The Most Important Quality Of Leadership
Has Nothing To Do With Ability
Why did Peter deny Jesus? That’s a good question.
Everything we know about Peter, up to the point when he denied Jesus, indicates he was a stalwart.
Peter was loyal, thoughtful, determined, and faithful. Nothing about him said Flake and yet, he did deny Jesus.
If it could happen to him, could it happen to you and me? Are we better than Peter or should we pay careful attention so we can avoid the same tragic mistake?
Discovering Peter’s Fail Point
In my last post, I compared Peter to both the Pharisees and to Jesus and from the comparison, it became clear that he was different to both, kind of in a no man’s land.
We tend to think of Peter as being on Jesus’ side but if anything, he was more at odds with Jesus than with the Pharisees. Not a good place to be.
We learn a big lesson from that observation. Just because you think you oppose those who oppose Jesus, doesn’t mean you’re in the right. And your thoughts on the matter may be completely wrong.
Thoughts, Thinking, Ideas
Keep that in mind. Thoughts, thinking, and ideas are the focus in this post.
Peter thought he opposed the ideas of the Pharisees but was actually more like the Pharisees than Jesus.
He wasn’t on either side. He actually opposed both.
The question is why was he like this? How did Peter go so badly wrong? What was his fail point? Can we put a name to his sin?
He was clearly in the middle and that contributed to his failure, but we need to observe closely to determine exactly how and why he failed.
That is my intent in this post. Let’s start with Peter’s bio.
- Named Peter in John 1:42
We call him Peter so much we just assume that’s his name but it wasn’t. He was named Simon at birth and Jesus nicknamed him Peter the first time he saw him.
The two first met in the area where John the Baptist preached and baptized (the wilderness). That’s an important observation because Peter was a fisherman who lived in northern Galilee. We don’t know the exact point along the Jordan River, but this meeting had to take place anywhere from 50 to 70 miles from Peter’s home.
He wasn’t in the area for an afternoon picnic. He went there to be baptized and to hear John preach about the Messiah. He was a spiritually-minded Israelite who took the time and made the effort to hear the message.
This first meeting was more than a courteous how do you do. There’s no doubt this was the moment Peter became a believer.
It is also the occasion when Jesus pointed out an important fact about Peter: he was a natural-born leader. The word peter (Cephas in Aramaic and Petros in Greek) was a well-defined word before it was a name. The word means stone.
Jesus was calling Peter a stone or a rock but why? I would suggest it was not because he was hard-headed and inflexible but because he had obvious natural leadership abilities.
As we study Peter in the Gospels we see that he was the clearly designated and accepted leader of the Apostles and later the disciples.
This is important for later observations about Peter’s responses.
- Peter became a committed disciple in Luke 5.
By committed disciple, I’m referring to students who trained to become religious leaders and did so by staying with recognized Rabbis 24/7, following them everywhere they went and learning from them by hearing what they said and observing what they did. It was literally a full-time effort.
As a committed disciple, Peter was one of those full-time trainees.
This was a big decision to make, especially for a grown man with a family and work responsibilities but, once Jesus called him, Peter didn’t hesitate. And others followed his example.
Peter was the first of four to make this commitment. Andrew, James, and John made the commitment immediately after Peter. Would they have been so willing had Peter not committed first? We can’t say for certain but we do know that Peter had great influence in that small group of disciples.
- Peter became an Apostle in Luke 6.
The record is straightforward. Jesus prayed all night and then called His group of full-time disciples together. From that group, He selected twelve to be Apostles.
The important observation is that in every account of this event, Peter was named first in each list of Apostles, a subtle but obvious reference to his leadership of the group.
- Peter showed great spiritual insight.
We can’t say that Peter was the first Apostle to recognize Jesus as the Messiah but we can say that he was the first to give voice to the idea.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples two important questions.
- Whom do men say that I am?
- And, whom do you say that I am?
The first question was answered by group response. No single disciple is named. The answer came from the “Disciples” but the second question was answered immediately and emphatically by Peter.
Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God! (Matt. 16:16)
And Jesus took advantage of this moment to further highlight Peter’s place in the group.
Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matt. 16:17-18)
It was Peter’s leadership qualities that gave him the courage to speak up.
This was not an easy thing for anyone to admit to. All the disciples suspected Jesus was the Messiah. They all wanted it to be true. Many others did too, but it is something else entirely to publicly commit to the idea even before close-knit friends.
