Skip to main contentAccessibility feedback
Background Image

The Peter Principle

In your own life, even when everything seems impossible, remember how God used St. Peter

Many times I have walked the path of discouragement, frustrated by my repeated failures, consumed by hopelessness of ever being a worthwhile vessel for God.

Do you know the feeling? Have you ever felt so defeated by your recurrent mistakes that you were sure God was just as disgusted with you as you were with yourself? After having made another blunder or committed another sin, have you ever felt as if God was going to just throw his hands up in the air and be done with you?

What a joyous revelation it is to realize that God will always accept us, patiently teach us, consistently guide us. As Peter wrote, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Peter knows firsthand about the Lord’s patience for us, because Jesus never gave up on Peter, either. From the get-go, Peter was brash and headstrong, quick to jump into a situation with both feet only to find he had messed up, big-time.

Yet in Matthew 16:18-19 Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”

This loud, audacious man-who sank in the water, who cut off the soldier’s ear, who denied Christ three times-was to be the bedrock upon which Jesus was to begin his church. But in the midst of his self-wrought fiascoes, Peter was learning. “Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious,” he later wrote. “And like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:4-5).

God never gave up on Peter. He didn’t remove his strong personality. Instead he transformed and perfected it. God didn’t give up on Peter, and he won’t ever give up on any of us, either.

From the beginning Jesus stated his purpose for Peter. Luke 5 relates how Jesus got into Peter’s boat after Peter had returned from his unsuccessful, all-night fishing excursion. At Jesus’ insistence, Peter lowered his nets into the water again, even though he knew nothing would come of it. Suddenly the net was so full the other fishing boats had to help bring in the catch.

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord'” (Luke 5:8). To the ashamed Peter, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). Jesus didn’t wait for Peter to grow in holiness, develop more faith, or become more learned. Instead, as he does for us, Jesus patiently took Peter as he was and worked with him.

In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who’d wronged him-seven times? Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Jesus then drove home the point with the parable of the unmerciful servant (Luke 5:23-35).

Later, on the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had no fruit. The next day they passed the tree again, and it was withered from the roots. “Peter said, ‘Master, look! The fig tree which you cursed has withered'” (Mark 11:21).

Jesus turned to Peter and told him to have faith in God, to trust in him. “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you will receive it, and you will. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:23-25).

Again Jesus discusses not just faith but faith empowered by forgiveness. He is teaching, refining, guiding Peter-molding his unruly personality into an unwavering, courageous tool for spreading God’s truth. We too must trust in God so that he may use us.

In John 6, many people turned from Jesus’ hard teaching about eating his body and drinking his blood. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to leave, too, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).

Peter listened to Jesus and proclaimed his belief in him. By spending time with God’s word and praying faithfully, we too can grow in Christ. But as strong as Peter’s faith sounds in John 6, Peter would falter again and again, as will we. Take heart, for even when your strength fails you, Jesus never will.

In Matthew 14, Jesus told the disciples to go out in the boat while he went off to pray. While the disciples were in the boat far from land, a storm came up. When they looked out and saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, they cried out, “It is a ghost!” But Jesus told them not to be afraid, it was only he. Peter cried out, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.”

“So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘O man of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Mark 14:29-31).

Peter-so bold, so full of faith-jumped right out of the boat when Jesus said, “Come.” But the second he looked around at what he was doing, he doubted and sank. He called to Jesus, and immediately (notice that word-“immediately”) Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. He fussed at Peter for his lack of faith, but that never diminished his love for Peter. Nor will his love for us ever decrease. No matter what mistakes we make, Jesus will always direct us and care for us.

When our eyes are on the Father, we too will walk in wondrous happenings. But like Peter, when we allow our eyes to turn to our circumstances rather than be fixed on the Almighty, we will fall. How many times have I permitted myself to turn from God and flounder in the oppression of the situation! Yet I have repeatedly discovered that, even if my sin is causing me to drown, the Lord will immediately reach for me when I call. I may not realize his immediate involvement at the time, but in retrospect I always see his instantaneous, tender handiwork. No matter how bad your iniquity or your feelings of defeat, when you call to him, Jesus will reach out his hand and care for you. Immediately. Always. Period. “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

As Jesus catches us he raises us to a higher level, as he always did Peter, despite Peter’s failings. When Jesus asked who touched him, Peter gently chastised him: “Master, the multitudes surround you and press upon you” (Luke 8:45). Yet Jesus knew power had gone forth from him, and the woman who touched the hem of his garment was healed, even though the head apostle didn’t understand.

Despite Peter’s lack of awareness of God’s power and glory, Jesus took him and James and John into the room as he raised Jarius’ twelve-year-old daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49-56). Again it was Peter, James, and John whom Jesus took to Mount Tabor for the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-8).

