Happenings around Antioch

A Wonderful Rebuke!

A rather pompous church leader was trying to impress upon a class of boys the importance of living the Christian life. “Why do people call me a Christian?” the man asked. After a moment’s pause, one youngster said, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you?”

Well, Peter certainly knew Paul, and he was anything but pompous. And at the end of his second letter, Peter refers to him as “our beloved brother Paul.” Peter knew, as any believer of that day did, that before Paul was saved, he was a Jewish terrorist named Saul who tracked down and imprisoned followers of Christ. The men who stoned Stephen to death laid their garments beside this young man Saul, as he watched the execution of the first martyr and then became an executioner himself. In those days he would have been, “our horrifying terrorist Saul.” But wonder of wonders, Jesus apprehended him on the road to Damascus, just as he does every person who comes to faith. Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus; Jesus came looking for him. He was gloriously saved and then he became “our beloved brother Paul.” Right? Not exactly, not according to the Scriptures. 

After Paul was saved, he was living and growing as a believer with the community of disciples in Damascus. He finally left there and the Bible says, “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.” At that point, it sounds like he was “our scary brother Paul.”  We understand why they would be afraid, right? But I think the larger point here is that we all have stories and some are scarier than others. We all came from lives wrecked by sin, even if our sin did not express itself in dramatic ways as it did with Saul and many others. Never underplay the miracle of your salvation, and that God brought you from a mighty long way as the old Gospel song said. We were all “dead in our trespasses and sins, following the course of this world…but God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” And here’s something we learn from Peter’s words about Paul: we are called to be both the speakers and the hearers of truth. 

Paul clearly and boldly spoke the truth to Peter one day, and Peter humbly heard it from him.

I love the story in Galatians 2 because it tells me so much about these two pillars of the faith. Peter was not a perfect Christian. He had fallen into self-deception and was even being used by the enemy to turn other men of faith, at least Barnabas for one, away from the truth of the Gospel. It was a public sin that was misleading the church and so Paul confronted Peter publicly, “before them all.” We know that Peter repented; if he hadn’t his two letters would not have been written. We also know that Peter received this instruction from a man younger in the faith, a man who had not walked with Jesus for 3 years, and a man who had a horrific past. But Peter listened and turned from his sin. 

The church and the witness of the Gospel could have been badly damaged in those days if Paul had not had the spiritual courage to confront Peter, the powerful preacher and apostle. And the church would have been badly damaged if Peter had not repented when confronted with the truth about his hypocrisy. 

Beloved, the church universal will prevail and Jesus will return to gather all of his sheep and shepherds. But local churches are diminished or destroyed when leaders turn away from the Scriptures and will not listen to those who come to them with pleas and prayers and biblical truth.