In the first two parts we’ve been looking at some of the mistakes the original Apostles made and that Luke recorded in the book of Acts. Don’t get me wrong, I think those guys were amazing, but they weren’t perfect, and didn’t need to be for God to use them to get the Church off to a good start…
Hypocrisy and bigotry…
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?” Galatians 2:11-14
Though Luke didn’t record this incident in his book, I include it here because it surely occurred during the early years of Paul’s ministry, and because it provides a clear example of a flaw in our dear Apostle Peter. Of all the examples I cite, Peter’s error here (called “hypocrisy”) is probably the most culpable. It shows Peter blowing it theologically at best, and morally at worst. It was hypocritical for him to hang out with Gentiles and then to hop over to the Jewish table when the Jews showed up. Not cool! Not cool with God and not cool with his kids. Paul had to get in Peter’s face over this – we just can’t have this among us, this people pleasing – this bigotry thing.
How about you? Do those mistakes ring any bells?
Skipping the praying-and-listening stage…
“Here’s what we (James and the elders) want you (Paul) to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumors are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws.” Acts 21:20-24
This not-so-brilliant scheme concocted by James and the elders of the Jerusalem Church didn’t turn out very well at all. In fact, the plan backfired, and instead of protecting Paul from persecution, got him arrested, beaten, and thrown in jail.
Their strategy was clearly a human invention and not what at all what God was leading them to do. Though, as he is apt to do, he turned the circumstances around for good and conveyed Paul to Rome, as he predicted and commanded, their scheme was just that, “theirs.” They were trying to prevent his arrest, but the opposite resulted. Self-preservation is natural, but their error was in their ill-devised means of trying to accomplish it, and Paul was complicit in their lapse of good judgment.
Their debacle doesn’t fall under the category of the sinful or rebellious, but it is a pretty clear case of keeping up appearances and attempting to manipulate the opinions of others. They concocted a scenario in which they hoped that Paul would look like a good Jew to other Jews. We’re not told anything one way or the other about them stopping to ask God for advice, but I think Paul would have proceeded differently had he listened more carefully and dare-fully to the Holy Spirit instead of conceding to the brothers’ plan.
In case you feel I’m being too hard on them here, I quote the sagely Matthew Henry: “The apostles were not free from blame in all they did; and it would be hard to defend Paul from the charge of giving way too much in this matter. It is vain to attempt to court the favor of zealots or bigots. This compliance of Paul did not serve, for the very thing by which he hoped to pacify the Jews, provoked them, and brought him into trouble. But the all-wise God overruled both their advice and Paul’s compliance with it, to serve a better purpose than was intended.”
It’s a good thing that God overrules our mistakes for his purposes, especially when the mistakes are well intended and not rooted in a disobedient or rebellious spirit. But again, let me ask you if there’s anything in this account that gives you pause to think about how you tend to proceed toward your own self-preservation? Is it your habit to skip over the praying-and-listening stage and rush right to scheming? How important to you is keeping up appearances? Do you need to do all the “keeping up” or is it possible that God has other plans? Simply asking questions.