THE GOSPEL OF FREE GRACE JEOPARDIZED IN ANTIOCH (Gal. 2:11)
Paul and Peter must have been in Antioch of Syria at the same time, shortly after the gathering of the apostles and elders mentioned in Acts 15, where the matter of circumcision was settled for the New Testament believers from the Gentiles. The Gentiles were charged to “abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication.” (Acts 15:29) If they kept themselves from these they would do well. And this decision had been received with great joy and comfort as the decision by the Church and the Holy Ghost. (Acts 15:28) The church at Antioch “rejoiced for, the consolation.” (Acts 15:31)
But things had taken a bad turn here in Antioch shortly after this. Peter, the apostle of Christ, had come down to Antioch from Jerusalem to labor here in this church, composed of Gentile and Jewish Christians. And the conduct of Peter had been such that all that was gained in the meeting at Jerusalem under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and careful interpretation bf the Scriptures, would be lost. The church would once more have lost her liberty in Christ Jesus. This was due to the conduct of Peter in this church. At first, all went well. He ate with the Gentile Christians even as he had been instructed by the Lord Himself in the vision at Joppa. Here at Joppa, Peter had to learn that the Old Testament Levitical difference between clean and unclean animals which might be eaten was no longer in force. Christ had nailed these ordinances of the middle wall of the partition to the Cross. (Eph. 2:13, 14) Those who were far off (Gentiles) had been brought nigh by the blood of Christ! And, therefore, Peter’s Old Testament scruples concerning “clean” and “unclean” no longer obtained for him. He could safely go into the house of the Gentile Cornelius and preach the Gospel, and eat and drink with him and his fellow-believers without asking any questions concerning what might be eaten and might not be eaten. That Peter had done also here in Antioch. He did eat together with the Gentile Christians. (Acts 10:14-16; Gal. 2:12a) But things had changed. Certain believers from James, the church in Jerusalem, came who still had Levitical scruples concerning what they ate and with whom they ate. These frowned not a little upon eating with the Gentile Christians, and they must have censured Peter’s eating with these Gentile Christians. It was then that Peter, who had been such a pillar of strength at the meeting in Jerusalem (see above), weakened. According to the Greek text, he graduallywithdrew from the Gentile brethren and no longer ate with them; he separated himself from them and did not eat with them. This was hypocritical action on the part of Peter. He dissembled! He did it out of spiritual cowardice. He feared these people from Jerusalem.
Thus it had gone when Peter came to Antioch.
Instead of being a pillar of strength to Paul and to the truth of the Gospel he had become an offense, in the church, of great magnitude!
For this action of Peter had serious and profoundly evil implications, which Paul points out. The implications were such that it meant that, if for conscience sake Peter could not eat what the Old Testament Levitical ordinances forbade, and if he would not eat with the Gentiles, it meant that the middle wall of the partition was rebuilt, which Christ had broken down and nailed to the Cross. Christ’s work was of none effect! The Gentiles were not fellow-heirs and fellow-citizens with the Jewish believers but were still outside of the commonwealth of Israel. They were barred from the temple of God in the Spirit; they were not a part of the habitation of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:22) Christ is then not our “peace” which have made both one by His death on the Cross. (Eph. 2:14; Col. 2:14) Then the grace of God is frustrated! We are still under law and are yet in our sins and condemnation!
Now we must bear in mind that Peter had been eating in Christian fellowship with Gentiles for a few years already. He had recognized that it would be tempting God not to eat with Gentiles and place himself under the heavy yoke of the law, which “neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.” (Acts 15:10) And, again, Peter knew right well that God put no difference “between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:9) Hence, the action was indeed one which jeopardized the truth of the Gospel and the liberty which both Jews and Gentiles, who believe, have in Christ Jesus.
Paul cites this experience and sad relapse of Peter, not to throw contempt on the name of Peter before the eyes of the Galatian churches, but to show that this matter which the Jewish heresy-mongers were trying to instill in the churches as “another gospel” was really an error which had been decided in Jerusalem by the elders and apostles as being repugnant to faith and later condemned even in a “pillar” in the church! Let the Galatians then beware of such lying preachers who would rob them of-their liberty in Christ Jesus, yea, even of having a part in Christ.
Peter had by his conduct indeed jeopardized the truth of the Gospel!
PETER PUBLICLY WITHSTOOD TO HIS FACE BY PAUL IN ANTIOCH (Gal. 2:14)
Paul had been the equal of any of the pillars in the church when he met with them in Jerusalem. Peter, John, and James had added nothing to him. They had acknowledged that God had wrought mightily through Paul amongst the uncircumcision, even as He had worked through Peter among the circumcision. (Gal. 2:8) Let it be remembered! They had given Paul the right hand of fellowship and recognized him as their equal in the apostleship of Christ.
