Serving Jehovah With a Self-Sacrificing Spirit
“If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.”—MATTHEW 16:24.
1. How did Jesus inform his disciples about his impending death?
IN THE shadow of snowcapped Mount Hermon, Jesus Christ reaches a major milestone in his life. He has less than one year to live. He knows it; his disciples do not. The time has now come for them to know. True, Jesus has alluded to his impending death before, but this is the first time he is explicit about it. (Matthew 9:15; 12:40) Matthew’s account reads: “From that time forward Jesus Christ commenced showing his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.”—Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31, 32.
2. What was Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ words about His future suffering, and how did Jesus respond?
2 Jesus’ days are numbered. Peter, though, bristles at such a seemingly morbid thought. He cannot accept that the Messiah will really be killed. Therefore, Peter dares to rebuke his Master. Impelled by the best of intentions, he impetuously urges: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this destiny at all.” But Jesus immediately rejects Peter’s misplaced kindness, as positively as one would crush the head of a poisonous snake. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.”—Matthew 16:22, 23.
3. (a) How did Peter unwittingly make himself an agent of Satan? (b) How was Peter a stumbling block to a course of self-sacrifice?
3 Peter has unwittingly made himself an agent of Satan. Jesus’ retort is as decisive as when he answered Satan in the wilderness. There the Devil tried to tempt Jesus with an easy life, a kingship without suffering. (Matthew 4:1-10) Now Peter encourages him to be easy on himself. Jesus knows that this is not his Father’s will. His life must be one of self-sacrifice, not one of self-gratification. (Matthew 20:28) Peter becomes a stumbling block to such a course; his well-meaning sympathy becomes a trap.* Jesus, though, sees clearly that if he entertained any idea of a life free from sacrifice, he would fall out of God’s favor by being caught in the death grip of a satanic trap.
4. Why was a life of self-indulgent comfort not for Jesus and his followers?
4 Peter’s thinking, therefore, needed adjustment. His words to Jesus represented a man’s idea, not God’s. A life of self-indulgent comfort, an easy way out of suffering, was not for Jesus; neither was such a life to be for his followers, for Jesus next says to Peter and the rest of the disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.”—Matthew 16:24.
5. (a) What is the challenge of living the Christian life? (b) For what three necessary things must a Christian be prepared?
5 Again and again, Jesus returns to this key theme: the challenge of living the Christian life. In order to be Jesus’ followers, Christians, like their Leader, must serve Jehovah with the spirit of self-sacrifice. (Matthew 10:37-39) Thus, he lists three necessary things a Christian must be prepared to do: (1) disown himself, (2) pick up his torture stake, and (3) continually follow Him.
“If Anyone Wants to Come After Me”
6. (a) How does a person disown himself? (b) Whom must we please above self?
6 What does it mean to disown oneself? It means that a person has to deny himself absolutely, a kind of death to self. The basic meaning of the Greek word translated “disown” is “to say no”; it means “to deny utterly.” Therefore, if you accept the challenge of the Christian life, you willingly surrender your own ambitions, comfort, desires, happiness, pleasure. In essence, you give your whole life and everything that it involves to Jehovah God for all time. To disown oneself means more than denying oneself certain pleasures now and then. Rather, it means that a person must relinquish ownership of himself to Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20) A person who has disowned himself lives to please, not self, but God. (Romans 14:8; 15:3) It means that every moment of his life, he says no to selfish desires and yes to Jehovah.
7. What is the Christian’s torture stake, and how does he carry it?
7 To pick up your torture stake, therefore, has serious implications. Carrying a stake is a burden and a symbol of death. The Christian is willing to suffer if need be, or be shamed or tortured or even put to death because of being a follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said: “Whoever does not accept his torture stake and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) Not all who suffer are carrying the torture stake. The wicked have many “pains” but no torture stake. (Psalm 32:10) However, the Christian’s life is a life of carrying the torture stake of sacrificial service to Jehovah.
