For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
On the first day of first grade, everyone wants to please the teacher, make a good impression. I’m certain every child just had a bath, including an inspection to check that they used soap. All the boys had new haircuts and the girls combed their hair just so. We all had on new cloths that we were forced by our mothers to go shopping for.
My mom had bought me a pair of brown corduroys. You know, the fabric that’s not smooth, but has raised ridges with a channel between each cord. When I walked, the corduroy fabric rubbed together, making this embarrassing zwert-zwoot sound. You could hear me coming from three blocks away.
We all like to please people, make a good impression on the first day. It’s a way to show respect. But making a good impression has its limits. When there’s a choice between pleasing people and doing what’s right, being nice has to take a back seat.
Peter had been sitting down and eating with the local Christians. They had not been raised in the Jewish laws and traditions. He wasn’t just eating together at church potlucks, but he was eating with them in their homes, at their workplace, at the local carryout pizza joint.
This had been going on for some time, until “certain men” came to town from Jerusalem. They had been raised in the Jewish laws and expected all Jews to follow those laws. After all, to be a Jew, you have to follow Jewish laws.
Now Peter has a decision to make. He can’t please everybody. Is he going to keep eating with the new Christians or is he going to slide back to the Jewish laws? Is he going to continue doing what he’s been doing for a while, or is he going to draw back from them?
When we draw back, it’s not just walking over to the other side of the street. Or turning a corner in your car. No, it was a well-thought-out change to get you out of danger and get you into a safe place.
It’s like being out on the beach and your weather app tells you that a hurricane is coming up the coast. You don’t just leave your chairs and umbrellas in the sand while you go inside. No, you take everything in with you. You close and lock all the windows and the hurricane shutters.
And why did Peter draw back? Because he was afraid. He wasn’t afraid of going against who God is and his desires for our life. No. He was afraid of a group of people that felt a certain way. This group believed that all men had to become Jews through circumcision. And they weren’t shy about telling people what they believed and what would happen to anyone who disagreed with them.
So, Peter draws back. He slides back. He moves back, away from the people who were new to Christianity. It was a slap in the face to those new followers of Jesus. Without saying a word, Peter was saying that the circumcision group was more important, more spiritual than they were.
Paul has one word for Peter and the circumcision group – hypocrites. They were twofaced. They acted one way but really believed something different. They hid their real feelings and thinking, only showing what they thought others wanted to see. How to make them feel good about themselves.
Being called a hypocrite is just about the worst thing you can call someone. You’re calling them out. You’re saying that they’re a phony, lying about who they really are.
And why did Paul call Peter, Barnabas, and these men hypocrites? Because they had freely received forgiveness from God through Jesus, and now they wanted these other people to try and work for it. They had received mercy and a totally paid-in-full salvation, but they wanted others to pay for it.
The circumcision people wanted to have power over these new Christians. They wanted to be on top and put these newbies in their place as second-class citizens of heaven.
When Jesus died, he died once and for all. Period. There is no way to earn it. No way to pay God back for our sin or repay his sacrifice. No way to do anything to have God notice us. Or even like us.
To do or say anything different is to make God out to be a liar. And to force people to try and do something to earn their relationship with God is hypocrisy. And it just doesn’t get any worse than that.
How do we react when we meet a hypocrite?
Why is it so much worse when someone’s being a hypocrite to us?
How is accepting only certain kinds of people being a hypocrite?