Connecting with God: The “Not So Secret” Recipe – 1 Peter 5

jayandduke575Do you know the dog in this picture beside Jay Bush of the “Bush’s Baked Beans” Company? I was shocked at some news I received recently. Let me gently share it with you. Regardless of the number of years you have been watching Bush’ Baked Bean commercials, the fact is that you have never actually seen on screen Jay Bush’s real dog, “Duke”. From an authoritative source known on the net as the “Dogington Post” comes this word:

When the time came for Jay Bush to appear in commercials as the spokesman for his family’s brand of baked beans, he turned to his Golden Retriever, Duketo, for comfort. At a meeting to discuss commercial ideas in 1996, someone at the table suggested Jay tell Duke the secret family recipe for the delicious beans. At first, the idea seemed silly, but Jay whispered in his dog’s ear and the famous Bush’s Baked Beans series of commercials was born. The real Duke Bush wasn’t a fan of the spotlight, however, so a look-alike professional dog actor was brought in to play the role.”

Can you believe they fooled us with an “impostor dog” like that? What is even WORSE than the fact that the dog was replaced by an actor was another shocking truth… THE DOG’S VOICE WAS THAT OF A HUMAN! That is right; the dog couldn’t speak even one line of dialogue. The whole thing is voiced over. What a charade! As you allow the shock of these truths to sink in, think for a moment about that dog himself. The actor pup that played “Duke” seemed on every commercial destined to give up the secret recipe for the beans, or as the Bush’s people would say: “He was going to ‘spill the beans on their secret bean recipe’! Each time he was thwarted from divulging the family’s precious secret, but he tries again on the next commercial.

This morning, I want to successfully play Duke’s role, and offer you an important recipe. I am neither a dog nor an actor, but for every believer that desires to hear it, the New Testament offers something much more precious than the herbs and spices added to beans. It exposes the ingredients for a thriving group of Jesus followers and warns them away from distracting temptations. This recipe comes from an Epistle, an old letter of the Apostle Peter to first century believers. When its warnings are heeded, it supplies a neighborhood with a solid group of believers that represent well the church of Jesus Christ; and I believe we want to become such a group.

You see, in His Word, God clearly expressed the nature and behaviors of people that truly honor and please Him. He has made clear what specific traits should mark Jesus followers, and He offered them to and through a group of people who were undergoing persecution and troubles from the world around them. Let’s be clear about the Word’s warning: When trouble comes without, we must become even more diligent about the display of character from within the body. One simple way to capture the idea of 1 Peter 5 is this…

Key Principle: Christians are to be known by their love for Jesus seen primarily in their behavior in the world and their relationships to one another.

In order to understand what God said to the church about relationships, we need to divide the passage into the three groups addressed in this passage, and then examine warnings to each concerning temptation areas that will draw them from the place of a testimony.

• The first group are leaders, and they are addressed in 1 Peter 5:1-4.
• The second group are called “young men” and are found in 1 Peter 5:5a.
• The final group is “the rest of you” in 1 Peter 5:5b-11. That last group included all the rest of those who named Christ as Savior among the churches.

By the look of the list, it appears that leaders were being tempted, young men were hesitant to follow, and the rest of the body needed fresh direction. The suffering, persecution and trouble they experienced was hindering their growth, while their behavior compromises were hurting their testimony. Here is the truth: Troubles will come to the people of God, both individually and collectively. We need to be strengthened and prepared, but we also need to be diligent to face temptations to relax our walk in the face of troubles.

Group One: Elders of congregations (5:1-4): Shepherd the flock among you.

Look for a few minutes at 1 Peter 5 as we deal with the writings to each of the three groups of people who were instructed to show Jesus by avoiding temptations specific to their position in the Body of Christ. The letter begins with the leadership.

1 Peter 5:1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as [your] fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed,

Peter said he wanted to “exhort” the elders as one of them (5:1). The word exhort isn’t necessarily only used in the sense of “correct” nor is it to “tell them something they don’t already know.” The idea of exhorting is to come alongside and encourage. The word exhort is parakaleo means to call to one’s side, to address, to admonish, to strengthen. It’s almost like a coach or a fellow athlete coming alongside a runner who is struggling and encouraging them as they run hard the race.

Note that Peter identified himself in three ways:

First, he said he was a fellow elder: In effect, he said: “I do the job as you do!” He claimed that he understood the experience in the trenches and that surely helped his perspective! Talking down is never as effective as reaching across!

Second, he claimed he was a “first hand witness” of Jesus’ suffering, as the Gospel’s shared. He made the point that he was a qualified overseer with intimate experiences from hours with Jesus. Sharing Jesus requires knowing Jesus – and he could show that he truly did!

Third, he claimed to be a “witness to Jesus’ glory” (Mk. 8, Mt. 16 i.e. The Transfiguration). He said: “I have seen the Lord as few have and heard the Father’s voice from above affirming Him!” Peter made clear that he had already experienced the view of the glorious Jesus we will all later see!

“In other words,” Peter said, “I understand the struggles, I have seen real suffering and I know God’s power! I recognize the weight and responsibilities of the work, and I know intimately the source of the work.” Then he continued with the command to them…

1 Peter 5:2 “…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Leaders were to TEND GOD’S FLOCK. Isn’t it significant that the Lord’s final instructions to Peter included: “Do you love me? Shepherd my sheep?” (cp. John 21). Peter learned to leave the nets and begin to tend the flocks. At the point where Peter made clear the command, he felt it necessary to spend a few moment cautioning leaders about seven temptations they would likely face as they led. This is the heart of the first four verses:

First, he warned of the temptation to be popular:

He told them to “exercise oversight“ (5:2a). With the term “episkopeo” he employed an apprenticeship term, which meant to inspect or watch over with a view toward correcting poor skills. This may not seem tough, but in my experience, it is one of the deepest tugs on the heart – to let matters go uncorrected because of the desire to be liked by others. When I take a moment and scroll down through Facebook, and someone has an article posted and liked that is rooted in falsehood and expresses terrible thinking, am I supposed to ‘message’ that person? Let me ask you: “How many of those a week should I be working on?” If I see someone in a church hallway speak badly to their spouse, should I be calling on them to discuss the matter? How many do you think I should call upon before people pull back from any relationship with me? It isn’t a joke. It is a real struggle for any leader to be careful about correction.

One of the reasons it is a struggle is the obvious: we who serve are all flawed. I make all sorts of mistakes myself. How am I supposed to be busy correcting others when I am still struggling with my own stupidity every day? Yet, that isn’t the only reason leaders are tempted to abandon oversight. Another reason is the reality that we don’t want to be held at arm’s length from people – and that is what inevitably happens when people think you may be paying attention to what they are doing wrong, and evaluating them – even when the leader isn’t. Servants of Jesus have always suffered from the desire to be a part of the group they lead, and that can be a temptation that will keep them from exercising oversight. Every leader should be warned that our work is measured. In the home, the parent must live with times of unpopularity. In the office, the leader must not be so much the friend to the workers that he allows the work to be shoddy.

With that in mind, the second temptation was to feel forced into leading:

Peter wrote: “Not under compulsion, but willingly (1 Peter 5:2b).” Bible students recall Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:1, where he says the man must aspire to do the job of leading. It is not a work to be taken because you feel like the need is there and no one can fill it. The only other use of the word “willingly” is:

Hebrews 10:26 “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…”

It is important to hit hard on this, since leaders in the congregation could easily approach the shepherding task with the wrong spirit. Peter made clear: “No one twisted your arm to force you to lead! You were not drafted, but a volunteer! It is hard to do the work in the flock well when you don’t have a call from God to do it – and that is something you should experience firsthand before being in the position.

Note Peter also qualifies it with “according to God’s desire”. The elder must show a desire, but have the stamp of God’s approval. People can’t just WANT to lead; they must be called by God to do so in His church.

Third, Peter warned of the temptation to control people.

He wrote to them they must not be “lording over the flock” (1 Peter 5:3a).

Some guys want to control outcomes: A preacher quit the ministry after 20 years and became a funeral director. When asked why he changed, he said: “I spent 3 years trying to straighten out John; but John’s still an alcoholic, then I spent 6 months trying to straighten out Susan’s marriage; but she filed for divorce, then I spent 2 1/2 years trying to straighten out Bob’s drug problem and he’s still an addict. Now at the funeral home when I straighten them out — they stay straight!” Leaders must recognize that faithfulness to the task is our call before God, but outcomes are not ours to control.

I want to say this with an honest heart. It is heartbreaking to watch people choose to do something that will hurt them, their family and their walk with God when you feel you have instructed them correctly in God’s Word. People do what they choose to do, and you cannot allow the pain of those moments to stop you or slow you from the call to shepherd… but it will be a temptation.

Fourth, you will face a temptation to gain in this world when your eyes should be on the next world:

Peter simply wrote they were to work, but “Not for gain” (1 Peter 5:2b).

Philip Parham tells the story of a rich industrialist who was disturbed to find a fisherman sitting lazily beside his boat. “Why aren’t you out there fishing?” he asked. “Because I’ve caught enough fish for today,” said the fisherman. “Why don’t you catch more fish than you need?’ the rich man asked. “What would I do with them?” “You could earn more money,” came the impatient reply, “and buy a better boat so you could go deeper and catch more fish. You could purchase nylon nets, catch even more fish, and make more money. Soon you’d have a fleet of boats and be rich like me.” The fisherman asked, “Then what would I do?” “You could sit down and enjoy life,” said the industrialist. “What do you think I’m doing now?” the fisherman replied as he looked placidly out to sea. Our Daily Bread, May 18, 1994

When I am instructing young servants of Jesus I express it this way: “Get your joy from the Lord about the labors you do, and don’t look to be paid what you think is commensurate with the labor. Most people won’t know the hours of pain and labor you spent – but Jesus saw them all. He won’t forget. In the end, He is the One you labor FOR, and it is His measure that matters. Train yourself to want to make Him smile! Work for Him is wonderful, it just doesn’t always feel like that at the moment. In a sense, shepherding is very much like parenting.”

The fifth temptation Peter warned concerning was the pull toward laziness.

The Apostle told the leaders to be “eager” and not to get lazy or lax in the service of the King (1 Peter 5:2b). To want to do it when people are responding and lives appear to be changing is ONE THING. To stay at the task when they are dulled by their own bad choices can make you want to put less into the work – but that isn’t the time when you should. Evaluate why things aren’t going well, and then get back in for another solid round by working, preparing and caring for them. Ask God to clear the log jam that is holding back the flow, but don’t give up or back down to the challenge!

The sixth temptation was to live differently than we teach others to live – or to “talk and not walk” (1 Peter 5:3b).

Peter called the leaders to be “examples” to the flock. We aren’t free to make all the same choices of others – people are watching leaders. If you don’t want to be watched, don’t seek to lead… period.

The seventh and final temptation mentioned is that of losing sight of the goal (1 Peter 5:4).

We are to serve anticipating inspection of the Master concerning each of the temptations we have mentioned.

Note the Chief Shepherd is going to appear one day (5:4). This word is archipoimen (ar-khee-poy’mane) and is only used once in the New Testament and here only of Jesus. It’s something that refers to the fact that Jesus is the leader and overseer of the church. He is the head of the church as in Colossians 1:18. In fact, if you notice Peter refers to the church not as the elder’s flock, but as God’s flock.

The metaphor that Peter chose was of a “crown of glory.” Such a crown or “stephanos” (literally a “victor crown”) represented the eternal satisfaction given to true servant-leaders of Christ who avoid the siren calls and keep moving the flock to its pasture. The call to the coming of the Chief Shepherd wasn’t haphazard, but essential. People who lose track of the goal will be lulled to quit before the work is done. Consider this story:

It was a fog-shrouded morning, July 4, 1952, when a young woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the water off Catalina Island. She intended to swim the channel from the island to the California coast. Long-distance swimming was not new to her; she had been the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. The water was numbing cold that day. The fog was so thick she could hardly see the boats in her party. Several times sharks had to be driven away with rifle fire. She swam more than 15 hours before she asked to be taken out of the water. Her trainer tried to encourage her to swim on since they were so close to land, but when Florence looked, all she saw was fog. So she quit. . . only one-mile from her goal. Later she said, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land I might have made it.” It wasn’t the cold or fear or exhaustion that caused Florence Chadwick to fail. It was the fog.

Group Two: Younger men of the fellowship (5:5a): Temptation to Rebel – Be subject to your elders.

The second group has by a singular command offered by the elder to them. He wrote:

1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to [your] elders;

Every time I see the term hupotasso in Scripture, I recall the same idea. The word means “I place under, I subject myself to.” The operative part of the command is that it is something I MUST DO. No one can MAKE you be subject – it must be your choice.

I have noticed over time that problems I once would have acted quickly upon as a younger man, I will take more time to consider now. My age has convinced me that many of my younger actions were too rash, too hasty and too costly. I am certain that makes some who are younger on the team feel like I am putting off what must be done. At times, faster action proves to be better – but not always. It isn’t always easier for the younger to choose to be subject when they don’t think there is a need for delay. I understand. At the same time, this is God’s call to them.

Group Three: The whole congregation (5:5b-11):

The final group was that of the whole congregation. Listen to the words to them as a body that hungers to follow Jesus:

1 Peter 5:5b “…and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober [spirit], be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in [your] faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen [and] establish you. 11 To Him [be] dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Can you spot six temptations for the followers of Jesus here?

The first is the temptation to gain power or recognition instead of growing in sincere servant-hood (1 Peter 5:5b-6).

Peter told them to “Clothe yourselves with humility.” What a great expression. Our default suit will be self-oriented, but we can apply deliberate clothing of humility. Over my life I have learned something about clothing: you must make the effort to put it on! A good look takes work. This story made me smile:

An admirer of Leonard Bernstein, the famous orchestra conductor, came to him on one occasion and said, “Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?” He responded, “Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with enthusiasm, or second French horn, or second flute, now that’s a problem. And if no one plays second, we have no harmony.” I think of that often: No harmony is heard when everyone wants to be first.

Listen to what humility sounds like:

Martin Luther was a man mightily used of God to bring revival to many people trapped in the stone-cold church of his time. Though God was working through him to bring new hope to multitudes, Luther recognized that God was the source of the new life, and not himself. The Papal Bull of 1521, which excommunicated him, called his followers ‘Lutherans.’ This horrified him. ’Please do not use my name,’ he wrote. ’Do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians…. Why should I, a miserable bag of worms, give my meaningless name to Christ’s children?’

A second temptation Peter warned them about was “worry” (1 Peter 5:7).

How famous are the words of the verse: “Cast your anxiety on the Lord”. As famous the words, so rare is their observance!

The Greek understanding of anxiety was to have a divided mind or to lose focus while attempting to focus on too many things. When we think we are called to control the outcomes, we worry. When we make ourselves too important in the process, we worry. When we won’t give God the situation, we worry. Beloved, there are many causes to worry, but only one solution. We must learn to deliberately give the problem and the process to God. There simply is no other way to regain our focus on our task. When we are busy playing Holy Spirit, we aren’t busy playing the role assigned to us!

A third temptation, like that experienced by leaders, is to become lazy about the enemy’s advancement in our lives (1 Peter 5:8).

Peter wrote: “Be of sober [spirit]” (the word nḗphō means to “be sober and unintoxicated” having clear presence of mind and judgment which enables one to be temperate and self-controlled)

He continued: “…be on the alert” watching for the adversary. That term grēgoreúō means literally to “stay awake”. You must understand the greatest deception the enemy has pulled off in the world is the one where he can stand unabashedly in our public square in all his evil regalia and not be noticed at all. The modern mind struggles even with the notion of evil. They keep thinking those who perform the most heinous acts can simply be reasoned with to gain a more acceptable outcome. They don’t get it: there truly is evil in the world – and it has a source.

