Paul & Peter: Admonishment
February 12, 2012 Series: Paul & _______
Topic: New Testament Passage: Galatians 2:11–2:14
Galatians 2.11-14 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
The Paul & series is an indirect way to preach our family traits, biblical qualities that we believe should characterize our church. Last week, we looked at Paul & Barnabas and need to be a people of who encourage one another in the gospel. Today, we are looking at the relationship between Paul & Peter, and examining the need to be a people who admonish one another with the gospel. Some of us struggle with speaking hard truth, some with receiving hard truth, and others with both. Jesus himself spoke hard words to many, all without sin. Jesus rebuked strangers, enemies, and his closest friends. And Jesus taught his disciples that to reprove your sinning brothers was the right thing; He gave us His word to help us reprove the right things, and He sent the Holy Spirit to make sure reprove the right way.
We will use this heated exchange between Paul & Peter to help us understand what speaking truth and receiving truth that is spoken looks like. First, we have to do some work to understand the context.
Who was Peter?
Along with his brother Andrew, Peter was one of the first disciples Jesus called to be one of the twelve. Before Peter was one of the twelve disciples, he was a happily married fisherman working along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus shows up, Peter drops everything and follows him. Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus have various levels of leadership. There are the crowds, the 72, the 12, then the three and the one. Peter was one of the three in Jesus inner-circle of Peter, James, and John. But Peter appears to exist as a first among equals, meaning, he is often the first of the disciples to do a lot. He was the first to follow, the first to give the right answers, the first to give the wrong answers, the first to rebuke Jesus, the first to be rebuked by Jesus, the first to jump out of the boat to walk with Jesus, the first one to try and defend Jesus when he was arrested, and the first to deny Jesus three times. But he was also the first one that Jesus commended and the first one that Jesus told to feed His sheep.
After Jesus’ ascension, Peter follows Jesus command to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1, Peter STANDS UP among the 120 disciples and gives his first instructions to select someone to replace Judas. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the disciples, Peter STANDS UP and preaches his first sermon. In Acts 3, Peter performs his first miracle, and STANDS UP to teaches his first lesson in the temple which leads to his first arrest. In Acts 4, it is Peter who STANDS UP to face the council of religious leaders and confounds them with his Holy-spirit filled words. They all want to kill him until one well-respect Pharisee named Gamaliel advised them otherwise. In Acts 5, it is Peter STANDS UP to condemn the first sin in the church, and it is Peter to later STANDS UP to be the first to be beaten and dishonored for the name of Jesus. Peter is the recognized and respected leader of the early church.
Who was Paul?
Meanwhile, there is a young devout Jewish Pharisee named Saul. Born to a Father who was himself Pharisee Saul was educated according to the strictest manner of the Jews, being taught by the same well-respected Rabbi that saved Peter. Saul was a self-described “Hebrew of Hebrews”. He viewed himself as “blameless” due to his fanatical devotion to keeping the over 600 laws of God. And when he was probably close to 30, his zealous devotion led him to a violent persecution of the early church in an effort to destroy it. He filled all of Judea with fear, dragging Christians from their homes, throwing them in prison or murdering them. In Acts 8, we see his efforts caused many to flee from the city, ironically, forcing the gospel to go throughout all Judea. Saul followed them, having obtained authorization to arrest Christians, and he traveled north from Jerusalem to the city of Damascus. On the way, Saul encountered the resurrected Jesus face to face—and everything changed. Jesus transformed him, commissioned him, and sent him as his messenger, his apostle, to the non-Jewish world.
When Paul met Peter (Acts 15)
As we learn from Acts 9, Paul’s conversion was not received with open arms by the disciples. According to his letter to the Galatians (first letter he wrote), he left Damascus and went into Arabia. After three years, he returned and went to Jerusalem. There he met Peter and James for the first time—his faith and how he understood the gospel was confirmed privately. At this point, Paul is little more than a story people tell in the church—no one knows him. Eventually, Barnabas comes along side Paul and together they are commissioned by the church and Antioch as church planters. Upon returning to Antioch, after their first missionary journey, some Jewish Christians begin to argue with Paul. They claim that Gentile converts need to follow Jewish laws still. Now, 14 years since he had set foot in Jerusalem, he returns to appeal to the church leaders (Peter, James, and John)t to settle the matter once and for all. The story is recorded in Acts 15.1-11: But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Due to his own revelation in chapter 10, Peter is the first to STAND and affirm Paul’s gospel work. The council then sends Paul back to Antioch, with a letter, having settled once and for all the question of “who and how are people saved” Then Peter came to Antioch…
Peter Falls in Antioch
Following Paul’s acceptance and approval by the apostles and elders, the sent him (and a few other men) back to Antioch with a letter confirming everything that happened. At some point, Peter decided to make a visit to Antioch. And while he is at Antioch, Peter had made it a regular practice to eat with the Gentile believers at meals. But, when some Jewish Christians show up from Jerusalem, Peter withdraws from eating with his non-Jewish friends. The term used here is used to describe strategic military disengagement where they withdraw to find shelter and safety—it is gradual, allusive, and intentional. Peter is removing himself to avoid ridicule or shame because he had forgotten who he is in Jesus Christ and began to care more about the approval of men. And in doing so, he sins against his Gentile brothers. To make things worse, Paul watches as his best friend, following Peter’s example, and participate in the hypocrisy. The strength of Barnabas type people is that they are encouragers. Their weakness is that they often do everything they can to avoid conflict. Paul is the kind of person to dive straight in.
