Summary: Paul’s conflict with Peter serves as a model for dealing with controversy. A look at both the source and soloution to conflict.
Introduction: Two men who lived in a small village got into a terrible dispute that they could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town sage. The first man went to the sage’s home and told his version of what happened. When he finished, the sage said, "You’re absolutely right." The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side of the story. The sage responded, "You’re absolutely right." Afterward, the sage’s wife scolded her husband. "Those men told you two different stories and you told them they were absolutely right. That’s impossible—they can’t both be absolutely right." The sage turned to his wife and said, "You’re absolutely right."
Some people really like to avoid a conflict. I should know because I’m one of them. But conflict is a fact of life, in fact many have made the point that conflict, even within the Church is a sign of life--evidence of the fact that people really care. And avoiding confrontation is often a recipe for even greater conflict and pain.
Interrogative: The important question is, how do we manage conflict appropriately within the fellowship of the church.
Transition: The passage we read this morning from Galatians is the record of one of the best known conflicts in the early church and in it I see a model for how we should deal with controversy among believers. First, I’d like us to consider the source of conflict and then we’ll look at the soloution to conflict. First let’s look at the source
1. The Source of Conflict
v. 12 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.
You know what’s really amazing about what happens here between Paul and Peter? It’s that it’s Peter. Peter, who was the first of the Apostles to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. Peter, who had a special revelation from God in a dream, making it clear to him that God had chosen to pour his grace out upon the gentiles making them clean by the blood of Christ. Peter, who stood before the council at Jerusalem and defended the baptism of Gentiles. How could Peter of all people have been snared and caused a conflict over an issue that should have been long settled for him?
There is a principle here that all of us would do well to heed. It is often at the places in our lives we consider strengths that the enemy will trip us up. We become complacent. The Scripture says take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall.
Paul tells us that fear was the key to Peter’s downfall. Fear of what? Of being thought less of, of losing influence? I don’t know, but clearly not fear of God, but fear of men.
And so in conflict even today this fear of what others might think is so often at the heart of conflict, motivating the behaviors and the hurtful words that fuel our controversies. And what is the behavior at the source of conflict...
v. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Francois Fenelon was the court preacher for King Louis XIV of France in the 17th century. One Sunday when the king and his attendants arrived at the chapel for the regular service, no one else was there but the preacher. King Louis demanded, "What does this mean?" Fenelon replied, "I had published that you would not come to church today, in order that your Majesty might see who serves God in truth and who flatters the king."
Peter was not prentending to serve God for the sake of others but he was pretending that He didn’t associate with the non-law-keeping gentile believers when the law-observant Jews came to visit. Imagin the impact of this behavior on these believers. Yesterday they were OK company but apparently now that the real Christians, the Jewish Christians were here they were persona-non-grata.
What genuinely makes this hypocrisy is the fact that Peter was clearly acting in a way contrary to the belief that he held. It wasn’t that he was siding theologically with the Judaizers, he simply didn’t want them to think less of him.
Hypocrisy, it’s hurtful to people, it discredits the cause of Christ.
There is one final thing in the mix of the source of conflict...
v. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?