Who Am I? Who Are You?
Robert Wurtz II
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)
Our passage is the familiar account of Peter being confronted by Paul for withdrawing from the Gentiles when associates of James came to town. In those days, some Jewish Christians found it hard to leave behind old ideas. Peter knew God had accepted the Gentiles because God Himself told him. He was up on the roof at Cornelius’ house when he received the revelation. Nevertheless, although Peter knew for a fact that Gentiles were accepted of God, the pressure to “shrink back” when the pressure came was enormous.
Our Greek word for “withdrew” is the familiar hupostello. It means to “furl the sail.” The idea is that when the wind is carrying the ship in a direction contrary to what the ship master desires, he can order the sails “furled” to slow or stop the ship. It is a powerful picture of avoiding unpleasantness. Peter “furled the sail” when the Circumcision came around. In spite of what God said, the dear brother yielded to the pressure.
This did not mean that God stopped loving Peter. It meant that he needed to be challenged. Paul was the man for the job. He had formerly been a Pharisee among Pharisees. He tried to outdo all of them. He was as radical as they came. Nevertheless, once Paul was converted and God revealed the truth to him, he abandoned the old ways. It didn’t take years for Paul. He turned on a dime when God spoke. With Peter it was different. He argued with God even while being told the truth. Can you imagine that? God is saying, “Rise Peter slay and eat!” Peter says, “No, Lord!” He is the only man I know of that ever openly told God “No!” However, he came around after a bit. So what happened?
Who Are You?
If we had been sitting at a table and had the boldness, we may have asked, “Peter, who are you? I see you acting one way around one group, and a totally different way around this other group. We just need to know; Who are you? Are you the person that shrinks back when certain come from James or are you the man who sits down and eats with the Gentiles? We’re confused. We don’t know what to believe now. We used to know what was right and wrong, but now we’re confused. What is it? It can’t be both ways.”
We all face situations like Peter did. People come around that challenge the very things that we know are right. Sometimes they are men of renowned, like James. I’m sure Peter didn’t want to be a hypocrite or anything — he just wanted to please everyone. He didn’t want to offend the associates of James and have word of it get back to Jerusalem (headquarters if you will).
The danger Peter put himself in was not knowing himself who he was. The more he compromised to please these men the more he lost his own identity. Had Paul not come along and confronted him — no telling what may have happened. Instead of having to deal with James, he had to deal with Paul instead.
Undoubtedly, Peter regretted this event. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience. I sometimes wonder how many times Peter had to explain himself. “Why did you do that Peter? I thought you said God told you that He had cleansed the Gentiles?” He would have to explain that he shrank back out of fear or trying to keep the peace. Nevertheless, his actions put his own integrity at risk along with the Gospel itself. It was a compromise; and compromise comes in a lot of different packages.
Who Am I?
Galatians 2 is one of those passages where we face ourselves. It is a perpetual temptation to put the Gospel at risk in order to keep the peace with someone. Nevertheless, we have to establish our own identity and consistently stand by it. We don’t flip sides depending on present company. Talk about confusion. Pretty soon we don’t even know who we are. We look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Who am I?” Do I have any personal convictions? Had God spoken anything to me? Has He revealed a truth to me that I need to take a stand for? God can speak to us face to face making a truth known but that does not insure we will stand for it. It has to come from a willingness to let God be true — no matter what others may think of us. Should we please God or should we please men? We all have to decide.