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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

2 Peter, Day 8: 2 Peter 2:4-10 - Does Anyone Believe in the Wrath of God Anymore?

Does Anyone Believe in the Wrath of God Anymore?

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.
- 2 Peter 2:4-10, ESV

In the 1970's, fashion took a turn in a strange direction. I know because my elementary school pictures feature me dressed in polyester shirts with flower prints and huge, pointy collars. Bell bottoms, platform shoes, polyester leisure suits and more all went out of fashion - thankfully - when the 1980's rolled around. In fashion, trends come and go, but when it comes to what we believe, the truths of God's word do not change.

Sadly, even though the truths of God's word don't change, the changing winds of cultural pressure often cause the church to soften its stance on certain core doctrines or simply to ignore aspects of our faith. One aspect of the Christian faith that has been badly neglected by the church lately is the doctrine of the wrath of God and the coming day of judgment.

You might respond: "Well, of course! Who wants to spend time pondering the wrath of God? It's scary and offensive and drives people away from the church." But the wrath of God and the coming day of judgment is clearly taught repeatedly in Scripture, including in today's passage, and it should be a source of great comfort for believers, especially in times of distress.

Without coming wrath and judgment, how can we believe in a God of perfect divine justice? Life in this world doesn't make sense and doesn't appear just. It looks like the wicked get away with their wickedness and the righteous suffer for their faith in God.

In Romans 12, we're told that one of the keys that allows Christians to live peaceably with their neighbors and not seek out revenge is a confidence in the coming wrath of God: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:18-19, ESV)

So, the doctrine of Judgment Day helps believers trust in God's justice and suffer with patience and forbearance.  It also warns those who would exploit and manipulate Christianity for their own selfish gain. Thousands of people all around the world prey on professing Christians for personal gain, often either financial profit or sexual pleasure. It is sickening and distressing whenever we learn about these cases, but many of them go undetected and unpunished in this life. Yet God always sees and He will repay.

The Bible is not an easy or simplistic book. It doesn't pretend we live in a cushy world. It's relentlessly realistic and powerfully hopeful. Central to the realism and hope is that God takes note of the wicked oppression and exploitation of His people, and He will repay. We don't need to hide from this truth. We need to rejoice in it! Our God is truly good, and His justice and wrath are central to His goodness and His love for His own!  

Monday, October 14, 2019

2 Peter, Day 7: 2 Peter 2:1-3 - What About Preachers Who Tell You What You Want to Hear?

What About Preachers Who Tell You What You Want to Hear?

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
- 2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

Promises. Promises. Promises. When I was in college waiting tables, I used to get home really late sometimes, when it seemed the only thing on TV was infomercials. I know no one under the age of 30 understands what I'm talking about, but if you're over 40, I know you've had the same experience I used to have, and you probably know how interesting those infomercials used to be at 2:00 in the morning when you couldn't sleep. They would make astounding promises of wonderful benefits to be had for just $14.99, plus shipping and handling. Were they true? I don't know. I can honestly say I never ordered anything from a late-night infomercial. I was tempted several times, but I lived with my parents and I knew my dad would be really mad at me. 

Infomercial pitchmen aren't the only ones who specialize in making incredible-sounding promises. In the Gospel, God makes astounding but true promises, promising us what we really need - redemption, forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, and more. But even though these are the things we really need, they're not always the things we most feel we want or need. Our "felt needs" could be for greater self-esteem, more money, a happier marriage, more successful children, or miraculous healing from some disease or disability. Sadly, too many religious peddlers will promise the things we want or think we need, even if God has not promised them to us.

How should we respond to preachers who seem to be telling us that, if we just believe strongly enough or do the right things or give enough money, God will answer all of our prayers and we'll be healthy and wealthy and completely happy? Or what do we do about other preachers who proclaim that God accepts everyone just the way they are - no faith or repentance are required - and that everyone will get into heaven in the end? 

Peter calls these men and women "false teachers" who "secretly bring in destructive heresies." These people are so often motivated by greed, and in their greed they seek to exploit the people of God with false words. God foresaw such people's rise in the church and proclaimed condemnation and destruction for them. 