8. What pattern of life did Jesus set for his followers?
8 The last condition Jesus mentioned is that we continually follow him. Jesus requires not only that we accept and believe in what he taught but also that, for our entire life, we continually follow the pattern he set. And what are some of the dominant features seen in his pattern of life? When he gave his followers their final commission, he said: “Go therefore and make disciples . . . , teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) Jesus preached and taught the good news of the Kingdom. So did his immediate disciples and, indeed, the entire early Christian congregation. This zealous activity in addition to their being no part of the world brought upon them the hatred and opposition of the world, which resulted in their torture stake being even heavier to carry.—John 15:19, 20; Acts 8:4.
9. How did Jesus treat other people?
9 Another prominent pattern seen in Jesus’ life was the way he treated other people. He was kind and “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” Thus, his listeners felt renewed in spirit and were encouraged by his presence. (Matthew 11:29) He did not browbeat them into following him or lay down rule after rule as to how they were to do so; nor did he induce feelings of guilt to force them to be his disciples. Despite their life of self-sacrifice, they radiated genuine joy. What a sharp contrast with those having the worldly spirit of self-indulgence that marks “the last days”!—2 Timothy 3:1-4.
Develop and Maintain the Self-Sacrificing Spirit of Jesus
10. (a) According to Philippians 2:5-8, how did Christ disown himself? (b) If we are followers of Christ, what mental attitude must we display?
10 Jesus set the example in disowning self. He picked up his torture stake and continually carried it by doing his Father’s will. Paul wrote to Christians in Philippi: “Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake.” (Philippians 2:5-8) Who could disown himself more completely than that? If you belong to Christ Jesus and you are one of his followers, you must keep this same mental attitude.
11. Living a life of self-sacrifice means living for whose will?
11 Another apostle, Peter, tells us that since Jesus suffered and died for us, Christians are to arm themselves, like well-prepared soldiers, with the same spirit that Christ had. He writes: “Therefore since Christ suffered in the flesh, you too arm yourselves with the same mental disposition; because the person that has suffered in the flesh has desisted from sins, to the end that he may live the remainder of his time in the flesh, no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will.” (1 Peter 3:18; 4:1, 2) Jesus’ self-sacrificing course clearly showed how he felt about it. He was single-minded in his devotion, always putting his Father’s will above his own, even to the point of an ignominious death.—Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:42.
12. Was a life of self-sacrifice distasteful to Jesus? Explain.
12 Although Jesus’ life of self-sacrifice was an arduous and challenging path for him to follow, he did not find it distasteful. Rather, Jesus took pleasure in submitting himself to the divine will. To him, doing his Father’s work was like food. He received real satisfaction from it, just as one would from a good meal. (Matthew 4:4; John 4:34) Thus, if you want to feel truly fulfilled in your life, you can do nothing better than follow the example of Jesus by cultivating his mental disposition.
13. How is love the driving force behind the spirit of self-sacrifice?
13 Really, what is the driving force behind the spirit of self-sacrifice? In a word, love. Jesus said: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39) A Christian cannot be self-seeking and, at the same time, obey those words. His own happiness and interest must be governed first and foremost by his love of Jehovah and then by his love of neighbor. That is how Jesus lived his life, and that is what he expects of his followers.
14. (a) What responsibilities are explained at Hebrews 13:15, 16? (b) What spurs us on to preach the good news with zeal?
14 The apostle Paul understood this law of love. He wrote: “Through him let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name. Moreover, do not forget the doing of good and the sharing of things with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15, 16) Christians do not offer to Jehovah sacrifices of animals or the like; hence, they do not need human priests at a material temple to officiate in their worship. It is through Christ Jesus that our sacrifice of praise is offered. And it is principally by means of that sacrifice of praise, that public declaration to his name, that we show our love of God. In particular our unselfish spirit rooted in love spurs us on to preach the good news with zeal, striving to be ever at the ready to offer to God the fruit of our lips. In this way we show love of neighbor too.
Self-Sacrifice Brings Rich Blessings
15. What probing questions regarding self-sacrifice can we ask ourselves?
15 Pause for a moment and reflect on the following questions: Does the present pattern of my life exhibit a course of self-sacrifice? Do my goals point to such a life? Are the members of my family reaping spiritual dividends from my example? (Compare 1 Timothy 5:8.) What about orphans and widows? Do they too benefit from my self-sacrificing spirit? (James 1:27) Can I expand the time I spend in my public sacrifice of praise? Am I able to reach out for the privilege of pioneer, Bethel, or missionary service, or can I move to serve in an area where there is a greater need for Kingdom proclaimers?