A fourth temptation appears as a lulling to simply “give in” (1 Peter 5:8):

Believers don’t need to fear the enemy; they need to resist his advance in their lives. They need to resist his attempts to gain a hold in their anger, a fortress in their comic laughter, and a castle in their entertainment life. They need to watch out. He doesn’t want to harm us – he wants to shred our lives. He prowls and waits and watches while men and women stagger and slumber without a sense of the danger near them.

We remain on “lion alert “when we remove anything that hampers good judgment. If our mind is cluttered with lustful thoughts we won’t be prepared to flee from temptation as Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife asked him to sleep with her. If our mind is muddled with materialism it will be hard to offer our first fruits to God. If our mind is packed with pride it will be hard to keep from putting other people down so we look good.

A wise man once said: “The Devil climbs over the fence where it is the lowest.”

Therefore, if stealing is a weakness don’t stay in a room where another’s money is placed unattended. If gossip is your weakness, distance yourself from those friends with whom you are quick to spread the latest rumors. If you live in the lion’s den, it will only be a matter of time before you are devoured.

The enemy has several attack points you should become familiar with:

• DECEPTION for those not grounded in the Word of God!
• DELUSION for those who can be easily pressed into a mold of the world!
• DISSATISFACTION with things like your possessions; your positions; or your partner
• DEPRESSION over unresolved difficulties.
• DISAPPOINTMENT with how things are working out. This was how Satan got Judas. It wasn’t until he realized that Jesus wasn’t going to overthrow the Roman government and give him his place in the kingdom that disappointment took over.

A fifth temptation is the one where we feel uniquely picked on (1 Peter 5:9-10):

After Peter told the believers to resist the devil in verse 9, he told them to recognize they were not alone in persecution and trouble. This was not an uncommon experience. It appears that believers are consistently surprised that God both loves us and yet lets harm come to some of our number… but it is the truth.

In the end it is easy for us to forget the big picture of what God is doing. We easily forget God is doing a work in us and through us.

In 1502, when the Church of Santa Maria in Florence hired an artist and architect, they thought he would be perfect for the works of art they planned. A large and expensive block of marble was given to the church for the purposes of a sculpture, but the man drilled a large hole right at the bottom causing a crack that seemingly destroyed this magnificent piece of marble. The church released the artist from his contract and simply draped a sheet over the lost block. Michelangelo heard about it out of curiosity went to check it out. After a short time he began to work that hidden piece and sculpt what has come to be considered one of the greatest statues of David ever built.

When troubles come in our lives, we can feel like we want to hide under a sheet. We are broken. We didn’t become what we thought we would have. Never forget, in the capable hands of the Master, you can be molded into all that Jesus has made you to be!

Christians are to be known by their love for Jesus seen primarily in their behavior in the world and their relationships to one another.

It isn’t complicated; it is just hard.

Connecting with God: “Blessings from the Bully” – 1 Peter 4:12-19

PrintWe have all heard the term “bullying”. The topic of bullying has gained significant ground in the last decade. Children hear about it in school. Social media reacts whenever evidence of it is presented. It seems it is a topic for our times. What we haven’t heard, I suspect, is the term “bullying” is one of the most “changed” words in the English language! Strangely enough, the he word “bully” was first used in the 1530’s and essentially was used in the way we use “sweetheart” today. It could have been applied to either sex in that time, and originated from a Dutch term for “lover”, derived from a German term for “brother or one dear to”.

Obviously over time, the meaning CHANGED SIGNIFICANTLY. In the early 17th century it meant “fine fellow”. By the end of that same century it was a pejorative term for a “harasser of the weak” or a “street ruffian”. What demise for a word! Worse yet, by 1710 the term was first used as a verb in English and marked the actions of a man who protected prostitutes from harm by nefarious characters who would have mistreated them. What word do you know that has meant “lover, pounder and pimp”? I cannot think of any words that underwent greater transformation. Today, the term “bullying” refers to a use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. It is set up by the perception of an imbalance of social or physical power, which often distinguishes bullying from other kinds of conflict.

In today’s lesson, we want to look at a type of bullying that Scripture offered to give counsel to believers through the ages. Here is the truth: For most decades of the Christian faith in much of the world, they have found themselves in a minority. As such, they were abused and bullied. That wasn’t true everywhere. In fact, we can also quickly point to times and places where people, in the name of Jesus, acted badly and bullied other populations. Yet, that isn’t the big picture. Bullying and persecuting came into the church early, and was already very much an issue during the times of the Apostles. Peter used an opportunity in his epistle to teach persecuted believers of central Asia Minor. Here is what he wrote to them…

Key Principle: Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Something happens when believers find themselves clean before God. Coming to Christ, they experience a great rush of freedom, and a new intimate relationship with their Creator. One of the byproducts of that, it seems, is they come away with an expectation that others will be excited for them – but that is not always the case at all. Let me say it another way: Some young believers walk back into their old lives expecting people around them to affirm their newfound faith and walk with God, and are apparently shocked when people in their life give them trouble concerning their desires to follow Jesus.

Peter wrote about that sense of trouble that came upon early believers during the Roman period, but looking over the centuries that experience would not be found to be unique to them.

Peter first wrote a command concerning persecution, then the reasoning behind it.

The command was straightforward: Bullied believers must not be surprised or confused at their plight, but rather choose a response of rejoicing. Here is how he wrote it:

1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

Surprise seemed to characterize the response to suffering. Why? I suspect that people who began a journey with God expected that journey to somehow insulate them from harm. I also suspect that innocence and naivety led them to believe others would know the changes in them weren’t a vote concerning their neighbors, but an excitement about God’s work in them.

Sue was in her sophomore year in college at the state university. She was an outgoing, happy and party-filled lover of all things pleasurable. He boyfriend introduced her as the “girl that brought the fun with her” and she lived up to the expectation. In her third semester in college, Sue was paired off in a Chemistry class with Annie, a Christian girl with a vibrant faith in Jesus. Annie was a fun person, but her faith dominated her decision making, and Sue and Annie weren’t in the same social circles. They met in Chemistry, and for a while that is the only place they met. Here is the thing: Sue liked Annie. She say in her loyalty and authenticity that made her a friend you could confide in. Annie was a good listener and a compassionate person. By the end of the semester, Sue was attending a Tuesday Bible study with Annie, and Sue gave her heart to Jesus Christ. In the weeks that followed, the “queen of fun” began to make changes in her behavior that affected her boyfriend, her party schedule, and quite literally her sobriety about life in college. What happened to Sue’s popularity? It plummeted as her old friend turned away from her. She didn’t mean for her faith to feel to her friends like a condemnation, but that is how they took the changes in her life. Like a poor man who inherits a windfall of money and raises the ire of his old neighbors, Sue began to experience a harshness in old friends, and it surprised her. She couldn’t figure out why people who used to be such friends would now say such mean things about her just because she found fulfillment in Jesus. Why couldn’t they leave her have what meant something to her? Peter’s words were there to help people like Sue grow through the pain.

You may rightly ask: “Why rejoice at being bullied for my faith?” That is a fair question. I can understand asking believers to TOLERATE abuse, but what kind of person REJOICES at such a thing. Peter offered five insights that made this clearer:

First, in persecution God’s Spirit offers you a unique experience of grace that you will come to cherish.

Some of the command for rejoicing comes from understanding a benefit of it in our lives. What? There is benefit to people mocking me because of my faith? Yes, there is. Look closely as Peter explained:

1 Peter 4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

If you have ever experienced the sweet comfort of God that comes when you lost a dear loved one, you probably have some idea what Peter was making reference to when he remarked that the “Spirit of glory and of God” settles in a unique way on the persecuted. No normal person ever wants to lose someone they love to death. Yet, many who know Jesus have reported that God settled into their home and their life in a tender and fuller way after that experience to gently guide them through it.

Peter said that if trouble and bullying comes because of our belief – not because of our bad behavior or our naïve and zealous presentation of our belief – we should understand that blessing has come to us. Remember, Biblically speaking, blessing is “that which drives me deeper into intimacy with God” and curse is that “which gives me the illusion of self-dependence”. Recognizing the meaning of the terms in their Biblical principles will help us understand the way the Bible presents the truths about such things. Blessing, then, isn’t about good feeling or ease in life. It is about attaining a new level of surrender of heart to God, and a new level of connection and communication with His Spirit in the recesses of my heart.

It starts with my attitude toward those who hurt me. It moves to my attitude about my life in general. I read something interesting this week that should help us keep our attitude right about counting our blessings:

• If you woke up this morning with more health than illness…you are more blessed than the thousands who won’t live past this week.

• If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…your life is more peaceful than 500 million people in the world.

• If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death…you are more blessed than three billion people in our world.

• If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep…you are richer than 75% of this world.

• If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace…you are among the top 8% of this world’s wealthy people.

You may not feel privileged, but much of how we feel is the adoption of our attitudes about life. That is true of lost men and women, and of saved as well. Our attitude about our experience is the window through which we see the world. Smudged, we see the world in a way that is not true, and it plays on our emotions. This is a specific danger in a generation that has been trained to respond to media like it is a good window to the world. Here is the truth: media pundits have a point of view and cameras can easily deceive you. They are pointed in one place, and the power of their imagery can make you believe that an exceptional place is the norm and terrible fortunes are more wide spread than they really are.

Take a look at the police presence outside of Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, and you will think Jerusalem is a war zone. You wouldn’t know that three block away people are throwing wedding parties. Two blocks away men sell bread from carts without fear. The camera focuses on one place, and leaves an impression of the whole city.

Peter made the point that in persecution “you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Let’s say it this way: When the world closes in on you because of your faith, God’s presence and power will show itself to you in a deeper way – and that IS blessing. God won’t let you flounder, and He won’t forget about you. He will stand by you in His promise to never leave you. In your pain, you may feel torn apart, but you needn’t be. God has strength beyond yours, and made specifically available to those who are being badly treated.

Second, in true persecution you may be labeled a criminal, but those who know you will know the label is a lie.

One of the things we must learn in the maturing process is where to get the foundations of our identity. Some people think they are what others tell them they are. Some think they are better than they truly are because they have allowed themselves to be deceived. Mature believers learn we are who God says we are – and no other opinion should be more important to us. In persecution, some early believers were imprisoned. They were lumped together with criminals, but they were not criminal. Peter urged the people who followed Jesus with these words:

1 Peter 4:15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler;

To maintain the truth that believers who were persecuted were not guilty of true crimes, it became necessary for Peter to remind those believers who WERE criminal not to claim persecution when that wasn’t the reason for the harsh handling by authorities. It is true to say that some who named Christ were guilty of crimes. It was equally true to say that some who followed Jesus were called criminals, when it was actually a persecution against their faith. Peter wanted to keep people from making a persecution plea when they were, in fact, criminals by behavior.

Believers are susceptible to the same temptations as others in the world. In fact, the enemy is pleased to help derail their walk, so they must be MORE careful of temptation, not less. Notice the types of offenses against which we must stand guard on our hearts:

The first is Murder: the term phoneús – a murderer, committing unjustified, intentional homicide. Using Jesus’ definition, the picture is one who hates others, slanders others, and lacks compassion toward others.

Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell. … 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way …

Jesus said that one of the responses we would be tempted to have when we feel in danger is to lash out against those who we perceive to endanger us. That is not the way of a Christ follower.

The second term in 1 Peter 4:15 is Thievery: The term kléptēs denotes a thief who steals by stealth (in secret), rather than in the open with violence. Believers need to be on guard against a sneaky heart and a hunger to have what God has not given them.

The third term used by Peter is Evil doer: The words kakopoiós or “of a malicious disposition” and poiéō, “to make” were combined to mean “someone who makes trouble” (to inflict harm), or seeks an opportunity to injure (damage another). Believers need to be careful about scheming to make trouble. The instinct of the fallen heart can be motivated by the desire to “get even” with an abuser. Revenge isn’t our job. Revenge isn’t Christian.

The final words are troublesome meddler where the complex term allotriepiskopos (al-lot-ree-ep-is’-kop-os) is a “prier into other men’s affairs”. Literally, it is “One who meddles in things alien to his calling or in matters belonging to others; factious.” One commentator said they were: “…those who, with holy but intemperate zeal, meddle with the affairs of the pagan world — whether public or private, civil or sacred — in order to make them conform to the Christian standard. Believers must not try to get the world to believe in their morality without their Christ. The relationship precedes the behavior. Not to be unkind, but trying to make lost men moral is like putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t think lost men are pigs – for they are the wondrous creation of a loving Father – but I do think they need a relationship with God before true inner life changes can be made that matter in eternity.

Before we move on, look at the kind of people we mentioned: murderers, thieves, troublers and busybodies. What kind of churches were they that housed such people as these? Remember, the people receiving the letter were persecuted. When we have been mistreated, some of us will find it easier to excuse sinful responses. People want to be treated fairly. Immature people justify reaction rather than demand godly response. To respond well when badly treated for Jesus’ sake, we must grow up.

Third, in persecution you will have a special opportunity to exalt the name of Jesus.

1 Peter 4:16 but if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

Because we are not used to being maligned when we know we have been honest and upright, those who don’t become indignant may be tempted to shrink back into false shame – but that is also a wrong response. When we are persecuted, truly persecuted for the sake of Jesus – we should not be ashamed it happened to us. Others will need to see how we pass through the troubles.

I recall the story of a small eight-year-old boy who lost part of his right arm in a tragic accident at his home. As he recuperated from his surgery he became increasingly withdrawn and depressed. The boy’s father tried to encourage his son on many occasions but was utterly unsuccessful. One day as the boy was lying on his bed in his room, his father announced “Son, the new pastor of our church is here and he would like to meet you.” The boy showed no interest even after the pastor walked into the room. Yet, the boy’s response changed when he looked up and saw that the pastor had also lost his right arm in an accident. The kind pastor said “Son, I know exactly how you are feeling right now!” We need to remember that our ministry to others is enhanced through suffering and hardship.

Suffering can teach us to make our lives more about the needs of others – and in that way we will BE MORE LIKE JESUS. That seems counter intuitive. After all, if I suffer won’t I think more about ME? No, if you consider how that can be a special link you have with understanding Jesus. Put it this way, Jesus suffered to benefit us. What if your suffering and the character that you exhibit from this suffering can be used by God to lead your children to a God honoring life? What if God uses the “new you” that grows from the pain of suffering to reach your neighbor, and they in turn reach a young person whose testimony reaches a nation for Messiah?

Suffering can teach us Jesus’ perspective on people and situations – and in that way SEE MORE LIKE JESUS. If I can experience troubles without surprise and watch for God’s supply of care, others will be encouraged.

Keith Leenhouts in his book, A Father, A Son…and a Three Mile Run tells the story of a father and son’s love. Jerry, the son, was attending a small university. He loved football and during his four years he never missed a practice. In spite of his love for football Jerry couldn’t make the varsity starting team. He just occasionally would get to go in as a substitute. The coach admired Jerry’s loyalty to the team and also marveled at his love for his father. The coach had observed Jerry and his father walking together around the campus on many occasions. But the coach had never met the father or talked with Jerry about him. During Jerry’s senior year and a few nights before the most important game of the season – Jerry knocked at the coach’s door. When the coach opened the door he saw Jerry with tears in his eyes. “Coach, my father just died. Is it all right if I miss practice for a few days and go home?”