So, far from seeing such teachers as harmless or as basically good people who mean well and are doing the best they can, Peter openly and strongly condemns false teachers and warns us against them. They are heading for a really rude awakening, for destruction and condemnation. Would we want to risk falling under their charm and following them into such a future? Of course not! 

So, what do we do? We must study the Scriptures and test everything by the clear light of God's word. We must discern carefully and at times we must warn those who teach falsely of the error of their message and the consequences of their actions. We should pray for their repentance and for the protection of the church. And we should make sure we are helping to teach and spread the truth of the biblical Gospel, for the glory of God! 

Friday, October 11, 2019

2 Peter, Day 6: 2 Peter 1:20-21 - How Did We Get the Bible?

How Did We Get the Bible?
2 Peter, Day 6

. . . knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21, ESV

Did Moses write Genesis or did God? Are the Psalms of David the creative work of David the Shepherd-King of Israel or the written word of God? Let me ask a different question: Is light a particle or a wave? What does light have to do with the inspiration of Scripture? I believe it is an excellent analogy.

Light is a particle and a wave. These two seem like a contradiction, but light is both. Albert Einstein believed that light was a particle that moved like a wave. But the photon particles of light actually become waves. Jesus is the word of God made flesh. He was always God and He became and remains human. Scripture is the word of God, given through men in such a way that it is also the words of men.  

2 Peter says that Scripture does not originate with people. Scripture comes neither from the interpretation of men nor from the will of men. It is the word of God, coming from God by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And yet "men spoke." The words of Psalm 23 were sung by David. The words of Isaiah 53 were spoken by the prophet Isaiah. 

When Jesus quoted from the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament, He sometimes referred to them as the words of God and at other times referred to them as being the words of their human authors, namely Moses and David (Matthew 8:4 & 22:43-45). 

We don't believe in a dictation theory of Scripture inspiration, because if God dictated His word in such a way that the prophets were mere pens in His hands, Jesus would not have used the phrases "Moses commanded" and "David said." These are authentically the words of these men. Many of David's psalms, for example, reflect his own feelings and experiences.

Yet Jesus also said that every word of Scripture was the word of God (Matthew 5:18 & 15:3). As Peter says, "men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."  Is it a mystery to understand how a written word can be both the word of God and the words of a man? Yes, just like it is a mystery how light can be both a particle and a wave and how Jesus can be both true God and true man. Yet just because a truth is mysterious doesn't make it untrue; in fact, if the things of God weren't mysterious to us, beyond our full comprehension, we might wonder if they really came from God.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

2 Peter, Day 5: 2 Peter 1:16-21 - How Confident Can We Be in the Gospel?

How Confident Can We Be in the Gospel?
2 Peter, Day 5

"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
- 2 Peter 1:16-21, ESV

What would you do if you got onto a plane, readying for takeoff, and the pilot came on the intercom and said, "Welcome aboard! We're flying a somewhat reliable aircraft today that's been basically maintained okay. We anticipate a few problems and errors along the way but hopefully nothing too serious." I don't know about you, but I would immediately be on my feet, heading to the nearest exit. 

Is that the way you think about the Bible? Is that what you think about the reliability of  the Gospel of Jesus Christ? If you wouldn't trust such a plane to fly you from one city to another, why would you trust a "somewhat reliable" and "basically okay" Gospel to get you eternal life? You wouldn't, and you shouldn't. 

Thankfully, we have a very reliable Gospel from an absolutely trustworthy God given through faithful eyewitnesses. Peter is emphasizing the reliability of the Gospel message through two main pieces of evidence: eyewitness testimony and fulfilled prophecy. The Bible says that by two or three witnesses, a matter is established. Jesus had more than two or three eyewitnesses to so much of what He said and did. 

Peter highlights the Mount of Transfiguration, where he and James and John were three eyewitnesses to the glorification of Jesus and the affirming testimony of not only Moses and Elijah, who appeared on the mountain with Jesus, but the very voice of God the Father Himself, speaking from heaven. Thus, we have three eyewitnesses to an event that itself had three witnesses. 

