Having just finished a seven-year career in the military back in 2014 before moving to the Dallas/Fort Worth area to attend Dallas Seminary full time, I admit that I had been deprived of a great number of life experiences that Americans otherwise get between the ages of 22 and 29. One quite notable example is applying for jobs. We moved into our apartment in south Arlington, we found a local church, and we decided that we would stick with this church that first Sunday we attended. A few days after we attended for the first time, I was there on the DTS job board webpage, and I found the perfect job: worship leader at the church we had just decided upon. Well, that was fast! I had just been a worship leader for two and a half years. Sign me up!
Long story short, I did not get that position, and it turned out that their theology of worship was too different not only for me to take the position but even for my family and me to remain in that church. Of course, I was left questioning my motives. Was I applying for this position for my own glory or for God’s, and how exactly do I feel or should I feel for getting turned down?
If you’re in seminary, you might be there because you’re looking to move into full-time vocational ministry, and you may be seeking genuine assurance that your surface-level intentions toward being in ministry are pure. How do we avoid being overly interested in the benefits to ourselves? We can find answers to this in the biblical story of Peter. We’ll look at Mark 8, John 21, and 1 Peter 5. In these passages, we’ll see the problem of pride, the solution of humility, and the application of trusting the Lord with where He places us.
Pride Will Constrain Your Ministry
We’re here in the passage that serves as the middle climax of Mark’s gospel, but that climax is soon followed by an epic gaffe.
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
(Mark 8:27–30 ESV)
Oh, that is such a wonderful passage. If I were Peter, that’s how I would want to be remembered. But of course, you know that’s now how he’s remembered. Ask any kid in Sunday school who’s Peter, and they’ll probably tell you that he denied Jesus three times or perhaps this:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
(Mark 8:31–33 ESV)
Woops. Let’s break this passage down.
First, we do see that Peter expresses a true confession of faith. “You are the Christ.” The Anointed One! The Suffering Servant foretold by the Prophets! Peter gets it!. But we soon learn that a true confession isn’t quite enough in terms of discipleship. DTS warned us often that having right doctrine alone isn’t enough to make it in ministry, but it’s difficult to grasp the full gravity of that while living in an academic world. I certainly know of a couple of people who are guilty of exactly that. One, me. And two, Peter.Pride will cripple our discipleship and, thus, our ministry. Click To Tweet
Peter is thinking about earthly consequences and worldly reasoning rather than God’s sovereign plan. “You know what?” says Peter, “It would be really bad for this Jesus movement if Jesus were to die. We have to keep Jesus alive, or his ministry is going to die with him! And I’m not going to let that happen, because I’m Peter, and am the strongest and most devout of the disciples! I’ll show them!” And by the way, I think we miss the fact that Peter was a net fisherman. Don’t think in terms of those reality TV shows about fishermen; they actually have machinery. Peter was likely very physically strong and therefore placing all kinds of trust in that fact. But this is enough to earn Jesus’ sharpest rebuke.
Mark the evangelist teaches us here that even with a genuine confession of faith, pride constrains discipleship.
Thus, just as Peter’s pride crippled his discipleship, so also pride will cripple our discipleship and, thus, our ministry. This can take all kinds of forms. Perhaps primarily, there’s overconfidence in skills and knowledge apart from the Spirit’s empowerment. What makes you confident that you’ll be successful in ministry? Is it the sermons you preach in this class, the wealth of A’s and B’s on your seminary transcript, even as those B’s are actually 90%, not 81%?
What’s the solution? Humility.
Humility Keeps Us from Serving God Just for Our Own Benefit
We see this in the life of Peter in John 21. This is the scene in which Jesus restores Peter to ministry. Peter and others had gone out fishing, and they realize after finding a large catch of fish that it was Jesus who led them to it. They head ashore, and Jesus has a charcoal fire ready to go for them.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
(John 21:15–19 ESV)
And so with Peter’s repentance, Jesus restores Peter to ministry three times after Peter had denied Jesus three times. A few observations are in order. First, notice how Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me more than these do?” There’s some debate on what “these” refers to, but the likely answer here is that it refers to the other disciples. Recall that Peter proclaimed that even if all of the other disciples would fall away that he would never fall away.
