Saturday, March 22, 2014

I Peter 5:1-14 – Peter’s Final Instructions

I Peter 5:1-14 – Peter’s Final Instructions

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

Peter is now addressing the leaders in the church.  He identifies himself with them, although they already respect him as an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  They knew Peter had been a first hand witness of the last three years of Jesus’ life, right up through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  Peter, however, sees himself as a partner with them, not above them.  Because they were all suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ, they would all also enter the same glory as Jesus did.

Jesus had commanded Peter to feed His sheep, and now Peter is passing this along to the shepherds/leaders that were entrusted to care for their flocks.  Three terms are used to describe the care givers:  shepherds, elders, and overseers.  They all mean the same.  Peter sees himself as an elder, and does not lord over them his position as an appointed apostle.  He is giving them an example of how to care for their flocks, just as he is caring for them.  Jesus alone is the Chief Shepherd and He will reward them when He comes back.

In these verses Peter gives church leaders four priorities to follow:
1.     Shepherd the flock.  They were not Peter’s flock or the elders’ flock, but God’s flock, and Jesus is the Chief Shepherd.  To shepherd the flock is to lead and protect them, to seek them out, to calm their fears, to comfort their pains, and most of all to love them.  Peter received this same instruction from Jesus in John 21:16 when Jesus had asked the question three times, “Do you love me?  Then take care of my sheep.” 
2.     Serve willingly and joyfully.  Service should not be out of a sense of duty.  If we are negative in our leadership, others will suffer and we would be better off not being in church leadership.
3.     Serve eagerly.  Service should not be out to gain popularity or to be for personal gain.  Greed, recognition and personal agendas have no place in Christian service.  Our hearts are to be sensitive to God and to those we serve.  Our enthusiasm should flow out of being chosen by God, and we want to serve to bring glory to Him.
4.     Serve as an example to the flock.  Leaders are not called to dominate people, or lord over them.  Instead they are to take up their cross daily and follow the Lord.  They/we are accountable to God for our service, and must be found faithful in our ministry.  Matthew 20:25-28 tells us: 
But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for
“God opposes the proud
    but favors the humble.”
So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.
10 In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.11 All power to him forever! Amen.

We are not true followers of Christ unless we submit to Him and make Him Lord of our lives.  Peter points out in his letter that younger men should submit to the elders, and that all Christians should submit to each other.  This kind of submission refers to accountability.  We are all accountable to each other, and ultimately accountable to Christ.  We serve to give, not to get.  Being humble means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  We find in Philippians 2:5-8: 
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.   Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

When Jesus washed the feet is his disciples, He displayed the humility needed when caring for others.  God will lift Christian leaders to places of honor in His time.  When cares and anxiety are given to God, peace and tranquility beyond comprehension are given in return.  Jesus longs to help us, as we find in His words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

No doubt Peter was thinking about his own failure when he writes, “Stay alert!”  He failed to stay alert and watch and pray with Jesus the night he and two other disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus.  Instead he fell asleep (as did the others), even after Jesus asked them to pray with Him. 

Peter described the devil like a roaring lion waiting to devour anyone as he prowls about.  James 4:7-8 gives this warming:
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

Peter also reminds the Christians we are not alone in our suffering.  If we draw near to God, who cares so much for us, and resist the devil, who is out to destroy us, God will intervene at some point with His strengthening power.  God does the following for us during our suffering:
1.     God perfects us as He makes us more and more into the image of His Son.  He will restore what sin has taken away.
2.     God establishes us as we turn to Him and forsake sin. 
3.     God strengthens us, as we become firm in our commitment to Him.
4.     God settles us, lays a foundation in us, and makes us stable in our faith.

God perfects us, establishes us, strengthens us, and settles us…all for His glory.  As we submit to Him by our faith, and depend more and more upon Him, we give Him glory forever.  In our humility we see ourselves for who we are, and we see God for Who He is, and we worship Him as Lord and Savior.

12 I have written and sent this short letter to you with the help of Silas, whom I commend to you as a faithful brother. My purpose in writing is to encourage you and assure you that what you are experiencing is truly part of God’s grace for you. Stand firm in this grace.
13 Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet each other with Christian love.
Peace be with all of you who are in Christ.