The coach said he was very sorry to hear the news and Jerry was free to go home and not hurry back. If he missed the game he would understand.

But on Friday night, the night of the big game, Jerry was back and stood in the coach’s doorway. “Coach, I’m back and I have one request. May I please start the game tomorrow?” The coach tried to tell Jerry the importance of the game, but Jerry was relentless in his request and so the Coach finally consented against his better judgment. The coach had visions of Jerry in the game, fumbling and lousing up plays. The opposing team was favored to win. The coach needed the best players the entire game. He wished he had not consented to let Jerry start the game, but he had promised.

The time for the game approached. Jerry stood at the goal line awaiting the opening kick-off. The coach thought, “that ball probably won’t go to him anyway. His team could run a series of plays using other halfbacks and then take Jerry out of the game. The ball was kicked off and “Oh no” the coach groaned. It floated end over end right into Jerry’s arms. The coach closed his eyes –it would be a sure fumble—but instead of fumbling, as the coach expected, Jerry hugged the ball tightly, dodged three onrushing defenders and raced to middle field before he was finally tacked. The coach had never seen Jerry run with such agility and power. The next play Jerry ran for another twenty yards. Several plays later he carried the ball across the goal line. The favored team was stunned. Who was this kid? He wasn’t even in the scouting reports. Jerry was a real inspiration to his team. At halftime the team was two touchdowns ahead. When the final gun sounded Jerry’s team had won.

In the locker room the players were ecstatic. The coach went to Jerry only to find him sitting quietly with his head in his hands. “Son, what happened out there? You played better than I have ever seen you play. What happened to you? Jerry looked up at the coach and said softly, “You see, coach, my father died but before that he was blind. This is the first game he ever saw me play.” When believers recognize Who is watching them respond, they live differently.

Fourth, in persecution those not truly following Jesus will fall away and the church will find internal rest from the distress of impurity.

There is a strange “side benefit” to persecution:

1 Peter 4:17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it] [begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER?

Persecution will drive away those who joined to the work for self-benefit. As they depart and reject Christ, there will be grief in their loss, followed by peace as the body heals from foreign objects that constantly pulled against health.

How many terrible things have been done by people who claimed Christ yet did not truly know Him? How many abuses have been perpetrated by “men of the cloth” who, if we sat with them and examined what they believed and taught, we would recognize they did not know Christ at all! Persecution may cause some to flee the faith, but that isn’t all bad. Like the chaff, some were growing amid the wheat and eventually showed themselves.

It isn’t easy to respond to harsh people rightly when we are honest and mature in our faith. How much harder will it be when people who are being dishonest but appear to be following (wheat and chaff) are exposed? Without the Spirit and the Savior within to comfort them – it will be obvious they will struggle deeply to find a place and peace.

Fifth, in persecution we have an opportunity to express openly our trust that God will make right what is unjust on earth, and to replace the world’s rage with His’ grace.

Remember this as you move through your week: “Rage powers the internet. Grace empowers the believer.”

Peter wrote: 1 Peter 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

If you get caught up in rage, you will miss the benefits of the bullying lessons. Suffering can help us focus on a God honoring life and kick out sinful habits. It will make life take on a more serious dimension, and cause me to think carefully about life and its consequences. It helps me focus on the reality of my frail life and its purpose, so it helps me stop wasting my life!

Zechariah 13:9 “They will come through the fire…they will call on my name and I will answer them and I will say, “they are my people” and they will say, “the Lord is my God.” If your trials don’t bring you to the point of learning to trust God, then you aren’t learning the lesson God has in mind when he sent that trouble to you.

Suffering can teach us to learn the power of choice in our perspective. We have to choose how we feel about what is happening to us, and that takes courage, but brings freedom. I can choose to live my life with a positive perspective and happy outlook, or hate my life and fight with the things that have entered that I cannot control.

Imagine the CNN anchor interviewing Noah. “Noah, wasn’t it messy on board that ship?” Noah answers: Sure it was messy, but it was still the best ship floating!” Having a right heart attitude is the first step toward being a truly thankful person. Do I really see every good and perfect gift as coming from God and do I express this gratitude by the attitude I try to maintain when things aren’t going so well?

Persecution of God’s people is yet another refining tool God uses in us – but we must respond rightly to it.

Oh, how suffering can teach us to view our lives as an opportunity to live in a performance that praises our Savior and Lord (4:16). If God counts us worthy to suffer, we need not be embarrassed, but celebrate as a badge of honor that God is faithful and fully understanding in our lives. He knows what is best!

In the Dachau concentration camp in Germany was an old man who just liked to talk to the tourists. His name was Christian Reiger and he was a former prisoner. He had been thrown into prison because he was a member of the German Confessing Church which opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime. During that terrible time in history, he often saw family members and people from his congregation die. He saw the pain they suffered and he kept asking “Why? Why?”

At the beginning of his incarceration in the concentration camp, he was able to receive some letters, although they had always been read and censured by the staff at the camp. One of the letters he received was from his wife. At the end of it was a P.S. and it simply said, “read Acts 4:26,27.” The same day, soon after receiving the letter, he was called in to be interrogated. He was frightened because he had seen what happened to others. Some did not return. Others were beaten severely. As he waited before going in to be interrogated by the Gestapo, one of the other prisoners walked by and handed him a little matchbox. He put it in his pocket. Reiger went in to be interrogated, but by the grace of God, he wasn’t harmed. They wanted him to inform on members of his church who were opposing the Nazi regime. Earlier, Reiger had been turned over to the Nazis by the church organist. After interrogation, Reiger went back to the barracks. He remembered the box. He took it out to get a match, but the matchbox had no matches…only a little piece of paper–which said, “Acts 4:26-29.” The same message–twice in one day! He said that the Spirit of God came in and began to transform his life. No longer was he asking the WHYs of life, because he realized the Person who was the WHO of life–and that person had control of his life!

Acts 4:26-29 “The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that your bond-servants may speak your word with all confidence.”

Let me close this message reminding you that God may choose to calm the storm when you ask, but that isn’t His only option. He does not always calm the storm, but sometimes calms His child in the midst of the storm to come up close to them. Rather than remove the heat from Israel in the desert, He guided them through it and met them in it. Rather than deliver the three from the fiery furnace in Babylon, He dropped in for a God chat in the furnace. Intimacy may be a real benefit to enduring trouble and not pressing for immediate deliverance…

Connecting with God: “Planning a Cult” – 1 Peter 3:18-22

JWsWe have probably all seen them and some have no doubt encountered them. Sometimes it is a snappy knock on our front door; other times we are approached in an airport or on the street by people who desire to share their religious beliefs with us. Often they have a Bible, or at least a booklet that has many Bible verses in it. They want us to know we can “trust them” to tell us the truth about God, our life’s purpose and the accurate picture of the afterlife. Some of them seem to be incredibly dedicated people, and we want to be polite, but we know Jesus as our Savior and walk with Him daily – so we aren’t in the market “shopping” for beliefs.

Did you ever stop and wonder: “How did do many people got duped by false beliefs when the Bible makes clear what God desires and requires of men?” Here is the truth: The Bible has 1189 chapters (the way we divide it now) and it is a complex writing. Most people won’t take the time to learn how their vacuum cleaner should be properly emptied and cleaned out, and they surely won’t read with great attention all the chapters of the Bible. Careful reading of ancient stories and teachings in their fuller context is hard to do. We have tools to help and the Spirit within – but most of us simply don’t do the work. As a result, when teachers pick out “bullet points” from larger works and frame their insights by stringing together a series of these points, we may find ourselves with insufficient study of the rest of what the Bible teaches to know this new insight just doesn’t fit the context of the Bible’s story line. Our key truth for this lesson may be thought of in this way…

Key Principle: The Word must be read carefully and in context to be truly understood.

As in mathematics, so in the Bible, it can be said: “There are an almost infinite number of ways to get a wrong answer – but precious few ways to get the right one!” It is painfully easy to pick out passages in the Scripture and create strange beliefs. Believers need to study each passage carefully and then fit every teaching properly into the whole picture God gave us. In the end, it sounds funny, but it is easier to start a cult than teach Scripture well. It is easier to develop false beliefs than to teach a full, balanced understanding of the Scripture. The problem isn’t the Bible; it is most often the sloppiness of the teachers and learners of the Holy texts.

Our passage for this lesson illustrates the principle by offering some teaching that can be easily misunderstood apart from two things: careful reading in the original grammar from which the New Testament has been translated, and contextual reading – understanding the specific verses in the context of the whole Bible. Read the passage and you may get sucked into a number of false teachings, because of insufficient investment in the understanding of the passage.

Let me say it another way. The last part of 1 Peter 3 contains a great treatise on the Person and work of Jesus. Yet, it is also the place where a number of religious groups have built the theological underpinning for strange teachings and for that reason we want to consider it separately from the rest of the chapter. There are two parts to the writing:

• In 3:19-20, there is a comparison between the salvation of God presented by Jesus to men and the call to repentance that beckoned sinners to come to God at the time of Noah. It uses tough and “grammatically thick” language, and can easily be confusing. That very confusion has led people in history to surmise a place of “Limbo”, as well as helped others to confuse the picture of the “afterlife” as presented in Scripture.

• In 3:21-22, there is a comparison between baptism and the ark of rescue built by Noah and his sons. It has led to people believing that water baptism is the tool from which God saves us from sin.

Neither of those beliefs is Biblically correct, but we will have to do some solid work in the Bible to demonstrate the truth. Both of these ideas have been picked up and turned into what solid Bible scholars would simply call a “distraction” from the true message from God in the text. The letter wasn’t wrong about what it said; but it admittedly was difficult to read and easy to misunderstand. God never promised that complex truth would be simple to grasp. In fact, Paul told Timothy in the early church that he was to “study hard and be an approved teacher” – implying that lax study would lead to wrong conclusions and unapproved teaching.

letseatgrandmaRecently I noticed a number of funny t-shirts and artwork from “Grammar Kills” –a group that reminds us that the “little things” like punctuation can have much meaning. They had several good reminders:

Take for instance the lines: “I like shooting friends and family” as opposed to the proper way to write: “I like shooting, friends, and family.”

I also liked their warning about how ‘punctuation saves lives’ with the two sentences: “Let’s eat grandma!” The proper phraseology would be: “Let’s eat, grandma!”

In other words, the details make a big difference, and we must work at the details…For the Apostle Paul “Hard study” meant placing the passage into the whole of the Bible’s message while reading meticulously so that important truths are unfolded and proper applications are developed. Let’s take a look at the examples from Peter’s letter.

Did Jesus preach to souls of dead people? (1 Peter 3:19-20)

In making his case to look at Jesus as an example of the righteous undergoing both suffering and death, Peter said something hard to understand. He may have referred to otherwise unknown actions of Jesus or it may be an image of something far simpler, but it raised controversies in the meaning of the verses.

Peter wrote these few complicated verses that must be carefully reviewed:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

Before jumping to conclusions, let’s examine the verses very carefully. In them, Peter made several declarations:

• Christ died for sins as the Perfect One for the sin-sick.
• Christ died once, but His death was sufficient to save many who sinned much.
• The verses fall after a discussion about living in the face of persecution. Peter’s point, then, was that Christ ALSO died, as if to suggest that some who were being persecuted in the first part of the passage may face death, but that was part of God’s plan.
• Christ truly DIED in His body, but lived on after that death, as believers will.

When we reach verse nineteen, this is the place that becomes grammatically confusing. Here is how some read it and created a scheme of the afterlife:

• Christ, at the time after His physical death on Calvary went into imprisoned spirits in the afterlife who came from lives of disobedience and preached to them a “second chance.”
• Some of them came from as far back as the time of Noah, and were people overtaken by the flood.

That concept has been carried by many as part of the “Apostles’ creed” – an early church summary of belief that is still repeated in many churches worldwide today. They repeat:

“…He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell…”

Historic Roman Catholic theology referred to the place that Jesus seems to have visited after His death “limbus patrum”, or “limbo of the fathers”. A popular interpretation of these words of Peter taught in conjunction with the Apostles’ Creed is that our Savior died on the Cross, and then promptly descended into Hades, a temporary holding place for the souls of the dead, and preached to the spirits of some long dead that temporarily resided there. In this view, Jesus went to Hell and set people free that were held there for a time.

Some found a “place” in the Bible that didn’t exist!

If you learned theology from one of the Catholic Catechisms, you may have been taught something like this quote:

We must believe, that Christ’s body lying in the grave, his soul descended into hell: not to suffer pains, as some heretics do say, but for consolation and comfort of many Fathers there, and out of that place (called Lymbus Patrum) he loosed the souls of the blessed Fathers from captivity, and carried them away with him: the third day he rose again from death to life, manifestly showing himself to his Disciples, eating with them, and speaking of the kingdom of God.” (Matt. 8, Luke 14, Ephes. 4, 1 Cor. 15, Acts 1.) Source: A Catechism or Christian Doctrine, by Laurence Vaux, B.D., reprinted from a 1583 edition by The Chetham Society in 1885, Manchester England, (updated to modern spelling for this excerpt) pages 13, 14.

The Douay Catechism made clear the idea: “That the soul of Jesus Christ, after His death, descended into ‘Limbo’—i.e., to the place where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained, and were waiting for the time of their redemption. The Douay Catechism (An Abridgment of the Christian Doctrine) of 1649, by Henry Tuberville, D.D., published by P. J. Kenedy, Excelsior Catholic Publishing House, 5 Barclay Street, New York, approved and recommended for his diocese by the Right Rev. Benedict, Bishop of Boston, April 24th, 1833.

The Baltimore Catechism continued: “Is Limbo the same place as Purgatory? Limbo is not the same place as Purgatory, because the souls in Purgatory suffer, while those in Limbo do not. … “Hell:” here does not mean the place where the damned are, but a place called “Limbo.” …Now from the time Adam sinned till the time Christ died is about four thousand years. During that time there were at least some good men, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and others, in the world, who tried to serve God as best they could—keeping all the divine laws known to them, and believing that the Messiah would someday come to redeem them. When, therefore, they died they could not go to Heaven, because it was closed against them. They could not go to Hell, because they were good men. Neither could they go to Purgatory, because they would have to suffer there. Where could they go? God in His goodness provided a place for them—Limbo—where they could stay without suffering till Our Lord reopened Heaven. Therefore, while Our Lord’s body lay in the Sepulchre, His soul went down into Limbo, to tell these good men that Heaven was now opened for them, and that at His Ascension He would take them there with Him. (Source: The Baltimore Catechism #4 on Basic Catholic Prayers, the Apostles’ Creed, by Rev. Thomas L. Kinkead, published by TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois, Copyright 1891 and 1921 by Benzinger Brothers and reprinted in 1978, ISBN: 0-89555-340-6, pages 11,12).

The anatomy of a mistaken idea…

For a few moments, let’s consider how this idea came to be a part of Christian theology as we consider the verses that seemed to some to “support” this idea. It is important we understand what our neighbor has been taught about verses of Scripture so that we can compare those ideas with what the Bible says when read carefully and in the context of each passage. Be patient and consider three additional passages:

The first came from a parable of Jesus, who was seems to have suggested such a place:

Luke 16:19 “Now there was a rich man…20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, … 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom…

The second passage was taken from the defense of the Gospel by Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts:

Acts 2:24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death (hades), since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. ….27 Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay…”

The third passage was found in a letter of Paul to the Ephesian church where he wrote about the work of Jesus in what appeared to be His death and burial.

Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

Add these passages to the one we have been reading in 1 Peter 3, and the explanation sounds like this:

“Followers of the God of Abraham who died under the Atonement Law (that is before Jesus paid for sin “once for all” at the Cross, went to “Abraham’s Bosom”, while unbelievers went to Hades and looked across a fixed gulf, watching those who awaited redemption. When Jesus died, His body lay in the tomb, but His soul swooped into Abraham’s Bosom and released all the “captive souls” by the good news that sin’s payment was now complete. If that scenario was true, then Peter’s words meant that Jesus released them from a God-ordained captivity and waiting place.” The only problem with that explanation is that it is completely false. A close inspection of each of the supporting passages breaks apart the ideas. Let’s take apart the evidence more carefully.

The case of the parable of Jesus should be examined.

As we look more closely at the story, we should understand the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is no less a parable because a name is mentioned. In the genre of the day, using names was an option in offering a parable. The notion that because Lazarus was named the story was historical is totally without historical merit.

Note the parable before this one of the unjust steward. If one used the details of that parable to highlight truth, instead of keeping the main point as the focus, we could teach that conniving and cheating was commended by Jesus. Clearly the best understanding of a parable comes by “keeping the main thing as the main thing!” The point of Jesus’ parable wasn’t to show what the afterlife was like (that was a mere detail), but to teach that those who will not heed the Scriptures will not heed one coming back from the dead to tell them the truth. Therefore, Limbo was not a purposed part of the teaching from the passage at all, but part of an illustration in a parable that had an entirely different point. It can be ascribed little more meaning than naming the Prodigal Son or trying to find the “place” where the Good Samaritan took the man beaten by thieves. It was a story with a point – and the point is all that mattered.

Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 didn’t indicate a Limbo at all.

The point of Peter’s argument was NOT that David knew HE would be released from a holding place by Messiah, but that Messiah wouldn’t be held in the grave, but would be raised from the grave. Peter identified the one in Hades as Messiah, not David. He also made clear that remaining in whatever place he was referencing would have brought about “decay” of the one who was there. Does that sound likethe definition of “hades” in that case related to a place for souls in that passage or should be interpreted as the alternative meaning of “the grave” from which Jesus came on Resurrection Day? Since it was a place of decay, Limbo wasn’t in view in Acts 2, but the bodily resurrection of Messiah was being argued in that passage.

In Ephesians 4, Paul didn’t say that “Jesus went into the inner parts of the earth.”

This passage seems clear: Jesus went into the lower parts of the earth – except that doesn’t take into account the first reading of the translation. Grammatically, the structure of the passage appears to be what is called a “genitive of apposition” and should rightly be translated: “Jesus descended from Heaven into the lower parts of the universe, namely the earth, and that same Jesus ascended from the earth into Heaven.” This is a form in Greek that is familiar to Paul’s writings:

• In Colossians 1:18, Paul wrote: “He is the head of the body, (namely) the church” (Could not be translated, ‘the body of the church’.).

• In Romans 4:11, Paul wrote “and he received the sign, which is circumcision

• In 2 Corinthians 5:5 Paul wrote “Who has given to us the down payment which is the Spirit.”.

The grammar rule of the genitive in Greek is this: “The word in the genitive case refers to the same thing as the word it modifies. To see if this is the use, try substituting the words which show this kind of equality, “which is”, “namely”, or “who is”, instead of the word “of”. You aren’t supposed to become Greek grammarians in this lesson, but merely need to understand that careful examination of the passage leads to a different place than the one cited by those who “found Limbo” in the verses.

Paul’s point wasn’t that Jesus went into Hell, but that Jesus came to earth and then ascended back to Heaven. There was apparently no “limbo itinerant preaching assignment” for Jesus in this passage either.

As one passage after another unravels under scrutiny, we are left with a weak case presented and under the weight of challenge; it is found to be false.

Did the “Apostle’s Creed” get it wrong?

First, let’s be careful to understand that even old creeds aren’t the Bible. They record the journey of the church, not necessarily the truth of the Word. Second, let me suggest they may have not gotten it wrong at all. Our text of the Apostle’s Creed came again from a Greek edition that plainly said … “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. The next phrase: “He descended into hell” was actually written “He descended into “Hades”. Since Hades can mean either the “abode of the dead” or the grave in ancient literature, there is no reason to conclude the creed intended all Christians to recognize a Limbo visit for Jesus, though clearly some eventually did hold that view. What is clear is this: Jesus DID physically die, bodily go into the grave, and (just as David promised through the Spirit) “God did not allow His body to be degraded or corrupted,” but rather God delivered Jesus up in new life and Resurrection.

What did Peter mean, then, when He wrote about Jesus preaching in 1 Peter 3:19-20?

Peter said that Jesus went to preach to the “spirits” who were in bondage. Were they in bondage at the time He went to them, or were they free at the time He spoke to them and were subsequently brought into bondage (1 Peter 3:19)? The passage doesn’t specify. There are a number of possibilities, none of which necessitate a “Limbo” teaching:

Did Jesus literally come?

The literal use of the phrase “Jesus came teaching them” suggests we are to understand that the Savior physically appeared in a “Pre-Incarnate Ministry” (before His birth in Bethlehem) to preach at the time of Noah. If this was intended in a figurative meaning, it would be more like this: Noah’s preaching was “intoned” with the message of salvation given to Noah from Jesus Himself, just as the Spirit of God intones messages of many who preach the truth to lost men. In that case, Peter may have cited Jesus as “behind the message” simply because he was comparing the preaching of Noah to the lost and their rejection of Him with the outreach and rejection of the Savior. In my view, looking at the rest of what Peter taught, he was referring to a Pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus when He appeared to care for a specific issue long ago. Yet, I don’t think Jesus came to speak to PEOPLE, I think He addressed a different group called “spirits”. Stay focused, and I believe it will make sense in light of Peter’s writings.

Were the “spirits” to whom Jesus spoke people or “something else”?

People in the Bible are not normally referred to as “spirits”, though all people have a connection to God that was severed in the Fall of man and was made alive anew in salvation to those who accept Christ – and that is our “spirit”. That refined theological use of the term seems an awkward expression for ancient people from Noah’s day. Based on the rest of Peter’s writings, I believe I can indicate he had something else in mind: he wasn’t talking about people at all.

The time of Noah in Genesis 6 is introduced by an account of the work of ANGELIC BEINGS who left their “normal form and place” in the spiritual world and attacked humanity by taking on human form and impregnating women. It sounds like a strange story, but Genesis introduced the flood story as a move made by God to save the race from complete blood line contamination. The passage opened with:

Genesis 6:1 “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose… 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”

Genesis 6 mentions there was some unique physical bond between sons of God (the phrase used in places like Job for angelic hosts) and daughters of men that produced or aided in an unprecedented reaction by God. Further, this union appears to have produced exceptional children in size and strength (6:4).

Peter appears to have referred to that time again in 2 Peter 2:4ff.

2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a [a]preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly, 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;

Jude 1:6 suggests that a group of fallen angels have been adjudicated by God and are held in a prison awaiting the judgment:

Jude 1:6 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.

In a theme that appears more common than we may realize, each writer placed the event of which he wrote before Sodom’s judgment. It appears that in part of the preaching of Peter, the story of Jesus condemning the fallen angelic host for leaving the domain of Heaven and invading the territory of men to destroy God’s plan was a time when Jesus cast some angels into an eternal prison, as Jude 1:6 noted. They were imprisoned BY GOD, and Peter refers to that event. The “spirits” then, were placed in bondage by Jesus as a result of the rebellion associated with the time of God’s call to Noah to build an ark.

Instead of understanding the passages we have studied as Jesus passing into a compartment of Hades called “Abraham’s bosom” – we should see the reference to a time long ago when Jesus stepped in to judge some who left their place and profoundly attacked humanity by physical corruption. That was the point, then, of distinguishing a time when physical work saved spiritual life. Look at the passage again in 1 Peter 3:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;

There was a time, not long before this writing, when a perfect and righteous Messiah physically took on a body and died for the sin-sick fleshly world. His physical act made new life in the spiritual world possible for the believer. Then Peter went on…

1 Peter 3:19 “…in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.

That same Messiah was the One Who came and pronounced angels “guilty” of attempting a heinous plan.

The angels are now imprisoned and awaiting judgment (as Jude reminded). The flood took away the tainted blood lines from the earth and saved Noah and his family, who were of “clean blood” (tawmim is “blameless” in Genesis 6:9):

Genesis 6:9 “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. 10 Noah became the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”

Issue Two: Does Baptism Save us? (1 Peter 3:21-22)

This complex text continued:

1 Peter 3:21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Peter said that in the same way that God used the flood waters and the ark to save humanity, but removed that corrupted part of the race, baptism “saves us” (i.e. separates the corruption from us). The corruption is NOT physical, but a spiritual pledge to God to maintain a clean conscience. The baptism depicts in part the new life to the “once dead” by Jesus who has authority over all today.

The evidence best supports that Peter is saying three things:

• First, baptism is symbolic of salvation like the flood was symbolic of God’s saving of the race.

• Second, baptism is a time when the pledge to walk with God in fullness is made, and should be taught, stressed and encouraged.

• Third, the resurrection from the dead, like the ark, was God’s opportunity to put a public stamp on the place of His blessing.

How do I know that he is not teaching that the act of baptism saves us? First and foremost, because the Scriptures are clear- God does not save us based on a work we do in places like:

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained F5 that we should walk in them.

Titus 3: 5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; 7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Peter simply argued that, just as the eight souls were saved as they passed “through water” on the ark, and the filth from the earth in Noah’s day was removed, so the “passing through” the baptism water symbolically washes away our guilt through Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus was at the center of both processes: He removed the rebellious angelic host who corrupted humanity, and He calls out to us to bring us to repentance and baptism (see John 16:8, 9). Jesus as both Judge and Rescuer at the flood was the significant point Peter made. Without understanding that, any comparison to an “antitype” in baptism is without sense. Don’t get lost in all the verbiage and forget the main point we have been studying:

Believers need to study the whole of the Bible and fit every teaching into the whole picture God gave us.

Don’t get sucked into the idea that because the Bible’s message is complex, it is beyond your understanding. The Bible is a story of two worlds – the eternal, primary one is called the “spiritual world” and it was the FIRST WORLD. The second world is the one so familiar to fallen men – it is the temporary and fading physical world. Around us every day are people who make THAT WORLD the ONLY WORLD – but the Bible warns it is a mere shadow of the permanent. If a man or woman makes the physical world their focus, they can accumulate wealth in the physical world, but starve out the growth of the Spirit which will have meaning in the permanent next world.

Consider this: In the next world, it will be clear to all that Jesus is both Rescuer and Judge – but only those who pledged their lives in this world will benefit from that knowledge in the next. God didn’t make your choice very complicated. Listen to the way the Gospel writer posed it:

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees… 2 this man came to Jesus … and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” … 5 … “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ … 11 Truly, truly, I say to you … 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? … 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. … 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

Connecting with God: “Outstanding Christianity” – 1 Peter 3:1-17

smith familyThe Smith families, both the one I grew up in, and the one I raised my children in, have been historically known as loud families. In spite of the fact that you hear me talk often, I am sincere when I say I am by no means the dominant personality when my brothers and sisters get together. I often take a “back seat” to several others, and watch as they weave an endless string of jokes, silly memories and general nonsense into “family time” together. No matter how old we all get, I am still a middle child, and I play that role (out of personal comfort) whenever we all get together. The fact is, if you lived next door to us, I am confident you would have heard us. We loved each other, but we didn’t seem to have a very good “volume switch” much of the time. Some of my children still display this lack on occasion! It is probably because of all that noise I have become so much more sensitive to noise as I have gotten just a bit older. Either that, or I am just becoming a crotchety wretch, which is entirely possible. Now that I have “grown up”, left home and raised my children (who have also left home) – my daily existence (aside from a mouthy cat in the morning) is pretty quiet – at least until my tribe comes to visit.

iphone pics 045If you stand outside a Smith family gathering, I hope you will hear two things: first, lots of laughter (because my wife is hysterical when in her element and my children got their sense of humor from her); and second, lots of encouragement (because I have some really neat children and we have always felt that offering affirmation was a way to continue to build them up in their adult lives). My point is this: a family can best be understood when you stop and really listen to them. If you came from a hurtful family, you may be bullied into silence and want to pout. If you came from a quiet family, people may have to listen more closely to really understand how things work.

As believers, the same holds true. People should be able to recognize what is most important to us when they hear what we have to say. When we gather together, we should be prepared to SOUND LIKE believers. Some words of common vocabulary in the world simply aren’t acceptable in a circle of believers – words that demean or vulgar words that wouldn’t carry a sense of purity. Here is a truth from Scripture I want us to consider…

Key Principle: Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate from Jesus.

Don’t misunderstand how I mean that. I am not suggesting that Scripture endorses “Bible speak” that is unintelligible to the world. We are to be witnesses, and we constantly have to be careful about the use of Christian terminology and how well it is understood by others. In some ways, we can’t help but develop our own language. It is inevitable – like a group of computer geeks or gun aficionados… specialized fields have their own shorthand language. At the same time, our faith was to be easily transportable and simple to relate to others – so we must be careful.

What do we mean by the phrase “unique in sound” then? That is the subject of 1 Peter 2 and 3. Let’s follow the idea into four specific sound qualities:

First, the tone of a Christian isn’t defiance, rebellion and belligerence, but cooperative submission whenever possible (1 Peter 2:13-3:2 and 3:7).

You cannot mistake that tone from Peter’s words. Believers were told to:

1 Peter 2:13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”

Lest that not be clear enough, Peter went on to specify “king”, “authority” and in 2:14 “governors” even for those who live as “free Romans” (2:16). Later in 2:18, he told Christian “servants” to be submissive to masters, and he specifically used the term “respect” to go beyond the notion of simple obedience to the letter of the commands.

As if that wasn’t enough, Peter went even further and told servants they were to show respect even to “unreasonable” masters, because Jesus suffered patiently and offered them an example of how to live when treated unfairly. This underlying tone was perhaps best captured in the words of 1 Peter 2:17:

Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

Even in this, however, Peter was not finished. As 1 Peter 3 opened, the same idea of cooperative submission was carried into the sound of the home of a believer. The chapter began:

1 Peter 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Peter made clear the dear Christian women of their congregations were to be “submissive” to their husbands, even if they are not believers or are not acting out in a way that a follower of Jesus should. The term hupotássō is a combination of two words. One word means “under” and the other means “to arrange”. Some would translate this as “a wife defining herself and under God’s arrangement,” i.e. submitting to the Lord (His plan). Others would suggest it should be “to arrange one’s self under” the husband. What is absolutely clear is this: the command is something the woman must do, and no one can make her or do it for her. Submission is an action of the heart and the will. Peter made note that it was possible for a wayward husband to be drawn to the Lord by the choice of a wife to obey in this difficult area (3:1b-2). The idea was this: Serve God by serving your husband, and God may draw his heart through your work! What a privilege to be used of God to bring someone to Jesus by quiet and loving service!

Skip down a few verses. Do you see the way Peter applied that cooperative sound to the men who lead a family? He wrote:

1 Peter 3:7 “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

Peter wanted believing husbands to handle the precious woman God granted to them in a caring and careful way. Roman men possessed great legal authority in the home, and could have easily gotten away with becoming both domineering and cruel – but believers were not to do this. They could physically handle their wives in ways that would make you ill, and little would or could be said by anyone else. Peter makes these points:

• Men need to live in a quiet submission to Jesus and show their love to Him by taking care of their wives.

