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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 26: 1 Peter 5:5-7 - What is the Chief Christian Virtue?

What is the Chief Christian Virtue?
1 Peter, Day 26

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
- 1 Peter 5:5-7, ESV

What is the chief or root sin? We might think of sins like lust or anger as flashy and dangerous, and they are. But throughout the ages, Christians have understood that pride is the root sin, the core of our sinfulness and the fountainhead of our sinful activity. 

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis put it this way: 

"According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Un-chastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind . . . it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began."

Well, if that's true, and I believe it is, then what is the chief Christian virtue? Is it heroic faith? No, it is quiet, simple and strong humility. Humility is the virtue that cuts at the very root of pride. But what is humility, and what does it look like, and why is it so important? We have misconceptions about what humility looks like, and here C.S. Lewis is helpful again:

"Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

1 Peter 5 helps us see why humility is so important: Humility changes the way we treat one another and the way we approach God in the most fundamental way. Peter tells us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. Humility treats others with respect, consideration, and genuine loving interest.

Humility also deeply shapes how we approach God. We humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We lovingly acknowledge that He alone is God and we are not, and we cast our cares and concerns on Him. We approach Him in loving fear and humble adoration.

Humility is so key, and the key to beginning to cultivate more humility is to recognize and confess our pride. We are not God, but too often we act like we are. We need to confess that dark reality and ask God to forgive us and change us. Only then can we begin to walk in the freedom and joy of true humility.

Monday, September 9, 2019

1 Peter, Day 25: 1 Peter 5:1-4 - How Should Churches Be Led?

How Should Churches Be Led? 

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
 - 1 Peter 5:1-4, ESV

Sadly, the history of the church has been littered with bad leadership - selfish, greedy, immoral pastors, priests, elders and bishops who have lied, stolen, and abused the church for their own wicked ends. In fact, you don't even have to look into history to see numerous examples of wayward shepherds leading sheep astray to their own destruction. 

Thankfully, God still has some faithful shepherds in His flock. Of course, no human shepherds are perfect; only Jesus the Good Shepherd never fails us. But still, God does have some elders in His church who sincerely desire to serve well and lead well, encouraging and equipping the flock. 

Peter addresses the elders of the church in chapter 5 as a fellow elder. Even though he is an Apostle, Peter is also an elder, a shepherd, restored lovingly to this position by Jesus in John 21. He exhorts the elders; he does not command them. He urges them lovingly to shepherd the flock, even as Jesus  had commanded him to do - to feed the sheep and tend the lambs of the precious flock of God purchased by the blood of the Good Shepherd. 

A key part of shepherding is exercising oversight - watching over the flock, caring for their health and well being and tending to them if and when they begin to go astray, helping them to walk in the right paths. But this oversight is not to be domineering, not commanding and controlling, but as good examples and faithfully patient encouraging guides. 

How does an elder shepherd the flock like this? By praying for the sheep, feeding the sheep with the Word of God, pointing the sheep to Jesus and to a closer walk with the Good Shepherd, and speaking correction to the sheep when they go astray. 

Consistently shepherding the flock is tiring, sometimes discouraging, and often thankless - not always of course, but often. At these times, elders need to remember that their Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, is watching over them. He supplies our every need whenever we are weak or prone to wander. And He is coming again, to judge the living and the dead, and to reward or judge the shepherds for their service. 

If you're an elder, look to Jesus for the grace to shepherd well. If you're not an elder, pray for your elders to have the grace to shepherd well - that God may be glorified, His kingdom advanced, and His people blessed. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

1 Peter, Day 24: 1 Peter 4:15-19 - How Can We Trust God in our Suffering?

How Can We Trust God in our Suffering?
1 Peter, Day 24

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
- 1 Peter 4:15-19, ESV

My son, Jeremiah, is running cross-country this year. I'm proud of him, because he doesn't really like running. But he has determination, and determination is at the heart of cross-country running. My older son, Andrew, is playing football. After his last game, his right arm and shoulder were covered in scratches and bruises. In other words, he looked like a football player. 

If you're going to run cross-country, you need determination. If you're going to play football, you need to accept scratches and bruises. And if you're going to honor God as a Christian, you need to trust God. Faith is the essence of the Christian life. As Hebrews 11 says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6) 

So, in our suffering as believers, the primary way we bring glory to God is by entrusting our souls to Him. But how can we trust God, knowing that our suffering is both undeserved and comes to us according to God's will? 

Well, we can glorify God by trusting Him by remembering three key things:

1. God has given us His name.
2. God will one day judge all, and our suffering is, in some ways, just the beginning of judgment.
3. God is faithful. He never breaks any of His promises. 

So, we begin with he glorious truth that God has placed His name on us. He has adopted us into His family. He has made us His own. We don't deserve this, and while it does bring suffering, it also brings a permanent place in God's family as His dearly loved children forever.

Then, as we think on the promises of God, we consider that He has promised to judge the nations one day. Everyone will be judged. If we think the suffering we endure now for the name of Jesus is terrible, imagine what is coming on Judgment Day for the enemies of God. Then, consider that we deserve that same judgment, but we have been spared by God's grace.

Finally, we need to see that God never breaks His promises, that He is faithful. He has actually promised us suffering. But He has also promised us glory with Him after our time of suffering ends. 

These three truths can fuel our faith in God in the midst of suffering, and it is only by faith in Him that we will persevere in doing good, according to His will, even as we continue to suffer, also according to His will.  

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

1 Peter, Day 23: 1 Peter 4:12-14 - How Can We Honor God in our Suffering?

How Can We Honor God in our Suffering?
1 Peter, Day 23

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
- 1 Peter 4:12-14, ESV

Honestly, I don't like suffering of any kind. Physical pain is not something I enjoy, and emotional or social trauma are even less pleasant to me. So, when I hear the words "fiery trial," I don't think of something I want to experience. 

Peter says we should not be surprised by fiery trials, and that we should rejoice when they come to us for being Christians. This is not something most of us can naturally embrace. We need help. 

