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

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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.

1 PETER #20: SELF SACRIFICING MEN

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God calls wives to trust him so much that they allow their husbands to take the lead. He calls husbands to trust him so much that they approach their wives in self-sacrificing love. If both men and women listen to God’s call, the result is usually a marriage in which the wife feels secure and cherished, and the husband feels supported and admired.

Peter also tells his readers to maintain an awareness of the significant differences between women and men. Those differences are reflections of the glory of God, and when we honor them, it brings variety and joy to our lives.

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 20

1 PETER #20. 1 PETER 3;1-7 PART C

We’ve already had two messages on this passage. We talked about what it means for wives to submit to their husbands, and also what it means for women to submit to the male leaders of their churches. We talked about the very significant example of Sarah from the Old Testament. If you haven’t read those first two messages on these verses, please do so, because they are very important. One short definition of submission (in this context) is that women make room for their husbands (or church leaders) to take spiritual responsibility for their homes and churches. The women entrust themselves ultimately to God, which makes it easier to allow flawed men to lead. They are trusting God, not men. Women should, while allowing the men to lead, encourage them, support them and use their gifts and abilities to assist that leadership.

Now, it’s time to talk about the part of men in all of this. Peter devotes just one short paragraph specifically to men, which we’ll get to in a minute. In the meantime, we have not only this letter, but also the entire Bible, and most Bible teachers agree that the most complete teaching in one place on this subject of male leadership and female submission comes from Ephesians 5:22-35

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

(Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

Husbands are directed to love their wives as Christ loved the church. The word for love in this case means “self-sacrificing love.” Christ loved the church by literally dying for her. He gave his own life for her sake. This is the standard for how husbands should treat their wives.

Let’s get real about this for a moment. I know men who are pretty certain that they would physically give their lives to save their wives. They believe they would step in front of a bullet, or dive in front of a speeding car to knock her out of the way into safety. And they might, in fact, do such things, if it came down to it.

But self-sacrificing love is not just about the exceptionally rare cases that involve physically saving someone’s life. It means that you die to your own wishes in order to show your wife that she is loved. So, maybe you’ve had a rough day at work, and you’d really just like to put up your feet and watch TV and relax. But she’s had a rough day, too, and someone has to do the dishes. Maybe, in this case, dying for your wife means that you get out of your chair and do the dishes so that she doesn’t have to. Or, it might mean engaging her in meaningful conversation, even when you’re already worn out, or supporting her decision to go back to school even though you are worried about the money.

A lot of men I know are good at sacrificing themselves in mainly one specific way: working hard at their jobs. I’ve met many men who work long hours, and make sacrifices to climb the corporate ladder, all so that, as they might put it: “I can give her the life she deserves.” What they mean is, “buy her the things I think she wants.”

But a lot of women I know would be happy with a little less “stuff” and more meaningful time spent with their husbands. Many women are fully supported financially, but are barely on life support emotionally. Sometimes, for a man, dying for their wife might involve less success at work, and more time spent with their wives. It might mean less financial investment, and more emotional investment. Other men insist that their wives work, to do their part to support the family. Maybe for such men, self-sacrificing love means that you will give up some financial security in order to let her pursue a dream that doesn’t involve a career.

You see what I’m getting at? The way husbands are directed to love their wives means that we husbands should consider the needs of our wives at least as important as our own. When in doubt, maybe we should consider them more important. That’s not to say that a husband can never have a bad day, or that it is never appropriate for a wife to be self-sacrificial to her husband. But it means husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies, and indeed, their very selves. In fact, the standard is the way Jesus loves the church.

It is true that the Lord is asking a lot from women when he says that they should submit to their husbands, and also allow men to lead their churches. It requires a lot of trust in God (which is, I think the main, and most important reason for it). It is also true that the Lord is asking a lot from men when he says that they should love their wives even when it involves sacrificing their own comfort and their preferences, even to the point of dying for them. I hope you can see that if both men and women follow these teachings, the result will often be a marriage in which both the wife and husband feel honored and blessed.

When a husband loves his wife in this way, even if maybe he doesn’t do things exactly the way she might prefer, she should be able to say: “I know he loves me. I know, even when it’s not perfect, that he truly has my best interests in his heart.”

When a wife loves her husband and trusts God by encouraging and supporting her husband’s leadership, he should be able to say: “I know she has my back. Even when it’s not perfect, I can’t doubt that she’s with me, that she’ll stand up for me, and stick with me no matter what.”

Peter gives some specific additional information that is not found explicitly in other passages:

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

1 Peter 3:1-7

As it turns out, this passage has become more important in recent years than it was for quite some time. Because, you can see that Peter is telling his readers to remember that men and women are significantly different. He tells men to be understanding of women. This presupposes that there are differences which should be understood and taken into account when men and women relate.

Peter also writes that women are the “weaker vessel.” Though in our culture it has become almost impossible to say without being censured, there are significant biological differences between men and women, and also emotional and social differences. One of the biological facts is that men, on average, are physically stronger than women on average. Could we find some women who are stronger than some men? Of course. But the strongest human being in the world will always be a man, because men develop more muscle mass than women. It’s just a fact of life, confirmed many, many times by science. Most women will indeed be physically weaker than most men.

I think Peter has three main reasons for pointing this out. First, he wants men to avoid becoming physically rough or abusive with their wives. He wants men to use their strength to provide for and protect their wives, not scare, dominate or abuse them. In Peter’s day, this reminder that women are physically weaker would have shamed any man who used his strength to dominate women. It’s a bit like saying, “Only a coward would hurt a woman. Pick on someone your own size.”

Second, Peter is reminding men of the Christian principle of showing honor to one another. I think most people these days forget (if they ever knew), that physical strength was much more important before modern technology. Most women literally did not have the strength to plow a field, either on their own, or even with a team of horses or oxen. They didn’t have the strength to build a house made out of large stones, or logs, or to fight off wild animals or bandits. To whatever extent women could contribute to these activities, they wouldn’t be as effective as men.

In our culture today, we can lie to ourselves about sex differences. But without technology, in the time of the New Testament, such differences were on display every day. Almost anything a woman could do could also be done by men, but there were a lot of things men could do that women were simply not physically capable of doing. So there was a tendency to see women as less important than men. After all, what good were they? They couldn’t really farm, build, or fight with first century technology, certainly not as well as men. But Peter says, “Yes, they might be physically weaker, but you must honor them.”

Why? Why should men honor women when they can’t keep up with men physically? “Because,” says Peter, “they are coheirs with you in the grace and life of God.” This is one reason Peter earlier reminded everyone of Sarah. Sarah’s life proves that in God’s eyes, women are as important as men. So, Peter writes: “You men, honor women as equals in God’s eyes. God made Sarah equal to Abraham in his plan of salvation. He makes all women equal to men in the grace and life that we have in Jesus Christ.” This was hugely counter-cultural in the time of the New Testament. Christianity is almost single-handedly responsible for raising the status of women worldwide over the past several centuries.

Third, I believe that this text is here as a reminder for us today. Our culture has begun to tell lies about the nature of sex differences, claiming that they are minimal, and unimportant, or even nonexistent. But we can only say such things because technology has evened things out between men and women. Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact that technology and the modern economy have made it possible for either sex to do almost any job is generally a good thing. But this situation also allows us to forget, or even to distort, the truth about the differences between men and women.

In sports, however, we generally recognize the truth. Women don’t compete directly against men, because of the physical differences. The world’s best female tennis player was, for several years, Serena Williams. Talk show host David Letterman spoke to her in 2013, and suggested she might be better than some of the top-ranked men. Williams responded:

“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said. “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

(https://www.good.is/sports/serena-williams-john-mcenroe accessed 6/29/22)

I’m not sure that Serena Williams could, or would, say such a thing in public today without being severely criticized by those who pretend that there is essentially no difference between men and women. However, neither the silence nor the censure can change the facts.

Peter tells men to be aware of sex differences, so that they can treat women well. In action movies for the past decade or more, it is common to see fight scenes between men and women, and normally, in such scenes, the women beat the men. I do agree that some exceptional women would be able to win a fight against unexceptional, or somewhat weaker men. But these movies implant the idea that fights between women and men are “fair fights.” They are not. A male-female fight is between a bigger, stronger, faster, more aggressive person and a smaller, slower, weaker, less aggressive person. That’s the truth, no matter what it looks like in a fictional movie. Peter tells us to get real: men need to be aware of the differences so that they can honor women, and not hurt them.

Both men and women should be aware of the differences, because God created both male and female, and he did so as a way to show the universe part of his glorious image. In other words, being female is part of the glory and image of God. Being male is part of the glory and image of God. When we disparage either male, or female, we disparage God. When we suggest they are unimportant, or interchangeable, we lose part of the beauty that God built into humanity.

At this point, I need to say something, obviously, about transgender folks. A trans person feels that the sex of their body does not reflect who they are on the inside. I believe that transgender people suffer real pain. As Christians, we need to recognize that the pain and struggle are real, and we ought to treat trans people as we ought to treat all people – with honor, love, compassion, and grace.

 We also ought to deal with trans people, and all people, in truth. While having compassion, and being welcoming and accepting, we also need to hold onto the truth, which is that there is such a thing as male and female, and those things are biologically hardwired, because God made us that way.

