But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 26:23-25 NRSV)
Somewhere recently I read that the first followers of Jesus did not see themselves as a new institution, or a new religion, or even a reformation of Judaism. The first followers of Jesus saw themselves as just that, followers. Which begs the question, how do we see ourselves?
Just a few days ago I was at a local restaurant and overheard the teenagers at the next table talking about their church backgrounds. Each one identified with their church, “I’m Nazarene” or, “I’m Baptist.” I couldn’t help but think of the passage from 1 Corinthians.
For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor. 3:4-9)
In these verses Paul is teaching the Corinthian church about how easily we can be divided and lose sight of what should be our focus, God. Specifically, God as we have come to understand the divine through Christ Jesus.
Whether or not it is said in such plain terms, or couched in religious language, or whispered in hushed conversations, division in the church is a dangerous thing. It is, in my experience and opinion, one of the most-often used tools in Satan’s tool-bag. However, before we are too harsh on ourselves for the divisions we allow to separate us, we would do well to remember that this is a very natural thing.
Jesus told his disciples that the road ahead wouldn’t be easy. And, he chose some very powerful images to make his point. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” If you want to save your life, you must lose it. That’s hard stuff. Harder, I think, than asking the rich young ruler to give all of his possessions away to follow Jesus. If you’re asking me to give up my very life… Well, that is a pretty big ask.
And that is exactly what Jesus asks of us. For the sake of the gospel, for the sake of following Jesus, we are asked to give ourselves over to God. Wholly and completely. Without reservation. If you have any semblance of control issues (goodness knows I do!), then this is going to be quite a struggle, and a process. Hopefully you will find encouragement, as I do, in Jesus’ words from Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” If we believe that, and if we can conquer our fears, if we give our lives to following Jesus we will receive not only our lives, but full and overflowing lives. Now, that sounds like a pretty good deal!