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Galatians: Table Fellowship

Updated: Jun 24

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Our culture is often so busy that many families do not sit down and experience a meal together. Families run from sun up to well past sundown. From work, we pick up the kids, head to practice, and quickly stop at the house for a few hours of downtime as we try to rest. The next day is often a repeat of the day before. In saying this, I am not trying to be critical. I'm just describing a reality that is true for many families. Table fellowship is quickly becoming something that is lost in our culture.

The table has also been a place of division, often a place of segregation, classism, and exclusion.

The Romans had complex dining etiquette, which reflected social hierarchy and status. Knowledge and adherence to these protocols were essential for maintaining one's social standing and demonstrating one's upbringing and education. Seating arrangements were highly structured, with the most honored guests seated in specific positions. It was taboo to ignore or challenge these arrangements, as doing so would be disrespectful to the host and the social order. Understanding and adhering to these customs was crucial for maintaining one's reputation and social standing in Roman society. Violations could result in social ostracism or damage one's status and relationships.

In the first century, Jews would refrain from eating with Gentiles due to religious and cultural differences rooted in their laws and traditions, particularly concerning ritual purity and maintaining their distinct identity as God's chosen people. Several passages in the New Testament reflect this practice and the tensions it created within the early Christian community. In Acts 10:28, Peter addresses this issue directly when he visits the Gentile Cornelius, acknowledging, "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean." For a Jewish person in the first century, not eating with Gentiles was rooted in a desire to maintain purity and distinctiveness.

In the United States, particularly during the Jim Crow era spanning the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, segregation laws enforced the separation of facilities for white people and people of color. This systemic racism mandated distinct and often unequal provisions, including separate tables in restaurants and water fountains. African Americans were frequently relegated to inferior amenities, a stark reflection of the broader social and legal discrimination they faced. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, through persistent activism and landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ultimately dismantled these segregationist practices, marking a pivotal shift towards racial equality.

In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul has just told us about the fellowship in the Gospel he shared with leaders in Jerusalem. In this meeting, they recognized how the Gospel was for the circumcised as well as the uncircumcised. It seems like Paul takes a hard shift as we continue our studies.

The Text


Galatians 2:11–14 (NIV)

"When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he 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. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"

I recently read Andy Stanley's book Communicating For A Change. In it, he discusses avoiding hard turns. As a speaker, you should prevent sudden lane changes, such as exiting the freeway at the last minute and throwing your passenger into the side glass window. Instead, make a smooth transition or lane change so your passenger expects the transition and can follow along with you. Although this is an excellent book on communication, Paul makes a sudden lane change in our text, or so it seems. Paul moves from discussing the fellowship he enjoyed with Peter and the other leaders in Jerusalem to opposing Peter publicly. Why?


Paul challenges Peter because he understands Peter's actions to be hypocritical. The word hypocrisy, used here in our text, is a rare word in the Scriptures; it is used only here. The Greek word συνυποκρίνομαι (sunupokrinomai) is a compound verb and literally means "to join in hypocrisy" or "to act hypocritically together." Peter pretends to be something he is not, and his play-acting pulls in others to join him (2:13).

Peter is acting inconsistently with the Gospel he has received. Peter has witnessed firsthand the forgiveness, grace, and mercy extended to the Gentiles. In (Acts 10), Peter is directed by the Spirit to go to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile. God has shown Peter that he should not call anyone impure or unclean that God has made clean (Acts 10:9-1728). While speaking of Jesus, Peter witnessed God's mercy and the Holy Spirit given to all in Cornelius' house. 

Acts 10:44–48 (NIV)

"While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, "Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days."

Peter understands "... how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right" (Acts 10:34-35). However, at Antioch, fear and peer pressure have him acting in a way inconsistent with the Gospel of Christ.

Table Fellowship

A quiet revolution happened among Christian communities in the first century—a revolution around the table. Today, as we come together to take the Lord's Supper, it's almost as if we are losing the significance of the table. In our busy, rushed lives, we rather expediently take a small piece of wafer and a quick sip of grape juice as we move on to the next order of worship. However, around the table in the first century, the Gospel was on display. Racism, classicism, and barriers of division were broken down as they set as one around the table. 

created with Midjourney | by Steve Ellis

Galatians 3:26–29 (NIV)

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

While at first, it looks like Paul has taken a hard exit off the freeway, reflecting on his words, we find that he has not. In the Gospel of Christ, Jews, and Gentiles form one New Covenant family. And there is no more apparent expression of the Gospel than around the table.

Crossing The Context

It's difficult for me to judge Peter's actions too harshly or to think over-critically of him. From childhood, Peter was taught and lived according to his father's customs, traditions, and laws. However, with the coming of the Kingdom, a revelation was born—a revelation to unite as one under Messiah Jesus.

In the church, we can't play act. The table is not the place for distinctions or exercising power and control. Table fellowship is the Gospel displayed. It is where we can visibly see the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ in the faces of our brothers and sisters.

The lesson is to look deeply at our motivations. Do fears drive us? Are we holding on to past prejudices? Is our desire for power and control? These motivations are antithetical to the Gospel and inconsistent with the Kingdom of God. In Jesus, we are one covenant family. 

Around the table, do we demonstrate the Gospel, or do we act inconsistently?


Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from: ”Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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