We get help is two ways when we read the Gospels: We see that Jesus suffered for us long before we were ever born or potentially called to suffer for His name. Also, we hear the words of Jesus telling us to expect suffering, telling us this is part of following Him:

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." - John 15:18-19, ESV

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - Luke 9:23-24, ESV

While we may not enjoy suffering, we can honor God in our suffering in two key ways: by accepting it as His good will for us and by making sure that we're actually suffering for the right reasons. Suffering for the name of Christ takes many forms; here Peter highlights being insulted for His sake. Many people in the world have very little respect for followers of Jesus. As our American culture becomes more post-Christian and anti-Christian, being insulted for Jesus' sake is becoming a fairly common experience for Christians. 

Peter says we should consider it an honor to be so insulted, for two reasons: It's an indication that the Spirit of God rests on us. In other words, it shows that we really belong to Jesus. It also is an indication that we will be blessed by His glory when He is revealed at His second coming.  

And yet, we need to make sure we're really being insulted for being Christians and not for some other reason. Someone I know well used to work in the HR department of a major company in our area. Some Christians who worked for this company would come in late, leave early, not show up, do poor quality work, and then act like they were being persecuted when they were written up for poor job performance. That's not what Peter is talking about here in 1 Peter 4. We can't suffer for being irresponsible, obnoxious, or even for being overly political and think that's suffering insults for the name of Jesus. It's not. 

I know some people who are New England Patriots fans, and they get teased for it by other football fans who don't like the Patriots. It's easy enough for them to take that teasing because their team has six championship trophies. They can smile and hold their heads up high, knowing their team is hated for good reason: They're the best. How much better is the Lord Jesus? How much greater is His kingdom than any sports dynasty? We should smile and hold our heads high when the world insults us for bearing His name. He is worth it! 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

1 Peter, Day 22: 1 Peter 4:10-11 - What is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

What is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?
1 Peter, Day 22

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV

One of my favorite scenes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the arrival of Father Christmas, whose coming signals the decline of the White Witch's power and who gives gifts to the Pevensie children. Peter is given a magnificent sword, Susan is given a bow and a horn, and Lucy is given a vial full of a precious healing cordial. 

Imagine if the battle came later in the story and Peter said, "My sword is much too magnificent to soil in battle. Someone lend me another." Or what if Susan had said, "I can't possibly be expected to shoot arrows at monsters. I prefer using my bow for target practice only."? Their precious gifts from Father Christmas would have been useless if they had not used them in faithful service, as they were intended.

Many Christians want to know what spiritual gift they have, and some are convinced they might not have one, at least not an important one. Some Christians tie their spiritual self-esteem to being able to identify and feel good about their spiritual gifting. And, of course, too many Christians exercise their spiritual gifts in a way that draws attention to themselves and wins them praise. 

It seems we have forgotten the purpose of our gifts. We have not been gifted so we can feel good about what gift we have, be able to identify our gifts when asked, or be praised by others for our gifts. The purpose of a spiritual gift, is to "use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." 

If we were to focus on serving one another in the name of Jesus as stewards of the grace of God, we would focus on the opportunities, on the service, and on the grace of God, and not on our gifts. Peter says we serve one another in two basic ways, by speaking and by serving. We may speak in prayer, or in encouragement, or in teaching, preaching, or even in rebuke and correction. If we do so in loving service to one another, serving the grace of God to each other, we are exercising our spiritual gifting for God's glory. We may serve by serving food, fixing a broken car or home, making a meal, watching a child, visiting someone in the hospital, or helping collect food for a food pantry. All of these ways of serving are the exercise of spiritual gifts, if we are loving one another as stewards of God's grace.

All-in-all, 1 Peter 4:10-11 would seem to have us be less concerned with inventorying our spiritual gifts and more concerned with serving one another - "in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ."

Sunday, August 25, 2019

1 Peter, Day 21: 1 Peter 4:7-11 - What Difference Does the End Make?

What Difference Does the End Make?

1 Peter, Day 21

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV

The sign says: "The End is Near" and the look in the man's eyes holding it makes you wonder if he's playing the game of life with a full deck. We've all either seen people like this or we've seen cartoons making fun of people like this. 

Yet Peter says, "the end of all things is at hand," and this is the Word of God, so we need to take it seriously. What does he mean and - perhaps even more importantly - what difference does that make to our lives? 

Peter obviously didn't mean that the end of the world was going to come within a short period of time - or else, he was really wrong, because we're still here 2,000 years later. Rather than seeing this as a time-prediction of the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus, I think it's best to see it as a declaration of two key truths: that eternity is always imminent to all of us and that the end-times kingdom of God has already broken into our reality since the resurrection of Jesus.

So, "the end of all things is at hand" echoes Christ's own declaration that "the kingdom of God is at hand." It's a call for us to live our lives with urgency and priority, focused on Christ's kingdom and eternal realities. 

What difference does it make in our lives? Peter points out four things that this reality ought to change in our lives:

1. We ought to be more "sober-minded and self-controlled."  
2. We ought to "keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
3. We must "show hospitality to one another without grumbling."
4. "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace."

Taken together, these four things are a call to reject the selfish and worldly pattern of life seen all around us in the world. The world says to us: "Look out for yourself and get while you can while you can." But Peter says to us: "Control your selfish desires and love one another. Show gracious hospitality to one another, and serve each other." 

Christ's kingdom will last forever, and we will be with one another forever. That means our focus should be on His kingdom - obeying Him as our king and not obeying our selfish appetites - and on loving and serving one another within His kingdom. This frees us from the selfish, short-sighted perspective of the world and calls us to a higher and better focus on things of eternal value - the kingdom of God and the children of God. 

With this perspective, we can say with Peter that we are living "in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Thursday, August 22, 2019

1 Peter, Day 20: 1 Peter 4:6 - Did the Early Church Preach the Gospel in Graveyards?

Did the Early Church Preach the Gospel in Graveyards?
1 Peter, Day 20

For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
- 1 Peter 4:6, ESV

Francis of Assisi was a bit of an eccentric believer. He took Jesus' command to preach the Gospel to all creation (Mark 16:15) literally, and he would spend hours walking through the woods preaching Jesus to trees, birds, squirrels, flowers, etc. Today, his eccentricity has given us the legacy of the St. Francis garden statue, with Francis depicted preaching to birds or other critters, sometimes rendered as a bird bath. 