It is not only the Bible that teaches us this. Modern science has made profoundly definitive discoveries about sex differences. Here are only a few of them: male brain tissue is intrinsically different from female brain tissue. Scientists can now discover the sex of an individual simply by looking at a sample of brain tissue, knowing nothing else about the person. Not only that, but female and male brains are organized differently.

Even at a young age, girls and boys literally see the world differently. Girls and women see color distinctions that men are incapable of perceiving. This is not because of socialization – it is the result of different nerve and brain pathways that are hard-wired by the time babies are born. Every step in every neural pathway from the retina to the brain is different between males and females.

Females have more sensitive hearing. This is simply fact. Also, the mechanisms for sensory perception, particularly pain, are different between females and males. To put it another way, men and women experience pain differently, at a cellular level.

Doctor Leonard Sax, a clinical child psychiatrist, puts it like this:

Girls and boys play differently. They learn differently. They fight differently. They see the world differently. They hear differently. When I started graduate school in 1980, most psychologists were insisting that those differences came about because parents raised girls and boys in different ways. Today we know that the truth is the other way around: parents raise girls and boys differently because girls and boys are so different from birth. Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently

(Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. Broadway Books, NY, NY. 2006)

All these things affirm the view of the Bible. The differences between men and women are important. We can have compassion on those who struggle with their bodies, while at the same time, not compromising what we know to be true.

Let the Lord speak to you today!

1 PETER #19: A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

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Peter writes that true beauty comes from within, and is attainable for everyone, regardless of clothing, hairstyle, body-type, or anything external. There is a beauty of spirit that comes from trusting God, and letting your heart rest peacefully on Him. He gives the example of Sarah, who, though she failed sometimes, trusted God, and became beautiful in this way. God used Sarah to show the world not only inner beauty, but also that women are equally important as men, and that both men and women are necessary to show the world his 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 19

1 PETER #19. 1 PETER 3:1-7

Last time we considered the essence of a woman’s submission to her husband, which is that she entrusts herself to God by using her gifts to support her husband’s leadership of their family, and encouraging that leadership. Ultimately, her trust is not in her husband, but in God, and because of her trust in God, she makes room for her husband to lead. We also talked about the limits of that sort of submission.

In case I wasn’t clear last time, I want to make sure and say it clearly: this doesn’t mean that husbands get to control their wives, and tell them what to do, or organize their schedules for them, and so on. These verses do not advocate those sorts of unhealthy relational patterns, and abuse of any kind is always wrong. The main thing is not that husbands get to control their wives, but rather, that wives make room for their husbands to step up and take responsibility in healthy, godly ways. Submitting means that wives trust God to be at work in and through their husbands, and they support and encourage their husbands’ godly leadership of the family.

By the way, there are several other verses in the New Testament that apply these same principles to church leadership. That’s useful for us today in two ways. First, if you are a single woman, and you wonder what this might have to do with you, you can apply it in your church. Entrust yourself to God, and then make room for the men in your church to lead in godly ways. Support and encourage them, contributing your own talents to their efforts. Single women might also consider how they can make room for, and encourage their own fathers to be spiritual leaders.

Second, if you think about submission in terms of the church, it is easy to see the proper limits of submission. Your church leaders shouldn’t be telling you how to spend every moment of your day, and therefore neither should your husband. Your church leaders shouldn’t be dictating who you can and can’t be friends with, or where you should shop, or what food to eat. Therefore, neither should your husband. If the men in the church have any wisdom, they will ask for the wisdom, talents and skills of the women to help them as they lead. So, a wise husband should want his wife involved in leading the family. There are a few differences, of course, between marriage-life and church-life, but understanding how it should work in the church helps us to navigate how it should work in the home.

Peter adds some new thoughts, while he is still addressing women:

3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

1 Peter 3:3-4

Let’s be sensible about these verses. It should be obvious that Peter is not prohibiting braided hair. What he is doing is quite clear: He is encouraging women to focus on inward beauty more than outward decorations like clothing, jewelry and hairstyles. As it turns out, this could be a tremendously freeing and wonderful thing for women.

Let’s start with the way Peter says it: “Do not let your adorning be external.” The Greek word translated “adorning” is an interesting one. It literally means “world.” Without giving a Greek lesson, I think the idea here is like this:

Don’t let your world be arranged around external things like hairstyles, jewelry and clothes.

(Tom’s literal-ish translation)

Peter is not saying that if you pay attention to your hair or clothes, you are sinning. He is saying that the focus of your world should be on internal qualities more than external things. He adds (my “expounded translation”)

Instead, arrange your world around the hidden beauty of your heart, your inner person. Do this through a composed and gentle spirit. This kind of beauty lasts forever, and is precious to God.

Tom’s literal-ish expounded translation

Before we get to the details, let me point out that this means that true beauty is possible for every woman, no matter their age, genetic make-up or workout regimen. In fact, the very reason we are familiar with the idea of “inner beauty” is because of this passage of the Bible. It reminds me of another passage, this time about a man. The prophet Samuel was looking for Israel’s next king, and he came upon a big, tall, strong young man who looked like a king. He thought his search was over until God spoke to him:

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

(1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)

Our culture, by and large, does judge by outward appearances. Some of the most admired and envied individuals in our society are actually pretty lousy as human beings, but they are beautiful to look at. It’s been well established that there is such a thing as “tall privilege” (tall people get hired more, and are more likely to be promoted, etc). People who are considered physically attractive are also treated better than others. To our culture, outward appearances are very important.

Peter offers to free us from all of that. He says there is a beauty that touches the heart of God, and it is the beauty of the inner person. It has nothing to do with the size or brand of your clothes, or your hairstyle. It’s a beauty that will never fade, no matter how old you grow. You can’t lose it.

Writing specifically to women, Peter says that womanly beauty has something to do with a composed and gentle spirit. Where I write “composed,” some translations say: “quiet.” But just as “quiet” has shades of meaning in English, so does the word in Greek. It doesn’t necessarily mean “refraining from talking or making noise.” It means “remaining at peace,” or “not trying to control things.” It’s a piece of what we talked about last time when we considered submission. It means trusting God so much that you don’t have to try and control things. That trust leads to peace and composure in the inner person, which is a beautiful thing to God.

As an example of this, Peter names Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He says that Sarah used to make herself beautiful in this same way, as she too, entrusted herself to God’s work in and through her husband.

Let’s consider some of the details of Sarah’s beautiful life. (I’m going to call them Sarah and Abraham consistently, even though initially they were called Sarai and Abram). We probably need to start by acknowledging that much like her husband Abraham, Sarah was an imperfect person, who had ups and downs in her life of faith. Her worst moments came when she failed to trust God, or to make room for Abraham’s leadership, and instead, tried to control things herself. So, we’ll briefly consider the main negative example from Sarah’s life, because it has bearing on the rest of it.

God had promised a child to Sarah and Abraham. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Finally, she decided that maybe God helps those who help themselves. I can picture it a little bit. She says to Abraham:

“It’s over. I’m done with my female cycle.”

“What do you mean?” Abraham might have been slightly clueless at this point.

“I mean that having babies is related to the fact that I bleed every month. Now, since I no longer bleed every month, my body has lost the capability of having babies.”

“OK,” says Abraham. He probably feels that he didn’t really want to know all these details.

“This just isn’t going to happen, Abraham, not by letting nature take its course. Nature has taken its course already, and has gone home to retire. Women my age don’t get pregnant. We have to do something.”

In this case, Sarah did not trust God. She tried to control things, and she made a hash of it. To make a long story short, Sarah decided that they should have a surrogate pregnancy. However, in those days, the only way to have a surrogate mother carry a baby for a couple was for the man to impregnate the surrogate in the “old fashioned way.” Sarah insisted, suggesting her maid Hagar as the surrogate. Abraham (and Hagar, apparently) agreed.

Hagar did indeed get pregnant, and this made her feel like she had replaced Sarah, whom she mocked. Sarah complained to Abraham, and blamed him for the strife, even though the whole thing was her idea. Later on, Sarah clashed with Hagar again. She certainly never bonded with Hagar’s baby, or considered him her own.

That was a dark spot on Sarah’s history. It occurred when she was not remaining at peace, or trusting God’s work. It happened when she tried to take control in order to get what she wanted.

However, for most of her life, Sarah displayed a remarkable level of trust in God, and that allowed her to support and encourage Abraham’s leadership. For instance, the story of Abraham begins in the land of Ur. I picture him coming to Sarah.

“Honey, I believe God has called us to move.”

“He didn’t say anything to me about it.”

“I know.”

“Where are we going?”

Abraham clears his throat. “Uh, I’m not really sure. God said he’d show me when we got there.”

“So, you have no idea where we’re going, or how long it will take?”

“Ah, that’s right, I guess.”

“How long will we stay there?”

“Um,” says Abraham. “The rest of our lives?”

“So I’m never going to see my friends or family again?”

“Well, uh, I guess not.”

“Why are we supposed to do this?”

“To have a land that will be populated with our descendants.”

“But we haven’t even been able to have children yet.”

“No. But God wants us to go. He says we’ll have lots of descendants.”

Sarah takes a deep breath. “OK. If you really believe this is what God wants.”

I can’t imagine the kind of trust in God she had to have to go along with Abraham at that point! What a beautiful picture of faith and peace!

