“…for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision.”
for before certain men came from James,
This phase does not necessarily imply that these “certain men” came with James’ blessing. James declared himself clearly on the principle of Gentiles coming to Christ in Acts 15:19.
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God…” (Acts 15:19).
he would eat with the Gentiles;
Before these men came from James, Peter had been in Antioch for a period. Peter established a pattern of regularly eating with the Gentiles (imperfect tense). The Lord taught Peter that what a man eats does not defile him (Mark 7:18,19). He also received direct revelation about Gentile acceptance in the plan of God (Acts 10:34). He was present at the Jerusalem Council that declared itself on this issue (Acts 15:8-11).
It was clear that Peter believed in grace for salvation and living the Christian life. He sat down with grace believers to eat fried chicken on paper plates. He developed a real liking for pork and chicken. Everything was lovely [except for the ants] until Peter sees a deputation coming from Jerusalem. He then separated himself from grace Christians unobtrusively as possible.
but when they came, he withdrew
Peter did two things when the legalists came from Jerusalem: 1) withdrew and 2) separated himself. Peter rolled up his sail of grace. The presence of the legalists made him so timid that he concealed his belief in grace. He held himself back from fully walking in grace.
Secular Greek used the term “withdrew” for a strategic military retreat. Peter refused to take an essential stand for truth, so he strategically withdrew from the grace principle.
Truth always takes precedence over practicality.
Whenever a Christian ceases to operate on the principle of grace because of some supposed fear, he ceases to operate on truth and gives in to the pressure of all-encompassing practicality. This would mean that the practical is more important than the truth.