• Men needed to take into account that God didn’t make their wives with the same physical strength or emotional makeup.

• Men weren’t to “patronize” their wives, but to HONOR them. The term timḗ means to perceive their true value and worth. If you listen to the various “pride” movements and to radical feminists, you will constantly hear them refer to desiring people to recognize their “value” as people. God made the point through Peter that men should be clear on the incredible value of this gift of God in your life.

• Men were to recognize that women were fellow heirs of God’s unmerited favor – specifically that God loved them as much as He did the men in the fellowship.

• Finally, men needed to recognize that if they mistreated their wives, the ear of God would turn away from their prayer life. God won’t allow you and I, men, to treat our wives poorly and then expect great mercy and grace from Him. He put the truth in His Book – he won’t listen!

When the verses at the end of 1 Peter 2 and the beginning of 1 Peter 3 are carefully considered, then, the places our world should be able to hear the tone of the believer are in relation to those who are over us as governing authorities, those over us at work, and those who live with us at home

Let’s be clear about the CONTEXT of Peter’s statements. As in all passages, greater context is often necessary for right thinking to emerge from the text.

We must remember that no part of God’s Word is the whole truth by itself; each part needs to be placed beside the other parts of the Word to offer a complete thought. When we teach or preach, we must always seek to balance the truth under consideration with the rest of Scripture. Failure to do that will cause us to conclude false ideas.

For instance, do you think this passage teach that Marines should act this way when storming a beach in force? Should a Christian police officer surrender his weapon to a criminal and be submissive? Of course not! Yet, it is easy to see how someone can read ONE PART of Scripture and get the wrong impression. Let me say it this way: There are places where cooperative submission should not be heard from a believer, and they do not contradict this statement of the normal behavior. They are covered in other places in Scripture. Proper learning of the Word allows you to know what part should be applied to what situation.

If one wants “principles on how to run a nation” or “how to operate a criminal justice system”, the Law (Torah) given to the nation of Israel provides much more of the underlying notes that help us. “Wait!” someone cries. “We aren’t under the Law!” That is where clarity is lost and mud prevails. Much of Paul’s argumentation for morality is rooted in the Law. As we saw in a recent study of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul’s argument was “as the Law says”. So how does that work? Shouldn’t we ignore the Law? In short, no. When Paul said that “we are not under the Law” he was directly referring to the Atonement that replaced by complete justification accomplished at the Cross of Jesus, not making a case to dismiss the moral precepts God cares about that are revealed in the Law.

Let me be clear: God still wants people to recognize the morality He taught Israel as valid. We don’t have to kill a goat to make God happy because of Jesus, but telling a lie, thinking or acting immorally, or taking what isn’t yours is still wrong, and God didn’t need to repeat it in the New Testament to make it clear that is how He wanted things.

Another HUGE problem is that some apply the teachings of Jesus to His followers as though He was speaking of every situation possible; that simply isn’t true. Let me illustrate that for a moment…

A few weeks ago, people at a Christmas party were gunned down by terrorists in California. Registered gun sales skyrocketed and several Christian leaders weighed in on the subject. Just after that, Jerry Falwell Jr. spoke to young people at Liberty University and said some things that in context were reactive to that situation, including the offer of concealed carry classes for students. One quote, picked up in a magazine article by Jonathan Merritt was this:“we could end those Muslims.” I suspect Jerry would have liked to re-think the wording for the sound bite, but nevertheless he was speaking in the context of some evil people who just perpetrated a terror attack. In response, many wrote for and against guns. The point I wanted to note was what Merritt did in his article, because it illustrates a common mistake. He wrote:

“…He encouraged students to enroll in the university’s gratis certification course and said he was carrying a weapon “in my back pocket right now.” He concluded by saying, “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Falwell’s comments are the latest in a string of proclamations by conservative Christians appealing to religious authority and yet apparently devoid of biblical reflection…. While the school claims to put Jesus at the center of its curriculum, its president never referred to the Prince of Peace’s teachings in his remarks about gun violence. The absence is unsurprising. It’s hard to imagine how Jesus’s teachings could support his case…The New Testament recounts many comments Jesus made about violence, and almost all of them seem like an outright contradiction of Falwell’s remarks. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses peacemakers and commends the merciful. Jesus advised people to love, not kill, their enemies and urged them not to take an eye for an eye, but rather to turn the other cheek. When he hung on a Roman cross, he did not ask his followers to arm themselves. Instead, he prayed: “Father, forgive them.”

What Merritt did was ignore all the defense issues in the Hebrew Scriptures that were a part of the national law of Israel, and skip to the issue of Jews under Roman rule referenced by Jesus. The problem isn’t that he misunderstood Jesus, but that He skipped the national context that framed the whole argument. This is a common mistake in Bible study.

Take a moment and apply it to 1 Peter 2 and 3 on submission. Believers should be submissive to governments, but that doesn’t preclude many other passages on self-defense in God’s Word. Neither Peter nor Jesus would have taken issue with a nation defending itself, nor a husband sitting idly while someone breaks in and attacks his wife and children. There were already laws concerning those issues, and we must not ignore the broader context when reading passages like this one. Let’s say it this way: God normally works through submission, respect and obedience. There are Biblical cases that show that one may be forced to disobey a command of government, but cases like the Prophet Daniel are few and far between. Normally, a quiet submissive respectful voice is what a believer should use.

Second, the sound of the believer is not brash, but supportive and positive (1 Peter 3:3-6).

It is not my intention to over-outline the passage, and I recognize that 1 Peter 3:3-6 is also set in the direct context of the sound of submission, but I want to look at these verses separately and with greater intensity, because I believe they provide a beautiful description of the sound and display of a believer in a delicate way. It is an intimate discussion, and it should be considered alone. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 3:3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; 6 just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Before we consider Peter’s words about the wardrobe and “bling” of women, it is necessary for us to make this simple note of understanding… Men are drawn and stimulated by visual appearance. In the world of the internet, it doesn’t seem that more needs to be explained. With that in mind, let’s recall what Peter said to the women to whom he was writing. He offered three important thoughts:

• Internal adornment is more important than external. Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than deliberately “putting on godliness” by taking the energy women in the world apply to external beauty and working on the attitudes of the heart (3:3).

• Women have an inner life that is at its best when they are working NOT to be noticed by the rest of the room (3:4).

• The women who observe Scripture carefully, will see those who grew in their faith made tough choices to submit, even when their husbands showed incredible weakness (3:5-6).

Perhaps you wonder, what is “working on the inside” and how would it change me? I found a story that may help…A few years ago, Pastor Bill Hybels wrote: “Recently, I saw a letter written by a relatively new Christian to the person whose life had influenced hers so greatly. She actually lists about a dozen qualities she found contagious in the life of this older Christian. Listen to some of what she wrote:

‘You know when we met; I began to discover a new vulnerability, a warmth, and a lack of pretense that impressed me. I saw in you a thriving spirit – no signs of internal stagnation anywhere. I could tell you were a growing person and I liked that. I saw you had strong self-esteem, not based on the fluff of self-help books, but on something a whole lot deeper. I saw that you lived by convictions and priorities and not just by convenience, selfish pleasure, and financial gain. And I had never met anyone like that before. I felt a depth of love and concern as you listened to me and didn’t judge me. You tried to understand me, you sympathized and you celebrated with me, you demonstrated kindness and generosity – and not just to me, but to other people, as well. And you stood for something. You were willing to go against the grain of society and follow what you believed to be true, no matter what people said, and no matter how much it cost you. And for those reasons and a whole host of others, I found myself really wanting what you had. Now that I’ve become a Christian, I wanted to write to tell you I’m grateful beyond words for how you lived out your Christian life in front of me.

Did you note the letter didn’t really address externals much at all. Whether the one who received the letter lived in a big or small house, drove an awesome car or not, or wore the finest clothing or jewelry is not mentioned. It simply wasn’t the most helpful thing and played no role in whether or not the observer came to Christ. What did matter? Attitudes of the heart were the points of testimony.

Focus your life on externals and you will attract friends who live for externals. Apply yourself to allowing God’s Spirit to work deeply within your life, and you will draw around you others who see God at work in you. Your friends are often an indicator of what is on display in your own value system.

Yesterday someone forwarded me a YouTube of the famous atheist comedian Penn Jillette as he told a story about a believer who walked up to him to give him a pocket New Testament with Psalms. To my delight, Jillette recalled the man as sincere, kind and polite. He didn’t feel assaulted. He felt cared for and accepted. I want to hug that brother some day in glory. I pray there are thousands and thousands more like him – both honestly evangelistic and lovingly sensitive.

Third, the sound of a believer increasingly focuses on harmony whenever and wherever it is possible.

I like to harmonize. In fact, it is the reason they put me in the front row, so that no one else has to hear what I do as I inadvertently massacre sacred songs. I cannot help it! One thing I can testify to concerning songs – some really don’t lend themselves to harmonization well. The same is true of people. Some are so extreme, so loud and so mean I have trouble figuring out how to move the conversation forward in a godly way. The truth is, we are supposed to look for ways to live and work together for God’s glory. Peter said it this way:

1 Peter 3:8 To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but [e]giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Fourth, the sound of a believer is the sound of carefully chosen notes.

I find the need to confess something to you: song sliders make me crazy! I want to assert strongly that people should CHOOSE the note they are trying to sing instead of sliding from flat to note to sharp, or from one note to another! Sing whatever song you choose, but at the very least, sing the song distinctly!

In the same way, there are distinct and selected sounds of spiritual maturity we should consider fostering in our own heart:

People should hear from us the sound of disciplined speech:

1 Peter 3:10 For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, Must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.

Some people don’t seem to care how they use their mouth! Zig Ziglar once wrote: My brother, the late Judge Ziglar, loved to tell the story of the fellow who went next door to borrow his neighbor’s lawnmower. The neighbor explained that he could not let him use the mower because all the flights had been canceled from New York to Los Angeles. The borrower asked him what canceled flights from New York to Los Angeles had to do with borrowing his lawnmower. It doesn’t have anything to do with it, but if I don’t want to let you use my lawnmower, one excuse is as good as another.” [Excuses: Any Will Do?, Citation: Zig Ziglar, Something Else to Smile About (Thomas Nelson, 1999)]

Our sound should be one that consistently reveals choices of right over wrong: “1 Peter 3:11 “He must turn away from evil and do good…”Strong’s Commentary offered this: “Christ and the believer have the same life. They are not separate persons linked together by some temporary bond of friendship; they are united by a tie as close and indissoluble as if the same blood ran in their veins.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses peace over revenge:

1 Peter 3:11b He must seek peace and pursue it.

Jesus . . . wants us to see that the neighbor next door or the people sitting next to us on a plane or in a classroom are not interruptions to our schedule. They are there by divine appointment. Jesus wants us to see their needs, their loneliness, their longings, and he wants to give us the courage to reach out to them” (REBECCA MANLEY PIPPERT, Draper’s).

Ours is the sound of one who remembers that God is paying attention:

1 Peter 3:12 “For the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Ours is the sound of one who chooses faith over fear:

1 Peter 3:13 Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled…

When life caves in, you do not need reasons — you need comfort. You do not need some answers — you need someone. And Jesus does not come to us with an explanation — He comes to us with His presence.” — Bob Benson.

Ours is the sound of one who prepares to speak well for Jesus:

1 Peter 3:15 “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

Howard Hendricks said, “In the midst of a generation screaming for answers, Christians are stuttering.”

It is the sound of the voice of integrity:

1 Peter 3:16 “…and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”

Ours is the sound of trust:

1 Peter 3:17 “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

We must allow God to place us in the story where He desires. We must remember: “Nothing under God’s control is ever out of control.” (Charles Swindoll).

Christians weren’t called to sound like the world, but to stick out because of unique sounds we learn to imitate.

Consider what people do when they hear us and we sound like Jesus…

Dr. James Dobson, former director of “Focus on the Family” Ministries, shared an experience after his teaching days (he taught at the public school system from 1960-1963). At the final year, he had to say goodbye to 25 to 30 teary-eyed kids. One young lady whom he said goodbye to in 1963 called him in 1975. Julie had grown up. Dr. Dobson remembered her as a seventh grader with a crisis of confidence in herself. Her Latin heritage embarrassed her and she was overweight. She h ad only one friend, and they moved away the following year. She and Dr. Dobson talked on the phone about the good ole days. “Where do you go to church?” He told her, and she asked if she could visit. He told her she could, and the next week she came. In the coming months, she became a vibrant Christian. A few months after her initial visit, Dobson asked her, “Julie, I want to ask you a question. Will you tell me why you went to so much trouble to obtain my unlisted number and call me last Autumn?” “Because when I was a seventh-grade student in junior high school, you were the only person in my life who acted like you respected and believed in me…and I wanted to know your God.”

Connecting with God: “Making Sense of Suffering” – 1 Peter 4:1-11

no senseI have discovered that many things in life simply make no sense at all. They truly don’t. I suspect I am not the only one who has been watching polls of Americans and wondering if they have lost all political instincts, but it isn’t only in politics things seem to be “hard to understand.” Consider these examples from the news:

A few years ago AT&T fired President John Walter after nine months, saying he lacked intellectual leadership. He received a $26 million severance package. Perhaps it’s not Walter who truly lacked intelligence.

An Illinois man, pretending to have a gun, kidnapped a motorist and forced him to drive to two different automated teller machines, wherein the kidnapper proceeded to withdraw money from his own bank accounts.

A few years ago, a man walked into a Topeka, Kansas “Kwik Stop” and asked for all the money in the cash drawer. Apparently, the take was too small, so he tied up the store clerk and worked the counter himself for three hours until police showed up and grabbed him.

Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn’t control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words, “Give me all your money or I’ll shoot, the man shouted, “That’s not what I said!”

In Modesto, California, Steven Richard King was arrested for trying to hold up a Bank of America branch without a weapon. King used a thumb and a finger to simulate a gun, but unfortunately, he failed to keep his hand in his pocket.

One of my favorite examples of things that don’t make sense came from some dear folks, new to boating, who were having a problem. No matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t get their brand new 22 ft. power boat going. It was very sluggish in almost every maneuver, no matter how much power was applied. After about an hour of trying to make it go, they putted to a nearby marina, thinking someone there could tell them what was wrong. A thorough topside check revealed everything in perfect working condition. The engine ran fine, the out drive went up and down, and the prop was the correct size and pitch. About that time, one of the marina workers decided to test a theory. He jumped into the water to check underneath and he quickly snapped out of the water, choking as he came up because he was laughing so hard. Under the boat, still strapped securely in place, was the boat trailer.” (original author unknown).

I think we can all agree that many of the things we read in the news day to day, truly make no sense at all. Yet, there is something that many people find even HARDER to make sense out of and harder to swallow in the serious side of life; that is human suffering. All laughing aside, suffering is a serious matter, and a significant stumbling block to people keeping them from following God. It was Warren Wiersbe who made the astute observation in his study on the Book of Job that our enemy uses physical suffering to encourage us to become impatient with the will of God in our lives. The same tactic is also at work holding people from a walk with God. I have heard many who do not know God say things like: “If God is good, why do good people suffer?” Still others in the family of God will say, “If we are believers and God loves us, why do we suffer?”

Does God use suffering? Is there a point to the pain in our broken world?

