Community Group Study “Galatians 2:11-21 The Gospel and the Table”
The apostle Paul was in a unique place in the history of redemption. God’s heart, from the beginning of scripture, has been to buy back his people from the effects of sin and death which were introduced in Genesis 3 and “the Fall”. This mission of redemption meant that every human being, made in the image of God, could be part of his reconciling work through faith. God chose to carry this mission out by building a people for himself and use them to bless the world; ultimately this blessing would come in God the son entering history, taking on humanity and defeating sin and death on the cross (Genesis 12:1-3, Galatians 2:20, 3:14). However, instead of having a heart for the nations, this people would develop pride and contempt for those who were outsiders. Paul lived during a time when this began to change for the people of God and he was given a mission from God to take the gospel, the good news of the reconciling work of Jesus, to the outsiders – the Gentiles.
Surprisingly, God used Peter to be part of the first gentile conversion in the book of Acts (see Acts 10-11). This incident began with Peter being challenged by God about his strict adherence to the food laws in the Old Testament scripture. We quickly see that it was a source of pride for Peter. God showed Peter a sheet of food, like a buffet table, but it was filled with all the food he could not eat as an observant Jew. God told him to rise, kill and eat because God has made it clean (Acts 10:14-15). A few moments later and Peter would hear a knock on his door with a group of Gentiles, sent by a Centurion named Cornelius whom God had visited, invited Peter to come dine in Cornelius’ home. Peter got an opportunity to share the gospel and Cornelius received the Holy Spirit. Peter’s big take away from this encounter, look at Acts 10:28, “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean”. God revealed to Peter that the nations are included in his plan of redemption and are worthy to be loved.
Flash forward around a decade to Galatians 2:11-14. Peter came to visit Paul in Antioch which was a really diverse, educated and affluent city in the ancient world. Paul had a ministry to take the gospel to the Gentiles, so Paul invited Peter to his table to eat with him and his Gentile friends. Peter seemed to be enjoying the time and was part of this thriving church fellowship, until a group of Jewish Christians sent from Jerusalem came into town and saw Peter crossing an unspoken line; Peter was eating with “them”. Peter pulled back from fellowshipping with the “outsiders” and started to act hypocritically in such a way that even Paul’s right hand man Barnabas started to question the theology of what they were doing. Paul’s response to all this was to publicly call out Peter for not walking in the truth of the gospel (Galatians 2:14).
Throughout the gospels we see Jesus eating with people from a variety of backgrounds. One day he is invited over to the home of a Pharisee and the next day the Pharisees are calling him a glutton and a drunkard because he eats with “sinners and tax collectors”. It seems like those who want to be like Jesus will often get accused of associating with the wrong crowd.
Why should followers of Jesus care about who they share their kitchen table with? Because that seems to be a direct reflection of what we believe about God and the gospel.
Extending fellowship over a meal and showing hospitality is a powerful tool that God has given his people to welcome outsiders in and to share the truth of God. Paul roots this truth down deep into some core theology of salvation (Galatians 2:15-21). One’s basis for salvation is not keeping the works of the law but rather one is justified by faith in Jesus (Galatians 2:16). One’s primary identity is no longer their activity, ethnicity, history or political affiliation, although those are all important parts of our lives. Instead one’s identity is primarily in whether or not they are united to Christ and his work to redeem us and give us his life (Galatians 2:20). When we invert this order we have problems. When it is all about our activities we associate with people who do what we do, when it is primarily about our political ideology we see others as enemies… you get the point. The most important thing about you is not what group you belong to but who you belong to. And this should free us up to love and serve others in our lives.
Main idea: Who you have at your table is a gospel issue. Even followers of Jesus will be tempted to cave into a bunker mentality or a bubble of being around solely people who are just like you. However, we see in the scripture that the truth of the gospel is that God has made a way for any to come to salvation through faith and trust in Jesus since that is not based on works of the law or being from the right people group. This should free followers of Jesus to love those God has put in their lives and to use their time and possessions to be hospitable and to serve others.
Read Galatians 2:15-21. What does this passage show us about the gospel of Jesus? What has Jesus done and how can we be part of that?
Read Galatians 2:11-4 What were the reasons Peter changed his behavior so abruptly? How were Peter’s original actions wrong and needing correction? Did Peter changes his actions based on a theological conviction or something else?
Peter seemed to have found a lot of pride, in Acts 10, on keeping the Old Covenant food laws. So this may have been a particularly difficult issue for him to overcome. Can you think of modern day challenges that impact our ability to love and serve others who may be different?
Has hospitality from followers of Jesus changed your life in some way? Describe how being welcomed in and offered friendship has impacted your relationship with God. In many ways this is a challenge during the COVID-19 season, are there creative ways we can do this today?