Some people love conflict. I know that to many of us that sounds weird, but there are some folks who thrive on stirring up arguments with one another. I’ve seen some groups on social media where it seems that all these folks do is pick at each other and find ways to argue with one another rather than agree with each other and encourage the body.
I don’t like arguing. But, I do know that there are times when a good argument is important to the faith. There are situations where we cannot remain silent. There are times when we have to push on a point for the sake of the gospel, even in the church.
Paul had such an experience with Peter.
Galatians 2:11-14 – 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
In Galatia, there were some folks known as Judaizers. Those men argued that, for gentiles to be saved, they must submit to and obey the Old Testament Jewish law. This is not people saying that Christians ought to follow the heart of the law to Jesus, but that Christians should submit to circumcision, to ceremonial cleanliness regulations, and to food laws. It is almost as if they wanted the gentiles to pay their dues and work the non-Jewishness off of themselves.
When Paul arrived in Galatia, he found these folks, and he was surprised to see that Peter had started to act like them too. As our text says, before the Judaizers got to Galatia, peter would eat with the gentiles. He would have a ham sandwich, no problem. But when the Judaizers arrived, Peter separated himself from the gentile believers and started acting as if those gentiles needed to stop with the bacon.
Now, it may seem that an argument, to ham or not to ham, should not be a big conflict area. But, as Paul arrived, he realized that something of the gospel was at stake. Paul understood that the Judaizers were adding their particular, cultural morality to the message of Jesus. They were not saying that you are saved by grace alone through faith alone. Instead, they were saying that you are saved by grace through faith and adaptation to our culture. This, of course is no longer the true gospel.
So, Paul brought the conflict. And what he did was right. Paul challenged Peter openly. Paul showed that Peter was perverting the gospel by hanging with the Judaizers and adding laws to the gentiles that God did not require for either their salvation or their sanctification.
We should never be a people eager to have conflict. We most certainly should not call every interpretive error heresy. We should not fight about every difference of opinion. In many cases, we will find that our difference of opinion is one of style or preference, and we should be sure to speak graciously with one another, even when we disagree and cannot come to consensus.
But, Christians, do not avoid conflict if a question of gospel is at stake. If a person is proclaiming something as gospel that is not the biblical gospel, you have to get in there and mix it up. If a person is adding requirements to the gospel, saying that you must add something beyond faith in Jesus and repentance for salvation, you need to challenge it. The purity of the gospel is too important for us to let anyone mess with it. Never love fighting. But, if the gospel is at stake, then gospel conflict is to the glory of God.