In the Apostle Paul's letter to the churches of the region of Galatia we find a few very interesting historical details in regard to the author's experiences in his introduction to the early Christians and Christian leaders. We are told of his difficulties, his status as being relatively unknown by sight and, finally, his acceptance by the leaders at Jerusalem. From that point, we are lead to the city of Antioch and the scene of what would be a most eventful and educational dinner.
There in Antioch, where the Disciples were first called Christians, the Apostle Peter, called Cephas, was eating with the Gentiles. It is reasonable to assume that these Gentiles were Gentile Christians but whether they were or not is immaterial. The point is that the Apostle Peter was seated at dinner with ethnic Gentiles though he was an ethnic Jew. This is not unreasonable. After all, it should be remembered that this was the same Peter who had the marvelous vision on the rooftop in Joppa in which God demonstrated the cleansing of flesh for meat as well as the cleansing which was coming upon the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel.
When the Apostle Peter, after this vision, went to the household of Cornelius and preached the Gospel, their receptivity to and obedience of the Gospel evidenced through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and their submission to water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was manifestation of their cleansing as an ethnic group before God. In other words, as the Apostle Peter reasoned with those Jewish Christians who were with him and thereafter, if God has received the Gentiles, how can they be forbidden? They most obviously are our Brethren and must be received as such. They were no longer, as the Jews had been taught, an unclean people to be avoided and shunned.
How peculiar it is then to see the same Apostle Peter turn into a hypocrite at the dinner table in Antioch. For, according to the Scriptures, we are told that when the ethnic Jewish Christians came from James in Jerusalem to where Peter was at Antioch dining with the Gentiles that Peter removed himself from the Gentiles because of his fear of the Jewish Christians. The issue was circumcision coupled with deep seated bigotry. Among the Jewish Christians was a popular belief that Christian converts should be circumcised and that there was a difference between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.
Here is the summary of Peter's hypocrisy: 1) He believed, because of direct Divine revelation based upon the Word of God that the Gentiles were clean. 2) He dined with the Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem weren't around. 3) When the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came around, his conviction in regard to the Gentiles and his integrity in regard to his handling of Truth was compromised because of his fear of the Jewish Christians who came from James in Jerusalem.
It so happened that the Apostle Paul was also in attendance at this occasion and his response to Peter's conduct was quick and decisive. Paul was enraged at the actions of Peter especially when it manifested its influence in Paul's own close companion in ministry Barnabas. When Paul saw the actions of Peter, the Jews and Barnabas, he confronted Peter to his face before everyone and said, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:14) He pointed out and condemned Peter's hypocrisy in the clearest possible terms. Peter was wrong for holding the Gentile Christians as private equals while treating them as public inferiors.
When Paul described Peter's conduct, he said that Peter "stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11). Weymouth translated the phrase as, "his conduct condemned him." It is this notion that led the translators of the Twentieth Century New Testament to render the passage, "he stood self-condemned." In short, Paul rebuked Peter to his face before the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because Peter's actions were worthy of condemnation and were self-condemnatory: worthy of condemnation because they represented gross hypocrisy and self-condemnatory because Peter knew in his heart that there was nothing wrong with eating with the Gentile Christians or any other Gentile no matter what the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem thought about it. Had Peter been a leader of Christian integrity, he would have stood with the Gentile Christians regardless of what it might have cost him in reputation with the Church at Jerusalem.
Peter was wrong. He was wrong for putting reputation before Truth and, in privately supporting those he would not publicly endorse, his conduct was "not in step with the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14). Peter's conduct was not just self-serving; it was the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this clearly when we consult various translations in their rendering of the thought conveyed here. The KJV says Peter and the Jewish Christians had not "walked uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel." The NASB says they "were not straightforward about the truth." The HCSB says they were "deviating from the truth of the gospel" while the ISV says they were "not acting consistently." There is no way to look at what the Apostle Peter and the Jewish Christians were doing and justify it. It was conduct unbecoming a Christian and a violation of the Gospel of Truth.
Now, what does this have to do with us today? The hypocrisy of Christians in this regard in the modern Church is as present, shocking and worthy of condemnation as it was in the early Church. It is not enough to be a private supporter of anyone who is in the right while, in the name of protecting your own interests or reputation, distancing yourself from them in the sight of those who are wrong in their thinking. We can lament the fact that things are the way they are, but what do we gain for the name of Christ or the cause of Truth when we go along with the crowd and wrap ourselves in the robe of men-pleasing? The Apostle Paul stood against the "system" because the "system" was acting in disobedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, when all was said and done, came out all the greater in reputation, integrity and spiritual stature with those who held to the Truth.
What does it say to Christ and the Gospel when we embrace in private those we denounce in public? Or what does it say of our integrity when we accept certain Truths behind closed doors while refusing to acknowledge them openly for fear of what the "Jews from Jerusalem" might say? The Apostle Peter had a lot to lose in the eyes of James and the Saints at Jerusalem for dining with the Gentiles and, in the eyes of God, he would have been better off had he lost it. Instead, Peter lost his integrity; sold for the price of the approval of those who, ultimately, were in the wrong. When Peter sided with the Jewish Christians over the Gentiles, he turned away from the Truth of the Gospel. Paul's rebuke was sharp and appropriate. After all, he had been having dinner with a hypocrite and never knew it.
I challenge you, in the name of Christ, to stand with what is right even in the face of great personal loss. How many individuals of pure heart and strong character who have struggled and overcome adversity stand with a mark against them in the eyes of some but with approval in the eyes of God? Do you stand with them when the "Jews from Jerusalem" are around? Or are you ashamed? Or self-absorbed? Or unwilling to truly follow the Gospel in the pure Spirit of Christ? How many causes must remain points of public division when, privately, neither you nor the Scriptures find fault with them? Will you build your house on sand for the sake of "fellowship" or will you plant your feet firmly on the Rock of Truth?
How many will have the spirit of Paul? More importantly, how many will have the Spirit of God? How many more will be the hypocrite at the dinner table?
God help us.