It’s lovely to have you join us for our Tuesday podcast. Our Bible passage today is Galatians Chapter 2 vs11-14, and I’m going to read these now, from the Message translation:
“Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.
But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favourable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”
At the start of this period of lockdown, Mick – our team rector – encouraged people to watch a box set or favourite TV show to keep their spirits up. He suggested ‘Friends’ or classic Match of the Day episodes.
In the Ward household we chose the BBC’s ‘Line of Duty.’ It’s a hard-hitting police crime drama.
I don’t think it was quite what Mick had in mind, but we have just finished series 2!
Line of Duty follows the members of Unit AC-12, who are responsible for investigating corruption in the police force.
We see characters driven by fear, acting hypocritically and being challenged about the charade they are presenting. We get to learn about the cliques and the cronies; and see plenty of face-to-face confrontation as AC-12 seek to uncover the truth.
Today’s Bible reading is a similar moment of high drama in the story of the early church, and it’s easy to sense the tension and intensity of this encounter between Paul and Peter.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Paul is trying to operate just like Unit AC-12 – seeking to stop Peter in his tracks, remove him from his position, and take him out.
However, the complete opposite is true.
Paul is not acting as a policeman investigating corruption; he is behaving as a disciple of Christ who wants to ensure that fellow leaders and friends, live out the truth of the Gospel and are not drawn into following the lies of the world.
Paul wants to raise Peter up, not pull him down.
It’s in the line of duty for all Christians to support, encourage, and sometimes challenge, other believers to live in such a way that does not take them or those they know off course, away from the narrow path of following Jesus.
But how did Peter end up in this situation, where Paul needed to challenge his actions?
Watching ‘Line of Duty’ there is always a back story. These crooked police officers don’t start out that way. There’s a trigger, or a weakness, a major life event, that causes them to stop upholding the truth.
It was the same for Peter. He started off well – he actively showed the unity and equality that comes through faith in Christ by eating regularly with his non-Jewish friends……..but then something happened that made him pull back, to create distance between himself and the Gentiles, and caused many others to follow suit and act in a way that was hypocritical and divisive.
What was it?
We see the answer in verse 12……it was fear.
Peter is fearful of what the conservative Jews from Jerusalem might think, or say, or do when they see him eating with Gentiles.
And fear of what other people may think, or say, or do is an issue that Peter has struggled with throughout his Christian life.
When Jesus was arrested, Peter hung back in the courtyard outside. A servant-girl recognised him as being one of Jesus’ followers…….but driven by fear Peter denied knowing Jesus not once, but three times.
People from Jerusalem seem to have a habit of making Peter act from a place of fear, rather than truth.
Are there similarities between us and Peter here?
Does fear of what others might say or think, lead us to deny the truth that we have found in Jesus, or to behave in ways that keep others happy, but are not actually honouring to God?
At school I was never part of the in-crowd. I was hopeless at sport and had little interest in fashion. When my History teacher encouraged me to apply to Cambridge, some girls from my class went and complained to her about it; because they had better GCSE results than I did, and they did not think I merited being given this opportunity over them.
I know those fears that Peter had.
And now in this lockdown situation, I find myself sat in front of a camera singing ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ live on Facebook, and standing on my street reading Psalm 23 and saying the Lord’s Prayer in front of neighbours who I have never met before.
It’s not a place I feel totally comfortable – for starters I notice lots of grey hairs when I look into the camera, and I can see that my plan to drop a dress size during lockdown ended on about day 2 and has not re-started.
But I know God is teaching me to deal with the fears of what other people might say or think, about not being good enough, or looking the part, and is asking me whether I am prepared to step up and speak out about my faith during this time.
I don’t know what the fears and the triggers are for you?
Maybe when pubs and nightclubs were open, you were fearful of being labelled as boring, so you kept up with the number of shots or pints that others were drinking. But now you don’t have to keep up appearances at the bar, what is God saying to you about this fear? How can you live a life for Jesus, and not a life that is all about making a good impression on your friends?
I know a lot of women right now are facing fears surrounding their identity and purpose – feeling fearful of being at home all day with the kids, when you have actively chosen not to be a stay at home mum. Have you bought into a lie, a charade, of what being a good wife or mother, or employee looks like? What truth is God wanting to teach you about how He measures success or worth, and how will this change things going forward?
Or maybe, with social distancing and the inability to come to church, you are finding yourself becoming distant from God, and you’re slipping back into unhealthy or unhelpful habits. If so, don’t be fearful of what others might say or think or do, but take a step of faith and ask a good Christian friend to become a Paul to you – to ask those difficult questions, to bring a challenge, and help you stay on a steady, straight course with Jesus.
As Christians, we are not like Unit AC-12, we don’t need to search for and uncover the truth – we have already found this in Jesus. However, it’s not enough to just believe the Gospel; we are to practice this freedom and truth in all situations and all circumstances – as a disciple of Christ, living this out is in our line of duty.
Heavenly Father, help us to not be swayed by the fear of what others might think or say about our faith. Instead teach us and show us how we can maintain a steady, straight course following Jesus. Amen.
BIBLE READING: Galatians 2:11-14 (MSG)
Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.
But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?”