I think all of us probably do things that bring compromise to certain areas that we believe are important. Some people call those compromises “hypocrisy” and others refer to it as being “two faced.” When referring to spiritual matters, some have even called it “spiritual adultery.” Whoa… that’s heavy. I’m sure most of us do not want to be compromise ourselves on important matters, especially related to our faith in Christ.
In Galatians 2, we find that Peter is hanging with a bunch of Gentiles who have converted from paganism to Christ and he’s enjoying a nice meal with them. Paul is also there, probably reflecting on how the gospel breaks down cultural barriers, right? I imagine that the sight of seeing Peter eating with Gentiles was certainly moving. Yes, a Jewish man was eating with Gentiles and ignoring the cultural “rules of engagement.” Enter the problem.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, sent some Jewish believers to Antioch, where this meal was taking place. James was one of the primary leaders of the Jerusalem church, which was markedly Jewish (it was Jerusalem, duh!). When these Jews arrived, we see that Peter withdrew from socializing and eating with the Gentiles (Gal. 2:12). This was too much for Paul to handle. What was Paul’s concern? Paul writes immediately of two noticeable problems:
- He saw the Jews acting hypocritically (Gal. 2:12); and
- Barnabas was led astray (Gal. 2:13).
These are significant problems. Hypocrisy is always harmful to gospel proclamation and gospel expansion and being led away was initially why Paul was so upset with the Galatians (cf. 1:6-9). This is no doubt why Paul mentions Barnabas. But those are not the only problems that Paul saw. He writes,
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said…” (Gal. 2:14)
Paul’s concern is with how one’s actions reflected upon and were consistent with the gospel. This is clear through the various ways that translators render the Greek (all ote eidon oti ouk orthopodousin pros t?n al?theian tou euangeliou). For example:
KJV: “But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel”
NAU: “But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel”
NET: “But when I saw that they were not behaving consistently with the truth of the gospel”
NIV: “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel” (not sure why the NIV ignores the all)
NLT: “When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message” (same with you, NLT!)
Clearly the point of Paul’s ouk orthopodousin (“their conduct was not in step”) has to do with consistency and hypocrisy. So Paul’s concern for Peter and the other Jews who were ignoring the Gentile believers in Jesus was related to whether their actions lined up with the message of the gospel.
Imagine that you were one of those Gentile believers in Jesus. You had left a former lifestyle of paganism and had embraced Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world. Your trust in him for salvation was rooted in your belief that he would be faithful to keep his promise of eternal life to those who believed in him. The “war” between God and human beings was over because Jesus had brought reconciliation between God and mankind, as well as bringing reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles! And to celebrate this truth, Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples and a leader in a church that was primarily Jewish came to visit your city and to have a meal with you! Imagine the joy and fellowship and freedom being expressed during that meal… all until other Jews came to join in. Once those people arrived, the masks were put back on and the separation was brought back into affect.
This is why Paul was so upset. Walls that had been broken down were being built back up again. The racial reconciliation that had been reached was losing it’s influence. So what’s the solution for situations where the gospel looses it’s influence? What’s the answer when our actions are no longer consistent with the gospel?
Simple. More gospel.
“… we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” (Gal. 2:16-21, emphasis mine)
There will probably always be tensions between legalism and licentiousness. But we must always be careful not to get caught up in trying to legislate people’s morality or actions in a way that takes away from the truth of the gospel – people are justified before God by grace through faith in Christ. While Peter’s issues were a bit different than the tension between these two subjects, the consequences of one’s actions are the same. Are we walking in a way that is consistent with the gospel, or not? The gospel is the radical middle to be found between outright legalism and overemphasized freedom. In fact, the gospel helps us define those terms.