I am going to wrap up Peter’s first letter in this blog.  Let me review some facts of this epistle.  We know that First Peter was written by a man named Peter, who was impulsive and outspoken and impetuous.  In spite of his personality flaws, he was chosen by Jesus to be part of His inner circle of disciples, and he was chosen to write two books of the New Testament…I and II Peter.  God understands our human flaws, but He doesn’t discard us or give up on us…He gives us second chances, just like He did Peter.  That should be very encouraging to us, even if Peter’s letter does not lift us up!

Peter wrote this letter to Christians that had been scattered outside their homeland.  They were lonely, scared, discouraged, and not sure what the future held for them.  In short, they were hurting.  Peter used Silas to either take his dictations or to deliver this letter to these Christians.  Silas was a Roman citizen who had traveled extensively, and knew where to find these people.  He was also well educated and would know how to pen the words of Peter more eloquently than perhaps Peter would have done.  Therefore, he could have been both Peter’s secretary and his courier.

The letter ended with deep affection.  Peter mentions greetings from Babylon and Mark.  We know Mark to be the author of the second Gospel, but who was Babylon?  She could have been a woman, or she could have been a reference to the Bride of Christ – the church, or the church in Rome.   It has also been said that she could have been Peter’s wife.  The Christians were told to greet each with a kiss.  Early Christians demonstrated their love and unity with a kiss, which was outward sign of the peace they had between each other.  They considered themselves related through the family of Jesus Christ.

This letter contained three major messages: 
1.     By focusing on Jesus and trusting His Word, we have a vibrant Hope that is alive.
2.     No matter how fiery the trials are that we go through, God is still Sovereign…still in control.  He is always there to help us when we trust Him and stand firm in our faith.
3.     We are to live as pilgrims on this journey through the world we live in by submitting to divine authority and godly leadership.  This world is not our home, we are only passing through.  We cannot make the journey safely without trusted Leadership.

The four lasting lessons we can learn from I Peter is:
1.     When our faith becomes weak, JOY can strengthen us.
2.     Endurance is the key that stabilizes us.
3.     Resisting satan in the name of Jesus shields us.
4.  Abiding love surrounds and supports us.

In all of these lessons we see that God strengthens us, stabilizes us, shields us, and supports us.  Peter’s first letter has done much to encourage us in our times of suffering.  God IS Sovereign, He is in control.  We must submit to Him and seek after Him, and we will find Him to be all He has promised to be.  As I wrap up this study of I Peter, I am reminded of  His promise in Jeremiah 29:11-14:

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. 


Saturday, February 22, 2014

I Peter 4:12-19 – Suffering Is a Privilege

I Peter 4:12-19 (New Living Translation)

12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.
14 So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian,[a] for then the glorious Spirit of God[b] rests upon you.[c] 15 If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. 16 But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! 17 For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? 18 And also,
“If the righteous are barely saved,
    what will happen to godless sinners?”[d]
19 So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.

Peter has been trying to encourage the followers of Jesus who were suffering persecution for their beliefs.  In this short passage Peter reminds the followers of Christ that suffering comes before glory.  As Christians we cannot escape suffering, for satan is at spiritual war with us, and will make sure we have plenty of trials.  He wants to discourage us from serving Christ. 

As Christians we do not suffer because we have disobeyed the Lord, but because we identify with Jesus Christ.  When His glory is revealed, we will be glad that we were privileged to suffer for Him.  Jesus tells us in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11):   “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers.

If we were suffering for the sins we were committing, then we would deserve what we are going through.  We are accountable to God for everything we do or don’t do.  There are consequences for sinning.  But if we are suffering because we are claiming the name of Jesus, and living for Him, then we are in for a great blessing ahead.  God sees, and God knows.  He is in the process of making us more and more in the image of Christ, His Son.

Peter is in agreement with another apostle, James, also one of the early church leaders.  James wrote:  Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4)

We can know this about trials:
·         Trials will happen to all Christians.
·         Trials come in various forms at various times.
·         Trials test our faith.
·         We grow and mature through trials.