“I will never do that do you, Jesus.”
“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you did.”
Now that Peter has been through this fall, Jesus asks Peter essentially, “Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?” Peter doesn’t reply, “No, I don’t love you more.” But he does stop short of bragging above the other disciples. He simply loves Jesus, and that’s enough.
We also see that Jesus’ commission to Peter is to selfless service. Note the imperatives from Jesus. “Feed my lambs.” “Shepherd my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” And then Jesus tells Peter how he’s going to die. No longer is this about Peter being the best disciple. There’s no “Follow me harder than everyone else.” It’s just service to Jesus, and it’s going to end miserably, perhaps pathetically.
We then see in verses 20 to 22 that Peter is not to be concerned about how God calls others into ministry. He looks at John and begins to compare himself. But Jesus tells Peter not to be concerned about that.
And thus, John the evangelist here is telling disciples—us—to be content with our calling and not envious of the callings of others. Are we sinfully envious of what others are doing in ministry? True humility is the simple service to which Jesus is calling Peter in this passage.
“Feed my lambs.”
“Shepherd my sheep.”
“Feed my sheep.”
When DTS would host its annual missions conference, I couldn’t help but feel envious of the opportunities to which I wasn’t called. Boy, I would love to be a missionary pilot. I grew up flying planes with my dad. I could land a Cessna 172 at age 12. I really had that touch. Or list any other opportunities that sound really, really fun or fulfilling to you, but you and I know full well that not all of us are called to things like that. And we know full well that we can attempt to go into these opportunities with the wrong motivations in mind and have the door shut in ways we don’t expect.
Are you dissatisfied with where you are right now? Do you ever get a feeling like, “You know, I can’t wait to finish out seminary and then go into the real ministry”?
Serve with Humility Where God Has You Now
Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
(1Peter 5:5–6 ESV)
Peter’s exhortation to the church at his time really is the same today. We need to clothe ourselves with humility. What’s that? This word for clothe appears only once in the New Testament. I think I can illustrate this well in terms of military chaplains. This isn’t true in every military, but in the U.S. military, every chaplain is an officer. They wear officers’ uniforms, receive officers’ pay, and they receive salutes just like every other officer. But when a good chaplain adorns himself with humility, that humility is so strong that the fancy officer uniform almost doesn’t matter.
Probably none of you are going into military chaplaincy. I’m probably not, either, but what’s your clothing? Does the stance you put on scream Master of Theology, or does it simply say disciple and servant? And it’s not just your stance towards others. How’s your heart? Does your heart scream entitlement to a ministry position commensurate with your academic achievement, or does it say “I’m a disciple and a servant” who’s working for a future reward in the eschaton?It’s okay to look forward to when you’ve completed all of the fundraising necessary in order to get to the mission field where you might be called. It’s not okay to neglect your present mission. Click To Tweet
Trust God that you are where He desires you in all seasons, especially now. It’s okay to look forward to a time when the Lord may call you into full-time vocational ministry. It’s okay to look forward to when you’ve completed all of the fundraising necessary in order to get to the mission field where you might be called. It’s not okay to neglect your present mission. And it’s not okay to clothe yourself with a sense of being entitled to full-time vocational ministry. It’s not okay to look at a classmate’s profile on Facebook and get jealous when you see where God has called him. And rather than serving with a title of full-time minister in mind, serve with the future reward in mind.
So let’s review. One, pride will constrain your ministry. Two, humility keeps us from serving God just for our own benefit. Three, serve God with humility where He has you now, and trust Him for what’s next. Ten years from now, what will you say about how your job hunt went? Will you look back with embarrassment over how little faith you placed in the Lord, or will you simply praise the Lord for his perfect timing without any thought of shame?