Series on Galatians, I The Apostolic Authority, H The Altercation, Text: 2:11-14, Title: Pressure to Conform


We know a lot about the pressure to conform. Our TV screens are filled with advertisements that are based on our desire to conform. These days keeping up with the Joneses is a national pastime. There are several TV shows, and magazines that are devoted exclusively to style and they succeed by preying on our buying the most popular cars and clothing and attending the most popular events, and in general copying fads and trends of society. John Kennedy said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth,” and he was right because we see our freedoms eroding. Character is always lost when an high ideal is sacrificed on the altar of conformity and popularity. In our text we see an account of the Apostle Peter conforming to external pressure and as we would expect, that kind of behavior brings bondage, not freedom. Paul opposes Peter but he is opposing much more than a man as we read the account in verses 11-14, When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  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. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? Paul opposed not merely a man but the panic, position, and prestige inherent in the situation

I Panic

Notice that it says in verse 11 that Peter was afraid. Fear is not always bad because sometimes it keeps us from doing foolish and dangerous things. Psychology tells us that, “Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger—if we couldn't feel it, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats. But often we fear situations that are in no way life-or-death, and thus hang back for no good reason.” This is the kind of fear that Franklin Roosevelt spoke of in his first inaugural address. He said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” That kind of fear is obviously detrimental. The Bible talks a lot about fear and tells us to fear God and not to fear man. Thus we read in II Corinthians 7:1 that we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Even beloved and forgiven children of God are to fear Him. On the other hand Hebrews 13:6 tells us that we should boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. The bottom line is that fear is a part of life and a useful one. When we fear God, we do  not fear man, and if we fear man then we are not fearing God. It is clear that Peter was afraid of men at this point in his life. Like many of us Peter was a what they call a hard sell, meaning, he required repeated messages to get the point. Fear once caused him to deny his Savior on the eve of the crucifixion in the courtyard of the high priest. Now fear is causing Peter to deny the vital truth of salvation  by grace because of agitators and false brethren who are pushing an issue that undermines the gospel. Paul is not afraid, and he faces Peter in front of everyone. When an issue is a life and death issue courageous confrontation is the only way to trounce fear. So President Reagan said before a watching world, “Mr. Khrushchev take down that wall.”

II Position

Here Paul also deals a blow to the cult of popular opinion and position. Peter, after all, was the accepted leader of the original apostles. In the early church there were a number of theologians such as Origen, Chrysostom and Jerome who had difficulty in believing this argument between Paul and Peter occurred and in fact they set forth the theory that it was all staged. Augustine, however, interpreted the story as a genuine conflict in which Paul established the higher claim of the truth of the gospel over the rank and office of Peter. The Reformers agreed with Augustine. The main point here, therefore, is that Paul had little regard for popularity and much regard for the truth.This was no trifling matter, but the chiefest article of Christian doctrine. When you understand the utility and majesty of the doctrine of justification, all other things seem worth nothing. What is Peter? What is Paul? What is an angel from heaven? What are all creatures together, compared to the truth of justification, which Paul here saw endangered by the conduct of Peter? The dignity of Peter must be surrendered to the truth. Martin Luther wrote of this passage, ”It is not the dignity or authority of men that God regards. He suffered Judas to fall away, and Saul, the first King, He rejected, and you will find throughout the Scriptures that God oftentimes rejected those who in outward show were good and holy men. If in these examples God seemed to be cruel, it was necessary that such fearful examples should be given and also written. For this vice is naturally grafted in us, to highly esteem the persons and outward state of men, and regard them more than the Word of God. Contrariwise God will have us fix our eyes, and to rest wholly upon the Word itself; He will not have us reverence the apostleship in the persons of Peter or Paul, but Christ speaking in them, and the Word that they bring, and preach unto us.” Curiously when Martin Luther was writing these observations about Peter and Paul, he was locked in a struggle with the Roman Catholic Church over the infallibility of the Pope. In the several centuries between the early church and Luther families warred over the papal seat. False popes, dual popes, even popes who probably didn't believe in God fought for the power of the position. One was exhumed ex-post-facto, excommunicated and burned a week or so after his death. Yet the church had developed the teaching that the Pope when speaking ex cathedra that is on important matters of doctrine was infallible. He did so in condemning Luther with a Papal Bull and Luther publicly burned it. Luther refused to see truth sacrificed on the altar of popularity and position.

III Prestige

A person is prestigious when he has widely recognized prominence, distinction, or importance. Prestige in our culture is greatly valued. We even have a custom called name dropping which means mentioning casually the names of illustrious or famous people in order to imply that one is on familiar terms and therefore important. We see how little this meant to Paul because he opposed an important man to his face and publicly. You know this was quite different from the people who were stirring up all the trouble. They talked behind the back and incited whispering campaigns about Paul. Those apostles of Satan slandered those who were absent, and in their presence did not dare to open their mouths, They are identified as hypocrites which is the opposite of “what you see is what you get.” In our post-modern culture where nobody is supposed to offend anyone else by disagreeing with their religious philosophy Paul would have been out of place. He did not subscribe to the philosophy that you have your religion and I have mine. The world might judge Paul’s actions offensive, but God would count them singular virtues. A Jewish author, Avram Chomsky wrote, "Case by case, we find that conformity is the easy way, and is he path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs.” We need more Christian non-conformists. The word nonconformist has special significance in Church history. In England, after the Act of Uniformity in 1662 a Nonconformist was an English subject belonging to a non-Christian religion or any non-Anglican church. Thus there were many believers who were considered nonconformists because they did not belong to the state church. The comedian Steve Martin invented a nonconformist oath, “I promise to be different! I promise to be unique! I promise not to repeat things other people say!” Whatever the original purpose, that sounds like something Christians living in a post-modern society could say. As a Christian minister I wish that more men of the cloth would guide their churches away from trying to be big and important and back to the Biblical model of humility and service, We are supposed to love our parents, honor the magistrates and public officials, show reverence to ministers of the Word, but here we have the cause neither of Peter, nor parents, nor magistrates, nor of the world, nor of any other creatures, but of God Himself. It’s time to speak out. I believe Paul, who took no pains to be politically correct, would have appreciated Admiral David Farragut who is remembered in popular culture for his order at a Civil war battle in Mobile bay in Alabama. The order is usually paraphrased: “ Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” in U.S. Naval tradition. If we cared less about prestige and position and did not act in the fear of men we would be a lot better off.