The Apostle Peter: A Look at the Interpersonal Relationships of Peter and the Internal Factors that Fueled and Changed Them.

When Jesus called Peter the rock others probably could have laughed, as much of the time Jesus was on earth, he was anything but. Peter was a great disciple of God, and even though he had faults, Jesus was clearly focusing on the positive potential of Peter’s interpersonal behaviors and relationships. Author Dr. Clinton W. McLemore states, “The boundary between consciousness (awareness) and unconsciousness (unawareness) is fluid and permeable” (McLemore, p. 58). We will see this with Peter as he moves from a distracted and somewhat impulsive man, lacking an ability to contemplate what he says and dose, to a much more stable man of God with a clear purpose. His innermost motives and what he desires to accomplish are altered. As in many lives, it would appear that most problems or wrong behavior are the result of wrong believing of some kind. The progression of Peter’s relationship dynamics will teach, inspire, and encourage us as he becomes a nurturing leader to those around him. He is at times emotional and prone to moving across healthy to unhealthy relationship styles, but we can see his great heart for God and others as he matures and transforms into the rock that Jesus had prophesied.

Even though Peter was often bold, often there were times where he exhibited behaviors associated with a scurrying-type behavior. In the ever infamous scene of Peter’s denial of Jesus Peter first emphatically professes his complete devotion towards Jesus. However, when confronted he was obviously fearful, anxious, and his most pressing concern was how he could remain safe from persons that may harm him. Peter had previously boasted of his love for God rather than God’s love for him. Even tough Peter wept bitterly after denying Jesus; he makes a choice to not take the next step into self pity, regret, and self absorption as did Judas. No matter what our sin we must remember there is a continuous flow of God’s grace available to us. We can dust ourselves off because we are righteous apart from our performance and no longer under the supervision of the law(Gal 3:9-11, 25-26). We are empowered to labor not visa versa. It may not always feel like it but what it takes to be a successful Christian is to always draw ourselves back to Jesus and his qualifications, not ours. A scene comes to mind when the apostles are fishing and John states to Peter that Jesus it who is on the shore. Peter then jumps into the water and swims to shore. Although Peter can be brash, it is difficult at times to not love his unbridled enthusiasm when he sees Jesus and his grace.

When Jesus produced a supernatural catch while fishing, Peter makes a statement of unworthiness, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). Displaying Dr. McLemore’s belief, “All guilt cannot be interpreted as a symptom of fear; some of it is self-persecution, internal oppression of the self” (McLemore, p.198). Peter saw the goodness of God and fully understood just how much he fell short, which we all must do before conversion. Yet, we must then stop condemning ourselves and recall that the law brings us to the cross but after this point we are married to Christ and no longer under law. No condemnation is vital for a healthy life. Peter even teeters on the brink of practicing a style of avoidance, as after the crucifixion Peter, perhaps in a distraught and tired tone, states to the apostles, “I am going fishing.” (John 21:3). Peter could be saying in effect, “I am going back to what I was doing before,” withdrawing or disengaging, at least temperately, from mental anguish, the world, and the mission of the Lord. However, we must not miss perhaps the greatest aspect of these stories. After Jesus arose from the dead the angel states to Mary “But go, tell His disciples-and Peter-, ‘He is going before you into Galilee. There you will see Him” (Mark 16:7). Jesus understands where we are and the tendencies we struggle with and offers a word to bring change from the inside out, to help us, comfort us, allowing us to walk on with Him.