Peter tells us that the Gospel "was preached even to those who are dead." Should we envision the Apostle Peter going to the catacombs and tombs of the ancient world and preaching salvation in the name of Jesus to dead people? Some early church fathers, including Origen of Alexandria, apparently thought that Peter meant that the Gospel could be preached to souls in hell to give them another chance after death. 

But Peter's not talking about preaching to dead people. Rather, he's referring to the fact that many people who had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and had believed in Him for salvation had since died. Some people tried to stir up trouble in the early church because of this. 

The Gospel proclamation of the early church under the Apostles was not "believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven when you die." It was much more Christ-centered than that. They proclaimed who Christ was, what He had come to do, and centered their proclamation on the reality of the resurrection and the coming return of Christ to judge the living and the dead. The hope of the believer, according to the Apostolic Gospel proclamation, is not primarily about going to heaven when we die but about Jesus making all things new and ending all evil and death when He returns. 

Some detractors troubled early Christians by saying things like, "What about those who heard the Gospel and then died? They won't live to see your Jesus return, will they? What was the point of their faith? They died before the full coming of the kingdom in glory!" Peter is writing here to answer these critics and provide a true and living hope for all believers.

Believers who die in the Lord are blessed. Even though they did not live to see Jesus return to judge and make all things new, they do live spiritually with the Lord forever and will come with Him when He returns. They are "judged in the flesh the way people are" - that is, they die like all sinners and mortals. Yet they live to God in the presence of God in their spirits. 

So, no, the early church didn't preach the Gospel to dead people. But because of the victory of Jesus over sin and death, those who die in the Lord preach the Gospel to us. Graves of believers proclaim their undying hope in their risen Lord, and the coming resurrection to glory of all who believe in Him! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

1 Peter, Day 19: 1 Peter 4:3-5 - How Should We Respond to Peer Pressure?

How Should We Respond to Peer Pressure?
1 Peter, Day 19

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
- 1 Peter 4:3-5, ESV

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a devout Seventh-Day Adventist and committed pacifist who wants to serve his country in the army in World War 2. He is eager to do his part and serve, but he refuses to carry a weapon. He is assigned a role as a combat medic, and for a long time he is harassed and ridiculed by his fellow soldiers. They are convinced that his refusal to carry a weapon puts their lives in danger, and so they relentlessly bully him, hoping he'll quit. When they finally get into combat, they see Doss's incredible courage, which leads to him being awarded the Medal of Honor.

Peter has been urging Christians to live lives that honor the Lord, transformed lives of Spirit-empowered holiness and obedience. One of the big obstacles all believers face in living lives of holy obedience is peer pressure. We sometimes act like peer pressure is only something kids deal with, especially in middle and high school, but that's not true. The culture is constantly exerting its pressure on us. It's nothing new. 1 Peter tells us this problem is at least 2,000 years old.

Why does the world pressure Christians to act like it? Because it wants approval and acceptance of what it knows is wrong behavior. People who live "in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry" know they're doing wrong. They live with guilty consciences they are desperate to silence. One way they can silence their feelings of guilt is to have lots of people join them in their immorality.

The worst thing, when you're doing something you know is wrong, is to have to live with people who are doing right. It's infuriating, because it inflames your feelings of guilt. And nothing feels better than getting someone who was once abstaining from the immorality to compromise their morality and join you in your sin. Misery loves company, and the misery of a guilty conscience is more tolerable if you know someone else is dealing with a even more guilty conscience: Not only are they drunk and engaging in sexual immorality, but they're also a hypocrite for breaking their religious moral code.

So, that's why the world pressures and antagonizes Christians. How should we respond? Peter gives us three things to keep in mind:

1. Remember the sufferings of Christ. (v. 1)
2. Remember your own coming death, which will put an end to all your sinning. (v. 2)
3. Remember, Judgment Day is coming. (v. 5)

When the world wants to drag us into the muck with it, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. He suffered and died to free us from the tyranny of sin. If we love Him, we should walk in the freedom of holiness that He secured for us.

We should also always keep in mind that life is short, eternity is forever, and all sin and evil will be judged and obliterated when Jesus comes again. Things that last forever matter more. Things God has created us to enjoy forever are the very best things to enjoy.

We all face peer pressure. The siren song of the world is never silent. Only walking closely with Jesus and keeping an eternal perspective can equip us to turn a deaf ear to the world's insane immoral invitation. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

1 Peter, Day 18: 1 Peter 4:1-2 - Does Physical Suffering End Sinning?

Does Physical Suffering End Sinning?
1 Peter, Day 18

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
- 1 Peter 4:1-2, ESV

My family sometimes enjoys playing The Game of Life. One of the things you face in The Game of Life are options, choices with consequences. At the beginning, you can choose to go to college or start working right out of high school. Later, you can make the choice to go back to school and get more education. You get to choose which house to buy, whether to focus on family or career, etc. Some choices are not in the game. You can't just choose to be a rock star or a professional athlete in you career-selection choice. You can't choose to develop superpowers either. 

When we come to a really difficult Bible verse, like 1 Peter 4:1-2, you have to decide what it most likely means, and you have options. Last time, we looked at the difficult passage at the end of 1 Peter 3, and we talked about some methods we need to use to interpret challenging texts in the Bible. Today, we're digging a little deeper into the same approach as we turn from the end of chapter 3 to the beginning of chapter 4. Why? Because if the end of 1 Peter 3 is tricky to interpret, I think the opening of chapter 4 is even more difficult. 

In terms of understanding the meaning of the passage, the New Testament doesn't get much trickier than the end of 1 Peter 3 and the beginning of 1 Peter 4. So it seems wise to discuss further how we handle difficult passages, especially since (unlike the end of 1 Peter 3), I'm not really sure what 1 Peter 4:1-2 really means. 

Why am I not sure? Because sometimes you can follow all of the guidelines for correct interpretation and still have several possible alternatives left for the meaning of a passage. So, to follow our rules from last time, we need to consider the context and begin with what's clear. Here's what we can see clearly in 1 Peter 4:1-2, especially given the context of the letter and the surrounding verses:

1. We're being instructed in how to be strong in the face of suffering. 
2. We're being directed to follow the example of Christ, who remained strong and faithful to God when He was called to suffer. 
3. From what follows in verses 3-4, it's clear that Peter wants to encourage us to resist temptation and worldliness. 
4. It's also clear that remaining strong and resisting temptation and worldliness while we're suffering involves the right kind of thinking, since we are to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking that Christ had. 