16. How might ingenuity help us to lead a life of self-sacrifice?
16 Sometimes it takes just a little ingenuity to reach our full potential in serving Jehovah with a self-sacrificing spirit. For example, Janet, a regular pioneer in Ecuador, worked full-time secularly. Before long, her schedule made it difficult for her to meet the regular-pioneer hour requirements with a cheerful spirit. She decided to explain the problem to her employer and requested a cut in hours of work. Since he was not willing to reduce her work time, she next took along Maria, who was looking for part-time work so that she could pioneer. Each of them offered to work a half day, sharing a full day’s work. The employer agreed to the proposal. Now both sisters are regular pioneers. Upon seeing this wonderful result, Kaffa, who was also exhausted from working full-time for the same company and struggling to keep up with her pioneer time, took along Magali and made the same offer. It too was accepted. Thus, four sisters are able to pioneer, instead of two who were at the point of leaving the full-time service. Ingenuity and initiative paid off.
17-21. How did one married couple reevaluate their purpose in life, and with what result?
17 Further, consider the path of self-sacrifice followed by Evonne during the past ten years. She wrote the following to the Watch Tower Society in May 1991:
18 “In October 1982, my family and I toured Brooklyn Bethel. Seeing it made me want to volunteer to work there. I read an application, and there was one striking question, ‘What are your average hours in field service for the past six months? If average hours are below ten, explain why.’ I could think of no valid reason, so I set a goal and reached it for five months.
19 “Even though I could think of a few excuses for not pioneering, when I read the 1983 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I was convinced that others had overcome bigger obstacles than mine in order to pioneer. So, on April 1, 1983, I quit my lucrative full-time job and became an auxiliary pioneer, and I entered the regular pioneer ranks on September 1, 1983.
20 “It was my pleasure to marry a fine ministerial servant in April 1985. Three years later, a district convention talk regarding pioneering moved my husband to lean over and ask, ‘Do you see any reason why I should not begin pioneering by September 1?’ He joined me in this work for the next two years.
21 “My husband also volunteered to do construction work at Brooklyn Bethel for two weeks and applied for the International Program. So in May 1989 we were off to Nigeria for one month to help in branch construction. Tomorrow we will be traveling to Germany, where visas will be arranged for our entry into Poland. We are thrilled to be involved in such a history-making building project and to be part of this new avenue of full-time service.”
22. (a) How might we, like Peter, unwittingly become a stumbling block? (b) Serving Jehovah with a self-sacrificing spirit is not contingent on what?
22 If you are not able to pioneer yourself, can you encourage those who are in the full-time service to hold on to their privilege and perhaps even help them to do so? Or will you be like some well-meaning family members or friends who, like Peter, may tell a full-time servant to take it easy, be kind to himself, not realizing how that may be a stumbling block? True, if a pioneer’s health is in serious jeopardy or if he is neglecting Christian obligations, he may have to leave the full-time service for a while. Serving Jehovah with a self-sacrificing spirit is not contingent on a label, such as pioneer, Bethelite, or other. Rather, it is contingent on what we are as persons—how we think, what we do, how we treat others, how we live our life.
23. (a) How can we continue to have the joy of being a fellow worker with God? (b) What assurance do we find at Hebrews 6:10-12?
23 If we truly have a self-sacrificing spirit, we will have the joy of being fellow workers with God. (1 Corinthians 3:9) We will have the satisfaction of knowing that we are making Jehovah’s heart rejoice. (Proverbs 27:11) And we have the assurance that Jehovah will never forget us or abandon us as long as we remain faithful to him.—Hebrews 6:10-12.
In Greek, “stumbling block” (σκάνδαλον, skanʹda·lon) was originally “the name of the part of a trap to which the bait is attached, hence, the trap or snare itself.”—Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
What Are Your Thoughts?
◻ How did Peter unwittingly become a stumbling block to a course of self-sacrifice?
◻ What does it mean to disown oneself?
◻ How does a Christian carry his torture stake?
◻ How do we develop and maintain a self-sacrificing spirit?
◻ What is the driving force behind the spirit of self-sacrifice?
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Are you willing to disown yourself, pick up your torture stake, and continually follow Jesus?