Galatians 2:11-14 – But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Most people agree that the biggest heavyweight battle ever fought was between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. But long before they climbed into the ring there was an even bigger rumble between the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul.
Both men were raised in Jewish homes as boys, became Christian leaders as men, and were seen as the leaders of God’s mission to the Jews and Gentiles, respectively. God had already spoken to both men, telling them that Gentile converts did not need to adopt Jewish cultural practices but that faith in Jesus Christ was sufficient for salvation. Peter and Paul then acted in loving grace with Gentile Christians, not demanding they do such things as circumcise the males or abide by Old Covenant dietary laws.
As is often the case with legalistic religious folks who are single-issue voters, they began pushing for circumcision among Christians in Galatia, and pushing for dietary laws among the Christians in Antioch. Antioch was a trade route, the first place believers were called Christians, and a headquarters for Paul to reach into various cities to plant churches. These pushy religious types used fear, public pressure, and threats to get their demands met. They even pretended to come from Jesus’ brother James with his authority but were rogue and off the mission and message of Jesus (Acts 15:24).
Earlier in life, Peter faced some pressure from a servant girl and, in response, denied his friendship with his God, Christ. Now, Peter is facing pressure again and in response denied his friendship with Gentile Christians. Peter and Paul were supposed to be shepherd protecting the Christian sheep from the religious wolves, but Peter joined the “false brothers” (Galatians 2:4) which left the entire future of Christianity for the nations of the earth in jeopardy. Peter’s fear lead him into hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is how fearful people navigate relationships and decisions because they fear man when they should be fearing only God.
So, Paul confronts Peter personally and publicly. They may have met privately (we do not know), but in the end the battle between the two highest spiritual authorities on earth is a heavyweight battle that the angels were possibly popping corn for. Thankfully, Peter accepted the rebuke and the gospel of Jesus Christ was preserved for the world.
Who are you likely to people please, have fear of man towards, or change how you act when you are around?