So, then, what does Peter mean when he says, "for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God."

Following our established guidelines, Peter can't mean something which violates established biblical teaching or contradicts the rest of Scripture. So, we need to eliminate the impossible: Physical suffering doesn't free you from ever sinning again. Even physical suffering that comes to us as persecution for the name of Christ doesn't free us from ever committing sin. 

We have the example of Peter himself to prove this: Peter had been imprisoned and beaten for preaching Christ in the Temple. Yet, later, at Antioch, Paul had to confront Peter publicly to his face for his hypocrisy, according to Galatians 2:11-14. Peter had physically suffered for Christ and yet still sinned. Paul also had suffered for Christ repeatedly, and yet in 1 Timothy 1:15, he could still refer to himself as the chief of sinners. 

So, what does Peter mean? I see four possible options:

1. He could be referring to Christ's suffering in the flesh on the cross, and encouraging us to remember that Christ has ceased to have anything to do with sin. That seems unlikely, because Jesus never sinned, and this seems to be talking about a sinner who ceases from sin.

2. He could be talking about someone who dies, for when believers die we cease from sin, but that seems unlikely because he then talks about how such a person lives the rest of his time in the flesh, not for human passions but for the will of God.  

3. He could mean that, if we consider the fact that once we die, we will cease from sin, that will encourage us while we are still living to live for God's will (which is of eternal value) and not for human passions (which are temporary and fleeting). It just requires reading the word translated "for" as really meaning "that." - "arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, [that] whoever has suffered in the flesh [died] has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God."

4. "Ceased from sin" doesn't mean completely stop sinning but just "cease living for sin, like the world." So, Peter is talking about a fundamental shift in how we live, but not a complete absence of sin from the life of a believer.

Options 3 and 4 are both possibilities. Option 3 seems more likely to me, but it does require reading one word slightly differently, as "that" instead of "for." In the end, both of those options are biblical, true things to know and believe, so it's not 100% critical that we make a decision between the two. Perhaps the ambiguity is helpful, so we keep both of those truths in mind. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

1 Peter, Day 17: 1 Peter 3:18-22 - How Do We Handle Confusing Bible Passages?

How Do We Handle Confusing Bible Passages?
1 Peter, Day 17

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
- 1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV

If you're going to head south on I-95 for a long road trip, you know Washington, DC is coming. Likewise, when I began our series in 1 Peter, I knew today's passage was coming. Few passages in the New Testament have caused as much confusion or given rise to as many false teachings as these few verses at the end of 1 Peter 3. From this one small section of 1 Peter, people have gotten these false ideas:

1. That Jesus was only spiritually resurrected, because Peter says He was "put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." 
2. That people get a second chance at salvation after death, because Jesus "went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison" who "formerly did not obey." 
3. That baptism saves people (baptismal regeneration) because Peter says, "Baptism . . . now saves you." 

Some of these ideas seem to be clearly taught here, at least at first glance, on a superficial reading of the passage. So, how do we handle difficult passages like this one? 

Let me offer a few guidelines and then apply those to today's passage:

1. The Bible almost never teaches a truth in only one place. The Biblical principle of "Let everything be established by two or three witnesses" seems to apply to the truths taught by Scripture, too.
2. While the Bible is progressive in the nature of its revelation (not everything is revealed all at once), the Bible does not contradict itself. 
3. We need to read both the text and the context carefully.
4. We need to allow clearer passages to inform and enlighten our understanding of less clear passages.
5. If a verse or passage has multiple possible interpretations, we should go with the interpretation that best harmonizes with the rest of Scripture. 

Now, to apply these principles to this passage:

1. Jesus was not "spiritually" resurrected; He was bodily resurrected. This is clearly attested to multiple times in the Gospels, in Acts, and in the Epistles. 
2. The Bible is also clear in multiple places that people don't get a second chance at salvation after they die.   
3. Regarding baptism, the Bible clearly teaches that we are saved by God's grace through faith alone in Christ alone, not by works that we do. 

So, what do these verses mean?

We don't have space here to explore all of the possible interpretations, so I'll just focus on what I think the passage teaches: In the days of Noah, Jesus was preaching through Noah, by the Holy Spirit, as Noah was making his appeal to people to flee from the judgment to come and to seek salvation in the ark. Eight people were saved from God's judgment on the Ark, because they trusted God's promises. 

Baptism is a picture of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. We know it is not the physical act of baptism which saves, for Peter says, "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." In other words, baptism is the physical representation of an appeal to God for cleansing of our consciences from sin through Jesus Christ, who has conquered sin and death. 

If we understand this passage properly, we see that nothing new is being taught here. Peter's language may be a bit unusual, but the truths he is teaching are clear, biblical truths recorded for us elsewhere in God's word. 

In the context of 1 Peter 3-4, this passage is intended to encourage believers suffering persecution to remember the example of Noah and to persevere in the face of ridicule or persecution. Just as Noah's faith in God was vindicated when he was saved from God's wrath by the ark, so we will be saved from the judgment to come by Jesus, our Ark of Refuge, as God keeps the promises made in baptism and fulfilled in Christ. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

1 Peter, Day 16: 1 Peter 3:13-17 - What if We Are Hated for Doing Good?

What if We Are Hated for Doing Good? 
1 Peter, Day 16

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
- 1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV

Some Christians act as if all the hatred the world spews at Christians and the church is deserved, and if we were better Christians and nicer to people, the world would like us. Now, I do sometimes think Christians bring a good bit of disdain on themselves when we are obnoxious, hypocritical, mean-spirited, or overly political. We should have a reputation in the world for being "zealous for what is good" and not being self-seeking or two-faced. 

However, even if we were more faithful in following and imitating the humility and love of Jesus, this would be no guarantee that the world would stand and applaud. After all, what did they do to Jesus? 

