Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 5: Galatians 2:11-21
Nobody wants to be known as a hypocrite. But that’s what you are if you deceptively do or say things against what you really believe. People don’t like to be lied to, and it offends God to put on an act just to please others, or to get what you want.
Dishonesty all by itself is immoral. But to do it out of fear of what others might think, say, or do adds evil to what’s already wrong. It makes pleasing or impressing others more important than pleasing God, so it becomes a form of idolatry.
Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to temptation toward being hypocritical at times. We live in a fallen world, and our human nature is far from perfect this side of heaven. Even the Apostle Peter, years after the death of his Savior, while ministering the the churches, fell into that ugly sin of hypocrisy.
It was a time of hard adjustments for the Jews who believed in Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:11-21 tell about a sad time in the life of a great Apostle.
11. Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed;
12. 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.
13. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy.
Antioch was the city where believers were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). Peter came there, leading the way for the Jews to accept the Gentiles as equal partners in the church.
It wasn’t an easy lesson. There were changes that had to be made. For hundreds of years the Jews were used by God to teach us about his grace. They were chosen from among all the nations of the earth to be the Covenant People. In order to teach us about how God separates out his people as special to him, the Jews were told to abstain from certain foods, and make sure they followed cleansing rituals. They were also the trusted custodians of the written word handed down by the Prophets.
But the promises were fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The lesson taught by the ancient rituals and rules was then completed.
In addition to God’s laws, the Rabbis added rules for the nation. They thought they were superior people. They went too far by even banning eating with non-Jews. They demanded cleansing rituals if anyone even touched something a non-Jew handled.
Those man-made rules were never acceptable to God. The Biblical mandates for the Jews as a chosen nation were truly binding on them, but only until the coming of the promised Messiah.
After that, it was time for God’s Kingdom to include believers from all races. Gentiles were coming to Christ in humble repentance and faith. The dietary laws were no longer meaningful, and Christ was the final sacrifice. The office of the Levitical Priesthood and the rituals of the Temple were fulfilled too. The only officers of the new church were to be the Elders of the Congregations, and the Deacons. New signs were given for God’s covenant. Believers were marked out by Covenant Baptism instead of by Circumcision. The Passover, which dated all the way back to Moses, was replace by the Lord’s Supper.
Peter had been the one chosen by God to be a leader at the start of that new era.
1. He personally heard Jesus teach that non-Israelites were to be partakers of his blessings.
2. He was given the vision of the sheets in Joppa where God explained that the dietary rules were now obsolete and no foods were classified as “unclean”.
3. He was sent to the Gentile Centurion Cornelius in Caesarea to witness his conversion. Peter said to him in Acts 10:28, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
So when Peter came to Antioch, he welcomed the Gentiles without burdening them with the former Jewish regulations. He ate with them, and they were included as equals in the life of the church.
But when men came from James, Peter went against what he knew was true. He was afraid of what these Jews would think if he ate with the Gentiles. So he separated himself from his non-Jewish brothers in the Lord. Others went along with his hypocrisy: the other Jews there, even Barnabas.
Our own customs, the way we’re used to doing things, shape our choices and understanding. It’s hard enough to abandon what we’ve been taught is right and good. But when the people we’re with every day hold to those old familiar customs, there’s a strong temptation to want to fit in.
It’s easy to give up or to hide our convictions when it’s not comfortable. But that’s the essence of what we call Hypocrisy. That English word comes right from the Greek word Paul uses here in Galatians 2:13. It’s the Greek word “hupokrisis” (ὑπόκρισις) which translated the old Hebrew word “khanef” (חנף). The Greek word came from the Greek dramas where people put on masks to play the part of some fictional character.
That’s what Peter was doing when those associated with James came to town. There’s no reason to believe that the James actually continued to separate from Gentiles, or that he didn’t believe the ritual laws were done away in Christ. But these who were associated with that group made Peter think he should hid his convictions. What he knew Jesus taught wasn’t comfortable to him when he was around them. Personal fears, totally unjustified, made him put on a mask and hide his true beliefs.
Peter had to be corrected in Antioch for this hypocrisy. Paul tells the Galatians what he had to do to repair the damage Peter had done.
14. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?
Paul needed to correct Peter’s poor public example. Peter knew that as a Christian, he wasn’t bound any more to the ritual laws. That’s the way he’d been living and teaching before that group from Jerusalem arrived. Now he was abandoning the clear lesson of God’s word. It implied that Gentile believers should adopt the old customs of the Jews. It was pure hypocrisy — and it was teaching something that was very wrong.
The explanation that follows is a little hard to follow because of the style of ancient Greek. But the meaning is very clear.
15. We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,
16. knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Paul didn’t mean that the Jews weren’t also sinners. (He disproved that at length in Romans 2-3.) He meant that those born to Israel had an advantage. They were raised under the special protection of God’s Covenant promises. The were the keepers of God’s written word and knew the history of God’s workings. The Gentiles were born outside the Covenant, without it’s influence, teachings, and protection. But even the Jews, and Peter particularly, knew how God’s people are justified. They weren’t ever made righteous by keeping laws of any kind. The law wasn’t given for that purpose. They are forgiven on the basis of the future death of Jesus in their place.
