CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXII)

Baxter goes on to say that when dealing with such a situation, it must be done with humility even when there are sharp disagreements. That way, whatever is decided will not appear to be done out of anger or ill will, just to show who was really in charge. The individual ministers being counseled should not come away believing they were the victim of revenge that caused them great personal and professional harm. But that everything to be done must be done in order to save them from further embarrassment and ridicule. Sometimes, the accused may think that no serious harm was done to their congregation or the ministry, but the question is not how they look at it or how the council looks at it but how God looks at it. That’s why they must apply the wisdom of the writer of Hebrews to those in ministry should help each other. If someone is being confronted with unacceptable behavior, they should nevertheless speak day after day to those over them in the Lord while there is still time to change. This will prevent their heart from becoming become hard by being fooled by sin.[1]

So, these things must never be done out of hatred or to belittle a fellow believer. It is not appropriate to offer wise counsel with anger or hatred in our hearts. This may only cause them to turn further away from what they were taught and believe. Don’t make their fault an issue between their fellow believer or even the congregation. It is between them and God and His Word. That’s why Baxter feels that when Paul confronted Peter, he did not want to be an issue between the two of them, but between Peter and the Gospel of the Anointed One. If Peter was willing to repent, he didn’t repent to Paul but to God.[2]

After reading these verses, John Bunyan reflected on the Beauty of Christianity which is a holy life. Now, a holy life does not infer that a person never makes mistakes or fails to live up to their measure of faith. But it does mean those things occur at times while they are trying their best to live for God in showing their love for the One who saved them. Bunyan believes that the advice the Apostle Paul gave young Timothy to let everyone who calls the Anointed One Lord to turn in the opposite direction from where opportunities for sin reside. But Bunyan found out that sometimes those who call themselves leaders of the faith are the ones who find it difficult to do this.

When that happens, not only are they shamed but the face of Christianity is marred. Even though they claim to be serving the Anointed One, they appear to be more involved in sinning than saving.  Bunyan gives many reasons why this happens but they are too extensive to include here. But he does address what happens when faithful believers do not speak out against such practices and refuse to sit under their preaching or teaching.  Also, just because the person at the top does those things, that does not give them permission to imitate them. It’s amazing how quickly good believers are persuaded to join in with bad believer’s actions! That’s why Paul was so upset that even Barnabas, his close friend, and ally, joined Peter in Antioch as they shunned the Gentile believers in order to sit with the Jews and eat the meal being served to the congregation. Paul was afraid that other Jews in the congregation would interpret that as a message that this was the way it was to be done. So be careful if you are considered to be a Christian leader to be a model of what is right so that others who respect you and take your word as the truth will become more Jesus-like than Satan-like.[3]

Bunyan also encourages us to learn from other people’s mistakes, especially those in church leadership positions. It demonstrates the advantages of keeping our hearts tender. Don’t try to ignore sin, be fearful of sin. A tender heart is more likely to quickly yield to prayer than become defensive. A tender heart looks for repentance instead of excuses. A tender heart speaks directly to God instead of seeking a go-between. A tender heart is a watchful heart so that sinful tendencies do not catch it unawares. A tender heart will deny itself in favor of some less fortunate individual. A tender heart saves itself many acts of severe discipline because it does not tempt God. Many needless rebukes and wounds are incurred because of unwise choices and foolish behavior. So, Bunyan asks, what is a Christian to do once they realize that God broke their heart to keep it tender?

Bunyan goes on to say, that a tender heart will most of all will learn lessons from examples of bad behavior among the godly. Copy no one who does that which the Word of God forbids. Sometimes Satan makes use of a good person’s bad ways, to spoil and harden the heart of those who succeed them. Just like Peter’s hypocrisy in Antioch almost soiled Barnabas’ stellar reputation. So, says Bunyan, observe the ways of good believers and measure both theirs and your own by no other rule than the Holy Spirit and God’s Holy Word. That’s what Paul tried to do when he confronted Peter with what he saw as a leader behaving badly.[4]

Sometime later during the Wesleyan Revival period, his main theologian, Adam Clarke, gave his understanding of what occurred here in the relationship between Peter and Paul. He sees this dispute as being Peter‘s fault. He was convinced that God pulled down the middle wall that for so long separated the Jews and Gentiles, and he acted on this conviction, associating with the Gentiles and eating with them. But when certain Jews came from James, who it appears considered the Law still to be in force, to prevent placing a stumbling-block before them he withdrew from all fellowship with the converted Gentiles, and acted as if he himself believed the Law to still be in force, and that the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles should continue.

Clarke also makes special note that some Jewish converts in the congregation were also drawn away with Peter and the entourage from Jerusalem. Although those Jews converted to Christianity who also believed that the obligation of the Jewish ritual ceased, when they saw Peter act this way, and also have great respect for the Jerusalem delegation who separated themselves from the converted Gentiles, it convinced the Jews of Antioch that following the Law was still their moral obligation. So powerful was the tide of such these examples, that even the gentle, loving-hearted Barnabas was carried away by their misrepresentation through hypocrisy. They were pretending to be something they really were not.[5]  This, without doubt, is what made Paul’s face turn red and angered him the most.