Peter makes it clear that, even if we faithfully honor the Lord and love our neighbors, we may be called on to suffer for righteousness' sake. We may be slandered and despised because we love what the world hates. So, if that happens, what do we do?

For Peter, this was not a purely hypothetical possibility. By the time he wrote this letter, he had already been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem multiple times. Later, his testimony of the resurrection of Jesus would cost him his life in Rome, when Nero would execute him. 

For most of us, any persecution or harassment we face is likely to be minor - teasing by classmates or co-workers, perhaps shunning by family members. Still, how do we respond? Peter says we need to honor Christ in our hearts as holy. In other words, we need to honor Christ above all, remembering who He is and what He suffered for us. Then, we also need to be ready to explain the reasons we have for our hope.

So many Christians, when faced with this low-level social harassment for their faith either cower away or get angry and defensive. When we do this, we either deny Christ or we dishonor Him by getting angry and disrespectful in His name. Instead, Peter counsels us to be ready to give an explanation, a soundly reasoned defense of our faith, and to do so with gentleness and respect. 

This calls for some basic training in what is called apologetics, the reasoned defense of the Christian faith. You don't have to become some philosopher or deep scholar, but you do need to use your mind to understand what you believe and why you believe it, so you can give an answer to others - not running and hiding but not attacking either. 

If you act like Christ, who always answered His critics with wisdom and gentleness, then the world may continue to attack you for your faith, but it will become increasingly clear how foolish and wrong-headed they are for doing so. So, if the world hates you for loving Jesus, tell them calmly and respectfully why you love Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for you. This may not change their minds, but it will honor Christ - and that's the most important thing we can do. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

1 Peter, Day 15: 1 Peter 3:8-12 - How Should We All Treat Everyone?

How Should We All Treat Everyone?
1 Peter, Day 15

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
- 1 Peter 3:8-12, ESV

I was an expert on good parenting . . . until I became a parent myself. It was easy for me to listen to and understand sound biblical parenting advice, until I had my own children. Then it wasn't so easy. It's always easy to listen to good advice for other people, isn't it? 

When we go through a teaching directed towards husbands and wives, a very common thing happens: The husbands listen very closely to the advice on how their wives should treat them. And then the wives listen very closely to the advice on how their husbands should treat them. And so, both husbands and wives walk away fully aware of the respect and love they should be receiving from their spouses.

This is nothing new. It's human nature, and I think the transition Peter makes in verse 8 of chapter 3 shows us very clearly that he understood this aspect of human nature very well. After he gives his sound advice for wives and then for husbands, he says, "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind."  In other words, here's something you can't just listen to as good advice for someone else. Here's something all of us - husbands, wives, single people, adults, children, teens - need to hear and do. 

All of us are to treat everyone with love and respect. We are to be sympathetic, loving, tender-hearted and humble toward others. Okay, but what if we're being mistreated by someone else? What if someone is just being mean to us, does that give us grounds for being mean back to them? No. Peter says, "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing." 

So, we even have to be kind and loving and humble toward mean people, people who revile us and curse us. Yes. Why? Because we are children of God, and the way we treat others should be shaped by how God has treated us and how we wish God to treat us, not by how others have treated us. We were called by God to obtain a blessing, and we don't obtain the blessing of God by being spiteful and vengeful, but by seeking peace and pursuing it. 

Peter quotes from Psalm 34 to support his point. The children of God are those who have been called by God and blessed by God. As God calls us and blesses us, He also calls us to bless others. He calls us to imitate Him, and He blessed us and loved us when we were still His enemies. 

We actually find great freedom in being called to imitate God in blessing others. No longer do we live captive to our expectations of how others should treat us or bitter at those who mistreat us. Rather, we're constantly reminded of how good God has been to us, and we're freed and empowered to show the same goodness to others. And that is a blessed life!  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

1 Peter, Day 14: 1 Peter 3:7 - How Should Husbands Treat Their Wives?

How Should Husbands Treat Their Wives?
1 Peter, Day 14

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

- 1 Peter 3:7, ESV

Sometimes, perspective is everything - understanding how things look from our own perspective and how different they look from someone else's. When we read the passages about husbands and wives in the New Testament, what stands out to us as unusual is the teaching that wives should submit to and respect their husbands. That strikes us as odd in our cultural context. For the original audience in the ancient world, the opposite would have been true.

In the ancient world, it was universally accepted that wives should submit to and respect their husbands. What was not widely taught was that husbands had obligations to love their wives and treat them with honor. In the ancient world "showing honor to the woman (or wife)" would have been much more shocking and counter-cultural than "wives, be subject to your own husbands." And while women today may balk at the phrase "the weaker vessel," 2,000 years ago, many men were shocked to be told that wives were fellow heirs with them of the grace of life. 

Christianity laid the groundwork for the equal dignity and worth of men and women through these kinds of teachings, even while the Bible maintains that men and women are different from each other. So, men are told to live with their wives in an understanding way, which involves treating them as equals while also acknowledging differences. 

Men need to be gentle and kind toward their wives, because woman are physically weaker than men. So husbands shouldn't treat their wives roughly. As a father of a daughter, I am concerned by our culture's insistence that women are just as physically tough and rugged as men. I don't think this does our daughters any favors in how they're likely to be treated by men. 

Yet men should not treat their wives as inferiors. They are fellow heirs of the grace of life. They are worthy of honor. Peter is so serious about this point that he tells his readers their prayers will be hindered if they treat their wives roughly and unfairly. 

God cares deeply about how husbands and wives treat each other. Our marriages are to be a testimony of the power of the Gospel to transform hearts and lives. People should see the way Christian men treat their wives and see honor, respect, gentleness and true love. Ultimately, we do this because this is how Christ treats His church as His bride.     

Monday, August 5, 2019

1 Peter, Day 13: 1 Peter 3:1-6 - How Should Wives Treat their Husbands?

How Should Wives Treat their Husbands? 
1 Peter, Day 13

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
- 1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV

Okay, let's be honest for a minute: When you read 1 Peter 3:1-6, do you think, "Is Peter serious? Really?" Or do you think, "Is this really the Word of God?" Peter's words are so far removed from our culture's standards and expectations, they can be hard for us to really hear and process. So, what do we do?

