In 2.9 we saw that Paul’s message of unity in the new Christian community was accepted by the church leaders in Jerusalem. Here in 2.11-14, events take a different turn.
All seems to be going well: Jewish Jesus followers and Gentile Jesus followers fellowshipping together. Cephas (Peter) himself eating with the Gentiles as per his vision of Acts 10. Then, when a group arrived claiming to be speaking with authority from James (although this is doubtful given the events of 2.1-10) Peter gradually drew back. The NET says that he stopped…and separated himself because he was afraid of those who were pro-circumcision (v.12).
No doubt that upon seeing a pillar of the church conduct himself this way other Jewish Jesus followers would have been led to do the same, even Barnabas writes Paul (v.13). Paul then calls out this hypocrisy and says
“If you, although you are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you try to force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
So simply, Peter, how can you, a Jew, break bread with and fellowship with Gentiles and therefore live like a Gentile but yet now separate yourself and withdraw yourself from this and force the Gentile Jesus followers to live like Jews, i.e. separately from you?
Peter was, in a sense, denying the truth that Jesus’ death and resurrection created one unified family of those who believe. His conduct didn’t match his words (Acts 11.18) and Paul was quite right in calling this out as hypocrisy. Donald K. Campbell writes
All of them—Peter, the other Jewish Christians, and Barnabas—were guilty of hypocrisy because while confessing and teaching that they were one in Christ with Gentiles, they were denying this truth by their conduct.
Perhaps this should be the main point to ponder today for you: are you denying this truth by your conduct? Yes, you can confirm and affirm the truth that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave for everyone, but do you live like it? Are there groups of people that you refuse to fellowship with? See, the two cannot go together: saying that Jesus died for all but not offering friendship and fellowship to all is so contradictory it’s hypocrisy, as Paul would say!
So today then take a moment and think – does my conduct match my confession? Simply, am I doing what I am saying?