Seeing People In Light of the Gospel
Peter clearly did not teach Paul the gospel.
Remember that this section is still part of a larger section where Paul is defending himself against the charge that his apostleship and his gospel were second-hand.
Paul shows that he was not commissioned or taught by Peter. Peter and the others did affirm Paul.
Today we see that Paul even opposed Peter for deviating from the truth of the gospel. Paul did not get his gospel from Peter. In fact, Paul corrects Peter on the Gospel-Gentile issue.
At the simplest level, Peter used to eat with the Gentile Christians. Some other Jews came and he was persuaded to not eat with the Gentiles. He separated himself from them. And in doing so, Peter influenced the other Jews, including Barnabas, with withdraw.
So what’s the big deal? Well, for Paul, this is a huge deal. This strikes at the Gospel itself.
Living like a Gentile
Jews used to have strict laws about the kind of food they should eat (clean and unclean). They were to stay away from Gentiles. Having a meal together was an expression of fellowship, and so Jews would not eat with Gentiles.
But Peter had been eating with Gentile
Christians. And it wasn’t just
Peter. It was probably the custom here
That was a huge statement. It was, in effect saying, there is no more law. Not only was he not requiring Gentiles to live like Jews (circumcision, ceremonial laws), Peter, even though he was a Jew, was living like a Gentile. Peter acknowledged that the law is done away with: Gentiles don’t have to keep the Mosaic law and Jews don’t have to keep the Mosaic law.
Peter and Paul were in agreement. Gentiles don’t have to keep Jewish dietary laws, don’t have to be circumcised, they don’t have to become Jews. Jews don’t have to be Jews. Now it is the Gospel, its about Jesus, not about the law.
But Peter changed his tune. He withdrew from the Gentile Christians.
We should say that Peter may have had very good reasons for what he did. It’s possible that his eating with Gentiles was very offensive to Jews and thus hindering his effectiveness in preaching the gospel to Jews. This may be a “stumbling block.”
It’s also suggested that there were some Jewish extremists who were physically attacking Jews who associated with uncircumcised Gentiles. And if Christians got that reputation, that they were too friendly with Gentiles, they may have become targets. Maybe Peter had to think of the safety of other believers.
The point is that Peter may have had good reasons to withdraw from the Gentiles. And he influenced other Jews, including Barnabas to do the same.
The Message to Gentile Christians
The problem was what the message Peter’s actions said to the Gentile Christians.
If you were a Gentile, how did you feel when one of the pillars of the church, the Apostle Peter, pulls away and stops associating with you.
The message was, in the Church, we make a distinction between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. And Gentile Christians were lower than Jewish Christians. Unless Gentile Christians learned to live like Jews, the Jewish Christians can’t associate with you. The message was that the Church was really a Jewish thing, and so Gentile Christians were second-class citizens.
More seriously, this suggested that Gentile Christians lacked something. It’s not enough to put your faith in Jesus and to be baptized in Jesus’ name. No, to gain the full rights and privileges in the church you also needed something else. You needed to live like a Jew. And this is why Paul gets really upset—this now strikes at the Gospel.
The message was:
And that’s why Paul got so upset! As mentioned, Peter actions struck at the very gospel.
Paul says the way Peter treated the Gentiles was not “acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”
How are we to “act in line with the truth of the gospel”? Do we fail in this too?
Last time we had noticed that Paul was not overly impressed with the Apostles (2:6). He realized that from God’s perspective, being an apostle, a prophet, a pastor, a missionary—God isn’t impressed with such titles or positions. Paul learned to see people from God’s perspective.
The problems of the Jewish-Gentile and legalism can be understood as not being able to see things from God’s perspective.
From God’s perspective, following the Mosaic Law doesn’t matter. Circumcision doesn’t matter. Being a Jew doesn’t matter. God doesn’t make a distinction. He obviously knows if someone is a Jew or a Gentile, but God doesn’t place any value on that.
For example, different people have different blood types, A, B, AB, O; A positive, O negative.
Although that distinction exists, we don’t place any value on it. We don’t treat A-positive people differently than we O-negative people.