I would suggest that we need a two-way cultural attitude adjustment before we can really hear and respond to Peter's words:

  • First, we need to realize that Peter's words are framed by his own cultural context.
  • Second, we need to be willing to question and challenge our own cultural context.

Yes, Peter's words are framed by his own culture, and that's a reality we need to grasp. Notice that chapter 3 begins with the word "likewise," tying this message to Peter's message to slaves, which begins in 2:18. When we read Peter's advice for slaves (or similar advice from Paul), we understand that we no longer live in a culture with slavery, and we know that Paul and Peter are not advocating for slavery. They're giving sound Gospel advice in a culture where slavery was a living reality for many of God's people. We need to see the principles and be able to apply them to ourselves, even though we are not slaves or masters. Their words still have sound wisdom for us to apply to how we do our work and how we treat others.

Likewise, the New Testament was written in a culture where women had very few rights. Women were practically sub-human in the ancient world. Paul and Peter are not advocating for such treatment of women, but they're giving solid Gospel application advice to women living in that culture. My wife is a very godly woman, and we've been happily married for 21 years. She has never called me, "Lord" or "Master," and if she ever did, it would clearly be as a joke.

Now, we also need to challenge our own culture's values. Our culture tells women that their only hope for a fulfilling life is to grasp and assert power, and they can do so through rugged individualism and through capitalizing on their sex appeal. In other words, even once we look past the cultural context to the true message of this passage, it is at odds with our culture, and we need to faithfully acknowledge that it is our culture that is defective and in error.

Peter is telling women to treat their husbands with respect and to cultivate their inner beauty. Peter tells women what he has already told all of us - that Christ-like humility and gentleness are more a more powerful force for godliness than self-assertion and bold rebellion. This is something our culture cannot understand and does not support, and our culture is wrong, in ways that hurt the very women our culture thinks it is protecting and promoting.

All of us need to realize the Christ-like formula that teaches us that we are strongest when we are meek, gentle, and dependent on Him. We are most powerful when we are most loving others like Jesus. This is the key to living for all Christians, including how wives should treat their husbands.

Friday, August 2, 2019

1 Peter, Day 12: 1 Peter 2:22-25 - How and Why Did Christ Suffer and Die?

How and Why Did Christ Suffer and Die?

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
- 1 Peter 2:22-25, ESV

When you hear that someone accomplished something really amazing, you usually have two questions about it: How did he do it and why? 

On my flight to Uganda for a mission trip last month, I watched the documentary Free Solo, about Alex Honnold's free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite. Alex's feat was one of the most amazing, scary, incredible things I've ever seen anyone do. It was incredible to see how he did it, methodically and quickly. It was also fascinating to try to understand why he would do it, what would drive him to risk his life for such feats. 

Well, the greatest thing anyone has ever done in the history of the world, far greater than Alex's free solo of El Capitan, was the death of the Jesus Christ on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago. Alex's climb may have inspired many people to rethink what human beings are capable of doing, but Jesus' death on the cross changed the world forever, including the lives of millions and millions of people. 

Jesus did not have to die. He chose to. Knowing how He chose to die and why He did it deepens our understanding of God, of ourselves, and our lives in the world and in eternity. 

Jesus died humbly, gently, willingly and sinlessly. "He committed no sin." That's a statement that could not be made about anyone else in the history of the world. Everyone sins, all the time. Not Jesus. He never sinned, not even once. And yet He quietly and willingly submitted Himself to death on a cross, a death He did not deserve.

So, why did He do it? 1 Peter 2:24 tells us in simple, clear language: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." Even though Jesus had never sinned against God, we know that we have all sinned. Our sins stand against us as a clear record of our wrongdoing that deserves just punishment. But we cannot bear that punishment, for it would bring us eternal death, separation from God forever. So, Jesus took our sins upon Himself.

If Jesus had been a mere man - even a sinless man - He could not have borne all of our sins in His body. It would have been too much for anyone to bear. The fact that He could bear all of the sins of all of God's people for all time shows that He is the Son of God. 

What was Jesus accomplishing by taking our sins upon Himself? It wasn't just to take our punishment, though that was a large part of it. He also died to set us free from the tyranny of sin over us. He died to break the power of sin as a curse hanging around the necks of His people. He died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.

Finally, Jesus died to bring us back to God. He died to reconcile us to our estranged Heavenly Father and bring us back into the fold of God's sheep. His death is so powerful because it removes the punishment of sin, breaks the enslaving power of sin, and brings wayward sheep back to God. Nothing short of the death of the Son of God could have accomplished this for us. Knowing He was willing to do this for us should overwhelm us with the power of the love of God and cause us to hate sin and love Jesus more deeply day-by-day as we walk with Him and worship Him.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

1 Peter, Day 11: 1 Peter 2:16-21 - How Should Christians Respond to Unjust Authorities?

How Should Christians Respond to Unjust Authorities?

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
- 1 Peter 2:16-21, ESV

Have you ever had to work for someone you just didn't like or respect, maybe someone who wasn't a believer and who actually lived a very immoral life? Or, have you ever had a president you had a hard time respecting morally? (Almost everyone would probably say yes to that second question.) So, what do we do?

Sadly, I can tell you what I have seen countless Christians do, and which I have done at times myself: Slander, back-bite, complain, disrespect. Is that what we're supposed to do?

Peter told believers to "honor the emperor" at a time when the emperor was Nero, an immoral madman who would later crucify Peter. Yet, God had made Nero the emperor, and Christians were to honor him as such. What they could not do was honor him as Lord, which is what he demanded. Proper honor, in its proper place, was something they could offer and must offer. 

And then, after telling believers to honor an immoral emperor for his God-given position as emperor, Peter tells the Christians who are slaves to honor and obey their earthly masters. This is hard enough when your earthly master is a decent, kind, fair man, but Peter tells them to be subject with all respect "not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust."   

How in the world could Peter expect Christian slaves to be respectfully obedient to unjust masters? Well, he tells them that it "is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly." Here we see that motives are everything in the Christian life. If the Christian slave is respectfully obedient only because he wants to avoid getting beaten or is hoping for some kind of reward, then his behavior is just self-serving and not particularly commendable. If he is obedient because he fears his master and thinks of him as some kind of earthly god, then such subservience is definitely not God-honoring. But if he is "mindful of God" - consciously thinking of his service to his cruel master as obedience to God, whose providence has placed him under this man - then his obedience to his earthly master can be obedience to God, and that kind of service is gracious indeed. 

