Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 2

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

We’ve been learning from the confrontation between Paul and Peter recorded in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter is an example of a follower of Jesus who was a lifelong learner – a man who finished well. How did he do it? And how can we? Decision #1…

Decision #1 – I will hear my godly critics.

Do you listen to what the people around you are saying about you? Or are you on the defensive?  Are you curious about how people are perceiving you?

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 (NASB)

When do we need godly criticism?  Peter being confronted by Paul teaches us at least three occasions we need to be challenged. We need godly criticism when we fear people more than we follow principles. Galatians 2:12

Most of us have a tendency to be people-pleasers.  We want to fit in.  But that can be dangerous to your spiritual health.

12   For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
Galatians 2:12

Peter feared this group.  Caving into the crowd was the key to Peter’s downfall.  He caved into the crowd when a little servant girl challenged him around a fire on the night Jesus was betrayed.  He caved in here, too.

He was afraid.  Afraid of what?  Of being thought less of, of losing influence? I don’t know, but clearly not fear of God, but fear of men.  Or maybe Peter was afraid of losing face with the legalists – the rule and regulation people – in Jerusalem. He might have lost his standing as the leader.  We aren’t told why he was afraid of the people.  And in a moment of weakness he cut off the fellowship with his non-Jewish brothers and sisters.  And when he did it as the leader, so did Barnabas and all the other Jews.

Do you know the antidote to being a people-pleaser?  Want to please God more!  Some of us deny our true selves – and deny the truth – because we are afraid of what others will think or say.  Do you want to stop fearing people?  Fear God more!

 We need godly criticism when we play a part more than we live the life. 

Hang around the church long enough and you’ll learn how to act the part.  You smile at the right times, sing at the right times, say the right things, go along to get along.  What do I have to do with this particular group of Christians to fit in?

Peter had it figured out in Antioch.  He played the part and it influenced others to play the part, too.

13   The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Galatians 2:13

“The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy.”  It means they, too, acted insincerely.  Even one of Paul’s closest friends, Barnabas, was carried away by their insincerity.

Peter knew it was right to hang out with the non-Jewish believers.  But he didn’t.  So, Peter and Barnabas and the others were being two-faced.  They were saying one thing with their actions while believing another thing in their heart.

What they believed, they had stopped doing.  They played a part. In this case, Peter is pretending to be outwardly holy.  “Hey, look at me.  I don’t eat non-kosher foods!  Aren’t I a holy guy?”   But before these Jewish believers showed up, he was chowing down on some pork at the rib-cook-off in Antioch.

Do you act one way when you are with a certain group of people and act another way when you are not?  Get clear before God about the way you are supposed to live your life, then live it!  Be holy, yes!  But be real about it!

The number one reason people say they don’t go to church?  It’s full of hypocrites!  Don’t give people reason not to show up.

We need godly criticism when we enforce rules more than we enjoy relationship.  

Sometimes, it’s easy for us be fall into the trap of liking rules more than loving people.  Some of us are wired that way.  We get uncomfortable when the rules get stretched.  That happened to Peter here.  And he was called on it.

14   But when I saw that they were not straightforward about) the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
Galatians 2:14

I can imagine Peter saying, “Compel?  What do you mean compel? I haven’t said that the Gentiles have to live like Jews.”  And I can hear Paul’s response, “Peter, your actions speak louder than your words.”

Peter has been in trouble before in Jerusalem.  Acts 11:2 says, “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” Peter told them about his vision and the coming of the Spirit and said, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

This was a life-changing experience for Peter.  He saw that not only did non-Jews not have to keep the Old Testiment laws in order to have the same spiritual blessings as Christian Jews, but he also saw that he, as a Jew, was free from those same laws.  The condition for enjoying all the benefits of being a believer is a real, live faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s all.

Therefore, when Peter ate with Gentile believers in Antioch he was in sync with the gospel. He was standing fast infreedom, honoring the all-sufficiency of Christ.  But when he stopped eating with the Gentiles, he was keeping rules and violating relationships.  We call it legalism.

Don’t break God’s rules, of course.  But be careful that you don’t add to His rules.  Religious people have a tendency to do that.  It makes them feel superior.  They like feeling superior.  Why?  Because they don’t love people.  They love their rules more.

I hope and pray that God will keep on sending godly critics to you and to me.  We must be called away from people-pleasing, hypocrisy, and legalism.  I hope and pray that we will listen!

Listen and be wise. Keep your heart on the right course.
Proverbs 23:19 (NLT)

To help me become a lifelong learner, I will hear my godly critics. That’s decision #1. Tomorrow… decision #2.