Distraction from what should be our key focus in spiritual things is frighteningly easy. It’s most easy when it is subtle and seems to be related to spiritual things. Often it is a concern with what others are doing or not doing. The danger is that in embarking on a crusade to point this or that out and put everyone right we neglect ourselves. Or we may be tempted to ask why certain things are in their experience but not ours. This does not always help us either grow personally or edify others, especially when it becomes our primary focus. It’s not that all comparisons are wrong and sometimes they can be helpful and edifying. We certainly owe a duty of care and love to fellow believers. But when it consumes our time and energy so that we are less devoted to our main responsibilities something is wrong. It’s a subtle distraction, a bit like those who want to deflect a difficult question by raising a different issue, saying “what about this or that?” Indeed, Christ, Himself dissuades from engaging in unhelpful and distracting comparisons for some vitally important reasons.
Peter was tempted to ask this question in his conversation with Christ (John 21:19-22). After Christ and Peter had left the rest of the company, John followed on of his own accord. Peter turning back and observing this enquires from Christ what would become of him. This is prompted by Christ having foretold Peter’s sufferings (18-19). Christ reproves him for this because he was involving himself with that which did not concern him. He showed him, that even if it was His will to exempt John from suffering death and preserve him alive until his own second coming, it ought not to affect Peter’s own resolve. He, therefore, commands him to follow Him and cleave to his duty, which he had neglected in this way.
It is striking that this follows on from Christ asking whether Peter was still comparing himself favourably with the other disciples. Peter was asked if he loved Christ “more than these” (that is more than any of the rest). This was a rebuke to his former self-confidence that he would never forsake Christ even though all the rest might (Matthew 26:33). In showing his weakness in this way he teaches him that he must watch against and cure the root of the sin of denying Christ. Christ shows him what had occasioned his former fall to see what he thinks of it and if this still prevailed with him. George Hutcheson helps us apply the truths of this passage in the following updated extract.
1. It is easy to be distracted from our duty
The children of the Lord are subject to many distractions and interruptions in following their Christian course. They often look or turn aside and are distracted from earnestly looking towards the mark and prize. Peter is urged to follow Christ at this time and to set his heart and eye on his duty and what he will encounter. Peter turned about to look at something behind him (whether merely of his own accord or because he had heard a noise of someone following (see Luke 9:62). Christ reproves Peter in this by repeating the command to follow Him.
Although the interruptions the children of God have in following their duty may seem very small in themselves, they may often be a snare that detains them still further. This then draws reproof from Christ; when Peter sees John it occasions a curious question and draws forth a reproof, not only for looking back but for curiosity.
2. Christ condemns excessive curiosity about others
Christ abhors curiosity in His people when they have so many necessary things to give themselves to. They should give their attention more to what concerns them rather than others. Peter asks “what shall this man do?” (or literally “what this man?”) that is, what shall become of him (as Christ’s answer makes clear). Christ responds by saying that this is not Peter’s concern, he must give himself to following Christ. This certainly does not mean that Christ condemns a concern for our brothers that flows from love. But it shows that He is displeased with idle curiosity, when Peter had received a strict command to follow Him.
It is a sin to be anxious, or too much concerned about what Christ will do with His beloved people. Christ’s reproof to Peter’s enquiry concerning the beloved disciple, implies that it was weakness for Peter to be troubled concerning him in any way.
Christ has sovereign authority to dispose of His own, and to keep them longer or shorter in the world with greater ease or trouble as He chooses. He does not need to give an account of His dealings to any. Whatever Christ wills to do with John in the future is no concern of Peter’s. Neither Peter, nor any other could say anything about it.
3. It is wrong to be distracted by comparisons with others
It is the duty of saints not to compare the Lord’s dealing with themselves and others in a way that makes them withdraw from their duty or be discouraged in it. Peter might think it strange if he was the only one called to suffer but Christ diverts him from looking at His dealings with John and urges him to mind his own concerns. Such comparisons (however much they may sometimes sharpen us and give us reasons for praise) often cause many problems. We are naturally inclined to be discontent with our own condition and think that what is lacking in it would be best for us as though we have a harder lot than others. But Christ has various ways in which people may serve Him and He may appoint that as He pleases. Such comparisons often tempt people to halt in their duty, when they see others in a more desirable condition.
Those who want to avoid such curiosity and unnecessary and pointless activities ought to follow their own work and calling closely. Christ withdraws Peter from all these enquiries, by commanding him again to follow Him.
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