As we read through the Gospels in the New Testament, we see an interesting dynamic at play between Jesus and Peter. It seems as if Jesus is always coming down exceptionally hard on Peter in his pursuits to improve his service to his Lord. Much of this is certainly due to Peter’s own lack of understanding regarding the situation surrounding Jesus, but it’s also attributed to his own faulty philosophy on strength and loyalty. We have a classic example of Peter’s idea of zeal in John 18:10 when Jesus was about to get arrested just prior to his crucifixion. “Then Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear…” Peter sure did show a willingness to act for Jesus, but later in John 21:15ff we see Peter struggling to grasp what it truly means to follow his Lord. Jesus here is effectively asking Peter if he has the loyalty, determination, and love for Jesus to live as He lived and die as He died. Peter dodges around the question by saying that he loves Jesus as a brother, implying that he does not yet have what it takes. Jesus responds by telling him that he had better get to that stage of faith. So the picture we have of Peter as he walked with Jesus was that of an unrefined disciple ready to act in valiance for his Lord’s cause, but remained reluctant to truly live and die for Him in that same diligent zeal.
If we look ahead in the New Testament to the letters penned by Peter himself, we see an interesting perspective in his messages. In his first letter, Peter gives us the admonition to be in constant refinement of our personal holiness as God’s people, even during times of suffering and persecution. This in turn will help to equip us in our defense against the world. “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15). Contrast this with Peter’s response in defending Jesus during His arrest. In his second letter, Peter gives guidance and reassurance to the growing church, with a second exhortation to be on guard against those who would have us fall into error.
When I read of Peter during his time with Jesus, sometimes I feel like I’m reading about myself. Then, as I read through Peter’s letters, which were penned some time after Jesus’ ascension, it’s almost as if a future version of myself is writing back to me in order to help me grow and overcome my own self-inflicted spiritual obstacles. In my mind, it’s so very easy to be like the old Peter and take up arms against those of the world as my enemy. Whether that be in physical combat or intellectual debate, we can be susceptible to developing a hardened heart against those who would cause us distress. But when I read the new Peter’s appeal to be gentle and revering in my efforts, it reminds me that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, not to beat them into submission. The world no doubt holds contempt for Christians, but as Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:9, God is patient with us all and would rather have it that none should perish, and that all come to repentance. So we too ought to adopt that same mindset towards our alleged ‘enemies’ in the world. I find it so very interesting that Peter, originally known for his impulses to “shoot now, ask questions later” later wrote to Christians concerning patience and compassion.
In Ephesians 6:10-12 Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. HIS might, not our own. Because we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against spiritual duress. And as we come to know our Lord more and more, we also come to recognize that His might takes not the form of impetus displayed by old Peter, but rather the form of gentle reverence as written by new Peter and as lived by Jesus. If we are to truly love our Lord, we ought to take to heart the concerns He holds for all souls, and be willing to adopt the mind of Christ and compassionate patience of Christ with those we encounter, especially in understanding that He too was patient with us.