After they got to the promised land, two different times, they had to stay in a city with a king in order to survive a time of famine. Both times, the kings noticed Sarah, and asked Abraham about her. Abraham was afraid they would kill him in order to take her into their harems, so, both times, he told a half-truth, saying she was his sister (she actually was either his step-sister or half-sister). He neglected to mention that she was also his wife. His lies actually put Sarah at great risk, since the kings did indeed want her for their harems. However, she trusted God, even when her husband was making mistakes, and God protected her in those situations, even though Abraham failed.

So, Sarah knew how to speak her mind. Submitting to her husband did not turn her into a doormat. She sometimes laughed at him, sometimes argued with him. But when push came to shove, she almost always chose to trust God’s work in and through her husband, and therefore to encourage and support Abraham’s leadership. Even her failures are an example to us, in that they show us she was human, and there is grace when we fall. We have no physical pictures of Sarah, but Peter calls her beautiful, because of her trust in God.

Part of this beauty, no doubt has to do with the image of God, and how God made male and female to relate to one another. All the way back in Genesis chapter 1, God declared this:

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(Genesis 1:27, ESV)

Being created in the image of God means that in some way, human beings reflect the glory of God to each other and to the universe. But the image of God requires both male and female.

There is something else very important about Sarah. We know from the incident with Hagar that Abraham was able to have children without too much trouble. In addition, many years later, after Sarah died, Abraham remarried, and his second wife bore several children to him. So, when it came to having the descendants that God promised, it was Sarah’s body that was keeping it from happening. But notice this very significant thing: After Abraham had a son with Hagar as a “surrogate,” God said, “This is not the child I promised you.” This is highly important.

In the days of Abraham, women were considered to be of secondary importance to men. When it came to having children, the important thing, to most people, was the father. If Abraham had not been a follower of God, it would not have mattered who the mother of his children was. However, God showed that his promise was not just for Abraham, but for Sarah, too. The child of God’s promise had to be not just Abraham’s son, but also Sarah’s. Hagar’s son didn’t count, even though Abraham was the father. In other words, in the eyes of God, Sarah was just as important as Abraham.

In a time when women were considered less important, God used Sarah’s life to say: “Women are just as important as men. My promise is for men and women both. My whole plan of salvation must involve not just Abraham, but also Sarah.”

Today, it might seem obvious that women and men are equally important to God. But it certainly was not so in the time of Sarah. In fact, it is because of the Bible that today we understand that men and women are equal. God used Sarah’s life to show that men and women are equally important, equally valuable, in His eyes.

Last time, I promised you “braids, beauty and biology.” It seems we don’t have space for the “biology” part until next time. So, let’s look for applications for our lives right now. I suspect that the applications will be slightly different for men and women.

Women, one practical thing might be to remember that true beauty comes from within, and you can cultivate it by your trust in the Lord. You can be secure in your beauty, because it is not based upon how you look, or what sorts of clothes or hairstyles you can afford. Your calm, peaceful trust in the Lord can shine out true beauty. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what kind of genes you have.

Men, we will talk more about your part next time, but we might begin to apply this by recognizing and appreciating the inner beauty of the women in your life. When they entrust themselves to God by making room for your leadership, consider it a sacred responsibility to do your best to lead with sensitivity, love and consideration for them.

It might also be important to remember for both men and women that God designed his image to be reflected not in maleness alone, or femaleness alone, but in the two as they work together. Though we are different, neither one is more (or less) important than the other. We will talk more about this next time.

1 PETER #18: DO I REALLY HAVE TO TEACH ABOUT THIS?

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These days, most of us in Western culture perceive submission as a dirty word. But the Biblical concept of submission in marriage is a beautiful thing that invites women to trust, and men to step up into loving leadership. If you don’t believe me, keep reading.

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 18

1 Peter #18. 1 Peter 3:1-2

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV

Here it is: the moment you’ve all been waiting for: “Wives, submit to your husbands.”

This is obviously a verse that sounds very out-of-step with our current culture. It comes across as patriarchal, oppressive toward women, and so old-fashioned as to be silly. In the minds of some people, it proves how horrible Christianity really is. It appears to be unjust, the product and producer of male privilege.

One of the challenges of living in the early 21st century is that, largely because of social media, we are losing our historical perspective. Huge portions of the population seem unaware of the fact that at other times in history, many wonderful people felt differently than the social media mob feels today. In fact, they seem unaware that until very, very recently, many things were considered quite reasonable that are now so offensive as to get someone fired. People today are destroyed socially, and often lose their whole career, for having opinions that weren’t remotely controversial even ten years ago. More than twenty years ago is treated as ancient history.

Because of all of this, there are a large proportion of Christians in the Western world who try to make verses like this meaningless. The Christians who try to eliminate any meaning or significance from such verses call themselves “egalitarians.” Sometimes they also go by the name “evangelical feminists.”

Some egalitarians say that Peter was merely telling women to fit in with the culture around them. Others say that Peter was just joking around, being sarcastic. Some claim that if we interpret the bible correctly, it actually says the exact opposite of what it appears to say. Other egalitarians suggest that even though the Bible teaches that wives should submit to their husbands, God was just compromising with ungodly culture, and now today we are supposed to come up with new teachings about men and women that go beyond what the Bible actually says. They say that today we understand better than the apostles what God really would have said, if the apostles hadn’t been so stuck in their own culture and time-period. (They don’t seem to consider the possibility that we might be stuck inside our own time period and culture). If you really want them, I can give you exact references from books by Christian egalitarians, demonstrating these arguments.

Hopefully, just by sharing egalitarian arguments so clearly, you can see that they are problematic. Even so, I truly understand the desire to pretend such verses don’t actually mean anything. In many ways, I wish the Bible didn’t have verses like this one. But, unfortunately, the antics of Christian egalitarians contradict almost every good principle of Bible interpretation. If we were to accept the way egalitarians treat scriptures like this, we would have to accept that most of the Bible is meaningless. If you really want to dig into why that is, I’m happy to get you a copy of my book: In God’s Image, which is all about this topic.

In the meantime, let’s try to approach these verses the same way we approach all Bible verses. Before we get into our specific verses today, I want to point out that the New Testament repeats this teaching several times. Besides here, in Ephesians, Colossians and Titus, wives are told to submit to their husbands. In Corinthians and 1 Timothy, women are taught to relate to men as different from themselves, and having a unique spiritual responsibility that women do not have. In all of those verses, the New Testament does not give culture as a reason for the teaching. Instead, this teaching about men and women goes back to creation, to the fall of human beings, to the nature of the Trinity, and to the nature of Christ’s relationship with the church. In other words, it is a deep and pervasive teaching in the Bible that men and women are created by God to be different, and that those differences should be appropriately expressed in marriage and in the church.

With that, let’s look at 1 Peter chapter 3. First, let’s remember the context. Peter made the case that we are the very special people of God: specially selected to be his children, an ethnicity of holiness, priests in the way of Jesus, bought by God with the precious blood of Jesus. Because of who we are in Jesus, we live different lives. Our lives are to reflect our identity as God’s chosen ones. So, we abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls. We submit to governing authorities, because we inhabit a better kingdom with a perfect king. We submit to bosses or others who have authority over us, and we do so not because they are wonderful people, but rather, because we are God’s people. We are followers of Jesus, who entrusted himself fully to God, even in the face of massive injustice and suffering.

In the same way, writes Peter, wives submit to your husbands. In other words, submit in the way of Jesus. Submit because of Jesus, not because your husband is the most wonderful person who ever lived. Entrust yourself, not to your husband’s righteousness, but to God’s. Submit because when you do so, as a specially chosen daughter of God, as a follower of Jesus, God turns it into a thing of everlasting beauty.

First, what is submission? Many bible teachers feel that the core New Testament passage about marriage and submission is Ephesians 5:21-35. I agree. If you wonder where I get some of the ideas that follow, read that passage. In that passage, it tells husbands to love their wives sacrificially, as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. A husband’s love in marriage is supposed to give the world a picture of Christ’s love for the church. In the same way, a wife’s submission to her husband is supposed to be like the submission of the church to Christ. Her willingness to let her husband lead is meant to show the world how the church is supposed to respond to Christ.

So, I might say it like this: Submission is a wife’s divine calling to honor, affirm, and encourage her husband’s leadership of their family, and to support that leadership with her own gifts and abilities. The core thing that happens when a wife submits to her husband is that she trusts God to be at work in and through her husband, and she supports God’s work in that way.

Part of this means that husbands and wives aren’t just doing their own thing separately, like roommates with benefits. They make a life together. They approach life as a team. I don’t mean husbands and wives can’t have their own friends, or individual hobbies. I think it’s healthy for married couples to have a few separate interests. But being married means making a life together. They have to find ways to work together to live the life that God has given them. A wife trusting God to work through her husband, and supporting and encouraging her husband’s leadership of their life together, is a tremendously important component of making a godly life together.

In our culture today, submission is associated with the idea of domination. However, that particular association is unique to our culture and to our time. Elsewhere in the world (and at other times in history), billions of people value appropriate submission as much as we might value compassion. In such places (East Asia, and Africa, for two examples) submission is a very positive thing. When we define it the way we just did above, we can see that it need not be humiliating or negative at all. It is an appropriate respect for the responsibilities of leadership entrusted to others. When we offer that respect, it also brings honor to ourselves.