However, now Paul will shew that there had been a crisis in the church in the city of Antioch in which he had risen all alone to the defense of the Gospel to which he was called. He had withstood Peter to his face before all the people. Was it a matter of personal vendetta? Not at all! Nor was it a matter of Peter’s preaching a different Gospel than the Gospel of Christ. Higher critics and unbelievers will try to play out a Pauline gospel over against the Gospel of Peter. Paul then preached a Gospel for the Gentiles, but Peter preached a different Gospel for the Jews. Nothing of this sort is taught or suggested here by the text. This was purely and simply a matter of the “walk” and “conduct” of Peter as not being compatible and conformable to the teaching of the Gospel, which both Paul and Peter believed and preached. Peter’s conduct and walk were deeply offensive to the Gentile saints, and were by implication a denial of the truth of the Gospel. It had been so serious that even Barnabas, Paul’s trusted companion on so many occasions, was swept along by Peter’s conduct so as to also separate from the Gentiles. Imagine, in a church in which Barnabas had labored, (Acts 11:22, 23) and where Barnabas had brought Paul to labor, going to Tarsus for that very purpose, (Acts 11:25) this same Barnabas is swept off his feet by Peter’s conduct, taking with him the Jewish sector of the congregation there in Antioch! Paul had risen to the occasion. He had fearlessly and courageously stepped forward to defend the truth of the Gospel. Paul is, therefore, very true to form here when he once more writes this polemic and apology for the faith in this letter to the Galatians.
Since this matter of Peter’s conduct had been done publicly, and it was a very clear and public offense, Paul also makes the rebuke publicly before all. It was not a matter which Paul discussed with others behind the back of Peter, but to his face. He was to be blamed; he had walked in a very reprehensible manner. And this kind of conduct was the more reprehensible in an office-bearer in the church of Christ. Here the rule holds as Peter himself writes, “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) Peter did not feel any resentment against Paul for this strong and severe correction. For Paul spoke very strongly to him in the love of Christ, and not in bitterness, but in the zeal of the Lord. And Peter accepted it! Later he writes concerning Paul and says, “even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given .him.” (II Peter 3:15) How we ought to emulate this example of Peter in the meekness of Christ! This is also true of ministers of the Gospel. All should live according to the Word of God, “and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” (I Cor. 14:32) For we must always try the spirits whether they be of God, and we must be willing to be tried by the touchstone of the Word!
PAUL’S VINDICATION OF THE TRUTH OF THE RIGHTEOUSNESS BY FAITH (Gal. 2:15-18)
We suggest very strongly that the reader of these lines read this Scripture passage from his own Bible, and that he keep his Bible at hand.
Here is grand argument on the part of Paul to Peter. The point of departure in this argument is that both Peter and Paul believe the same thing concerning the Gospel, and that they have both been saved in the same way as those who were born “Jews.” Both Peter and Paul are Jewish in their natural parentage. As such they had an advantage over the Gentiles. They were not considered the uncircumcised, who were outside of the Jewish commonwealth. Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin. We do not know Peter’s tribe. It may have been of the tribe of Zebulon or Naphthalim (Matt. 4:15) He belonged to the people which sat in darkness and which saw a great light. (Isaiah 9:1, 2) At least both can say: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given . . .” (Isaiah 9:6)
Such was their background. They were not like the Gentile nations whom God suffered to walk in their own ways for many centuries. That is a very strong point here in the argument of Paul to Peter. It is by implication also a strong argument to the Galatians and to us these many centuries later. If Paul and Peter, who were not sinners like we, need the Christ, how much more do we need to be saved by faith in Christ, we who worshipped dumb idols in our generations: Thor and Woden, and the Sun, Moon and Stars! If the best needed Jesus as Savior, how much more the worst—the Gentiles.
Yes, Paul and Peter had a very basic knowledge. They had lived under the law of commandments and ordinances. They had, learned by sad experience under “law” that no man is justified by works of law. They had sung Psalm 143:2 in their synagogue as little boys in both Galilee and in the city of Tarsus, respectively. And they had sung in minor key, “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” They had longed for righteousness, for the answer of God in His faithfulness, covenant faithfulness. And Paul says that they knew this. When Jesus multiplies the fish in the sea of Galilee, Peter cries out, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) Yes, Peter was a “sinner” too, but not like the “sinners” out of the Gentiles. But he could not find peace under law. It was really tempting God to try to do the law, which neither he nor the fathers were able to keep! Then, Peter, why this conduct of separating from these saved sinners out of heathendom?