1 PETER #30: SHEPHERDS AND CHIEF SHEPHERDS

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In this text, Peter gives instructions to Christian leaders. In pointing out the kind of person a leader should be, he is actually pointing beyond all human leaders, to the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and the qualities we find in Him.

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Let’s remember who is writing this letter. It is Peter, whom all the gospels portray as the leader among the twelve apostles. The gospel of Mark was probably already written and known, as was possibly Matthew. Even before these were well known, certainly stories about Jesus were widely circulated, and many of them included Peter. He knew Jesus personally. He was one of only three who were chosen to see Jesus revealed in glory at the transfiguration. He was the only person besides Jesus Christ himself, who ever walked on water. After the day of Pentecost, it was Peter who preached the sermon that led to three-thousand people being saved. Several times he stood before the leaders of the nation of Israel, and proclaimed the truth of Jesus. He was imprisoned, beaten and persecuted for his trust in Jesus. Once, he was miraculously delivered from execution. God used him to heal many people; so much so that, at one period in Jerusalem, sick people would lay in the street in the hopes that Peter’s shadow would fall on them as he walked past.

It is this Peter who now wants to speak a word to church elders – that is, the leaders of local house churches. He could have said: “I command you, as the one God used to heal dozens of people.” He could have written: “As the only person besides Jesus to walk on water, I say…” There are many ways he could have reminded these leaders that they should listen to him. Instead, he writes: “As a fellow elder.” This section ends with Peter urging everyone to be humble, and he certainly put humility into practice here. Though he could have commanded them as an acknowledged leader, instead, he appeals to them as an equal.

I want to use this text to briefly talk about leadership in the early church. Peter appeals to the “elders.” He does not simply mean “the oldest people in the church.” By this time, the word “elder,” for Christians, meant a specific kind of church leader. A lot of elders were indeed older men. But there were also younger men like Timothy who were considered church elders. In other words, the term is more about leadership than it is about age.

There are other words used for the same kind of leader. The term “overseer” (sometimes translated “bishop”) seems to be interchangeable with the term “elder” in the New Testament. Finally, there is a third name given to this same type of church leader: “shepherd.” The Greek word for shepherd was later translated into a Latin word that is still commonly used in English today: pastor. In the New Testament, all three of these words are talking about church leaders who were responsible for directing the affairs of the church, and for teaching and preaching, and caring for the members. Not all of the elders were necessarily teachers and preachers, but virtually all of the teachers and preachers were supposed to be elders.

Here is a brief description of a church elder:

6 An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. 7 A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
8 Rather, he must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must love what is good. He must live wisely and be just. He must live a devout and disciplined life. 9 He must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong.

(Titus 1:6-9, NLT)

Here’s another passage. This time the Greek term used for “church leader” is “overseer,” but you can see it is talking about exactly the same thing:

1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
6 A church leader must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. 7 Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.

(1 Timothy 3:1-7, NLT)

With this passage, Peter adds his own instructions to elders. This is all relevant to elders, of course, but it is also relevant to all Christians. Peter is describing the kind of pastor/church leader you should seek out and value. You can use this text to hold pastors accountable, if you need to, including me, by the way.

First, we should shepherd God’s flock. A shepherd leads the flock to places where there is food, water, and safety. So, elders should lead churches to spiritual food and drink through God’s Word (the Bible), prayer and fellowship. In addition, as the verses I just quoted say, an elder needs to protect the church from bad teaching, from things that lead people astray. What this amounts to is good, sensible teaching of the Bible. Teaching elders should take their responsibilities very seriously:

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

(James 3:1, ESV)

Frankly, I have met many people who call themselves pastors or elders who do not take this nearly seriously enough. I suspect that there are many people who take it upon themselves to teach and preach, who really ought not to. When I read what Peter writes here, I am reminded of a conversation he had with Jesus after the resurrection:

15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Feed My lambs,” He told him.
16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”
“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.

( John 21:15-17, HCSB)

So Peter, nearing the end of his own life, is passing on the same charge to the next generation of church leaders: “Shepherd the people! Feed them spiritually, care for them as a shepherd does for the sheep.”

The next piece I get from Peter’s words is that the flock belongs to God. I have never had “my own” church. I have only ever had the privilege of caring for parts of God’s flock. Sometimes we pastors, talking shop to one another, say things like, “In my church…” I don’t think that is so terrible, as long as we remember that it isn’t really our own church, not ever. We are only caretakers of Jesus’ church.

The next thing Peter says is that elders should serve willingly, not because they feel forced to. I knew a pastor who went to seminary during the Vietnam War, to escape the draft. He hated ministry, and wasn’t even sure he believed in God, but he felt he had to continue to be a pastor or he would be a hypocrite. What he couldn’t see was that he was a hypocrite anyway. He served under compulsion.

At one time I felt as if I was locked in to being a pastor, and I took this verse seriously: I quit. During the next three years God showed me that I really am supposed to be one of his under-shepherds, an elder in his church, and ever since then I have felt privileged to be called to this ministry.

Next, elders are not supposed to be in it for the money. That’s a good thing for me, because if I was in it for the money, I’ve been doing it very wrong! I’m not complaining, by the way, but I haven’t exactly built a ministry empire for myself, nor a cash-cow. However, we all know about church leaders who have built private empires and cash cows. I would not want to be them when they have to explain themselves to Jesus.

Elders are not to be domineering. Here, we see part of why Peter appeals to them only as a fellow elder, not as one of the great leaders of the church. He is putting his own words into practice. Though he could command them, he is leading in the same way he wants them to lead: humbly, with love, appealing to them, not trying to dominate or browbeat them. Above all, he is leading by example, and exhorting them to do the same.

Finally, elders are to look for honor and reward not in this life, but when Jesus returns. Being a pastor – at least the way Peter teaches us to – is not always a glorious thing. I have as much education as most attorneys, but generally, especially these days, pastors are respected less than lawyers, doctors and other professions. But our full reward is in Jesus, in the New Creation, not in the here and now. We can be patient, knowing that God sees our work, even when others don’t. Just as we are not supposed to be just in it for the money, nor are we supposed to be elders/pastors in order to build our own reputation.

Those who are not elders have responsibilities toward their leaders, as well. Peter says that the rest of the church should listen to the elders. This agrees with many other parts of the New Testament. Here are just two examples:

17 Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.

(Hebrews 13:17, NLT)
17 Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18, NLT)

Now, as I have said, these things give us a good basis to evaluate whether a leader in the church is worthy of our trust and respect. That is good and helpful. But when we consider the characteristics of our leaders, we should also find in them things to imitate. The author of Hebrews writes:

7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.

(Hebrews 13:7, NLT)

We may or may not have a leadership position in the church, but these instructions to elders are things we can all aspire to emulate. If I reflect any of these qualities at all, it is because I learned them not only from reading the Bible, but also from watching more mature believers whom I admire, and aspire to be like. The first such person in my life is my own father, and there were many others also, who showed me by their own lives what real Christians should be like. The goal is not only to imitate such people, but eventually to become the sort of person yourself that others can look at, and imitate.

And of course, the real life that they are reflecting (and that we want to reflect) is the life of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, our focus moves from helpful (though flawed) leaders to Jesus himself. We want our life to reflect and resemble His life, to show His love and grace to the world.

1 PETER #29: THE GLORY OF SUFFERING

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Suffering and glory are deeply connected. Any story that inspires us involves suffering. The more suffering there is in a story, the more glorious it is when the suffering ends, or is redeemed somehow. God wants to include us in his glory, and that means that suffering should not be considered unusual for those of us who follow Jesus. However, in our suffering, we can be confident that God is holding us in his hands, and remains in control. We can trust that he loves us, even in the middle of difficult times. There will be an end to suffering and then we will be participants in God’s glory.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 29

1 PETER #29. 1 PETER 4:12-19

12 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. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 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? 18 And
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

(1 Peter 4:12-19, ESV)

Before we jump into this passage, I want to use it to reinforce something I’ve talked about before. If you look at the New King James Version, it will have this at the end of verse 14: “On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” The Old KJV has something similar. These words were almost certainly not written by Peter, but rather, were added in two our three hundred years later by a scribe. The KJV (and versions derived from it) has such things from time to time, because it is based on fewer ancient manuscripts. This is an example of why I don’t rely on those versions (though I do compare them to other versions quite often). It is also why I think the people who claim that the KJV is the only legitimate version of the Bible are seriously ignorant and mistaken.

By the way, although there are a number of things going on in this passage, I’m going to focus on the main thing. Sometimes I worry that I get us too bogged down with every detail. So, let’s get to the heart of the text. There is a fascinating historical aspect to this passage. At the very beginning of this letter, Peter uses the image of gold being tested in fire. He says, at that point, that trials test our faith in a similar way, adding that our faith is more precious and more enduring than gold:

6 So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 7 These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

(1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT, formatting added for emphasis)

Now, in our text this time (chapter four), Peter says, “don’t be surprised when the testing fire comes upon you.” Peter is aware of the political climate of the Roman Empire. He knows that emperor Nero has it out for Christians, and so he wants people everywhere to be prepared to suffer for following Jesus. What Peter did not know was the literal role that fire would play in the upcoming persecutions and sufferings of Christians. Probably within a year of this letter (two, at the most) a great fire burned much of the city of Rome. Some historians speculate that Nero himself ordered the fire to be set, so he could rebuild the parts of Rome that burned. Whether or not that is true, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire, though there was no evidence that they were involved either deliberately or accidentally. He used the fire as an excuse to begin a deliberate, systematic city-wide persecution on Christians, imprisoning many, having some killed for entertainment in the circuses,  and executing others outright. Even more horrifically, he had some of them bound to stakes in the complex of the imperial palace, and he burned them alive to light up the area at night.

Many Christians chose to flee from Rome during this intense period of persecution. Apparently some of them convinced Peter to leave, also, but on his way out of the city, he changed his mind and turned back, entrusting himself to Jesus in either life or death, which shows that he practiced what he preached here. He was put to death.

I have to believe that when the believers in the provinces heard of all this, and re-read his letter, telling them not to be surprised at the fire of suffering, they were comforted. There is no way Peter could have known that the coming trials were going to involve actual fire. But God knew what was going to happen, and the Holy Spirit slipped in those references to fire to remind everyone that He was not surprised by it, that nothing whatsoever that happens can take them outside of His loving arms.

Peter connects suffering to glory. Paul does the same thing in Romans 8:16-18

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

(Romans 8:16-18, ESV)

Let’s think about this connection between suffering and glory for a moment. Picture a man who was born into a happy, wealthy family. He grows up with every advantage, and never knows a day’s need in his life. He has been raised as a Christian, and he thanks God for the goodness of his life. His parents send him to the best prep schools, and then an elite university. He meets his wife there. They get married, and start their careers. Set up in life this way, they are successful in their professions, and wealthy. They have two beautiful children who are healthy and happy. They continue to follow God, and then they grow old, and die, and will stand with Jesus in the new creation.

Now, how glorious is that story? It’s a nice thing. We all want that sort of life. There is a glory to the goodness of God there. But let’s compare the glory of that to another story.

Imagine a young lad in the seventeen hundreds in England. His mother is a strong Christian, but dies of tuberculosis two weeks before he turns seven years old. His father is a sailor, and the boy is passed around from place to place a bit, until he is eleven, when he too, becomes a sailor. At this time in history, sailing is a very hard life, with brutal work and even more brutal discipline. He becomes a wild and unruly young man. At one point, after becoming a junior officer, he is given eight-dozen lashes with the whip for disobedience, and is stripped of his rank. After healing, trying to find a better situation, he transfers to another ship, this one used in the African slave trade. His new shipmates don’t like him much, and when they arrive in Africa, the captain illegally binds him, and sells him into slavery. This did happen to Europeans at times. The young man ends up in slavery to an African princess who mistreats him horribly.

After three years as a slave, during which time life is miserable, he is finally rescued. And yet, on the trip back to England, his ship is caught in a storm, and almost sinks. During the storm, he prays to God, and begins, slowly to open his heart to Jesus Christ. The ship finally limps into port safely. He continues to work in the slave trade, eventually becoming the captain of a slave-trade transport ship. Yet, at the same time, this man continues to grow as a Christian. Eventually, he realizes that the slave trade is incompatible with his Christian faith, and he leaves the trade to become a pastor. In fact, not long after, he begins to work for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. He grows older, still working hard for abolition, but still seeing great resistance to it. He has almost despaired of living to see the abolition of slavery, but when he is a very old man, at last the English parliament passes a law making slavery, and the slave trade, illegal. During the middle of his life, while working for abolition, this man writes the most famous Christian hymn of the English language: Amazing Grace.

The second story is, obviously, the true story of John Newton. Newton went through a great deal of hardship and suffering, and involved himself in the shameful slave trade. Yet, I would have to say that his story is more glorious than the first one. It is glorious precisely because of the suffering.

Most people would not be interested in a movie about the first life. Many people did watch the movie of John Newton’s life: Amazing Grace. The truth is, the stories that capture our imagination, the ones that mean the most to us, involve suffering. The story of a young woman from an elite family who had advantages and connections and then became a successful CEO is not particularly interesting. But a story about a woman who grew up poor, and was dyslexic, and was mugged four times as a youngster, who taught herself to read, and overcame all her disadvantages to become a CEO – that is inspiring.

