But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.
When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions?
“You and I are Jews by birth, not `sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Galatians 2:11-16
Whenever I read this my mind typically goes to thoughts of holding others accountable and Paul’s example of calling a brother out when he is doing wrong. This is a great passage to look at for insight into that and encouragement to be as Paul is in how he loves Peter enough to say the hard things.
But today as I read it I thought more about Peter and what got him into this in the first place. Acting one way with one group and then another way with a different group. Why would he do that? Why do we do that?
“He was afraid of criticism from these people…”
Everyone I’ve ever met suffers from this—some people more so than others. Even those who do their own thing and don’t seem to care what others think fear criticism from someone. We all have people we want approval from. We all want to impress others—maybe with our wise words, our humor, our abilities; maybe with our actions or our appearance. Maybe with all of these!
Just yesterday I was having a conversation with someone and afterward realized that I had been concerned about the person’s impression of me and had said certain things desiring approval. I hadn’t lied or exaggerated or anything we would think of as sin, but I had been trying to impress. Why?
Because we forget that we are made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ and nothing else and no one else makes us right. Doing things well, knowing things well, being a good Christian—none of these things makes us right or impresses God. And seeking the approval of others over and above God is definitely idol worship.
This is tough for us to take. In our sinfulness we so want to earn it. We want to be worthy of God and our place with him. We want to be worthy of the love of God and others. And the reality is we just aren’t and cannot be. That’s why it all rests on God’s grace. Grace is necessary because we come up so short in the impressiveness category. Because we fail miserably when it comes to deserving God.
The fact that we care so much about being impressive and being admired by others is why we struggle with materialism and hiding behind a mask instead of being our honest selves. It’s why we lie and cheat and steal and covet. It’s why we gossip and lust. The deep and destructive desire to be found valuable and impressive eats away at even the most confident among us. We are easily pulled into feasting on the compliments of others and their approval of us when what we should be feasting on is the Bread of Life. As Paul has said, “we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God…”
Nothing else makes us right. No one else gives us true value. It only comes from God through Christ. May we live today free from the need to impress.
No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God. John 5:44