“Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.” Galatians 2:11 (MSG)
Yesterday we looked at how the cross bridges racial prejudice and breaks down the dividing wall of hostility. I love the way The Message puts it in Ephesians 2:16: “Christ brought us together through His death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility.”
The problem, though, lies in the systemic nature of racism. Too often we are blind to our own cultural conditioning to those who are “different” than us regardless of what that difference may be. Peter, once again, is the prime example. You would think that his exposure to the miracle of God’s grace and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentile Italian Centurion named Cornelius and his entire household would have resolved any future racial prejudices in Peter. But that was simply not the case. Despite seeing God’s Spirit poured out on Samaritans in Acts chapter 8 or on Gentiles in Acts 10, Peter would still struggle with accepting non-Jewish followers of Christ.
It happened in Galatia. Paul explains it in Galatians 2:12-13 (MSG):
“Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.”
Peter’s prejudice and fear caused him to withdraw from fellowship with young Gentile believers who had recently come to faith in Jesus as their Messiah. Can you imagine the impact that would have on these young Christ followers? It would lead them to question the legitimacy of their faith and God’s acceptance of them. The infant church in Galatia would be in jeopardy of splitting among the races. Paul saw what was happening and stepped in immediately to confront the racial prejudice. He writes in Galatians 2:14 (MSG):
“But 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?’”
I love the way Paul handled the situation. He did not go to the other leaders or write letters to the churches to discredit Peter. Instead, he spoke to Peter face to face and opposed what he was doing by speaking the truth in love to correct him and affirm the unity of the body of Christ.
Unity does not mean uniformity. God loves diversity. God created us all different. He wants us to celebrate those differences and embrace them while preserving our unity in Christ. We must never exclude anyone whom Christ has called to follow Him. Yet, still today, the local church has often been the most segregated place in our world. If the early apostles struggled with systemic racial prejudice because of their cultural conditioning, we must confront it in our own lives as well. The more we understand the gospel and embrace God’s purpose for the church, the more our love for one another will grow.
I want to personally invite you to join us tonight at 7pm at live.wc.org for a Night of Prayer for Racial Healing. The best place to begin confronting racial prejudices is in our own hearts before God in prayer and repent. Then God will be able to bring healing to our land from both the global pandemic and the cultural pandemic that threatens to destroy us.
As we turn back to God in prayer, I find hope in the promise of Isaiah 58:12 (NLT):
“Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.”