My point is that glory and suffering are connected in some way. I would almost guarantee that any story (true, or fictional) that ever captured your imagination, or inspired you, involved suffering of some kind. The more suffering in the story, the more glorious when finally the suffering is overcome, or redeemed. When Peter says: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” he means that because we are destined for a glorious future, we should not be surprised about a difficult present. When we suffer in Christ, glory is being created in our future.

This raises a question, then, about what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ. First, Peter clearly means suffering that comes about because we are Christians. So, if someone mocks us for being Christian, that is “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” If we lose a job because of our Christian principles, it is the same. Obviously, if we are beaten, imprisoned or executed for a being a Christian, those things are sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Peter clarifies that he’s not talking about suffering for things like committing a crime. We can’t claim that a proper punishment for a crime that we actually committed is suffering for Christ. In other words, sometimes you suffer as a consequence of your own bad choices – this is not the same as sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

I do think however, that Peter has more in mind than only persecution when he speaks of sharing the sufferings of Christ. He adds, in verse 19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (1 Peter 4:19, ESV). I think the primary meaning of “suffer according to God’s will” is not, “God desires you to suffer,” but rather, “when you encounter suffering, God desires you to go through it in a way that is consistent with your faith in Jesus.”

There is a secondary meaning, I believe to “suffer according to God’s will.” I think all of Christian suffering ends up connected, in some way to the cross of Jesus Christ. Was it God’s will for the Romans, and  Jewish authorities, to sin by accusing an innocent man and putting him to death? No. Was it God’s will for the soldiers to indulge their brutality and sadism by beating Jesus, and mocking him? No: God desires no one to sin. God did not desire to inflict pain upon Jesus. So, in one sense it is entirely accurate to say: “God did not want Jesus to suffer the way he did.”

And yet, was it God’s will for Jesus to take on himself the sins of humankind by his suffering and death on the cross? Yes. Ephesians chapter one tells us that it was planned from before the foundation of the world. So, in another sense, just as true, it was God’s will for Jesus to suffer the way he did.

So we have a mystery here: God did not desire anyone to sin by hurting Jesus. And yet, when Jesus was suffering, he was completely fulfilling the will of God the Father. Jesus was not at the mercy of sin, or even chaos, while he suffered. He was held in the everlasting arms of the Father.

So it is with us. Because of Jesus’ suffering, we have seen the lengths God will go to save us. We have seen how much he loves us. When we suffer, we can trust God’s love for us, even when we don’t understand. And when we suffer, we can also trust that the universe is not spinning out of control, that God has a purpose in our emotional and physical pain, and that purpose will ultimately work for our good. When we suffer we must trust that God is still in control, and also that he is good, and he still loves us.

Let’s return to the image of the fiery trial. Did God want Nero to burn those Christians alive? Of course not! But were those Christians ultimately safe in the hands of a loving God, even in their terrible trial? Absolutely yes.

I think we have plenty to think about so far. It is a great comfort to me, thinking about the history connected to Peter, to know that God knew ahead of time what would happen to so many Christians. Those first readers of Peter’s letter would be able to see, from the words about the fiery trial, that God knew what was going on, and nothing could take them out of his hands. Perhaps that is what you need to hear today. God knew exactly where you would be, exactly what you would be going through at this time in your life. You are not adrift and alone in a chaotic universe. Through Jesus Christ, you are safe in the everlasting arms of our loving Father. I am not sitting comfortably  just proclaiming theology with no suffering of my own while I write this. I am in the fiery trial as well, and I have been for some time. This is not a meaningless platitude. It is true. Receive it in faith whether or not you feel like it, the truth is that if you belong to Jesus, you are safe and secure.

Remember also that your sufferings are creating a glorious story. Last time we learned that when God is glorified, we are blessed. So, through your suffering, as you share in the sufferings of Christ, God is indeed being glorified, and you are being blessed. Again, this is not a truth we always feel, but we hold on to it in faith.

Finally, we should not be surprised when we suffer. This is normal for those who follow Jesus. We should be surprised, instead, when we don’t suffer, and we should be deeply thankful for those calm, peaceful times. Millions of Christians in history, and certainly at least many hundreds of thousands today, are in a fiery trial of one sort or another. You are not alone. God has not looked away from you, or abandoned you. You are in good company, and in God’s loving hands.

1 PETER #28: TALENT ON LOAN FROM GOD

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To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 28

Our gifts, abilities and opportunities are given to us by God. In a way, they are loaned to us, and we are to use them not for ourselves, but rather to glorify God and bless other people. God has chosen to give us blessings when we live that way, though much of that blessing will not be fully ours until we stand in the New Creation. Recognizing all this, and living this way, is part of what it means to follow Jesus, and it will often make us stand out, and appear different from the world at large.

1 Peter #28. 1 Peter 4:7-11

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 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

Last time we looked at how following Jesus causes us to have a different way of looking at life, compared to the rest of the world. We don’t live for our passions and desires. Instead, we trust that in some ways, God has placed limits on us, and we try to live within those limits for God’s glory, and because, ultimately, that is what is best for us, too. Instead of a life focused on ourselves, we are called to live in selfless love, particularly love for other Christians.

Peter then unpacks some of what it means to live in God’s limits, loving others. First, he says, “show hospitality without grumbling.” Hospitality was an important value in the Old Testament, and it continued to be important in the New Testament church. One of the requirements for leaders in the church is that they are hospitable. In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2, just like here, all Christians are urged to engage in hospitality.

I think this is something that is often neglected among modern Western Christians. What, exactly, is hospitality? In the world of the New Testament, this applied to Christians caring for other Christians who were traveling, or new in town. Luke records a journey with Paul. In the passage below, you see over and over again that when they came to a city, they looked for other Christians, who took them in and housed them and fed them.

2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him.

(Acts 21:2-8, HCSB)

Of course, usually once they found believers, the believers were eager to host them. A few years before, they met Lydia, a god-fearing woman. Once she became a believer in Jesus, she immediately invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house.

4 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

(Acts 16:14-15, HCSB)

Hospitality also refers to hosting church gatherings. In New Testament times, and for three hundred years after, there were no church buildings. When churches gathered, it was in the homes of believers. Therefore, if no one opened their home, there would be no church gathering. Some churches apparently rotated their meeting place from home to home (Acts 5:42 & 20:20). Others apparently met most of the time in the same home (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, among others). Either way, unless Christians practiced hospitality, the church had no place to gather. In this way, the early church depended upon hospitality for its very existence. So Peter says, “don’t grumble about hosting each other.” From extensive experience, I can say that sometimes hosting church can be a bit of effort. But by far most of the time, it feels like a tremendous blessing to have church gatherings in our home.

Of the churches in the LTC network, some of us rotate from house to house, and others meet mainly in one home. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you have never hosted a house church gathering, I encourage you to try it sometime. It is a special kind of blessing.

By the way, this is one of those instances where the Bible makes a lot of sense to people who meet in house churches. In a church-building paradigm, these sorts of verses are harder to understand. But for house church folks, of course hospitality is an important topic. It’s obvious why Peter brings it up.

Peter goes on: “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).

Remember, Peter has given us a contrast between the ways of ungodly culture, and those who follow Jesus. Rather than following our own passions, or living for self-fulfillment, we trustingly accept the limits God places on us. That is the paradigm of self-control. Then we live, again not for ourselves, but for others, so that God may be glorified. Within that way of looking at things, Peter tells us to use our gifts as stewards of God’s grace.

You see, God did make each one of us with special purposes in mind. We are unique individuals, and we do have a calling and purpose. But we don’t find those things by looking within, or by “trying to be the best me I can be.” No, we find our calling, and our special purpose by living within God’s limits, and making it our purpose to love others and glorify God. When we trust God by living this way, he leads and directs us in many and various ways, according to how he made us. We do find fulfillment, but it is in God and his purposes, not in self. Our gifts, our uniqueness as individuals, are the result of God’s creation and intention. Peter tells us to use these things as “stewards of God’s varied grace.”

I want to unpack this a little bit. We don’t really use the word “steward” any more, except in some churches where “stewardship” essentially means “giving money.” But stewardship is much bigger than just money. Nowadays, a better word than “steward” might be “caretaker,” or even “manager.”

Imagine a person who manages a store. She is not the Owner of the store. However, she has a connection to the Owner. The Owner has hired her to make sure that the store fulfills its purpose: to serve customers, and make money, and perhaps be an important feature of a local community. The manager uses the resources of the store to accomplish the purposes of the Owner. She does get paid, but in addition to that, she might have a budget that amounts to millions of dollars each year. That is not money to spend on herself. Instead, her budget is a resource which should be used for the store: perhaps to buy goods, and hire employees, or maybe renovate the building. A manager takes care of resources that are not her own, and uses them responsibly on behalf of the Owner.

So we are called to be managers of God’s grace. The personality, talents and opportunities we have do not really belong to us. They have been entrusted to us by God, the Owner. We are to use such things on behalf of the Owner, to accomplish the purposes of the Owner.

Peter gives us just two examples. We aren’t supposed to think that these are the only two things we are to do in service to God – they are just representative examples. He says: “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.”

We understand what public speaking and teaching is. As far as “service,” the Greek word has a very broad range of meaning. Because Peter says to serve “by the strength God supplies,” I think he might have in mind physical types of service, like helping someone repair their home, or helping someone else in a physical way.

 I think Peter uses speaking and service as his two examples, because they are on either end of a kind of spectrum. Some people have a gift and calling to speak or teach. This kind of ministry usually involves standing in front of people, or in some way, openly communicating with many people at once. It’s a very visible kind of ministry, and often involves public leadership. Some of you might be called to some kind of public, visible ministry like that – it is a legitimate calling of God. For those who are called in that way, Peter urges us to treat it as a sacred trust. When I bring you these sermons, I am not doing something on my behalf, but rather I need to see it as God’s work. This isn’t my ministry – it is God’s, therefore I’m not supposed to be speaking my words, but God’s.

Service is a very different kind of ministry. It may not be public. It might appear very ordinary or mundane to some people. But again, Peter says, this, too is a sacred trust. When you serve, you don’t offer your strength and skill – you offer the strength and skill that actually belong to God.

So whether your gifts and calling are public and easy to see, or if they are quiet, and behind-the-scenes, or somewhere in between, they are from God, and should be used to benefit others and bring glory to God.

Just to make sure this is clear, let’s look at Romans 12:4-13, where Paul says something similar, but uses more examples than Peter:

4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

(Romans 12:4-13, NLT)

You can see the similarities here. Our talents and abilities are given to us to be used to bless others and glorify God. Here Paul lists a few more gifts than Peter, but this list is not exhaustive, either. It would be hard to catalog all of the different gifts God has given people to be used to bless others and glorify Him, because there are so many. Again, I think that’s why Peter lists only two – one very public and visible, and one fairly private and quiet. In other words, he means to include the entire spectrum that lies in between these two types of gifts. The point is, whatever gift or ability you have been given is a trust from God. You are a manager of those gifts, not the owner of them. Use them well on behalf of the owner. Of course, both Paul and Peter, in this, as in everything they write, are merely passing on the teaching of Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus used an illustration to talk about this subject of being a manager for God:

35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.
39 “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
41 Peter asked, “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?”
42 And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

(Luke 12:35-48, NLT)

I think we’ve got the point that our abilities and opportunities are on loan from God. I want to make sure we remember something else. God’s purpose for those things is twofold: to bless others and to glorify himself. Bringing blessing to others glorifies God. Glorifying God brings blessings to others. God did not have to design things that way, but he did. He made it so that when he is glorified, human beings are blessed. This is pure grace – we don’t deserve to be blessed, ever, yet God made it so that he is continually blessing us, because he is continually being glorified. When we become a part of that glorifying and blessing, we get additional blessings of joy and fulfillment.

Let’s go back to the store manager and owner. It’s a little bit like this: the store exists to serve the community and make money. When the community is served, money is made, and when money is made, the community is served. Not only that, but every time the community is served and money is made, the store manager gets a bonus! She is not just a drone that is being used up by the Owner. No! the Owner makes sure that the manager has a stake in the store doing what it is supposed to do. He makes sure that when she does her job well, she is rewarded. So now, when the community is served, and money is made, the store manager also benefits. This is how God deals with us.

Now, let’s be honest. There are times when you are glorifying God, and serving others, and you don’t get so much as “Hey, thanks!” At times, it feels hard to perceive that extra blessing, that reward that Jesus talks about. But in the words of Jesus, above, it sounds like the main reward is coming after he returns. We have many verses reminding us that God does indeed see our work for him, that he does see when we live within his limits, and love others, using the things he has entrusted to us for his glory:

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

(Galatians 6:7-10, NLT)

10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.

(Hebrews 6:10, NLT)

I think we have plenty here for application now. Some questions for application that you might ask: How does thinking about these things help me to live within God’s limits, while loving others? Are there ways that God is calling me to practice hospitality? What are the abilities and opportunities God has given me? How can I use those to bless others and glorify God? What encourages me to persevere in blessing others and glorifying God, even when I don’t seem to get much out of it? How can I help others see the abilities and opportunities God has given them, and encourage them to use those things as managers for God?

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about these things.

