Way of Grace Church
Walking In Step (Galatians 2:11-14)
Have you ever noticed how easy it is, when you're walking forward with your head down, have you every noticed how easy it is to veer off the straight line that you're trying to walk? Yeah, if you're attempting read something or write a text message or just looking for something on the ground, you can look up after a few minutes and discover that you are not quite in line with the direction you were trying to go.
This morning, we will see that this same danger is also present when it comes to our spiritual lives. Let’s look together at Galatians 2:11-14.
II. The Passage: “With the Truth of the Gospel” (2:11-14)
Before we read and talk about these verses, let me give you a very brief summary of what we’ve learned so far from this letter.
You may recall that Galatians was written to a group of regional churches composed of mainly non-Jewish (or Gentile) converts to Christ. But misguided teachers had eventually crept into these churches and were twisting and distorting the gospel message that Paul and Barnabas had originally announced to these young Christians.
Another thing we can piece together from this letter is that these false teachers were also attacking Paul’s credibility as a faithful messenger. This is why Paul, beginning back in chapter 1, verse 11, begins to defend the fact that Jesus Christ himself made Paul an apostle.
As we see from chapter one, and continuing on into the first ten verses of chapter two, Paul also had to explain his relationship to the original twelve apostles who were in Jerusalem. Even though he was in no way under their authority, he had gone to Jerusalem in order to make sure all of them were on the same page in terms of the gospel message. Look again at what Paul tells us about that visit in verses 7 and 9 of chapter two:
…when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised [Gentiles], just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [Jews]… and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:7, 9)
So with all of that in mind, look with me at verses 11-14. Let me read those…
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.  And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
As you can tell from just a quick reading of those verses, Paul is continuing here to talk about his relationship to the other apostles in Jerusalem, and specifically, his relationship to Cephas, which is just another name for the Apostle Peter. From chapter 1, verse 18, we know that Paul stayed with Peter for 15 days while in Jerusalem, about three years after Paul’s conversion to Christ. And then as 2:9 tells us, Paul saw Peter again about eleven years after that when Paul went to Jerusalem to talk about the gospel message.
But in these verses, Paul has not gone to Peter. Peter has gone to Paul; this is while Paul was serving in Antioch (as we know he did according to Acts 11-15). Antioch was a city about 135 miles northeast of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the church there is recorded in Acts 11. Now, even though it isn’t clear why and when Peter came to Antioch, it is clear that the focus of these verses is a serious error that Peter made while he was in Antioch.
Let’s break this passage down by looking at three things we learn here about Peter’s error. Let’s first talk about the nature of Peter’s error. Second, let’s think about the influence of Peter’s error. And finally, third, let’s talk about the rebuke of Peter’s error.
A. The Nature of Peter’s Error (2:12)
Verse 12 gives us the specifics of what happened when Peter came to Antioch. We’re told from the moment Peter had arrived, he had been eating together with the whole church, with both Jews and non-Jews.
Now from the perspective of an ordinary Jew, this kind of ‘table fellowship’ (as it's called) would have been scandalous, because Jews did not eat with Gentiles, who were considered by Jews to be unclean in light of God's law. But even though Paul was commissioned by Jesus to reach out to the Gentiles, we know from Acts chapter 10 that it was Peter who was first used by God to preach the message of Christ to the Gentile Cornelius and his family. You see, right before that, God had even given Peter a vision that showed him that the Gentiles should no longer be regarded as unclean.
In the opening verses of Acts 11 we read, “Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3 “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Notice how eating with Cornelius and his family is highlighted as a “no-no”. But Peter defends his action in light of what God revealed to him. And so, he does this same thing when he comes to Antioch: he makes no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish believers.
But something changes. We read in verse 12 that “certain men came from James”. This is not James the fisherman, the brother of John. This is James, the half brother of Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary. He had become the key leader of the church in Jerusalem, and he is even mentioned outside the Bible, by the Jewish historian Josephus.
But when this delegation came from the Jerusalem church, Peter pulled back from eating with his non-Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Well verse 12 tells us why: because he was “fearing the circumcision party” (literally in the original language, “those from the circumcision”). In Acts 11, that phrase was used to describe Jewish Christians, and in this context, it is specifically this group that cams from James.
