By Robert S. Turner
November 1966, available via Plain Talk, at http://www.wordsfitlyspoken.org
When Peter first came to Antioch, he came to eat with me—or people like me. He visited in my home, and treated me as his equal. We were both children of God, and he treated me like a brother—which I was.
Then some “big shots” from Judea came to town. They were of the same race and color as Peter, and they felt superior to people like me. They sometimes spoke of my people as “dogs” and they considered themselves “unclean” when they had contact with us. My people and I were clearly “second-rate” citizens in God’s kingdom, in the eyes of these people from the big church in Jerusalem; and I will not deny, that this hurt—a lot.
But what hurt even more: when Peter learned of their coming, he broke our engagements, and would have nothing more to do with me. He withdrew, and separated himself from us. Our personal hurt was compounded by realizing that Peter, whom we had considered a sort of “hero” in the faith, was actually afraid of these Judaean men, and what they might say about his association with people like me.
And Barnabas, our close friend and teacher—the one who had done so much to plant the cause of Christ in our home town—he also began to back away from us. We realized that he was influenced by Peter’s actions; but this did not soften the blow. These were indeed trying times for us.
Then Paul went to Peter, and withstood him to the face. Our embarrassment at being rejected, now gave way to fear—as we saw two Apostles at odds because of us. But Paul made it clear that there was more at stake than our personal feelings. He said that the principle involved was essential to the very truth of the gospel of Christ. At the time, rejected by many of our former friends, and treated as outcasts by important members of the church, I suppose we looked upon Paul as our personal deliverer. But now—calmly reviewing the past—I see that Paul was right. He did not try to force a social reform upon Peter, nor upon other brethren. I have read that he even returned a runaway slave—also a brother—to his master. He was not less concerned about our social plight, but more concerned that Peter’s people and mine learn the true meaning of oneness in Christ.
Paul taught us that Christ was the great leveler. What was difficult, if not impossible to accomplish by law, strike, or pressure tactics; became a natural thing as we individually lost ourselves in Christ. Paul did not argue our “civil or moral rights” with Peter. He showed him that neither of us could win without the Lord. He gave us a common denominator—made us realize our dependence upon something without ourselves. And when he did this, our color, race, and former creed faded into the background. Many years were needed to effect this change. I must not forget that I am the white Gentile—the “dog” for whom Paul argued: AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED. Gal. 2:3-10, 11-f. 3:26-29.