Think of the number of people who saw Jesus feed the 5,000 or raise Lazarus from the dead. Over 512 people saw Jesus Himself resurrected. We have a number of reliable eyewitness accounts, which have come to us in the four Gospels and in the New Testament epistles. 

And yet, we have been given still more, to strengthen our confidence still further. Peter says "we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed." The words of the prophets have all been fully confirmed in the person and work of Jesus. Micah told us He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Samuel told us He would be the Son of David (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Isaiah told us He would minister in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2) and that he would be rejected and would die for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53). David described in detail how He would be crucified (Psalm 22:14-18). Both Isaiah and David foretold His glorious resurrection (Psalm 22:21-28 & Isaiah 53:10-12). 

The eyewitness testimony of so many confirms the fulfillment of so much detailed prophecy. Together, they give us an absolutely solid confidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and Savior of sinners who trust in Him.

Monday, October 7, 2019

2 Peter, Day 4: 2 Peter 1:11-15 - Do We Have Our Priorities Right?

Do We Have Our Priorities Right?
For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
- 2 Peter 1:11-15, ESV

I've been thinking a lot about college entrance lately. I've known a lot about the college admissions process for years, because I used to be a high school teacher and then a school administrator before I became a pastor. But now, it's personal, because I have a 15-year-old high school sophomore. I find myself often urging him to "make every effort" at school and in life, and I have college admissions in the back of my mind.

Peter has been urging Christians to "make every effort" to cultivate godly character: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. He also has an important entrance in mind, but it's far more important than college admissions. He has told us that, as we cultivate godly character by God's grace, we will be fruitful and effective and we will confirm our calling and election. 

With our calling and election confirmed, we will never fall. Instead, we will be richly provided "an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." That beats any college entrance, for sure! Now, we need to be careful and read Peter accurately. Salvation is entirely a gift of God's free grace through Jesus Christ from first to last. We do not earn entrance into Christ's eternal, glorious kingdom by cultivating godly character. Rather, cultivating godly character serves to confirm that we have been called and chosen to receive this kingdom entrance. 

The sad truth is that many people make professions of faith in Jesus Christ and then fall away. Many people shipwreck their faith on the rocks of sin, doubt, worldliness, and apostasy. They fail to confirm their calling and election, instead showing they remain blind to the light of the Gospel, ignorant of the truth, and lost in their sin. I don't know about you, but I don't want to be one of those shipwrecks. But I dare not trust in myself to keep myself; instead, I need to look always and only to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. 

That's where Peter was looking as his life was drawing to a close. He says, "I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me." He has trusted in Jesus and walked with Jesus for a many years by this time, and now he knows Jesus is going to bring him home.

But before Peter leaves this life, he writes this final letter, to ensure that his testimony, his instructions, and his priorities will be clear for the church for the ages to come. Here we sit 2,000 years later reading it. 

Peter made every effort to keep his priorities right, not in his own strength, but in reliance on his faithful Savior. Do we have our priorities right? Are we looking to Jesus, with one eye on His coming heavenly kingdom and the other on His people and how we might bless them during our time here in this body? We have the most glorious entrance imaginable - no, beyond imagining - waiting for us. Is it our highest priority to confirm our calling and election to enter and our next highest priority to help others to gain entrance, too?

Friday, October 4, 2019

2 Peter, Day 3: 2 Peter 1:5-10 - How Should We Respond to God's Amazing Gifts?

How Should We Respond to God's Amazing Gifts?
2 Peter, Day 3

"For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall."
- 2 Peter 1:5-10, ESV

Larry Bird was not the most athletically gifted basketball player of his generation, but he is remembered today as one of the greatest players to ever play the game because no one would ever out-work him. Many of the most extraordinarily gifted athletes on the planet never made it to the pros, because they waste their gifts by not working hard to develop what they had been given. 