We should consider it a joy when trials come our way, because they draw us closer to Christ.  Rather than feeling shame for suffering for Christ, we should feel honored.  As Christians we are privileged to suffer for the King of Kings.  One day we will reign with Him, so what we go through here is only temporary, and He gives us the strength to endure it.

Peter reminds us that suffering is also needed in our lives to keep us pure.  It’s like a spring cleaning in our lives to keep us ready and waiting for His return.  Besides, we will overcome, we will win, and we will be rewarded.  How untrue that is for those who do not obey Christ.  They have a terrible future awaiting them if they do not turn to Christ and forsake their sins.  Christians, on the other hand, can count it all joy to suffer for Jesus, because we will one day revel in His Glory!!  We will be sharing eternity with Jesus Christ, Creator of all, and King over all.  Praise His name!!

Friday, February 7, 2014

I Peter 4:1-11 - A Life Characterized By Christ

I Peter 4:1-11 (New Living Translation)
So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin. You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. 

Vs 1-2
Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had.  In this verse Peter says that if we suffer for doing good, then we are given the opportunity to respond with the same attitude of Christ.  Through suffering we learn to put our priorities in order so that sin no longer has a hold over us…it is no longer our master, and we no longer have the sinful desires we once had.  Our suffering and responding with a Christ-like attitude is the best witness we can give that we are done with sinning and are living for Jesus.  Now it is our desire and purpose in life to do the will of God.  Adopting the attitude of Christ changes our perspective on life.

People are watching us.  They want to observe whether or not our behavior matches up to our claim to be a follower of Christ…a Christian.  If it does not, then they will want no part of Christianity.  We are soldiers in a war against satan and his evil ways.  Through the death of Christ we are enabled to continue his lifestyle.  He didn’t save us to give us a vacation through life, but to represent him.  We are soldiers of the cross, as the song goes.  He lives through us to continue his work in this world.

In our suffering, according to Peter, we must remember that our hope is in Christ alone.  Suffering is only temporary, and we do not go through it alone.  Because Jesus suffered, he knows what we are going through and he promised he would be with us.  So we can say with confidence “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear.  What can mere people do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

God has a purpose for our suffering, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28:  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 

The wisdom found in Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Doing God’s will means we quit behaving as we used to when we were led by our carnal nature.  With Christ living in us, we have his Spirit to guide us and help us to live as Jesus wants us to live.  We are done with ungodly living.

You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols.Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.

Vs 3-6
Satan does not like the fact that we are living pure lives for Christ.  He is going to badger us in any way he can to get us to go back to our former lifestyles.  In these verses Peter describes the past pagan lifestyle that the followers of Christ have left behind.  They were being ridiculed and slandered by their former friends because the Christians would not join them in their evil acts. 

As an encouragement to the followers of Christ, Peter reminds them that even though their former friends may judge them for not participating in their wild and wicked ways, ultimately those people will be judged by God for how they are living.  Everyone is accountable to the Father and Son on the last great judgment day…including the living and the dead.  No one escapes that day.  Those who accepted the good news of Jesus Christ, even though they were once destined to die, will now have eternal life with the Father and Son (God).

We must keep our focus on Jesus, living our lives for God’s purpose.  It should come as no surprise that the world doesn't understand us, or rejects us, or ridicules us or treat us wrong.  They have an earthly mindset which does not comprehend the heavenly world.  We are reminded once again in Hebrews 12:1-3:  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Vs 7-11
Peter becomes very blunt in these next few verses.  He never did like to waste words or beat around the bush.  He reminds the Christians that the end of the world is coming soon.  The end of their suffering is in sight.  Peter is encouraging those he is writing to with this hope…it will soon be over.  Christians are to be characterized by having a clear mind to reason, making wise decisions, and having a definite purpose in life.  With the end of all things coming close, Christians should all the more watch their attitudes and actions so they exemplify Christ to the world.  Therefore, Peter gave some specific instructions to heed:

1.    Vs 7 - Use good judgment and stay calm by being fervent in your prayers.  There is no need for anxiety.  Prayer is a two way communication which includes listening to God.  He often speaks through his Word.  Fervent prayers means that are we in an attitude of prayer continuously.  That is the only way of discerning the will of God.

