It really must have been an incredible moment. Paul in a face-to-face confrontation with Peter (Gal. 2:11) in front of everyone (v.14).
Paul wasn’t setting himself in opposition to the “impetuous Peter” of the gospels, but the Pentecost preaching Peter of Acts. The Peter arrested by the temple police for healing and heralding within the temple courts the good news of the gospel — that the risen Christ had not only made a lame man whole physically, but spiritually as well, and this by faith. The Peter who stood before the rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem and, filled with the Holy Spirit, boldly declared the one name under heaven given to people by which they must be saved — the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The Peter who confronted Ananias and Sapphira for their duplicity — that they had lied to God — and presided over their divinely decreed removal from earth. The Peter who had seen heaven opened up so much so that he went to the house of a Gentile to proclaim the good news delivered to the Jews, baptizing him and his family when they too believed and received the Holy Spirit.
Did I mention it must have been an incredible moment when Paul condemned (CSB) Peter face-to-face in front of everyone?
And how come?
For [Peter] regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
(Galatians 2:12-13 CSB)
I’m gripped this morning by Peter’s failure. Not in a “how could he?” way, but more in a “how could I not?” way. If Peter, who had seen what he had seen, experienced what he had experienced, triumphed in the ways he had triumphed, and boldly walked with Christ in the ways he had boldly walked with Christ, if this Peter could have still succumbed to the fears and weakness of the flesh, why would I think I could not or would not?
Peter knew better, but in this instance, he didn’t act in accordance with what he knew. Whatever the dynamics created by those who “came from James”, it caused Peter to walk in a manner inconsistent with his message. Thus, given what was at stake, in front of everyone Paul reproved the brother for “he was clearly out of line” (MSG).
What a grief — Peter’s failure. What a gift — Paul’s rebuke. If I’m honest with myself, I’m so prone towards the former. And if I’m equally honest with myself, it’s so hard to do the latter. But both are the way of a gospel community who are still a work-in-progress, who are still an unblemished bride in the making. There will be uncharacteristic failure and, for the sake of the gospel, it will require courageous fixing.
That’s why, later in this letter, Paul’s gonna write about that reality.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6:1-2 CSB)
We fulfill the law of Christ when we address the wrongdoing of our siblings in Christ. We carry others’ sin burden knowing well ourselves the weight of the daily battle with the old nature. God uses those who would be like Paul to restore those who unfortunately have been like Peter so that the body of Christ might reflect the beauty of the gospel in action.
Failure and reproof. I’m thinking it’s part and parcel of doing authentic Christian community together — for the sake of the gospel.
This too, by His grace. This too, for His glory.