AN EXPOSITION OF GALATIANS 2:11-16
11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.
There is a tendency to romanticize the past. Those who have reached any age of maturity tend to remember the past as the “good ole days,” and contrast them with the nasty “now and now.” It would be nice to believe that the first century Church consisted of Christians who were lovely, sweet, and co-operative. It would be nice if we read the early Church always “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
Unfortunately, what we read is that soon after the Lord’s ascension into heaven, there was open sin in the sanctuary. A man by the name of Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2).
The problem was that Ananias and Sapphira were playing the part of the hypocrite. They were pretending to be more spiritual than they were, by keeping back part of the proceeds of the sale of the land, but leading the Church to believe they had given all. They had lied to the Holy Spirit, and were severely judged for doing so.
Another sin in the sanctuary was the preference one group of people was being given over another. Specifically, “when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles moved quickly to settle the controversy, by appointing godly deacons to consider the needs of every widow, and taking care of those needs on a just basis.
One of the most serious sins in the sanctuary of the early Church involved a departure from the faith, reflected in the Galatian Heresy. Doctrinal error led to error in behavior because belief follows behavior. How a person lives, is determined by what a person believes. When the Judaizers went to the Church in Galatia, and taught that the Gentile males had to be circumcised, and the Gentile believers had to observe Jewish holy days, they were behaving in a way contrary to grace. These professing Christians had become legalistic, and were imposing their legalism on others, without warrant.
Now, there is a difference from being a legalist, and having Christian standards. A Christian standard refers to a rule of conduct that is binding because it reflects the known will of the Lord. For example, the Bible tells Christians to “be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Jesus Himself set the example of being kind to others, tenderhearted to those in need, and forgiving. Even on the Cross, Jesus prayed, and cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
When new Christians ask, “How then, should we live?” the answer comes back, “Live by godly standards, established and modeled by Christ.” “Be ye holy.”
In contrast to Christian standards, is legalism, which refers to manmade rules and regulations which are superimposed on other Christians, as if they were divinely inspired. The problem of legalism was a problem in the Church of the Old Testament. The Law of Moses set forth the Moral Law to live by in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-20). These basic commandments were amplified by 613 codices. But all of that was not enough for the Pharisees. Jesus explained how the religious Pharisees “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt. 23:4).
Initially, the heavy burdens were simply spoken, and became oral traditions, as comments were made on the Mosaic Law. Then, c. AD 200, these oral traditions were written down in the Mishnah (lit. study by repetition).
No harm was intended by this oral tradition. Well-meaning Jewish leaders wanted to “build a fence” around the Mosaic Law, so that people would not come close to breaking God’s commandments. However well-meaning the traditions of men were meant to be, they became a heavy burden, by being scrupulous, and showy.
For example, the Law required a tithe, so the Pharisees tithed herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin (Matt. 23:23).The Law required the Word of God to be worn by the saints in the Old Testament, so the Pharisees conspicuously wore phylacteries and tassels “to be seen of men” (Matt. 23:5).
The heart of the legalist exists in every generation. Today, we have people within the Church that go far beyond the standards found in the Bible. Like the Pharisees of old, modern legalists want to tell others how to dress, how to eat, what to say, and where to go, and where not to go.
Exasperated with the legalist of his day, Augustine said to the Church in the fourth century, “Love God and do whatever you please.”
While shocking words at first, what Augustine was saying, while preaching on 1 John 4:4-12, is that love for God will produce behavior which is holy, just, good, and harmless. If God is the root of our love, only good can spring from it.
Every problem in the Church can be traced back to the day someone stopped loving God, and stopped loving others. The heart became inflamed with spiritual pride of knowing what was best for others, and a demanding spirit that they conform.
One day, the Apostle Peter stopped loving God.
12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision [Jews].
One day, Peter was swept away with the legalism of the Judaizers, who came to visit the Galatian believers. When the Judaizers arrived, Peter withdrew himself from the fellowship of the Gentile brethren. The Bible tells us why Peter did this. Peter feared “them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12). When Paul heard of what had happened, he “withstood Peter face to face.”
Why did Paul confront Peter over his bad behavior? Because Peter “was to be blamed (Gal. 2:11). Peter was guilty of not loving God with all of his heart. Peter was guilty of not loving others. By Paul rebuking Peter of siding with the legalists, the Church can learn that Peter was not infallible. He was a man subject to passions, as we are.
