Galatians 2: Chicken and Waffles

Last week, we got the backstory on a problem Paul was addressing with churches in the region called Galatia (modern day northern Syria and southern Turkey).  He spent years there teaching them about the grace of God taught and modeled by Jesus: we have favor with God based solely on God’s character, and in no way dependent on who we are or what we do.  This was a major departure from the human tendency to try and earn God’s favor or assume God’s favor based on birthright.  The people of the region embraced this Good News, and communities formed (churches).  Not everybody was happy to hear this Good News, however:

Fourteen years after that first visit, Barnabas and I went up to Jerusalem and took Titus with us. I went to clarify with them what had been revealed to me. At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry. Significantly, Titus, non-Jewish though he was, was not required to be circumcised. While we were in conference we were infiltrated by spies pretending to be Christians, who slipped in to find out just how free true Christians are. Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude. We didn't give them the time of day. We were determined to preserve the truth of the Message for you.

     As for those who were considered important in the church, their reputation doesn't concern me. God isn't impressed with mere appearances, and neither am I. And of course these leaders were able to add nothing to the message I had been preaching. - It was soon evident that God had entrusted me with the same message to the non-Jews as Peter had been preaching to the Jews. Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews. The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that. – Galatians 2:1-10 (Message)

The reason Paul continued to give his backstory was clear: he wanted the Galatians to know he had literally gone the extra mile to inform the leaders of the Jesus movement what he was teaching.  He did this not just to inform, but also to make sure he was on the right track.  He left with the blessing of the three biggest names in Christianity: Peter, James (Jesus’ brother), and John.  This is important to note because the “Judaizers” who taught the Galatians after Paul were insisting that they follow Jewish law to keep God’s favor.  In particular, they were calling for the men to become circumcised (which explains the reference to Titus).  Paul wanted the Galatians to know that the authority the Judaizers were claiming was false.  Paul had received this message from God, and that message had been confirmed with the leaders of the church who walked with Jesus personally.

Much to Paul’s surprise, however, he found himself needing to correct Peter, as he mentioned as he continued to write…

Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here's the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That's how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that's been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade.
    But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: "If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you're not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?" – Galatians 2:11-14 (Message)

One of the cool things about going away to college is that with your new-found freedom, you are free to venture out and discover all sorts of establishments you might not if you stayed at home.  Sometimes at 2:00 in the morning, just because you can.  My son, whose eating patterns take after his father’s, led him and his friends into LA one night to discover Roscoes House of Chicken and Waffles.  While it sounds like something born out of the South, its origins come from Harlem in the early 1900’s.  Herb Hudson, a Harlem native, opened up his first store that would be part of an LA chain.  So many stars have been there, it’s practically an institution.  Perhaps Noah, having a lot of Dutch DNA flowing through his veins, felt a pull from this variation of the Pennsylvania Dutch delicacy.  But this African American original take was different: deep fried chicken and waffles with butter and syrup.  An odd combination.  Sounds awesome.  We can’t wait to experience it on our next trip.

You’ve heard the old saying, “you are what you eat.”  I think, perhaps, that Peter ate chicken and waffles a lot.  Poetically, Peter was the character who was chicken and waffles.  Even though he knew intellectually that Jesus taught and lived faith by grace alone, Peter turned into a chicken.  Even though he himself was the direct recipient of that truth from Jesus himself, Peter waffled.  And even though he was among the first of the disciples to cross the aisle to reach the Gentiles, and he himself had to make his case in front of concerned Jewish-Christian leaders only to receive their blessing, when he faced pressure to return to his old ways in Antioch, he went all chicken and waffles.  He was a chicken, and he waffled.

Perhaps you read the account and think to yourself, “What’s the big deal, Paul?”  Turns out Peter’s chicken waffling communicated more than Peter even realized, which is why Paul spelled it out:

    We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over "non-Jewish sinners." We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of [613] rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.

     Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren't perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was "trying to be good," I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.

     What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.

     Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.  – Galatians 2:15-21 (Message)

Chicken Waffling sometimes speaks volumes about who we are and what we really believe.  For Peter, this was more than simply being polite – he was intentionally waffling out of his being a chicken, which spoke volumes about where he was in the process of owning his beliefs.  My guess is that had Paul not called him on it, he might never have seen it, and all those at the church in the city of Antioch would have received the subtle yet strong message: there is a “righter” way.  Or, as Orwell put it, all are created equal, but some are created more equal than others.  The ones born Jews and living by the law are a notch up from all others.  Paul caught and called it.  He did Peter a favor, and corrected the trajectory the Galatian churches were on.  Perhaps Peter recalled Proverb 27:6: Better the wounds of a friend than the kiss of an enemy.  Maybe that helped him with his pride.

Chicken Waffling is a natural reality, and we need community to help us see it, help us work through it, and help us overcome it.  We live in a world that celebrates individuality.  In fact, when individuality is threatened, there’s usually backlash.  Challenge someone’s behavior, and you’re asking for a tweet or two!  Because we live in this kind of cultural reality, we are tempted to pull back from community even though we need it more now than ever.  We all know that without community we are much more vulnerable than when we are surrounded by people who care about us.  Emotional health is stronger when we’re in community.  We are able to get physically healthier with the support of community.  We can do more together than we can alone.  We learn from Peter’s story here that apart from community, we may be blind to our own biases, unable to see them let alone overcome them.  Although probably initially unwelcome, Paul’s public challenge to Peter was a favor to him, and to us and all non-Jewish people forever.

Community provides eyes to help us go deeper, to become healthier and more whole.  I once had dinner with a guy many years ago who claimed to believe that God loved everybody equally and everybody should be treated equally, then went on to use derogatory language about Latinos, African-Americans, women, and LGBTQ folks.  I had been around this guy before, and knew that if challenged, he would balk, pushing the spotlight back on me for being too politically correct.  So you know what I did back then?  I chicken and waffled.  Guess who that helped?  Nobody.  He moved forward not realizing there was a discrepancy between his slurs and the grace of God that came out of his two lips.  I know it is hard to be the voice of grace.  It is difficult to speak an unwelcome word when the pressure is there to maintain the status quo.  But nobody benefits when we do that.  As people who claim to follow Jesus, we are actually called to be proactive agents of grace, which means at times we need to be the voice of restoration and redemption.  Peter blew it; Paul nailed it.  Both faced huge pressure.  One was on the side of restoration, redemption, shalom.  The other was perpetuating momentary peace while everlasting peace loomed.

This chapter leaves with me with a couple of big questions.  First, it makes we reflect on my own Chicken and Waffle tendencies.  This call me into deeper reflection, wondering what I’m afraid of and why I waffle.  If you don’t have any idea about your Chicken and Waffle tendencies, it may be a sign that you are really awesome, or it may be a sign that you have no one in your life who speaks truth to you.  We need community for lots of reasons.  One of those reasons is so that we can have people we trust speak into our lives, helping us see ourselves clearly – even our Chicken and Waffles patters.  Who do you entrust with such a privilege?

The second question it raises for me has to do with the major theological theme of Paul letter to the Galatians: is my faith based on grace alone, or have I added some extras that seem innocuous, but in fact mess the whole thing up?  If you have anything in you that causes you to do something out of fear of losing God’s favor, you’ve got a virus.  If you do anything to win God’s favor, you’ve got a virus.  This could be an act or a behavior.  Furthermore, if you believe you have to believe the right thing to warrant God’s favor – even something like believing in Christ – you’ve got a virus.  A recent example of this unfolded in December in an interview of Timothy Keller, one of Evangelical Christianity’s.  As Christmas approached, the question of the virgin birth came up.  The specific question was, does a person have to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian?  The implication is that if the answer is no, you’re toast – beyond the reach of God’s love.  In other words, the love of God is not based solely on grace, but grace plus confessing the correct doctrine.

On God’s side of the relationship, God’s love for humanity is in no way dependent on anything.  It’s just there.  On our side, it’s a different story.  Believing in Christ doesn’t earn God’s favor, but it sure helps me understand God’s favor and see what walking in the love of God looks like.  This is a far cry from feeling like I must earn God’s favor, or say the right thing to get God to welcome me.  Everything changes when this is our way of being and believing.  A deeper ethic emerges, too – born not out of servitude but from a desire to serve the love of God willingly and joyfully.

So, when and where do you Chicken and Waffles?  What’s it mean?