There was danger involved in confessing Jesus publicly but there was more to it than that. What if your friends disagree? What if you’re proven wrong? Peter’s certitude suggests he wasn’t bothered by any of that.
It also suggests that he was the guy leading and everyone else was following.
There’s a lot of discussion about who the rock is and what this means. I won’t take up space entertaining all the ideas.
Suffice it to say that Simon was once again referred to as the rock (on that everyone agrees) and it is on this example of rock-like faith, clear-sighted vision, and unshakable commitment to Jesus that the church will be built.
- Peter failed badly.
No one expected this. If anything, Peter was the one disciple no one expected to fail. He was the rock. The solid, staunch, assured leader and everyone followed his example.
I can’t imagine how Peter felt at the moment of failure. The Bible says he wept bitterly. I think that is an understatement. You can read about it in Luke 22:54-62.
The good news is Jesus knew he would fail, had warned Peter about it, and even indicated he would recover.
That’s encouraging to know but I’m sure Peter would rather have avoided this humility if possible. More to the point, I believe the example of his failure is included so we can learn and possibly avoid the same experience.
The question remains. What specifically made Peter vulnerable to this kind of lapse?
Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about leadership. It’s a popular topic.
Google “Leadership” and you’ll get millions of pages of search results, too many to peruse completely. Most of those pages will deliver lists of qualities associated with capable leadership and how to develop them.
As an example, the following is from just one page. The address isn’t necessary. They’re all very similar.
These qualities only define leadership ABILITY. Most discussions focus on leadership ability and miss the most important element which is DIRECTION.
Take away direction and Charles Manson, Hitler, and every other crazy was a good leader. All of them were capable leaders They effectively led groups of people to where they wanted them to go.
That’s how we define leadership ability. Leaders are able when they move groups from point A to point B. We consider them good based on point B. Is it in the right place or does it lead them astray?
There’s no question that Peter was a capable leader but there is quite a bit of evidence showing he was headed in the wrong direction.
Peter’s Sin Was Ideological
Direction has to do with ideology. We love ideas. We think up ideas, share ideas, promote ideas, and sell out to the ideas we believe in the most.
That’s exactly what Peter did. He believed in Jesus but that wasn’t the problem. He failed because he had expectations about Jesus that sounded really great but were totally off point.
He failed to connect Jesus the Savior with Jesus the Teacher.
Jesus was the King and Peter understood that. What Peter couldn’t accept was the timing. He wanted Jesus to sit on the throne in his day and was prepared to do what the world has always done to establish and maintain kingdoms, fight!
In Peter’s mind, he had a morally sound idea, fight for Jesus, but he had no justification for that fight.
Ideas are the problem. We develop good ideas about how we think things should be and then begin posturing for a fight when people don’t respect those ideas.
For the record, good ideas have been the downfall of humanity from the very start.
- Every human is born with a sinful nature because Eve gave in to a good idea.
And it really was a good idea! She was promised wisdom and health if she ate the forbidden fruit. The fruit was good for food, meaning it was nutritious. Health, wisdom, knowledge, and experience are desirable.
Learning and growing aren’t just allowed, they are commanded. We are called to get wisdom and apply wisdom.
The good idea obscured the fact that God said don’t eat of this particular tree. We know the end of the story.
- The middle east is embroiled in conflict because Abraham gave into a good idea.
Sara struggled to get pregnant. As a solution to this problem, Abraham tried to get rid of her. He put her in position to be desired by Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and sure enough, Pharaoh wanted her in his harem. Abraham agreed.
To keep the story short, God thwarted that plan but the attempt made things worse for Sara. She was barren before the trip to Egypt. Now she also knows she is unwanted.
In an attempt to gain affirmation, Sara suggested Abraham bear children by her handmaid, Hagar. I don’t know exactly what Abraham was thinking (I have a good idea) but I do know that Sara was NOT serious. She wanted a hug and reassurance and got a child by another woman instead.
She was angry with Abraham for the next thirteen years after Ishmael was born.
More importantly, there’s been conflict between the descendants of Issac, Sara’s child, and Ishmael, Hagar’s child, ever since.
Abraham thought Sara’s suggestion was a good idea. God said he would be a great nation and this seemed like an opportunity to get things started. His siblings had been having children for 35 or more years while he sat with a barren wife. Why not help God out? Have a child by Hagar. Sounds like a good idea.
- Jesus taught us exactly how to avoid ideological tripups.
After Jesus fasted for forty days, the devil tempted Him in several ways.
