But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.Galatians 2:11(NASB)
Both Peter and Paul were apostles of Christ who had been called and chosen by the Lord, but like every one of us, they were also able to slip back into carnality and sin – and like each of us, there were times when they also had to be corrected by another brother in Christ and re-examine their faith to see if they were adhering to the truth of the gospel or being led astray, into legalism.
After Paul had been so gloriously saved on the road to Damascus, Peter and the other apostles continued to share the gospel of God around Jerusalem and the local Judean area – predominantly to Jews. Paul, on the other hand, quietly taught in various Gentile communities and set up Christian churches throughout the wider Asia-minor region.
Although the apostles at Jerusalem recognised that Paul had been divinely commissioned to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, there was little interaction or overlap between these two Christian ministries for many years.
It was after Peter's angelic vision at Joppa and his experience with the salvation of Cornelius the Gentile centurion, that he came to understand that Gentiles and Jews were equal in the sight of God, and both were saved by grace through faith alone. Indeed, the Jerusalem council was formally set up to clarify the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
They agreed that Gentile believers could not be expected to adhere to Jewish rules, rites, and regulations, but too often, Jewish converts to Christianity clung fast to their former rituals, even though they knew that it was not the Law that justifies them before God, but faith in Christ.
Although these early Jewish believers understood that salvation was by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, many of them, including some of the apostles, continued to cling to the Jewish Sabbath, Jewish sacrifices, the Temple worship, feasts days, and other Jewish observances.
Time passed since Paul's first, brief visit to Jerusalem where he had met with Peter and a few Church leaders. But one day, Paul found it necessary to challenge Peter about his faith – when this leading elder of the apostles started to revert back to pre-Cross observances.
This issue came to a head one day, when Peter was visiting Antioch and started to separate himself from Gentile believers. Peter started to separate himself from Gentile Christians during mealtimes, which flared up into a face-to-face confrontation between the two best-known Christian leaders – Peter and Paul.
Although Peter himself happily engaged in fellowship with these uncircumcised, Gentile believers in Antioch, eating and drinking at their tables, his behaviour suddenly changed with the arrival of certain Jewish men from Jerusalem who influenced the great apostle and other liberated, Jewish believers into separating themselves from their Gentile brethren.
Paul had been battling this issue of Jewish legalism for much of his apostleship, and to discover Peter was engaging in this unacceptable and unbiblical discriminatory behaviour and influencing others to do the same, caused Paul to openly oppose his fellow apostle, to his face.
Paul stated, "When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I protested and opposed him to his face concerning his conduct there, for he was blameworthy, and stood condemned." The following verse explains that it was out of fear of his fellow Jews, that caused Peter to cave into this unbiblical practice. It was fellow Jews who had insisted in the segregation of circumcised Jewish believers from uncircumcised Gentiles Christians – and Peter caved into their pressure.
Peter wanted a peaceful existence, and although he was a pillar of the early Christian Church who knew that salvation was by faith and not by following the Law, he crumbled from pressure and withdrew himself FEARING those of the circumcision.
May we know the truth, stand fast on the Word of God, and not allow ourselves to compromise the glorious gospel of Christ through fear of the world, fear of our Christian brethren, or fear of our fellow man. May we not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for ALL who believe – through Christ Who loved us and gave Himself for us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word which gives clear teachings on the means of salvation, which is by grace through faith in Christ. Lord, I see how easy it is to allow fear of men to cause any one of us to compromise our faith. Help me to stand fast on the Word of truth and not to fear what man can say or do to me, especially other believers who have become legalistic in their beliefs, or who water down the gospel to be politically correct. Help me to not only speak the truth in love, but also to be prepared to challenge those, in love, whose Christian conduct does not line up with Scripture. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.