1 PETER #27: DEEP PASSIONS & DESIRES VS. SELF-CONTROL & LOVE

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It is easy to forget, but we Christians are really called to be strange compared to those who do not follow Jesus. We live with a completely different set of assumptions about life, a different way of looking at the world. Peter is calling us all to make a clean break with the ways of the world.

If God is in fact – well, God – then submitting to his will for us is the only path to true freedom. If we make life about our own deep passions and desires, it will wear us out, consume us, and leave us anxious and empty. In fact, today we have billions of people who feel exactly that way: weary, consumed, anxious and empty, always striving for something they can’t quite get ahold of.

Peter points us to a better way, a way based not upon feelings (no matter how deeply held), not based on the idea that we are free from all constraints, but on truth that exists outside of ourselves: instead of living for our passions, we live for God’s purposes. We let God set limits on us, because we trust that he is good, and has our best interests in his heart. We let God, who not only created us, but died to save us, define who we truly are.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 27

1 PETER #27. 1 PETER 4:1-11

Last time we took a close look at what Peter says about suffering. As we look at the “big picture” of verses 1-11 today, we might summarize it like this: “Be done with the things of ungodly culture, with the values and passions of those who don’t know Jesus (verses 1-6). Instead, live in response to Jesus Christ, and according to the values that Jesus teaches us, and by which his Holy Spirit leads us (verses 7-11).”

Let’s start with the first part of that: We should be done with the values, passions and habits of people who don’t follow God. In verse 1, Peter says that we should equip ourselves with the mindset of Christ. In view of God’s promises to us, we should be willing to suffer temporary troubles. They are temporary even if they last for our whole life in the flesh. Our struggles and sufferings will end at the resurrection, but the goodness to come will never end. With this in mind, we should be done with the ungodly world, and ungodly ways of thinking. The New Living Translation does an excellent job capturing the meaning of the Greek in verses 2-3:

2 You won’t spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God. 3 You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols. (1 Peter 4:2-3, NLT)

Peter is drawing out a significant difference between human culture (without God) and those who follow Jesus. Human culture ends up following their own passions and desires. Followers of Jesus, on the other hand, look at the world in such a way that we live in self-control, and love.

People in ungodly culture, Peter says, live for human passions. The NLT puts it “chasing your desires,” above. Our movies, music, politics, and even education, are relentlessly selling the message that in fact, we should live for our desires, whatever those desires happen to be. If we desire it (so the message goes) it is automatically right. The message seems to be that if we feel deeply in any particular way, about anything, it must automatically be good and right.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a forty year old single man named George who is deeply passionate about American Girl Dolls (this is a line of toy dolls intended generally for little girls, for anyone who doesn’t know). He collects them. He has all the books of stories about the dolls. He spends countless hours on the internet researching the dolls, the company, the stories, and finding and buying dolls. He even plays with the dolls. He frequently dresses up as one or another of the doll-characters. This passion consumes him. Most of his money ends up being used for this passion, one way or another. For George, life is about American girl dolls.

I think most of us would be tempted to say something like this: “Hey, it’s not for me, but, I’m not gonna judge. Everyone dances to a different beat, and if it makes him happy, and he’s not hurting anyone, good for him for not letting anyone talk him out of it.” I think we respond that way because we have been trained to believe that any deeply held passion must be automatically good. Certainly, we have been trained to believe that it is utterly wrong to criticize the passion of someone else. Even so, some of us might privately think that there is something that feels “unhealthy” about George’s passion.

Now, change the object of his passion. Instead of American girl dolls, suppose his passion is Harley-Davidson motorcycles. In that scenario, I believe we would be even less inclined to criticize. If some dude wants to give his life to motorcycles, and a particular motorcycle company, who are we to judge? Shift the passion to something in art, or music, or politics, and we don’t even notice that there is anything unusual.

But this is exactly what the Bible means by idolatry. Peter actually mentions the worship of idols in connection with ungodly passions. When we are so passionate about something that we live for those moments when we can indulge our passion, that thing, if it is not Jesus, is an idol.

I’ve spent some time with songwriters and musicians in Nashville. It is quite clear to me that for many people in Nashville, music is an idol. When we gather to sing, and listen, and share songs, that is their worship service. They live for music. This is hard. I think music can be an incredibly powerful force for good. I myself am passionate about music. But when we let any passion, even the passion for something good, like music, become the driving force in our lives, it can become an idol. When we live for it, it is an ungodly passion.

By the way, folks in our church here near Nashville sometimes hang out and sing and play, for the sheer joy of music. I’m not talking about that. We are doing so with a continuing recognition that music is so wonderful because it reflects the Spirit of God. We don’t worship music, but the God who made it, and we enjoy music as one of his gifts. Any gift of God might be properly enjoyed this way.

In contrast, what I’m talking about is letting your passions rule you. When your passion for something becomes more important than God, that’s when the problem begins. In fact, I would say the problem begins when any passion interferes with God’s design for your life. So, if George’s passion for American Girl Dolls takes so much time and energy that it keeps him from engaging in a community of Christians, if it interferes in his relationships with family, if it prevents him from holding a full time job, there is a problem. The same would be true if he had a similarly consuming passion for motorcycles, or a sports team.

Peter also specifically names sexual passions as problematic. Again, this strikes at the heart of our current culture. It is especially about sexuality that our culture says: “If you genuinely feel it, it must be good and right.” Our culture has come to believe that there is almost no such thing as an unhealthy sexual desire. If your desire is for someone other than your spouse, our culture says that it is the marriage that is the problem, not the desire. If your desire is for something that the Bible says is sinful, the culture tells us to get rid of the Bible, or to find a way to make it irrelevant to your desire.

Now, everyone does eventually draw the line somewhere. Almost no one agrees that it’s a good thing if adults feel deep sexual passion for children. Just about everyone draws the line there. But, without God, that line is arbitrary. Today, that particular moral line seems obvious to us. However, in the past, there were many, many other moral lines that seemed obvious to everyone, and those have now been erased in order to serve human desires. Unless we allow something or someone outside of ourselves to set the moral lines, those lines are always shifting. Unless we learn to stop living for human passions, eventually absolutely everything will be acceptable, as long as it proceeds from deep passion.

The problem with following human passion is that it is all about me. I become the final arbiter of what is good, and right and acceptable. I accept no authority over me, and it becomes my responsibility to discover my desires and their meanings. This is true of every individual in our modern society. The path of following my desires makes me into the god of my own life. Talk about lawless idolatry!

I want to emphasize that this is the real issue in our current culture. We follow our passions, and refuse to call any of them wrong, because we believe that each individual should be free to determine for themselves what is right, what is wrong, who they are, and what they want to do. God might be welcome as an advisor and assistant, someone to help people “become the people they want to be.” But people in our culture are not interested in a God who actually has the authority to say: “You must not do this,” or “You must do this.” We certainly don’t want God to impose any parameters on us about who we are supposed to be.

But if God is in fact – well, God – then submitting to his will for us is the only path to true freedom. If we make life about our own deep passions and desires, it will wear us out, consume us, and leave us anxious and empty. In fact, today we have billions of people who feel exactly that way: weary, consumed, anxious and empty, always striving for something they can’t quite get ahold of.

Peter points us to a better way, a way based not upon feelings (no matter how deeply held), not based on the idea that we are free from all constraints, but on truth that exists outside of ourselves: instead of living for our passions, we live for God’s purposes. We let God set limits on us, because we trust that he is good, and has our best interests in his heart. We let God, who not only created us, but died to save us, define who we truly are.

This begins, as Peter points out, with self-control: in other words, the opposite of simply following your passions and desires. Instead of letting them lead us, we – by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us – control our desires and passions. We are not our own gods. Instead, through Jesus Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God, and God (not our desires) is the one who directs and leads us.

This is completely against the culture of our times, just as it was in the days of Peter. Peter points out that when we control ourselves, ungodly people are surprised, and they malign us. The Greek word for “malign” is actually the root of our English: “blaspheme.” In other words, Peter is saying that people speak against us in ways that are filled with malice, with a desire to hurt us and tear us down; their verbal attack on us is wicked, wrong and unholy. But, says Peter, they will have to stand before God almighty and explain themselves. Even before then, by God’s mercy, it seems that God will give them one last chance to repent (verse 6).

Getting back to self-control, it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The more we allow the Spirit of God into our lives, the easier it is for us to say “no” to passions and desires. No one controls their passions perfectly – certainly not me! But as we follow Jesus, and we let him, our passions have less and less control, and God has more.

Self control is not just a technique to stop eating too much, or start exercising, or stop sinning. Self-control represents a new paradigm, a whole different way of thinking, of looking at the world. Self control only makes sense if God exists, and sets limits on us for our own good. When we engage in self control, it is an act of faith. We are saying, “I would prefer to do one thing, but I believe God when he says (through the Bible) that it is not good for me to do it. I trust that God’s limits are good, in fact, I trust that they are best for me.” Therefore, by controlling myself, I put my trust in God into action, and I accept the limits he asks me to accept. We all fail to control ourselves at specific times and points, but the point is to accept that God does indeed have the right to ask us to limit ourselves, that he knows far better than we do what is best for us.

Next, Peter urges us to love one another. Love is the second piece of the new paradigm, the new way of looking at the world, one that sets us apart from the culture around us. The word used for “love” here is agape. Agape is a choice; a commitment to treat someone as valuable, to be committed to what is best for the person you agape. So if we are living in love, we are acting in the best interests of others. We are committed to valuing others. This is entirely different from following our own passions and desires.

If we live for our own passions, we will make choices in favor of those passions, even if those choices hurt our family and our community. The highest good that we live for is to satisfy our own deeply held feelings. We are trying to fulfill ourselves. When I was at university, the term they used was “self-actualization” – I live to become the best “Tom” that I can be. That would mean that if necessary, I would leave my marriage to pursue “my best self.” If necessary, I would abandon my friends and family and community in order to have the kind of career, relationship and life that fulfills me.

But love, like self-control, is the opposite of pursuing self-fulfillment. Love pursues the best good  of others. Love is not focused on me. If our paradigm (the way we look at the world) is love, even though we fail to love perfectly, we are not primarily pursuing our own desires and self-fulfillment. Again, like with self-control, love requires that we trust. In order to pursue the best good of others, we have to trust that God will take care of our own needs. We have to trust, in fact, that God loves us, and so we can relax about getting our own needs met in our terms and in our ways.

Peter mentions that love “covers a multitude of sins.” Let’s not misunderstand this. I do not believe that Peter means if we love others, we will cover up their sins. Instead, what he is saying is that love counteracts some sins in specific ways.

First, as with self-control, if we live in love (the way the bible defines love), we will not be living for our passions and desires. This reduces sinning.

Next, if you live in love, you will, as a consequence, avoid many different types of sin. For instance, if you love the community of believers, both as a whole, and also the individuals in it, you won’t engage in gossip, or slander. Jesus said that if we truly love God, and truly love our neighbors, we will fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:34-40). If we love God, we will have no other gods before him, and make no idols, and we won’t take his name in vain. If we love our neighbors, we don’t steal from them, or want what they have for our own, or sleep with their spouses, or lie to them, or hate them.

Finally, I think Peter also means this: love bears with the faults and failings of others, offering grace and forgiveness. If I don’t love, I will very quickly become impatient and angry when someone fails or sins in a way that impacts me personally. But if I love the person who sinned, I will have compassion. I will bear with their issues patiently, and offer them forgiveness. This takes away a lot of the power of sin to divide and destroy the community of faith.

We will discuss verses 9-11 next time, but I think we have enough to begin application for now. It is easy to forget, but we Christians are really called to be strange compared to those who do not follow Jesus. We live with a completely different set of assumptions about life, a different way of looking at the world. Peter is calling us all to make a clean break with the ways of the world.

I have to admit, I personally get tempted to see the world the way ungodly culture does. Sometimes it seems so attractive to live for my deep passions and desires. I mean, I do feel things deeply, and want certain things with a great longing. Even when I know it’s all based on a false way of looking at the world, I still sometimes “flirt” with the culture, and with the ungodly way of living for deep passions and desires. This text is telling me it’s time to make a clean break, to accept God’s paradigm for my life. It’s time to give up the way of the world and be all in with Jesus.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, at times we might be tempted to use God as the means to fulfill our passions and desires. It’s sort of a religiously acceptable way of still remaining focused on our deep desires. So, we need to make sure we aren’t just using God to try to accomplish the purposes of self-fulfillment. But the thing is, when we do accept God’s way, it is ultimately the best thing for us. It is, in fact the ultimate path to becoming who we were made to be. But we need to be careful not to follow God for mainly that reason. Instead, we trust God because we believe he really is God, and we accept his way (as revealed through the Bible) because we believe it is the truth. If we pursue it in order to fulfill ourselves, we’ll get off track. But we trust that he will, in his own time and way, bring us to contentment and fulfillment. And we also recognize that such a thing cannot truly happen until these bodies of flesh die, and are resurrected in immortality.

Some thoughts for application: In what way does this text challenge you to separate yourself from the passions and desires and paradigms of the world? What are specific things that you need to keep in mind when turning away from the way our culture views life?

What is your biggest challenge in accepting the paradigm of self-control? Why is it so hard to accept God’s limits on us? What can we do to encourage one another in self-control?