2.    Vs 8 - Keep on loving each other all the more.  True love, agape love, the kind of love Christ has, forgives one another.  It is also unconditional love. Christians are characterized and known by their love for one another.  John told us in his gospel chapter 13:35:  Your love for one another will prove in the world that you are my disciples.  We see here again that fervently means continuously.  When we are tempted to criticize or tear down a person, instead we should ask the Lord to help us love that person with the love of Christ and see the best in him, building him up. 

3.    Vs 9 – Show hospitality to those who are in need, and do this cheerfully, without complaining.  Whatever God has given us we are to share with others…our home, our meals, our resources.  The worldly mindset is a selfish one, watching out for number one.  As Christians, however, we should share with others, not out of a sense of duty, but with the spirit of joy.

4.    Vs 10-11 – Share your spiritual gifts with each other…the grace gifts that God has given you.  They are given to be used to minister to the Body of Christ.  They are to be used as though God himself were speaking through us or acting through us.  We are not doing this in our own strength, but through God’s strength working in us.  God should always get the glory, not us.

Peter was not exhorting his readers, including us, to go and sell everything and sit in a commune waiting for the return of Christ.  He exhorts us to show the love of Christ all the more and serve each other with our spiritual gifts all the more so that we bring glory to God by our actions, our service, and our words.  If we will follow these exhortations of Peter, we will live a life characterized by Christ.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I Peter 3:18-22 - The Ministry of Christ

In this short passage of five verses, we see the ministry of Christ portrayed:
  1. The Sacrificial Death of Jesus Christ (vs. 18-20)
  2. The Baptism of Jesus Christ (vs. 21)
  3. The Exaltation of Jesus Christ (vs. 22)

The Sacrificial Death of Jesus Christ (vs. 18-20)
18 Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
19 So he went and preached to the spirits in prison— 20 those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. 

            Jesus, who had never sinned, gave His life on the cross for all of our sins.  He was slaughtered like the sacrificial lamb…the perfect lamb with no blemishes.  We are only set free from our guilt of sin by the death of Jesus, for God accepted the sacrifice given by His Son Hion the altar of the cross.  Only through Christ’s death are any of us forgiven of our sins, and acceptable in God’s sight.  Jesus made possible what was impossible…a way for us to enter into the heavenlies to spend eternity with God, our Father. 

            The death of Jesus on the cross is effective for all time…it does not have to be repeated.  When Jesus died, His spirit descended into hell and conquered death once for all.  He proclaimed His victory over death and His authority over demonic powers to those who had died in the flood in the days of Noah.  He came back out of that grave, proving He was all powerful, and death had no hold on Him.  Anyone believing in Him and accepting His sacrificial death are also set free from the power of the grave, the fear of eternal death.  He paved the way, He was our substitute, and He paid our ransom.  Even though He himself was not guilty, and did not deserve to die, He took our sins upon Himself.  We deserve death, but through the blood of Jesus we have been pardoned.  Praise His name!!

            The grace and mercy of God are seen in the story of the great flood.  God waited patiently for the people of Noah’s day to turn to Him and repent of their sins.  They could have escaped God’s judgment of their wickedness if they had asked forgiveness, but they chose instead to mock God’s anointed.  Noah and his family boarded the ark, believing in God’s Word that they needed to be in the ark to avoid the great rain God was going to send.  They had never heard of rain or seen it before in their life times, but they trusted God and followed His instructions.  Those eight family members were saved by believing God.  Everyone else outside the ark experienced the intensity of God’s judgment and was drowned.  This is our example of the consequences of our choices…either to believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, or to scorn His name.

            When we choose to place our faith in Jesus Christ, we not only escape the floods of hell, we also now have spiritual access to our heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit.  We can worship Him and sing our praises to Him, and enter into intimate prayer fellowship with God during this life time.  When we gain entrance into heaven itself, we will have total access to our Father God, forever.

The Baptism of Jesus Christ (vs. 21)
21 And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            The waters of the flood in Noah’s day lifted up the ark and kept everyone safe.  The waters of baptism are a symbol of our salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.  Baptism is not a rite of physical cleansing, but an act of identifying that we are one with Christ.  We believe in His sacrificial death on the cross, and His resurrection to new life.  We have repented of our sins and believe that we are forgiven and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us.  It is the symbol of our hearts being cleansed from the power of sin because Jesus conquered the sin problem when He conquered the power of death.  He rose to new life, and we also rise to new life in Him.  We have a clean conscience before Him.

The Exaltation of Jesus Christ (vs. 22)
22 Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.

            Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven.  He has finished His course.  He went through death and hell, and rose triumphantly to His place of exaltation…His place of honor next to God.  His authority is complete.  The hosts of heaven all worship Him.  All powers and authorities are submissive to Jesus Christ.  As Christians, especially as Christians who may be going through a time of persecution and suffering, we can know that in the end WE WIN!!!  We shall be like Him!!  There is no power that can defeat us, and one day we too shall reign with Jesus!!  Hallelujah, Praise the Lamb!!

Personal Note:  I was looking back through some of my material on my Genesis Blog, and found a portion of a post that I would like to add to this post...a good summary of what I have written above.  This comes out of my Reflections of Genesis, Chapter 44:

One day Jesus Christ stepped forward and said to the Ruler of the universe, "Father, let me pay the price for their guilt. Let me give my life as a payment of their ransom. Let me be crucified so that they may be freed from their sins, their guilt, their bonds that hold them so tightly." Jesus willingly paid the ultimate price by being stretched out and nailed to some rugged pieces of wood in the form of a cross. The price of leadership. Would you pay it? The good news is, we do not have to. Christ paid the price once for all.

"There is a Savior, what joys express,
His eyes are mercy, His Word is rest.
For each tomorrow, for yesterday,
There is a Savior who lights our way."

(Copyright 1986 New Wings Music/Greg Nelson Music)

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Peter 3:13-17 – When Life’s Not Fair

1 Peter 3:13-17
New Living Translation (NLT)

13 Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. 15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. 17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!

Last Sunday night I heard a pastor preach on Psalm 109.  You need to read that scripture to understand the context, but basically David was asking God to slay those who had done him wrong.  He gave all kinds of ways God could avenge his accusers.  He asked God to curse them, and not bless them.  I mean, there’s quite a list of demands David made of God, and none of them were what we would consider Christian responses.  I had spent Sunday afternoon studying this current blog passage in I Peter, so what came to my mind while I listened to the contents of Psalm 109 was how differently Peter wanted us to react in our times of attack, compared to David’s reaction.  I am so glad that in the end it is God’s responsibility to take revenge, not ours.  Paul tells us in Romans 12:19:  Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

So, then, how do we handle our responses, our reactions, our attitude when we have been done wrong, when we are hurting and suffering?  I believe Peter has laid out some good guidelines for us when life just doesn’t seem fair.  He starts out by saying that usually people do not suffer for doing what is good.  But we know that isn’t always the case…bad things do happen to good people.  Peter goes on to say that if one does suffer for doing the right thing, then God is very aware of it, and He will bless the one suffering.  Peter believes that a committed Christian should always be ready to represent his faith by treating others with gentleness and respect…responding in love, not in anger or frustration.  In that way a believer’s loving attitude will shine a clear light on the opponent’s bitterness, and make him ashamed, perhaps even convicted to change the way he is acting.  Peter wraps up this passage by reminding us that it is always better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong.

Chuck Swindoll says there are basically two perspectives from which we can choose when life throws us a curve ball.  First of all there is the natural response, the Human Perspective.  We are hurt, we are angry, and we are going to get even.  This perspective will only lead to bitterness and hostility.  We will end up a most miserable person.  Watching out for number one and getting our fair share never works in the end.

The second perspective from which we can choose is the Divine Perspective, seeing the situation from God’s point of view.  God is always watching over us and He knows what’s going on in our lives.  He listens to our prayers, He sees our hearts.  Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:28:   And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. God is a just God and He will work out all things for our good, although it may not be in our own timetable.  For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

Let’s look at some practical ways to apply the wisdom of Peter when life is not fair:

  1. 3:14 - But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats.  We must endure patiently life’s unfair treatments for we know that we will one day be rewarded for that endurance.  That gives us the strength to have a positive attitude in the midst of trials. We are not to panic or have anxiety.  God is on our side and if we trust Him, we can keep calm and free from worry.  James 1:2 reminds us:  Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.

