Peter is the first New Testament preacher we see doing the ministry of God’s word after Jesus’ public preaching ministry. Peter is the rock upon whom Christ is building His church and Jesus told Peter that He was giving to Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:18-19). Peter is the chief apostle and the one to whom and through whom Christ gave the responsibility to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17). We can be confident that Peter is one of God’s chosen people and that he has a very specific and conspicuous role in God’s building of His own church. He had much zeal and was probably both passionate and charismatic. God’s ministry through Peter is, by any definition, successful- both quantitatively and qualitatively, reaching even to our modern times.
Yet, Scripture is careful to point out Peter’s insufficiencies. He tried to stand in the way of God’s redemptive plan directly following his confession of Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:22). He was easily angered and had violent tendencies (John 18:10). He also denied Christ three times (Matthew 26:69-75). Peter is portrayed as, perhaps, the disciple who had the weakest character and the most inconsistent behavior prior to Christ’s ascension. If he were to be diagnosed by a psychologist today, Peter would almost surely be diagnosed as having some sort of acute bipolar paranoia. Of course, we would all be diagnosed with something. Peter swings between being willing to die for what he believes in and denying what he believes in out of fear for his life in the same moment. So, if Peter participated with us in writing on an index card to place inside the front cover of his preaching Bible, these are the things that would be listed. Like us, he would have to write Jesus’ name in red marker over his own insufficiencies and sins. Here we see every reason why the apostle Peter should not have been in ministry and the one reason he should have.
Peter was not cured of his insufficiencies at Christ’s ascension. Even well into his ministry, after he came to know both Barnabas and Paul (at least three or four years after Christ’s ascension), Peter still exhibited some of these tendencies. He was unable to overcome them. For whatever reason, even though Peter belonged to Christ and was being used in a mighty way, sin lingered.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
There are several things we might notice in this passage.
- First, Paul writes that Peter (Cephas) stood condemned because he was sinning.
- Peter was siding with the Judiazers.
- Peter, who experienced God’s grace and was a recipient of God’s saving grace, digressed into supporting a form of works-based righteousness or system of merit.
- Peter was not being straightforward about the truth of the Gospel.
- Peter was being a hypocrite.
- Paul reminded Peter that people are not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ, and that
- if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.
Here, we see a place in Scripture where it is recorded that Peter, the chief apostle, out of his own desire to be accepted (or fear of not being accepted) forsook the truth of the Gospel to support a different Gospel. He became, in one instance, a false teacher or at least a supporter of false teaching. He was still saved. Christ did not forsake him. He retained his position as chief apostle. If Christianity was a system of merit, Peter would have disqualified himself from ministry. By every indication considering the importance of sound doctrine, Peter would have disqualified himself as a Christian. This is one reason we can be sure that salvation, sanctification, and our positions in Christ’s church are by grace alone. The blood of Christ really and truly covers every inadequacy, every weakness, every sin, and every momentary departure from the truth of His Gospel.
The truth of God’s grace is amazing. We don’t have to overcome addictions for Christ to save us, sanctify us, and use us in the building of His kingdom. We can’t first overcome our anger issues or our youthful, rash zeal. We are going to get some things wrong, and I know I have. If our insufficiencies and weaknesses and sins remind us of our humble estate and drive us more and more to the throne of grace, then they have accomplished their purpose. By God’s own grace and mercy, we will be sanctified by Him and conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ- who is the only truly righteous one.
So, for any pastor or preacher or teacher, we know that we do the ministry of God’s word from a place of humility by God’s grace and according to God’s own design. When we notice our own insufficiencies, weaknesses, and even sins, we can be encouraged that even the apostle Peter had his struggles. Yet, God builds His church upon His ministry through Peter and does not forsake him. Our place in God’s ministry is by His grace through faith.