What is most important to you about living in love? How can we as believers better love one another? How does living in love help you (personally) to live differently from people who don’t follow Jesus?

1 PETER #26: SIN, SUFFERING & GLORY

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Suffering loosens our focus on getting what we want in this present life, and instead, helps us to focus on our amazing eternal future in the New Creation with the unlimited joy of God filling us entirely. It also has a way of carrying us further down the road of discipleship, which means further from an interest in sin, more towards an interest in God, and his kingdom. Therefore, Peter tells us to equip ourselves with the mindset of suffering that Jesus shows us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 26

1 PETER #26. 1 PETER 4:1-2.

1 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, 2 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)

Though we paused to look deeply at baptism, the main point Peter has been making in this section is that we should be inspired, and empowered, by the example of Jesus to follow in his footsteps – particularly with regard to suffering. He began this section in 3:13, saying we should not fear to suffer, and that it is a wonderful thing in God’s sight to endure suffering even when we have done no wrong. We can live this way (says Peter) because Christ has suffered for us, once for all, and saved us through his grace (using baptism along the way). Chapter 4:1, our first verse for today, is basically a summary of all that: since Christ suffered, we should equip ourselves with the same way of thinking.

The first puzzler comes in the next phrase: “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”

First, we need to take into account the teaching of the whole Bible, so there is at least one thing that this cannot mean: It cannot mean that by suffering, we somehow atone for our own sin. Only through Jesus are our sins forgiven. Only Jesus, and his work can address the inner problem of the Sin that lives in our hearts.

But within a Biblical framework, there are a few things it might mean. Most of the possibilities have various problems. I feel badly that I got so deeply into baptism, so I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs of this phrase. Many different Bible scholars have different views about it, but rather than get too detailed about those views, I’ll give you my own best guess.

I think there are actually a few different levels of meaning here. First, I think it means that we Christians, (through baptism, as Peter mentions above) have been identified with the sufferings of Christ. We have been brought into union with his suffering, death, resurrection, and new life. Because we are identified with the suffering of Christ, sin no longer has any claim on us. We’re done with it as a factor in our relationship with God. Our sin has been atoned for. There was suffering for our sin, and so now that sin has no more connection to us, in the eyes of God.

There’s a second aspect to this, which Peter mentions in verses 2-4. Because we have been brought into union with the suffering of Christ, sin is no longer our typical lifestyle. We certainly don’t live perfect, sinless lives. Outside of Christ, we lived not for him, but for our own desires, which were corrupted by sin. We lived to make the best life for ourselves, on our own terms, apart from God. In other words, the pattern of our lives was sinful, and the  inner problem of sin in our hearts was never addressed. Now, however, we belong to Jesus. Though we are not perfect, the pattern of our lives is not all about ourselves. We may commit sins at times (sometimes, discouragingly often!) but we aren’t living in sin. It is not a consistent pattern anymore, it’s not the direction we are going. As Peter says in verse 2, the point is: “to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” By “the rest of the time in the flesh” he means “this present life, before our ultimate death and resurrection.”

All this is tremendously comforting. Through the suffering of Jesus, our connection with sin is fundamentally broken, and this is true, in spite of the fact that we still sometimes commit sins.

I think it is right to understand that Peter means all this. However, I don’t want us to overlook the fact that he is also clearly talking about our own personal suffering, not just the suffering of Christ. He has already been talking about specifically our own sufferings in 3:14 & 17. He will speak of our own suffering more, a few verses later in this chapter. So, I think it would be a mistake to make this only about our spiritual union with the suffering of Christ. Clearly, the topic at hand also involves our actual experience of suffering in this life.

My friend Wade Jones is fond of saying: “If you are really trying to live like Jesus, you should expect to have the kind of life he had.” And, of course, Jesus suffered. Not only that, but he calls us to suffer, with the expectation of joy and glory and grace following our earthly suffering.

For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ, we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share in his glory, we must also share his suffering.

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.

(Romans 8:16-18, NLT)

I don’t want to overstep my own limitations here, but I want to make a comment about suffering and sin. Most of you know that I suffer tremendous pain, on an hourly basis. Right now I am in so much pain that I will probably quit for a while, and come back to this later.

I have found that when I am able to see my suffering as suffering for Christ, and when I joyfully receive it as his will (without, however understanding it, or even liking it), I have a special closeness with Jesus. As a result of this, I am just less interested in sin than I am during the times when I act as if my suffering has no connection to Jesus. I have not been able to maintain this perfectly. But there is no doubt in my mind that my suffering has, in general, led me to sin less often than I did before. Again, I’m not claiming to be without sin. Sometimes, I fall hard. But compared to my life before suffering, conscious sin is less of a daily struggle.

Something I think is more important is that suffering has loosened my focus on getting what I want in this present life, and instead, helped me to focus on our amazing eternal future in the New Creation with the unlimited joy of God filling us entirely. It also has a way of carrying me further down the road of discipleship, which means further from an interest in sin. Theologian Wayne Grudem puts it like this:

 Thus, following through with a decision to obey God even when it will mean physical suffering has a morally strengthening effect on our lives: it commits us more firmly than ever before to a pattern of action where obedience is even more important than our desire to avoid pain.

(Wayne A. Grudem The Epistle of First Peter, p 167. W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1988, 1996.)

At present, it seems clear that I will suffer whether I trust God, or not. But if, when I suffer, I choose to trust God, rather than reject him because I don’t like it, it has the same effect described by Grudem above. It takes me further down the road with God. My trust in God becomes more important, and more vital than my desire for healing. God’s love for me matters more to me than relief from pain in this life. All of this leads my interests and desires away from the direction of satisfying sinful passions.

Suffering and hardship can be used, in some ways, like a spiritual discipline:

My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly
or lose heart when you are reproved by him,
6 for the Lord disciplines the one he loves
and punishes every son he receives.
7 Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline ​— ​which all receive ​— ​then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but he does it for our benefit, so that we can share his holiness. 11 No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

(Hebrews 12:5-11, CSB)

I don’t think this means that God is personally inflicting suffering on people. But when suffering comes, God makes use of it to shape us more and more into the people he designed us to be. He uses it for our benefit, as it says in verse 10 of the passage above.

Sometimes, Christ living in me is able to use my daily pain almost in the same way as he uses my hunger when I fast. The pain becomes a reminder of his presence. I submit to it. I use it to say: “You, Jesus, are more important to me than getting relief right now. Though of course I want relief, I am using this pain to cry out for you first, and relief only in your time and in your way.” The pain reminds me that this world is not my home. It makes it easy to see that my sinful flesh can never be satisfied, never be made whole. Therefore, I crave, not just momentary relief from pain, but ultimate deliverance from this corrupted body and world into the New Creation that is coming.

Now, this process is not automatic. There are plenty of times when I just want relief. But when I come to Jesus with my pain, even if I take a pill soon after, he can and does use it to move my focus from this life toward the glory that is coming. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about this also:

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NLT)

Suffering helps us to keep fixing our gaze on the unseen, on the glory that will be revealed that will last forever. Because of this, we can learn to see suffering as a gift. If you know my story, you know I’m not speaking theoretically. I’m not sitting here comfortably imposing some idea about suffering onto the poor souls who actually suffer. I’m in it. I’m not teaching anything here that I haven’t personally had to grapple with.

Many people I know wish for a revival in American Christianity. They hope for a time when the people of God are truly repentant, and joyfully follow Jesus whole-heartedly in such a way that the whole culture is transformed by it. I hope for it too, however I cannot see how it could possibly come about except by suffering.

The broader point Peter is making is that, whether we personally suffer or not, it is time to be done with the values of the world around us. The things he describes are shockingly similar to twentieth century Western culture. Basically, he says, those who don’t follow God live for personal pleasure and excitement. In short they party – using substances, sex, and whatever else works, to feed their endless cravings and emptiness.

Peter also mentions idolatry. We don’t worship literal idols any more, but the essence of idolatry is to make something other than God the most important thing to you. If it is not God, whatever you “live for” is an idol. If you are seeking comfort from something other than God, it might be an idol.

Now, we should understand that God provides things through his creation, and through other human beings, and we can receive comfort through various things. So, for instance, we might be comforted by our families. As long as we remember that our families were given to us by God, and that the comfort we get from them really comes ultimately from him, I don’t think family is an idol. However, if we were to begin making family more important than God, if we made choices in favor of family that took us further from God, than, in that case, family might be an idol.

So the picture Peter gives us of the non-Christian world is that it a)Lives for pleasure and b)Lives for comfort (that is the point of idolatry). But we who follow Jesus live for Him. We live for his love, and for the amazing future that he has promised us. That leads us to be different from the world, to say no to pleasure and comfort as the ultimate goals, even if for a little while we suffer.

1 PETER #25: BAPTISM, PART 2 – THE DEBATES

Photo by Дмитрий Зайцев: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-a-child-being-baptized-12166404/

I have formed my opinions by studying the scripture and church history, and I think I am on the right track. But I don’t think I’m infallible, and smarter people than me have come to different conclusions about baptism. I know many men and women whom I deeply love as brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me about baptism. Therefore, let us not be divided by issues of baptism. However, let us also not let different opinions keep us from seeking to really understand what the Bible says about it. If we end up disagreeing, that’s OK. It won’t divide us. But we can still seek the best understanding possible about baptism. I think we can all agree that the goal is to search the scriptures with an open mind, and a desire to know what it really teaches.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 25

1 PETER #25. 1 PETER 3:21-22. BAPTISM, PART 2

We are continuing to talk about baptism this time. Once again, I want to remind us that baptism is something that many good Christians have disagreed about for about four centuries now. I have formed my opinions by studying the scripture and church history, and I think they are largely correct. But I don’t think I’m infallible, and smarter people than me have come to different conclusions about baptism. I know many men and women whom I deeply love as brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me about baptism. Therefore, let us not be divided by issues of baptism.

However, let us also not let different opinions keep us from seeking to really understand what the Bible says about it. If we end up disagreeing, that’s OK. It won’t divide us. But we can still seek the best understanding possible about baptism. I think we can all agree that the goal is to search the scriptures with an open mind, and a desire to know what it really teaches.

There are three main things about baptism about which good Christians disagree. We can use the following questions to help us understand the debates:

  1. What method should we use for baptism: a) immersion, or, b)sprinkling, pouring, or any of the three?
  2. At what age should we baptize: a) Only adults, or people old enough to understand what they are doing. Or, b) Either adults or infants might legitimately receive baptism.
  3. What is the meaning of baptism? Is it a) purely symbolic, an expression of our faith in Christ, and our obedience to his command to be baptized? Or, b) is baptism a special sacrament that God uses to impart his grace to us?

Those who answer the three questions above by choosing “a)” are generally Baptists of all sorts, Pentecostals, Evangelical Free, Church of Christ, and many others. For shorthand, I will call this group “Baptists,” because they typically have the same view of baptism as Baptists, though of course, many of them have significant other differences. We should note, however, the Church of Christ, though it shares a lot of Baptist theology, also has some differences with the standard Baptist position about baptism. The short version is, unlike Baptists, Church of Christ would say that baptism is absolutely necessary to salvation. They would say that if you have faith in Jesus, but die without being baptized, you might not be saved. I disagree with this, but I appreciate how seriously they take baptism.

The “basic Baptist” position is that baptism is a kind of testimony to our faith in Jesus Christ. We do it because God commanded us to. It is an act of obedience, and it is our declaration to the world that we belong to Christ. Because of this, and because of what we read in the book of Acts, the only people who should be baptized are those who are mentally capable of making a confession of faith in Christ, and who have indeed expressed such faith. Mostly, they insist that baptism be done by immersion, but there are some Baptist types who are open to methods of baptism other than that.

Those who typically answer the three questions above with selection “b)” are Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and so on, and, of course, Roman Catholics. Let’s call them “Traditionalists,” for short, because they hold to the same understanding and practice of baptism that Christians historically held throughout all of church history. Some of you, at this point, might think I’m mistaken there, but I’m not. There is plentiful evidence of infant baptism from the early church and onwards. In fact, infant baptism was not seriously disputed until the mid-1500s, and modern “Baptist” theology did not exist until the early 1600s. More on that later.

One of the reasons I want to talk more about baptism is because I think both the “Baptists” and the “Traditionalists” often misunderstand baptism, and practice it in ways that are sometimes not helpful.

Before we go too far, let’s revisit what we learned last time. We simply looked at what the Bible teaches about the meaning and purpose of baptism. There were several key aspects to baptism:

  • It is an initiation into Jesus Christ. In baptism, we are identified with Christ. Baptism says “you belong to Jesus.” It’s almost like a passport, or birth certificate for God’s kingdom.
  • It is an initiation into the Church (the body of Christ). Baptism brings us into fellowship with other Christians.
  • Baptism brings us into union with Jesus Christ. Especially, it unites us to his death, and then to his resurrection. It appears to be, in some way, the means by which our old selves are crucified, and our new selves are given the life of Jesus Christ.
  • The forgiveness of sins is somehow connected, by the Bible, to baptism.
  • The presence of the Holy Spirit is connected to baptism.
  • Repentance and faith are necessary in order to take hold of the benefits of baptism.

Although some of that might have been unfamiliar to you, we didn’t do any fancy tricks of interpretation – we just looked at the relevant passages in a straightforward way.

