“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.” Gal. 2:11-13 ESV
Paul’s gospel-ness moved him to challenge, push and confront his peers for disciplemaking purposes. In Galatia, Peter’s behavior had brought reproach upon the gospel message and, perhaps worse, buttressed the legalism of the Judaizers. Paul could not and would not sit in silence as a brother engaged in hypocrisy that crippled the advancement of the gospel and damaged disciples. In Peter’s case, he had shunned the Gentiles that he once fellowshipped with, in order to preserve his standing among Jewish peers. We naturally gravitate to ethnic, racial and socio-economic peer groups. A gospel-informed identity transcends such temporal matters.Peter may or may not have been purposeful in his hypocrisy but that did not dismiss him from a guilty standing by his behavior. Paul knew Peter well. He had every reason to expect more from Peter as a leader. Peter’s miscue had led other Jews astray, misrepresented the gospel and had caused Paul’s protégé Barnabas to stumble. Paul was jealous for disciples that had been entrusted to his care. Any hint of a gospel distortion stirred Paul’s ire and angst, to the point of correction and confronting others that could be held accountable. But all of it is to be carried for the purpose of reconciliation not rejection. Thus Paul would write in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” None are exempt from temptation and failure, therefore none are exempt from being opposed by a brother, but let it be done in humility worthy of the gospel and motivated by a passion for gospel clarity and advancement.
From the moment I was born-again, I was taken under wing by a a few 'Paul's." They made themselves available and vulnerable which set for me an example of how the gospel should work in our lives as spouses, parents, children, co-workers and the larger community. In a seemingly trivial incident one of these men resolutely opposed me to my face. In an attempt to be humorous I had referenced an ethnic stereotype in his presence. He waited until the next time we would see each other then he lovingly but firmly corrected me. He asserted that the gospel message sets us free from the need to feel superior and engaging in humor at the expense of another's dignity. It distorts the gospel, don't do it-- and don't let me do it without correction. What about Barnabas? Why didn't Paul confront him? What do you think?