Peter was a man often obsessed with circumstances and others around him. While the apostle John saw himself as a disciple that Jesus loved, a self or performance focus caused Peter to feel a certain distance form Jesus. When the apostles are walking with Jesus the following scene occurs, “Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me” (John 21: 20-22). Before Peter says this we can almost hear the high school-like, anxious anticipation in Peter words. Perhaps Peter may have been wondering how he measured up to John. Peter seems to need to know about everyone. As indicated in the previous passage; when Jesus reveals someone will betray Him, Peter asks John to question Jesus as to whom He is speaking of. In the famous scene from the book of Matthew, where Jesus is walking on water, Peter calls out to Jesus asking if it is really him to command him to come. To his credit, Peter dose want to be where Jesus is and do what he is doing. He walked out in faith on the water, and even though Jesus tells him to come, Peter beings to look around at the waves and wind and beings to sink, and calls for Jesus to help him. What did the circumstance (wind) have to do with anything (walking on water)? Christians can usually seem to believe in Jesus, but often negate the words He speaks regarding us because of doubt. His faith is our faith. Just as we received him is how we continue to walk in him.

There are moments when Peter shows an intruding nature as well. While with Jesus on the mountain, Moses and Elijah appear and begin speaking with Jesus. The account states, “Then it happened, as they were departing from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master it us good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah” -not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33). As Dr. McLemore comments, “There seemed, sometimes, to be no end to Peter’s impetuosity and resulting tendency to intrude…” (McLemore, p. 144). Peter was still putting the prophets (Elijah) and the law (Moses) on the same plain as Jesus. Another example of earthly reasoning is when Jesus was speaking about His future persecution, crucifixion, and resurrection, “He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and look at His disciples, He rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mark 8: 32-33). Do you know anyone whose intense desire for accommodation causes a near unconsciousness of what they are saying? This can cause neglect for spiritual discernment and purpose in exchange for a seemingly earthly good or comfort. In a spiritual sense, Jesus seems to be trying to get to a new relational belief and a thus a new emotional response.

Now to give Peter some slack, one could say that throughout many to the above stories, Peter was simply taking a “towards and one-down” position to learn and receive information from Jesus while developing a deep bond and appreciation toward Jesus. There is always a personal attachment of Peter to Jesus and vice versa, a durable relationship that is found in all four gospels. We will later see that when Jesus leaves the earth Peter does seem to learn from these interactions and moves into “one-up and towards” relationships, almost assuming the role of Jesus in some ways. Perhaps Peter’s most obvious and significant relational change is that Peter does reach a status that no longer appears to be distracted by events around him or be compulsively concerned with others. It seems, along with the Holy Spirit, Jesus has given him a calm perspective regarding how he relates to the situations around him. As we will later see, during the progression of Peter’s life his differentiation capability grows greatly as his interactions increasing show a balance of independent thought and internalized control.

Peter’s status was elevated early on when at last we find a positive outcome to his boldness. When Peter forwardly proclaims Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus in turn claims this revelation to be the rock upon which He will build his church. When Jesus ascended to the Father, Peter clearly interacts with the apostles as having a hierarchical position. However, Peter dose not take a controlling one up stance with the apostles, but rather takes a leading and nurturing stance. He understands his position of influence but, like Jesus, he is a servant, inspiring and guiding. Peter also goes on to conduct the first salvation service in chapter two of the Book of Acts, which produced thousands of converts. Later, in the mid 60’s A.D. in the face Roman persecution, Peter he makes such statements as: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (I Peter 3: 8-9); “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue of knowledge, to knowledge self control, to self control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is short-sighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. (II Peter 1: 5-9). This does not sound like the man who could not even stay awake and pray with Jesus at the very hour of His arrest. He has found a more appropriate relationship between self effort and resting in Christ’s grace. We see evidence of controlled thoughts, aggressive awareness, and an intense focus or desire upon God’s truth. This is needed in order to ensure we are not losing ground in the battle for our minds and emotions. Unlike the flash that is pleasure, joy is from the spirit, steady and fixed, not dependant on selfish things, time, or circumstance.

