The apostle Peter was on a preaching tour of new Christian churches, likely sent out by his peers at headquarters in Jerusalem.
He had landed, for a period of time, in the church planted in the Gentile city of Antioch, in Asia Minor. What he couldn’t have known was that, about that time, Paul was headed that way too.
So, while ministering to the saints in the church there, Peter developed quite a warm connection with the Gentile members of the congregation, even eating meals with them when the church came together for worship and fellowship.
Sitting at their table.
(Which kind of bothers me to begin with. Why was there a “Gentile table,” and, presumably also a “Jewish table” at this church? Anyhow…)
Unexpectedly, some of Peter’s Jewish peers showed up from Jerusalem and also came to the church. As soon as they arrived, Peter pulled away from the Gentile believers and “separated himself from them” (Galatians 2:12), obviously afraid of what they might think of him fraternizing with Gentiles.
Tragically, when the Jewish believers in the Antioch church saw someone of Peter’s status and influence behaving this way, they joined him in his behavior. Even Barnabas was led astray.
So, Paul called Peter out.
In front of the whole church.
The situation was obviously serious enough that Paul accused Peter of not acting “in line with the truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:14).
This was way more serious than it appeared on the surface.
N.T. Wright, in The Day The Revolution Began, believes that Paul’s action that fateful day in Antioch was as severe as it was because “Messiah has one family, not two.”
By shunning the Gentiles, Peter was dividing Christ’s body in Antioch.
And if the death and resurrection was about anything, it was about purchasing for God one family from every tribe, tongue and people… the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that, through him, all nations would be blessed.
The essence of this great Gospel is that all dividing walls have been demolished and we are, in Christ, one people.
This isn’t a matter of “being nice.”
It is front and center of the Gospel.
So, in every local church, we must guard against anything that divides and work to have one church under one roof…
- …not black or African or Hispanic or Asian or white worshiping separately
- …not upper class or poor worshiping separately
- …not young or old worshipping separately, fueled by prejudice or preferences on either end of the spectrum
- …not educated or uneducated
“Messiah’s death and resurrection have the effect of putting to death all earlier identities as belonging to the present evil age and of creating a new identity in which all previous identities are left behind.” (N.T. Wright on Galatians 2:19-20)
Whatever might cause you to separate yourself from others in your local church is an affront to the Gospel and needs to be called out.
God takes separating His Body seriously. Paul says that in Corinth, where they were separating from each other in, of all places, the communion service, some had ended up sick because of their conduct, and others had died.
Let’s live out the true Gospel and be a light to the world in every community of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and by His resurrection!