felt compelled not only to say something, and not only to say it to Peter, but to say it to Peter PUBLICLY. The incidient was a public one and therefore, needed to be corrected before the same ‘public’ it had been done in front of and to. What added fuel to Paul’s fire was what Peter’s hypocritical example CONVEYED. You know the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words?” Well, in this case, Paul must have thought so, and what he saw, he took very seriously.
(I would like to say that it is at this point that many so-called believers and “Christian” leaders will stop and insert their own explanation of what this passage means for us today as Christians. They will interpret this passage to mean that we should be accepting of all people, even if they live in lifestyles contrary to the Word of God, whether or not they profess to be children of God, and thus they and everyone else are to be like ‘Paul’ in their rebukes of all the ‘Peters’ out there who go around saying that believers are to have nothing to do w/ those who falsely go around claiming to be followers of Christ and yet have not fruit of repentance and continue to engage in a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. See how twisted this gets? I told you. But this is NOT what the passage is about at all, and in fact, if you can wrap your head around all that nonsense, it should scare you. I barely can. Don’t even try). Paul tells us what the issue is here, and it wasn’t that Peter wouldn’t accept people different from him. The issue was the way the Gospel of Jesus Christ was being represented, and thus bore reflection on the meaning of the Gospel, and let us not forget–the public rebuke was issued to a BELIEVER. Peter was sitting w/ BELIEVERS. Paul was a BELIEVER. Let no one tell you for a moment this passage is about accepting non-repentant, unchanged, unbelievers as if they were believers just b/c they claim to be.
So when Paul saw, not only what Peter was doing, but the impact it had on others’ understanding of the Gospel, he reacted. Paul, in his own words, states this is Galatians 2:14, “When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter, in front of all the others….” Peter’s actions, nor the actions of his followers, were in keeping with the truth of the message of the gospel, which is not only that there is no distinction anymore for those who have been brought together in the unity of Christ’s Spirit, but that “we are made right by God through our faith in Jesus Christ”, “not by obeying the law” or b/c “we obeyed the law.” (Gal. 2:15-16). What Peter had done (and consciously so, for all hypocritical acts are an act of the will since they come from a place of fear) had undermined the very Good News that gave the Gospel its name! People looked up to Peter! They were influenced by him! They followed his lead b/c they trusted him! This could not be allowed at the hands of someone w/ so great an influence–an influence given to him by God!
(May I also just say here that if Peter was not above being rebuked, and being rebuked PUBLICLY at that, then neither are we, nor ANY OTHER LEADER WHO LABELS THEMSELVES A CHRISTIAN AND/OR HAS A PLACE OF INFLUENCE IN THE LIVES OF PEOPLE, *ESPECAILLY* WHEN IT COMES TO THE CONTENT, CLARITY, UNDERSTANDING, AND PRESERVATION OF THE PURITY OF THE GOSPEL MESSAGE!)–There. I said it. Now, I feel a whole lot better. 🙂
Paul’s passion was the Gospel. He knew it was the very POWER of God unto salvation, first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, but to both nonetheless. He knew God’s power to save rested in nothing else. He knew God had provided no other way for a man to be saved BUT BY the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This was life and death to Paul. Literally. This was not about sitting at certain “tables.” This was not about acceptance of people different from us, irregardless of their standing w/ Christ. This was not about Christians in the church acting hypocritically and leading others astray by their hypocrisy b/c of all the “church cliques” goin’ on in the church.
This was about the preservation (and perhaps even the PRESENTATION, in some respects) of the Gospel. This was the difference b/w heaven and hell. And whether these people would walk away believing a lie about the Gospel or the truth about the Gospel hinged on whether or not Paul would, not only openly correct the the FALSEHOOD being conveyed, but also rebuke the person RESPONSIBLE for such an error.
The book of Ecclesiasties in 3:1 & 7 states, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven–…a time to be silent and a time to speak”. Can I just tell you that the time to remain silent is not when someone is purposefully misconveying, whether through word or through deed, the message of the Gospel of Christ? That is a no-brainer (or should be) in the Christian church. At all costs, the message of the Gospel of Christ is to be protected, defended, and preserved, and there should never be a time when we shrink back or doubt otherwise. No doubt Paul knew this from his study of the Old Testament, as well as through common sense. The message is CLEAR: We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law or b/c we have obeyed the law. We can’t be saved through works of the law, and we can’t MAINTAIN our salvation through works of the law. If we could– Paul goes on to say in vs. 21— then Christ died for nothing!
So let it be made known, not only the true meaning of this passage, and not only the true meaning of the Gospel contained WITHIN this passage, but also the warning and very adamant fact that those who falsely, deliberately twist the Gospel into another gospel that pretends to be the Good News, and in so doing leads others astray in word or deed, are under the curse of God and will inflict such wrath upon themselves for purposefully doing so.
I know this isn’t necessarily a “feel good” blog post, but it is a necessary one, due to the high volume of so-called “Christians” citing this passage in an attempt to make the Gospel and the Word fit them and their actions instead of submitting to and adjusting themselves to the Gospel and the Word. We need to understand God’s Word clearly so as not to be led astray, and we also need to warn others—to some as Paul did Peter. To others, as Paul did false teachers. Paul’s rebuke and correction of Peter showed his passionate concern for the Gospel message, as well as his passionate concern for Peter b/c he knew Peter was not a false teacher. He knew Peter was not a false convert. He KNEW Peter! And that was all the more cause to set him straight. Peter was not like those false teachers who were under God’s curse for how they were misrepresenting the Gospel, but it was BECAUSE OF THIS dire warning of God’s curse, that Paul quickly rebukes and corrects His brother in Christ (see James 5:19-20).
We are not told Peter’s response, but we see it beautifully evidenced throughout the rest of Scripture: He didn’t hold it against Paul. Peter knew he was wrong.
Here again, is another beautiful thing about the example of Peter: he shows us what it means to mess up and give into fear over and over as a follower of Christ, but praise God, he also shows us the evidence of what it looks like to be a TRUE follower of Jesus Christ, born of His Spirit, and washed in His blood…
In Christian love and w/ all humility,