Biblically speaking, suffering has a purpose in a fallen world – and it has a purpose in our lives. In fact, it has a number of purposes, based on the writings of Peter to early believers. There is little doubt that suffering and pain have a way of separating the “sunshine soldier” from the “persistent patriot” – but there is much more than God using it to show a “who’s who” lineup. Suffering teaches patience that deepens our walk in ways that are hard to quantify in simple terms. We should take a few minutes and listen to some tough words about painful things, with a view toward grasping God’s work in us. Here is the point:

Key Principle: Suffering and trouble can be used by God to produce growth in me. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for me.

When Peter began writing about the subject in 1 Peter 4, he wasn’t writing to novices on the subject. The migrant workers of the central Turkish plateau knew much about loss and trouble, pain and problems. Peter began with a word about the One Who knew suffering before any of them. He wrote that…

Suffering was something Jesus did – so it is something we should certainly expect.

4:1 “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose…”

First, the opening “therefore” is a tip that what Peter said before was essential to understanding what he was about to share. Don’t forget the end of chapter three was the exciting truth that Jesus has ascended to sit beside His Father. His work was accepted, but it came at a high price of suffering. Jesus suffered for us – and that was part of His Father’s plan to reveal His love for us!

Second, it is worth recalling that Jesus suffered in the flesh in very real terms. What do I mean? Some in the early church struggled with the notion of Jesus’ physicality and some believed He was merely a “spirit” that “appeared” to men. That isn’t what God’s Word teaches. Jesus bled when cut. He was emotionally and physically vulnerable to pain. That thought is hard to grasp, but comforting to know when considering powerful and personal pain.

Third, pain and suffering IS something we can and should prepare for in our lives. Don’t expect to get off earth without your share of troubles and pains! The last part of the verse makes that very clear. Peter said: “Arm yourselves for that purpose.” What arms are available? How do I learn to use them to prepare? When and where should I employ them? All these are valid and valuable questions.

Suffering is something that teaches us a valuable lesson – life isn’t supposed to be “self-service”.

I don’t believe the rest of verse one and all of verse two were as necessary to the first century believer as I am wholly certain is true for the believer today. We live in different times and have a different set of ears to hear these words. Listen as we finish the opening sentence of Peter after he told the believers to arm themselves for the coming pain…

4:1b “…because he [the believer] who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

Peter made three points here:

The believer who has faced powerful suffering sets aside an agenda of pleasing him or herself and grasps how short and fragile life really is. Everything is open to you when your body is healthy and your mind is racing ahead on yourself. Young life is exhilarating but not truly as serious and deep as a life with some powerful pain lessons. That doesn’t make you a shallow and inconsequential person, just a young and inexperienced one. Pain deepens your life in ways you may not be able to imagine. It is the pain of loss that makes precious moments sweeter.

I was standing along the Via Dolorosa not long ago and came upon a mother sitting in the doorway to the church of the Spasm. She lost a child to illness, and she was a broken women. The shop keeper nearby had become accustomed to her crying and sobs. I noticed her pouring a little milk in a dish for a wandering kitten… She knew what it meant to feel alone and vulnerable, and she acted in kindness. Suffering taught her to care.

The second point Peter made was this, suffering reminds us to reset our value system. When we encounter true pain, momentary inconvenience drops off the radar screen. The fact is that many of us get too worried and upset about things that are not all that important. We let things get “under our skin” that just shouldn’t.

The other day I flew from London to Miami on a ten-hour flight. It was a day flight, which can be difficult because it means that people don’t sleep, and it makes the flight seem much longer. I had a very nice stewardess who did everything she could to make me comfortable, along with the ER doctor who was sitting beside me. When I got off the flight in Miami I had to transfer luggage to a new carousel for customs and border control, and I met a women who said she was behind me during the flight. She noticed I slept a good bit and then began to tell me how horrible the stewardesses were on the flight. I couldn’t believe were on the same flight. I thought these ladies were GREAT, and she thought they were horrible. She complained of having to wait a few minutes to get water when she requested it, and got the wrong entrée at mealtime. I was stunned at how minute her complaints seemed and thought to myself: “It must be nice to normally have such a perfect life that things like that would be such a major burden to her!” I don’t want to be unkind, but the problems she expressed were at most very minor inconveniences. If she has something bigger to focus on, I suspect these would have dissolved quickly in her mind. Real trouble helps us dump tiny disruptions from our hearts and focus on bigger issues. I am not wishing trouble on her (and I have no such power anyway), but I do believe that significant troubles can help us get better perspective on our expectations of others and of life in general.

Finally, suffering and pain can help us to think about the intended purpose of our lives. We all have the temptation to default to self-pleasing lives. Fallen men and women see themselves as FOR themselves. Believers increasingly near toward Heaven, and consider each day a gift to serve their Master. None of us do this flawlessly, but all of us grow in the process of learning this one unwavering truth: We were created for our Master’s use, and nothing will ever be as satisfying as when He is powerfully using us…Nothing.

Suffering reminds us that we were a part of the system that caused the problem – the sin-sick, selfish world.

4:3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.

Suffering and pain didn’t come from a vengeful God Who got mad at mankind after the Fall in the Garden. Rather, pain was the natural effect of the rebellious heart. When Adam and Even shook their fists at God and did their own thing, they changed the default switch on all who came from their loins. Generation after generation we have been plagued with people who live for self and serve the four gods of our age: Fortune, Fame, Power and Pleasure. We all came into this position naturally and found it to be so routine most never thought about it at all until they faced the truth of the Word of God.

Note the terms: “carried out the desire” and ponder them for a moment. It almost seems like we are on “autopilot” with desires that are selfish and excessive. We want sensuality – or good feeling. Some will destroy every relationship in their life for the next high. Some are quietly tucked in a corner with their computer trying to feel good one more time pretending to have relationships that are entirely in their mind – fake connections for a deceived life. Others measure “fun” by poor self-control and lousy self-restraint. The more childish the behavior, the more the world uses the word “adult” to describe it: “adult films” and “for adults only” are buzz words for unrestrained lusts.

Did you notice the list ends with “abominable idolatries?” This represents two words in Greek.

• The term “abominable” is athémitos, a combined words “a” or “not” and themis, “an accepted custom or practice.

• The term eidólolatria is also a combination of two words that together mean the “service rendered to a false god.”

Think about those two words for a moment. Peter said that domination of selfish desires and lack of surrender to God leads us to a very predictable end: we bow to a false god and make what was unacceptable fine in our own minds. We break natural agreements. We cheat on our spouse, abandon our children, break our contracts, lie to our employers and suck up our ours trying to feed our need to be at the center of our own lives.

Serving the god of fortune can create above us a relentless taskmaster that will take every ounce of our lives and give us broken bodies and empty hearts in exchange for the promise of a full bank account. Here is the truth: You cannot enjoy a steak without teeth. You cannot relax on a yacht while lying in a hospital bed. Fortune promises, but she robs you of what you have and often gives far less than expected.

Serving the god of fame is also an exercise in futility. Ask anyone who is so famous they cannot go out with guards, and must secure their home because of the crazies who just want to live in the fantasy they “have a relationship” with the celebrity. Do you know what it means to have to be so guarded you cannot take a walk alone? Many celebrities spend enormous efforts to hide their identity to try to get some of the benefit of a “normal life”.

Do we even have to think about how fleeting the pursuit of the god of power is? Stand over the graves of any of the great men and women of the past and ask what their power does for them now. Think about the fleeting nature of power… Take for example the memory of Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio Africanus the Younger) who was indelibly linked in the Roman mind with the destruction of Carthage in the Punic Wars. He was a powerful general, and a man of duty. Yet, he was a thinker and gathered to his side famous historians, poets and philosophers of his time—a group that came to be known as the Scipionic circle. Power wasn’t enough for him. In fact, in a famous moment from his life, he looked upon Carthage as his troops were utterly decimating it and wept openly for his fallen enemies. He said: “A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish, And Priam and his people shall be slain.” He clearly foresaw that when the great city of Carthage fell, Rome set itself up for the same destruction in the days ahead. All power ends. All might is eventually broken… but that which belongs to the Creator of all.

Peter seemed more tuned in the verse to the god of pleasure. Does seeking constant pleasure lead to idolatry? Ask any mother or wife of a man who has escaped from the world through a pill or a needle, a bottle or a pipe. Left unbroken, the drug stupor takes a loved one from pleasure to denial, from deception to the “long goodbye.” It severs the normal caring bonds and replaces them with brutal selfishness backed by lies and empty promises of change. If you set out to satisfy yourself with pleasure, be sure that it will cost you some of the most precious relationships in life. People who love you will die a thousand times watching you destroy yourself while you hide, lie and deny.

Suffering comes, in part, because the world truly doesn’t understand the shift in our values – because we live for the Savior.

Without a relationship with the God Who created them, people will act “normally” in the default settings of a self-oriented life. They will learn to cloak the most brutal selfish tendencies, but they will figure out ways to get what they want. When you meet Jesus and surrender to Him, you drop out of the race. Expect something. Peter wrote:

1 Peter 4:4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you…

There seems to be some fascination by other drivers in the race concerning the one who pulls off the course. As other racers speed by, these drivers slow to notice you have simply left the race. They cannot manage to get off the track without finding the One Who opened an exit gate for you, but they cannot honestly conceive of a life that isn’t on the unending racecourse of self-fulfillment. They look over, some with pity toward what they consider as your pathetic pull-off into religious escapism. Others hurl nasty epithets and insults in passing, as if they are truly finding fulfillment in their “merry-go-round of need and want” that relentlessly drives them onward. When you stop running the race for fortune, fame, power and pleasure – you become different. You see life differently. You know the track, the crowds, the crown and the roar of the engine are not enough – it never could be. You know the race is going nowhere. You have now found your purpose in the One who released you from the race. The truth is, that bugs them. They don’t know why – but it does.

Suffering should draw people back to God, but in many cases it causes them to dig in and fight Him more. When your fight is over, they simply add you to the list of those who they cannot understand and do not like. At enmity with God, they find you offensive, whether you say anything or not. In spite of that, our call is to love those who do not always love us back, and in that be like the Master Who called us to Himself.

Suffering will end for us, but begin for those who have not prepared to meet the Savior.

Don’t forget that. Your suffering in this life is short-lived. The suffering after this life is unending. Peter reminded:

4:5 “…but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

Beloved, don’t be angry with them if they insult you. Don’t be offended as though this is something new. Generations of those who are now beyond the hope of the Gospel rejected Jesus and have found that to be a horrible mistake. Others who are “dead in Spirit” (Ephesians 2:1ff) are now being presented the offer of life that they may be “made alive” in Jesus. The rejection of angry men should drive us to love them more, pray for them more, care for them more and seek to represent Jesus to them better. Their hurt toward us is for a moment, but their punishment and peril must move our hearts. It simply must move us to witness, work and walk before them as Jesus called us to do.

Suffering should push us to make “final countdown preparations”.

Simply observe for a moment the words at the opening of 1 Peter 4:7: “The end of all things is near…”

Dear ones, it is almost over. No matter who wins the next election, no matter what the stock market does, no matter what flag flies over our beloved land… it is almost over. We won’t be here long. Our hope cannot and must not be in anyone or anything less than the arms of our waiting Savior. Get ready. It is almost morning. The sun is about to break on the horizon!

Don’t lose heart. We are heading home very soon. We should be vigilant and clear in our thinking – so we can pray passionately, love deliberately, speak compassionately, and reach out effectively. Listen to the words of Peter as he presses us onward:

1 Peter 4:7b “…therefore, [because the end draws near] be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.

Don’t let the lateness of the hour push you toward making every breath about getting more for yourself. Many people do that – and it is a trap. Let the lateness of the hour press us to pray more fervently.

You should never be to busy not to pray. It’s your lifeline to survival in a fallen world and your compass to lead you home and into the will of God. Bill Hybels states, “My second warning is for those who make the equal and opposite error. You are thinking, ‘I don’t need any structure or rigorous habits to make my heart grow. I’m a play-it-by-ear type. I go with the spiritual flow. I’m going to let go and let God do whatever he wants to do, and I’ll just see what happens.’ This typical American attitude, at best, is naïve; at worst, it is self-deceived. We just cannot grow with no structure, no sense of intentionality about our spiritual life, any more than we can lower our body fat or develop good muscle tone or increase our net worth by just sitting back and waiting for whatever happens. If the goal is really important to me, I discipline myself in order to achieve it. I use to make excuses for my fainthearted prayer life. I don’t have any good models of persevering prayer, I told myself. I have too many responsibilities to fulfill, so I don’t have the time to pray properly. But God convinced me that I was not being honest with myself. The real reason my prayers were weak was that my faith was weak.”

Beyond the spiritual battle in prayer, let it help us to see greater value in sticking together and demonstrating love for one another. He made that point clear:

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

We should be growing in desire to be with one another (since that is what will happen in eternity!) and learning to overlook each other’s idiosyncrasies. If you are increasingly “bugged” by other believers, perhaps that is an indication something is wrong in your heart! Peter went on…

1 Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

How could he make it more personal than telling us to SPEND TIME WITH ONE ANOTHER! We should be losing a spirit of complaint and fostering a spirit of encouragement.

That isn’t all. He went on to call us to pressing harder and harder in the use of our spiritual gifts! He wrote:

1 Peter 4:10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

Our gifts were strategically employed by God to move His work ahead. Our gifts aren’t for our glory, but for His. They are to be used, and that to the fullest!

When we speak, it should be to represent Him. We should work to teach with clarity and vigor the Word of God. He made that clear:

1 Peter 4:11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God;

When we serve, it should be with energy and intent to use all that God supplies to bless others and bring glory to the Lord. He challenged:

1 Peter 4:11b “…whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter called the people to serve with JOY in their ministry!

Some people have a job in church. Others get involved in a ministry. What’s the difference?

• If you’re doing it because no one else will, it’s a job. If you’re doing it to serve the Lord, it’s a ministry.

• If you’re doing it just well enough to get by, it’s a job. If you’re doing it to the best of your ability, it’s a ministry.

• If you’re doing it so long as it doesn’t interfere with other activities, it’s a job. If you’re committed to staying with it even when it means letting go of other things, it’s a ministry.

• If you quit because no one praised you or thanked you, it’s a job. If you stay with it even though no one seems to notice, it’s a ministry.

• If your concern is “success,” it’s a job. If your concern is faithfulness, it’s a ministry.

• If it’s hard to get excited about, it’s a job. It’s almost impossible not to be excited about a ministry!

• If God calls you to a ministry, don’t treat it like a job. If you have a job in church, give it up and find a ministry.

God doesn’t want us feeling stuck with a job, but excited and faithful to Him in a ministry. That is why He gifted us and called us!

A few years ago I shared this story, but at the risk of repetition I will share it again because it illustrates the point that we must remember to be thankful for whatever opportunity God has given you to serve:

Jobs were scarce and John was ready to give up and join the unemployment line. He noticed a zoo on the way home and walked in unannounced. The manager said that no jobs were available. John turned to walk away. The zoo manager stopped him and asked if he would be willing to wear a gorilla costume and substitute for the gorilla who had recently died. John agreed and enjoyed convincing the onlookers that he was a gorilla. He grunted and swung through the trees with reckless abandon. On the second day, he swung from a rope and accidentally fell into the lion’s pit. The lion licked his chops and walked toward John. John froze in fear. His thoughts were, ’Do I yell and give away my identity or do I do nothing and risk my life?” He yelled. The lion shot back, “Shut up, or both of us will lose our jobs!”

Dear ones, we have the privilege to serve the Lord for this season of our lives. Sometimes it will come with trouble, and sometimes with pain. That isn’t a sign God isn’t being faithful. It is part of our service to accept life as the Master assigns it to each of us.