Then 19th century Roman Catholic theologian George Haydock shares his point of view. He joins those who see Peter’s fault as only a lesser or venial sin in his conduct and conversation. Did not Paul on several occasions do exactly the same thing Peter is being accused of? That is, practice the Jewish ceremonies: did not he circumcise Timothy after this, did he not shave his head in Cenchræ, did he not by the advice of James purifies himself with the Jews in the Temple, not to offend them?” This is a case of excusing one person’s fault by pointing out others who make the same mistake. Let’s imagine that a sinner comes to God for forgiveness, and God says, “Forget it, you’re not the only one who made that mistake.” But it should not surprise us that Haydock defends Peter so as not to see him as inferior to Apostle Paul.

But the Haydock goes on to mention the fact that Jerome, and also Chrysostom, give another exposition of this passage. They looked upon all this as having been done by set-up and a collusion between these two Apostles, who agreed beforehand that Peter should let himself be criticized by Paul, and not that Peter was really hypocritical so that the Jews seeing Peter publicly blamed, and not justifying himself might for the future eat with the Gentiles. But Augustine vigorously opposes this exposition as being inconsistent with Christian and apostolic sincerity. The text in this chapter makes it clear that this caused a split in the congregation and that Cephas, or Peter, was not following the truth of the Gospel.  After a long dispute between these Jerome and Augustine, Jerome seems to retract his original opinion, and the opinion of Augustine is now commonly followed, that Peter was guilty of an unintended venial fault.

Then Haydock mentions that no Catholic would deny that the head of the church may be guilty even of great sins. He then concludes that we still need to admire the humility of Peter on this occasion, as Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, observes, who complimented Peter on taking the admonition of Paul so mildly without his insisting on being respected as greater because of what the Lord said to him. Haydock notes that Cardinal Caesar Baronius held that Peter did not sin at all, which may be true, if we look upon his intention only, which was to give no offense to the Jewish converts. But when we examine the facts, he can scarcely be excused from a venial indiscretion. The fault that is here noted in the conduct of Peter, was only in withdrawing himself from the table of the Gentiles without giving it a second thought, for fear of giving offense to the Jewish converts. But we must keep in mind, that by doing this Peter might insult the Gentiles, or even give them a reason to think that they are obliged to conform to the Jewish way of living. Neither was Paul’s standing up to Peter any reason to argue that Paul was disrespecting Peter’s superiority. It should always be fair for an inferior admonish a superior when they truly did something wrong.[6]

Scottish theologian John Eadie discusses the fact that Barnabas, Paul’s “son of comfort,” was swept away by the influence of Peter and the emissaries from James who came over to Antioch to see how things were going. We must remember that Barnabas was already an integral part of the Jerusalem congregation before Paul’s conversion. They were his old friends with Paul becoming his new friend. And even the adventure of their missionary journey did not cause Barnabas to forget the inner circle he belonged to. So, when those commissioned by James to go to Antioch showed up, it was sort of a reunion. And of course, having Peter there made a big impact on Barnabas. So, when dinner time came, and the Jewish contingent invited Peter and the ones James sent to join them in a kosher meal, it does not mean that Barnabas suddenly forgot Paul’s stance on this issue. It was a matter of joining the crowd. But for Paul, it was like being stabbed in the back. No doubt this is what led to the break up between them in taking John Mark along on their next missionary journey.[7]

It appears that many of these early church leaders were aiming at the core of Paul’s challenge of Peter’s making such an ill-advised move. That is, how best to settle arguments and disagreements within the church over how certain sacraments or ordinances are performed so that they don’t divide the congregation by forcing them to take sides. We’ve seen in Protestantism over the methods of serving Communion, Baptizing, Washing of the Saints Feet, the Sinner’s Prayer, and any indulgence in what is considered worldly behavior – such as dancing, movies, wearing jewelry, etc. But the more important divides are seen in the beliefs of Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus Only, Prosperity Preaching, Speaking in Tongues, Divine Healing, that Christians can be possessed by evil spirits, and so on, and orthodox Christian beliefs based on God’s Word, and not man’s interpretation. If Paul were alive today, I believe his message would be the same, get back to the Word of God.

[1] Hebrews 3:13

[2] Richard Baxter: The Reformed Pastor, Books For The Ages, AGES Software, 1997. Ch. 2, p. 64

[3] John Bunyan: The Beauty of Christianity, Vol. 4, Ch. 3, p. 106

[4] Ibid., The Acceptable Sacrifice, Vol. 6, p. 277

[5] Adam Clark: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[6] George Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] John Eadie: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 154-155

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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