Summary: Those who assume positions of influence and leadership must be willing to pay the price to hold such positions. In this lesson we'll explore the price Peter paid in Antioch when he played the hypocrite and was rebuked by Paul.
There are people in this world who possess the natural ability to lead and command the respect of others. Whether you call it charm, charisma, magnetism, or whatever, such people wield a powerful influence on those who look up to them as the embodiment of all they would like to become themselves.
Peter apparently possessed such qualities and was a leader among the apostles. It was Peter who always listed first when the apostles are named in scripture (Matthew 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). It was Peter who declared Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:16). It was Peter who took the lead in seeing the need to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). It was Peter who stood up and raised his voice above and proclaimed Jesus as the Christ on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14).
We have all known and have been influenced by people like Peter. Every one of us has our “hero” that we have looked up to through the years. Perhaps it was a parent that was your hero, or an uncle/aunt, or grandparent. Perhaps it was a helpful teacher or an encouraging coach. Perhaps it was a preacher, or pastor, or a silver-haired saint.
The opportunities for good that leaders and hero’s possess are tremendous; but so are the responsibilities. The confidence of others is a trust that must be carefully protected. On one hand a leader can influence someone to achieve greater heights; while on the other the sinful actions of a leader can lead their admirers to the lowest of lows.
Such was the case with the apostle Peter and his refusal to eat with the Gentile Christians at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-21). Peter had come down to Antioch and was socializing and eating with the Gentile Christians in the church there. But when certain Christians came from James in Jerusalem, Peter was afraid of what they might say about him eating with Gentiles (see Acts 10:28; 11:2-3for an explanation of Jewish thoughts on eating with Gentiles) so he separated himself from the Gentile Christians and wouldn’t eat with them. Peter’s hypocritical actions lead the rest of the Jews in the church at Antioch, including Barnabas, to stop eating and having fellowship with their Gentile brethren. When Paul saw Peter’s actions he rebuked him to his face in front of those who were led astray by his actions.
There are three lessons we, as leaders, can learn from this incident that will help us maintain our influence with those who look up to us:
Leaders must live more cautiously than others. Every Christian is warned not to place a stumbling block in his brother’s way (Romans 14:13; 1 Corinthians 8:9). Because of their potential for influence, leaders are to live even more cautiously than others. While it may not have mattered much for one Jew to not have eaten with Gentiles, it mattered tremendously when Peter did not eat with them. Peter failed to live more cautiously than others. He failed to realize that others would follow his lead and sin by “playing the hypocrite.”
As leaders, whether as parents, or preachers, or professionals, we must live more cautiously than others. People (our children, our congregations, our friends) are looking up to us as leaders for guidance in what to do, for permission to do it, and for the encouragement to keep it up. Many times the guidance, permission and encouragement they are seeking comes not from our words, but from our actions. Since our actions speak as loudly as our words, we need to exercise caution in the way we live our lives. Cautious living is simply a cost – an inevitable cost – of influence and leadership.
Leaders must weigh the impact of their decisions. Leaders must be prepared that their decisions will have a greater impact on others than the actions of those with lesser influence. While Peter was probably not the first Jewish Christian to not eat with Gentiles the actions of the less influential had gone unnoticed by the majority. It was inevitable that Peter’s sin would result in greater impact by all the Jews in the church at Antioch, including Barnabas, refused to eat with their Gentile brethren (Galatians 2:13).
As leaders we must carefully weigh the decisions that we make, because our decisions impact the lives of others. We must weigh the impact of the words we say, the purchases we make, the relationships we keep, the jobs we take, the hobbies we have, the places we live, the church we attend, and the list goes on and on. And while it may seem overwhelming, having to weigh the impact of our decisions is simply a cost – an inevitable cost – of influence and leadership.
Leaders must endure sterner rebukes. Paul said that he withstood Peter “to his face… before everyone.” (cf. Galatians 2:11, 14) Paul recognized that Peter’s actions required an immediate and stern rebuke in front of those whom he led astray and those whom he hurt by his sin. Peter could not have the luxury of a private meeting with Paul; Peter had betrayed a trust. Nothing less than an open rebuke could counteract the harm that had resulted from his sinful action.