Let’s briefly talk about what submission is not. Husbands are not called to dominate wives. Biblical submission is a gracious entrusting of oneself to God first, and through God, to husbands. But it is not a call to be a doormat. It is not a call to allow yourself to be subjugated and manipulated. No woman must submit to physical or emotional abuse, or any kind of deliberate harm. No woman must submit to being controlled, or humiliated, or treated like a child. (No man must submit to this, either)

In addition, all of the things we said in previous lessons about submitting to government, and to masters, apply in this case. You should not go along with your husband when he wants you to sin. You should not go along with your husband when he wants you to stop reading your bible, or praying, or going to church. Not only that, but trusting God in your marriage means that you should not encourage or support your husband when he wants to sin himself, even if it is without involving you. John Piper addresses this, adding an important thought:

The supreme authority of Christ qualifies the authority of her husband. She should never follow her husband into sin. Nevertheless, even when she may have to stand with Christ against the sinful will of her husband (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:1, where she does not yield to her husband’s unbelief), she can still have a spirit of submission—a disposition to yield. She can show by her attitude and behavior that she does not like resisting his will and that she longs for him to forsake sin and lead in righteousness so that her disposition to honor him as head can again produce harmony.

(John Piper & Wayne Grudem, 50 Crucial Questions. Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2016)

Peter says that when women are disposed to honor and affirm and support the leadership of their husbands it can have a profound impact on those husbands. In fact, he suggests it as a means to reach husbands who are not following Jesus with the gospel.

Many years ago, our neighbors were not Christians. The wife was a self-proclaimed radical feminist. After a couple years of praying and talking, the wife became a believer and started following Jesus. We taught her to read her Bible, and she began to do so regularly. Then, just two or three months after that happened, she approached me when I was taking out the garbage.

“Did you know about these verses?” she demanded, reading me this exact passage from 1 Peter.

“Yes,” I said, wincing inwardly. I was kind of hoping it might have been a bit longer before she came across them. I knew they would really challenge her feminism.

“Does this mean pretty much what it says?” she asked.

“I believe it does,” I said. I waited for the angry outburst, but she just stood there, chewing on her lower lip for a few seconds, thinking. Finally, she turned back to me, and declared, “I’m going to try it.”

Two months later, her husband became a follower of Jesus. He agrees that it was in large part due to the change he saw in his wife. As a pastor, one of my privileges is to walk with people through their struggles and also their joys. I know personally of at least one other man who became a Christian because his wife did her best to put Peter’s words into practice. I know of other marriages where the two were already Christian, but their relationships were transformed when wives took this seriously.

I think one of the key things about submission is the surrendering of control. Again, I don’t mean submitting to be controlled by your husband. But I do think that being Biblically submissive means that wives must give up trying to control or manipulate their husbands, or even trying to control things through their husbands. It involves letting go, trusting God to work through the man you committed your life to.

I believe that in general, good men respond positively to vulnerability combined with trust. I think when a man believes that his wife is genuinely counting on him to handle things, he really does want to come through for her. He is motivated by his wife’s godly submission in a way that no amount of nagging can accomplish. That’s not to say, women, that your husband will never disappoint you, just as you can’t say you will never disappoint him. Also, he may come through for you in a way that is perfectly acceptable, but not the exact way you planned, or not in the manner you would have done it. Part of godly submission is allowing your husband to do things differently than you might.

However, if he is a wise husband, he’ll enlist your help. The trick though, is to help without taking control; to maintain your attitude of trust in God and support of your husband’s responsibility as a spiritual leader.

But your ultimate trust is that God will work in and through your husband. When you believe that, you will also do your best to use your own talents and energy to help him succeed, because then the two of you are successful together, as a team, and that is the way God designed it to be.

Women, I don’t think you can get up enough trust on your own for this. You need the power of the Holy Spirit to work in you in order to trust God enough to submit to your husbands in this way. Men, you know you don’t have what it takes to be worthy of such submission. We too, need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to be godly leaders in our families.

There is more to be said on this. We’ve only really covered verses 1-2. So next time we’ll talk about Braids, Beauty and Biology!

1 PETER #17: REMEMBER YOUR TRUE AUTHORITY

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Many of Peter’s first readers were living in a time when they didn’t have much control over their own lives. They had almost zero influence on what the Roman government did, and almost as little over their own local governments. Peter says, “Don’t worry about that. Obey the government, and entrust yourself to God.”

Now, he is writing to those who have even less control over their lives – slaves. He gives the same advice. We need to remember that there is something much more important here than the twisted natures of those who are in charge. This is a chance to show people what Jesus is like. This is a chance for Jesus to manifest his life through you.

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 17

1 PETER #17: 1 PETER 2:18-25

Peter is flowing through a series of thoughts, each one connected to the one before. So, after talking about how God has made us his people, he then encouraged us to act like the people of God, citizens of heaven. Next, he explained that, as citizens of heaven, we should live peacefully and respectfully with regard to governments here on earth, submitting to them not because of any inherent goodness found in any particular government, or any kind of government, but rather, submitting for the sake of the Lord.

Peter now expands on the theme of submitting for the sake of the Lord, and he takes us to the case of slaves. I want to remind us a little bit about slavery in that time and place. There were two kinds of slavery in the ancient Roman empire. One kind involved slaves who served on Roman warships and in Roman mines, and a few other places. These were generally prisoners of war, or condemned criminals, and they served lives of hard labor and incredible suffering until they died. It would have been more or less impossible for this type of slave to be part of a Christian house church, because they generally lived their entire lives chained up like animals either on the ships, or in the place where they were used for hard labor. It’s just an unfortunate historical reality that we don’t have much information about whether or not the gospel spread to these types of slaves.

The second type of slavery was much more common in populated areas of the Empire, and it was very different from the slavery that existed in the American south until the mid nineteenth century, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Slaves could be of any ethnicity – that is, slavery wasn’t race based. Most slaves in the Roman empire were not slaves for life. Some of them sold themselves into slavery in order to pay their debts, or to avoid starvation. Even while they were slaves, they were paid wages, in addition to being given food and housing. Slaves could conduct business in their own names, and own property – though many did not have much free time for such activities. In fact, some well-off slaves even owned other slaves themselves! Slave owners could not break up, or sell off, the family members of slaves. Most slaves in the Roman empire eventually became free again, either by gift from their master,  or by contract, or by saving up their wages and buying back their freedom. The average length of time most slaves spent in slavery was about twenty years. Some had the chance to be free, but instead made a deliberate choice to serve beloved masters for life.

Peter uses a specific term in Greek to show he is talking to the second type of slave, not the slave-laborers who were effectively prisoners with no rights. Though the typical Roman slave was better off than most slaves elsewhere in the world for most of history, we should remember that Roman slaves did not have the same freedoms as totally free people. Though they were paid, they worked for their masters, not themselves. Their time was not their own, unless they were given free time by their masters. They had to do what they were told to do, even if it was unpleasant or dangerous, and masters had wide latitude to punish slaves who displeased them.

Maybe the closest thing we have today to New Testament-times slavery is military service. When you join the military you receive some clothing, housing and an income, and even food. In return, you place yourself at the service of the military branch that you joined, for example, the Army. You can’t leave your Army post without permission. You can’t live just anywhere you want to, and you must do what the Army tells you to do, and you can be punished, even imprisoned, if you refuse to obey. Until your term of service is over, you are not entirely “your own person,” so to speak. Yet, there are limits to what the Army can make you do. That’s a pretty similar picture to slavery in the world of the New Testament. Let’s remember, however, though it was far better than what we might normally think of when we hear the word “slavery,” it was not usually a cushy, sought-after position. Maybe it would be useful to adopt the ESV’s translation of “servants,” rather than slaves. With that understanding, let’s get into Peter’s words.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(1 Peter 2:18-25, ESV)

Peter is telling us that because we are the people of God, we see all human relationships through the lens of our position in God’s kingdom. So, in the normal course of the world, you respect people who earn your respect, and grumble about people who mistreat you. Peter says, however, that Christians are different: “slaves, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the good, but also to those who are unjust.” Actually, the literal translation of “unjust” in this verse would be “twisted.” Peter is saying, “Your master might be a severely twisted individual, but you submit to him, and serve him, not because of him, but because of the Lord.”

Now, if we talk of submitting to someone who is twisted, how far should we take that? Last time we considered the exceptions when it comes to submitting to government. We don’t submit when the government tells us to sin. We don’t agree to sin either by doing something wrong, or by not doing something we are supposed to do. The same principles hold when we are talking about submission to any authority less than God. However, when there is no conflict between following Jesus and submitting to proper authorities, we submit, and we do so, not because the one we submit to is worthy in some way, but rather, for the sake of the Lord Himself.

Also, of course, this applies to proper authorities. So for example, I don’t have to obey the instructions of an Army officer, because I am not in the Army. But I do have to obey the lawful instructions of a police officer who is within jurisdiction. I don’t have to pay property tax in California, but I do have to pay taxes in Tennessee, and so on.

There is another important point to be made, which Peter himself makes. He is not talking about cases where a servant is being punished for doing wrong. He comments: “How is there any credit to either you or God if you endure punishment for doing wrong? The situation here is when a master is twisted. The master is likely going to be unfair to the servant, no matter what the servant does. So, the servant might be tempted to think: “Why should I bother doing the right thing if I’m going to be punished anyway? Why not serve badly? If he treats me badly, I will return that injustice with bad service.” This kind of thing, says Peter, gives the servant no credit, and brings no glory to God. Anyone in the world, whether Christian or not, can take that attitude. No, says Peter, Jesus so transforms everything about us that we can patiently endure injustice without doing wrong in return. In fact, he says, twice, that to endure suffering for the sake of God, with the grief that often entails, is a gracious thing to God.

