BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 1
“When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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 Cephas 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?’”—Galatians 2:11–14
Part 1 of this series was centered on Paul’s experience with Jesus. Before meeting the Lord, Paul saw Jesus through the perspective of the law and persecuted Christians. But after his personal experience with Jesus, the persecutor became the servant, and he began seeing all things through the perspective of Jesus. In our text today, Paul, after being called to teach the gospel to the Gentiles, finds himself in conflict with Peter, the disciple of Jesus, in Antioch. The situation is as follows: Peter had been eating with the new converts (Gentiles) when the Jewish brethren from Jerusalem arrive. Immediately, Peter jumps up from the table—and consequently from the fellowship—and distances himself from the Gentiles in order to appear aligned with the Jewish tradition. The Jews had laws about table fellowship that extended from what or what not to eat to purity laws. Eating with Gentiles would mean that Peter had relinquished his “Jewishness” and aligned with “sinners.” Isn’t it amazing that after being with Jesus for so long Peter would not know better? As Paul sees this, he has only one conclusion in mind: if we all do not sit at one table, then everything Jesus did was in vain. It is through Jesus that now we are able to receive salvation by faith, and not by the law, allowing us to fellowship with God and with one another sitting at one single table. The gospel of grace is the gospel of one single table—a single table where everyone is welcome, where everyone can find food in abundance! Any movement toward exclusivity is foreign and offensive to the gospel of Jesus.
Is our Christian life—our church— a model of what Peter does, or what Paul does? Have we been distancing ourselves from those who are different, who think differently, who eat differently? Is our church life a life of one single table, or a life of many tables? May we allow the gospel of grace to fill our hearts so that we may see all things through Jesus. May we understand that the gospel of grace is a gospel of a single table, where all of us can feast together in fellowship with God and one another!
BIBLICAL THOUGHT – 2
“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.”—Galatians 2:15–16
The previous biblical thought touched on a sensitive idea: the early church was not all butterflies and flowers. They had arguments, discussions, and even confrontations. And biblical writers like Paul did not skip these incidents because they knew that even these incidents could help us understand that the journey with Christ is a journey. The disciples still had much to learn about what Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished and what life in Jesus actually looked like. In this text, Paul extends his argument: we are not superior to the Gentiles; in fact, we are all in the same position, in need of the grace of Jesus! By works of the law, Paul writes, no one will be justified. This simple yet powerful phrase represents the undoing of the old religion. If this is truly what Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished, then no one had to offer any sacrifice, of any kind, to please God anymore. The Jews were used to worshipping and sacrificing in the temple. We are used to worshipping and sacrificing (time, money, efforts) in our churches and in our lives. We too, sometimes, believe that God wants us to live a life of constant sacrifice for Him, a life of many “spiritual obligations,” and in this we also carry the risk of falling into the trap of Peter and so many others in the early church: the trap of not trusting in the liberating power of Jesus that sends us into life as new creatures in a new religion. In Christ we are free to live a life that finds its roots in His sacrifice for us. And this is why Jesus taught that His “new wine” would be incompatible with the old wineskins. The new religion of Jesus would blatantly destroy everything in the old establishment. This is what enraged the Jewish leaders; this liberation is what got Jesus into trouble and killed. If what Jesus did and said was indeed the will of God, then the old religion was dead. The religion where works of the law made you feel important, superior, and distant from those who were not was finished. Oh, that we would also understand and remember the power of this simple truth: not by works, but by faith in what Jesus did. And if we do believe in His sacrifice for us, the life that follows is a life not of sacrifice, but of freedom. Christ does not free us from life, but for life!
Tiago Arrais, PhD, is a district pastor in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.