Galatians 2:12-13

In Galatians 2:12-13 Paul is dealing with Peter who has waffled on the agreement to allow Gentiles to become part of the church without being circumcised under the Law of Moses. Earlier he and the Jerusalem church leadership had given their approval to Paul and his team to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles with no requirement for circumcision. But now “….but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” Peter turned his back on all that he had known about the place of Gentiles in the church, and he treated uncircumcised Gentiles as if they were not saved at all.

And worse yet, he was cowering to the other Jews who were against the Gentiles being saved. “And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” The impact of leadership gone bad can be seen fully here as Barnabas, one of Paul’s closest co-laborers, is led away from the work they had been doing together to reach the Gentiles. He too was backpeddaling and returning to the former ways.  Stott wrote “Their withdrawal from table-fellowship with Gentile believers was not prompted by any theological principle, but by craven fear of a small pressure group… He still believed the gospel, but he failed to practice it.”

Guzik wrote “This was the kind of behavior that dominated Peter’s life before he was transformed by the power of God. This was like Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross, or Peter taking his eyes off of Jesus and sinking when walking on the water, or like Peter cutting off the ear of the servant of the High Priest when soldiers came to arrest Jesus. We see that the flesh was still present in Peter. Salvation and the filling of the Holy Spirit did not made Peter perfect; the old Peter was still there, just seen less often.” Put simply, Peter was afraid and his actions were followed by others leading them to also resist the Gentiles entering the church.

We don’t know what it was about the leaders who were causing Peter to fumble. Perhaps they were men of strong personality. Perhaps they were men of great prestige and influence. Perhaps they made threats of one kind or another. Whatever it was, the desire to cater to these legalistic Jewish Christians was so strong that not only Peter fell to their desires, but the rest of the Jews and even Barnabas did too. Luther wrote “No man’s standing is so secure that he may not fall. If Peter fell, I may fall. If he rose again, I may rise again. We have the same gifts that they had, the same Christ, the same baptism and the same Gospel, the same forgiveness of sins.” None of us is immune from falling.

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