Galatians 2:11-12 (NIV) – When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.
Paul and Peter are the two most prominent apostles and giants of the Christian faith. Yet, they are profoundly dissimilar in many ways. Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus while Paul was a vicious persecutor of Christ’s followers. Peter was an unschooled fisherman while Paul was a learned man and he was well-schooled in the Torah. Peter had a checkered record while Paul’s walk with the Lord was impeccable.
Many serious-minded Christians, including me, love Paul. He is a model believer and leader. If you asked believers to pick their hero in the New Testament, I have no doubt that most of them would choose Paul. It is easy to understand why.
Paul persecuted the followers of Christ. But once he knew that he was mistaken, and Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he was totally sold-out for the Lord. He was relentless in his pursuit of Christ and unyielding in his effort to advance the Kingdom of God.
Nothing could hinder or stop him. Not threat, pain or death. This is the man who uttered these famous words: For to me, to continue living is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 – MEV). He was glad to share in the suffering of Christ. He rejoiced at the prospect of seeing Jesus when threatened with death. He cherished the opportunity to continue preaching the gospel when released. Either way, he saw it as a win. It is hard for his persecutors to deal with him. I can imagine them pulling their hair in despair.
I have always assumed that Paul’s unwavering faith and exemplary life are inspiring. While that is true, some people feel otherwise. They feel somewhat discouraged because they cannot measure up to Paul’s impeccable standard of Christian life. It is true that Paul is a difficult act to follow.
While most people aspire to be like Paul, our experiences are more akin to the experiences of Peter. Like Peter, we stumble and falter occasionally despite our best intention and effort. Sometimes, the fall is hard.
Peter was the first disciple to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Jesus said that he was divinely inspired and commended him. But barely a few minutes later, Jesus called him Satan. His flesh got the better of him. It seems that Peter was just as opened to the Holy Spirit as to the influence of the devil.
On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He warned His disciples that they would fall away. But Peter insisted that he would stand firm even if everyone else were to fall away. He was ready to go to prison and even die for Jesus if necessary. He was earnest about it. However, barely a few hours later, he capitulated under pressure when asked if he knew Jesus. He denied knowing the Lord. Not once. Not twice but three times! Despite his love for Jesus and his deep conviction, he failed His Lord. He was heartbroken and inconsolable.
But God was merciful and gracious to Peter. After His resurrection, Jesus sought out Peter and gently restored him. After that, He recommissioned him (John 21:15-19 – NIV). Later, Peter was baptized with the Holy Spirit and in the power of the Spirit, he became a fearless witness for Christ.
But years later, the same weakness reemerged. In an incident in the city of Antioch, Paul accused Peter of hypocrisy. Peter had no problem eating and interacting with Gentile believers. But when some Jews from the circumcision group came to Antioch, he began to avoid the Gentiles for fear of the Judaizers (Galatians 2:11-14 – NIV). Once again, Peter capitulated under the pressure of men.
Paul’s life is ideal and exemplary, but Peter’s roller-coaster ride of spectacular victories and catastrophic failings typify our Christian life. But God was faithful to both His apostles. He worked through the strengths of Paul and He also worked through the weaknesses of Peter. That is how the grace of God works.
God is faithful to all who love Him. He will never let go of us despite our weaknesses and failings. He will keep sanctifying, transforming and working in the lives of those who love Him. The key is love. God has promised to show His steadfast love and faithfulness to those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 5:9-10 – NIV).
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua