A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt. 16:23)
In part one of this study, we learned that Jesus was telling the disciples about His upcoming ordeal in Jerusalem where He would suffer many things at the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law culminating in His death and resurrection. Peter had taken Him aside and rebuked Him. “Never Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matt. 16:22).
This resulted in the Lord’s sharp command to “Get behind me Satan.”
We spoke about forming new attitudes (Ephes 4:22-24) having our minds renewed (Romans 12:1-2) and turning away from evil desires (1 Peter 1:13-14) which are things we’re all called to do. But don’t make the mistake so many make in thinking they only apply to remove the sin from our lives. Peter was not committing some grievous sin when the Lord rebuked him. He only had in mind the things of men instead of the things of God.
The phrase things of men refers to things we normally don’t count among our sins. These things can include patriotism, good works, ecumenism, self-determination, self-reliance, personal achievement, and others.
There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12)
It was natural for Peter to want to protect the Lord from what was coming. They’d been constant companions for over three years and in addition to knowing that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, Peter had developed a genuine affection for Him. He even said he would die before disowning the Lord (Matt. 26:35) and stood alone with a drawn sword against several dozen trained soldiers, intending to prevent His arrest (John 18:10). Had Peter had his way, he would have kept them from taking the Lord and would have whisked Him away to safety instead. Any able-bodied man would have felt the same way.
In Matthew’s account of the Lord’s arrest, we see the difference between the things of God and the things of men clearly revealed.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matt. 26:52-54)
Jesus was not in any danger, as Peter supposed, but was obeying the will of God. The events of that night and the following day had all been foreordained, and while He could have stopped them at any time, Jesus had agreed in advance to allow them to happen. It was the only way mankind could have a hope of salvation. Peter’s well-intended defense was contrary to God’s will and would have only resulted in his own death.
One best-selling author of historical novels suggested that Judas might have had good intentions as well. This author speculated that Judas had convinced himself that the contention between Jesus and the religious authorities was just a misunderstanding. Unlike the other disciples, Judas was from a well-connected family in Jerusalem and knew some of these leaders. He believed they were sincere and if he could just get Jesus to sit down and talk with them he was sure they could resolve their differences. The author said this was the motive that led to his act of betrayal. It seemed like the only way to arrange a meeting between them. Afterward, he realized his mistake and was filled with remorse. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matt. 27:4).
Of course, we don’t know for sure what his motives were, but it’s not an unreasonable assumption. Judas could simply have had in mind the things of men, things like discussion, accommodation, and compromise. And Satan could have used his desires to tempt him into betraying the Lord.
James said that God doesn’t tempt us, but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. He said desire gives birth to sin and sin gives birth to death (James 1:13-15). It’s an adaptation of Proverbs 14:12 and tells us even honorable intentions can lead us into sin if they’re based on the things of man rather than the things of God.
Remain In Me
Jesus warned us to remain in Him. He said if we do we will bear much fruit, but apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:4-5). We know He wasn’t talking about our salvation. In the first place salvation is not a fruit-bearing event. And earlier Jesus had said once we’re saved no one can take us out of His hands (John 10:27-30). The phrase “no one” includes us. Paul said having been saved, we are no longer our own but have been bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and God has set His seal of ownership on us guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22). We couldn’t get away if we wanted to.
No, Jesus was talking about remaining in His will. Remaining in His will requires that we yield our life to him. We stop conforming to the pattern of this world and allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2). When we’re in His will we can be fruitful, but when we’re out of His will we can’t accomplish anything of value to the kingdom. And don’t forget, when we yield our life to Him He’ll give us the desire of our heart (Psalm 37:4). He said He came so we could have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). It’s a win-win deal.
This is another slant on the things of man versus the things of God. When we’re in His will we’re doing things at His direction and in His strength. We’re doing the things of God, and no matter how minuscule the results seem to us, in His eyes, they’re like gold, silver, and precious gems.
But when we’re out of His will we’re acting on our own initiative and in our own strength. That means we’re doing the things of man and no matter how much we think we’ve accomplished, in God’s eyes the results are like wood hay and straw (1 Cor. 3:12-13). That’s because the things of man work to Satan’s benefit and are of no more value to the kingdom than the branches that are pruned, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:6).
