When was the last time someone told you you were wrong? If you can't remember, you may have reason to be concerned. Sometimes the most loving thing someone can do for us is point out an error or inconsistency in the way we think or live. The reality that we have remaining sin still inside of us means that we will be wrong. And it means we will inevitably be blind to some of the ways we are wrong. Therefore, God often gives us the perspective we desperately need on ourselves through someone else' eyes, heart, and words. They see something that needs to change or be corrected, and they lovingly tell us the truth. They rebuke us. Love will rebuke us.
Paul had to rebuke Peter once. "When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11). Why? Because Peter (a Jew) caved to pressure from his peers, and refused to eat with Gentile believers. Peter had pioneered the reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles through Jesus (Acts 15:11). He had seen and experienced the barrier-breaking love of God for us through Jesus and his cross (Acts 10:28). It had changed everything, even down to his eating habits (Galatians 2:12).
But Jews started persecuting Christian Jews because of Peter’s eating habits, and so some tried to convince him to stop. Thus, at the very point the Gentile Christians needed him most, Peter withdrew in fear. Christ had purchased these people, the Father had declared them his own, and the Holy Spirit was living inside of them. And Peter abandoned them.
Love Enough to Say the Hard Thing
Paul writes, "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?'" (Galatians 2:14). In short, "Stop it!" Peter, the testimony of your behavior is telling a different gospel, a gospel that will not save anyone. And the false, peer-pressure, racist gospel your conduct tells is winning followers (Galatians 2:13). Remember the true gospel — by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from ethnic barriers — and repent. Bring your public actions back into conformity with the message for which Jesus died.
Based on the rest of the story, Paul's rebuke may have rescued Peter's ministry and the fledgling church (humanly speaking). Peter repented and openly ate with Gentiles again. Because Paul was willing to say the hard thing, to love Peter the inconvenient and less socially acceptable way, a false gospel’s seed was dispelled, and the true gospel was preserved, demonstrated, and spread.