For before certain men came from James, [Peter] 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. Gal. 2:12
As I was finishing up a meeting with the director of our college campus ministry she could tell that I was hesitant and unsure about a unique opportunity she has just presented to me. So before we parted ways she encouraged me to prayer about it.
I did the good Christian thing you do in those situations and said of course I would. But in my head I was sarcastically thinking, “Sure I’ll ‘pray about it’ (complete with air quotes).” But had already decided that there was no way I was going to do it.
She asked if I would be the focal person for a campus wide evangelism campaign. It was a three-week campaign called the “I Agree with ________.” campaign. During week one of the campaign we would hang up signs all over campus that simply stated, “I Agree with ________.” And the blank was supposed to be filled with only the first name of the individual who would be the focal person of the campaign. So on our campus the signs would read, “I Agree with Bryan.”
The second week of the campaign students from the campus ministry would wear bright-colored shirts that also read, “I Agree with Bryan.” The idea was that the statement, the signs, and the shirts would elicit the questions, “Whose Bryan? Why do these people agree with him? And what does he believe?”
The next stage in the campaign was that the person whose name was on the signs and the shirts would write a statement of faith that would be published in the school newspaper at the end of week two.
The final stage was to invite the entire school to an event on campus where the individual would then share their story of coming to faith in Christ. The idea of participating in this campaign terrified me. I was afraid of what everyone on campus would think of me.
In Galatians 2 Peter’s story takes center stage and he, too, is afraid. He’s afraid of a certain group of men who might think he’s gone off the rails because he’s associating and eating with Gentiles.
At this point in the Christian movement, the big issue facing the church was whether or not Gentiles (non-Jews) could become Christians without first having to convert to Judaism. Both Peter and Paul emphatically said “No.” It was fine for Gentiles to become a Christian without first becoming Jewish. Therefore, the old testament law that kept Jews separate from Gentiles was removed and they could now freely eat together.
And when certain men who disagreed with Peter and Paul show up in Antioch all of a sudden Peter shrinks back out of fear. Perhaps it’s fear that they’ll criticize him or tarnish his reputation. We’re never told the exact reason he’s afraid, but he’s scared enough to publicly go back on his convictions.
I was a freshman in college when my campus director asked me to do the “I Agree with ________.” campaign. At that point I had been a Christian a better part of thirteen years and was fully convinced in my beliefs. I was fine to attend our campus gatherings in private, but was terrified about the idea of making a public profession. Essentially, I was afraid that I would be labeled for the next four years as “that guy who told the campus about Jesus.” I was afraid people would think I was a fool.
Fear of what others might think of us has incredible power in our lives. But it also accentuates that we place more confidence in what other’s might think of us than in what Christ has already said about us.
Scripture tells us that we are the Lord’s joy and delight (Heb. 12:2, Ps. 149:4), that we are His children and that we are fully loved by Him (1 Jn 3:1), and that perfect love drives out fear (1 Jn. 4:18). God has fully disclosed what He thinks of us and it’s personally been shown to us through Jesus.
At this point in Peter’s story he too had been personally told how much Jesus loved him. He’s also received personal revelation about the inclusion of Gentiles in the family of God (Acts 10-11). Yet in one fell swoop, he throws it all away and allows the potential perception of others to control his decision-making.
When we’re ruled by the fear of what others might think about us — whether peers, parents, co-workers, or friends — we give them the place in our lives that only God should occupy. Proverbs 29:25 tells us, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
So this raises the question, what are we to do? How are we supposed to fight against the fear of what others might think?
The answer is to respond in faith, to take the opposite action and reaction that the fear would bring. For Peter, instead of removing himself from table fellowship with Gentiles, he should have kept his butt in that seat and taken to heart the words that Christ had already said to him.
For me, it meant that I needed to step into the “I Agree With ________.” campaign and be ok with the possibility of being labeled a fool for Jesus. And in the end, I did. I eventually said yes to the opportunity.
In the weeks that followed the final event I had numerous people tell me the respected what I did and what I had to say. Sure, there were plenty who thought it was foolish and told me so. I even had a heckler who tried to derail my message about half way through.
But when it was all said and done, I realized that faith trumps fear. Walking by faith isn’t always a peaceful stroll through the park. Sometimes it means we step into new things that are uncertain and a little scary. But we can do so with confidence and courage believing that God’s love for us is more powerful than the criticism of others.
1. What are the things facing you that cause you to be afraid?
2. In what ways are you afraid other people’s perceptions of you?
3. What would it look like for you to walk by faith in those situations?