Galations: Supporting One Another’s Call To Live By Grace
Reading: Galatians 2
Galatians 2:14 (NLT) – “When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, ‘Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?'”
“I love confrontation.”
That’s not a particularly common phrase. My friend argued that he loves confrontation because it leads to opportunities to resolve problems. As much as I hate to admit it, my friend was right. Confronting issues is the only way that problems can be resolved. Without voicing concerns, we risk damaging relationships, businesses, plans, and ourselves.
I think all of us can acknowledge the necessity of confrontation, but why do we hate it? There have been times when I have for sure known that I need to say something to someone, but I opt to either ignore the problem or go to someone else. Why? If I know the better (and right) option is to confront the problem, why do I do the opposite?
There’s essentially one reason why we shy away from confrontation: Pain. Psychologically, we fear pain. There’s something inside of our brains that tells us to stay away from things that may cause pain. We naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain., so we have a tendency stay away from things that are hurt even if the results are beneficial.
We often don’t want to rock the boat out of fear of being uncomfortable or feeling rejected (which can have just as much toil on the body as physical pain can), so we avoid confrontation. Even though we know that addressing an issue head-on is the best option, we hold tightly to our desire not to create waves. However, ignoring issues can lead to resentment which has its own range of health problems including heightened depression, anxiety, and/or heart problems.
Obviously, we know there are psychological and relational benefits to confronting someone, but there are also times in the Bible where confrontation is encouraged and exemplified. Whenever something is mentioned multiple times in Scripture, it’s a good hint that we need to pay attention. But what is the ultimate purpose in confrontation? Is there a bigger purpose outside of ourselves?
I believe there are three Biblical purposes of confrontation:
- To rescue from sin
- To point to salvation
- To restore community
The book of Galatians was a letter written by Paul confronting the believers of Galatia about their fall into a false gospel (for more context information, read this post). Paul was not writing just to nitpick at their church procedures or traditions. He was calling them out for turning to a false gospel. These people weren’t stuck in some sort of conflict or worldly sin; they were beginning to place their faith in something other than Jesus Christ.
While all of Galatians is essentially a case study of confrontation, Paul shares a specific experience when he confronted Peter for the same issue the Galatians faced.
In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul tells of his trip to visit Peter, James, and John where they approved his ministry. These three men had known Jesus personally during his earthly ministry; if there was anyone who could verify that Paul’s message matched Jesus’s, one of these men could. They were known as the pillars of the church, and while Paul didn’t necessarily need their blessing (Jesus had literally revealed himself to Paul), having their support would give him validity.
After visiting Peter, James, and John, Paul travels to Antioch to teach about Jesus. Peter eventually comes to visit, spending time in fellowship with the Gentile believers. He shows no concern that they don’t follow traditional Jewish laws, such as dietary restrictions or circumcision. That all changes when some Jewish believers from Jerusalem came down to visit on behalf of James. This group, the circumcision party, believed that Jewish believers should eat separately from Gentile believers in order to uphold their Jewish customs. Peter suddenly changed his behavior due to his fear of these Jews and began only eating with them, rejecting the lifestyle of the Gentile believers.
Because of his influence within the early church, Peter’s support of the circumcision party caused other Jewish believers to follow. He made the Gentile believers seem like second-class citizens within the church; despite believing in Jesus, their non-acceptance of Jewish customs made them “not good enough” for the Jews to fellowship with.
If this decision had only affected Peter, I think Paul would have been more passive about his confrontation, but even Barnabas, a dedicated man of God known for his encouragement, was led astray by Peter’s hypocrisy. Paul calls Peter out in front of everyone for his hypocrisy: if he was born a Jew, yet disregards Jewish laws, why would he expect Gentiles to live by them?
To Rescue from Sin
Confrontation should always be to help someone out of their sin. Sin is a serious issue. It is what keeps mankind from having a relationship with God the Father and the reason Jesus had to die on the cross. In fact, sin is such a big deal that Jesus told his followers it was better to cut off a body part that caused them to sin than to enter an eternity of punishment (Luke 14:1-4, Matthew 18:7-9).