All of this lays the groundwork for some important principles of Christian suffering. First, our suffering for Christ need not be the direct result of persecution. Peter is not suggesting that the master might be mistreating the servant because the servant is a Christian. Instead, the problem is the master is twisted – he’s generally just a nasty sort of person. Because it is not about persecution, this means that whatever suffering we endure can be redeemed as suffering for and with Christ – which, difficult as it might be, becomes a thing of grace.

So, for instance, you might think that having a nasty boss could not be considered “suffering for the sake of Christ.” But Peter says: “It can be.” If we endure while still working as if we are working for Christ, (even though in reality we are working for a twisted jerk) our trials bring glory to God. If we can get free from such a situation, there is nothing wrong with doing so. In writing to slaves, however, Peter is talking to people who are stuck, at least for a couple of decades.

If we encounter any kind of undeserved hardship, and endure it as we look to God, bearing up under it the way Jesus did, it becomes a thing of glory to God and grace to us. Peter says we have been called to this, because we are followers of Christ who suffered when he did not deserve it.

That brings us to an uncomfortable thought. We follow Jesus. What was the earthly life of Jesus like? He lived on this sin-corrupted earth as if he was a citizen of heaven, which, of course, he was. That meant he did not live for temporary pleasure, temporary riches or temporary glory. He lived in the light of eternity, which meant he was willing to endure suffering here and now.

Our lives will not exactly look like that of Jesus. Most of us will not be itinerant rabbis in the country of Israel. But the qualities of Jesus should be manifest in us. The way we handle various situations will remind other people about Jesus. They might think: “I don’t know why, but something about the way she responded makes me think of Jesus.” Some people might not even recognize it as a  quality of Jesus, but merely something that impresses them and appeals to them somehow.

In any case, one of the characteristics of Jesus was that he endured suffering patiently, entrusting himself to God. We Christians ought to approach suffering in the same way. When we endure suffering while also holding God in mind, and our citizenship in heaven, there is grace.

Many of Peter’s first readers were living in a time when they didn’t have much control over their own lives. They had almost zero influence on what the Roman government did, and almost as little over their own local governments. Peter says, “Don’t worry about that. Obey the government, and entrust yourself to God.”

Now, he is writing to those who have even less control over their lives – slaves. He gives the same advice. We need to remember that there is something much more important here than the twisted natures of those who are in charge. This is a chance to show people what Jesus is like. This is a chance for Jesus to manifest his life through you.

I believe this extends to any situation where we might be suffering, and where we have little control. In fact, I think it even extends to situations where you might have some control. After all, Jesus certainly could have destroyed his evil enemies with a mere wink. And yet, aware of God’s will, he chose to suffer in order to bring glory to God.

All of this would be incredibly difficult, except for two things. First, we need to remember, and remain aware of, something Peter has already explained:

Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. 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 1:3b-7, NLT).

Second, we need to remember that it is not up to us to endure suffering graciously through our own difficult effort. Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to manifest the nature of Jesus in us and through us. Practically, what that means might include praying something like this: “Lord, I cannot face this situation with grace or patience. But I know that you can. Would you please live through me right now, so that your grace and your patience are evident to everyone around me? Would you please sustain me through this? I have no other hope but you.”

Some of the trials might include the necessity of dealing with someone in your life who is twisted. The trials will often be things over which we have little or no control. What we can control, is how we respond to them, and we can respond to them with the nature of Jesus, who lives within us. Again, we do that by asking, and trusting, the Holy Spirit to make it so. We have so much more waiting for us than anything that can be found in this life. Think of the very best life you could imagine having on earth, then multiply the goodness and joy of that by a thousand, and you still haven’t even begun to touch what it will be like when we come into our eternal inheritance.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now.

1 PETER #16: GOD AND GOVERNMENT

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I am free, no matter what kind of government exists in the country I live in. I am a servant of Christ, no matter how free I am politically. I am a follower of Jesus, who endured injustice, and instigated a kingdom that is not of this world. These things have profound impacts on how I relate to the governments of this world.

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 16

1 PETER #16. 1 PETER 2:13-17

I will take this next section piece by piece, but we should keep in mind the whole section from verses 13 through 25, because we need to keep the context clear to understand it properly. Please read all of those verses (13-25) before continuing.

The ESV says “be subject to…” Other translations might say “submit to.” The thing we are told to submit to is “every human institution.” Just to clarify, Peter names the types of things he means: emperors and governors. In other words: “be subject to the government.” Right away, I would expect most Americans to bristle at this idea. I know I do, and I was not even raised in America. I don’t want to “be subject” to anyone. I want to be free. It gets worse when I find that it is the government to which I should submit.

Let’s start out with the qualifiers, exceptions, and objections – there are legitimate ones. Peter himself, on several different occasions, refused to obey governing authorities. If you want to find a couple of those, please read Acts 4:18-21, and Acts 5:27-29. In those cases, Peter and the other apostles were doing what Jesus told them to do: preaching repentance, forgiveness and salvation, in the name of Jesus. The authorities told them not to do it. Peter responded, in Acts 4:19: “”You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight—to obey you or to obey God.”

This gives us a clear understanding of certain situations. If obeying the governing authorities would lead us to disobey God, we calmly choose to obey God. In addition, we accept the consequences of disobeying the government. Peter and the other apostles were in and out of prison, and sometimes beaten or whipped, for their continual civil disobedience in this way. They never said: “You don’t have the right to imprison us!” They never reacted violently. However, they continued to obey God when there was a conflict between following Jesus and submitting to the governing authorities. You might say this principle in short is: “Obey God, and accept the consequences.”

I want to make sure this is clear, however. This civil disobedience came about only from a direct conflict between following Jesus and obeying the authorities. In other words, they didn’t disobey the government simply because they perceived it to be unfair, or unjust, or even criminal. The only cause for disobedience was when obedience to the government meant disobedience toward God. In other words they disobeyed only if the authorities were telling them to stop doing something that they must do as followers of Jesus, or to do something that God says is wrong (that is, sinful). So, if the government tells you your taxes are going up, or that you aren’t allowed to raise chickens in your neighborhood, or that you can’t park wherever you feel like, you have no Biblical case to disobey.

On the other hand, if the government tells you to stop reading your Bible, or to stop participating in church, or stop telling others about Jesus, you can disobey with a clear conscience – although you should also be ready to accept the consequences of your civil disobedience. In the second category, if the government tells you to do something wrong, like murdering someone, or lying, it is appropriate to disobey the government. Again, however, don’t be surprised if you end up in trouble for it. Peter’s point is that following Jesus is worth the trouble. We do need to understand that following Jesus won’t necessarily keep us out of trouble with the government, or our bosses at work.

There’s another caveat to add. The apostles and early Christians apparently saw nothing wrong with doing what they could to avoid conflict, and even to avoid unjust punishment from the government. When a great persecution broke out in Jerusalem, many Christians fled from there to other areas, and that, in fact, helped the gospel to spread. In plain terms, they ran away before they could be caught and thrown into prison (Acts 8:1-3). The Bible does not condemn them for that, and in fact, seems to see it positively.

Shortly after Paul became a Christian, he began to preach in the city of Damascus. The authorities came after him, and Paul’s friends helped him escape one night by lowering him over the city wall in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). So, again, this is an example of someone running away from the governing authorities, and he is not condemned for it.

One of the times Peter was imprisoned is recorded in Acts 12:1-19. The apostle James was executed. The authorities were going to kill Peter, also, but, as the church prayed for him, an angel released him from prison. I want to point out that the church did not lead an insurrection that led to Peter’s release. No, they prayed for him, and trusted God with the result. After going to the house-church and telling them he was safe, Peter hid from the authorities. The Bible never suggests that it was wrong of Peter to hide for a while after escaping from prison.

Also, whenever possible, Christians used the mechanisms of the government to get relief from persecution. Several times Paul used his Roman citizenship to force the authorities to treat him better (Acts 16:37) and give him a fair trial (Acts 21:22-29). So it isn’t wrong to dispute with the government through proper legal mechanisms.

It is important to understand these types of exceptions and qualifications. But the fact remains that, in general, we are supposed to be subject to the governing authorities. Paul too, affirmed that this is normal Christian practice (Romans 13:1-7) In teaching this, Peter and Paul were only passing on the teaching of Jesus himself.  When Jesus was questioned about paying taxes, he said, in no uncertain terms, that people should pay them. These taxes were manifestly unfair to start with, and were collected by corrupt people who charged extra in order to line their own pockets. But Jesus told his followers to pay them anyway, and focus instead on the kingdom of God:

13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Jesus to trap him in his words. 14 When they came, they said to him, “Teacher, we know you are truthful and don’t care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality but teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we? ”
15 But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” 16 They brought a coin. “Whose image and inscription is this? ” he asked them.
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
17 Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

(Mark 12:13-17, CSB)

In a way, Jesus was saying, “The government is irrelevant. The corruption is irrelevant. None of that can stop the kingdom of God. None of that matters as much as your citizenship in heaven.”

So, the whole point behind the Christian attitude toward government is that we are, first and foremost, citizens of the Kingdom of God. We need to live like that, and that means that the actions of any particular government are not as important to us as our callings in God’s Kingdom.

