I Corinthians 3:18-19
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.
In the economy of God, our weaknesses become strengths, and our self-professed strengths profit us nothing. It was God’s plan to use Paul, a “Pharisee of the Pharisees,” not as a missionary among the Jewish people where we would logically place him, but to make him the minister of the Gentiles. Peter, an uneducated fisherman who would seem a likely leader among those in rebellion to God, found himself a leader among the educated Jewish teachers of the law.
Each fulfilled the calling of God in the strength of the Holy Spirit and not in their own natural born abilities. Each man lived the gospel and communicated the truth of Christ with profound passion and astounding results. However, two men were never so unalike. Paul is logical, and he reasons his way through the plan of salvation as a lawyer with patience and persistence. Peter writes with charismatic enthusiasm and keeps the message of the cross clear and direct, the perfect preacher on the day of Pentecost to open up the message of the gospel plainly to men and women from around the world gathered in Jerusalem so that they could take it back home with them.
God revealed to His disciples that the gospel was not only for the Jews but for all men. He did so through Peter’s encounter with Cornelius and by the Holy Spirit’s direction for Paul to preach among those living in Asia Minor. The newness and the power of the gospel were hard to comprehend. Did the coming of Christ mean the end of Jewish religious customs? Or was Christ’s resurrection only the beginning, after which gentiles needed to follow Jewish practices of the law?
It was determined that Gentiles did not have to keep the law, because Jewish Christians had to confess that the law could not save them, it could only bring them an understanding of the gift of Christ. The blood of Christ alone satisfied God the father. It was Paul’s strong stand in the sufficiency of the gospel that caused the following conflict with Peter.
11.But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
Peter was not afraid that eating with the Gentiles would be offensive to God, because in the book of Acts we are told of God’s direction to him regarding preaching to the gentiles, in which he ate with and fellowshipped with a Roman Captain named Cornelius. God had commanded Peter in a dream not to “call unclean what God has called clean.” He is afraid of the jews he’s traveling with. He doesn’t want their disapproval. He had proclaimed those who have been born again in the gospel of Jesus Christ are no longer bound by the law, but he put himself in bondage to the opinions of others. When we try to offer salvation plus, salvation plus positive thinking, salvation plus good behavior, salvation plus dietary restrictions, salvation plus manmade rules, we have also placed shackles around our own selves. Notice what Peter’s double mindedness brought about: separation. He has removed himself from those who are also children of God, because by keeping the law regarding not eating with the gentiles, he is made a little closer to God in the eyes of Jewish believers. Christ’s commandment before ascending into Heaven was
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8
The gospel wouldn’t reach the ends of the earth if the apostles began to shrink back and separate from those they were trying to save, the gospel needed to march forward with boldness in the simplicity and power of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
Fear is contagious and compromise is viral. Believers in Christ must build an immunity to fear at all costs. When Peter doubted his freedom in Christ, he led Barnabas in error with him. Those who have believed are now wondering at the change in heart the apostles are having. The natural question would follow: is Christ alone enough to save?
14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
Paul calls out Peter’s hypocrisy openly. It is usually a good idea to address differences of opinion privately, but not in a case like this. In this case, the gospel itself was being threatened, and because of the gravity of the harm that could occur to the church that was growing, Paul went with boldness to Peter in front of them all and demanded an answer. If you can’t keep the law, thereby saving yourself, why would you have gentiles believe that that is what is required for their salvation. Peter’s behavior was speaking louder than his sermons, and it needed to stop.
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 the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
17 But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
Before Christ came, the faithful Jewish men and women were justified before God, not through the blood of sacrificial lambs, but by the obedient sacrificing of those gifts by faith, believing that God would honor his word. All those sacrifices testified of Christ. All that faith was indirectly ascribed to Jesus, the word of God, that was honored by the Father. If they still needed to keep the law after their salvation, then the blood of Christ was powerless and was shed for nothing. In becoming the final sacrifice, Jesus finished their need for obedience to the law and replaced it with His own perfect obedience. Faith had to be fully transferred. Christ is enough, the law never was.
18 For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
19 For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
The modern church, shamefully, frustrates the grace of God in many ways. We rebuild the law to our own liking, framing a legal system of do’s and don’ts that we add to the gospel message and ask unbelievers to promise to keep in order to make it to Heaven. If my sin is crucified on the cross with Christ, then so is the law that was written against it. If I am born again through the blood of Jesus, then I am born with a new law written on my heart, a law that says that Christ is the firstfruits of my salvation. He is my model, my redemption, my restoration, my life. He is my eternity, my present purpose and my justification for all time. I died when I gave my life to Him, I no longer live in the debt and consequences of sin, I live in newness and filled with the Spirit of God.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
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