Paul is an extremely passionate man. Even before his conversion, he followed Judaism with zeal. When he saw Peter’s hypocrisy, Paul couldn’t help but call this fellow believer out. Paul’s actions may seem harsh, but Peter was an influential leader of the Church; his actions set the example for how Christ-followers were expected to act.
To Point to Salvation
What I find the most puzzling about Paul’s confrontation is that he called out Peter publically. When Jesus gives His instructions for confrontation, He says we’re to privately point out sins (Matthew 18:15-17). Why did Paul feel he could point out Peter’s hypocrisy in front of everyone present?
The biggest problem with Peter’s actions was not his hypocrisy, although I’m sure that was hurtful to the Gentile believers. The issue was the false gospel he was advocating through his actions. By supporting the circumcision party, Peter was implying that they were correct in their belief that a Gentile must be circumcised and hold to other Jewish laws in order to receive salvation.
Peter’s sin wasn’t just hurting someone’s feelings. He was showing by his example that salvation was not based purely on faith in the grace of Jesus, but in adhering to Jewish laws. As dramatic as it sounds, this was the difference between someone spending eternity in punishment or spending eternity in the presence of Jesus Christ.
Paul had the right to oppose Peter in the way he did. Not only was he protecting Peter, but he was also protecting everyone else who was being led astray. Jesus was super passionate about this, too. In Luke, Jesus tells the disciples that it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a stone tied to their neck rather than cause little ones to sin. The Greek word for little ones, mikros, means either someone younger or someone of lesser rank or influence. By confronting Peter, Paul was protecting him from the weight of the responsibility he held. He was also protecting the people in attendance from mistaking this false teaching for the true gospel of Christ. He was rescuing their very souls, putting himself between them and hell in order to get them back on track despite the potential discomfort.
To Restore Community
The views of the circumcision party caused a huge divide within the early church. Some people clung to the truth of Christ while false teachers snuck into the midst of others spreading lies.
Paul could have kept his head down, ignoring Peter’s behavior, but he risked rejection to point out the truth. Not only did he forcefully deny the teachings of the circumcision party, but he also began the process for restoration of the church.
Apparently, the debate got pretty heated (Acts 15:1-2), so Paul, Barnabas, and some others were appointed to go ask the apostles about the issue. More debating ensues, but one person stands up to firmly present the truth. In spite of their recent disagreements, Peter boldly stands before the whole council voicing his support of Paul, “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11). Peter admitted that by demanding Gentile believers follow the Mosaic law, the Jewish believers were a burden upon their brothers that no one was capable of bearing.
The gathering fell silent at Peter’s words and listened intently as Paul and Barnabas shared the exciting things God had been doing through their ministry to the Gentiles. When they were finished, James acknowledges that Gentiles are surely being brought into the family of God and shouldn’t be required to hold the Jewish law. The apostles’ acceptance of the Gentiles faith allowed the division between the Jews and Gentiles to subside so they could finally see one another as brothers through Christ (read the entirety of this passage Acts 15:1-21).
Risk It for the Biscuit
It is much more comfortable to ignore an issue than to face it, especially when there’s a chance of rejection or failure involved, but sin is not something we can justify messing around with, especially when souls are at stake.
Those of us who are influential have a huge responsibility to protect the souls of those we lead. We need to be absolutely sure we’re pointing them to salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ and nothing else that could compromise that gospel. We may not always be aware of the sin in our lives, so we need one another to hold us accountable to the high standards God has called us to. In spite of the discomfort, we need to be willing to challenge each other when our lives aren’t preaching the true gospel.
Isn’t short-lived awkwardness a fair price in exchange for protecting someone’s soul?
- If you were Paul, would you have handled the issue with Peter the same or differently? How so?
- Why might you avoid confrontation?
- Is there someone in your life who seems to be struggling with a sin, but you’ve put off talking to her about it out of fear?
- Ask someone you trust if your life is a reflection of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Let’s start some discussion! Feel free to comment below or send me a message here. I’d love to hear from you!