Even after witnessing these miracles, Peter’s understanding still was not complete. But Jesus never gave up on him. In my dullness in comprehending what God is teaching me, he never stops trying. He will never quit shepherding you.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples who people thought he was. They replied that some people said he was Elijah, or John the Baptist, or Jeremiah, or another prophet.

“He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven'” (Matthew 16:15-17).

Here Jesus was pleased by Peter’s strong faith. But shortly thereafter Jesus told the apostles what would happen to him upon his capture-his death, and, in three days, his resurrection. Peter cried out that nothing as horrible as that would ever happen. Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Matt. 16:23). Peter had taken his eyes off God and set them upon the world of men.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, trying to protect Jesus from arrest. Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Even as our Lord began his ultimate suffering, Peter was still looking in the wrong direction.

But did the Lord give up on Peter? Did he make Peter into a docile, soft-spoken man? No. God had created Peter the way he was. The Lord required a man with Peter’s personality for his purpose. He needed only to refine Peter’s brashness into boldness, his impetuousness into passionate depth.

Jesus also knew the process by which the head apostle would grow: Peter must suffer. In Luke 22, Jesus tried to tell Peter what was coming, not only in the immediate future but how God’s plan would play out: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have returned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).

Jesus is telling Peter he will endure hard times. But during that darkness Jesus has already petitioned the Father for Peter’s strength to rise above his shame and become the one to be strong for the rest. Like he does with us, Jesus had gone ahead. How many times have I, in complete awe, realized that God had gone before me in a certain situation and prepared the way! And he goes before you. As with us, God’s preparation meant that his purpose would be met: Peter would indeed return to be the Rock.

But first Peter had to endure the worst moments of his life. He would have to deny Christ-his Lord, his God, his Savior-not once, not twice, but three times. When Jesus needed him most, Peter turned his back on him. And in his shame, Peter wept bitterly. A broken man in utter despair, Peter had to walk through the valley of dejection and disgrace.

But on the third day, after Jesus had risen from the dead, an angel appeared to Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. He said to them, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you'” (Mark 16:7). God sent his angel to make sure the disciples-and Peter-were told. Peter was forgiven; the Lord wanted Peter to know the Lord had not given up on him.

Yet Peter’s transformation was not complete. In John 21:15-17, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” then commanded him to care for his sheep. Three times had Peter denied Christ; now three times did Peter confess his love to him, and three times did Christ command Peter to feed his sheep. He was preparing Peter for the mission of building and caring for the newborn Church.

After Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples, and the need for Peter’s boldness and intensity became evident. When the Spirit descended, the disciples spoke in languages they had never heard, and yet the crowd around them understood each in his own language. The confusion mounted until Peter stood up and proclaimed the truth of God’s work. Powerfully, authoritatively, Peter declared the work of the Lord and the Church began (Acts 2). Peter led the other disciples as they healed the sick and preached the Good News of Jesus’ gift of salvation to the Jews. Repeatedly in difficult situations, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, powerfully proclaimed the truth (Acts 3:11-26, 5:29-42, 8:9-25, 15:1-12). So great was Peter’s reputation in the young Church that people brought their sick into the streets so that “at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by” (Acts 5:14-15).

It was also through Peter that the Church would eventually encompass the entire world. In Acts 10, Peter went to the roof to pray in solitude. He became hungry and fell into a trance. In a vision, he saw a sheet fold down from heaven with all kinds of animals on it, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. “And there came a voice to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But Peter said, ‘No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.’ And the voice came to him again a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, you must not call common'” (Acts 10:13-15).

God then sent an angel to Peter telling him to go with the man who came to the door. So Peter followed this man to a Gentile named Cornelius, who was a believer. Cornelius told Peter how, in a dream, an angel told him that God knew all the good Cornelius had done and how great was his faith, and God was pleased. The angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter. “So I sent to you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33).

Peter then realized that God wanted the Church to include all people: God created all people, Jesus died for all people. When the Jews later criticized him for his association with a Gentile, Peter stood up and told the crowd of his vision and what it meant. The crowd listened, and, “When they heard this, they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life'” (Acts 11:18).

So it was that Peter-this raw, obstreperous fisherman-became a true fisher of men. This man full of over-enthusiasm and impatience, through Jesus’ teaching and purification, became a deep, faithful prolocutor, the rock upon which Jesus built his Church.

In your own life, even when everything seems impossible, remember how God used Peter. His plans for you are beyond your most incredible dreams. “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Pet. 5:10).

Take it from Peter. He knows-Jesus never gave up on him, either

Did you like this content? Please help keep us ad-free
Enjoying this content?  Please support our mission!