- There’s lots of rich detail but don’t get bogged down. Focus on the ‘big issue’
- Allow the tone and urgency of this passage to affect us. Even if we don’t think Jew/Gentile dinner plans are a big deal, God clearly does!
- Don’t settle for ‘historical analysis’, aim for personal response and transformation.
- Make space for people to be honest and vulnerable about divisions or barriers they’ve experienced. We need to understand the challenges we face before we can hope to rectify them.
- Allow the glorious reality that we are justified by faith in Jesus (whatever our background) to flavour and colour our conversations. This is thrilling and the reason it’s so serious not to ‘act in line’ with the gospel.
What was so distressing to Paul about what Peter was doing? How serious was it?
(1) Jewish Christians (including Peter) had stopped eating with Gentile believers out of fear of the ‘circumcision group’. This was hypocritical (as Peter knew it was fine for Jewish and Gentile believers to share full fellowship) and a denial of the gospel – to be ‘condemned’ and ‘opposed’ despite the obvious awkwardness
Why was it ‘not acting in line with the gospel’ for Jewish Christians to stop eating with Gentile believers?
(2) The gospel declares that Christ’s saving death is what makes people acceptable to God and part of his family. Social, cultural or ethnic identity can never trump or undermine this. To imply that Gentile believers were excluded or less than fully welcome is a horrific denial of the gospel.
How should knowing we are justified by faith in Christ affect social or ethnic divisions in the church?
(3) Justification by faith alone is like an acid that burns away any social divisions or hierarchies. If this is how God accepts us (by faith alone) how can we set up any other system for accepting/rejecting/valuing/demeaning other believers? This great doctrine unites believers at the most fundamental level (in Christ!). Social or ethnic (or any other kind) of superiority is ruled out.
Looking at our relationships and inclusivity as a church, can you think of ways we might be in danger of not acting in line with the truth of the gospel? What might we be ‘afraid’ of?
(4) This is a searching question. It may be worth giving people time to reflect on their own or in pairs so we don’t just jump to whatever the first person says. Key things to look at is “what kind of people do we celebrate or ignore?” “Who do we include/exclude?” This could be subtle or obvious. We each should look in the mirror first before blaming others. What do our own mealtimes / social habits towards other believers reveal? Peter was motivated by fear. We may also be ‘afraid’ (of difference, uncertainty, unfamiliar people or situations). Celebrate honesty and vulnerability, in the freedom of God’s grace.
How might v20 change the way we see ourselves and other Christians who are different from us?
(5) Paul has ‘died to the law’ in Christ and therefore doesn’t use the law as his criterion for righteousness/value (whether for himself or others), rather his entire self-understanding is bound up with Jesus Christ. He has been crucified with Christ, and now lives in Christ, whose self-giving, loving, sacrificial death is what now defines and motivates Paul. If this is true for us (and all other Christians) it totally transforms our way of thinking and relating! Think specifically how this may break down some of the barriers identified earlier. Pray for God’s help to cultivate and grow this attitude!