“…he began to draw back and separate himself…because he was afraid…”
When I was a teen, “Granny G.” (as I called her) lived directly behind my house. My frequent visits wore a path across the yard to her doorstep where I was met with welcoming arms and twinkling eyes. She was wise yet had a funny way of pronouncing certain words. For example, “again” was “aGAIN” (never said just once but “aGAIN and aGAIN”). We debated this often, teasing each other endlessly. Granny was also a thoughtful shopaholic, going for long walks daily and bearing little gifts upon her return. Once she came home with a wall plaque that read, “Lead me not into temptation for I shall find it myself.” I got the biggest kick out of that one.
Oh, how easily we find temptation! It entices hearts and minds to indulge in sinful acts but what if the temptation is not in doing but withdrawing, like keeping silent when you should speak up? Fear of criticism, even rejection, can lead to people pleasing over pleasing God. Peter knew a little something about that. He succumbed to the temptation yet again, as we read in Galatians 2:12, this time by way of rejecting his regular lunch buds (Gentile believers) when the cool crowd (Jewish believers) showed up. Peter was, in essence, falling back on the law of circumcision for inclusion, knowing full well that God’s grace granted Gentiles the same access to salvation, regardless of Jewish traditions: “…he began to draw back and separate himself… because he was afraid…” As a result, other Jewish believers followed suit. Because of Peter’s hypocrisy, “even Barnabas was led astray.” (v.13). This public sin prompted a public rebuke by Paul because “they were not following the truth of the gospel message”. Salvation comes through faith in Christ, not obeying the law. Paul concluded, “So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless.” (v. 20-21)
Peter and Paul were both familiar with the concept of doing what they didn’t want to do and not doing what they should. Peter, the “pebble” turned “rock”, who once declared Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”, is the same guy who didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, who dissuaded the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem (the cross) and was, therefore, harshly rebuked by Him for being more mindful of man than God. He defended Jesus with a sword in the garden, then denied Him with cursing in the courtyard. Despite his love for the Lord, Peter messed up a lot! Can you relate? As we see, one person’s sin can lead others astray. Peter was certainly a stumbling block here. And who knows if this incident began a rift between Paul and Barnabas? Soon after, they parted ways. In contrast to Peter’s keeping quiet, Paul did the hard thing and spoke convicting truth amid a crowd who only knew (prior to his many missions) of his former reputation, persecuting Christians. This was not a comfort-zone type situation. Yet, Paul was compelled by truth and love. Isn’t that the aim for all of us?
Temptation calls loud and often. With it comes an escape route of God. From it, knowledge of our need for God. To be more mindful of God, keep your mind full of God; dine daily in the Word. Chew on it. Study it. Know it! But rest assured, no matter how many times we fail, we can haul our heavy hearts down the beaten path to our Heavenly Father’s throne of grace, finding arms wide open and eyes shining because repentance is always greeted with forgiveness. This is a gain which inspires more love for God and, in turn, enables less caving to sin (if we learn from our past). Another gain!
Even though Granny G.’s been with the Lord many years now, I might have to finally let her win our debate because, as I inevitably stumble into temptation, with God’s grace and generous wisdom, my “again and again” becomes “aGAIN and aGAIN”. (Happy Birthday, Granny! You were right – it only took me 30+ years to learn)