Middle School is an awkward time for kids. They are thrown into a new surrounding and all the social rules have changed. Now, in order to be “cool” kids have to know who the right people to hang with are. At the same time, you have to know who not to be seen with. Remember, the rules have changed. Some kids, in their desperate attempt to be with the “cool” kids ignore old friendships because an old friend may just be the person that makes them “uncool.” They may see them privately, but they won’t be seen with them in public.
Peter had come to Antioch and had seen that the Gentile Christians were acceptable. He fellowshipped with them. He ate with them. Things were going great. Then, some of the leaders in the Christian movement who were big on everyone being Jewish before being a Christian came by to check things out. What happened then was when Peter went into the lunchroom, he saw those guys, he looked at his Gentile friends, and he shuddered. He didn’t want anything bad said about him in Jerusalem, so he sat at the lunch table with the “you have to be a Jew” crew. (All this figuratively speaking of course.) “For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.” (Galatians 2:12) Paul was not happy about that and called Peter a hypocrite to his face.
Perhaps, if you look at things from Peter’s standpoint, his actions were understandable. After all, his permanent base wasn’t Antioch, it was Jerusalem. While talking to the group from Jerusalem, he could even defend Paul’s actions in eating with the Gentiles: “It’s a missionary thing, you know. Sometimes missionaries have to do things like that to reach people.” Anytime we engage in blatant hypocrisy like Peter did in Antioch, we can always find a good exc…er….reason for our behavior. The problem is that Peter missed a chance to expand understanding of brothers and sisters in Christ who were different and he reinforced the view that in order to follow Christ, you had to submit to the law.
How often have I missed opportunities to expand the gospel; to show others the love and grace of Christ by my hard-nosed attitudes. My children could probably list a few things that I did that were similar to Peter…ok, a lot of things. It’s easy to get caught up in our own understanding of the gospel and make that the norm for followers of Christ. People should come to Christ like I did and they should live for Christ like I do. It’s easy to do that, and it’s wrong. I still have some hangups about Christian behavior. Some of my good friends break my taboos, and yet still proclaim the gospel of Christ in their words and their deeds. I am not called to judge them. My prayer in those instances is: “Lord, if I am wrong, then show me – but if they are wrong, then show them.” In the meanwhile, though, I am called to sit with them at the lunch table.
Lord, how often I am like Peter. I want to withdraw fellowship from people whose expressions of faith in You are different from my understanding. I am reminded, though, that You ate with Pharisees and tax collectors. You healed Jew and pagan alike. Help me to show that same love to Your followers, and those who need to be Your followers.