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. (Galatians 2:11-13 ESV)
In a sermon "Not Corrupting the Word," J. C. Ryle told the following account:
In the sixteenth century, there was a protestant reformer in England by the name of Hugh Latimer. He was known as a great preacher of his day and as a result, he had many opportunities to speak. Once he found that he was to preach before the King Henry VIII of England. As he thought about his great responsibility to bring a message before the king, he realized that the message that God laid on his heart was not the message that the king would want to hear.
As he began his sermon he said, "Latimer! Latimer! Do you remember that you are speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII; who has the power to command you to be sent to prison, and who can have your head cut off if it pleases him? Will you not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears?"
He then paused and continued, "Latimer! Latimer! Do you not remember that you are speaking before the King of kings and Lord of lords; before Him, at whose throne Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day you will have to give account yourself? Latimer! Latimer! Be faithful to your Master, and declare all of God's Word."
Latimer faced the choice: would he preach what man wanted to hear or would he preach what Christ would have him preach. Latimer did take his stand for truth and preached boldly. Eventually, he was martyred by Henry's daughter Queen Mary.
Now, we would certainly hope that our obedience to God and His Word would not end in martyrdom but a true child of God will face whatever comes their way as a result of their faithful obedience to their Savior and in a world that is rapidly increasing in its hatred and wrath towards those who believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, it is certainly possible that in our lifetimes we will see results like martyrdom come to America in increasing numbers as it does in other parts of the world.
What will you do when that time comes? Will you stand for God's Holy Word or will you fearfully retreat and submit to man? Have you already rejected God's Word in your life? Are you currently living under the authority of Scripture or does your life paint a picture of rejection and figuratively spitting in God's face telling Him that you will do as you please? Do we as a church operate under the authority of Scripture or do we operate as we please?
The temptation to disobey God's Word and to follow Satan's lies and man's wisdom can be a difficult one to overcome. People who profess to be in Christ too often it seems disregard or completely reject and deny the authority and inerrancy of Scripture both with their words and with their deeds which are both a reflection and revelation of what is already in their hearts. Sadly, too many professing to be in Christ fear man's word and are more fearful of disobeying man than they are of disobeying God and His Word.
We have such a situation in our text in Galatians this morning in chapter 2 where Peter had been fearful of upsetting and going against some Judaizers and thus he put himself in a position where he was disobeying God's Word and what we see is that his disobedience affected far more than just himself. What he should have been doing and what we will see Paul do is defend God's Word at all times regardless of what happens to us.
So, this section of Scripture paints a picture of two different choices. One is correct and one is sinful. One needs to be repented of and the other needs to be followed.
How Is The Gospel & God's Word Defended?
1. Active Refusal To Compromise
Peter had been eating with Gentiles for some time and was enjoying fellowship with all of those who cherished their love and true freedom in Christ. This was based on the truth of God's Word and the truth of the gospel.
When Judaizers come on the scene, he draws back and compromises and begins to do what would please them instead of God. You see, the Jews considered all Gentiles to be sinners because they were not Jews and they had so many man-made distinctions and by withdrawing back to the way he used to operate, Peter was putting a dividing wall up that God's Word did not approve of.
Do we do that today? Do we engage in anything that would separate believers artificially as Peter was doing? Well, yes. We still have issues with the sin of racism, class distinctions, wealth or lack thereof, etc. We still see Christians and congregations that cater to those who have money, we see Christians not accepting of other Christians that either does not look like them or live exactly like them. So, yes, many today sin in the same way Peter was sinning.
Paul opposed Peter – word meaning hindering or forbidding and this word was usually applied to defensive measures meaning that it was a strong defense of God's Word to oppose sin and anything that is not in submission to or is in contradiction to God's Word.
Peter stood condemned – not in the sense of his salvation but in the sense of being guilty of sin by taking a position that was against God's Word.
Notice that Peter's sin affected far more than himself – It affected the Gentiles he had been eating with because he withdrew and separated from them. It affected the Judaizers for sure because they no doubt gained great confidence in their own sin and opposition of God's Word because they saw themselves as having gained control over Peter due to his compromise. It affected at least temporarily his relationship with Paul because Paul was put in the difficult position of opposing him because of his compromise. It surely affected many Jews who were maybe on the brink of salvation in Christ because they no doubt saw Peter's withdraw and it affected Barnabas because he got led astray by their hypocrisy.
Why Compromise Peter? – His life was not in danger as Hugh Latimer's ended up being by King Henry's daughter, Mary. In fact, the only thing Peter would have been in danger of in this situation if he had of stood strong for God's Word is to be ridiculed and slandered by the Judaizers and he would have lost popularity and power and prestige with this group of hypocrites claiming to be in Christ who truly were not because of their lack of true obedience and faith.
Fearing The Circumcision Party - Disobedience to God's Word is always the source of division and fracture among Christians and in the church and it affects far more than the one sinning. Sadly, in today's world, like Peter Christians so easily compromise and deny and disobey God's Word and usually all that is stake is popularity, prestige, or power. We should be ashamed of ourselves to think we would hypocritically disobey God's Holy Word over something so trivial and temporal as what other people think and that we would fear man over God.
2. Active Faith To Obey
For the Christian life and for any congregation of believers there can be no true faith without true obedience and there can be no true obedience without true faith. Paul's faith was an active faith and he actively and consistently and firmly obeyed God's Word and opposed anything and anyone that would compromise God's Word.
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?" (Galatians 2:14 ESV)
When Paul saw that their conduct was not in step with the gospel and therefore not in step with God's Word, HE ACTED!
Truth and obedience to God's Word is always more important than any temporary harmony that comes from compromise. Christian fellowship, true Christian unity, and true Christian success in a church are built on the truth of God's holy and inerrant word and never from compromise.
Paul is asking Peter, "What are you doing? You know this goes against God's Word and the gospel! We are to be defending the gospel, not compromising it!"
What is worse is that this was Peter and Barnabas. They were leaders in the church. Everything rises and falls with leadership. If leadership in the church does not obey God's Word and are actively engaged in defending it then nobody else will. When leadership compromises, the rest of the church will follow suit.
Hugh Latimer could have compromised. He could have softened his message or he could have compromised his beliefs just once so that King Henry would be pleased and it would have worked out great for him. He could have begged God to please give Him a different message to preach. "Lord, anything but this!" But the Lord did not and so Hugh did not compromise. He decided that obeying the God of the universe and the God of the Holy, Inspired, and Inerrant Word was of far greater consequence than compromising and obeying and fearing man who was, after all, just flesh and bones like he was.
Better to offend the supposed royal ears of man than to offend the actual One true King with our compromised words and deeds by not submitting to the true authority who created us, to begin with.
If you have not been living under the authority of Scripture in your Christian life, you need to repent and recommit yourself to obedience to Scripture.
If your church has not been submitted to Scripture as the final authority in all that you do then your church needs to repent and seek God's face for forgiveness. One can come up with all of the reasons why one feels like they are justified in what they do but if God has said something on the matter that is what we will be judged by. Let us all commit ourselves to God and His Word and defend it because it is worth defending.