When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For 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 (Cephas) courageously served the same Lord but were very different in their personalities – Paul demonstrating an outgoing expressive leadership style and Peter being a man of quiet intensity. This verse records a moment of conflict, where Paul confronted Peter on a personal inconsistency. Peter had said one thing but due to concerns about what people thought began to draw back from what he had said. More importantly he had begun to fall away from the teachings of grace due to concerns about what the legalists would say.
Fear in anyone is both understandable and lamentable. We each experience fear, but fear also tempts us to compromise God’s standards and act only for self-interest. The psalmist prayed, “When I am afraid I will trust in You” (Psalm 56:3). We cannot say that we will never be afraid, but that we will trust in God in our moments of fear. To stay the correct course in the face of dangers reveals true character.
An important mark of immaturity is the avoidance of responsibility when our actions prove unpopular. A leader who makes a poor decision and then blames the decision on someone else will not be respected – sooner or later people see through that type of shallowness. True leaders take responsibility for their decisions – and if they are wrong they apologize and make appropriate corrections. The person of shallow character is concerned first about protecting his reputation, whereas the person of deep character is most concerned about doing the right thing.
An event from one of my son’s baseball playing days has stuck in my craw for almost twenty years – a moment when his coaches showed a lack of character and gave in to fear and self-interest before a group of children. Our son was twelve years old and hit a stand-up triple. Every parent can relate to watching a son or a daughter struggle in sports or to learn to play a certain musical instrument, or to dance, or whatever, and finally a moment comes when there seems to be a break through, and the child’s confidence increases. That season was a confidence-building experience for our son. But on that day as he was rounding third base, the coach gave confusing signals and I thought he told him to run to home plate, and my son thought so as well. So he rounded third, ran to home, and was thrown out.
Honestly, none of that I minded. I assumed the coach thought he could turn it into a home run, but what did bother me was what the coach, who was a grown man coaching twelve-year-olds after all, said after that. He blamed our son for not listening. What he should have said was something like, “Son, you hit a stand-up triple and I am proud of you. I thought you could turn it into a home run, so I sent you home, but that was my mistake, not yours.” He had an opportunity to set an example of leadership for the team, instead he chose the coward’s way out and blamed someone else for his own mistake. And the coaches should have corrected their signs so the players could understand what they meant. (You can tell it still bothers me.)
The simple act of saying, “I made a mistake and I apologize,” shows a real depth of character that is missing in today’s world. As Christians we should be sure that it is not missing in the church. We leaders must learn to humbly follow Christ and to have the courage of our convictions. We will certainly make our share of mistakes, but then is when true character can reveal itself through the humility to admit our errors and seek the correction of the Holy Spirit. And the Christian community should share the grace of God with all – even leaders. If it will have leaders, it must do so, for no leader will be perfect.
The real question is always whether or not we are following Christ in our decisions and especially in our attitudes.
Lord, lead us and we will follow. Build up our courage and confidence in You and reveal to us how humility should be expressed in our daily lives. Amen.