God has given us amazing gifts through the Gospel. We have been given an equal standing before God with the apostles. "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness." His precious and very great promises have made us partakers of the divine nature, as we share in the life and righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. These gifts are astonishing! 

So, what do we do now? Do we just sit back and enjoy the ride to heaven, paid for by Jesus? No! Peter tells us that because God has given us such amazing gifts, we should "make every effort" - in other words, because God has been so good to us, we should respond by working hard to make the most of what we've been given. If you've been gifted, use the gifts you've been given.

What are we to make every effort to do?  Peter tells us "to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." We are to cultivate the godly character God has given us the ability to cultivate by His grace. Remember, it is His divine power that has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness. So, these godly character qualities are not things we produce ourselves. Rather, we work to develop in our lives what God has already given us!

Why do we need to make every effort to develop these qualities? Peter tells us "if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We don't want to be ineffective and unfruitful, do we? We want to be productive and effective for God's kingdom and glory, right?

Then, Peter gives us some negative motivation in the form of a warning: "whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." So, not only do we want to be effective and fruitful, but we most certainly don't want to be blind and forgetful.

Growing in godly character is not an option add-on to the life a believer has in Christ. It is the necessary outworking of that life in Christ. As we cultivate the character of Christ, we "confirm [our] calling and election" and we're strengthened with another great promise: "If you practice these qualities you will never fall." So, by the grace of God, with the gifts His divine power has given us, let's make every effort to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love! 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

2 Peter, Day 2: 2 Peter 1:2-4 - How Precious and Great are God's Promises?

How Precious and Great are God's Promises?

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

- 2 Peter 1:2-4, ESV

Growing up, I used to love watching The Price is Right, especially on days when I was home sick from school. My favorite part of The Price is Right was the Showcase Showdown. I especially loved the really big showcases where they kept revealing more and more items, usually capped off by a new car or some incredible trip somewhere. Later in life, when I was waiting tables, I would sometimes wind down by watching late-night infomercials, which would always add more to the deal they were offering by saying, "But wait, there's more!"

Not to be irreverent and compare God's word to a late-night infomercial or a game show, but sometimes, when I think about the Gospel, it hits me that it's the ultimate prize package: Just when we think we've heard it all - forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, no condemnation - God seems to say, "But wait, there's more!"

Last time, we looked at the incredible reality that we stand on the same ground before God as the Apostles, because we are all standing on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Today, we read on in 2 Peter 1 and discover still more wonderful Gospel treasure:

First, we find out that God multiplies grace and mercy to us in the knowledge of God and of Christ Jesus. This means that God continually pours out His undeserved favor and kindness, His patience and love, as we grow in the knowledge of Him. We don't just receive grace and mercy one time at the moment of coming to faith in Jesus, but grace and mercy multiply to us throughout our lives.

Second, we learn that God's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness." This means that God has already given us everything we need for real eternal life and a life of true godliness. We already have all we need! 

And third, we see that "He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature." The purpose of God's precious and very great promises are that we may partake of His very nature. This is almost too good to be true - God has not only allowed us to stand before Him on the perfect righteousness of Christ and multiplied His grace and mercy to us, and He has not only granted us everything we need for life and godliness, but He has done this by promising us that we will be partakers of the divine nature. 

In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, not only are we forgiven, cleansed and accepted by God, but God gives Himself to us, so that we can partake of His very life, His eternal life. The eternal life we're given is the very life of God. The perfect righteousness we're given is the very righteousness of God. This is a grace so amazing that we won't even begin to grasp the depth of the riches of it in this life. 

So often, when you watch a TV game show or a late-night infomercial, you find out that the deal promised isn't really as good as it seems. After all, the game show is just after high ratings, and the infomercial is just trying to sell a product. But God is no salesman, and the Gospel is no gimmick. The promises God makes, He keeps to the full. And that makes His promises precious and very great indeed!    

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

2 Peter, Day 1: 2 Peter 1:1 - How Does Our Standing Before God Compare with the Apostles?

How Does Our Standing Before God Compare with the Apostles?
2 Peter, Day 1

Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
- 2 Peter 1:1, ESV

Have you ever met someone truly great? I grew up in an Air Force family. I remember in 1987, at age 13, meeting the 4-star general who commanded the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). I shook his hand and said how I was never going to wash my hand because I had shaken the hand of a 4-star general! 