With that in mind, let’s look for a moment at the traditionalists. Sometimes, they seem to treat baptism as almost a kind of magic, or even superstition. Some of them feel that babies absolutely must be baptized, in almost any situation. They often neglect the importance of faith for the child who is baptized, and do not really make sure that a baptized child is raised into a life of repentance and faith. In the worst of these situations, pastors and parents think their job is done if they simply baptize a baby.

However, according to scripture, if someone who is baptized has no faith, it does them no good. Baptism is baptism, because God’s promises are real, and he does not revoke them. But, as with salvation in general, if we do not take hold of the promises of God in faith, though they are real and true, they do us no good. Salvation in Jesus is offered to everyone. It is enough for everyone. Jesus died for the entire world (1 John 2:1-2). And yet, unless people take hold of it in faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus brings them no benefit.

So with baptism, God offers all the benefits of baptism to all who are baptized. But if the baptized one doesn’t really have faith, he or she does not take hold of those benefits. In my own opinion, unless there is a family (and ideally, a church) who are committed to raising a child in faith, it might be wiser to hold off on baptizing a baby.

On the other hand, when the child is born into a strong Christian family, with a church supporting them, I think baptism gives the child a head start on their relationship with God. My own faith began this way. I was baptized when I was one month old, and raised by a strong Christian family, with a strong Christian community around me. For all my life, God has been real and present to me. This is true of my mother and father, also, and my grandparents. There is evidence from our family history that this has been the pattern for the Hilperts for at least five hundred years. But in other families, it clearly doesn’t always work out that way. So, I would say, discernment is important before baptizing a baby.

Now let’s talk about the basic “Baptist” position. Again, this is that baptism is a symbolic act, a declaration of obedience and faith. Also, in this view, the only people who should be baptized are those who are mentally capable of making a confession of faith in Christ, and who have indeed expressed such faith. This concept that people cannot have faith until they reach a certain level of intellectual development is sometimes called “the age of accountability,” or, “the age of reason.”

Let me start with the first part: the idea that baptism is a symbolic act of obedience, a kind of public testimony that declares “I am a Christian.” The book of Acts describes several baptisms. In all of those accounts, either an individual, or a group of people, hears the gospel, and comes to faith in Jesus Christ, after which they are baptized. That appears to support the Baptist position. We should keep in mind, however, that these accounts from Acts do not tell us much about the nature of baptism itself. They tell us what happened and how it happened. Even then, they are often sketchy on the details. For instance, nowhere does it explicitly spell out the method that was used to baptize someone. Acts was not written to teach us about baptism, but rather, to show how the gospel spread in the first years after the resurrection of Jesus. We have to be very careful when making doctrines out of historical books without clear support elsewhere in the Bible.

As we saw last week, there are other scriptures, found in teaching sections of the Bible (rather than Acts, which is a historical section) that tell us more about the nature and meaning of baptism. None of those teaching passages describe baptism as something that we do for God. They don’t describe it as a testimony of faith. They don’t even describe it primarily as an act of obedience. Instead, they describe baptism as an initiation into Christ, and an initiation into the church. Those scriptures teach that baptism unites us with Christ’s death and with his resurrection. They contain promises that somehow, along with baptism, the promises of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit are imparted to us.

Because of this, I am skeptical of the idea that baptism is merely a special kind of testimony of faith. The Bible teaches many things about baptism, but it is not clear that this is one of them. I am open to the possibility that it might be one part of baptism, but I don’t think we have much biblical support to claim that is all it is, or even that it is mainly what baptism is about.

We also have nothing in church history that suggests that Christians felt this way about baptism, until the mid-1500s, and really, the early 1600s. Early Christians took baptism very seriously, considering it a sacrament in which God imparted something to the one who was baptized. The idea of baptism as merely a symbol and a testimony is not found in Christianity until the 17th century after Jesus (1600s). I want to save space, but if you are curious about church history, I can provide direct quotations from ancient Christian writers, starting in the early 200s, showing that infant baptism was a normal practice in early Christianity. Use the comments section to ask for them.

Also with regard to church history, the culture of the New Testament period would have been heavily in favor of baptism for children in Christian families. People did not have the strong sense of individualism that we have today. All of their decisions would have been made with the larger context of family in mind. When it comes to baptism, entire families would assume that they should do it together, as, indeed, the New Testament records. Often, the New Testament records the baptism of entire “households” which, in those days, typically included grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, children and grandchildren. In wealthy households, the multigenerational families of their servants would also be included. (Acts 10:24 says that Cornelius was gathered with many of his relatives and friends. Acts 11:14 also makes it clear that God is working on the entire household of Cornelius. Other baptisms involving entire families or households include: Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33 and 1 Corinthians 1:16).

So, when it comes to something like baptism, the default cultural position would be that the whole family does it together. Adults in the family might have had the ability to opt out of the family choice to become Christians. It would have been a big deal, and caused division, but I imagine it happened sometimes. However, younger members of the family would be expected to do what the family did. It would have been a very strange thing to most families to think of taking a major step like baptism, but excluding their infants and young children. They simply did not think in those types of individualistic terms. It would have felt to them like excluding their children from the kingdom of God.

Because of this tight family culture, most people would have needed some very clear teaching explaining that infants and young children were not supposed to be baptized, and why not. Otherwise, as I say, the default cultural position would be to include children of all ages. Therefore, it is very significant that there is no command anywhere in the Bible to withhold baptism from infants or young children in believing families, or to restrict baptism to only people who were deemed old enough to make a “valid” confession of faith. Let me say it again. There is no command, anywhere in the Bible, nor any teaching, that says infants and young children should not be baptized. Again, without such a command children would have been included by default.

All of this is, I think, a significant challenge to the adult-only idea of baptism. Now, let’s be fair. The infant baptism people also have some questions to answer. Doesn’t the scripture associate baptism with repentance and faith? If we are going to follow the Bible, shouldn’t those be a part of baptism?

Not all proponents of infant baptism know how to answer this well. However, there are, I think, reasonable answers. The best answer (I think) is this: “Yes! Repentance and faith must be part of baptism – even infant baptism.” The question then becomes: What is faith? Who can have faith? Can Babies have faith?

If we accept the “age of accountability” model, we must believe that faith is mainly intellectual agreement. In this way of thinking, in order to have faith, you have to consciously understand a certain set of principles, and then consciously agree to them. If faith is understanding with the mind, then babies can’t have it, because their minds are still developing.

But intellectual understanding and agreement is not faith. James says that even demons can have that! (James 2:19). And surely we don’t believe that we must truly understand everything about God and Jesus before we can be saved? Many Baptist types are OK with baptizing a child of eight or ten years, but certainly those children don’t understand Christianity as well as a twenty-year old. For myself, I think I continue to understand more and more as I get older. At what point should I consider that I understand enough to call it saving faith? Also, if we must somehow be consciously aware of our own faith, what happens to it when we sleep, or fall into a coma? And where in the Bible does it tell me exactly what I must understand? In fact, what the Bible tells us we must do is not understand, but rather, trust.

Saving faith means we rely on Jesus. I think it goes without saying that babies have the ability to trust, to rely on someone. Now, does the scripture support the idea that babies can trust God? Indeed it does! In fact, many of the scriptures describe faith as beginning before a person is even born! See Psalm 71:5-6; Psalm 139:13-18; Jeremiah 1:4-8; and Luke 1:39-44. Jesus said this about children and the kingdom of God:

13 And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

( Mark 10:13-16, ESV)

Baptists say that this means children are automatically in the kingdom of God until they reach the age of accountability. But in context, that is not what Jesus is saying at all. He is talking about receiving the kingdom of God. He says in order to receive it, we adults must do so like a child – in other words, with simple trust. Certainly, then it should be possible for a child to receive the kingdom of God like… well, a child. In short, a child can receive Jesus in trust.

Ideally, in infant baptism, the child, through baptism, receives the kingdom of God like a child. As the child grows, his or her parents teach them more about Jesus, and the importance of continuing to trust, and of repenting for sin. Repentance, faith and baptism are all there together, but not necessarily in the same order that they appear in someone who is an adult convert. The book of Acts, because of when it was written, is mainly concerned with adult converts.

Some people, however insist that true repentance and faith must come prior to baptism, or baptism isn’t valid. That brings us to an important point. If you must be certain that you have repented and come to faith before you are baptized, how can you ever know for sure? Are you really sure you were saved before you were baptized? This idea has led some people to get baptized multiple times. It encourages us not to trust the word of God, but rather to trust our own subjective experience of whether or not we truly feel saved by God’s grace. To me, this idea also doesn’t really fit with the things we learned about baptism last time. Baptism is not earned, and it is not something we do for God. It is used by God to bestow grace and blessings upon us.

We all know people who got saved, and then baptized, at some point in life, and then strayed away, and then later came back to Jesus again. Should they be baptized again? How many times? How can they know they might not stray again?

It is true, faith is required to take hold of the promises that God connects with baptism. But the issue of when that faith really matures isn’t as important. If you have been baptized, and you trust Jesus, you have all the promises given in baptism, no matter when exactly you were baptized, or when, in relationship to your baptism, you put your trust in Jesus. To have it any other way is to live with constant uncertainty, trusting your own experience, trusting in your own faith, above God’s Word.

I wanted to present these ideas to you, because I rarely see them discussed the way we have here. But I want to reiterate that if you disagree with everything I said, I still welcome you as a brother or sister in the kingdom of God. Obviously, I think I’m correct. But I don’t think I’m infallible, and neither should you think that I’m infallible. Thank you for letting me present my understanding of the Bible about baptism. If you disagree, I respect that. No matter where we come down on the issue, I hope we can appreciate baptism as a wonderful gift from God that he uses to bless us.

1 PETER #25: THE MEANING OF BAPTISM.

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Using this text as our starting point, we are going to take a deep dive into the meaning and practice of baptism. Before we do, I want to make sure some things are very clear. For several centuries now, good and true Christians have disagreed about baptism – what exactly it is and what it means. It is not necessary, therefore, at New Joy Fellowship, or the Life Together Churches network, that everyone hold the same view about baptism.  What is necessary with regard to this issue, is that we treat each other with respect, and allow the same differences of opinion that the Lord has allowed in his church for the past five centuries. Since so many great Christians of the past have disagreed about this issue, it would be a tragic mistake to let differences of opinion on baptism divide New Joy Fellowship.

However, let us also not let different opinions keep us from seeking what the Bible says about it. If we end up disagreeing, that’s OK. It won’t divide us. But we can still seek the best understanding possible about baptism. I think we can all agree that the goal is to search the scriptures with an open mind, and a desire to know what it really teaches.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 24

1 PETER #24. 1 PETER 3:18-22

Our focus this time is on verses 21-22. In verse 20, Peter uses the people who disobeyed during the time of Noah as an example of the types of people to whom Jesus proclaimed the gospel in hell. I think Peter uses Noah’s time particularly, because he wants to introduce the next thought, which is about baptism. In Noah’s time, the flood killed almost everyone by drowning. But the water also washed the earth clean of wickedness and filth, and it lifted up the ark and carried it, causing the people within it to be saved. Peter says “this corresponds to baptism.” Or, in other words, “it gives us a picture of baptism.” The water brought a special kind of cleansing. Before, Noah and his family lived in a horribly depraved, sinful world. Then, through water, and a special vehicle (the ark), they were brought into a world that had been renewed by God. How does this paint a picture of baptism? We live in a horribly depraved, sinful world. Through water, combined with a special vehicle (the promise of God) baptism cleanses us, lifts us from the dying, sinful world, into the Kingdom of God.

Using this text as our starting point, we are going to take a deep dive into the meaning and practice of baptism. Before we do, I want to make sure some things are very clear. For several centuries now, good and true Christians have disagreed about baptism – what exactly it is and what it means. Since it has not been necessary for about 500 years that Christians agree about this, it is not necessary, at New Joy Fellowship, or the Life Together Churches network, that everyone hold the same view about baptism.  What is necessary with regard to this issue, is that we treat each other with respect, and allow the same differences of opinion that the Lord has allowed in his church for the past five centuries. Since so many great Christians of the past have disagreed about this issue, it would be a tragic mistake to let differences of opinion on baptism divide New Joy Fellowship.

Having said that, I will present my understanding of the Bible, and of history, with the same force and rigor that I try to use with every sermon. In my own mind, the most important things about baptism are quite clear from the scripture. Please understand, however, that if you disagree with me about baptism, it is not a problem. I have my opinions, but I recognize many of the great Christians of the past five hundred years have had different ones about this topic. Though I think I’m right, and I might come on strong, I’m telling you right now that I realize I could be wrong. So, let’s give each other grace here.

In the meantime, I want to teach clearly what I really think the Bible says about baptism, because it seems to me that these days, many things about baptism often get confused, and distorted. Sometimes, some of the most powerful scriptures about baptism are not even part of the conversation.

When it comes to baptism, I think there are three main issues: 1. What, exactly is baptism? What kind of meaning does the Bible attach to it? 2. Who should be baptized (for instance what about infants in believing families?) 3. How should we go about baptizing people?

