In the first century there arose a group of Jewish Christians who believed they were superior to Gentile Christians because they were both Jewish and Christian. These “legalists” believed that Christians should follow Jewish beliefs as well as Christian beliefs, and only by following both could a person really become acceptable to God. Now, Peter had been one of the first to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. A vision from the Lord had caused him to understand that Gentiles could receive the Gospel and become acceptable to God. So, Peter went to the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius and shared the good news of Jesus, and Cornelius and his household received Christ into their lives and manifested the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10). Later on, however, apparently Peter fell under the influence of some of the legalists, and he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. Jews of that day didn’t eat with Gentiles, which is a tradition that continues to this day for some Jews. Paul wrote to the Galatians that other Christians, including Barnabas who had gone to Antioch to encourage the Christians there (Acts 11:22-36), were even displaying this superior attitude toward the Gentile Christians.
Question – “When someone you greatly love or highly respect does or says something wrong, how do you typically respond to what they have said or done?” Many people overlook or disregard wrong attitudes, words or actions that are displayed by people they love or highly respect. Confronting people when they are wrong is very difficult, especially when they are people of influence with intimidating personalities like Simon Peter had. Think about who Paul was confronting. Peter was one of the original disciples of Jesus, and one of Jesus’ closest friends. Peter had not only lived, traveled and ministered with Jesus he was there when Jesus was crucified, and one of the first to see the risen Lord. Peter had been specifically appointed by Jesus to be the key leader in the birth of the church (Matthew 16:13-18, John 21:15-17). It was Peter who stood on the Day of Pentecost and proclaimed to the Jews that they had crucified the Son of God, and that Jesus had risen from the grave and was the only way to a right relationship with God. Peter was a spirit-filled man who was the most visible and influential Christian leader of his day, but he, like all of us do, had made some wrong choices and taken some wrong actions. He needed to be confronted about those wrong choices and actions, and Paul was willing to do so.
This story reminds us of several key principles. One, we will all make mistakes in our lives, no matter how good and godly we are. If Peter, the preacher of Pentecost and the bringer of the Gospel to the Gentiles could form some wrong ideas and habits, so can we. We must always be on guard that our own ideas and preferences do not supersede God’s Word and ways. Second, this story reminds us that we have to be willing to confront others in a loving way when they say or do things that are wrong. Third, we are reminded in this story that even good habits and values are no substitute for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even today, people sometimes say that certain habits or actions such as church attendance, baptism, modest dress, etc. are indicative of a person’s salvation. While these are certainly important actions and habits in our lives, the Scripture is clear that a person’s salvation comes through our faith in Christ, and not through the “works” of our lives. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9: “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”
As you pray today: 1) Ask the Lord if there are any prejudices you may have towards other believers regarding their beliefs, habits or actions, and ask Him to forgive you if there are; 2) Pray for the Lord to show you how to be a better connector of Christians rather than a divider; and 3) Thank God for the wonderful salvation you have as a result of the faith you have placed in Christ Jesus.