Then Peter gives instruction which is helpful to all Christians living in every kind of situation: "If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps." 

Christ suffered injustice at the hands of cruel men. The Sanhedrin, the Roman guards, and Pontius Pilate were all guilty of treating the Lord with cruel injustice. And yet He graciously submitted to their cruel mistreatment. He could have escaped. He could have struck them down and called down fire from heaven on the whole lot of them. But He submitted. Why? Because He loved His Heavenly Father, and this is what His Father had assigned to Him as His suffering. 

When we accept the unjust suffering we experience in faith - whether that's being slandered or attacked or discriminated against or whatever - we are honoring God. We are accepting what He has sent our way, trusting that He has a good reason for sending it. In this way, we are walking in the footsteps of Christ. 

I should say that submitting to injustice is not always the righteous thing to do. If you are in an abusive relationship with someone who is hurting you, it is most loving to get help and force them to get help, too. Peter is not telling wives to stay with abusive husbands. But in other areas - dealing with an immoral president, an unfair boss, slanderous co-workers, etc. - we can honor God by accepting mistreatment and graciously treating with love and respect those who mistreat us. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

1 Peter, Day 10: 1 Peter 2:11-17 - How Should We Live in This World?

How Should We Live in This World?
1 Peter, Day 10

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
- 1 Peter 2:11-17, ESV

Have you ever seen someone driving really aggressively, weaving in and out of traffic and tailgating dangerously, and thought to yourself, "Who does that person think he is?" Why is it that we see poor behavior, and the question which comes to mind is one of self-identity? It's simple, really: How you behave in the world should be grounded in who you are. In other words, identity should drive behavior. So, when we see out-of-control behavior, we think there must be a core out-of-control self-identity.

Peter has been unfolding our identity as believers in 1 Peter. He opened by reminding us that we are elect exiles. We are loved and chosen by God, but we do not belong in this world. He then unpacked some of what this involves for us:
  • We are born again to a living hope.
  • We have been given an imperishable inheritance.   
  • We are kept by the power of God.
  • We rejoice, with a joy inexpressible, as we think ahead to the hope of glory.
  • We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
  • We have received mercy from God. 

If we have been following along with Peter as he's been laying this foundation of our identity in Christ, we're ready now for the next step: How do we live out our identity in this world? Or, to put it a different way, to go back to the opening identity of elect exiles, if we know now what it means to be elected by God, chosen in love by Him, what does it mean to live as exiles? How should we live in a world we know is not our final home? 

First of all, sojourners and exiles should not indulge too deeply in the passing pleasures of a fallen world. We need to not attach our hearts and desires to a world in rebellion against God and a flesh that craves the things of this world. So, we need to abstain as those who know they're in a war, a war with lasting consequences.

Secondly, we need to live honorably. While we don't give into the cravings and live for the pleasures of the world, we also don't live as grumpy, angry, militant, self-righteous people. We need to treat others the way we'd want to be treated. We need to be honorable and respectful. 

Unbelievers in the world should be able to look at us as believers and see good deeds, respect for authority, and love for our neighbors. They should see us walking in freedom in Christ, but not a freedom that is self-indulgent or self-righteous, but a freedom that serves others in humility and love. In other words, they should be able to catch a glimpse of Jesus in us. 

How is the world realistically going to see Jesus in us? Only as we're abiding in Him, living in His love, walking in His light, loving Him deeply and drinking from the fountain of the Holy Spirit as dearly loved children of God. The stronger and deeper our dependence on Christ, the stronger and clearer our witness to a watching world will be.   

Sunday, July 7, 2019

1 Peter, Day 9: 1 Peter 2:4-10 - Who are You Made to be in Christ?

Who are You Made to be in Christ? 
1 Peter, Day 9

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

- 1 Peter 2:4-10, ESV

"Who do you think you are, anyway?" 

You might hear these words from someone if they think you're being a bit too opinionated or pushy with your point-of-view. But this is a good question for us think about. Who do we think we are? The standard Christian answer to this question is usually, "I'm a sinner." That may sound humble and biblical, but it's a very limited and distorted understanding of who we are in Christ, and it actually threatens to undermine our faith in the power of the Gospel. 

When we began looking at 1 Peter, we saw that we are "elect exiles," chosen by God and not at home in this world. Here in 1 Peter 2, Peter unpacks our identity in Christ more richly. He combines several different central images from the Old Testament to weave a powerful portrait of Christ and His people.

The image begins with the Temple, the centrally important place of worship for God's people for hundreds of years before Peter wrote this epistle. Jesus is the living stone rejected by men but chosen by God and precious. Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter says Christ is “The stone that the builders rejected, [which] has become the cornerstone,”    

So, even as Christ was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders (the builders) and was nailed to a cross by the Romans, He was - on that same cross - being made by God into the chief cornerstone of a new, living Temple. Jesus' death and resurrection, which won salvation for all of God's people, made Him the foundation stone of a new place where God is glorified - a living Temple we call "the church." 

As we come to Christ by faith, we are made into living stones - just like He is - that form the new, living Temple of God. We are joined to Christ and to one another as a new place for the display of God's glory. So, you are more than a sinner; you are a living stone in the new Temple of God.

Yet Peter says even more: Not only are we living stones, but we are also "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession." We are chosen by God, made heirs of God and priests, who together form a new holy nation, the people for God's own possession. 

What is God's purpose for us in this new identity? It is "that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light." 

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are so much more than just a sinner. You have been called from the darkness of sin into the marvelous light of God's love and favor. You have been called to proclaim His excellencies, to worship Him as a priest, to glorify Him as a living Temple stone. That's a pretty amazing identity and a glorious purpose - so let's live it!  

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

1 Peter, Day 8: 1 Peter 2:1-3 - Do You Long for the Word of God?

Do You Long for the Word of God?
1 Peter, Day 8

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
- 1 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

"Betcha can't eat just one!" Remember that slogan from Lay's potato chips? It's effective because it's true. It's really hard to eat just one good chip. If a chip is no good, and you get a bad taste from it, you're not really tempted to take another. You might be able to force yourself to, if you have to. But you don't really long to have another, do you?

