Discipleship Requires Submission to the Lord
It cannot be said often enough:
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29–31 (ESV)
One element which should not be missed: Both commands require the subjection of self-interest for the interest of something greater. First, we are to love God more than we love ourselves. All of our effort, all of our self must flow in love to God. Second, we must not count ourselves as more valuable than others. If the disciple must observe what Christ has commanded, then the purpose of discipleship must be to train others and ourselves to subject our self-interest to the interest of love – love of God and love of neighbor.
This brings us to the Peter’s rebuke of the Lord. When the Lord had told Peter about the coming passion, Peter forbids the Lord and the Lord responds with a stinging rebuke:
21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:21–23 (ESV)
Bruce explains that although the rebuke was harsh it was necessary. Peter’s attempt to dissuade the Lord did not stem from the desire to submit all to God, but from self-interest. To seek to prevent Jesus from submitting all to will of his Father was a terrible error which required a sharp blow to protect Jesus and train Peter:
This memorable rebuke seems mercilessly severe, and yet on consideration we feel it was nothing more than what was called for. Christ’s language on this occasion needs no apology, such as might be drawn from supposed excitement of feeling, or from a consciousness on the speaker’s part that the infirmity of His own sentient nature was whispering the same suggestion as that which came from Peter’s lips. Even the hard word Satan, which is the sting of the speech, is in its proper place. It describes exactly the character of the advice given by Simon. That advice was substantially this: “Save thyself at any rate; sacrifice duty to self-interest, the cause of God to personal convenience.” An advice truly Satanic in principle and tendency! For the whole aim of Satanic policy is to get self-interest recognized as the chief end of man. Satan’s temptations aim at nothing worse than this. Satan is called the Prince of this world, because self-interest rules the world; he is called the accuser of the brethren, because he does not believe that even the sons of God have any higher motive. He is a sceptic; and his scepticism consists in determined, scornful unbelief in the reality of any chief end other than that of personal advantage. “Doth Job, or even Jesus, serve God for naught? Self-sacrifice, suffering for righteousness’ sake, fidelity to truth even unto death: — it is all romance and youthful sentimentalism, or hypocrisy and hollow cant. There is absolutely no such thing as a surrender of the lower life for the higher; all men are selfish at heart, and have their price: some may hold out longer than others, but in the last extremity every man will prefer his own things to the things of God. All that a man hath will he give for his life, his moral integrity and his piety not excepted.” Such is Satan’s creed. …
The severe language uttered by Jesus on this occasion, when regarded as addressed to a dearly beloved disciple, shows in a striking manner His holy abhorrence of every thing savoring of self-seeking. “Save Thyself,” counsels Simon: “Get thee behind me, Satan,” replies Simon’s Lord. Truly Christ was not one who pleased Himself. Though He were a Son, yet would He learn obedience by the things which He had to suffer. And by this mind He proved Himself to be the Son, and won from His Father the approving voice: “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased,” — Heaven’s reply to the voice from hell counselling Him to pursue a course of self-pleasing. Persevering in this mind, Jesus was at length lifted up on the cross, and so became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him. Blessed now and forevermore be His name, who so humbled Himself, and became obedient as far as death!
What practical lesson can we learn for discipleship?
First, the end – as always – is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. God’s glory – which is our good – must always be the end. God has specifically pointed us to exalt God in Jesus Christ:
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5–6 (ESV)
Second, even ignorant failings must be corrected. Peter would not have thought of himself as maliciously thwarting God. Without question he would have thought himself honoring the Lord. Yet, the Lord did not spare for him on that account. He knew that he needed to teach Peter the lesson thoroughly: God’s glory is over all. We must never let self-interest override our devotion to God.
Third, the medicine must be fit to the disease. Peter fell on the point of self-interest. It was an abiding sin which needed strong medicine to cure. On both this occasion and in the matter of his denial of Christ, Peter was not taught that wrong of his self-interest. When Peter denied the Lord, he denied the Lord to save his own skin. The subsequent pang of conscience was given to drive home the lesson: Your self-interest is rebellion against God. Your self-interest makes you unfit for service. You must give yourself over completely to the will of the Lord.
Peter needed to learn that discipleship means submission to the Lord.
Now we are not necessarily called upon to rebuke as sharply as the Lord. Indeed, we are more likely to rebuke sharply from a wrong motive. Yet that does not mean that rebuke should be wholly absent. There are times when rebuke is needed and the failure to give it would unloving.
We can also teach submission to the Lord by example. Consider yourself plainly: In what way are you living or not living in submission to the Lord? Where do you put confidence in government, or money, or status, or education? Where have you favored your-self or self-interest over the glory of God? Can you point to an instance in which you have deliberately sacrificed your own personal interest for the greater glory of God? If you cannot answer these questions rightly, then the rebuke of the Lord is leveled against you.
To be one who disciples another, it must be plain that you live a life in which your personal interest is subjected to the love of God and the love of neighbor. It must be plain that the reward you seek is the reward of the Father’s approval – not the glory of men or women. This lesson of submission to the Lord in all things must be learned and taught continually within the Church if the Church is to follow Christ.