Gal 2:11-14 “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
Peer pressure can be a powerful thing, and standing up to someone of reputation is not easy to do. We find both situations occurring in the verses under consideration here. We also clearly see Paul’s zeal for the truth and in the need to set an honest example before God’s people.
At some point, Peter came to visit the brethren in Antioch. Peter was obviously welcomed and was making himself at home among the brethren there, eating with them and enjoying their fellowship. This is not surprising, considering Peter’s earlier experience with Cornelius and his household. However, this does raise a question over which Bible scholars are of different opinions. Did this event occur after Paul went to Jerusalem and received the right hand of fellowship from Peter, or was Paul referring back to a time before that visit?
I am of the opinion that Paul was referring to a time prior to his visit to Jerusalem which he talks about in the earlier verses of this chapter. First of all, consider that Paul is writing to the Galatian churches concerning the pressure being placed upon them to adhere to the Jewish legal system of worship. The language indicates to me that Paul was saying Peter was directly responsible for the unrest among the Gentiles over this issue that eventually took him to Jerusalem. Secondly, even though he was prone to acting impulsively, I do not see it in keeping with Peter’s character to so quickly turn his back on the accord reached between Paul and Barnabas and the brethren at Jerusalem.
What is obvious in this lesson is that giving in to peer pressure can often lead to hypocrisy. That hypocrisy may lead to other brethren following suit, such as Barnabas and the other Jews there withdrawing from the Gentile brethren because Peter did. This action obviously caused hurt and confusion among the Gentile brethren and led them to consider accepting the demands of (possibly false – see verse 4) brethren from Jerusalem that the Gentiles should be circumcised. Although the truth of the gospel was that the faith of Jesus Christ was sufficient, there were those who wanted to pervert that by bringing in their past legal system.
Can you imagine the measure of faith that Paul displayed on this occasion? Paul was a Jew who had once persecuted this very faith. He was once a devoted Pharisee (Act 23:6) who would have applauded Peter’s action. Now he was out of favor with the majority of the Jews, but his love for Jesus overshadowed all of that. He publicly denounced the actions of Peter and those that dissembled with him.
Have we ever denied the liberty we have in Jesus Christ because we were afraid of men of reputation? I humbly submit to you that there is no man or group of men whose reputation is greater than that of Jesus Christ. It is better to stand and declare the truth of salvation by grace and the liberty we have in Jesus (2Co 3:17), at the risk of our own reputation, than to yield to unrighteousness. We sometimes are afraid to be bold in standing for the Lord because we are afraid of creating a rift among the brethren. However, our first concern should always be for the church as a whole.
Since Barnabas later accompanied Paul to Jerusalem to speak with the brethren there about their unfair demands concerning the Gentiles, I think it safe to say that Barnabas repented of his dissimulation. By God’s grace, the brethren of reputation at Jerusalem were convinced of the liberty of Christ to the Gentiles. Peter was made to have a great love for Paul as is evidenced by his reference to Paul as “beloved brother (2Pe 3:15)” in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that Paul had withstood him to his face. Doing what is right before the Lord may not always be easy, but it is always right.
May we stand for what is right according to His word, doing so in boldness and in love!