Suffering and trouble can be used by God to produce growth in me. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it isn’t good for me.

Connecting with God: “Point of Resistance” – 1 Peter 2

Weight-Lifting-Tempo-Step-3The gym is filled with an interesting range of people. In the one near my home, many seniors work out to try to keep their heart in shape, and some do it even for power lifting. Personally, I do it to feel better and to keep my energy level high. What I know from those who do it is that weightlifting intentionally stresses a specific muscle group to the point where your body (if you are the one lifting) must adapt to meet the unaccustomed demands. Muscles must be pushed to a new adaptation threshold in order to gain strength and size. Without a sufficient resistance, the movement offers no benefits. For example, I curl my biceps many times a day to lift a fork with food on it, but that movement won’t really build my bicep muscle. It will, on the other hand, clearly add to the size of my mid-section! In the case of muscle building, resistance is a GOOD THING.

Conversely, as I grow in the Spirit of God and walk with Him, resistance isn’t good for much unless it is working the “resolve against sin” muscle group. Even though it doesn’t help me grow, I find myself resisting God’s work in me at every stage. I see it in my easily knocked out of whack attitudes, my impatience and my hard heart to things that should make me sing out in praise! Paul said it so well when he complained in Romans 7:

Romans 7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

Later, he continues with the other side of the coin:

Romans 7:19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.

Virtually every believer I know can identify with the two sides of this coin. I do what I know God doesn’t want me to do, and I don’t work hard enough at what He DOES want me to do! Can you identify with that in your walk? In our lesson today, Peter chimes in with Paul, but he offers both warning and encouragement. The lesson is this…

Key Principle: God is at work building His people, but resistant believers hold back God’s work struggling within the family.

Don’t begin the lesson with discouraging thoughts about your current lack of obedience. Stop! Think for a moment of the resources God provides for you! Here is Peter’s encouraging word…

Encouragement #1: We possess the sure solution to life’s issues (1:22-25).

Don’t look in the second chapter, but rather at the end of the first chapter to drop into the context of the discussion. Peter wrote:

Context: 1 Peter 1: 22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

Peter made clear he was speaking to believers. They saw God work, at least initially when they gave their heart to Jesus. In that way, they “purified their souls”. He could tell because they had a God “water mark” on their life – the love of the brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t forget, one of the underlying marks of a life in relationship to Jesus is the mark of a love for the people who love Jesus. Verse 23 acknowledges openly that they trusted God’s Word – and that brought life to them.

Stop for a moment and think about how you came to Jesus Christ. You trusted the Word of God, just as Peter said believers did two thousand years ago. You took God at His Word. We need to recognize the power of God’s Word to save, and the threat that Word is to the enemy of God. He will stop at nothing to mock the word on comedy channels, erode the Word on pseudo-science channels and criticize the Word’s veracity and principles on news channels. He will make light of it, and if he can’t stop you from hearing it, he’ll work to confuse your understanding of it by swirling huge lies into the mix of what you hear. The other day I listened to a well-known Christian speaker teaching that one cannot judge another’s experience by the Word of God, because that experience is more powerful and personal than even God’s Word. That was on the Christian radio.

Satan is in the business of telling lies, weaving deception and bringing confusion. How often I have people tell me “that is just your interpretation” when they offer no other interpretation that even vaguely fits the narrative! Let’s be clear; Satan has taken the high ground in the public square. He occupies many critical vantage points of the educational process. He owns Hollywood and Wall Street. He is pouring it on. Our culture grows in its will to mock even the foundations of the ethic that brought it into being. Yet, we stick to the Word. Why?, The Word endures forever. CNN will cease. Fox will go dark. The University of Paganism will one day be silent. The King’s words will never die. Armies will march against it, but the Word will stand. Terror will try to boot its truth from view, but one hundred million million years from now, God’s Word will stand sure.

The late Dr. R. G. Lee, former pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis TN expressed the value of God’s Word in this way:

The Bible is a book beyond all books as a river is above and beyond a rivulet. The Bible is a book beyond all books as the sun is above and beyond a candle in brightness. The Bible is a book beyond all books as the wings of an eagle is above and beyond the wings of a sparrow. It is supernatural in origin, eternal in duration, inexpressible in value, immeasurable in influence, infinite in scope, divine in authorship, human in penmanship, regenerative in power, infallible in authority, universal in interest, personal in application, and inspired in totality. This is the Book that has walked more paths, traveled more highways, knocked at more doors and spoken to more people in their mother tongue than in other book this world has ever known or will know.” (From a sermon by Rev. John D. Jones, That Ye May Grow, 7/20/2011)

Why not crack it open this week and let it help you KEEP GROWING? After all, the father of lies will have many avenues into your mind. How about buying up some ammunition of the Spirit to give God something to recall in your heart when life starts looking dark?
There is another encouragement Peter offered…

Encouragement #2: We can take action to get ready for God to work in and through us (2:1-2).

We don’t have to sit still while life rolls by. We can follow God, but there is a first step – and it involves re-training what you WANT. It requires dieting and exercise. The diet is what you will eliminate from your intake, and your “exercise” is what you will add to build muscles of the Spirit. Peter said it this way:

1 Peter 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…

God’s work in us is deliberate. We cannot do it, but we can prepare for it. Peter offered two action steps – one to get something out, and the other to encourage something into our hearts.

First, we prepare by cleaning off the table before he places in front of us something new. There are five things taking up the space of your heart that need to be cleaned out:

• Clean off malice. The Greek term kakía means the underlying principle of doing evil or harming someone, even if it is lurking in your heart and has not been outwardly expressed. Clean out your heart of hate.

• Clean off deceit. The Greek term dólos means the use of trickery or bait to “hook” people into doing what you want them to do or believing what yu what you want them to believe. It is particularly used of baiting those already in overt emotional pain. Clean out your thoughts of ungodly motivations.

• Clean off hypocrisy. The Greek term hypókrisis comes from a thebian word for actors and refers to “someone acting under a mask”. Clean out your hidden agendas that are being masked.

• Clean off envy. The Greek term phthónos refers to a strong desire that has soured due to the influence of sin; and is demonstrable in being energized when someone else experiences misfortune or pain. Clean out your hardness of heart.

• Clean off slander. The Greek term katalalía is evil speech or slander. Clean out your bad vocabulary about others.

When I stop hating, tricking, faking, hoping for another’s pain and harboring a mean spirit, the table is now ready to be set by God to feed on better things. Where will I find them? That has to do with the second action step… Second, we can also reset our “longing” and hungers. Peter continued:

1 Peter 2: 2 “…like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

Think about those words for a moment. A believer should HUNGER for the Word – and that is clear. At the same time, look at the last part of the verse…they should long to GROW in respect to their Spiritual rescue. The obvious question I need to pose is this: “Are you truly concerned about GROWING in your faith?” I have run into MANY people who were content to have walked an aisle or prayed a prayer when they were children – and they seem utterly unconcerned about growth. Here is what I know about them: God is not about to do a great work through them. They are inconsequential to God’s forward plan, because they thought the object of the Gospel and God’s great gift of His Son was nothing more than an opportunity for them to come to Christ, period.

Not everyone looks at learning about God in the church like it is something they should or would enjoy. Some are reluctant to be too involved. That reminds me of the poor boy who misunderstood the Pastor a few years ago:

One Sunday morning the pastor noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, “Good morning Alex.” “Good morning pastor,” replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. “Pastor McGhee, what is this?” “Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.” Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex’s voice was barely audible when he asked, “Which service, the 9:00 or the 11:00?”

The truth is we can get ready for God’s use of our lives if we clean up a few things, and if we hunger and seek His direction in His Word. Babies desire milk because God gave them the instinctive hunger so they might grow. The same is true of God’s spiritual children. Peter continued…

Encouragement #3: When God moves, watch God draw and change people to bring Him praise, and join in (2:3-10)!

Preparation is fun, but nothing compares to watching God at work in a life. Peter reminds:

1 Peter 2:3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. 4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” 8 and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

First, note the beginning of this idea in verse three is directed to the believer – they are the ones who have been changed, and they are the ones who can see God at work. It is for that reason Peter referred to them as those who “grew in salvation and tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (2:3). People who don’t know God don’t know where to look to see His more subtle works. Like Elijah running from Jezebel, they think God will come in the earthquake, the mighty wind and the fire, but don’t have ears to hear the still small voice in the light breeze. If you don’t know God, you are really missing the incredible things He does everyday!

Second, recognize that God saved us to build our lives together into a greater work that is being done for Himself, and a work of His own hands (2:4-5). This new work is built on Jesus (2:6). The world will never understand why Jesus is at the center of all we do. All they know of Jesus are a few bullet points and pop sayings. They haven’t seen His love, experienced His grace or thought for a moment about His majesty seated above in Heaven’s throne. They have considered the baby in the manger. They may have seen His limp body sagging from an artistic representation of the Cross. What they haven’t seen is the real Jesus – the Lord of Heaven and Savior of Men! Just to know God is building our lives into something because of Jesus, by His power and according to His will is stunning.

Third, try to grasp that God promised our new life would be fulfilling, not disappointing (2:6b). Peter, with the voice of one giving a promise, said: “Listen to me, you who trust God. You will NOT be disappointed trusting Jesus with your future! Believers aren’t just anticipating Heaven; we are enjoying life NOW!

Fourth, expect that many will think we are wrong or crazy (2:7-8). Jesus is offensive to those who study Him closely but do not follow Him. He calls men to follow Him no matter the cost. In a world that measures benefit strictly in this life, He will never be popular! Believers don’t think like them, and measure things differently…

Pat Summerall, the well-known sports announcer who died in 2013 in Dallas, trusted Christ with his life and overcame alcohol in the late 60’s. As he describes his life with Christ, he says, “It’s like an alcoholic looking for a drink. If he wants it bad enough, he can find it – no matter what. I’m like that when it comes to finding prayer services and Bible studies. No matter where I am working, I know that they’re out there and I can find them.” (Art Stricklin, Sports Spectrum, Nov/Dec 2001, p. 27. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Love and Longing, 5/13/2011)

Fifth, don’t forget the changes in us are purposeful! Both the ability to truly praise and the notion of unity come from the work of God in us! (2:9-10). Peter reminded the early believers they were CHOSEN in order that they would become a people for God that would raise up a banner of proclamation. The mercy a believer received at salvation was purposed to bring God glory. If the believer keeps silent about God’s goodness, his or her salvation doesn’t bring about, at least in this life, a major purpose for which God provided it! God doesn’t just toss out His objectives, they are carefully planned…

British sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein was once visited in his studio by the eminent author and fellow Briton, George Bernard Shaw. Noticing a huge block of stone standing in one corner Shaw asked what it was for. “I don’t know yet. I’m still making plans,” replied Epstein. Shaw was astounded. “You mean you plan your work. Why, I change my mind several times a day!” “That’s all very well with a four-ounce manuscript,” replied the sculptor, “but not with a four-ton block of stone.” It is worth remembering the bigger the vision the more extensive the plan. God’s plan for you and I was to be proclaimers of His excellence!

Peter then turned his attention to the toughest words of the argument. They weren’t meant to be unduly harsh, but rather to empower. We CAN become what God intends for us! How? Here is the encouragement…

Encouragement #4: If we push hard against five points of resistance and they will fall for God’s glory! (2:-25)

God intended our walk to be tough, and He never said otherwise. There is no overt promise that if we “take up His Cross daily” our version will come with a convenient and padded carry handle. Yet, the joy and encouragement in the struggle is this: It is not impossible to walk with God. The journey is is not “beyond us” if we call upon His power and presence to make it through! Frankly, we must be willing to armor up and allow God to empower us to walk in victory. Here is what Peter taught them to do:

First, commit that we won’t baby ourselves and indulge our fallen nature.

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. There is simply no reason to mince words with this – we must draw a line in the sand and tell our mind and body that we will not allow our desires to lead us. Christ will lead us. His Word will be our command.

Second, we must walk with our testimony in mind.

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. It isn’t good enough that we know Him, we must look for ways to show others how THEY can know Him as well. Our lives are God’s display – so we must be careful what they show! John R. W. Stott made the point clear: “Peter would prepare the church, not simply to endure persecution, but to find in persecution an opportunity for witness.”

I love this little story…Bill White of Paramount, California talks about being in Compton, California, working with volunteers from several different churches on a Saturday doing projects to serve the city. At lunch time, he was headed down a narrow side street when he saw dozens of church volunteers (maybe 50 in all), all dressed in yellow shirts, streaming out of one of the sites. They had just completed a makeover of a local house. Bill was six or eight houses away when he passed a married couple working in their own yard. He paused to compliment the woman on her roses, and she asked him what they were doing down the street. Bill told her that they represented a band of churches united in their desire to serve the city. Then they continued to talk about how that neighborhood had been radically transformed by these Christians’ simple acts of goodness. When the woman’s husband saw Bill’s yellow “volunteer shirt,” he turned off his weed-whacker, set it down and started walking straight towards his wife and Bill. Bill says, “I will never forget his words. After looking into my eyes,” Bill says, “he nodded approvingly towards the renovated house down the street and then said, ‘I love your heart. Where can I get a heart like yours?'” Flabbergasted, Bill simply replied, “We got our hearts from Jesus, and he would be glad to give you one like his, too.” And before he left, they had a great conversation about the unparalleled gospel of Jesus Christ and his power to change hearts, homes, neighborhoods, and cities. That’s how it’s done, my friends. Simply BE who you are in Christ and reflect His love to a dark and broken world. (From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Living Stones, 5/19/2011)

Third, we must respect authority and demonstrate a submissive spirit when possible.

1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond slaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. We are called to respect, not rationalize. We are commanded to submit, not be subversive. Christians should be the one group their leaders can look to for peace and direction when confusion reigns.

Fourth, we must become more patient with difficult people.

1 Peter 2:18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

Fifth, we must be secured by our purpose while we follow Jesus’ example.

1 Peter 2:21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

God is at work building His people, but resistant believers hold back God’s work struggling within the family.

Before Michelangelo created the masterpiece we know simply as “David,” Agostino d’ Antonio had worked diligently but unsuccessfully on a large piece of marble. He gave up his effort and said, “I can do nothing with it.” Some others tried after him but failed. This piece of marble was laid in a rubbish heap for 40 years. Out strolling one day Michelangelo saw the stone and believed that it had great possibilities. We know what happened. From that seemingly worthless stone was carved one of the world’s masterpieces of sculpture- David. For Michelangelo, the job of the sculptor was to free the forms that were already inside the stone. He believed every stone had a sculpture within it, and the work of sculpting was simply a matter of chipping away all that was not a part of the statue.

When Jesus looks at us, He sees not a rough piece of rock but He sees inside of us the potential to be a beautiful dressed stone useful in his temple. As the Master Sculptor He is able to chip away all that is not a part of what He wants us to be.

Resist the hammer and you will not become what you were meant to be.

Connecting with God: When the Troubles Overtake You – 1 Peter 1

Drowning-SeaDid you ever feel like you were swimming in the deep end of the pool of trouble, and if God was the lifeguard, He must have been on a break? I set out looking for a good illustration of people having a bad day, and had my hands full with the number of stories.

• This week people went to a café and found themselves scrambling under tables when a gunman opened fire on them.

• Two days ago, hundreds of people evacuated their homes as flood waters took everything they owned.

• Two days before that, tornadoes swept across three states and wiped out homes, took lives and crushed everything in their paths.