  1. 3:15 - Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.   We must be able to give reasons for why we live as we do, why we are different from the natural human conditions around us.  We can only respond as Christians if Christ is living in us.  He must be in control of our lives.  The good qualities we portray must come from Him as we live surrendered to Him, as we live in obedience to Him moment by moment. We need to be able to explain why we have peace, joy, love, and hope.  It is because Jesus lives in us, and He is the One who makes the difference in our lives.  We can look at Stephen from the New Testament as a good example of someone who went through mistreatment by his enemies, yet portrayed a person full of the grace and love of Jesus.  He asked God to forgive those who were stoning him to death, almost the same words of Jesus at the cross. 

  1. 3:16 - But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to ChristWe must have a clear conscience to be effective in our sharing Christ with others.  We do not have the option of living a double or secret life.  Our consciences are cleared by the forgiveness of Christ.  We are forgiven, and they can be also.  We must treat others as Christ would treat them, gently and respectfully.  This is the opposite of being rude and insensitive.  We are not to act better than them or talk down to them, but show them the same respect Jesus has shown us.  Our testimony is the loudest and most convincing when we can portray the love of Jesus in the midst of our own suffering. Living a life of integrity is the most powerful defense we can give.  When we live with integrity, the Holy Spirit can use our lives to convict others of their shamefulness. 

  1. 3:17 - Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!  We don’t know why, but sometimes it seems that it is God’s will for His children to go through suffering for doing what is right.  If Jesus is Lord of my life, I will not give up or give in because I know He has not given up on me.  If He can go to the cross for me, then what I am suffering doesn’t begin to compare.  Job is a fine example of one who suffered injustice in his life as God allowed satan to test him.  Because he patiently endured and did not give up on God, he is counted as blessed among the characters of the Old Testament, and he was rewarded double what he had before he lost everything he had.  The Lord is always in control, and He does not leave us hopeless.  That’s the truth we can hang on to tightly!

As Christians, we have a great opportunity in our world to make a difference by returning good for evil instead of the norm of returning evil for evil.  Such action blesses everyone.  But sometimes, even when our motive is love and we do good, we still suffer.  Jesus Christ is the greatest example of loving and doing good to others, and being treated as a criminal by his society, a criminal who faced death on a public cross.  We are told in John 15:20:  Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.  (The words of Jesus)

In my morning devotions I read that the purpose of adversity, troubles and sorrow, is threefold.  First of all it equips us to help others.  We gain compassion when we go through adversity, and we are more able to reach out to others around us that are in need.  Secondly, adversity draws us closer to God as we long for our heavenly home.  We know how much we need Him while we are on this earthly journey, and He will not fail us.  He is always there for us.  Finally, suffering is like the heat of a kiln, refining us, making us more like Christ Jesus.  If we allow it, love will rise out of our suffering.  God’s purpose for us is to reach our world with the love of Jesus.  The question we should ask ourselves when we go through adversity is not “Why me?”  But, “Am I willing to suffer for Him?”

Resources used:
Hope in Hurtful Times, A Study of I Peter, Charles R. Swindoll, Insight for Living, 1990.
Ch 9:  I Peter 3:13-17 – “When Life ‘Just Ain’t Fair”
The Communicator’s Commentary:  James, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Lloyd J. Ogilvie, General Editor, Paul A. Cedar, Word Books, Publisher, 1984.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I Peter 3:8-12 Christian Maturity / Harmonious Living

1 Peter 3:8-12
New Living Translation (NLT)
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters.[a] Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. 10 For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
11 Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
12 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.”[b]

            My husband had just left our house for the last time.  He was getting a divorce from me and had come to pick up the items he wanted from our two year accumulation of married life.  When the door shut behind him, I turned around crumbled in turmoil, asking God if He was going to reject me also.  After all, He hates divorce.  I saw my Bible on the nearest table and went to it to see if He had a Word for me.  He took me to Galatians 5:13 – For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

            At that time of my life I focused on God loving me enough to release me from an unfaithful husband, and yet be sure that my new found freedom didn’t lead me into a relationship that would displease Him.  It was several years later when I was seeking my life verse that I was brought back to this Word from God.  This time He highlighted the last portion of the verse, the part about serving others with love…His love.  I had found my life verse and my calling.  It basically boiled down to being set free to serve God by serving others.  However, it was His love that set me free, and His love that I needed within me to serve others. 

