But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Galatians 2:14)
Superficially, it was an argument over seating arrangements. In truth, it was a confrontation about the truth of the gospel.
At the church fellowship meal in Antioch, certain men from Jerusalem had pressured Peter, Barnabas, and other Christians from Jewish backgrounds to refuse to sit at the same table with Christians from Gentile backgrounds, believers who did not observe Jewish customs.
In doing this, they said loud and clear, “You can only be right with God if you put yourself under the demands of the Law of Moses. You must be circumcised, eat a kosher diet, and observe the feasts and rituals.” Thatmessage told Paul this was an issue concerning the truth of the gospel.
When Paul confronted Peter before them all, what a scene it must have been! In Antioch, the Gentile Christians weren’t allowed to sit with the Jewish Christians or share food with them. Peter – the honored guest – went along with this. So did Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians in Antioch. But Paul would not stand for it. Because this was a public affront to the Gentile Christians and because it was a public denial of the truth of the gospel, Paul confronted Peter in a public way.
This wasn’t easy knowing who Peter was. Peter was the most prominent of all the disciples of Jesus. Peter was the spokesman for the apostles, and probably the most prominent Christian in the whole world at the time.
This wasn’t easy, knowing who Paul was. This was before any of Paul’s missionary journeys; before he was an apostle of great prominence. At that point, Paul was far more famous for who he was before he was a Christian – a terrible persecutor of the church – than he was for who he was as a Christian.
This wasn’t easy, knowing who agreed with Peter. There were the strong, domineering personalities of the men from Jerusalem. There was also Barnabas, who was probably his best friend. There were also the rest of the Jewish Christians in Antioch. Paul was in the minority on this issue – it was him and all the Gentile Christians against all the Jewish Christians.
As difficult as this was, Paul did it because he knew what was at stake. This wasn’t a matter of personal conduct or mere personal sin on Peter’s part. If that were the case, it is unlikely that Paul would have first used such a public approach. This was a matter about the truth of the gospel; proclaiming, “This is how a man is made right before God.”
Dear brother or sister: when the truth of the gospel is at stake, stand strong – especially when it isn’t easy.