The truth is, there is quite a bit of Biblical material about the first question. The biblical information about the second two questions is much more thin, and harder to process. Therefore, today, we’ll try to consider the first. What is baptism? What does the Bible say about it? I want to point out that today, what we cover should not be particularly controversial. We’ll simply be looking at the things the bible clearly teaches about the nature of baptism.

The English word baptism comes directly from the Greek word in the Bible. We don’t really have a good single English word for all the Biblical meanings. In general, it means “a ceremonial, or religious washing with water.” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says this:

The Greek words from which our English “baptism” has been formed are used by Greek writers, in classical antiquity, in the LXX and in the NT, with a great latitude of meaning. It is not possible to exhaust their meaning by any single English term. The action which the Greek words express may be performed by plunging, drenching, staining, dipping, sprinkling.

(International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, article on Baptism)

“The LXX” means: “the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament.” So, even before the time of Jesus, Greek-speaking Jews used the words baptize/baptism to mean a wide variety of things, but the common idea was some kind of ceremonial, or ritual, washing with water. The Easton’s Bible Dictionary agrees, saying:

Baptists say that it means “to dip,” and nothing else. That is an incorrect view of the meaning of the word. It means both (1) to dip a thing into an element or liquid, and (2) to put an element or liquid over or on it. Nothing therefore as to the mode of baptism can be concluded from the mere word used. The word has a wide latitude of meaning, not only in the New Testament, but also in the LXX Version of the Old Testament, where it is used of the ablutions and baptisms required by the Mosaic law. These were effected by immersion, and by affusion and sprinkling; and the same word, “washings” (Heb. 9:10, 13, 19, 21) or “baptisms,” designates them all.

(Easton’s Bible Dictionary, article on Baptism)

So, we don’t get a ton of help from the word itself. As the two quotes above point out, in the Greek version of the Old Testament (which was probably used by most of the early Christians) the word generally used for rituals involving cleansing with water was “baptism.” Again, it can mean immersion, dipping, pouring or sprinkling.

John the Baptist used baptism in his ministry. For those who received it, it meant that they were repenting of their old way of life, receiving forgiveness of sins, and entering into a new mode of living. Baptism was a kind of “initiation” into that  new way of life.

4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

(Mark 1:4-8, ESV)

This concept of initiation into a new way of life seems to be a key factor with regard to baptism. Also, put a little mental note on the part where John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Mark records these words of Jesus:

28 I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!”
29 When they heard this, all the people—even the tax collectors—agreed that God’s way was right, for they had been baptized by John. 30 But the Pharisees and experts in religious law rejected God’s plan for them, for they had refused John’s baptism.

(Luke 7:28-30, NLT)

The people, by being baptized, had aligned themselves with John, they were, in a sense, one with him. By refusing baptism, the religious leaders made it clear that they were not aligned with him. They did not want to be part of him or his movement. So baptism initiates you into something, aligns you with it. Christian baptism means you have been joined with Jesus Christ, and with his people. Galatians makes the same sort of argument about Christian baptism. We weren’t just “baptized” in some vague, general way. We were baptized into Christ.

26 It is through faith that all of you are God’s children in union with Christ Jesus. 27 You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself. 28 So there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are the descendants of Abraham and will receive what God has promised.

(Galatians 3:26-29, GNT)

So, being baptized into Christ means that you become “part of Christ,” in some way – you were baptized into union with Christ. You are initiated into him. Paul uses this same concept of being brought into union with someone or something in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. He affirms this again in 1 Corinthians chapter 12:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

(1 Corinthians 12:12-13, ESV)

We were all baptized into something. We are brought into union with Christ, and brought into the body of Christ (that is, true spiritual fellowship with everyone who trusts Jesus). In Romans, Paul says that part of the meaning of baptism is that we were united with Christ specifically in his death and resurrection.

3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

(Romans 6:3-4, ESV)

He says something similar in Colossians:

11 In him you were also circumcised. It was not a circumcision performed by human hands. But it was a removal of the corrupt nature in the circumcision performed by Christ. 12 This happened when you were placed in the tomb with Christ through baptism. In baptism you were also brought back to life with Christ through faith in the power of God, who brought him back to life.

(Colossians 2:11-12, God’s Word version, bold formatting added by me)

So baptism unites us with Christ in a general way. It also, in a special way, applies his crucifixion and resurrection to us, or unites us with them. God does something in us when we are baptized. This leads to another thought. No one baptizes themselves. Baptism is something that is done to us, and for us.

I want to pause and point out a few things. Some people view baptism as a kind of testimony – something we do for God to show that we do indeed have faith. That could be a part of it. But clearly, in the New Testament, baptism is also much more than our testimony of faith and obedience. In fact, it is portrayed mainly as something that God does for us.

Baptism brings you into union with Christ. It identifies you with the death and resurrection of Christ. It initiates you into the body of Christ. All that should be plain from a straightforward reading of the texts above.

But wait! There’s more! In the New Testament, baptism is often also connected to forgiveness of sins:

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

(Acts 2:37-39, ESV)

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

(Acts 22:16, ESV)

The early church took this very seriously. Sometimes too seriously, in fact, or at least, too literally. The only arguments critical of infant baptism during the first 1,500 years of the church were about this. Some few people thought that since baptism washes away sins, it was a waste to baptize infants, since they were certainly going to sin again as they got older. Instead, these folks argued, baptism should be delayed as long as possible, so that the baptized person had a chance of dying before they sinned again.

Finally, there are many promises connecting the Holy Spirit to baptism. Acts 2:37-39, already quoted above, seems to say that the Holy Spirit is connected in some way to baptism. Mark 1:4-8 (return to the mental note I told you to make) supports this. Jesus himself had a special encounter with the Spirit at his baptism, and he involves the Holy Spirit in his command to baptize:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)

Paul found some people who were baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism. He demonstrated that they needed to be baptized into Jesus, after which they received the Holy Spirit:

1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

(Acts 19:1-6, ESV)

The apostle Peter preached to some Gentiles. The people heard and believed, and it became clear to Peter that they had been given the Holy Spirit, so he ordered them to be baptized. Later, he explained this to the Jewish church:

15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

(Acts 11:15-17, ESV)

To reiterate what we’ve learned so far. Baptism is an initiation into Jesus. It unites us with his death, his resurrection, and his life. It unites us to other Christians. It is connected in some way to the forgiveness of sins, and to the Holy Spirit.

I also want to make it clear that these verses, along with many others, show that baptism is a part of the salvation process. If you are a follower of Jesus, you should be baptized. It’s part of the deal. Jesus commanded us to baptize as part of the process of making disciples (Matthew 28:1-20, quoted above).

Also, much like with salvation in general, we cannot receive any of the gifts given to us by baptism unless we repent of our sins and put our trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus died for all people, whether or not they repent and trust him. If someone does not repent, and does not trust, she will not receive any benefit from the death of Jesus. The benefit is there. But without faith, it is not applied to a person. The person cannot “take hold of” salvation, except through faith. So, in a similar way, when we are baptized, all of the benefits of baptism are made available to us. But they do us no good unless we receive them in repentance and faith.

We’ll talk more about infant baptism next time, but there is an important point here. Those who support infant baptism do so with the understanding that the baby will be brought up to, and taught, a life of repentance and faith, so that the child can take hold of the wonderful promises given to him at his baptism. No real Christians believe that baptism works like magic. Those who baptize infants simply believe that faith can begin very early.

In brief then, we can see that baptism is a ritual that involves water connected to the promises of God. Water, combined with the Ark was, in a sense, a gateway from the old world to the new for Noah’s family. In the same way, water, combined with the promises of God (that is, baptism) is a kind of gateway from our old life, a life that was oriented on our sinful flesh into our new life – into the life of Jesus himself, who lives in and through us. Peter is saying that, combined with faith, this baptism is part of the process God uses to save us, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

One useful way to think about baptism is to compare it to a passport given to a child that was born outside of his home country. As a citizen of his own country, but living elsewhere, that child needs a passport. He doesn’t earn it for himself – it is given to him as part of his citizenship. It allows him to go back to his country of citizenship when the time comes. The passport means he belongs to his home country. The passport enables him to live where he is, but it gives him all the rights and privileges of his home country.

In the same way, we are children born again as citizens of heaven. We don’t yet live in our real country, our true home. But baptism marks us as belonging to God through Jesus Christ. Baptism grants us the rights and privileges of the children of God, even while we live this mortal life.

A couple of possibilities for application: first, if you are a follower of Jesus and have not been baptized, I strongly encourage you to be baptized soon. Second, for those of us who have been baptized, let’s learn to appreciate and understand all that God has given us through baptism and faith. He has dealt with the problem of our sinful flesh, by crucifying it with Jesus in baptism. He lives his new life in us by the Holy Spirit, through baptism. We have been initiated into Christ – we belong in the kingdom of God. Baptism is our passport, our certificate of birth and citizenship. Take hold of these things by thanking God for them!

1 PETER #23: YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD MAN DOWN

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The life of Jesus is the most precious thing in all of existence. When it is offered, there is no limit to what it can “purchase.” If the entire universe was given in exchange for Jesus, it still wouldn’t be enough to “pay back” what he is worth. That precious life was given for you, to bring you back to God. There is no limit to how much forgiveness his life obtains for you. Nothing can stop this good news. Not even hell can block out the glory and grace of the gospel, though, of course, in hell, it makes everyone there more bitter and angry.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 23

1 PETER #23. 1 PETER 3:18-20

Throughout this last section, Peter has been urging us to behave in certain ways. Prior to doing that, he laid out all of the wonderful things God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Now, after spending some time telling us how our trust in God’s promises should play out in our practical lives, Peter once more reminds us of what God has done. This time, he is focusing specifically on what Jesus Christ did for us. We are called to suffer patiently because of the joy that awaits us. Peter reminds us that Jesus suffered, and did so in far more significant ways.

18 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, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 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.

1 Peter 3:18-20, ESV

This is the core of the gospel: that Jesus Christ died for our sins. There are dozens of verses in the New Testament that declare this:

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

(1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV)

Though we cannot claim to be without sin, Christ was without sin, and yet he suffered. The term “the righteous” is singular, in Greek, and “the unrighteous,” is plural. In other words, it says he was “the righteous one,” suffering for “the unrighteous ones.” It is his suffering that reconciles us to God. His blood was shed to redeem us. Peter says that Christ’s suffering for our sins happened “once.” The point of that is that the process is complete. His one-time suffering is sufficient to cover all of your sins – all the sins you have ever committed, in addition to those you might still commit in the future. This is true, in fact, of every human being. The writer of Hebrews also insists that Jesus’ sacrifice was once, for all sins, for all time:

11 Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. 12 But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 13 There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.
15 And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,
16 “This is the new covenant I will make
with my people on that day, says the LORD:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
17 Then he says,
“I will never again remember
their sins and lawless deeds.”
18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

(Hebrews 10:11-18, NLT)

Some people might wonder how, exactly this could be. Jesus was just one person – how can the death of one person save all people? I want to say three things about this. First, it is not necessary that we understand it. What we are called to do is trust that it is true. Technically, a person might perfectly understand how this works in theory, but unless she trusts that Jesus’ sacrifice was made for her (and that she needs it), her understanding would not save her. Usually trust involves stretching beyond what you can understand or verify. It involves a kind of surrender.

Second, we can make a brief attempt at understanding – while knowing that full understanding may not be possible, and certainly isn’t necessary. Toward understanding the sacrifice of Jesus, we need to keep in mind that there has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone like Jesus Christ. He was entirely righteous, entirely perfect in soul and spirit. No human being has ever been that way. He is, at one and the same time, both human, and God. Because of righteousness, and because of his Divine nature, Jesus Christ is infinitely precious. Therefore, if the life of Jesus is offered in exchange, there is no limit to what can be asked in return.

As a thought experiment, imagine you walk into a convenience store with a million dollars in cash. You ask: “Is this enough for a candy bar?”

The convenience store owner (who happens to be honest) says, “Of course. It’s worth far more than a candy bar.”

“What about five candy bars?”

“Of course. You can have five candy bars for that amount of money!”

“What about a hundred?”

“Yes! Listen, there aren’t enough candy bars in my entire store to equal a million dollars. What you have is worth more than all the goods in this whole store put together.”

“How many candy bars can I get, from you, then?”

“Listen, Dude,” says the owner, “if you give me that million dollars, I will give you a candy bar any time you want, for the rest of your life. As far as I’m concerned, it buys you a lifetime supply.” (If you bought 10 candy bars every single day at $1.50 each, even after 100 years, you still would have used only about half a million dollars)

In our economy, a million dollars is worth far more than  a candy bar – almost infinitely more. The life of Jesus IS worth infinitely more than anything else that might be compared to it. Similar to the way a million dollars could purchase unlimited candy bars for life from a convenience store, there is no limit to what the life of Jesus can “purchase.” So, no matter how many sinners are born into this world, the sacrifice of Jesus will always be enough, because he is infinitely valuable. Therefore he only had to make the one sacrifice, because the value of the entire universe, past, present and future, is still nothing compared to the value of the life of Jesus Christ.

To make it personal: the death of Jesus has purchased you forgiveness for all time. You can keep going back for more forgiveness any time you want. There is no end to the amount of grace that Jesus obtained for us.