We could go on and on, but if we did, we would sound just like your favorite news station…

Let me ask you something: “Were believers immune to those problems?” I know you know they were not. Because that is true, can you understand why some who lost much would begin to think God wasn’t on the job this week? I want to take you back to a time, two thousand years ago, to the day a letter arrived to some believers in the migrant camps of what is now Turkey. They were pressed by tough economics, and physical hardship. They had little and worked hard. They had come to Jesus and were following Him, but that didn’t make their lives easy. In fact, as persecution grew, it made life harder. Peter wrote them a letter in the time of the early church, the beginning of which offered a critical truth for people undergoing troubled times.

Key Principle: Troubles aren’t a sign that God isn’t leading us.

In trouble, God offers grace to build our faith. Let’s look at five encouragements that will help us understand more about that work:

Encouragement #1: God has more for you than you may be able to see from where you are (1:1-2).

Even if you don’t have any “permanent feeling” home here, you are not a mistake. You were chosen by God, saved by His Son and set apart by His Spirit:

The truth is this life may not show His goodness obviously all the time…

1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…

Some believers speak of blessing as though it is always measured by comforts and bank accounts. That isn’t true. God IS blessing us even when troubles rise and 401K’s sink. You cannot judge a book by its cover, nor a believer by the shell of their body and physical circumstances.

Mature believers are called to see the life of the Spirit of God, and measure blessing by the goodness of our Father. Peter told them: “Surely, you are special!”

1 Peter 1:1b“…who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.

  • You see blessing in the fact that God selected you as His own (1 Peter 1:1b).
  • You see blessing in the cost to God to bring you to Himself (1 Peter 1:2).
  • You see blessing in the way God’s favor can bring God’s peace amid difficulties (1 Peter 1:2b).

The simple fact is that many believers judge God’s goodness by earth’s peacefulness and life’s ease – and that isn’t the place you will always be able to easily see it. Much of God’s most obvious blessing for you isn’t found on earth, but in the works of the spiritual world. It isn’t always found in the ease of your prosperity, but in His ability to bring peace to your heart amid the storms of life. Mature believers look in the right direction to see the evidence of God’s rich goodness to us. Don’t judge God’s goodness by physical things.

Encouragement #2: The promises of God are for permanent things and a place to truly belong.

You and I have much to look forward to after all this is over! God gave His people rebirth, hope and a permanent place to belong:

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,

If you look closely at the verses, three ideas will become clear:

First, God blessed us with new life long before we ever thought of proclaiming a blessing to Him. He is initiating and we are responsive. Peter blessed God in 1:3 because God blessed all of us.

Second, when Jesus was raised, it wasn’t only a new beginning for Him; it was a new beginning for all who follow Him. Real HOPE isn’t about getting better politicians, more safety and security in our economy or even having all the nations sign a peace treaty. Real HOPE is found in what God has planned for me for the millions of ions after this short earth life.

Yes, the third truth is this: Our destination cannot be seen and charted on earth – for we are made for eternity and Heaven bound. This is the message aimed at migrants who lived with little, but the truth is the same message belongs to those who have lived with unparalleled prosperity and security. Our message isn’t simply aimed at how to have a happier life now, but how to show our Savior to a lost world NOW.

When the Christian message is framed in temporal benefits – “Jesus will make you rich and healthy today” – it is not framed in the way the Biblical writers offered it. Jesus may bless us in thousands of ways materially, but that isn’t the true measure of our message. The Gospel is about God’s goodness to men in making eternal life freely available to us – not about the number of potatoes in your pot or cars in your driveway. As our world lurches away from the things of eternity, it loses the mooring to real values – transcendent values that do more than benefit us in our time. Remember this: The best ideas of this world were forged by those who recognized that life wasn’t all about their one hundred years on the planet. The short-sighted views aren’t accurate ones here.

Note the way Peter described the inheritance that each believer was promised as he wrote to these migrant workers who passed through the earth leaving barely a scratch when they were gone. He called the inheritance by four words that come from a cloth merchant’s vocabulary:

First, it is “imperishable”: From a Greek word aphthartos: which meant “undecaying”. The immaterial nature of Heaven is such that there will be no “home maintenance” necessary. DIY centers aren’t a Heaven thing; they are for the earth, because things here are constantly perishing. Migrant owned little, but keeping a garment that didn’t fray, tear or simply fall apart was certainly something they understood. Your inheritance won’t fall apart in time.

Second, the inheritance is “undefiled”: From the Greek term amíantos, which means “untinted” or “unstained”. This is a term for coloring cloth intentionally, or trying to find a way to remove an ugly stain when it has embedded itself in the cloth. No one wants to walk around in a stained tunic! Your inheritance won’t get ruined shortly after you get it!

Third, the inheritance was “unfading” – taken from the Greek word amárantos meaning that it would not fade in strength or quality over time. In addition to tearing and staining, cloth can also simply lose its crisp weave and bunch the fabric in a way it looks worn out, long before it is truly worthless. Your inheritance will be as satisfying and new in a million years as the day you enter it!

Finally, the inheritance is “reserved” from the Greek word tēréō which meant spiritually guarded and kept intact. This wasn’t descriptive of the place, as the previous words were, but rather of the intentional guarding of all that was promised. In mercantile centers long ago, as now, guards ensured order. Yet, this seemed more a guardianship that had to do with quality, rather like an “INSPECTOR” and not a guard. Your future inheritance has God’s personal inspection seal upon it. He Who said “It is good!” when He looked at earth has made what comes next and approved it for us!

Encouragement #3: The same power that created all you see if keeping for you all He has promised you – and will keep YOU as well!

Peter recognized that God grants protection in our distress and promise after our testing in this life. It is God Himself who keeps us, and keeps what awaits us. He wrote:

1 Peter 1:5 [to the believers] “who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Look very carefully at what Peter said about HOW we are protected. Don’t skip the details, for in them comes blessing. First, he made note that we are protected by God’s power. That is true, securing and important. Yet, it is the second part of the verse that may surprise you. The power of God operates through our faith. What does that mean? Since our faith is our “ability to see things the way God says they are,” God protects us by His power but that power is engaged when we take Him at His Word concerning the truth of both this life and the life to come.

Here is the truth: When we trust God and take His Word seriously, we live differently. We are protected because we make choices that both honor God and preserve us. When we recognize that God is telling the truth, we walk in faith as we were told to do in His Word, and He extends a net of protection on our hearts. We may live better here, or worse – that is not the issue. The issue is that we live better WITH HIM. We can see His hand at work, and trust His rescue more fully. The more of our life we learn to trust God with today, the more we will rest in God’s powerful hands for tomorrow and beyond.

Before you leave verse five, take note of the end. Our rescue is not truly revealed until what Peter called “the last time”. It was not of the Church Age that Peter wrote, for it was something future to him. It seems clear to me that Peter was making an important distinction between NOW on earth and THEN in eternity. Let’s again underscore that God’s full and complete rescue of our lives won’t be clear until time surrenders to eternity – and that is the way it was planned by God.

My life with my Savior is protected by Him. My future with Him is held in His power. My present day estate may show some of His blessing, but it may not. It doesn’t matter. Jesus is preparing a place for me, and Jesus keeps His promises.

Encouragement #4: Even troubles have their purpose in God’s plan for my life.

Because we KNOW God has the power and has made the PROMISES of our future, we can celebrate now for a future we haven’t seen – even when today can sometimes look dark (1:6-7). Peter said it this way:

1 Peter 1:6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

Verses six through twelve may not appear to do much on the surface, but a careful look at them reveals they offer SIX IMPORTANT TRUTHS ABOUT OUR FAITH.

First, faith doesn’t preclude rejoicing; we can rejoice in trouble because of our faith (1:6a). We cannot argue that we WOULD rejoice, but cannot because of our suffering. Faith looks past the body, and past this life. It measures good and bad by what praise it brings the Father, not what pleasant comfort is affords in this life. Pain can make rejoicing more difficult while faith makes it continually possible.

Second, faith doesn’t make trouble go away because sometimes trials are necessary to God’s plan (1 Peter 1:6b). Peter used the terms “if necessary” and made clear that it may be part of God’s plan. Job wondered why, and he wasn’t the last. Yet the record of his suffering left us more prepared for life as it is in a fallen world. He was seeking an answer to his situation while God was using his life to answer the sufferings of millions. Naomi wondered of her loss, seeking a way to redeem her property. God used her story to show how He would bring a Redeemer for the planet. We don’t always know what role our suffering will play in the story of God; only that trouble may be a designed part of our story.

Third, we must recognize, especially when we are in the face of terrible trials, that troubles are always temporary but faith views now that which is already permanent in Heavenly places (1:6b). Trouble focuses us squarely on the NOW, while faith beckons us to see what is beyond the horizon. The longer view always brings hope if God’s Word is true. The end is His praise, not my problems.

Fourth, troubles draw out evidence of our real view of life and create a profound testimony (1:7). The term “proof” is the Greek word dokí-mion that means that which is found to be approved as genuine after testing. Since testing is not for God’s knowledge (which is already full and complete), we must conclude the troubles of life HELP US and those AROUND US to see that our faith is genuine. Our testimony and the truth concerning our Savior is made plain when we walk in hope during troubles.

Fifth, our faith offers more than perishable wealth, for the dividends of faith are permanent and offer ultimate reward (1:7).

Consider what Peter teaches us about faith. Faith is the ability to see as Heaven sees, to believe what God says no matter how much the clutter of temporal troubles is obstructed and our fallen vision fails. It is the ability to taste and enjoy now what has not yet been opened and cooked for our meal – because of the certainty of the chef and the quality of the ingredients. It is such resolute certainty that we willingly place the full weight of our life in trust of the strength of its claims. It doesn’t fade with troubles, but sees through the storm to the land we seek to reach. It makes trouble in life an inconvenience, not the focus of life. It helps us raise our voice in praise and our vision in hope.

Finally, faith allows us to spiritually SEE what physical eyes CANNOT SEE. It allows us to LOVE Him even while He is unseen. His effects are obvious, but His person is beyond physical perception. Faith makes the difference. We believe and experience His salvation that was long before promised by those who wanted to see what we see.:

We simply must capture the formula: love and believe Him and obtain later salvation (1:8-12).

1 Peter 1:8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and [f]full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. 10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.

Faith caused others long ago to long to see what God promised and to faithfully report on the Coming One with anticipation. It is their record we believe – but they believed without seeing the One they spoke concerning. That is the nature of faith. We believe now, we see later, and as a result those who observe our testimony benefit. As it is that we benefit from the prophetic voices who believed in the past, so shall others benefit from your belief now.

Encouragement #5: Because we can see with faith, we can navigate the riptides of trouble today.

There are some imperatives we should observe to navigate trouble. They aren’t a list of “dos and don’ts” – but the keys to passing through a storm!

First, we must discipline our thinking! Peter warned:

1 Peter 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit… “

Peter told them to “prepare their minds for action and to keep sober in spirit” (1:13). Like driving on ice or in the rain, passing through danger and trouble requires attentiveness and focus. We must PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IS HAPPENING AROUND US and cannot be haphazard, but must pull in the garment of the mind and not allow ourselves to wander. Through disciplines and focus on what God has said, we can get ready to move ahead and then keep vigilant attention on the forces pressing us. We are not called to withdraw and form monasteries, but to keep watch and build lighthouses. We must be informed, but not overwhelmed by information. We must be accurate in our understanding, but not unbalanced by our consumption of every subversive theory of a coming challenge.

In all this be warned: As the world presses us further and further to constant amusement, we are called to be vigilant and keep our eyes fixed on what is truly happening.

Second, we must change our perspective.

We must turn away from the whining of the world concerning trouble to putting all anticipation wholly on God’s good and undeserved favor! Peter commanded believers to fix their hope completely on grace (1:13b).

1 Peter 1:13b ”…fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In my experience, the most informed believers in our time seem like the most depressed believers. It is hard to watch freedoms be chipped away and morality fall like a floor mop. Yet, we are the people of HOPE. We are the people that recognize that God is doing GREAT THINGS in spite of the enemy and even in spite of the Congress (smile).

May I ask: “Where are the HOPE FILLED believers of our time?”

They are not found in places that compromise of the Word. They are not in acquiescing to the pressures of a fallen world. Hope springs eternal when fixed on eternal things of the Eternal One, with a clear call to faithfulness to His way. We do not merely HAVE hope; He IS our hope.

Third, we must prayerfully and deliberately remove the mastery of old patterns of fulfillment.

Peter instructed believers to cease being conformed to the driving of their behaviors by former desires (1:14). He wrote:

1 Peter 1:14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Notice the address is for us to be “childlike” in the simplicity and focus to change. Children don’t resist change the way adults do. They learn faster because they rationalize the old behaviors less.

Let’s remember: What we can set aside, we have mastered. What we cannot, has mastered us! We cannot serve God and a bottle, a pill dispenser, a need for applause and acceptance, our need for physical pleasures, or anything else. We will serve God, or we will serve self. It isn’t complicated, but it is hard.

Fourth, we need to see God as He truly is!

For many of us, God is too small in our eyes. He is out in the distance, far off and un-engaged. Peter reminds:

1 Peter 1:17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Believers are to conduct themselves on earth in reverence to God for Who He is, (1:17), and to reckon what God gave to purchase our release from sin (1:19). He planned a long time for our redemption and called us to believe – but it should make a practical difference in us (1:20-21).

When a believer sees the awesome power of God that is readily pictured in the stars, the ocean, the vast canyons or even the miracle of life itself – they begin to understand Who we serve. Trace the Scriptures and consider for a moment how great God is:

God possesses unmatched majesty, unassailable intelligence and consummate glory. His appearance bares all the marks of splendor of the Majesty above all rulers and authorities. His appearance follows the blasts of praise from Heaven, and His regal splendor causes those who behold Him to fall to their knees, or even down upon their faces. He shines with the brightness of the purist light – with no hint of shadow marring His perfect beauty. His truthfulness is absolute, for each word finds its definition in Him. No lie can stand before Him and nothing but absolute purity comes forth from Him. He is immense and yet intimate, opaque and yet discernible. He had no beginning, for He is the beginning of all things. He has no limit to His love, no ending to His life, no perimeter to His being. He is eternal and yet timeless. His mercy is vast but His judgment is sure. His wisdom is perfect yet His innocence is certain. He is intimately relational, expressed as a Father, Son and Spirit but wholly unified, for He is One. There is so much more, but it is captured in a small way by our exclamation: “How great is our God!”

Here is the truth: Believers who won’t set aside the things that have long beset their life don’t see God as He is. He is great in their theology, but not in their heart.

Finally, we need to see past ourselves as we walk through the day.

Peter called on believers to show practical help and care to each other. He wrote:

1 Peter 1:22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “All flesh is like grass, And all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, And the flower falls off, 25 But the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

I want to close this lesson with some excerpted words that came from an article entitled: “Proud People vs. Broken People” by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Her words remind us that when we see God as He is, we become small. When we do, we recognize the needy about us. She wrote:

Proud people focus on the failures of others. Broken people are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at another’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope. Broken people are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others. Broken people esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit. Broken people have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others…

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation. Broken people are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served. Broken people are motivated to serve others…

Proud people desire self-advancement. Broken people desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated. Broken people have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all…

Proud people feel confident in how much they know. Broken people are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are quick to blame others. Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation…

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of. Broken people realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does. Broken people continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit. [Excerpted from].

Peter reminded us of an important truth: Troubles aren’t a sign that God isn’t leading us. His saving grace should make us both celebrate His goodness, and prepare us for difficult times.