The government when Peter wrote these verses was made up of layers of dictatorships upon dictatorships, and corruption upon corruption. The common people had very little freedom or opportunity. In other words, they put up with a lot of – [insert your own adjective] – stuff from the government, and Peter says, “obey the government anyway.”

If it is any comfort, you don’t have to like it. But the truth is, as much as I like to complain, I am still better off under the American government today than I am under any other government in the world at this time. In fact, I am better off under the American government today than I would have been in any other place in the world, at any other time in history, except possibly the American government of forty to fifty-seven years ago. (If you go back to earlier than 1964, you will find that the U.S. government legally allowed the oppression of minorities and women). So, compared to Peter, and compared to most of the population of the world throughout history, and even today, we don’t have much to complain about.

The point is though, even when we do have legitimate complaints about earthly government, our focus as followers of Jesus should be on our citizenship in heaven. Peter writes: “Live as free people, but don’t use your freedom to cover up evil. Live as servants of God.” So we are free, no matter what the government does to us. And yet, even if we live in a wonderfully free society, we are bound to the Lord, and are His servants. Peter gives us the key: “Be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution…” We don’t submit to the government because it’s a good government. We do it for the sake of the Lord. After all, we are followers of Jesus. We should expect to live life as he did. This is the way Jesus lived with regard to the authorities:

21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

(1 Peter 2:21-23)

It is not that we expect the government to always be good and just. It is rather that we entrust ourselves to God. And even when injustice occurs (as it certainly did, in the crucifixion of Jesus) God will bring goodness, glory and grace out of it, sooner or later.

Peter also uses as an example the instance of a Roman slave who is treated unjustly. He says, to such a person, “There is something bigger here than your experience of injustice. God will deal with the injustice, and it will be sorted out in the end. In the meantime, when you suffer unjustly, it is a credit to you, and there is grace for you in following in the way of Jesus.”

We often want to make our submission conditional upon whether or not the authority we submit to is good. We’re willing  to submit when we can see why it’s a good idea, or if we can see the position of the government is just. But if we think it is wrong, or unfair, we are inclined to think, “I don’t have to obey, because it isn’t just or fair.”

However, if you only submit to those authorities that you judge are good, you are left with a huge problem. Who, aside from Jesus, is truly good? You could find fault with any authority whatsoever, because all human beings are corrupted by sin. Not only that, but we are human beings, so we could not even claim that individuals should have authority over themselves, because we ourselves are also corrupted by sin, and if we are “in charge of ourselves,” so to speak, that means that we are under a corrupt authority. No, there is no legitimacy in obeying only when we think it’s fair. Again, we submit not because we approve of the government, but because of the Lord.

I say all this with a great deal of trepidation. It seems to me that the rules are rapidly changing, and the American government and institutions are rapidly pursuing a course that will result in a great deal more legal injustice, even though they claim it is in the name of justice. I think it is a very real possibility that before long I will be confronted with whether or not I can follow my own teaching in this matter. Of course, I hope it isn’t my teaching, but that of the Bible. My point is, we live in a generation where this teaching will be severely tested.

Probably within eighteen months of when Peter wrote this, Emperor Nero began a horrific persecution of Christians in Rome, the city where Peter wrote this letter. During the worst part of it, Nero had Christians tied to stakes, and then burned alive, in order to light up the palace gardens at night. This was the emperor at the time when Peter wrote: “obey the governing authorities.”

Legend has it that Peter decided to flee Rome, along with thousands of other Christians. While he was on the way, he was met by a vision of Jesus. Jesus said, “Where are you going, Peter?” Peter took that as Jesus telling him to remain in Rome, and accept the consequences. Whether or not Peter had that vision, he certainly did stay in Rome, and he was killed by the Emperor that he told his readers to obey. He absolutely put his own words into practice.

So, too, we must be prepared to accept the consequences which come, which might involve the loss of a job, or even a career. In some instances, it might involve being fined, taxed unfairly, and possibly even imprisoned. Our own property might be taken from us. We Christians have a history  of peaceful resistance that spans millennia, and even today, Christians in various parts of the world are imprisoned, lose their own rightful property, and sometimes are killed, as they follow Jesus, and refuse to return violence for violence.

Again, there are clearly instances where we will have to disobey governing authorities. And again, I say that according to the Bible, this must be a peaceful disobedience, one that accepts the consequences without returning violence for violence

I have occasionally heard American Christians say things like: “If they come to take my guns, they can have them by the end that shoots the bullets.” Or, “They better bring an army when they come for my house.” Believe me, I understand the sentiments. I truly do. I feel those same feelings. It feels like there could be a time when our very freedom is at stake. But Jesus has made us different than that, better than that. Because we belong to Jesus, we are free, no matter what kind of government we live under. We can allow our property to be confiscated because we have “property” in the New Creation that can never be taken from us. Everything we have in this life is only borrowed, anyway.

Certainly, if such a thing happens to me, I will fight it by every legal and peaceful means I can employ. But in the end, the way to achieve freedom is to follow in the way of Jesus Christ. If we taught more and more people in our country to follow Jesus, political freedom would  not be an issue. Even secular writer Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that the freedom experienced by Americans was directly connected to the fact that so many Americans were Christians at that time. If you want to “fight for freedom,” live like a follower of Jesus, and encourage others to do the same. If enough people follow Jesus, government won’t be an issue. However, according to Jesus, government isn’t an issue in any case.

In the meantime the point is, I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom before and after I am a citizen of any country on earth. Obeying the government whenever I can, and peacefully disobeying when there is a conflict with following God, becomes a way to follow in the path of Jesus, and to proclaim to the world that we have found something far better than anything this world has to offer.

1 PETER #15: A DIFFERENT KIND OF WAR

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The desires of the flesh wage war on our souls, leaving us hollow-shelled and hopeless. We learn to abstain from them not because it’s a law, but because God has already made us his people. When we connect to his love, we find strength to abstain from the flesh, and that brings glory to God, which is the best thing for us, and for the whole world.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, especially if you are using your phone, 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 15

As always, we need to keep in mind the context of our verses. This time, context is especially important, otherwise we might get the wrong idea. Remember, Peter has been writing about what God has done for us. We are God’s specially selected people; a holy nation; a royal priesthood; a people obtained by, and for, God. Once we were not God’s people, but now we are; once we had not received his mercy, but now we have. God’s purpose in making us his own includes showing the universe that he is a good, holy and loving God.

Therefore – with God’s grace showered on us, with new identities as God’s people –

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

(1 Peter 2:11-12, ESV)

So we can see right away that we abstain from sinful desires not in order to become God’s people, but rather, because he has already made us his people. Avoiding sin is about living according to our true nature as God’s children.

I have used the marriage analogy many times in the past, and, of course, the Bible itself portrays our relationship with Jesus as a marriage. I live like a married man because I am a married man. I don’t avoid adultery in order to become married to Kari, or in order to get Kari to love me. Instead, I abstain from adultery because I love Kari, because I know Kari loves me, and because we are (already) married.

If I want to be married, is it necessary to avoid adultery? I would say so. Does that mean Kari loves me only for the things I do, or don’t do: i.e., she loves me primarily because I have avoided adultery? No. Simply abstaining from adultery is not the main basis for a marriage, but it is the natural result of a loving relationship between husband and wife. It’s about love, not law, but love affects behavior.

So, should we abstain from sin if we belong to Jesus? I would say so. Does Jesus only love and save us if we don’t sin? Is abstaining from sin the main basis for our relationship with Jesus? No – it is the natural result of first, connecting with how much God loves us, and second, our own awakening love for God. I’ll say it again, because it is so important: It’s about love, not law, but love affects behavior.

With that understanding, let’s talk about what Peter means when he tells us we should “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” First the word “abstaining,” is, in Greek, the opposite of “complete fullness.” In other words, the point is, we abstain completely. We don’t just limit ourselves to a “little bit” of the passions of the flesh. The goal is to have nothing to do with them whatsoever. Certainly, less indulgence of the flesh is better than more, but the goal is none.

That naturally raises the question: what are these “passions of the flesh?” Flesh is a term used by Paul and Peter to describe the source of sinful desires in someone who belongs to Jesus. Maybe one way to say it is this: My flesh = my body, corrupted by sin. Our sinful desires don’t originate in the spirit, or even the soul. They come from the flesh. Paul explains to the Galatians that the desires of the flesh lead to the works (actions) of the flesh:

17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.

(Galatians 5:17-21, ESV)

The list above is not exhaustive, unfortunately, but I’m sure you get the idea. If we keep in mind what I’ve been saying about love, we won’t need an exhaustive list. Instead, what we need is to cultivate our receiving of God’s love, and cultivate our own love for him.

There are three reasons to abstain from the desires of the flesh: First, because God has made us his people. That’s mostly what we’ve been talking about so far – it means our behavior arises out of God’s love for us, and our loving response to him. There’s another piece, also, about being God’s people. Peter comments that being the people of God means we are strangers and temporary residents in this sinful world. This world is not our home. We are not citizens here, and so we live differently. In fact, we are to live on this earth as though we are already citizens of heaven – because, in fact, that is what we are!

Though your present body will have to die, your spirit, and your soul, will not. In some mysterious way, your spirit-life is already with Christ in heaven.

1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.

(Colossians 3:1-3, NLT)

So, your spirit is alive with Christ. Your body is corrupted by sin, and is dying slowly. Your soul is the interface between spirit and body. It can be influenced by the spirit, or by the sin-corrupted body – that is, the flesh. The Lord wants us to remember that we belong in heaven, and in fact, one part of us is already “there” in some way (our spirit). The fact that we belong to God makes us strangers and non-citizens of the world. So we live like God’s people, not worldly people.

