“But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?'” (Galatians 2:14).
As noted in the passage quoted above, Paul the Apostle was not afraid to correct others when necessary. Whether the issue involved false teaching, sexual immorality, or other sinful behaviors within the church, Paul did not hesitate to address those concerns wherever he encountered them. Paul was honest and forthright even when dealing with a matter that involved a fellow apostle: “…when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing for it was very wrong” (Galatians 2:11 TLB).
The public nature of that rebuke is something that warrants closer attention. For instance, Jesus established the following guidelines for addressing issues that arise between fellow Christians….
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17 NLT).
So why didn’t Paul follow that procedure in this situation? Well, we can start by noting that Peter was an established leader within the church. Furthermore. his decision to isolate non-Jewish Christians for not keeping the Old Testament law was a serious issue. You see, that decision effectively added something to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, a fact that was readily acknowledged by those who held that belief: “…‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).
Finally, Peter’s decision led several others to follow his hypocritical example. That group included Barnabas, another well-known and respected leader within the first-century church. For these reasons, Paul employed a corrective principle that differed from the one given to us in Matthew 18. Paul clarified that principle in 1 Timothy 5:19-20: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” That approach would help stem the tide of false teaching that threatened the first-century church.