Although the apostles our not necessarily a family unit, they are parts of whole in this first body of Christ. At the council of Jerusalem Paul seeks to introduce or expand the apostle’s guidelines and mission regarding reaching the Gentiles. Before this Peter takes to heart his leading and nurturing role and makes certain to bring the other apostles in on the proceedings. Paul basically states it is an irrational belief to make the Gentiles become circumcised in order to receive salvation through Jesus. Here a problem is identified, as God’s law strictly governs the group’s interactions and behavior, and no one apostle is able to dictate or change this. Peter leads them in making this decision as there currently exits among them a cognitive belief that not any part of law should not be broken for this or any sake. At first Peter takes a bit of an opposing or stonewalling approach to Paul‘s idea. However, upon listening to Paul, Peter changes his mind. We can literally see a look of thoughtful conceding on Peter’s face at the table as a healthy form of yielding has come over him. Perhaps realizing the implications of becoming like the Pharisees, Peter sees this is a valid change for the sake of building relationships and works to fulfill the plan of Christ. Peter makes certain to not manipulate the group’s boundaries and fosters the appropriate altering of rules. This shows the group to have effective problem solving skills as well as healthy boundaries that are lose enough to allow constructive communication from themselves and others, yet ridged enough to not compromise the message or mission of Christ.

Peter realizes the difference between having power over people and power with people. He has moved from fearing other to loving others. Please note this does not mean we have to rub elbows with the unsaved at bars or think we can date those opposed or unconcerned to the things of God in order to change them. There will be many times one must take a stand for righteousness in the face of intense ridicule. In a secular postmodern society where relativism is now favorable over calling anything right or wrong, we do not often see such moral courage. Notice Peter had to stand firm even to death against Nero. Can we see the same anti-christ spirit embody by Rome and Nero in our institutions today? Also, when Peter visits Cornelius the Roman, he shows a different response from pervious interactions with the Lord’s words. He goes to the unclean Roman even knowing that he may face criticism form the apostles. He reaffirms them in a rather inspiring manner saying “If therefore God gave to them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” (Acts 11: 17). Peter is showing that while following God we can also be dramatically impacting others, reinforcing Dr. McLemore’s description, “ Our job is to get in step with God, not to pull away or to try to tell Him how to run the world” (McLemore, p. 65).

Many of us feel we are not spiritual enough and therefore unable to establish or change attitudes regarding producing constructive interpersonal behavior. Throughout his life Peter overcomes unchecked emotions and through his interpersonal relations makes a vast spiritual impact on the world. Peter conveys we can operate in the spirit, as opposed to our fleshly senses and accomplish how God wants us to interact with the world and others despite our humanity. Dr. McLemore hits home a powerful lesson to recall, “It must be taken seriously and never trivialized, and it is this: although interpersonal styles are usually difficult to alter, people who experience a life-changing encounter with the resurrected Christ sometimes show dramatic and enduring charges in their behavior towards others” (McLemore, p. 68). Peter appears to be a case of the spiritual man overcoming the emotional, intellectual and fleshly man. Peter chooses and concedes to Spirit-influenced repentance of the heart, and a return to grace, rather than just heady decisions. He let God’s word lead him, and so must we renew or minds, as opposed to bathing ourselves in TV all night for example. We have as much of Christ as we ourselves will allow. This happened for Peter and it can happen for us even if it occurs progressively. Before Jesus ascended, into heaven he asked Peter three times if he loved him (John 21:15-17). The word for love that Jesus used was the most intimate and powerful while the type of love Peter responded to Jesus with was merely stating “Jesus you know I am a good friend of yours” (Wommack). Peter probably felt reluctant to rush back into such a devoted relationship after his denial of Jesus. However, the in their last exchange Jesus uses Peter’s usage of the word love, as if he was saying “Peter I a going to meet you where you are and bring you to where I want you to be”. We to must remain forced on that which does not fluctuate; the love of God and the grace provided by Christ and concede to it, allowing it resonate upon the inside of us in order to propel us into a new stance. Jesus is not just interested in behavior modification, but heart transformation.

References

1.) McLemore, Dr. Clinton W. (2003). Toxic Relationship & How to Change Them. San Francisco, California: Published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.

2.) Nelson, Thomas. (1982). Holy Bible, New King James Version. Nashville, Tennessee: Published by Thomas Nelson Inc.

3). Wommack, Andrew. Retrieved from Andrew Wommack’s website: http://www.awmi.net/bible/joh_21_15

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