Peter writes that the passions of the flesh “wage war against your soul.” This is the second reason to abstain from them. The term translated “wage war” is an interesting one, in Greek. Another way to say it is that the passions of the flesh are waging a long and strategic campaign against your soul.

The Lord wants to influence your soul through the spirit. The devil wants to influence your soul through your sin-corrupted body – that is, your flesh. The soul is the battle ground. We need to remember that we are in a spiritual war.

The flesh will offer you immediate gratification, but somehow, the gratification part doesn’t last very long. As David Wilcox wrote: “You can get what’s second best…but it’s hard to get enough.” Your soul is built for God and his New Creation, but the passions of the flesh dull our spiritual senses. They take away our taste for God. They encourage us to not be thankful, always reminding us instead, of what we don’t have. When we indulge the passions of the flesh, it begins to steal our hope. We live for whatever shallow pleasure we can get, so we never get the chance to experience deep joy, which often only comes after a kind of emptiness. The flesh is insistent, and demanding, and ultimately it wears us out, and leaves us with a few tarnished cheap thrills, and nothing of lasting value. It brings us into strife with others, and even strife within our own hearts. If we let it, the flesh will leave us bored, angry, dull, frustrated, friendless, hopeless, heartless and hapless. It will blast the architecture of your soul into rubble.

God is not trying to spoil our fun. He wants us to recognize our enemies, and not be seduced by them. He wants our souls to thrive, and so, through Peter, the Holy Spirit warns us that the passions of the flesh will seek to destroy us.

The third reason to abstain from the passions of the flesh is because it brings glory to God, and whenever God is glorified, the best things in the universe happen. This is when the architecture of your soul gets built, and rebuilt. When you have one of those sublime moments of joy that somehow fill you and lift you up and make you long for even more, it is a result of the glory of God. When God is glorified, all is well within us also.

I wish it wasn’t true sometimes, but our behavior is one way that God is glorified. When we don’t meet hurt with hurt, when we say “no,” to mindless indulgence, when we live in love, others notice.

I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but it bears repeating. In Allahabad in northwest India, Hindu and Buddhist people have been present for millennia. Many of them have been powerful, wise and intelligent. A few hundred years ago, the area was conquered by Muslim rulers. They ruled the region for centuries, and they too were often powerful, wise and intelligent. No Hindu rulers, and no commoner, taught the people to read their own language. No Muslim or Buddhist did, either. Neither Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus started schools, or provided widespread medical care to common people. But when Christians came to the area, they built hospitals, and brought medical care to even the most poor. They developed a written form of the languages spoken by the common people, and taught them to read and write. Then they built schools and universities. Christians living in the love of God do things that other people don’t normally do. It’s noticeable.

Make sure you understand here. I’m not saying that no one who calls themselves a Christian will do terrible things. I’m not saying that only Christians do good things, or that, for instance, Buddhists cannot be wonderful, loving, selfless people. I’m saying that the overwhelming testimony of history is that Christians who follow Jesus faithfully have had a noticeable impact on the world, in a way that is historically different from the impact of other world views.

Now, that’s a wide snapshot of history in a certain place of the world. I’m not suggesting that all of you reading this need to go overseas and teach literacy, or build schools or hospitals. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t either – listen to the Holy Spirit on that. But I am saying, based on this text, that we Christians are called to live like citizens of someplace that cannot yet be found on earth. When we do so, it protects our very souls, and it brings glory to God and blessing to this world.

When I hear something like that, I’m tempted to feel bad. I haven’t started a school for the poorest of the poor. I haven’t given up my house, and lived with the downtrodden. In other words, I start evaluating my performance. In fact, I bet I could find some Buddhists who have been better, more loving people than I have been. But I think that’s the wrong approach, especially if we actually want to live lives that glorify God.

I believe the right approach is to immerse ourselves in the love of God. That might seem selfish, but I promise you, it is not. God himself is not selfish. If we really connect deeply to his love, we will find ourselves naturally abstaining from the flesh, and living according to the spirit. When we fully receive God’s love for us, when we truly understand that we are his people, citizens of heaven, we will want to do the things that glorify him, because, after all, that’s what he made us for.

One thing I suggest is to ask God to let you receive more of his love. Just pray for it with a simple prayer. Ask him to help you love him, and to live through you, the life he wants you to live. After you ask, start paying attention. It’s not complicated. The hard part is surrendering to his love when he takes you (or one of your loved ones) in a direction that you aren’t sure about. So then, ask him to give you the trust in Him that you need for that, too.

1 PETER #14: AN ETHNICITY OF HOLINESS

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Jesus is the way of salvation, the only way. Every other path is doomed to keep a person separated from the goodness of God. If you reject Jesus, there are severe natural consequences – even more severe than rejecting gravity at the top of a cliff.

But rejecting Jesus is not the only possibility. Even those who once rejected him have the opportunity to turn back (that is, repent) and receive him, as long as they are still drawing breath. For those who do receive him, the consequences are wonderful: we are specially selected children, we are inducted into the priest-order of King Jesus, we are an ethnicity of holiness, and God’s specially-obtained people.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, click below to either download, or play from a new page:

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 15

1 PETER #14. 1 PETER 2:9-10

There are many advantages to going verse by verse through books of the Bible. There are also a few disadvantages. One potential drawback is that we might forget the larger context of a passage. It’s all there, if we go back and look at it, and it’s all there within the overall sermon series – but sometimes individual sermons are focused on very small portions of the text, as we are today.

Therefore, let me remind you of our context. The verses just before this were about the contrast between those who receive Jesus, the cornerstone, the foundation of everything, and those who reject him. We focused last time on those who reject Jesus. Truth is sometimes hard. Only one person actually wins a race. That’s tough on everyone else who competes. Two plus two equals four; not three, not five, and six is right out. If you choose to “reject gravity,” and jump off a cliff you will fall downwards, and your body will suffer severe consequences, and this will happen to every single person who tries it. Not a single person will get to fall upwards, just by chance. So, Jesus is the way of salvation, the only way. Every other path is doomed to keep a person separated from the goodness of God. If you reject Jesus, there are severe consequences – even more severe than rejecting gravity at the top of a cliff.

But rejecting Jesus is not the only possibility. For those who receive him, the consequences are wonderful. And even those who once rejected him have the opportunity to turn back (that is, repent) and receive him, as long as they are still drawing breath. Also, the larger context is talking about how we who trust Jesus are God’s people, people that God is blessing, and using to show the world his glory. It is in this context, and after speaking about the consequences of rejecting Jesus, that Peter writes these verses:

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

(1 Peter 2:9-10, CSB)

In some ways, the key to these words is in verse 10, so I’ll go backwards. Peter is writing to primarily Gentile (that is, non-Jewish) Christians – this is obvious from verse 10:

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

God made many promises to the physical descendants of Abraham. He chose them out of all the people of the world to be his own special people, to show His glory, grace and goodness to the world. They were special, in a way that no other people were special. It was widely believed by the Jews that no one else could be called “God’s special people.”

Now, says Peter, all of those promises made to the physical descendants of Abraham are applied to those who receive Jesus – whether or not they are physical descendants of Abraham. Belonging to God is not about ethnicity, or ancestry, but about your standing with Jesus Christ.

So, when we read verse nine, we need to understand that Peter is talking about promises that were once thought to apply only to the people of Israel, and now, he is describing how they apply to everyone who receives Jesus Christ.

When we receive Jesus, a number of consequences cascade into place. First, we are a chosen race. In my amateur, Greek-hacker way, I might put the Greek like this: “specially-selected descendants.” Through Jesus, God has specially selected us to be his children. We find that all along, God wanted us. It is not a matter of an indifferent God waiting around to see if we would choose him. No, He was the one who chose us the whole time. I’m sure Peter had in mind some of the verses of the Old Testament:

Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.

(Deut 10:15, ESV)

And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

(Exodus 19:6, ESV)

We are chosen in Jesus. Because we have entrusted ourselves to Jesus, we have become the specially selected children of God. The promises above are for us.

Second, we are a kingly priesthood. In the Old Testament, there was an ancestral separation between those who could become priests, and those who could become kings. Priests had to be from the tribe of Levi, and from the clan of Aaron. In ancient Israel, no one else could be a legitimate priest. Kings, on the other hand were supposed to be from the tribe of Judah, descended from David. No priest could be a king, and vice versa. But in Jesus, the two came together. He is the rightful king because he is a descendant of David. He is the rightful High Priest because his sacrifice once and for all established the forgiveness of sins. So now God has chosen new “descendants of Jesus” who can be both royal, and priestly at the same time. Isaiah spoke prophetically about this:

but you shall be called the priests of the LORD;
they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God;

(Isaiah 61:6, ESV)

John mentions it in Revelation – not prophetically, but rather as one of the things established by the work of Jesus:

To him who loves us and has set us free from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father ​— ​to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

(Revelation 1:5-6, CSB)

We talked about what it means to be priests in #12 of this series on 1 Peter. The short version is that it means: 1. We have direct access to God, 2. We have an indispensable place in the church, which is called “the body of Christ,” 3. We are all God’s representatives in the world and, 4. We offer spiritual sacrifices to God: through praising him, submitting to God’s will, and giving him our very selves.