Being “good” can’t remove the guilt of your sins. But those whose sins are forgiven strive to be good.
The law rightly understood reminded them they were hopeless sinners aside from God’s grace. It showed them how to honor God by living morally and by believing what’s true. They obeyed because they were thankful, and wanted to be holy as God is holy.
We love God’s law, not as the way to salvation, but as the way of those already saved. We also know the purpose of those temporary ceremonial laws. They were given to teach in advance about the work of Christ, and about the nature of the Church after his resurrection.
Therefore, since the Jews were justified by faith in God’s promise, not by the laws, certainly the Gentiles couldn’t be justified by ceremonial and dietary laws either.
Next Paul pointed out how destructive Peter’s behavior was.
17. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!
18. For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
It’s as if he was saying to Peter, “What you’re doing here isn’t God’s way. It’s not what Jesus came to produce in us.”
The word translated “transgressor” here is “parabataes” (παραβάτης). It more precisely means “opponent”, someone who is against someone. It was used of the soldier who walked next to the war chariot, a “combatant” to fight against an enemy. It’s someone who aids those who carry out a battle.
The Apostles had worked hard to correct misunderstandings about God’s law and grace. To destroy this achievement just to get along with a certain group of believers would make Peter an opponent of God’s plan, instead of a promoter of it.
Then Paul went into the detail of what Peter already knew was true.
19. For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.
20. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
At one time in his life, Paul lived with a total distortion of God’s law. He saw the regulations of the Bible and of the Rabbis as his way of salvation. He understood them in the way that was very popular then. He had a low view of God’s law, because he saw it as something he could keep well enough to satisfy God. But when the Holy Spirit worked on his heart, the word of God in the Scriptures took on a different meaning. He finally understood what the law was really saying. It showed him his lostness depravity. He’d been living without the true law of God, all the while he thought he was keeping it.
In Romans 7:9-12 Paul said the same thing, “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
God’s law is good and has a divinely appointed purpose. Paul came to have a high view of God’s law. It was something no mere human could keep. Only Jesus, God the Son, could keep it and fathom its depths.
Those who believe we can earn forgiveness by our own obedience and kindness have a cheapened and diminished view of God’s law and of God’s holiness. At the same time they have a dishonestly exaggerated view of themselves.
But once a person is born-again by God’s regenerating power, he sees the real lessons in God’s law. It proves our spiritual death. It condemns us. It points to the Savior who alone kept it and paid it’s infinite penalty. It sets the high goal we humbly strive for so that we do what’s moral and believe what’s true. It shows us how we who are redeemed can aim at being holy as God is holy. It’s done by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, as revealed in Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone, Paul and Peter had died to the law — by the law — to live by faith in Christ in fulfillment of the law.
Our Saviour took the place of his believing children. He took up their death and gives them his life. He represented them on that cross. We who are his children by grace were in him on that cross — being crucified. So now the life we live here isn’t our own.
As the Heidelberg Catechism says in the answer to its first question, “… I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”
It goes on to say, “… He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
God’s work of grace should never be minimized in our hearts. In verse 21 of Galatians 2 Paul writes,
21.I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
If all the Gentiles, or even the Jews, had to do was obey a cheapened version of God’s law, and that could save them, then why would the Savior have to come to suffer so greatly? God provided the only possible way to rescue you from your guilt he came in human form to die in your place, and to give you his own righteousness.
This is the gospel, the great truth Peter had championed and taught as Christ’s Apostle. He taught the Jews to receive the Gentiles because it’s grace that saves. It’s the undeserved and infinite mercy of God. So to abandon these brothers in Christ to avoid being uncomfortable was inexcusable hypocrisy. Peter knew better. He knew that Jesus fulfilled the ceremonies, and explained that the exaggerated rituals of the Rabbis were never God’s ways.
But when Peter was afraid of what other important people thought, he became a hypocrite. He gave in for the fellowship, for the easy way, for the comfortable moment.
It’s good to ask, do we live by what we believe? everywhere? no matter who’s there? Are our convictions mere conveniences? Do we lay them aside when we’re uncomfortable?
The same is true for all the teachings of God’s word. It’s all part of the same gospel message. God’s true law, that high unattainable standard of holiness, tells us what we should believe as true, and how we who are saved by Christ should live.
All around us the world and confused forms of religion tempt us to blend in. The Bible teaches that unpopular truth of human depravity, and the fact of salvation by undeserved grace. It shows how families and neighbors should live in God’s world. It teaches the sacredness of human life, of honesty in the work-place, of proper Christian worship including the right administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It tells us to look to our Good Shepherd when we’re sick or afraid. It gives us moral standards for our entertainment, and how we spend our money and free time.
If Peter, the great Apostle, could lapse into hypocrisy, certainly any of us could too. We need to Pray and Obey so that we don’t compromise with the world as if Christ wasn’t completely successful, and as if God’s holy ways are just trivial things.
Don’t go against what you know is God’s truth for the sake of convenience, or to fit in with the crowd. If our convictions only direct us when they’re convenient, they aren’t convictions at all. God calls us to stand strong for our Savior. Promote his truth and ways. We should never let our convictions give in to convenience.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)