Spirit & Truth # 239
“Looking Out for Number One”
By Rev. Greg Smith
In Matthew 16:21-24, Jesus tries to prepare His disciples for His impending suffering and crucifixion, but Peter refuses to accept Jesus’ predictions. Verse 22 (NIV) says, “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’”
The Greek words translated as “Never, Lord!” in the NIV are ileos soi, which literally means “Merciful you!” Young’s Literal Translation renders it, “Be kind to thyself, sir!” In essence, it could be said that Peter was looking out for Number One—himself. He was looking out for his own emotional needs not to lose his master. He disguised it as looking out for Jesus’ needs, imploring Jesus to treat Himself kindly and find some other way.
In verse 23 (NIV), Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus means that Peter has made himself Number One in his own life, taking care of his own self-interests and actually becoming an adversary to God’s redemptive plan. The name “Satan” actually means “adversary,” so in this case it truly could be said that Peter was a satan. Peter’s words, “Be kind to thyself, sir” almost echo the false concern that Satan tried to show Jesus when he tempted the Lord in the wilderness. I can imagine the Evil One saying, “Be kind to yourself, Jesus. If you’re hungry, then just turn these stones to bread.”[i]
When we follow our own agendas rather God’s interests, we make ourselves Number One in our own lives. The 1977 book, Looking Out for Number One[ii], by Robert J. Ringer, espouses the idea of putting yourself first. Ringer says, “Looking Out For Number One is the conscious, rational effort to spend as much time as possible doing those things which bring you the greatest amount of pleasure and less time on those which cause pain (Pg. 10).” He also writes, “When you boil it all down, I think that’s what everyone’s main objective in life is—to feel good (Pg. 12).”
Is that what life’s all about? Feeling good? Maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain? At that moment, Peter seemed to think so. He was so focused on feeling good that he forgot to glorify God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” When your chief end is to feel good, you become a satan in your life and in the lives of others. When your chief end is to glorify God, you truly assist the mission of Christ in the world. Thank God that Jesus' mission wasn't all about feeling good--but in glorifying God, even to the point of self-sacrifice!
In verses 24-25 (NIV), Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” The word Jesus uses for life is psuchen, from which we get the word psyche. Jesus’ meaning is clear: Whoever wants to reserve their thoughts, identity, and agenda for themselves will instead lose themselves. Whoever gives their psyche up to God will gain all. So, who’s Number One in your life? Is it you—or is it Jesus? I challenge you to look out for Number One—but be careful who that Number One really is.