3 Words that Settle Hearts, Silence Pride, and Establish Priority
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!“
– John 21:22
The One and the Many
Christianity, unlike any other religion, is both communal and individual, both solitary and collective. It is right to say that Jesus died for the Church (that is, the trans-ethnic, trans-temporal, community of believers). However, it is also right to say that He loved me (personally) and gave Himself up for me (personally), Galatians 2:20. Christ died for the community and Christ died for the individual. He died to create a spotless Bride, and he died to glorify James and John and Mary and Martha. He died for us and He died for me.
And in the same way that Christ’s redeeming work on the cross is for the community and the individual, so too is His shepherding. There is one flock and one shepherd and He goes on before them all (John 10:16, 3), but it is also true to say that the Lord is my Shepherd and that He leads me besides still waters (Psalm 23:1-2). God deals with His people as one body with many diverse members, and as many diverse members who form one body. This is one of the beauties of our faith, that it glorifies both the one and the many without collapsing one into the other (and this is, of course, an implication of having a God who is both “one” and “many”). Today, however, I want to consider some of the sweetness that comes from the Lord’s shepherding us as individuals.
In this passage, Peter and Jesus are walking on the seashore and Peter sees John following them and asks the Lord what His plan is for this disciple. Jesus responds with the verse quoted above, and in doing so teaches us a heart-settling, pride-silencing, priority-establishing lesson about living as His people here on earth. Let’s take them one at a time.
With these words, Jesus is telling our hearts the wonderfully comforting news that we do not have to be ______ (fill in the name of the person you are compelled to emulate). We do not have to be our dad or our mom or our older brother, we do not have to be that famous pastor or missionary, we do not have to be the super-mom across the street or our mentor from college….in fact, not only do we not have to be them, Jesus is telling us that we should not be them.
In His wisdom, the Lord has designed every one of His people as a distinct manifestation of His image. He has, as it were, put forth all of His creative genius in a new way with the creation of each soul so that for one to constrain itself into the shape of another would be as counter-productive as the eyes trying to do the work of the liver. Foolish at best, deadly at worst.
However – unlike the postmodern culture – Jesus does not teach that the uniqueness of each individual should lead to equally unique truths and moralities and priorities etc. Rather, He calls us to follow Him. He Himself is the unifying factor in the diversity of His people, and we will only be truly and fully ourselves when we die to ourselves and follow Him. You will know who you are when you are yourself (not that other person) fully in submission to and in love with and in pursuit of the biblical Jesus Christ.
So, these words settle our hearts by telling us that we don’t have to be ________, we only have to be ourselves loving Jesus with all that we are.
Pride – Silencing
Pride thrives on comparisons. A prideful spirit is constantly surveying the “competition,” congratulating itself when it sees someone it deems inferior, and finding weaknesses and faults in those who might surpass it. Roving, comparing, competing eyes are sure symptoms of and servants to the prideful heart, and in John 21:22, Jesus plucks them out.
By telling Peter not to worry about John’s story, but rather to follow Him, He is telling each one of us that the comparison game – especially among Christians – is worthless. Paul says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 10:12 –
“…when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another that are without understanding.”
It is senseless to puff myself up because I come out of a comparison on top, and equally senseless to tear myself down when a comparison leaves me feeling like a dwarf in a giant’s shadow. As I said above, this would be like the eye boasting that it, unlike the heart, can see….or like the eye spiraling into depression because it , unlike the heart, doesn’t supply blood to the rest of the body. “You are an eye,” Jesus would say, “Be an eye and don’t compare yourself to the heart!”
The next time you are tempted to compare your achievements with theirs, or your family with hers, or your track record with his, remember these words of Christ, “What is that to you? You follow me!” A humble heart is a happy heart, may the Lord grant each of us to grow in these things!
And lastly, these words of Christ are like a glittering North Star on the compass of our hearts. Peter was about to enter into the most trying period of his life, and the words that the Shepherd leaves with him are beautiful in their simplicity and paradigm shifting in their exclusivity: “Follow me.”
Not, “bear fruit,” not “study hard,” not “do good,” or even “fight sin,” (though all those things are necessary outcomes of following Christ). No, the single command, the North Star that Jesus gave to Peter and gives to us is the call to follow Him. Life is about a person. It is about knowing the person who is God, and – knowing Him – to love Him, and – loving Him – to follow Him.
There are countless ways to ruin our lives….countless ways to waste the time given to us…countless ways to lose our direction and wander into fruitless sin….but we cannot go wrong if the single consuming priority of our life is to know and love and follow God in Jesus Christ. If you are following the North Star, you will go North….you might fall into a swamp, you might walk through an enemy camp, you might die of thirst in a desert, but you will be going North – and if life is about “going North,” then congratulations, you lived it to the fullest. In the same way, if – by desperate dependence on God’s grace – we follow Christ we will be living as we ought to be, no matter what the consequences.
May the Lord give us grace – as individuals and as a faith-community – to know Him in Christ, to love Him in Christ, and to follow Him wherever He may lead…..because ultimately every path that follows Him leads to fullness of Joy in His presence.
The living Jesus Christ speaks these heart-settling, pride-silencing, priority-establishing words afresh to each one of us right this second: “What is that to you? You follow me!”
Amen, Lord – enable us to follow as long as we live.