Summary: We should accept it as axiomatic that God’s dealings with our fellow-disciples are no concern of ours. Our business is to watch our motives carefully, to keep our eyes on the Lord whom we follow, and not to look over our shoulders at others.
Tested saints in all ages have been prone to complain like Israel: “the way of the Lord is not equal” (Ezekiel 18:29). Some of God’s dealings seem to contradict our innate sense of fairness; and instead of faithfully discharging our responsibilities, we are tempted to look over our shoulder at others.
This was a tendency of Peter the apostle and with which our Lord dealt very firmly on two occasions. At times there seemed to be a touch of ruthlessness or at least of acerbity in the Lord’s response to what appeared to be a harmless inquiries. Surely Peter’s well-intentioned suggestion that the Master might be a little easier on Himself hardly merited the terrible rebuke “Get you behind Me, Satan; you are an offence unto Me” (Matthew 16:23). And did not his innocuous inquiry about John’s future “What shall this man do?” (John 21:21) meet with too harsh a reception in the words: “What is that to you? You Follow Me” – a polite way of saying “Mind your own business Peter!” Was not our Lord’s warning that “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” a rather chilling response to Peter’s reasonable question; “Lo, we have left all and followed You?” Did the Lord take delight in baiting Peter or was He seeking to underscore an important truth?
There was undoubtedly an underlying reason for the sternness of our Lord’s words which has relevance for all His servants today. Jesus had just concluded His tender yet soul-searching interview with the now humbled and penitent Peter. In response to the Master’s thrice repeated question, he had made his renewed protestation of love and had received a fresh commission. There had followed the prophetic intimation of the violent death by which he would glorify God, and the final injunction “Follow Me” (John 21:15-19)
One would have thought that the moving experiences of the past few hours would have sufficed to concentrate Peter’s attention on the Master who had so graciously restored and re-commissioned him. But no! Instead of being occupied with the Lord, he gets busy comparing his own future with that of John. Immediately his mind flies off on a tangent, and with ever-ready tongue he blurts out, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” In His customary manner Jesus answers Peter’s captious question with another: “If I will that he tarries till I come, what is that to you? You Follow Me!”
Peter was intruding into a realm which was no concern of his. In the shock of learning that he would have to tread the pathway of rejection and suffering, his first reaction was to compare his lot with that of others. Is he being discriminated against? Will John be exempted from the hardships he must endure? Will John be bound and carried whither he would not or will he be accorded preferential treatment? It is not difficult to sense the beginnings of a new self-pity. Instead of answering his elliptical question Jesus sharply rebuked Peter’s curiosity.
The fact is that Peter is being trained in the school of Christ for supremely important work in the interests of the Kingdom, and he must learn his lessons thoroughly. In his following of Jesus, he must never turn about and compare his lot with that of another disciple. His constant temptation was to try to manage other people’s affairs. Did he not on one occasion even try to manage Jesus? He must learn that His Master deals with each of His disciples individually and in ways which are not always clear or explicable to others. No disciple has any business to concern himself with the way the Lord is dealing with another or to compare his lot with theirs. Did Peter but know it, John would drink of the cup of suffering as deeply as he, but that was no concern of his. His sole care was to follow his Lord, watching his own walk and discharging his responsibility to feed the flock of God. (John 21:15-17)
It is noteworthy that Jesus offered no explanation or interpretation of His rebuke, for no obligation rests on the Sovereign Lord to explain Himself to His disciple. He simply made it crystal clear that Peter was meddling in a matter that was not his concern. He offered no word of comfort, for to administer comfort now would be to indulge weakness and induce self-pity. Peter was a soldier about to engage in relentless warfare, and he must have rigorous training. Here then is the background of those words of stern rebuke. Jesus wants heroes, not busy bodies. He must have those who without self pity render unquestioning obedience to His command. In effect, Christ was saying: “Your concern should be to keep on following Me, and not fretting over whether your brother disciple is going to receive preferential treatment.”