Psalm 34:8 says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!" Peter picks up this verse here in 1 Peter 2, and he expands the thought in this way: If you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, then you should long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God.

This is one of the key marks of being a born-again Christian. If you have been born again by the Holy Spirit, then you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. If you are spiritually alive, you will long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God just as surely as a newborn infant longs for the pure nourishment of his mother's milk.

Sometimes newborn babies have trouble nursing, and they may need some coaching and encouraging. But for the most part, the instincts God has given them take over and lead them to nurse well.

New Christians may not always understand everything they read in the Bible. Not everything in the Bible is milk for newborns; some if it is meat for more mature believers. However, the appetite to know God through His word should be strong in every born again believer. If you have no real desire to know God better, to grow in your knowledge of Him through His word, you may have real cause to question whether or not you are truly born again. If the only time you open your Bible is when someone convinced you to do so, then have you really tasted and seen that the Lord is good? 

The pure milk of the Word is as necessary for young believers' growth as milk is for babies. It is the way we "grow up into salvation." Peter doesn't mean by this that we earn salvation by growing in our knowledge of the Bible. No, we are given life as a gift, but we grow up into the life we've been given by spending time in the Word. It is the Word which reveals more of Christ to us and helps us to grow in Him. Just as we were born again by the living and active word, so we grow in the Lord as we grow in His Word. 

So, taste and see that the Lord is good, and then grow up in Him through time each day in His word!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

1 Peter, Day 7: 1 Peter 1:22-25 - How Are We Born Again?

How Are We Born Again?
1 Peter, Day 7

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
- 1 Peter 1:22-25, ESV

"How did you do that?" I find myself saying that a lot lately. I have a former student of mine who is an incredibly gifted and trained artist. He shares his latest artwork on Facebook, and I comment, "Wow! How did you do that?" Then, a young man in our church is learning how to do card tricks, and he's gotten really good at some of them. So, he hears from me regularly, "How did you do that?"

But, do you know what's much, much more impressive than photo-realistic paintings or mind-blowing card tricks? A dead sinner being brought to eternal spiritual life. This is THE great miracle, the greatest and most important thing that can ever be accomplished in anyone's life, and yet God does this miraculous work every day, thousands of times, all around the world. How?

1 Peter 1 gives us a key part of the answer, when Peter says, "you have been born again . . . through the living and abiding word of God." To clarify, so we know what word he means, he says it is "the word of the Lord" and then says, "this word is the good news that was preached to you." The preaching of the Gospel, the good news found in the Word of God, is the living and abiding word by which dead sinners are made alive.

This is in keeping with what Paul says about the Gospel in Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." And then later, in Romans 10:17, Paul writes, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." So, we see that the preaching of the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, and that faith comes from hearing the word of Christ.   

How does God make people born again? By the preaching of the Gospel! And yet, not everyone who hears the Gospel is born again, so what else makes the difference? Well, in John 3, Jesus tells us that we must be born of the Spirit:

"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” - John 3:6-8, ESV

It is not the word alone nor the Spirit alone which causes people to be born again, but the word and the Spirit, working together, the Spirit giving life through the word. In fact, the work of the Holy Spirit is what makes the word of God "living and abiding." Apart from the work of the Spirit, the Bible remains a closed book and the word of God a dead letter. Yet as the Spirit breathes life into the word, and breathes life into us through the word, we who hear the word are born again. Praise God for this work that He alone can do and chooses to do in us!

Friday, June 28, 2019

1 Peter, Day 6: 1 Peter 1:13-23 - How Can We Struggle Fruitfully?

How Can We Struggle Fruitfully? 

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 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.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
 - 1 Peter 1:13-23, ESV

Last time, we talked about the importance of a long-term perspective in investing. While a long-term perspective is important, it's not enough by itself to secure a successful investment strategy. If you had bought Kodak stock in the 1990's and committed to holding it long-term, your investment would not be worth anything today, because Kodak- along with Toys R Us and other great American companies- could not adjust to changing realities in the world and went out of business. 

In our spiritual lives, if we want to be fruitful, what do we need besides a long-term perspective? Knowing that the grace of perfection we long for will be ours when Jesus brings it to us at His glorious coming is certainly vital. The long-term perspective protects us from worldliness and false perfectionism, but we need more for an effective strategy for fruitfulness in our struggle. Thankfully, Peter tells us much of what we need:

1. Preparing mentally with the truth. Peter speaks of preparing our minds for action, of being sober-minded, and then later of not being conformed to our former ignorance. These are all terms which speak of a need to be mentally equipped for battle with a solid understanding of the truth. Believers need to be in the word, studying and understanding what God has revealed about Himself and His ways in His word. Sound doctrine and right thinking are key to fruitful Christian living.

2. Pursing the right passions. Knowing the truth should lead us to loving God and having a passion for holiness, more than a passion for the imprisoning pleasures of this world. In so many ways, our passions shape our lives even more deeply than our thoughts, for they drive what we love and what we value. We must love holiness and fear the Lord, deeply and passionately.

3. Knowing who we are and whose we are. Central to having right thoughts and right passions is constantly remembering who we are and whose we are. We are the redeemed children of God, bought by the precious blood of Jesus and belonging to Him forever. 

4. Remembering and rejoicing in how wonderful Jesus is. He is the precious Lamb of God without spot or blemish. He is our wonderful Savior and great Redeemer. We need to focus on Him.    

5. Loving one another. We are not called to live the Christian life alone, and a solo Christian life is always a frustratingly fruitless Christian life. As we strive to obey the Lord, we must love one another and be firmly committed to living life together as brothers and sisters fighting side-by-side in the struggle for fruitfulness. When God made us His own, born again by His living word, He made us part of His family. We can't honor Him without loving each other. 

These five keys - our thinking, our passions, our identity, our worship, and our community as a spiritual family - are the five essential pillars to fruitful Christian living. God has equipped us with the truth of His word and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit so we can pursue Him in these five key ways, pursuing fruitfulness for His glory together as His people.