Bible Passage: Galatians 2:11-21
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: September 10, 2017
Here we go again! Might that thought have flitted across your mind? Two weeks in a row now with another “foolish Peter” story. For the leader of the apostles, he sure seemed to have has share of problems! How many times is it going to take before he finally gets it. “Clearly wrong,” Paul says. And rightly, Paul takes him to task for his public sin. If those thoughts crossed your mind as you read this lesson, then your worldview identifies with the apostle Paul in this lesson. More on that later.
Does peer pressure mean anything to you? Have you ever gone along with the group even though you knew you shouldn’t be? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were worried you’d lose your social standing, you “friends” if you didn’t follow the crowd? Never fell back into bad habits, even just once, that you worked so hard to kick? All of a sudden, Peter becomes a sympathetic figure instead of just a pathetic one. Because, we can all relate to Peter’s plight, can’t we? We’ve all been there at different stages in our life. All we like sheep have gone astray. We’ve fallen off whatever particular apple cart we’re struggling to hang on to. Perhaps, instead of seeing ourselves standing next to the apostle Paul in this lesson, we should see ourselves sitting at the table next to Peter with the other hypocrites!
What are you afraid of? Why is peer pressure so powerful? We could certainly spend our time today dwelling on that issue. But that really isn’t the issue that our lessons point us to this morning. I think we would all agree that we can see ourselves sitting next to Peter. But I’m sure many of us, if not all of us, initially saw ourselves standing next to Paul . And we can rightfully stand there, right? Can’t we? Can we rightfully see ourselves standing next to Paul in this lesson? And if we can, then the question is the same, “What are you afraid of?” Why is it that many of us are not willing to lovingly point out another person’s sin? Why it that we’d likely find more people willing to share their faith with a complete stranger than talking to a fellow believer about their sin? What are you afraid of?
“Isn’t it obvious, Pastor?” Isn’t that what you’re thinking? “Do we really have to spell it out for you? Pastor that’s your job! That’s why we have you here!” Now, no one has said that to me as bluntly as that, but hasn’t the thought crossed your mind a time or two? Don’t you see the “job” of visiting an erring and wandering brother or sister as the official action of the pastor or the leaders of the church? Now it’s true that the pastors and leaders of this congregation have that responsibility on behalf of this congregation, but Jesus didn’t say in our gospel today that he was giving that responsibility only to the pastor or only to the leaders in the congregation. It’s very clear that the method that Jesus is describing is first and foremost a very personal ministry; a ministry that every believer has as a priest in the kingdom of God. But is it getting done? What are you afraid of? Is this encouragement of Jesus any different than the encouragement he made to go and make disciples? Then why is one done much more willingly than the other?
“Well, who am I to judge, Pastor? I’m a sinner just like they are. What right do I have to go and show them their sin?” You’re right, you are a sinner. But you know what, so am I! So is Pastor Schlicht. So were all the pastors here before us. So were the disciples to whom Jesus gave this encouragement! If the only people who could use God’s Word to lovingly show someone their sin in order to lead them to repentance were perfect people, then we’d all be up a creek without a paddle because there aren’t any perfect people to help us with that! You have the right because Jesus gave you the command. He said, “Go.” And the awareness of your own sin will not disqualify you from pointing out anothers, but rather, it will send you there in humility. You understand that the roles could very easily be reversed. As Paul says later in Galatians, “Brothers, if a person is caught in some trespass, you…should restore such a person in a spirit of humility.” But is it getting done? What are you afraid of?
“But pastor, it’s really no big deal. It’s just a phase. It’s something that people do nowadays and we really can do anything about it.” I pray this is not the reason that we are not doing what Paul demonstrated for us! It is true that our world is far too casual about sin. If people took their sin seriously, then our churches would be overflowing. But do the people in the churches, in our church, help our erring brothers and sisters in taking sin lightly? Do we truly believe that the wages of sin is eternal death in hell? And if we do, how can we stand by and watch a fellow believer partake of this spiritual poison? If someone were about to walk out into the middle of East Wash and be hit by a car, wouldn’t we shout out and try to stop them? Of course we would! So when it comes to an even greater spiritual danger, what is stopping us from doing the same? What are you afraid of?
“Pastor, I don’t want to get involved in that. That’s between them and God. It’s none of my business.” The truth of the matter is that God made it your business. Think again about what God told Ezekiel in our first reading: “When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood.” From the very beginning, God has made it clear that we are to watch out for our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Isn’t that what God was saying to Cain when he spitefully asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If we have any of the love of Christ in our hearts, we will be spurred on to save our brothers and sisters who are wandering into eternal dangers! But is it getting done? What are you afraid of?
Paul may have had reason to be afraid. Peter was the leader of the apostles. He was revered throughout the church at large. He had already proved himself to be God’s apostle time and again. Paul was the new kid on the block. He had that awful past that people had a hard time forgetting. You’d certainly sympathize with Paul if he had just wanted to fit in and not make any waves. But Paul loved Peter too much, but even more than that, Paul loved the gospel too much to remain silent. Paul tells us, “But when Cephas (another name for Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly wrong.” Peter was clearly wrong and it was out in public that Peter was in the wrong. Therefore, a public rebuke was necessary. And here’s why. “For before some people came from James, he ate with the Gentiles. But when those people came, he drew back and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision group. And the rest of the Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.” Peter’s public sin was leading other believers into that same sin. They too began to act as if their salvation depended on what they ate and who they at it with rather than on the gospel. Paul says, “But when I saw that they were not acting according to the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all of them, “If you, a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, why do you compel the Gentiles to live like the Jews?” What was Paul afraid of? Paul was afraid that because of Peter’s actions, that the truth of the gospel would be lost.
Can you see how our fear of confronting sin puts us in danger of the same? Our standing idly by is in essence a stance against the gospel. When we allow a fellow believer to continue living in sin, we are telling him that Christ died for nothing! It’s not necessary that he seek God’s forgiveness because it’s really no big deal. You don’t need Jesus.
But we realize that we do need Jesus! We realize that we need his death! We realize that he did not die for nothing, but for everything! And isn’t that Paul’s point as well? Isn’t he saying, “Look at this great gift that we’ve been given in the gospel. Look at how it’s changed your life! You were crucified with Christ so that you could put to death your body of sin. You were raised with him so that the life you live is no longer lived for yourselves but for him who was raised again. The life you live right now is a life of faith in the Son of God! Why in the world would you want to throw that away? I can’t stand idly by and watch you rebuild the house of works that the gospel has torn down and in the process lead others to do the same. I love Jesus too much! I love the gospel too much! I love you too much to allow this to continue!”
Paul made it a habit to start out his letters to the different congregations with a common phrase, “Grace and peace.” You would never dream of setting aside the grace of God in your own life. You understand that without God’s grace, your life is hopeless. You can’t live without it. No one can. And that’s why I know that you won’t let your fear allow anyone else to set it aside either. Your fear of the gospel being lost in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ far outweighs any fear of rejection or opposition or imposition. The church is the family of the forgive people of God with whom the Lord dwells. Jesus died for sinners like you and me, and still today as our living Lord, he fervently desires the salvation of sinners. Pray for the brother or sister who has sinned. Trust that Jesus will hear our prayers, grant wisdom, guidance, and strength for our ministry to that erring brother or sister. There’s absolutely nothing to fear. When we do as Christ tells us in his Word, he promises that Word will work. It did with Peter. Brothers will listen. They will acknowledge their sin and repent. They will again echo the apostle Paul: “Indeed, through the law I died to the law that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, by Christ lives in me. The life I am now living in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” What a glorious day that will be! AMEN