Well, I'm much more mature now, of course, but I still have my list of spiritual heroes, people I can't wait to meet in heaven: John Calvin, John Knox, Augustine, Matthew Henry, Jeremiah Burroughs, and several others. And of course, the apostles are amazing heroes of the faith! Imagine sitting down for breakfast with Peter and Paul. 

Thinking like this really makes the opening verse of 2 Peter splash us in the face with some amazing grace-filled reality. Peter writes to a group of ordinary, unnamed Christians (really, it's addressed as a letter to all Christians), and while he clearly identifies himself as an apostle, he also tells these ordinary Christians that they "have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours." 

Our faith is of equal standing with the faith of the apostles! What Peter is saying is that we stand on the same ground before God as the apostles themselves. While they were called by Jesus personally to serve in a special role, we are full equals in our spiritual standing before God.

How is this possible? How can ordinary Christians have "a faith of equal standing" with the twelve apostles? Well, Peter tells us how. It is because both we and the apostles have our standing before God "by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ." 

No one can stand before God on his own merit. No one can access God any other way but through Jesus Christ. Here's what we so often miss: The righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ is absolutely perfect and complete. Nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken away from it. So, if we stand before God by His righteousness, our standing before God is perfect and complete. 

Our faith is of equal standing because our faith is in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is perfect. Whatever sins we have committed, His blood covers and cleanses. Whatever shortcomings we may have, His righteousness has none whatsoever. This is why our standing is equal, secure and perfect, and our access to God is with confidence and assurance - not because of us, but always and only because of HIM! 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

1 Peter, Day 29: 1 Peter 5:12-14 - How Can We Bless One Another in the Lord?

How Can We Bless One Another in the Lord?
1 Peter, Day 29

By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
- 1 Peter 5:12-14, ESV

I've always had a hard time knowing what to get my dad for Christmas. Most of the time, he says he doesn't want anything, but I still feel like I should get him something. It's frustrating to be in a position where you want to bless someone but you're not sure how. 

As believers, we want to be a blessing to our brothers and sisters in Christ, don't we? But we don't always know how, do we? Here in the closing few verses of 1 Peter, Peter gives us a great example of a variety of ways we can bless each other in the Lord:

1. By using our gifts to help each other. Silvanus helped Peter write this letter, as he had helped Paul write some of his letters. (Silvanus is also known as Silas.) He apparently had a great gift for writing, and he used it to help the apostles and the churches. 

2. By thanking and recognizing one another for our service. Peter thanks Silvanus for using his gifts to serve him and the church.

3. By exhorting one another and declaring the true grace of God to one another. Peter's letter is a beautiful combination of rich Gospel truth and loving exhortation to live out the grace of God in the Gospel. We should be reminding each other of the grace of God in Jesus Christ and of our call to live according to that grace. "Stand firm in it."

4. By demonstrating concern and affection for one another. God calls us to love each other. Among other things, that means we should be concerned for each other's well being and we should demonstrate affection toward one another in culturally appropriate ways. 

5. Speaking words of blessing to each other. "Peace to all of you who are in Christ."  We should speak words of blessing - "May the Lord bless you." "May the Lord give you His peace." 

In these five ways - serving one another, thanking each other, exhorting and reminding one another, demonstrating concern and affection for each other, and speaking words of blessing to one another - we become vessels of God's blessing and we truly bless one another. It may seem awkward or uncomfortable at first, but we see this pattern throughout the epistles of the New Testament and in the life of the early church. If we follow this pattern, we will be blessed and we will be a blessing to each other, to the glory of God and the strengthening of His church.   

