How to avoid a public rebuke

Give me an undivided heart to fear your name

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 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. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet 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. – Galatians 2:11-16

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11

The Apostle Peter is generally thought of as the brash, bombastic disciple ready to die for Jesus. He is a “shoot first and aim later” kind of guy. It was Peter who cut off the ear of Malchus in the Garden before Jesus surrendered himself to the Roman soldiers. That image doesn’t bring forth the thought of Peter being a hypocrite or a double-minded man. And yet, that is precisely what he was in this scene.

Antioch was a largely Gentile church but did have a large contingent of Jewish followers of Christ as well. Peter came to visit and see the grace of God in action in Antioch. During his visit, he ate with the combined Gentile and Jewish church together. He was not concerned about keeping kosher. But then, a group of Jewish followers of Christ came to Antioch from Jerusalem apparently sent by James as the head of the  Jerusalem church. All of a sudden, Peter wasn’t so brave and bold anymore. He was fearful that he would be disapproved of by the Jerusalem Christians if he ignored the Jewish food laws and ate with Gentiles. At this point, Paul gave Peter a severe tongue-lashing and called him out publicly for his hypocrisy.

To make up an analogy, this would be sort of like Billy Graham publicly calling out the Pope on some significant doctrinal issue. That would be on every Christian’s twitter feed and Facebook page. You couldn’t get much more front and center for a first-century church fight.

Who was right and what was the problem?

Paul was right. He was defending the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Peter was very wrong. Peter feared the possible disapproval of his fellow Jewish Christians from Jerusalem more than he feared God and the truth of the gospel. Some things are worth fighting for, and certainly, the teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was worth it to Paul.

If you find yourself fearful to stand unbending for the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel, then I recommend a prescription to cure your disease. It is to make Psalm 86:11 your prayer.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.

The first two lines speak of living a life of faith. It is a prayer for God to educate us in his way of life for us so we can then obey his commandments. The third line speaks of a heart that is not divided in loyalty between the fear of man and the fear of God. Lord, don’t let me have a divided heart that loves the world on the one hand and loves the Lord on the other. Let me have an undivided heart to fear your name.

The solution

I will guarantee you this. If you pray that prayer with an honest heart, God will answer it, and you will find that more and more you will want to always act in a way that is in accord with the ways of the Lord. You will have less and less fear of man and what man can do to you. You will find more and more that the Lord is the delight of your life and he alone will be your joy. This is one time you don’t want to have Peter as your role-model. (Actually, there are a few instances with Peter that aren’t exactly exemplary.)

Lord Jesus, may our loyalty be always to you and your gospel with no admixtures. Amen.