Every year at the BI the student body is a little different. I remember one class a few years ago that was very boisterous and demonstrative. That class had several strong leaders who stood out by their giftedness. Those students liked to hang around after each class and ask questions. This year's class seems quieter and perhaps more studious. As a speaker, you can tell when the students are listening closely or tuning you out.
Today I spent a lot of time talking about the story of Paul rebuking Peter in Antioch, an crucial moment in early church history recounted in Galatians 2:11-14. It's one of those passages that you might read casually and not think much about. Antioch was one of the crucial early centers of Christianity. It was one of the first churches where Gentiles and Jews worshiped, served and ate together on the basis of spiritual equality. When Peter came to Antioch, he at first enjoyed being part of a church where Jews and Gentiles ate together. But under pressure from a group of Judaizers who claimed to represent the Jerusalem church, he led the other Jewish believers to withdraw from their Gentiles brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul rebuked Peter publicly because he had deviated from the gospel.
The whole episode fascinates me because on one level it illustrates how much truth the Bible contains in a seemingly obscure incident. And on another level it shows how seemingly small actions can have huge consequences. So I asked if any of the students came from Texas. Only a handful, but they started cheering. Is there anything wrong with Texans eating together in the cafeteria? No. What about people from New Jersey (many more of those in the BI) eatting together? No problem. What about folks from Maine (loud cheers) eating together? Nothing wrong with it. If you are a Christian, you can eat what you want, when you want, where you want, and you can choose your dining partners? So what's the big deal? Is there anything wrong with Jewish believers eating together? No. Or Gentile believers eating together? No. Ditto for people from Brazil or Korea or Finland. It's natural for people from similar backgrounds to eat together.
So what was the problem in Antioch? Why was it such a big deal that one apostle (Paul) publicly rebuked another apostle (Peter)? That's huge. The point is, It would be wrong for the Texans to eat together to the exclusion of folks from New Jersey? And it is wrong from people from Finland to eat together to the exclusion of people from Brazil. When we start excluding people who aren't in "our group" in the body of Christ, we have denied the gospel. And this challenges all of us to consider our friendships, our associations, the people we hang out with, and the way we reach out to people who aren't just like us inside the church.
A pastor can deny the gospel by what he preaches. But church members can deny the gospel by the way they conduct themselves at a Wednesday night dinner. That's the deeper implication of Galatians 2:11-14. It's all about bad manners at the dinner table, and it's something we all need to think about. I spent most of an hour talking to the students about it, because there's a lot of truth to learned from this forgotten corner of Galatians.
To sign up for Pastor Ray's free weekly sermon email list, click here. You can find his daily weblog, online sermons, travel schedule, and other resources at www.keepbelieving.com. You can write Pastor Ray at [email protected].