Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 10 June 21:
Galatians 2:11-13 — 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.
Faith and love promote moral courage and true leadership. A lack of faith and love promotes moral cowardice, bad leadership, and destructiveness.
Peter was a chief apostle and a very important leader in the church who was used mightily by God, but he had a character flaw – at times, when challenged by others, he lacked moral courage and didn’t act according to his stated convictions. In today’s readings, we hear about just such a case which occurred in Antioch:
Peter clearly understood that people are “justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law,” (Galatians 2:16) that the Gospel had been provided to both Jew and Gentile alike, and that the Gospel brought equality and unity to all in Christ:
- Acts 10:34-35 — So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
- Romans 10:11-13 — For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
- Galatians 3:26-29 — …for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Therefore, Peter broke a deeply rooted cultural taboo and ate with Gentile Christians though he was a Jew. Jews separating from Gentiles to eat was never a requirement of the law, but many first-century Jews forbade the practice. However, Peter demonstrated the truth and power of the Gospel by tearing down those traditional social barriers – that is, until the Judaizers came to town, those false teachers who taught that salvation required faith in Jesus plus obedience to the Mosaic law and who treated Gentile Christians as second-class citizens. Fearing criticism from the “circumcision party,” Peter hypocritically separated himself from the Christian Jews, thereby visibly misrepresenting the Gospel before others; and because Peter was a key leader within the church, he caused this hypocrisy to spread rapidly, contributing to hurtful, destructive divisions within the body.
However, where Peter lacked the moral courage to lead, Paul didn’t. Paul “opposed him to his face,” which was no small thing to do considering that Peter was an unquestioned apostle and Paul’s authority as an apostle was being challenged by many. Paul was courageous because of his love for Christ and for others and because of his passion for the Gospel which tore down the barriers between those he so loved. Paul couldn’t stand idly by while the Gospel was being distorted in either word or deed.
Perhaps some would come to Peter’s defense and suggest that Peter was merely attempting to be “all things to all people,” (1 Corinthians 9:22) merely being sensitive to immature misunderstandings of the circumcision group. However, Peter’s actions were hurtful to others and divisive. He was essentially choosing one group over another and apparently validating a false hierarchy that had crept into the church –
- James 2:1, 9 — My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory…. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
- Romans 2:11 — For God shows no partiality.
- James 3:17 — But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Does your faith and your love for God and others empower you with the moral courage to be a Christian leader and to challenge the norms for sake of proclaiming the Gospel? While everyone else is taking sides and dividing, are you serving powerfully as a messenger and minister of reconciliation, an Ambassador for Christ entrusted with the Gospel? Is your prayer for God’s people the same as Jesus’ prayer – “…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”? (John 17:22, 23) Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way. The Way is Jesus! Know Him more and more each day, and have the courage to follow Him and to show Him more and more each day.
- James 2:4 — Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
- James 2:9 — But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
- Revelation 7:9 — After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 10 June 21: Proclaim the Gospel today by loving courageously in the Name of Jesus while boldly proclaiming the Way, True, and Life while everyone else is talking issues. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility….” (Ephesians 2:14)