Paul Opposes– IF to ADMONISH
Paul courageously opposes Peter—one of the leaders of the church that Paul called “super-apostles”. The once Christian-terrorist calls into question the actions one of Jesus’ best friends, an eyewitness to it all, the most revered man in the church. Can we imagine all of the reasons why he wouldn’t want to? There are many people who avoid conflict like the plague. Then there are those who revel in it. Conflict for the sake of conflict is hateful. But conflict for the sake of the gospel is loving—I am worried more about the reputation of Jesus than I am about my own.
Paul Opposes to face– WHEN to ADMONISH
And Paul’s admonishment is made to Peter’s face. He did not whisper about what Peter did others, he did not share it with his team, he did not send him a poisoned letter, a flaming email, a cryptic Facebook post, or write some passive aggressive blog. That is cowardly. And he didn’t do it privately. There is both a right time and a right audience for a rebuke. Many would argue that someone’s mistake should only be dealt with privately. I would argue that as public as the mistake is, so public should the rebuke be.
Paul Opposes Sin – WHAT TO ADMONISH
And Paul is not opposing Peter because he’s an alpha male whose territory is threatened. Peter has sinned. Most of the “correction” we have for others has little to do with sin and everything to do with personal preference. We do not rebuke, admonish, or correct someone because we do not like what they are doing or how they do it. We rebuke and correct, with gentleness and respect, when our brother stands condemned—sin. In other words, when complaints are filed, when decisions are challenged, and when charges are made, you better bring a Biblical reason in a biblical way.
Paul Opposes with the Gospel- HOW to ADMONISH
This is the most important aspect of Paul’s admonishment. He is not concerned with condemning bad behavior, he is concerned with revealing the heart-idol driving that behavior. Paul tells Peter that his behavior is NOT in step with the gospel. Talk about speak the truth IN LOVE, but it doesn’t matter how “loving” it is, if it is not gospel-centered then it is only concerned with stopping behavior or producing certain feelings, but not in effecting true HEART CHANGE.
What Paul, and every “rebuke” who truly wants to HELP lead someone to the cross, versus lead them to good behavior or self-esteem, is to help expose the sin behind the sin (from Tim Keller). Paul claimed not that Peter was only doing something wrong, but that he was in fact denying a true promise about Jesus and believing a false promise about sin. It could have been a false promise of acceptance, approval, satisfaction, self-worthy, significance, etc. Those kinds of false promises are not fought simply with changing behavior, but by replacing them with the true promises found in the gospel. The truth is, most of us don’t want to do the hard and uncomfortable work that gospel-centered confrontation requires.
If we don’t admonish with the gospel, we will end up becoming legalistic jerks, moralistic pansies, or indifferent idolaters—we will essentially be unloving. What Paul said was really the most loving thing you can say to a brother, “Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Jesus Christ for your happiness.”
Something else has replaced Jesus, something else is more important, something else has captivated your attention, something else is receiving your worship, something else is giving you security, something else is providing you hope, something else is the source of your delight, and something OTHER than Jesus is your savior and Lord.
Peter’s Response - BEING ADMONISHED
In order to be a gospel-centered rebuke—you have to believe the gospel. And if you believe the gospel, then you will not only be a gospel-centered “admonisher” but it will help you to be a humble admonish-EE. In every sermon we hear, we always view ourselves as the hero—in this case Paul. No one assumes they will be Peter in this relationship. But let us just consider that possibility for a moment.
Peter had to make a decision about how he was going to respond to Paul’s rebuke—how would he be react to someone standing up and calling out his sin? A disbelief in the gospel will either lead you to pride, where you think you’re perfect, or despair because you can’t be perfect (but think you have to be). The Proverbs have much to say about those who refuse to receive rebuke—fools. I can only imagine how ashamed he must have felt to have his sin called out in front of everyone. Typically, a fear of embarrassment will drive us to fight or run—very rarely do we stand in the tension of the moment so that we can listen to God speak. If I were Peter, I would be tempted to become defensive, deny the charge, spin it a different way, or even reject it by calling into question the integrity of the speaker. “Remember Paul, you were out killing Christians, I was out preaching Jesus.” A refusal to receive gospel-centered admonishment is a prideful rejection of your need for gospel. Peter learned humility the hard way, by rejecting the gospel three times. Near the end of his life he wrote, Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1Peter 5.5b).
What does it mean to have a church that is courageous enough to admonish, but humble enough to receive? It means being known as a church that preaches gospel truth in every situation, to every person, without partiality. It means having a church that is not only going to talk about sin(s), but the lies behind the sin. It means we are going to love one another enough to have the courage to confront. And it means we are going to invite others to confront us, and pray for the humility to receive it. In other words, we fear God more than we fear anything else, and we trust in his true promises as we reject the false promises of sin.
We learn from Paul and Peter exchange, that it means having a gospel-centered church. We must work hard to foster a culture that doesn’t hope for reformed behavior, but for transformed hearts. And when you become convinced that a changed heart is the goal, you begin to see that preaching Jesus is the only way to accomplish that. And it is only possibly when we first, preach the gospel of grace to ourselves, when we pastor our own hearts, when we fight to align all aspects of our own lives to the gospel. When we fall short of that goal, we hope in the cross. And when we experience growth, we boast in the cross.