Summary: Part of a sermon series on Galatians
The story so far:
There has been a big argument brewing in the churches of Galatia about what the content of the Gospel is and whether or not Paul is teaching the right version. Some former Jews who have become Christians are saying he has it wrong and he is not teaching what Peter, James and John are teaching. In response Paul says he got the message from Jesus himself. The evidence for this? The total transformation of Paul’s life from one who killed and arrested Christians to a person who teaches the faith and helps bring thousands to Christ.
Paul’s opponents claim he has watered down the gospel by taking out the need to keep rituals like circumcision. Paul tells them that only faith in Jesus saves, nothing more and he meets with Peter, James and John who confirm his teaching and offer him friendship. This brings unity to the Church, but as we can see, that’s not the end of the argument for some and Paul feels the need to write this letter to the Christians in the churches of Galatia which are being particularly affected by these incorrect teachings. This was a tense time in the history of the church and during tense times it is easy to get things wrong and listen to the wrong people. Even Peter was prone to it and if he can be, so can we. But how do we guard against it?
The Conduct of Peter (V 11-13)
Just as Paul visited the HQ of the Jewish Christian church Peter visits the HQ of the Gentile Christian church in Antioch in Syria. It’s a big city and the place where followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26).
Paul notices that Peter is not mixing and eating with the Gentile Christians as he was before but is actually spending time with those who have tried to belittle Paul because he seems to be worried about what they will think of a Jewish Christian mixing with Gentile Christians. They think this because they still keep to the Law that the two should not mix, whereas Paul has already shown that the gospel is for everyone equally. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s example and separated themselves also. We always have to be careful what we say, but even more careful about what we do. The unity Paul and Peter had created in Jerusalem was at risk again.
Why did Peter do this? The passage tells us: Fear! Paul uses the word hypocrisy which means play acting. It wasn’t that Peter didn’t believe that Jews and Gentiles were equal or that Christians could share the same food. After all Peter had been told by God himself that it was permissible to eat any food. So it wasn’t that he didn’t believe it, it was that fear drove him to live out his beliefs in the wrong way.
What are we afraid of which causes us to live out our faith in the wrong way? (Get tables to discuss and get one answer from each. Perhaps open some of these up). In a prison situation it could be:
• Fear of other faiths
• Fear of being seen to be weak
• Fear of losing friends
• Fear that your faith does not make sense
• Fear of not knowing enough
• Fear of what people think
• Fear of what psychology may say
• Even fear of what other Christians might think
The Conduct of Paul (v 14-16)
When we see another Christian living their life out of fear what should be our reaction? Paul shows us. He didn’t start writing letters to all his churches claiming Peter is wrong. He didn’t even approach James and John and say “Peter is a hypocrite”. He waited until the right time when Peter visited him and he addressed him face to face.
Then he did something really important. He didn’t tell Peter he wasn’t a Christian because of what he was doing. He didn’t tell Peter he should resign. He didn’t even tell Peter what he thought Peter was thinking. He simply and plainly put the facts in front of him. He stuck to what he himself had seen and did not speak of what he had not: “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew”. Then he asked him a question: “How is it then that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
Plain, simple, straightforward and honest. Paul did not condemn him, he let the facts speak, not himself. This is a lesson for us (reiterate the steps above).
As Christians we can compromise on some things. We can compromise on baptism because baptism does not save us, it’s a ritual. We can compromise on what type of worship we bring – traditional, modern, and charismatic or café style – because it’s a ritual it does not save us. We can compromise about eating pork or not – it’s a rule which God used at a specific time to keep his people safe from food poisoning. It has no impact on whether we are in or out of God’s Kingdom and as we have already seen Jesus said we can eat anything if we wish to. But we cannot compromise about how people are saved which is by having faith in Jesus and Jesus alone. As Paul says here, if we are made right by keeping laws and rituals then Jesus died for nothing (v 21).