Paul doesn't tell us why these men came. And he doesn't tell us why Peter was afraid of what these men might think of him eating with the Gentile Christians. In Acts 11, Peter had already been questioned about eating with Cornelius and his family. Were these men refusing to eat with the Gentiles believers? Consequently, was Peter was fearful of offending these men? Did he really care about their opinion that much? Was this a matter of Jerusalem Church politics, of some issue between Peter and James, or with the Jews they were trying to reach?
Whatever the reason for Peter's decision, we know from the gospel that Peter was not the most consistent apostle. On the night Jesus was betrayed, he was afraid of what a servant girl might think of him...and so he backed away from his relationship with Christ. Here he is afraid of what these men from James might think of him...and so he backs away from his non-Jewish brothers and sisters.
Have you ever been fearful like that? Fearful of what others might think in regard to your faith? And because you were afraid, you compromised. But look at what else we learn about Peter's error.
B. The Influence of Peter’s Error (2:13)
We see in verse 13 that Peter's error was not simply a matter of a private and personal preference. No, there was a ripple effect from Peter's decision. And the first people touched by those ripples were the other Jewish Christians who worshiped in the Antioch church. When they saw Peter, the great Apostle of Jesus, the one whose name meant, “the rock”, when they saw Peter pull back from eating with the Gentile believers, they followed his lead.
Paul tells us that even Barnabas was carried away with this mass defection from the common table. Again, who knows what was going through their minds. Barnabas knew better than this. Were they trying to show respect to Peter and the men from Jerusalem? Did some of them really believe they could no longer eat with their non-Jewish brothers and sisters? Were they acting out of fear as well. We just don't know. But we do know it all started with Peter's decision.
C. The Rebuke of Peter’s Error (2:11, 14)
Now look again at verses 11 and 14. What we see from Paul's response here is that Paul understood that the ripple effects of Peter's decision were going to affect a lot more than just the eating habits of the Jewish believers.
Paul knew that not only would the unity of the church would be radically affected, but more importantly, the truth of the gospel itself was under attack.
And that's exactly why Paul, as we read in verse 11, “opposed [Peter] to his face”. That expression is not quite the same as when we say “she got in his face”. Paul is simply saying that he confronted Peter directly. And Paul also points out in verse 14 that when he confronted Peter, he confronted him “before them all”, that is, in front of the whole church.
Now wait a minute. If Paul had a concern about Peter's decision, why didn't he confront him in private, like Jesus taught us in Matthew 18? Well, three factors are important here: 1) Peter was an apostle with great influence, 2) Peter's decision was played out in a very public way, and 3) the very truth of the gospel was at stake. This was no minor difference of opinion, and Peter's error had already negatively impacted the entire Jewish portion of the Antiochan church. Paul had to take a stand, and take a stand in such a way that he could also impact those who were negatively impacted by Peter's error.
And HOW he rebukes Peter helps us understand exactly why the truth of the gospel itself was under attack. Look at verse 14 again: But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
You see, Peter was acting like a hypocrite (v. 13). He was saying one thing, but his actions were communicating the opposite. Paul knew that Peter's actions were sending a clear message to the non-Jewish, to the Gentile believers in Antioch. Peter had come to Antioch living like a Gentile, making no distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers.
But when the men from James came, he drew back. And in drawing back, Peter was declaring, through his actions, that the only way the Gentile believers could have fellowship with Jews like himself was to become like Jews...and the only way to live like a Jew was to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.
But the “truth of the gospel” that Paul talks about in verse 14 stands in direct opposition the message Peter was sending. Peter was declaring through his actions that our righteousness before God depends on keeping the law. But “the truth of the gospel” tells us that none of us can keep the law, and that our only hope is to receive the righteousness of Christ as a free gift through faith. The gospel is not about what we can do, but about what Jesus has already done. The gospel is not about our trying, but about our trust. All we can do is believe that Jesus did it all.
III. The Importance of Spiritual Orthopedics
You see, we need to remember why Paul is telling the Galatians about all this. His goal is not to shame Peter or make himself look good. Part of his goal is to help the Galatians understand that he is not somehow beholden to the Jerusalem church or the original apostles. No, in fact, Paul had even corrected a fellow apostle when it was necessary.
But we also need to see that the message Peter was sending through his actions in Antioch, is the same message that was explicitly declared by the false teachers in Galatia:
through their distorted gospel, these men were trying to “force the Gentiles to live like Jews”. So again, Paul is still defending both his authority as a messenger, and more importantly, the truth of the message he announced to the Galatians.
