Gal 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (12) For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (13) And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (14) But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
The Apostle Paul rebuked Peter, a fellow Apostle. And he did so “in the presence of all.” The reason for this admonishment was a serious deviation and corruption of the gospel had occurred. Peter, fearing men, was communicating to the Gentiles that they must practice the ceremonial law as well as believe in Christ to be justified. Even though Peter was a friend and fellow Apostle, Paul nevertheless called him out and sternly admonished him.
How a person receives correction is very telling. None of us in our flesh enjoy being corrected. It is humbling. When truthfully and properly given, an admonishment requires me to confess my sin or my error – “Yes, I was not kind. Please forgive me.” “Yes, you are right, I was careless and this is my fault.” Peter was wrong. He sinned. And yet he accepted the rebuke. We know this because later he wrote this: “2Pe 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him…”.
A wicked person will not accept correction. They will blame, excuse, project…anything but confess. They will respond in anger and arrogance as if their own sin were immaterial. All that matters now is that YOU rebuked them and therefore YOU are the problem. Peter could have clung to his sin, turned on Paul, cried and moaned about how Paul rebuked him, and made it all about anyone but himself.
Therefore, how a person responds to correction is very, very telling about the real nature of their character. Someone who is truly humble, even if initially they are defensive and terse, will apologize and admit their error or sin. Why? Because a real Christian loves his brother. His or her love, for instance, for their spouse will override their pain at being rebuked. The wicked only love themselves.
There is real wisdom and help in this. A safe person accepts correction. Even if that correction is given in error, a safe person will not respond in hatred. Where the love of Christ is present in a friendship, as it was in Peter and Paul, there will not be a rejecting spirit which places ego and pride above all else.
There is one other lesson to learn from this Scripture about Paul and Peter. John Calvin puts it this way:
We notice that Paul did not spare Peter, despite the fact that they were friends, and despite the dignity and nobility of Peter’s office [ie, an Apostle], which might have led Paul to overlook the fault. [John Calvin, Sermons on Galatians, Banner of Truth Trust]
In this case, the issue at stake was of such vital importance (the integrity of the gospel) that it could not be ignored nor excused. This makes such situations quite difficult sometimes, doesn’t it? Will my friend still be my friend if I admonish/correct him? Well, the answer to that question is – if he/she is really a Christian, if they therefore truly love me, then yes, they will still be my friend. If not, well then, now I will know. And if I do not correct them, I must ask myself why? Often the answer to that question is simply that I know they do not accept correction, they do not have a pattern of confessing and owning up to their sins and errors. And that means they are not a safe person at all. The love of Christ is not in them.