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

1 Peter, Day 28: 1 Peter 5:10-11 - What Can We Look Forward To?

What Can We Look Forward To?
1 Peter, Day 28

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- 1 Peter 5:10-11, ESV

I remember when I was a kid, I really looked forward to Christmas. My mom loved to over-do Christmas, and while my dad wasn't always super-excited about it, I know I was! As I got older, I began to look forward to going off to college, moving out of the house and into a dorm. Then, I looked forward to getting married. When we found out my wife was pregnant, we looked forward to becoming parents. 

At some point, and I'm not sure when, I think I stopped looking forward to the next thing to come in this life. My oldest son is less than three years away from college, but I can't really say I'm looking forward to that, or to his driving, which will come even sooner, I think. So, what can I look forward to?

Part of the benefit of stopping always looking forward in this life is that it allows you to enjoy and be thankful for the now, for God's present blessings. But the now often involves real struggle, conflict, temptation, and even persecution. So, what can we look forward to? 

Well, in a word: everything! As believers in Jesus Christ, we have everything to look forward to! Peter tells us that "the God of all grace . . . will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." In this life we suffer "a little while," but the glorious day is coming when everything we have lost will be restored with much more added, everything we have been questioned in believing will be confirmed, our weakness will be strengthened perfectly, and our wavering hope will be established firmly. 

When can we expect this glorious restoration, confirmation, strengthening, and establishing? God does bring these blessings in seasons in this life, but the fullness and permanence of these gifts will be ours in eternal glory. When Jesus comes again, and He defeats every enemy, and His reign is established forever, then we will be established with Him forever. 

And this reality brings us to the most amazing and exciting thing we have to look forward to: God has called us to His eternal glory in Christ. We will be fully restored, confirmed, strengthened, and established when we are enjoying God's eternal glory forever in Christ. Imagine enjoying the glory of God forever! That's beyond our wildest imagination! 

I don't know about you, but I am most definitely looking forward to that glorious day! 

Monday, September 16, 2019

1 Peter, Day 27: 1 Peter 5:6-9 - How Can We Resist the Devil?

How Can We Resist the Devil?
1 Peter, Day 27

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. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
- 1 Peter 5:6-9, ESV

"You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." With these words, the Borg on Star Trek would subdue their enemies and assimilate them into the collective. At times, living as Christian in a fallen and rebellious world, our hearts can begin to believe that resistance to the world, our flesh, and the devil is perhaps even more futile than resistance to the Borg. 

That can't be true, though, can it? Not if we believe the Bible and trust in Christ. So, how can we resist the devil effectively? How can our resistance be more than futile? 

Step one is humble submission to God. Too often we don't see the connection between verse nine's call to resist the devil and verse six's call to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. But here's the truth: Only God's hand is mighty enough to give us the strength to resist the devil.

However, some Christians have mistaken humble submission to God with complete passivity. "Let go and let God" might sound nice and pious, but it's unbiblical and unhelpful advice. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and He strengthens us by His grace, He calls us to action. We are to be sober-minded and watchful. This means we are to be in a constant state of prayer and alertness.

Only when we watch and pray will we be strengthened against entering into temptation (Matt 26:41). We don't just need to humbly submit to God's mighty hand, but we also need to actively depend on God for wisdom to discern righteousness and strength to obey Him. 

When we are watching and praying, we need to take our enemy seriously, knowing he is actively seeking to harm, disarm, sideline, or destroy us. However, we do not need to be paralyzed by fear. We need to be walking in the freedom and confidence that comes from walking closely with the Lord and in His strength, not our own. We are told that if we are walking with the Lord, we can resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). So, be watchful and prayerful, but not anxious and fearful. How? Only by God's grace! 

Finally, we need to resist our enemy knowing we are not alone. We find great strength in solidarity, knowing that we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world engaged in the same battle. Don't give into the thinking that you are standing alone or that no one understands what you face. You are not alone. We are all in this together. One of the best ways to stand strong is to be actively praying for one another. 

So, resistance is not futile. In fact, resistance is a key to being fruitful as a Christian. Resist the devil, the world and your flesh - by humbling yourself before God, being watchful and prayerful in His strength, resisting the lies and enticements of our enemy, and praying for your brothers and sisters who suffer and resist with you.  

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.