Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 1

by Rick Duncan, Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church

One of the most colorful Bible characters is the Apostle Peter.  Throughout the gospels, we can see how Jesus interacted with Peter to build him, to change him, to make him usable.  And Peter became a lifelong learner.

His name was changed by Jesus from Simon to Peter (rock) because Jesus saw leadership potential in him.  Peter was part of the inner circle of disciples.  He had seen the transfigured Lord.  He’d been told to feed the sheep.  He’d preached great sermons.  He was one of the key leaders of the early church in Jerusalem and in Antioch.

Yet, in this book we call Galatians, Peter is confronted by another leader.  The leader?  Paul.  Here, Paul uses the Greek name for Peter, Cephas.  Galatians 2:11…

11   But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Don’t forget that Peter was the first of the followers of Christ to share the good news about Jesus to those who were not Jews.  Peter had a special revelation from God in a dream.  You can read about it in Acts 10 and 11. God made it clear to Peter that God had chosen to pour out His grace not only on the Jewish people, but also on the Romans and Greeks.

Now, what has Peter done to cause another church leader to confront him so boldly and so publicly?  Galatians 2:12…

12   For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof…

What’s happening here?  When he first came to Antioch, Peter used to eat non-kosher food with the non-Jews.  He knew that those non-Jews who were followers of Jesus were part of the family.  He said, “Let’s hang out together!”  But some Jewish people showed up from Jerusalem in Antioch who weren’t so comfortable hanging out with non-Jews, the Gentiles – even if those non-Jews were claiming to follow Jesus.  These Jerusalem Jews were prejudiced.  They wanted to add their dietary rules and ceremonial regulations to the good news about Jesus.

So, Peter stopped hanging out with the Gentiles and only hung out with the Jews.  This was a big deal.  The message it sent was that there are two classes of Christians.  The first class Christians are the Jews.  The second class Christians are the Gentiles.  This is why Paul opposed Peter to his face.

Even the giants of the faith are fallible.  The best of men are men at best.  It’s tempting for us to think that all Peter’s problems stopped after Acts 2 when he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  But remember, we leak.  And Peter did. The gift of the Spirit did not make Peter infallible.  No matter how spiritual a person may be, he or she is always capable of sin.

So, Paul confronts Peter with his sin.  Now, how will Peter respond?

Let’s bring this close to home. No one in this room is infallible. When you are confronted with your behavior, how do you respond?

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.  If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT)

I like that phrase “constructive criticism” there.  I’m sure you know that not all criticism is constructive.  Some people are insecure, have hidden agendas, don’t know all the facts, or want control.  And their criticism is often destructive.  A wise person works to know the difference.

See, criticism will come.  Someone said, “If you want to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”  But if you are in the game, if you are seeking to build the kingdom, you better know that criticism will come.  It’s the wise person who can tell the difference between a godly critic and an ungodly critic.

There are people out there who are always finding fault. They always see problems, not solutions.  And they are a drain to be around.  A quote: “The man who is always finding fault seldom finds anything else” and “All loud speakers are not necessarily hooked up!”  It’s why Larry Burkett used to say, “A wise man seeks much counsel. A fool listens to all of it.”

So, discern whether or not the criticism is constructive or destructive.  If it’s constructive, we better respond in a godly way.

With that in mind, over the next few days, let’s learn some principles from scripture that will help us become lifelong learners.  Tomorrow, decision #1…