The problem is when we say it does matter, we do make a distinction, and we treat people accordingly.
The problem is when we say it matters of you are a Jew or a Gentile. It matters if you’ve been circumcised or not.
The problem is when we say blood type does matter, and we treat A-pos people differently than O-neg people.
But the gospel now proclaims, No, that doesn’t matter! We see a distinction that God does not see. We’ve created a distinction the gospel was meant to destroy.
Elijah has been into magic tricks. Allow me to demonstrate.
For us, we probably don’t make such a big distinction about being a Jew or a Gentile. In fact, I think all of us here are Gentile. But maybe we do make other distinctions:
How big/strong or how small/weak someone is
What school a person graduated from, how educated a person is
How attractive, athletic, intelligent, wealthy, etc.
What ethnicity they are, what socio-economic level they’re at, etc.
We make distinction and we treat people accordingly.
But the Gospel says, none of these distinctions matter. God doesn’t see anyone differently because of these factors. It is to draw lines where God doesn’t have lines.
And it offends God. It is to have a value system that God does not have. It is to say “What I think is important is more important than what God thinks is important.”
To treat people differently because of these factors is to not “living in light of the Gospel.”
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
We may share Peter’s failure more than we realize. To get a little more to the heart of the matter, we think the law does matter. We think good works do matter.
We see someone who reads their Bible, prays, serves the poor, goes on missions—we see all these good things this person does and think he/she pretty good.
Then we see someone who rarely goes to church, who doesn’t pray, doesn’t serve others; in fact, this person is quite lazy, manipulative, violent, greedy and selfish—we see this person as pretty bad.
We think our good works matter. And it affects how we see others, how we see ourselves. We consciously or subconsciously say, “She’s a good person,” “He’s a bad person,” “I’m a good person.”
But the gospel says, our good works do not matter. It is not a factor in God’s equation. It is a currency that has no value. It’s like having all this monopoly money—it is not legal tender.
The Pharisees prayed a lot, were experts in the Scriptures. They did lots of very good things. But, you see, God didn’t value any of it. Those “good works” didn’t matter.
It’s not so hard to understand why in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders hated him and the prostitutes and “sinners” loved him.
When we look up to people who do lots of good works or we look down on people who do lots of bad things, or when we feel good about ourselves for doing good things and bad about ourselves for doing bad things—we are not living in light of the gospel. We are saying good works matter, when God says they don’t matter. We are not seeing things from God’s perspective. We are making distinctions where God does not make distinctions.
Rather, what matters is faith—that’s what God sees. The gospel is about those who believe and put their trust in Christ, its about being united with Christ.
From God’s perspective, it’s about the internals: faith, hope and love.
Of course, obedience matters. Of course, those internals should manifest themselves in behavior. But it’s the internal that’s important.
Living in light of the Gospel means learning to see things from God’s perspective. It means not valuing what God does not value, and valuing what God does value.
Negatively, it means not treating someone differently just because he’s a Jew/Gentile, he’s Asian/Caucasian/African-American/Hispanic, etc.
It means not treating someone differently because they go to seminary or go to counseling. It means not making such a distinction between a mailman or a millionaire, secretary or a surgeon, a drunkard or a deacon, a prostitute or a preacher.
These make a big difference to us, but not to God.
Positively, it means valuing in ourselves and others, faith and love for God.
It means recognize that the only thing that really matters is that we trust and love Jesus.
We’re so focused on what other people think, we fail to think about what God thinks, what God sees as most important.
Do you recognize that for yourself? The most important thing about you is not your degrees, job/career, bank statements, marriage status. It’s not your weight, your wardrobe. It’s not even your bible reading and prayers, your church attendance and missions work. The most important thing about you is that you trust and love Jesus. That’s what God sees.
When I see my boys, it doesn’t matter what their athletic skills, reading skills, math skills, language skills, social skills are. Of course, I hope they have them all. But that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t treat them differently. What matters is that they are my boys, and I am their Father.
As we mentioned last week, understanding the Gospel means looking at ourselves from God’s perspective.