The first, Simon, who is called Peter — Lessons in leadership
The importance of knowing Simon1 is vital to understanding him as an apostle, and understanding his role in the first century ecclesia. To take lessons from his life and role without a correct understanding of his personality and his characteristics, would be a mistake. The context of such understanding in any real-life situation can change your conclusions about the motive and reasons behind the actions. So I will focus on his character as we discuss his vital role as leader, first of the twelve apostles, and then of the early church.
To begin with, we need to put Simon Peter in a position to which we can relate. I know I often find it difficult to empathize when I’m studying the lives of Biblical men and women. I tend to see them as dynamic characters in an interesting book, rather than as real humans who lived lives with the same principles and goals as we have.
The problem we face looking from our perspective, and making conclusions before thinking about the information we have been given about Peter, is that we remove ourselves from the thick of the action, and create our own conclusions based on a few small scenarios. This is the mistake Jack Zavada made on the christianity.about.com website; and without seeming presumptive, it is the same mistake that many Christadelphians who have studied Peter also seem to have made. Jack described Peter as, “…a rough-and-tumble man whose emotions often got him into trouble… His aggressiveness made Peter a natural spokesman for the twelve. Often, however, he spoke before he thought, and his words led to embarrassment.”
People see Peter as a spontaneous lightning bolt, an irrational, hyperactive disciple, the ‘big brother’ to the sons of thunder. Now, a lot of things Jesus did do not make immediate sense to us; like giving the money bag to the man most likely to abuse the privilege; but choosing an “irrational, hyperactive, ask questions later” type character to “feed his sheep,” the sheep he lived for every day, and for which he sacrificed everything, does not seem to add up at all.
Peter was a family man; he ran a business with his cousins, he was married, and his home life was shared with his brother and his wife’s mother. Before we even get past these introductive details, the character profile does not seem to fit. A man who is not in control of his mouth or his actions would not last long in a family business, let alone in a small, cozy house with his mother-in-law.
The character of Peter
I believe the first real picture we get into Peter’s true character is shown at his calling. Jesus saw him fishing with his brother, and asked him to be one of his disciples. Immediately, right then and right there, Peter left his nets, and followed Jesus. Peter knew his business and income were not an eternal method of providing for his family, and he trusted Jesus, and was fiercely loyal to him from this moment on.
Consider the result of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Matthew 8. Peter, and a large amount, if not all of his business, had closed as they have committed themselves to the service and discipleship of Christ. He would have already been feeling some pressure on his responsibility as a husband to provide for his household, and then his mother-in-law falls sick with a fever, a life threatening situation in those times. Jesus intervenes and heals her, and I don’t think it’s a mistake that it tells us that “she arose, and ministered unto them” (Matt 8:14). This would have meant a huge amount to Peter, and we’ll see, that from this moment onwards, his appreciation of Jesus, and his loyalty and love for him was on an immeasurable scale.
There is the situation where he wanted to be with Jesus more than anything else, and walked across water to be with him. Then in Mark 8:29 he declares his belief in Christ and his role as the Messiah; but the intensity of his devotion to Jesus, and a small picture into the closeness of their friendship is portrayed in verse 32 after Jesus has told him about how he will be killed. Peter can’t bear the thought of what Jesus has told him is going to happen, and the literal translation is that he physically takes hold of Jesus, and forbids him to go any further. There is nothing irrational or overzealous about this. This is a man, who loves his friend, and doesn’t want to see harm come to him. There is an attribute of a shepherd being portrayed, but as Jesus explains, Peter’s feelings on a human level will interfere with the greater purpose that is being fulfilled. Jesus would have loved to remain with his disciples too, you can see this by the language of his prayer in John 17, and seeing Peter visibly upset would have only exacerbated this normal human emotion.
Peter was utterly loyal and completely confident in his friendship with Jesus. He could not have loved Jesus more, because he was prepared to die for him (John 15:13). Many would contest this due to the three denials. But if we consider the situation in the Garden when the mob comes to take Jesus, even if every disciple had weapons, it wouldn’t take a mighty general to explain that their chances would have been close to nil. Peter knew that as he drew his sword and took a deadly swing at one of the high priest’s men, it meant that it was open season for them to retort with the same.
“Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10-11).
It was the unexpected response of Jesus that put Peter into a helpless position so far as human efforts were concerned, and this is what I believe lead to his fear in the courtyard. The fear stemmed from his not knowing what to do. His reaction to this circumstance was for self-preservation, because in his mind, the only way of saving Jesus had gone, and he at that immediate time, did not recall or perhaps understand the greater work that was being completed.
