Not like a jellyfish
To recap quickly: Paul is talking in the book of Galatians. Paul was a fanatic follower of the Jewish religion before he started believing in Jesus as Saviour. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples. Both proclaimed the same Gospel and they agreed that Paul would proclaim the gospel to non-Jews, while Peter would do so to the Jews.
The freedom that Jesus’ salvation had brought us had not yet taken a good hold in Peter’s mind. One can hardly blame him for his actions. Many of us would have acted in the same way. But he is a little bit of a jellyfish.
Peter visited Antioch and helped the people there to learn more about the Lord. Remember, there were no trained ministers or pastors at that time to show the congregation what the life of a follower of Jesus should look like. The apostles travelled a lot to assist, teach and show the new Christians.
Peter became part of the group of Christians in Antioch. He did what they did and ate what they ate to prove that all were the same before God. It went well … until a group of Jewish Christians showed up. And suddenly Peter no longer ate with the non-Jewish Christians. Was he afraid what the reaction of the Jewish Christians would be? Was he afraid of the stories they would tell about how he, as a Jew, mixed with non-Jews?
And look what happened then! The non-Jewish Christians did exactly what he did. As if they were turning the way the wind blew.
And then Paul said: 14But 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?”
Maybe Peter acted in this way not to give offence and to make the Jewish Christians feel uncomfortable. Maybe in all sincerity he had tried to satisfy everybody and keep from making waves. Or was he hesitant about what he stood for?
But in hesitating between what God had taught him and weighing it against the people’s reaction, he did more damage than good. His behaviour divided the congregation and obviously two groups formed.
Here Peter chose tradition before the Gospel. Therefore, Paul reprimanded him. Paul quickly and seriously censured Peter by reminding him that keeping to the rules and regulations of the law wouldn’t bring about people’s salvation. The focus is not on what we should do, but only on what Jesus has done for us. That is the crux of the matter.
My wife was getting the children ready for church. Two were playing in their room while the other one was still in bed. But I could hear the thunderstorm brewing in her voice. I called her over to where I was sitting peacefully on the couch watching the end of the previous evening’s DVD, and said: “Maybe we should have our own church here on the couch as a family today.” After some objections, she agreed.
Later that morning we were all sitting wrapped in blankets talking about life and all the things in a Christian’s life. About an hour later each of us ended with a prayer. It was a special time together and from the oldest to the youngest had participated in the conversation. We all learnt something and experienced something of God.
But it was different from our normal tradition on a rest day. I’m not saying tradition is bad and should be gotten rid of, but sometimes we have to do something different alongside tradition, because God speaks and works there as well. It prevents us from starting to believe in tradition and not in God.
Others look to us for guidance. Therefore, it is important that we always ensure that we live God’s way. Habits and traditions shouldn’t tie us down and steal us away from the true, liberating Gospel.
What unnecessary tradition are you holding on to?
What should you do differently?
Is God really part of your life?
Father, please help me to keep following you and not just to do things because of tradition or by force of habit. Please help me make sure that my actions do not lead others in the wrong direction. Lord, please help me to live in such a way that others will also experience your freedom and long for it. Amen