Some time after Paul’s consultation in Jerusalem, Peter made a visit to Antioch in Syria, the location of the first Gentile church and the base of Paul’s missionary activities described in Acts. While there, Peter ate freely with the Gentile Christians, but when a group of Jewish Christians arrived from James, Peter—fearful of what they would think—changed his behavior entirely.
Some have mistakenly assumed that Peter and the other Jews with him had ceased following the Old Testament laws about clean and unclean food. This, however, does not seem to be the case. If Peter and all the Jewish Christians had abandoned the Jewish food laws, a major uproar in the church certainly would have followed. If so, there would surely be some record of it, but there is not. It is more likely that the issue was about table-fellowship with Gentiles. Because many Jews saw Gentiles as unclean, it was a practice among some to avoid social contact with Gentiles as much as possible.
Peter had struggled with this issue himself, and it was only a vision from God that helped him to see it clearly. Peter said to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, after he entered his house, “ ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean’ ” (Acts 10:28, ESV). Although he knew better, he was so afraid of offending his own countrymen that he reverted back to his old ways. That’s, apparently, how strong the pull of culture and tradition was in Peter’s life.
Paul, though, called Peter’s actions exactly what they were: the Greek word he used in Galatians 2:13 is hypocrisy. Even Barnabas, he said, was “carried away with their hypocrisy” (NKJV). Strong words from one man of God to another.
Why is it so easy to be a hypocrite? (Isn’t it, perhaps, that we tend to blind ourselves to our own faults while eagerly looking for faults in others?) What kind of hypocrisy do you find in your own life? More important, how can you recognize it and then root it out?