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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.