11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.
12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
13 The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
14 But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all…
I realize it seems that I broke this passage up oddly, cutting off right before Paul’s main point. But at the same time, there is so much to be gleaned from these verses, so I didn’t want to gloss over them in order to save enough time to do Paul’s speech justice. I see three main points made in these verses: (1) spiritual “greats” fall, too, (2) hypocrisy is contagious, and (3) we need to speak up. Let’s dive in!
Starting in verse eleven, we see that Cephas (Simon Peter) was involved in hypocritical sin. Now, Peter was the Christian in his day! Remember Matthew 16:16-19: “Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [Greek Petros, meaning rock], and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” So, here in Galatians, we have the entire, worldwide church’s leader engaged in sin – and it should not surprise us! 1 John 1:8 warns, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Also consider the Old Testament examples of Samson and David – both spiritual giants who are listed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11, yet they both got themselves involved in very serious sin. We tend to put our spiritual leaders – pastors, Bible study leaders, Christian authors – on a pedestal, believing they somehow have a stronger immunity to false doctrines and hypocrisy. But the truth of the matter is, we need to be on more of a guard against those who teach and lead us – not watching them like judgmental hawks, but continually checking what they say against the Word. Because, as we are about to see, once a leader stumbles, those under his leadership fall like dominoes.
Peter’s sin pulled in the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas (another prominent Christian leader who accompanied Paul on his missions work [see Acts 13]). At this time, he was certainly not exhibiting the commission of Proverbs 16:20: “Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds; sound leadership has a moral foundation [MSG].” Proverbs 13:30 also warns us to be mindful of the influence that those around us have on our actions: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” An application from this passage, therefore, is that we should examine how both our leaders and our friends influence us, both for good and for bad.
Before I move on to the third point of this passage, I’d like to take a moment to break down the nature of this specific sin. It’s not that Paul reproved Peter for being legalistic – as Romans 14 makes clear, we should never judge others for misunderstanding and putting themselves under the burden of the Law – but for fully grasping the truth (freedom from the Law) and acting as if the opposite were true. Worse yet, he caved for appearance’s sake – something members of the modern church seem to do a lot. I point back to Galatians 1:10: “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
Finally, this passage also teaches us that when we see something wrong, it is our duty to speak up. In a few weeks when we hit Galatians 6:1, I plan to devote an entire post to the subject of how to reprove – in a godly manner – other Christians who are living in sin (as was also the case in this matter). It’s both a very important and a very complicated issue that I want to give proper time to, hence my postponement of it. But for now, I’d like to share my favorite verse on the importance of speaking up in general, Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
1- How do you think we can balance the necessity of befriending nonbelievers in order to share the love of Christ with them and the problem of not letting their ungodly actions negatively influence our behavior?2- How can we speak up for right in the modern world?