The last conversation had us looking at how GOD changed Peter’s mission and focus from ministering strictly to fellow Jews, to reaching out to the Gentile’s (Non-Jews) around him. This might seem pretty obvious to us looking backward over 2000 years, but at the time, it was a pretty big deal. You have to understand the culture at the time. Christ was born a Jew, preached to the Jewish community, so initially, all of the converts were from a Jewish background, so the assumption was that they would keep their traditions intact, just change the focus of their worship. There’s a lot wrong with that assumption. As with all assumptions, the concept is pretty faulty. In the military, there is a saying: “when you assume, you make an ass out of U and Me”, and while that may sound a bit harsh and rude, it’s the truth. Personally speaking, whenever I’ve made assumptions about relationships, people, faith, jobs, etc, I’ve been horribly wrong. The same can be said about some of the early church (and for that matter, people today) that believed that Christ came for a select few (the Jews) and that they needed to focus only on them. Jesus said in Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”, there is no qualifier in that statement, no “But” or “only if” statement. Christ came to seek and save the lost……period. John 3:16 states: “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The SON came to save the world…period. So, initially, because of faulty assumptions, there was misunderstanding, conflict and probably some people who were a bit, well, we’ll just say “put off” because Peter reached out to the “unclean”. Let’s take a look at how Peter handled it, it’s a great example of how to deal with conflict within the body.
The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him 3 and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
Hmmmm…….interesting. So, one of the leading Apostles (a man who was widely considered one of Jesus’s closest friends, who had seen more than most disciples and even some of the other 12, the only other Disciple to come close to being that intimate with Jesus is John) comes back from a mission trip and is criticized for eating and ministering to Gentiles. I’m sure Peter was a bit flabbergasted (i really like that word for some reason) and frustrated. He probably felt elated and that he had just done what GOD had directed him to do, and now he’s getting crap (that’s the only thing you can call it really, let’s be honest here) from fellow believers who misunderstood his intentions. Yes, Jewish law forbade having a relationship of any kind with non Jews and even had rules procedures for every day business dealings with them, but at the same time Christ said to go out into ALL the world and preach the gospel. How do you do that unless you go out and eat with them and meet them where they are? How does Peter handle it? With bold tact-fulness. I’m sure in the” old days” he might have lost his temper or maybe in a passive aggressive manner, reacted to their criticism, but GOD had changed him over the three years. How does he handle it? He starts at the beginning.
4 Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. 6 I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles and birds. 7 Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’
8 “I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’
9 “The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.
11 “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. 14 He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’
15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with[a] water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
How did Peter handle it? By telling the truth. He told them about his vision, the “circumstances” that brought the strangers to him, and then he showed his results. Then he left them with a statement that we as Christians need to remember when dealing with “the lost”, that statement is in vs 17, which in a nutshell is: who am I to stand in the way of GOD? Conflict/misunderstandings within the body of CHRIST get in the way of GOD, and we need to realize that and get over ourselves and get out of GOD’s way. That’s an easy statement to make, harder to carry out especially when we have our egos, feelings, and reputations that we all deal with. I don’t have a “three-step process” or “5 ways Peter show’s us how to deal with conflicts” or even “principles to use when….” to put out there to make it seem that I have figured it all out, because I haven’t. I just know from experience that conflict and misunderstanding within the church body is inevitable because we’re human, we make mistakes, and though we should be doing everything in prayer, most often we’re flying by the seat of our pants and hoping GOD is fanning the wind to keep us aloft. What I do learn from Peter is this:
1. Start from the beginning. If criticism or misunderstanding from others seemingly comes from nowhere, start from the beginning and share your vision, your heart, and intention. Don’t get defensive, self-righteous, condescending, passive aggressive, etc, just be honest, open, and humble.
2. Be detailed. Peter gave the whole vision, the details, the results, the circumstances. Include who shares the vision and why. When others buy into your vision, you’re not alone. Peter had six others that went with him and saw the amazing thing GOD did among the Gentiles.
3. Let GOD do the “fighting”. If GOD is in it, HE can handle any fighting that has to be done, we just have to show up and speak what HE lays on our hearts. Peter said it best when he said: “who am I to stand in God’s way?”
Ok, so I had three things, but that’s what GOD showed me, there’s probably more or you could be saying “Kevin, you’re an idiot and that’s the stupidest thing ever”, and it probably is. Bottom line is, Peter faced his critics and spoke the truth that GOD had laid on his heart and stayed true to his vision. He didn’t run, or didn’t fold at the first sign of criticism but faced it. It’s a lesson I need to learn….badly. In this case, Peter “won” a victory, well, maybe “won” is the wrong word, the result of this confrontation was Acts 11:18:
18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Conflict ended, resolution positive. The others understood that GOD had directed Peter to a new mission and now the gospel was spreading to the world. Conflict resolution brought a spiritual revolution. Conflict is not always bad, sometimes it’s necessary to confront false assumptions, when we do that in a respectful, prayerful manner with the goal of finding GOD’s best way through the conflict, then a spiritual revolution happens and change occurs. When we do it by the seat of our pants and often go with assumptions and feelings, revolution and change occurs also, but there’s a lot of wounded and desolation that happens as well, and while the outcome may end up positive, in the interim there’s a lot of healing to be done. The take-away for me from this conversation is that the next conflict I’m involved with (because I’m human and it’s inevitable) is to go about it with process of seeking GODLY resolution and not to burn bridges.
We’re almost done with our conversations with Peter. There’s one more left and then the focus of the book of Acts turns to Paul and his missionary journeys, there may be a few side comments about Peter, and Peter also wrote two books that are awesome topics to look at, but for the most part there’s only one more chapter left in this. We’ll take a look at it….soon.