Sometimes it’s inevitable; that clash of strong willed people. And, to be honest, it’s a good thing IF you have the discernment to mine the gold in such events!
The truth is conflict is unavoidable IF you actually hold to timeless principles. The inevitable spirit of the age that dismisses even the notion of timeless truths demands the eventual clash of that which is temporary with that which is not. Unless, of course, your commitment to timeless truths is mere lip service. Then you’ll just keep retreating until you are a part of the ideology you once opposed.
Look at our lesson today in Galatians 2:11-16:
Brethren, when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about 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 compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified.
OK, so let’s set up the scene here. The early Christian community is dealing with the seismic shift in message that even Gentiles (non-Jews) could become followers of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. And even if the Church had balked at this at first, the reality of the Gentiles converting to the Christian faith was unstoppable. Thank God!
Now, of course, this set up an inevitable and “good” (though not “pleasant”) conflict with those Christians from Jewish descent who still cherished and rightly valued their cultural and even religious traditions. The Gentile converts don’t have that same history, nor have they actually ever practiced the dietary “kosher” disciplines that were natural and common to the Hebrew Christians. Got it?
And this meant there would be a clash! And there was!
Sts. Peter and Paul are enjoying this fellowship and both of the men are eating non-Kosher during these meals with the parish. But, when some Hebrew Christians came from the home church in Jerusalem, St. Peter switched to the Kosher only table! Of course, St. Paul strongly objected to what he perceived as hypocrisy from Peter and the conflict ensued! My own namesake, St. Barnabas, got caught up in this mess and switched to the Kosher foods with Peter. You see, the Church had not yet settled how to form these Gentile believers in daily practice and the controversy was raging whether Gentiles had to become practicing Jews before they could be fully Christian and follow Christ.
St. Paul sees the dangers of not addressing this situation because it potentially could put at risk the timeless message of the Resurrected Christ! You know, the message that says “whosoever will” can come to Him and be His follower. St. Paul insisted that it was precisely this hypocrisy of living like a Gentile by Peter and Barnabas and some of the other Hebrew Christians and then them switching to Kosher when the brothers came from the “mother church” that communicated the exact opposite message to the young Christians there in Antioch, and ultimately could lead to creating a “second class citizenship” in the Church. The Church did, eventually, deal with this in Acts 15:13-21!
Today, where are you avoiding necessary conflict that is meant to lead you to changes that get your life unstuck? Don’t be afraid. God loves you and knows where you are. Face the conflict with the sure knowledge there is so much treasure there for you. Handle the conflict with grace, patience and courage, and don’t let truth be the casualty of your fear! This is at the heart of being Orthodox on purpose!
P.S. Happy Church New Year a few days late! May God grant us a Purposeful Orthodox Church Year!