So Much For Good Intentions
If even good intentions can be used to lead us into sin how are we supposed to know the difference between the things of God and the things of man? The Bible shows us several ways. First, the presence of the Holy Spirit gives us the power of discernment. (As we’ve already seen, Peter lacked this power since he hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet.) Sometimes this discernment comes in the form of a “check” in our spirit. It’s a warning from the Holy Spirit to stop and think and often manifests itself as a lack of peace about a decision we’ve made or a direction we’re heading.
Other times we can tell something is not of God because it’s in conflict with what we know about God’s word. Paul described this in Acts 17:11, warning us to search the Scriptures to see if what we’re hearing is consistent with God’s word.
In 2 Cor 10:3-5 he explained this in greater detail. He wrote,
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
This is where our knowledge of God’s word is so important. A stronghold is a strongly held belief. If it’s contrary to our knowledge of God it’s part of the old self Paul told us to put off as we’re being made new in the attitude of our mind (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Depending On God
Here’s an example. For many, self-reliance is a strongly held belief, sometimes expressed in an effort to store up money and goods against an uncertain future. But is it contrary to our knowledge of God? Time after time the Bible argues against self-reliance. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Are little children self-reliant? Where our salvation is concerned, are we not to rely totally on the completed work of Christ instead of trying to work our own way in? (Ephes. 2:8-9).
And did Jesus encourage us to store up treasure on Earth, or did He specifically speak against it?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21).
And didn’t Jesus call the rich farmer a fool for tearing down his “small” barn to build a bigger one to hold all his excess? (Luke 12:16-21) The Lord knew that once you begin storing up for the future, enough is never enough.
No. He told us not to worry about these things, but to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness and all our needs would be met. (Matt. 6: 31-33).
The attitude of self-reliance is a stronghold. It’s part of the old self we’ve been told to put off, and it sets itself up against the knowledge of God. We are to take it captive and make it obedient to Christ, and the way we do that is to obey His teaching. He said not to worry about the future (Matt. 6:34) but instead to give generously to those in need because God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor.9:6-7). He said doing so is the best way to ensure we will always have more than enough for ourselves (2 Cor. 9:11). Choosing to obey Him is how we’re made new in the attitude of our mind.
Becoming A Monarchist
A well known Bible teacher was once asked if he is a Republican or a Democrat. “Neither” he replied. “I’m a monarchist, and I await my coming King.”
Another example of the things of man is patriotism, especially among Americans. For reasons I don’t understand I woke up one morning recently with the words to “My Country Tis Of Thee” running through my mind. After I had mentally sung them, I followed up with “America the Beautiful” and finally “The Star-Spangled Banner”. There were tears in my eyes as I was struck anew at the depth of the love I have for my country. For a brief moment, the fact that the America I fell in love with is not the America that exists today was irrelevant. I will freely admit that this love is a stronghold in my mind.
But the thought that America on its best day could compete with the future God has planned for those who love Him is a pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and I had to remind myself that this was a part of my old self, the one I’ve put off in the process of being made new in the attitude of my mind (Ephes. 4:22-24).
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).
When I became a believer I became a child of God (John 1:12) and a citizen of Heaven (Phil. 3:20), part of a kingdom that resides temporarily in this world but is not of this world (John 18:36). At that time I made a choice to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness because no man can serve two masters. And though I treasure the memories I have of growing up in America, I know they are only part of my temporary life here. I will not let them cloud the vision God has given me of the Kingdom He has in store for us, because that life will last for eternity (2 Cor. 4:18). I don’t want to return to the past. I want to be taken into the glorious future He promised us.
I chose these two examples because they’re currently popular in our national thinking. We have neither the time nor the space here to explore all the things of men that have formed our attitudes of mind. But if we follow Paul’s direction in Romans 12:1-2 we’ll be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good and pleasing and perfect will. Then we’ll each be able to distinguish between the things of God and the things of man in our own life, and we’ll be able to say to the things of man that continue to occupy our thoughts, “Get behind me Satan, you’re a stumbling block to me.”