            You cannot read the New Testament very much without coming across the concept of loving others.  Paul’s letter to the Philippians gave these instructions:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NLT)
Have the Attitude of Christ
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?  Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

            When Peter penned his first epistle to the believers in the first century, his purpose was to offer hope and encouragement to those who were suffering from persecution.  He gave practical applications as to how they were to live and get along with each other.  The last passage, my previous blog on I Peter 3:1-7, he gave specific instructions on relationships between husbands and wives.  In verses 8-12 of this same chapter he addresses all Christians on how to live in harmony with each other in a world that has a bend toward evil.  Relationships between Christians should not look the same as worldly relationships.  We find the very words of Jesus in the Gospel of John:  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (John 13:35)

            It all comes back to love…the love of Jesus.  When we become believers in Christ, we are adopted into the family of God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.  There should be unity and harmony with God and with each other.  The more we grow in the likeness of Jesus, the more His qualities become our own.  Peter has listed these qualities almost as checkpoints in our Christian maturity.  Let’s look at the verses more closely and find the attributes Peter points out to us.

I Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 
·         Unity – being of one mind, having a like purpose, being one in the Spirit, finding the common grounds of our beliefs. “…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.   If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”  (I Corinthians 12:25-26)

  • Caring about others – having compassion, being sympathetic, feeling what others feel without having jealously or a sense of competition.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  (Romans 12:15-16)  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,  gentleness and patience.  (Colossians 3:12)

  • Loving each other as brothers and sisters - concerned with the needs and hurts of others.  There needs to be a sense of safeness when we share our burdens with one another.  Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.   And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia.  Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more. (I Thessalonians 4:9-10)

  • Kindhearted - empathetic and courteous to one another, thinking of others as better than ourselves.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.  (Ephesians 4:32)

I Peter 3:9
Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. 

  • Forgiveness - our human nature would cause us to respond in anger to those who mistreat us, wanting to get even and hurt them back.  Peter reminds us that we have a different set of ethics as believers.  We are to do good to those who wrong us, even to bless them.  When we do, we are blessed by God in return.  (See Ephesians 4:32 above)

I Peter 3:10
For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.

  • Controlled Tongue – refraining from gossip and telling lies, being trustworthy with confidential information.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows) and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (Ephesians 4:15-16)

I Peter 3:11-12
Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.
·         Seeking Peace – keeping harmony in our relationships with others.  The more we adopt the attitude of Christ and live as He lived, the more we exemplify Jesus to others.  That is what we are called to do as His Bride, His Church, His Family, His Namesake.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.   Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.   Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;  if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
(Peter quotes from Psalm 34:12-16 in verses 10-12 of his letter.)

            Even though God had given me the mandate to serve others with love when he gave me my life verse (Galatians 5:13), He did not immediately gift me with all the attributes I would need to fulfill my calling.  It’s been a life-long journey.  There was a definite point in my journey where I surrendered my complete self to him…a point of consecration where I recognized God wanted to sanctify me…set me apart for His holy purpose.  That still did not perfect me.  I had to make daily choices that would either honor Him, or take my own way.  I did not always honor Him, sad to say.  But He never gave up on me, and through the failures, I learn and grow. 

I have obtained wisdom through the years that I wish I would have had as a young mother and as a mid-lifer.  Don’t we all wish we could turn the clock back sometimes and redo things differently?  The key for me was to keep on my knees in prayer, surrendering my weaknesses, and asking for more of God’s grace.  My heart’s desire was to please Him, to serve Him, to love others…but sometimes Carol just got in the way.  So I would bring my messes to Him and ask Him to help me to be more like Jesus.  He has never failed me.  Now when I read these check points that Peter has given us, I see areas where I have made tremendous growth…I have come so far.  But there are still some areas in which He is helping me to improve. 

My passion and goal is to hear my Heavenly Father say to me, “Welcome home, my child, come on in… we've been waiting for you!”  And I will know the journey I took was worth it all…just to see His face!!