Friday, 4 March 2016
…for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. Galatians 2:12
Verse 12 now begins to explain the comment of verse 11 where Paul said he withstood Peter to his face. The reason why is because “before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles.” Why these men came from James isn’t stated. They may have been visitors, or they may have been appointed to go and check on doctrine, or for some other reason. The fact that they came from James, not why they came from James, is what Paul focuses on.
Before their arrival, Peter did what would otherwise ceremonially defile him according to the Jewish customs; he would eat with the Gentiles. He knew from a previous encounter with Gentiles that God had accepted them as they were and that he could not be defiled by them. This is found in the account of Acts 10 & 11. However, Peter failed to take the lesson to heart and to apply it in all circumstances.
Instead, “when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.” Charles Ellicott notes that, “The Greek expression brings out the timid and gradual withdrawal, ending in complete separation.” Peter didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to stand firmly on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone. Instead, he was more worried about the perception of him in the eyes of the Jews who came from James, and so he slowly withdrew himself from them.
The Greek word for “withdrew” comes from the idea of drawing in something like a sail, or in the contracting of fingers. He closed himself off and backed away from the Gentiles he had been so cozy with before these Jewish believers came. He feared that they would find fault in him. He may have further feared that they would report it back to the church in Jerusalem.
Paul gives this account of Peter now to show those in Galatia that there is a proper adherence to the gospel, and then there is pursuing a false path as well. Peter had chosen the latter and he became an object lesson for Paul to teach them (and thus us!) the truth of the gospel of grace.
Life application: Are we really willing to stand on the gospel of grace and to never waiver in our convictions concerning it? Let us never shrink back from the truth of this wonderful gift which came at such a high price. Christ fulfilled the law and died in fulfillment of it. What more could we add to that?
Lord God Almighty, thank you for the hope of a new day ahead. Each day brings with it both trials and joys. Yesterday is over. And so help us to forget what was difficult, remember what was comforting, and to press on with You leading us each step that we take. And as we go, help us to bring a little joy to those around us as well. Let us be light in the dark places, and a source of comfort to those who are struggling. And Lord, help us to ensure that we give You the credit for all good things that come about in this day which lies ahead of us. Amen.