Captain America v. Iron Man? Superman v. Batman? How about the Apostle Paul v. the Apostle Peter?
Galatians 211-16 NLT - But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 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. 13 As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 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? 15 “You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. 16 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.”
Paul demonstrated Christian love…by confronting Peter about his wrongdoing… publicly… then writing about it! Love in the original apostolic ministries was demonstrated in ways that most Americans would never tolerate. Peter was one of the most influential church leaders who failed publicly and in a way that influenced others to follow his example. He also risked sowing discord and division in the church along ethnic lines. His cowardice - which was similar to that famous incident of denying Christ three times - led to hypocrisy, confusion, and hurt. So Paul dealt with it…compassionately. Paul loved Peter by refusing to allow his dishonesty go unchecked. Paul loved the Gentile Christians by defending them to influential church leaders. Paul loved the Jewish Christians who could have easily lapsed into legalism, falling from grace and ensuring that the growth of the church never fully exploded. Paul loved God because he did not allow intimidation from powerful men who were Christians before him (Peter, Barnabas, James) to keep him from having that uncomfortable conversation necessary to protect the health of Christ’s church.
Amazingly, Peter handled the confrontation well, and both men continued to do God’s work. Peter even credits Paul for writing inspired Scripture (with deep theology) in the book of 2 Peter. Paul and the people of God did not destroy Peter’s ministry as a result of his glaring failure. Peter did not resent or counterattack Paul out of stubborn pride or offense. Two imperfect Christian men who loved Christ and the church dealt with an ugly situation in a way that prized the health of the church. Peter’s apostolic authority and ministry was not undermined simply because he did something cowardly and foolish. Paul didn’t use this as an excuse to deny Peter’s ministry - he instead put the focus back on the truth of Christ and His word.
What can you learn from this compassionate confrontation between major church leaders in the First Century? How might it apply in relationships with other Christians in which you need to compassionately confront wrongdoing (out of love for them, for God, for the church)? How might it apply in times when you are compassionately confronted? Will you give people the benefit of the doubt that their motives are pure - love for God, love for the church, or love for you?
How do you usually handle it when people confront you (compassionately and calmly, not with false accusations or with unreasonable hostility)? Are you able to receive love when it comes by compassionate confrontation and admit wrongdoing, or do you tend to become easily offended, defensive, or hostile?
Do you typically handle such confrontations like Paul and Peter did - with continued relationship and respect for one another? Or do you typically respond to being compassionately confronted by having a “falling out” that leads to a “cold war” or outright hostility? When is the last time you recall being compassionately confronted in which you received it with a good attitude without allowing any awkwardness to overshadow the relationship? When’s the last time you courageously loved another when the situation called for compassionate confrontation?
1 Thessalonians 5:14 NIV - And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
Proverbs 12:1 NCV - Anyone who loves learning accepts correction, but a person who hates being corrected is stupid