The infinitely precious life of Jesus was given, of his own free will, for you. And me. And everyone. The Bible makes it clear that the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient for every human being who ever lived, or will live. Not all human beings take advantage of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but there is enough for everyone. It is offered to everyone. Keep that in mind: it is offered to everyone – that will be important a bit later in this message.

The third thing I want to say is that the Bible leaves us with a certain amount of what I call “mystery.” Not everything is fully explained. It is possible to speculate about some things, but not always to know. What the Bible does give us is enough knowledge to call us to trust in God.

Speaking of mystery, next comes a phrase that we might never fully understand in this life:

…being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah

(1 Peter 3:18-20, ESV)

Bible scholars throughout the ages have been confounded by these verses. Martin Luther says this about them:

This is a strange and certainly more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle means. At first the words give the impression that Christ preached to the spirits, that is, to the souls who did not believe many years ago, when Noah was building the ark. I do not understand this. Nor can I explain it. Nor has anyone ever explained it. But if anyone chooses to maintain that after Christ had died on the cross, he descended to the souls and preached to them there, I will not stand in the way. These words could give such a meaning. But I do not know whether Saint Peter wants to say this.

(Martin Luther, “Luther’s Works, vol 30,” The Catholic Epistles, pg 113. Concordia Publishing, St. Louis, MO, 1967.)

Let’s start with what we can know. In the Biblical worldview, the only place that might imprison dead spirits is hell. Therefore, I am partial to the theory that, in some way, Christ appeared in hell. This is the way it is worded in the Apostles’ Creed. The Apostles’ Creed, however, is not scripture, though virtually all Christians have accepted it for more than a thousand years as a true summary of our faith. In any case, if our punishment for sin is not only death, but hell, it seems to me that when Jesus was punished for our sin, in order to receive our penalty, that had to include hell. On the other hand, maybe the fact that His life is infinitely precious made the simple fact of his death alone (without hell) enough to pay for our sins. On the other hand (I have lots of hands) 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin, for us, and sin is punished by hell, which suggests that Jesus had to go to hell.

Getting back to the main point, concerning our text for today, most Bible scholars agree with me that at some point during the process of his death and resurrection, Jesus was present in hell in some way, either physically (if such a thing is possible) or spiritually.

 I don’t think it is useful to wonder what length of time Jesus spent in hell. God’s existence, and, presumably hell, are outside of our experience of time. In a very real sense, Jesus might have spent both a mere moment, but also an eternity, in hell. The great Bible scholar R. Lenski reminds us:

In the other world time and space as we know both here on earth do not exist. Our minds are chained to both in their thinking and in their language; hence we ask so many useless questions where acts that take place in eternity and in the other world are concerned. In the other world no act requires time for its execution. This is really inconceivable to our minds; we are compelled to speak as if time were involved and must thus ever tell ourselves that this is not in fact the case. In this way we are kept from deductions that are based on our concepts of time, knowing that such deductions would be false.

(Lenski’s New Testament Commentary; 1 Peter.)

The one thing we know for sure he did “while” he was there is that he proclaimed the gospel to the spirits of human beings, and perhaps other spiritual entities as well. Just a few verses later, Peter says something that shows he means what he wrote:

6 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)

Most commentators (including me) think that Peter mentions those who disobeyed during the time of Noah as an example of the sorts of spirits that Jesus proclaimed the gospel to. So, Peter might be saying: “He preached to spirits imprisoned in hell – like those who disobeyed during the time of Noah.” In other words, it wasn’t just those who disobeyed during the time of Noah, but all those imprisoned in hell who heard the proclamation of Jesus. [Peter uses Noah’s example also, because he wants to use it as a springboard to talk about baptism. But that will have to wait for another sermon. We still have plenty to deal with right now.]

These passages remind me of something Paul says in Romans:

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.

(Romans 3:23-26, NLT, bold formatting added for emphasis)

Like Luther, I want to be very tentative about how we interpret what Peter is saying. It would be very easy to give the impression that actually, it doesn’t matter whether or not you trust Jesus in this life, because if you go to hell, you’ll get a chance to repent from there. I don’t agree with that at all. Instead, I think there are two things happening.

First, and I say this very tentatively, if we look at 1 Peter 3:19, and then 1 Peter 4:6, and then Romans 3:23-26, we may have an answer to the age-old question about those who never had a chance to hear about Jesus Christ. It seems you can’t even avoid hearing about Jesus, even in hell. So, if somehow, someone is cut off from God because they never heard about Jesus, they definitely will hear about him in hell. 1 Peter 4:6 seems to indicate that people may have a chance to repent there – but, based upon what it says elsewhere in the Bible, they would have that chance only if they had no chance to hear and respond in this present life. This brings back to mind what I said earlier, about saying that salvation is indeed offered to every human being.

Second, (and I think I’m on firmer theological ground here) it seems to me that this is about the power and majesty of the gospel. The good news about Jesus is so powerful, that not even hell can keep from hearing it, not though they try to stop up their ears. My own theory is that hearing the gospel proclaimed will cause torment to most of the residents of hell, because they hate Jesus, and hate to be reminded of what he has done for all who were willing to trust him, hate to be reminded, in their pride, that they are wrong. In hell, the gospel is a reminder that the enemy has triumphed, totally and finally. Proclaiming the gospel in hell is the same as raising your flag over the land of your conquered foe. Even where he is rejected, Jesus is still the one in power. So Paul writes:

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

(Colossians 2:13-15)

In the Colossians text above, it says that Jesus triumphs over the rulers and authorities, and puts them to open shame. “Rulers and authorities” is one of the ways the Bible describes evil spiritual entities (the devil and various types of demons). I think that when Jesus proclaimed the gospel in hell it was a triumph over the devil and his minions; it put them to shame – they couldn’t even keep Jesus, or the gospel, out of their own domain in hell. Even hell is under Jesus’ authority.

Your forgiveness is absolutely secure. You can’t sin more than the sacrifice of Jesus is worth. God’s grace is unstoppable: not even hell can keep the message out, and no one will be able to say they never had a chance to receive God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

1 PETER #22: SHOWING JESUS TO THE WORLD

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We are called to show Jesus to the world in three important ways: by enduring suffering with patience, by making a verbal defense, and by living a life that reflects the character of Jesus. We cannot do any of this unless we rely upon the life of Jesus within us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 22

1 PETER #22. 1 PETER 3:13-16

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 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, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

(1 Peter 3:13-16, ESV)

After describing the way Christians need to act toward each other, Peter now says a few words about how we should act toward those outside of our community of faith. In a way, this text is neatly laid out for us. In the first place, in our relationships with non-believers, we should be prepared to suffer – even if it is unjust. Second, we should be prepared to “make a verbal defense” of the hope we have (that is, our Christian faith). Third, our lives should be so directed by the Holy Spirit that the way we live also provides a kind of defense, or testimony.

We might as well start with the first: patient suffering. As we have seen already in Peter’s letter, he is passing on the teaching of Jesus, more or less directly.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
11 “You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:10-12, CSB)

And:

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?

(Matthew 5:38-47, CSB)

We talked about this a bit, last time: these verses should make us despair of our own efforts and resources. I find it impossible to rejoice when even the company Amazon treats me unjustly simply because they are huge, and can get away with it. How much more difficult is it to suffer because I’ve been doing the right thing? How much more difficult to be criticized, to be lied about, to be considered evil when I’ve done nothing wrong, and in fact, I’ve been trying to do good? I find these words of Jesus, and of Peter, his apostle, to be impossible to actually follow.

I am supposed to find them impossible.

Jesus gives us the answer to this dilemma. He and his followers often warned about the great dangers of worldly wealth. At one point, he described how difficult it was to be rich, and remain faithful to God:

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

(Matthew 19:23-26, ESV)

With man – that is, with our own effort – suffering unjustly seems impossible. But with God, all things are possible. When we allow Jesus to live his life through us, we can indeed love those who hurt us. But only then is such a thing possible. We need to despair of doing it by our own efforts, and cry out to Jesus, and lean on him to do it through us. Then, with God, it is possible.

The second piece of our text today tells us to continually make sure that Jesus is first in our lives, and then to be ready to offer a verbal defense for our faith. Paul says something similar in Colossians 4:6. In case anyone wonders if “make a defense,” might include physically defending ourselves in that situation, I need to say two things. First, the Greek word here is very clear – the defense is one made with words. There’s no semantic wiggle room to expand it to mean anything physical. Second, when we read the context, it is all about entrusting ourselves to God, and allowing God to make things right in his own time. One cannot shoot, or strike, someone “with gentleness and respect.” I believe the Bible does allow Christians to be soldiers in a proper, legal army or militia. I believe the Bible allows, and even encourages, us to defend the weak and defenseless. I don’t see anything wrong with fighting back against someone who wants to hurt you in general.

But the Bible does not endorse Christians using physical force to either defend or propagate Christianity. If someone is trying to hurt you in general, I don’t see a problem with physical self defense (although the Bible does not insist that you respond with physical force). But if someone is attacking you specifically because you are a Christian, a different kind of defense is called for.

Yes, during the crusades, and in some of the Roman Catholic Church’s missionary endeavors, they did use force to defend and propagate Christianity. But they did so in contradiction to the scripture. Just go back and read our text for today, and the verses I’ve quoted so far. To the extent that anyone has tried to spread or defend Christianity by force, they have been bad Christians, disobeying the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. In case it is not clear, I condemn the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and the other “holy wars” of the Roman Catholic church, and I condemn them with, and based upon, the words of the Bible. Virtually all true Christians are with me on this.

We are definitely told, however, to offer a defense made up of words. The Greek word here for “offer a defense” is “apologia.” You might recognize a form of the word “logos” there at the end (logia). Logos is a term that means both “words,” and “logical thinking” (just by looking at it in English letters, you can see that the word “logic” comes from “logos.”) Apologia means, essentially, to speak out, to use logic, reason and words to explain and justify. From this word we get a Christian term you might have heard before: “apologetics.” Christian apologetics is basically the process of putting this command into action. In Christian apologetics, we use words and logic to explain, reason with others, and verbally defend the Christian faith.

The first Christian apologist was arguably Paul the apostle, who used the Roman legal system, and Greek philosophy, to argue for the truth of Christianity. Immediately after the time of the apostles we have the letters of Christians who were engaged in explaining the faith, and reasoning with others about the truth of Jesus Christ.

Over the centuries, Christians have developed a wealth of resources for explaining and defending the Christian faith, and reasoning with others. In recent years the internet has brought an explosion of websites dedicated to apologetics. I have to admit – for me, apologetics is like mind-candy. I could read these sorts of resources for hours, and in fact, I often do. Just to get you started, let me offer a couple books and websites.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, is sort of the gold-standard for Christian apologetics. It was written about eighty years ago, now, however, and there are some modern concerns that C.S. Lewis simply never thought he would have to address. Even so, Mere Christianity is well worth reading. A more recent resource that is very good is What’s So Great about Christianity? By Dinesh D’souza. In addition to explaining many of the traditional pillars of apologetics, he addresses issues like the checkered history of Christian behavior, and other things that modern people find important, that are not found in Mere Christianity.

If you are specifically interested in the relationship between Christianity and modern science, Reasons to Believe (https://www.reasons.org) is an excellent place to start. It was founded by Dr. Hugh Ross, who was notable in the field of astrophysics, and later founded the ministry. In general, Reasons to Believe is made up of legitimate high-level scientists who are also Bible-believing Christians.

William Lane Craig is a philosopher who is also a Christian, and he has developed a ministry that touches on virtually all aspects of defending the faith with gentleness and respect. The organization he started can be found at: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/ . The video in the next link is produced by that ministry, and is a great example of Christian apologetics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRyq6RwzlEM&t=317s

There is a widely-held assumption that because Christianity is a religion, there is no evidence in favor of it, and it is not intellectually robust. Even a quick skimming of some of the resources I’ve listed here will reveal how utterly false those ideas are.

Now, apologetics are very interesting and fun to people like me. But you could spend countless hours and days on apologetics resources. These days, you can literally get a Ph.D. in it. However, traditional apologetics might not really be your cup of tea. It is a fairly scholarly, intellectually-oriented discipline. Your own approach should reflect who you are, and above all, it should reflect the things you really know and believe.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you when you start the process of defending your faith, is that you should be willing to say: “I don’t know the answer to that,” when you don’t. Honesty goes a long way in our present cultural moment. I still have to say that once in a while. For instance, several years ago, someone asked me this question: “Can a God who is all-powerful make a rock that is impossible for Him to move?” This is a conundrum. If the answer is “yes,” than how can he be all powerful if there is a rock he cannot move? If the answer is “no,” how can he be all powerful, if he can’t make a rock according to any specification at all? Some people believe that this makes God vanish in a cloud of cold logic. Personally, I think the question assumes facts that are unknown and unknowable to human beings, but I couldn’t absolutely prove that by logic. I could have turned the question around a little, and discussed the alternatives to an all-powerful God, and prove that everyone ultimately believes in something that is absolute (like an all-powerful God, or an infinite multiverse), and that every version of that belief has problems, but that isn’t a direct answer to the question. So, I said, “I don’t have a good a answer for that.”

