Lesson 12

Errors and Setbacks in Witnessing

(Galatians 2; Acts 10, 16, 21 & 1 Cor. 9)
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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 leaders!

  1. Peter's Error.

    1. Read Galatians 2:11-13. What had Peter been doing that he was no longer doing? (Eating with Gentiles.)

      1. 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.)

      2. What does Paul mean when he writes in Galatians 2:13 "even Barnabas was led astray?"

    2. 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? Hypocrisy?

      1. What does Paul suggest that Peter should have done when the men from James arrived?

      2. What do you think Peter should have done?

      3. Let's look at this realistically. Isn't Peter trying to avoid giving offense to the people from the "home office?"

        1. What is wrong with that?

    3. 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?

      1. 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?

    4. 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 someone.)

      1. Do you think Paul did the right thing by (Galatians 2:11) opposing Peter "to his face?"

      2. 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?

        1. Is that what you should do when you see mistakes in your church? Get in their face in front of everyone?

        2. Is that what you want people to do to you when you make a mistake?

        3. 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?

  2. Paul's Error.

    1. 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?

      1. Was this any different than what Peter did when James' men arrived?

      2. What is the controlling principle about circumcision? (Read Galatians 5:1-4, 6.)

      3. Is this another mistake? Is Paul, who says circumcision means nothing and is a denial of Christ, wrongly bending to peer pressure?

    2. 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?

      1. 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?

      1. How did Paul handle this? (Read Acts 21:26.)

      2. Did this cure the problem? (Read Acts 21:27-31.)

    1. Did Paul have any basis on which to criticize Peter?

      1. 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.)

  1. The Right Thing?

    1. 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?

      1. Why didn't the disciples just say, "We are honest men. We would not neglect anyone or discriminate against anyone. This is not true."

      2. Why did they select others to solve the problem?

      3. Is this a lesson for us -- that when someone criticizes a church program we just say, "What can we do to make it better?"

    2. 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?

      1. 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?

      2. 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.)

    3. Read Matthew 4:1-4. Is Satan making an argument here? (Yes, that Jesus is not the Son of God.)

      1. Does Jesus argue with Satan? (No)

      2. How would you characterize Jesus' response? (He points Satan to the Scriptures that deal with spirituality, not the Messianic prophecies.)

      3. While Jesus was not attempting to convert Satan, what lessons do we learn from this for our witnessing?

    4. 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.

  2. Next week: Lesson 13: Post-witnessing Activities

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