And this morning, as we consider how this passage should affect us, I think there are several things we could talk about: we could talk again about the importance of the gospel and protecting the gospel. We could talk about what the Bible tells us about the difficult, but sometimes necessary work of rebuking a brother or sister who is in error. We could talk about the influence and accountability of leaders within the church.
But what I find really interesting in this passage is that phrase from verse 14: I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel. That phrase, “their conduct was not in step” is actually just one word in the original Greek language in which Paul wrote. It's the word orthopodeuo. This is the word from which we get our English word, “orthopedics”. It literally means, “to be straight-footed”.
So Paul is saying, “when I saw that Peter and the other Jewish believers in Antioch (along with Barnabas), when I saw that they were not being straight-footed with the truth of the gospel”. What exactly does that mean? Well, when your foot is not straight, you begin to deviate from the path, right? You start to veer off. Listen to some of these other translations of this verse:
...when I saw they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel...that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the gospel...that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel...
You see, Peter knew and had confessed and had even defended the truth of the gospel of grace. But that didn't mean that he was immune from allowing his conduct to deviate from the content of that message. And if Peter was vulnerable, aren't all of us just as vulnerable? When the eyes of our heart are not looking straight ahead, we can all begin to veer off, right?
Brothers and sisters, are you walking in step with the truth of the gospel? In your actions and attitudes, are you being ‘straight-footed’ when it comes to the path of God's truth? Whether you know it or not, your life is a sermon. When you confess to be a follower of Christ, your actions and your attitudes are instructing others, teaching others, influencing others in light of your confession, in light of what you believe.
But may the words of Paul to Titus never describe us: They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny him… (Titus 1:16a (NASB))
No doubt, Peter’s situation here was unique in terms of his position and in terms of the unique change that was taking place in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. But all of us can fail to be in step with the truth of the gospel. At times, all of us stand condemned in terms of this kind of gospel hypocrisy.
We can confess the liberating power of God’s forgiveness and yet fail to set others free by granting forgiveness to them.
We can celebrate our eternal hope in the face of death because of Jesus’ resurrection and yet live like this life is all there is.
We can agree that we are saved by grace alone through Christ alone, and yet find ourselves holding on to and comforted by our religious performance rather than God’s redeeming promises.
We confess that we are now members of God’s family through faith in Christ, and yet we neglect our brothers and sisters, and commit ourselves to things other than the church.
We admit that no one is righteous and that we are all equally in need of God’s grace, and yet we condemned some people as worse sinners than others or practically live like such people are beyond God’s reach.
We can declare freedom in Christ, and yet live like we are still in bondage to sin. We can confess that the price has been paid, and yet still work to pay off our debt. We can admit to the reality of God’s mercy, and yet still live like one who is condemned. We can proclaim grace, but still stand in judgment over others. We can testify that Jesus died for us, and yet fail to live for Him; that He identified with us, and yet, in our actions, fail to identify with him.
Are you walking “in step” with the truth of the gospel, or are you veering off into gospel hypocrisy?
Like Peter, so often, we veer because of fear…fear of what others might think…fear of being rejected…fear of losing this or that. And like Peter, so often, our error can influence others. Without even knowing it, we can be encouraging people to veer off the path as well, or we can be causing someone who is not a Christian to look even more skeptically at the word of God.
Brothers and sisters, we don’t know precisely how Peter responded to Paul’s rebuke (which, by the way, was the most loving thing Paul could do for Peter), but this morning we can admit to the ways we are not “in step” with the truth of the gospel. And when we do that, God calls us to get our eyes back on the path.
You see, just as an orthopedist can help a child correct a crippled foot or leg, God wants to use his spiritual orthopedics in our lives; He wants to correct us through the gospel. God used Paul to remind Peter of these things, of the relationship between his conduct and his confession. Is God using Paul’s words in YOUR life this morning? Do you have a ‘Paul’ in your life, someone who will speak the truth in love to you, who will even ‘oppose you to your face’ if necessary? We all need that because we can all veer off the straight line of the gospel in terms of our conduct.
Praise God for His grace to ‘veer-ers’ like us. We might at times stand “condemned” in terms of the reality of an error, but thank God that, because of the gospel, because of the work of Jesus, we are no longer condemned under God’s judgment. May God give us the eyes to see the relationship between our conduct and our confession, and may He grant us the grace to get back in step with the truth of the gospel in what we say, do, and think. [Let’s pray]
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