Matthew 16:16 contains one of the key events of Jesus’ ministry. Peter has spent close to 3 years studying for this exam, and finally he knows the answer. Jesus asks “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Stage 1 of Jesus’ ministry is complete. He finally has acknowledgement of both his kingship, and his deity.
After all that study, Peter must have been so proud of himself that he passed that test. But then Jesus immediately predicts his death. Peter, not realizing it’s still the same test as before answers confidently. In v22, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Mega-Fail!!
Now, in chapter 17 we find that six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up a mountain. There before their eyes Jesus is transformed, or transfigured. Then, out of nowhere, two guys show up who can only be Moses and Elijah. Peter wasn’t prepared for this pop quiz, but you have to answer something, right? So in v4 he suggests building three tabernacles or tents for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. But again it’s the wrong answer.
It’s easy for churches in general or Christians individually, to find themselves thinking that because we’ve got one answer correct, we must have all the answers.
For instance, if the Church of Christ correctly interprets Scripture regarding believers baptism by immersion, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the CoC also has a correct interpretation of the role of women in the church. Both may be correct teachings in God’s eyes, but they’re not necessarily connected. Sometimes we can be so confident in our interpretive approach to one issue, that we assume any other interpretive conclusion we make is also 100% correct.
It’s important that we have convictions about our beliefs and faith. Scripture tells us to be ready to defend them (1 peter 3:15b). But just because we have beliefs doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep our mouths shut at times. Peter would have been much better off biting his tongue. We would often also do well to do likewise.
Because Peter gave one correct answer, he was no longer teachable. All Christ followers do well to develop a habit of listening first.
In his book UNChristian, David Kinnaman summarises and discusses survey results of non-christian20-30 year olds. He notes,
The primary reason outsiders feel hostile toward Christians, and especially conservative Christians, is not because of any specific theological perspective. What the react negatively to is our ‘swagger’. Outsiders say that Christians pssess bark — and bite. Christians may not normally operate in attack mode, but it happens frequently enough that others have learned to watch their step around us. [Outsiders] say their aggression [toward Christians] simply matches the oversized opinions and egos of Christians. (2007, p26)
I believe this is why 1 Peter 3:15-16 doesn’t stop with the instruction to defend our beliefs. “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. There certainly seems to be a disconnect between this verse and the description above.
Right answers can breed arrogance. We don’t need to apologise for having confident beliefs, but we do need to listen first, and express them with gentleness and respect. After all, we might be wrong.
- Have you ever found yourself in Peter’s shoes, gaining confidence from a success only to turn around and fall flat on your face?
- Why do you think outsiders have this opinion of Christians? Surely they’re talking about someone else, not you and me?
- This is a very pertinent lesson for me. I get in trouble for speaking when I shouldn’t way more than often than I want to admit. What tips do you have for developing a habit of listening first.