He first suggested Jesus turn stones into bread. If you’re eating regularly and have a cupboard full of food this suggestion wouldn’t resonate but for Jesus, it was a tempting idea.
He was forty days hungry and in the middle of the wilderness, no Seven Elevens handy. Why not turn a few stones to bread and take care of a very legitimate nutritional need. It was a good idea but it wasn’t God’s idea and Jesus answered in a way that tells us how to avoid ideological quicksand.
But Jesus answered and said, ‘It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ (Matt. 4:4)
He was tempted twice more and in both cases simply quoted the Bible.
Jesus gives us an example to follow. To every practically, morally, and spiritually idea that has the ring of rightness to it, quote the Bible. End of story.
Good Ideas Are Evil Ideas
Jesus is the example to follow. Peter is an example to analyze and learn from.
Peter had a good idea that wasn’t a God idea and Jesus told him it was an evil idea. We can’t afford to entertain ideas that are mostly right.
Ideas that are mostly right are also partly wrong and partly wrong is completely evil. Are you confused yet? Is this messing with your head? That’s a good sign. It means your grappling with the right kind of problem.
Here’s what the Bible says we should do with good ideas:
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)
Now, let me once again compare the idea Jesus had to the one Peter promoted.
Jesus’ idea was to be arrested, falsely accused, mocked, tortured, crucified, buried, and raised from the dead. That in a nutshell is the Gospel. It was the first part of His plan. The second part was to preach the Gospel to every creature.
Peter didn’t like that plan so he came up with a better idea. His idea was to fight for the right (that is so Christianity today), protect the innocent (Jesus), preserve the truth (what Jesus taught), and promote the right person (Jesus as King).
That not only sounds like a good plan it also sounds very similar to the way Christians think today. If Peter were here now, he would have led the charge on the Capitol. Peter teaches us we don’t have to be entirely wrong to be completely Satanic.
Satanic Influence, Not Ignorance Is The Problem
Ignorance wasn’t Peter’s problem. He knew exactly what Jesus said, he just didn’t like it. We do that too.
Jesus told the disciples His plan several times but the first time was the most revealing. After hearing it, Peter grabbed Jesus and rebuked Him! He refused to accept Jesus’ plan and said he wouldn’t allow it to happen.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matt. 16:21-22)
Peter wasn’t entirely wrong. He knew who Jesus was. In fact, this happened immediately after Peter openly stated that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus attributed his insight to God’s working in his life. It was an appropriate moment to share the details of His eventual demise.
Jesus had alluded to His crucifixion several times already but now He shares more details and Peter refused to hear it. Jesus response to Peter is telling:
But He (Jesus) turned and said to Peter,
‘Get behind me, Satan!
You are a hindrance to me.
For you are not setting your mind on the things of God,
but on the things of man.’ (Matt. 16:23)
That’s a mouthful. There are many lessons here.
- Peter is influenced by Satan.
People often talk about demon possession but that wasn’t the problem here. Forget that stuff for now. Satanic influence is a much bigger issue.
Eve was not possessed when she ate the forbidden fruit. Abraham was not possessed when he sired a child by Hagar. David was not possessed when he took time off from kingly responsibilities. Peter was not possessed when he fought the crowd that arrested Jesus.
All of them, however, were influenced by Satanic ideas.
Possession is not the problem. Influence is and it usually manifests in good ideas.
- Good ideas hinder God.
We are called to serve God, not ourselves or our good ideas. Good ideas hurt us and hinder God.
Hinder! That’s the word Jesus used.
Stop with the good ideas. Read your Bible, understand what it says, and do that.
- The Mind is the seat of the problem.
If you’re a Christian, your safe eternally but you need to be careful in the here and now. The Bible speaks to that concern also.
Keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
A good question to ask is what is a heart? The answer is simple.
The heart includes your mind, your emotions, and your will, in that order. It all starts with the mind.
- We think through the issues and come to conclusions, developing ideas in the process.
- Once ideas are set, we invest in the emotionally, heatedly debating with those who disagree.
- When our good ideas are dismissed, ignored or overturned, we become willful, taking forceful action.
That’s what Peter did and it was all unnecessary.
All he needed do is hear what Jesus said and accept that. That’s all any of us need do. That’s simple. The reason it’s not easy is because our ideas get in the way.
We know that Peter realized his ideological mistake and even recovered. The question is did he learn his lesson. We’ll answer that in a future post.
For now, THINK!AboutIt