Introduction: How many times when you are trying to do something good
you find you have made a mistake? The good thing about making a
mistake is that you learn something – you hope! A better thing is to
learn from the mistakes of others. This week our study turns to
witnessing errors in the early church. Let’s jump into our study to
see if we can learn something from the mistakes of the early church
- Peter’s Error.
- Read Galatians 2:11-13. What had Peter been doing that he
was no longer doing? (Eating with Gentiles.)
- Was it “OK” to eat with Gentiles or was that a
problem? (Read Acts 10:27-29. This is part of the
story of Cornelius and the vision of the sheet of
unclean animals. This story shows that God explicitly
showed Peter that it was proper to associate with
Gentiles. Later, in Acts 11 we find Peter explaining
to the leaders in Jerusalem why it was OK to eat
( Acts 11:3) with Gentiles.)
- What does Paul mean when he writes in Galatians 2:13
“even Barnabas was led astray?”
- Read Galatians 2:14-16. As you read these verses, what is
the problem? Forcing Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Living like a Gentile when the people from the “home
office” are not around? Practicing righteousness by works?
- What does Paul suggest that Peter should have done
when the men from James arrived?
- What do you think Peter should have done?
- Let’s look at this realistically. Isn’t Peter trying
to avoid giving offense to the people from the “home
- What is wrong with that?
- Paul is the one getting in Peter’s face about this. Let’s
read 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Couldn’t Peter say to Paul,
“Get out of my face about this! I read your article
“Flexibility in Witnessing” (otherwise known as 1
Corinthians 9) and you wrote “to those under the law I
became as one under the law.” I’m just following your
advice! Would Peter be right? Is Paul a hypocrite too?
Isn’t Peter following Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 9:20?
- Let’s assume your church has 27 “fundamental” beliefs
– quite a number! Assume that you do not think that
some of the 27 are so fundamental. Doesn’t it make
sense to just keep your views to yourself? Isn’t
keeping disputable matters to yourself a Christian
principle according to Paul in Romans 14:22?
- What do you understand to be the principle here? How would
you explain the proper “rule” to follow? What do you learn
from Peter’s “mistake” for your witnessing today?(There
are two principles that we need to try to keep untangled.
First, we should be “flexible” and try not to give offense
in “disputable” matters. Second, there comes a time when
we need to stand up for matters of principle. The problem
here was that Peter could not keep this situation “to
himself” when the boys from the home office showed up for
an inspection. What he was doing was going to offend
- Do you think Paul did the right thing by (Galatians
2:11) opposing Peter “to his face?”
- Do you think Paul did the right thing by confronting
Peter ( Galatians 11:14) “in front of them all”
instead of going to him privately?
- Is that what you should do when you see mistakes
in your church? Get in their face in front of
- Is that what you want people to do to you when
you make a mistake?
- Perhaps when you see others making a mistake you
should bring it to their attention right away in
front of everyone, but when people see your
mistakes they should follow Romans 14:22 and
keep it to themselves? Or maybe they should
follow Matthew 18:15 and just bring it privately
to you? What do you think?
- Paul’s Error.
- We see that Paul is standing right up to stop Peter from
trying to impose Jewish customs on Gentiles. Let’s read
Acts 16:1-3. Why did Paul have Timothy circumcised?
- Was this any different than what Peter did when
James’ men arrived?
- What is the controlling principle about circumcision?
(Read Galatians 5:1-4, 6.)
- Is this another mistake? Is Paul, who says
circumcision means nothing and is a denial of Christ,
wrongly bending to peer pressure?
- Read Acts 21:18-24. Now Paul arrives to see James. Is this
the same kind of problem that Peter faced – except now
Paul has come to the “home office” instead of the home
office coming to him?
- What do you think about the solution proposed by the
home office? Look specifically at v.24 and tell me
what you think about that suggestion?
- Did Paul have any basis on which to criticize Peter?
- Did both Peter and Paul make the same mistake or did
they do the right thing by trying to do what was the
most acceptable at the time? (I think they both made
a mistake, but that the mistakes were different.
Peter made the mistake of withdrawing from his
gentile brothers in Christ to please others –
contrary to what he really believed. Peter had to
choose between pleasing two groups and he did not
make the principled choice. Paul’s situation bothers
me more than Peter’s because of the idea revealed in
Acts 21:24 – that this would show “the reports about
you” were untrue. In fact, the reports about Paul
were not only true, they were a matter of great
principle to him. It appears that Paul was not only
willing to compromise principle, he was willing to be
less than honest about it.)
- The Right Thing?
- Read Acts 6:1-3. This is a story we have studied in detail
earlier this quarter so we will not read the entire thing.
Do you think the Greek widows were really being slighted?
- Why didn’t the disciples just say, “We are honest
men. We would not neglect anyone or discriminate
against anyone. This is not true.”
- Why did they select others to solve the problem?
- Is this a lesson for us — that when someone
criticizes a church program we just say, “What can we
do to make it better?”
- Our lesson (Friday) suggests that arguing with the
opposition never works. It only increases the opposition.
The best thing to do is to concentrate on positive truths.
Is that what happened with the problem with the Greek
widows? Did the disciples concentrate on the positive
side of things?
- What was Paul doing when he agreed to circumcise
Timothy and to purify himself in Jerusalem? He did
not argue, he just went along with the group
suggestion. Is that the proper application of the
suggestion in Friday’s lesson?
- What if the opposition is being illogical and
ridiculous? Should you still refuse to argue? (This
is tough for me. People who disagree with me ARE
illogical! Seriously, I have come to realize that a
large number of people do not hold opinions based on
logic. They hold them based on emotion or prejudice.
You cannot convince these people by logic – therefore
argument is useless. By the same token, our
position should be based on logical Bible study and
the leading of the Holy Spirit. We should not, like
Peter and Paul in the examples we studied, give up
those positions because of peer pressure.)
- Read Matthew 4:1-4. Is Satan making an argument here?
(Yes, that Jesus is not the Son of God.)
- Does Jesus argue with Satan? (No)
- How would you characterize Jesus’ response? (He
points Satan to the Scriptures that deal with
spirituality, not the Messianic prophecies.)
- While Jesus was not attempting to convert Satan, what
lessons do we learn from this for our witnessing?
- Friend, we found this week that compromising principle in
the face of peer pressure, argument and unnecessary
confrontation are witnessing mistakes. We need to pray
that God will give us wisdom and understanding in our
witnessing to avoid these kinds of mistakes and know the
right thing to do.
- Next week: Lesson 13: Post-witnessing Activities