One passion that consumed Peter, was that of fear. Peter cared too much about what others thought of him, and not enough of what His Christian duty was. That is why Peter betrayed Jesus the night he was crucified. A little girl accused Peter of being a disciple of Jesus, and Peter did not want that reputation at the moment, for it was very unpopular. Peter’s sin of fear was appearing again. Peter was easily intimidated, because he stopped caring about what God thought of Him. His beliefs dictated his behavior.
Another lesson from this confrontation is that Paul knew nothing about the primacy of the papacy, for he did not hesitate to challenge Peter’s authority. So, it does not matter how important a position a person may occupy, when they are wrong in the sight of God, and according to His know will, something needs to be said. Paul was willing to speak the truth to magistrates, and to the man to whom Jesus had given the keys of the kingdom. Truth will make a person bold and fearless. Error will turn a good and decent man, like Peter, in a sniveling, quivering, coward.
13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation [deceit].
The transgression of Peter did not end with himself. Sin is like an octopus, with many tentacles. It reaches out to touch as many objects as it can. The sin of Peter caused others to sin as well. Even Barnabas was called away with the deceit of the Judaizers.
14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
The way in which Paul confronted Peter is instructive. Paul did not launch into a name calling diatribe. That is what the ungodly do. The ungodly will use invectives to denounce, and destroy another person. Paul uses a rational argument to bring Peter to repentance, restoration of fellowship with the Galatians, and a return to doctrinal purity.
The question Paul asked Peter was a rhetorical question, which means the answer is found in the question itself.
“Peter, If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as the Jews, why are you now compelling the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” It is a fair question, with far reaching principles.
First, there is the principle of consistency. Peter, what was good for the Gentiles, was good for the Jews. There is to be consistency in Christian conduct.
Second, there is the principle of conscience. Peter was violating his conscience, by allowing others to intimidate him into doing something he knew was wrong behavior.
Mothers ask their children, “If your friends jump off a cliff, are you going to follow them?” More often than not the real and honest answer is, “Yes, mother. I will probably jump off the cliff too!” Such is the power of peer pressure.
Third, there is the principle of character. Character is what a person is, in moments that matter. Most people have a character flaw. Peter’s character flaw, was that of vacillation. One moment he could be strong, and an unmovable spiritual Rock. The next, he could be a running like a rat away from a difficult situation.
Fourth, there is the principle of causing others to stumble. Every Christian has influence over someone else. Peter had an influence over Barnabas, the Son of Consolation.
It was a negative influence, for Barnabas followed Peter’s example, and withdrew fellowship from the Gentiles when the Judaizers arrived.
Fifth, there is the principle of maintaining correct doctrine. The Judaizers were guilty of teaching heresy, and demanding that others embrace their heresy as well. So Paul has to turn his attention to Peter and remind him of two truths: who he was, by nature, and what the gospel is, by nature.
15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles.
The Gentiles were considered sinners, or heathen, because they did not have the Law to guide them in their behavior and religion. In contrast, the Jews did have the Law, and the prophets, and so were special, and distinct. Paul was reminding Peter, and Barnabas, that, unlike the heathen, they, as Jews, had been given the good news of how a man is justified, or declared righteous in the sight of God.
16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Job asked, “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2).
Paul answered that question by saying, “A man can be just with God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What an amazing concept! A man can be declared righteous in the sight of God by faith in Jesus Christ. Here is how that happens.
Spiritually, a person is brought one day into the Divine courtroom, through the arresting work of God the Holy Spirit in his conscience. The sinner stands before the just Judge of the Universe. He is charged with sin. How will he plead?
“Guilty as charged!” is the honest answer.
The Court concurs. The sinner is found guilty in the eyes of the Law. A righteous sentence of judgment is pronounced: death, eternal death. The Court is adjourned as the gavel comes down.
The guilty is being led to his place of doom. Suddenly, there is a commotion in the Divine Courtroom. Jesus Christ, as Advocate for the Condemned, rises to speak.
“Your Honor, if you please. May I take the place of the condemned? May I bear his penalty?”
The Just Judge of the Universe considers the request. A substitute? One person taking the place, and bearing the penalty of another person? Yes, that is permissible. The Judge gives the order.
“Let the guilty one go free. Then, arrest, and put to death, his Substitute!”
The accused is free to go. He can walk out of the courtroom justified in the eyes of the Law because the penalty of the Law has been satisfied by a Substitute, even Jesus Christ the righteous one. In this way a man is justified, not by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ.
May God the Holy Spirit make this gospel truth clear, and precious, to our hearts so that it might guide our behavior, and stop us from depending on our own good works to be declared just in the sight of God.
When we truly comprehend the grace of God, we will be gracious to others. When we fully believe that we are saved by the righteousness of Christ, we will not make legalistic demands on others. We will start loving others again.