Peter, Self-Reliance and Overconfidence

Are you drawn to confident people? I am. There’s just something about the way they look at life. “Why not?” “Sure we can” “Can-do” ” Let’s! ”

I’m inclined to think Peter was one of those confident people. We’d probably call him “Pete” nowadays. He played first-string disciple with the same fiery intensity Mike Singletary played linebacker for Chicago. I think I’d have been drawn to him, want to be where he is, if nothing more than to be where the action is. I may not want to be right next to him at dinner in case the prank was on me, but I’d certainly want to be within earshot, or across the table where I could see from his expression whether or not he was kidding. I bet his wife was more of a saint than he was. (Maybe they should have named the cathedral after her!)

The things Peter said and how he said them give me the clues I need to believe he was a confident man.

  • Remember in Matthew nineteen, verses 28 and following? “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on the water!” If that’s not Why-not-sure-we-can, nothing ever was.
  • “Lord, this is wonderful! If you want me to I’ll make three shrines; one for You, one for Moses, one for Elijah!” (Mt. 17.4)
  • When Jesus asked him “Who do YOU say I am?” Pete’s answer was quick, direct, and confident. “You are the Messiah. The Son of the living God” (Mt. 16.15-16). A few minutes later when Jesus mentioned that he would be killed and raised again, Peter actually took him aside and corrected Him (imagine that!) “This will never happen to you!” (Mt. 16.21c-ff)
  • “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” That’s confidence (Mk 14.29; Mt. 26.33)
  • Remember at the last supper, when Jesus set out to wash His disciples feet? When Jesus came to him Peter said “Why are you going to wash my feet? No, you will never wash my feet.” Jesus informed him that if He didn’t Peter wouldn’t belong to Him. “Well then! Wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” (Jn. 13.6-9)

Moments later Peter assured Jesus that he was ready to die for Him. (Jn. 13.36-38) I wonder how it felt for Jesus to inform him otherwise? There’s nothing in the text to indicate that Peter recanted and said “Oh. Yeah, I guess you’re right.” I’m inclined to believe his confidence was ready to follow Jesus into Hell armed with but a squirt gun at that point.

There’s a hint in Matthew 16.23 as to why Peter was confident to a fault. Many faults are strengths taken to excess, by the way. The New Living Translation reads this way:

“…You are seeing things merely from a human point of view and not from God’s”

I’m no different.

When I look at the things God is doing through merely human lenses my confidence looks through the wrong end of the telescope just like Peter did. We can do anything. I can do anything. That’s small-stuff, I mean, just look at what’s been done already!

Now remember, self-reliance doesn’t kick God out of His rightful place in our lives; it usually creeps in. Gradually encroaches. Crowds out so slowly we don’t even notice. Forgetting the divine element in life’s equation sets a confident person up for a tumble. It’s pride in its subtlest form. Remember what pride precedes? (Prov. 16.18 will remind you if you’ve forgotten) It’s a painful lesson to learn, especially after living that way for several years, confident in one’s own strength and abilities as I have done.

Seeing this part of the story from Peter’s vantage point this week has me asking myself:

Am I seeing things the way God wants me to, or from a human point of view?

The apostle Paul had it right. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2.20) I paraphrase the next verse this way: And the life I DO live right now, I pretty much have to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me – or I’m toast. I can’t afford to let overconfidence to take root in my life. Self-reliance either.

Years later, Peter would tell his readers that Paul wrote with the wisdom that God gave him. “He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand…” but he respected and valued what he’d learned over the years.

I’ve learned something valuable over the years too. Self-reliance might feel great, but it’s not how God wants me to view life. Confidence in Him is a wonderful thing, but confidence in myself is dangerous. Overconfidence is especially so. I hope I can keep in mind what happened to Peter just hours after his expressions of supreme self-confidence — and learn from him.

I’m thankful God told this part of his life-story, aren’t you? If I -if we- can learn from another’s mistakes, we’ll be the better for it. (I only wish I wouldn’t have had to re-learn this one late in life.)


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3 Replies to “Peter, Self-Reliance and Overconfidence”

  1. Jonell

    Good stuff here, Phil!

    When I think of a confident person, I think of a pianist who pulls out a piece of brand new music and without taking more than a few seconds to check out the time signature and the key signature, takes off playing with both hands, making no mistakes, and even adding a few embellishments that aren’t written in the music … all because they are confident of their abilities and they have spent so many hours at the piano … enough to know where they are going.

    When I play with a confident piano player, it gives me more confidence. Confidence is contagious! But if I get over-confident and don’t rely on God’s strength, then is when I make mistakes. It’s just not worth trying to do it in my own strength. I have other instances in my day to day life, but this one speaks loudest to my heart!

    I like your paraphrase of Galatians 2:21 “And the life I DO live right now, I pretty much have to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me – or I’m toast.”

    OBTW – growing up, our sister detested it when she would say something like, “Let’s go ride bikes.” and I only reply with “Let’s!” She detested that. So I did it sometimes just to see her wrinkle up her nose at me. Then I’d smile and say, “Okay, let’s go!” Then she was over it! 🙂

    – Jonell

  2. Julie

    Great post, Phil! Again, I love reading your site. You are a very talented and gifted writer.

    Jonell – Loved the piano player story! If only I could be confident enough in my playing to just pick it up and play it!!?! Since I play mostly by ear, it is preparation time only (and the grace of God) that brings about my confidence!

    Blessings to you both 🙂


  3. Phil

    Thanks, Julie! Thanks for stopping by – and for letting me know you were here.

    I’m hoping this season to kind of bring downstage some of the things we leave in the wings too often. These people were every bit as real as we are. And while there’s much that isn’t in the text there’s much that simply had to be true – or at least close.

    I hope this series gives you reason to take another look at the stories we tell each year – and see the depth of God’s love for us, and the grace He extends our way.

    Come again soon – and often!

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