Since then, I have found a better answer, but of course, no one else has asked the question again. The better answer is that God’s nature is the one inviolable thing in the universe, and if God were able to contradict his own nature, he couldn’t be God in the first place. In other words, “No, he can’t make a rock that he is unable to move, because if he could, he wouldn’t be truly God: something he himself created would be as great as himself.” In other words, the question is a “contradiction in terms,” which, in even more plain language, means: “it is nonsense.” Another example of the exact same kind of nonsense is this question: “Can God make a square circle?” That makes it more clear. If God made a square circle, it wouldn’t be a circle anymore. A circle cannot contain right-angles, or it ceases to be a circle. “A square circle” is nonsense. So, also, is the idea that God can contradict in Himself what it means to be God, while remaining God. So, actually, the question about creating the unliftable rock is nothing more than a cheap parlor trick.

 I think that answers the question, but even so, there’s a lot of subtlety built into that answer (such that I could probably write several thousand words about it), and I doubt it satisfies everyone.

Sorry, the last few paragraphs were a lot of fun for me, but, again, that might not be your style. The point is, when I encounter questions I can’t answer, I’m honest abut it. I also then tend to go look for a good answer. I encourage you to do both things as well.

You should also find a way to talk to others about your faith that reflects who you are, and what you do know about Jesus. This is one reason, I think why Peter begins this little instruction with: “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life.” That’s the way the NLT puts it. It isn’t exactly “word for word,” but I do think it gets at the essence of what Peter is saying. If you want to make a good verbal defense of your faith, it begins with letting Jesus have first place in your life. Only when we orient our lives around him, when we make him our first priority, will we be able to offer a good verbal defense of our faith.

When we get that part straight, we can speak to people in a way that accurately reflects what we know, or don’t know, about following Jesus. But we can start with what we know. For instance, here’s a question everyone can answer, no matter how long (or briefly) they have been following Jesus: “Who is Jesus to you?” When he is Lord of your life, that question isn’t so hard to answer. Everyone has enough knowledge to answer that question, because it is a question about your own experience. Here’s another one: “Why do you trust Jesus?” Again, our answers might differ somewhat, but anyone who does, in fact, trust Jesus, can answer these questions.

Here are a few more: “What has Jesus done for you, and what does he do for you now? What is the best thing, for you, about trusting Jesus? What difference does Jesus make in your life?

The key is to think about what you believe, why you believe it, and who Jesus is to you, and focus on those things. No one will say to you: “No, you’re wrong, you don’t follow Jesus because you feel his love.” They may think your experience is mistaken, but there can be no doubt that it is your experience. People can’t, and don’t, typically argue with personal observations and experiences like that. In other words, you don’t need to be William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, (or even Tom Hilpert!), to make a good verbal defense of your faith.

Peter closes this section (and begins the next) with another observation about our behavior: that we should maintain a clear conscience, and good behavior, and sooner or later that will bring shame to those who slander us.

Suffering patiently for the sake of Jesus is a way of showing him to the world. Telling people with words about your experience of faith is another. Finally, having a clear conscience and good behavior will show Jesus to the world.

All of these should scare us. All of these should lead us to say: “But I can’t do that!” Because we can’t. But Jesus can do all of these things through us, if we are willing to let him. We need to allow him to lead us to act, or not act, to speak, or not speak. We need to use our hands and voices as he directs. But if we are relying on him, he is the one who will make it all work out. It won’t come from our own strength, but from His. It won’t come from our flawed natures, but rather, from His perfect character. All he needs is our trust.         

1 PETER #21: LETTING JESUS OUT

Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

Peter gives us some challenging instructions in this text: we are to love one another deeply, have compassion and sympathy, be like minded, be humble. We are not to return evil for evil, or respond to insults, but rather we are to bless. All this seems like a pretty tall order. But there are two keys to pursuing this: first, we focus on the wonderful, eternal promises of God. Second, we rely on Jesus to live his life through us.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 21

1 PETER #21. 1 PETER 3:8-14

Peter is going to encourage us to live out our relationships in a way that can be pretty difficult and challenging. It might even seem impossible. We’ll look first at what he asks us to do, but don’t be discouraged. We’ll finish with how we can actually do such things.

After dealing with various relationships that involve authority in one way or another, Peter turns his attention to relationships within the church in general. Earlier, he established that we are God’s specially chosen people, an ethnicity of holiness, citizens of God’s kingdom. Now, he is beginning to explain what all that means for how we should treat fellow Christians. He starts with “unity of mind,” as the ESV translates it. I prefer the translation “like minded,” which several translations use. The idea is not that there are never differing opinions in the church. It’s not that no one ever thinks different thoughts, but even when the thoughts are different, the thinking is similar. Because we have the mind of Christ, we think alike. One way to put it is that because the Holy Spirit lives in our spirits, we will look at the world in a similar way. We understand things through the same spiritual lens, because it is the same Holy Spirit that informs our understanding. Paul describes this to the Corinthians:

14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For,
“Who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to teach him?”
But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 2:14-16, NLT)

Because we have the mind of Christ, our intentions, our sentiments, our goals and purposes are the same. We might get there in different ways, but we should be able to recognize “the mind of Christ,” in other Christians, and that should motivate us to get along, even when we disagree with each other about particulars.

Peter adds that we should be full of sympathy. Sympathy means that we “feel with,” one another. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians:

22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

(1 Corinthians 12:22-27, NLT)

This is exactly what Peter is getting at in our text for today. Your joy is my joy. Your sorrow is also mine. Not in a fake way, but in a real way that says: “Because of Jesus Christ, we belong together in the same family forever. So, I’m with you. I’ve got your back.”

Peter adds three more things that should characterize Christian community (that is to say, churches): brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. I think we understand brotherly love. I just want to make sure that we don’t start faking it. As Paul writes elsewhere: “Love must be genuine.” Brotherly love isn’t actually brotherly love unless it is real. This could be very challenging – how do you love some one genuinely if you actually sort of dislike them?

The next one is translated by the ESV as “a tender heart.” Several translations have “compassion,” here. This is actually a very rich word in Greek. A literal translation might be: “a good feeling in your very bowels.” In practice it means, a deeply felt emotion toward others that is positive. At your deepest being, you are committed to other followers of Jesus.

Finally, there is a humble mind, or humble thinking. Humility in your thinking doesn’t necessarily mean that you think you are wrong. You can be absolutely certain you are correct about something, and yet still approach others with humility. Our humility is to be directed at our own selves in a particular way. We are to be humble about getting our own way, humble about being heard; preferring to let others be honored. You can be absolutely sure you are correct, with no doubts, and yet still approach others with humility. You aren’t humble about what you believe, but rather, because of Jesus, you don’t need to insist on your own way. You don’t need to show off, or make people see that you are right, after all.

If Christians took these instructions of Peter to heart, churches – which, again, are supposed to be communities of Christians – would be wonderful places to be. We wouldn’t just be nice to each other in a surface way. In fact, sometimes, real love means confronting one another with a kind and humble attitude, but not compromising the truth. Such churches would be very attractive to non-Christians – beacons of grace and love in a world that cares about performances, wealth and status. But a lot of Christians don’t because we think it is up to us to make it all work.

Peter once again admonishes us to follow the example of Jesus in all of our relationships:

9 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

(1 Peter 3:9, ESV)

This, along with everything before, would be impossible, and even foolish, unless we could look to promises that were imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Which of course, is why Peter began his letter by reminding us that we do have such promises. If this life is all there is, how could it possibly be useful to bless those who revile us, or to not repay those who do wrong with a taste of their own medicine? We would live a life where people hurt us, we did nothing, and then we died. So what? What would be the point in being that sort of person? Peter says that by behaving this way, we “obtain a blessing.” He seems to think that Psalm 34 provides some help on this subject, so the next few lines he writes are a quotation from that Psalm. Here’s the section he quotes:

12 Who is someone who desires life,
loving a long life to enjoy what is good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from deceitful speech.
14 Turn away from evil and do what is good;
seek peace and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry for help.
16 The face of the LORD is set
against those who do what is evil,
to remove all memory of them from the earth.

(Psalms 34:12-16, CSB. [If you compare it to 1 Peter 3:10-12, you will see that they are the same, except that Peter’s translation is slightly abbreviated])

When we think about this, I believe it is very important to understand how the promises of God work. Everything we have in this life, except for our own selves, and our relationships with others, will eventually pass away. Our  strength will fail, and our bodies will die. Our wealth will either be used up, or passed to others when our bodies die. Our cars will eventually fall apart, probably sooner rather than later. Our houses might stand for a long time, but they will no longer be ours, and eventually, they, too, will be either bulldozed, or fall apart on their own.

Therefore, any promise of God that is for this life, is only temporary. As such, it isn’t really much of a promise, if it is only for the here and now. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone (CSB).” To make it practical, imagine I had the promise of physical healing from my pain in this life, but NO promise for eternal life. Even a couple decades free from pain would not be comparable to eternal life in a perfect body, living in fellowship with Jesus and all those who trust him in a beautiful, pain-free world.

So any promise that is for this life is only a partial promise. The promises of God that are most precious are those that last forever. We can ask for, and receive in thankfulness, God’s blessings in our lives today. But those are just extras, thrown in to remind us that the real thing is coming soon. Those blessings and miracles and answered prayers are just a foretaste, and aperitif, of the main course that is coming.

Now, it isn’t wrong to ask for blessings here and now. It isn’t wrong to crave more of the delicious foretaste. What is wrong, however, is to declare that God is somehow unjust, or evil, or cruel, for not doing what we think is best here and now. In many cases, I assume, God’s promises can’t be truly fulfilled until we are in the new creation. Take the promise of eternal life, for instance. Imagine God gave eternal life to your sinful flesh. You would be stuck in your present body forever. Every little thing you don’t like about your body would be with you forever. Because your body is corrupted by sin, you would be stuck in patterns of sin and disappointment and self-centeredness that last forever. No, I don’t want that particular promise (eternal life) fulfilled before it is time, before God’s perfect plan has come to fruition. In fact, if God fulfilled it now, it would become a truly horrible thing. I believe that if we could know what God already knows, we’d be able to see clearly that so many of his eternal promises are like that. So many things that we want cannot really be had as long as we live in this sin-corrupted world, and in these sin-corrupted bodies.

So, when Psalm 34 talks about long life and good days, or evil people being removed from the world, I believe that is referring mainly to eternal life. I think that is also true when Peter says that when we don’t return evil for evil, we “obtain a blessing.” Now, perhaps what God does in eternity has echoes here and now. So maybe we do have some sense of blessing, and “good days” now. The foretaste is real, but it’s not the main course. Your best day in this life will be unbelievably worse than your worst day in the New Creation. Therefore, because of what we have coming to us in eternity, we can live a different sort of life, here and now.

Maybe it’s a bit like a multiplayer video game. You’re playing a game with several other real people, and maybe some computer generated players. In the game, one of the real people pulls a kind of dirty trick. That would make most normal people a bit angry. The emotion of anger is, I think, normal in such a situation, and not wrong. And yet, if you take a moment to get perspective, you can let it go fairly easily, because it doesn’t actually impact your real life. Though it matters at this moment, once you are done with the game it won’t matter at all.

If we can remember that we have a new creation and eternal life waiting for us, that allows us to treat others more kindly. If we remember that we have promises in the New Creation that will never spoil or fade, promises of a life full of joy and adventure and love and friendship, that makes it easier to put up with stupid stuff right now.

All of this is confirmed, I think, by Peter’s next words:

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.

(1 Peter 3:13-14, ESV)

Even if we suffer for doing good, even if we suffer unjustly, we will be blessed. How can he say that? Because of the eternal promises of God. How can we possibly live like this? Even though we have the promises of God, sometimes it is hard to love our fellow Christians as Peter exhorts us to. Sometimes it is hard to not return evil for evil. What can we do?

If you think about it, what Peter is really asking of us is that we should be like Jesus. But I think the concept of being like Jesus isn’t quite right, because frankly, I can’t be like Jesus – at least not for very long at a time (I speak only for myself, but I trust you to be honest about yourself). If that’s all that Peter is saying, we are back to living by the law.

I don’t think that’s what Peter is asking, however. Instead, I would put it like this: we are supposed to manifest the character of Jesus. Jesus lives in us, through the Holy Spirit. We need to “let him out.” Let Jesus, who is inside of you, live his life through you, as you. It isn’t about me making a huge effort to love my fellow Christians, and to not repay evil for evil. Instead, it is about me surrendering my life to Jesus, to let him do as he pleases with my life, and through my life.

The life of Jesus living through me will look slightly different from the life of Jesus living through you, but there will be a commonality, which is why Peter says we ought to be “like minded.” We recognize Jesus in each other, and that leads to the love and deep compassion, sympathy and humility that Peter talks about. Our main work is to trust that Jesus will do it, and then trust when the Holy Spirit gives us a nudge to do something, or not do something. When we rely on him, it is no longer about us.

This is one reason it is so important to know the Bible. The more time we spend with the Bible, the easier it is to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, how he leads you. We also learn by engaging with our fellow-disciples, and through prayer and worship, and through self discipline.

Why not give it a try right now? Let Jesus live his life through you. Pay attention to the Bible as you read it. Pay attention to the little nudges you get from the Holy Spirit. Listen to how other Jesus-followers encourage you. Above all, ask, and then trust, the Holy Spirit to do this work in you and through you.