Hopefully looking at these few early situations from a fresh perspective leaves the picture of the rash, act-without-thinking, aggressive Peter, far in the back of your minds; and instead, a much more realistic picture, of a natural leader, devoted to family, compulsively attracted to Christ, a man whose intense passion for his master, and naturally protective personality — both more than appropriate on a human level. These characteristics had to raise his mind, and look to things further than the present, and further than the loyalty of a mortal friendship.
This change in the life of Peter, brought about by a massive blow to his expectations, was what caused him to become a true rock in the early ecclesia.
When we look at ‘natural born’ leaders in today’s world, they are strong willed, motivated, and confident in their abilities. Their resolve in turn instills focus and determination in their employees that either the corporate chain, or the local territory’s food chain, put in their hands.
The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1Cor 3:19) and it is the will of God that the ignorance of foolish men should be put to silence (1Pet 2:15). It is very evident from these statements, and the example of Christ’s choice of ecclesial leader in Peter, that just because somebody would be seen to be a leader in the things of this mortal life, their position does not carry over to the things which are eternal. It is so often the case that the wisest advice, and the strongest encouragement, comes from the feeblest of the elderly, or the freshest of spiritual newborns.
This is not to say that a natural ability, useful for progression in secular areas of this life, is worthless to God. Some would suggest the opposite in the example given in the parable of the talents (the pun in English is quite ironic). What it does mean to say however, is that we cannot by our natural abilities earn a position of leadership in the ecclesia, rather it is the role of a servant we are all required to contribute. Unfortunately due to the extent of the liberalities taken by some, there would probably be retort if I did not point out that our contributions need to be within certain bounds when expressed publicly; the very obvious example is that for the sake of maintaining the symbol of Christ’s headship, women’s and men’s contributions are different in an ecclesia. (This may seem to be a tangent, however Peter gives direct advice towards it in regard to exhibiting true leadership within marriage, reflecting into the ecclesia — 1 Peter 3.)
The advice of Peter
Over his two epistles, Peter gives much valuable advice to us.
To those who lead for their own gain (2Pet 2:3-4). This might be through covetousness, or a desire to have greater position and honour amongst the brethren; saying what they need to say to acquire their brethren’s admiration and receive in turn an ego boost. Basically it says in verse 4, it isn’t worth it, because James 3:1 applies directly. They will be judged more strictly.
To the elders (beginning of 1Pet 5). Feed the flock, not because you feel like you have to, or because it satisfies you to do so, but because you willingly desire to help feed the flock. Don’t do your role by acting as though you are the master, controlling and being a subjugator, but instead, undertake your role as an example, in humble service, demonstrating a pattern that is useful to follow.
To the youthful, be obedient to the elder (Christ). Live your own life for other people, in a way that is truly humble. Because a proud person repels from God, but a humble person receives humility.
Peter certainly backed his advice for the elders with the example that he showed. But in regard to his own role as the rock which Christ used to build his ecclesia on, it is very interesting to see just how he went about it.
1 Peter 2 describes the way Peter saw the whole rock metaphor, and it shows exactly why Christ chose him. There is nothing about himself in there, but instead, he directs the audience to look at the cornerstone, and model themselves on that. This is the sign of a true and humble spiritual leader. Someone who is willing to sacrifice their life, literally, or in the giving of time and energy to encouraging their fellow brethren and sisters. You’ll notice his positive direction towards those who are disobedient in verse 7, encouraging them, because this new spiritual house is capable of reshaping stones that may not have been the right fit the first time around.
A true leader, even one selected by Christ, doesn’t point at them self and say, “copy me,” they direct the attention to the real head of our worldwide ecclesia and say, “attain to that way of life.” They gently correct, and regularly count the sheep to ensure that none are missing.
Peter demonstrated that this is a role that all who have received the free gift are required to undertake. There are always sheep in the flock that need feeding, and there are plenty of desolate ones that need to belong to the flock of Christ.
“Be always ready to give an answer of the hope that is in your heart” (2Pet 3:9-10).
“For the Lord is not slack concerning his promise… and the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night” (1Pet 3:15).
“…are you my friend? Feed my sheep” (John 21:17) — Jesus
Tobias Knowles (Southern Vales, Australia)Notes: 1. Simon undoubtedly was his birth name, but he was named Peter by Jesus himself: see John 1:42.