Peter adds here that our priesthood is “royal.” This is added first and foremost to show that we are not priests like the Old Testaments Levites, nor even the descendants of Aaron. We are priests in the line of Jesus. He is the only royal priest, and so, we too, are royal, because we are in Jesus.

The next result of being in Jesus is that we are a holy people. The more-or-less literal Greek reads: “an ethnicity of holiness.” To be Christian has nothing to do with physical ethnicity. Christianity, from the very beginning, has been a religion of every nation, ethnicity and language, and our vision of heaven is firmly multi-ethnic. Part of the reason for this is that our physical/genetic ethnicity is now not as important as our spiritual ethnicity. Our spiritual ethnicity is the ethnicity of holiness. Another way of saying this is that our “true ethnicity” is based not upon physical birth, but upon spiritual birth; that is, upon the fact that Jesus Christ has made us holy.

We can praise God for our physical ancestry. We can see how God worked in our ancestors to bring glory to Himself, and grace to us. It’s good to celebrate it. It is also good to celebrate our positive or neutral cultural differences as part of the multi-faceted glory of God. So, for instance, be proud of being African-American. Be in awe of the glory of God that preserved your ancestors through slavery to bring you to this point in time. Enjoy your cultural traditions. Invite friends of different ethnic groups.

Or, be proud of your scrappy Irish ancestors, who overcame all sorts of obstacles in the past to bring you to where you are today. Celebrate St. Patrick’s day (as a Christian). Or, if you are a Scandinavian, celebrate your heritage with lutefisk festivals. You Germans, and German-descended, celebrate Bach, polka, and sauerkraut. Again, everyone invite your friends of different cultural backgrounds to celebrate together with you (except you Scandinavians: lutefisk could start a war).

However, all of us should recognize that there is something much greater and more glorious, and far more important than our physical ancestry: our spiritual ethnicity. If we are Christians, our spiritual heritage, our ethnicity as God’s people, trumps everything else. Peter is saying that all of us can claim the spiritual heritage of the Old Testament (and, of course, the new). The promises made to God’s people are made to us. Our identity as the specially selected people of God is more important, and should be more dominant, than any other possible identity.

On the negative side, I might put it like this: If you feel like race or culture separates you from a fellow-Christian, you have not fully embraced God’s promises.

On the positive side, we need to recognize that we have more in common (for instance) with a Christian from thousands of miles away, who is from a different country, and speaks a different language, than we do with a non-Christian neighbor who looks and sounds just like us. This isn’t to say that we should be uncaring toward our non-Christian neighbor. But our “primary group” so to speak, the group we call “our people,” is not defined by physical ethnicity, culture or language. It is defined by Jesus Christ.

The phrase is “ethnicity of holiness.” We’ve just talked about the “ethnicity” part of that. Let’s consider the “holiness” part. I think a lot of Christians, upon hearing that word, might say, “well, that’s not me then, because I am not holy.” My dear fellow holy-people, we really need to get over ourselves. The holiness of God’s people is not our own. I am not considered holy because I have been a particularly good person. I am holy for one reason only: because I belong to Jesus, and he has imparted his own holiness to me. For a Christian, being holy does not start with our behavior – it starts with the behavior of Jesus Christ.

Consider the following analogy: I am an indifferent gardener. Sometimes, I might leave a garden hose, with a sprayer nozzle attached to it, lying in the dirt for months at a time. When I finally decide to water something, I attach the hose to the tap, and then turn it on. It takes several seconds for the water to come through. When the water starts to come out of the sprayer, it comes in fits and starts, because the other end of the hose has dirt in it. Also, parts of the sprayer are clogged with dirt. Sometimes the hose is kinked, and I have to straighten it out to get more than a few drips. The water isn’t coming through steadily, and what does come through is actually kind of dirty. Now, does this mean the water coming out of the tap is dirty, or that the pressure is bad? Of course not. It is the hose that is kinked and dirty, and also the sprayer, and the dirt and kinks impair the flow of the water, and makes it look dirty. But the water itself is pure and clean at the source. Over time, I find the kinks and straighten them, and the water washes the dirt out of the hose, and out of the sprayer, and eventually, I have clean water coming through a fully functioning sprayer.

The hose is not the source of the water – it is merely a vehicle for the water. The same is true of the sprayer-attachment.

The water is the holiness of Christ. We are the hose and the sprayer. We don’t generate holiness – it comes through us. At first, that holiness doesn’t look very “holy,” because we have plenty of dirt in us. At first, it only comes through in dirty-looking drips and drabs. Over time, the holiness of Christ begins to unkink us, and clean us up from the inside out. Unfortunately, it takes a lifetime – the dirt is caked on thick and tough, and the kinks are hardened in. But over time, the holiness does begin to flow better, and look cleaner. Again, however, that is not because we are generating holiness ourselves – it is the holiness of Christ working its way through us.

I don’t think it is very helpful to ask how close we are to having pure water. The more helpful thing to do is to surrender ourselves more and more fully to Jesus, and let him take care of the unkinking, let him worry about how quickly, or slowly, the dirt is removed, so that the water flows freely.

The third thing is that we are a people for his possession. Another way to express the Greek is that we were “specially-obtained” by and for God. He went to great lengths to get us, to make us his own.

All that brings us to the final thing. There is a purpose for God making us his specially selected children, a royal priesthood, an ethnicity of holiness, specially obtained by and for God. To paraphrase the end of verse nine, the purpose is so that God can use us to show the world how wonderful He is.

Sometimes, I end with practical suggestions for applying scripture to our lives. Today my practical suggestion is this: Believe the word of God. Trust that it is true. God has specially selected you to be part of his people. Trust it! Lean into it! God has inducted you into a holy priesthood in the order of King Jesus. Believe it, then act like you believe it. The Father has made you an ethnicity of holiness. Trust it is true, and act as you believe. Receive your fellow Christians as family, no matter what they look like or sound like. The Father has gone to great lengths to make us his people. Believe it! Receive his special attention and love. Finally, let him work through you to show the world how wonderful he is. If we believe and trust all that these verses say, then we will naturally be letting God show his glory to the world.

1 PETER #13: THE ROCK-HARD TRUTH

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Many people, both past and present, recognize that Christianity has been a greater force for good in this world than any other religion or worldview. But some people want to have the benefits of Christianity without the difficult, almost embarrassing, business of actually entrusting their lives to Jesus Christ. That is, they want to stop short of having faith. However, Jesus’ chief apostle, Peter, presents us with something we in the modern world seem to hate: a binary choice. Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation upon which everything depends. Those who trust in him will not be put to shame. Those who reject him will find themselves destroyed by that rejection. To be a Christian is to trust Jesus. Without that, there is no Christianity.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: 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 13

1 PETER 13: 1 PETER 2:6-8

Every year, during the week leading up to Easter, there are always a number of articles about Christianity written by public intellectuals. (According to Kari, I am not a public intellectual, but I am a private intellectual. I’m still not sure what to make of that…)

This past week I read an article by Tim DeRoche, a writer who is wrestling with Christianity. He recognizes that many intelligent people, even today, acknowledge the power for good that is found in Christianity, and how faith in Jesus Christ: “over the last 2,000 years has largely been correlated with decreasing levels of slavery, war, crime, poverty, and general suffering.” He is not the first person to recognize this, and it is not a matter of opinion, but rather, established historical fact.

At the same time, this writer seems to want the benefits of Christianity without insisting that we actually have to have faith in Jesus. DeRoche considers the modern philosophers who are also wrestling with the fact that Christianity has been such a tremendous force for good in the world. He writes:

Instead of arguing that Christianity is factually accurate or literally true, they show us how and why Christianity works—for the individual and for the common good. 

So where do I stand now? Am I a “believer” or a “nonbeliever”? I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters all that much.

(https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/the-secular-case-for-christianity?s=r)

At a different point, he tries to argue that the Christian and secular worldviews have been “falsely” separated by – if you can imagine – “belief.” I appreciate DeRoche’s interest and honesty, but unfortunately, he is utterly confused. He is not remotely the first person to want to have the good parts of Christianity without the difficult, self-denying leap of faith. But our verses today clearly point out that faith in Jesus Christ is something that irrevocably separates Christians from non-Christians. Jesus is the cornerstone. Those who trust him will not be put to shame, and those who do not will be undone by Him.

To help us understand this Bible concept, below is a picture showing a “cornerstone.”

The illustration shows the cornerstone as the largest stone in the middle of the picture. As you can see, the cornerstone is generally quite large compared to the other stones, and it supports the entire wall along both sides. In fact, in ancient building techniques, all four walls ultimately depend upon the cornerstone. If you were to remove the cornerstone, all the other walls would collapse, at least to some extent. So, the structural integrity of the entire building rests upon the cornerstone. It is, for all intents and purposes, the foundation of the building.

There are three important implications of this picture of Jesus as the cornerstone.

First, it means that everything depends upon Jesus. He is the foundation. Without him, there is no Christian faith. When I read the article by Tim DeRoche, (quoted above) I appreciated his interest in Christianity, and his openness and honesty. But it seemed like he has no understanding of what Christianity actually is. It is faith in Jesus Christ. Without that, there is no foundation, Everything falls apart.

Imagine I said: “I can see the benefits of technology. Electricity, running water, medical devices, computers and the internet have benefitted millions. I can agree with that. But I don’t like this business of science. I want to have the technology without all that troublesome science.” That is silly, of course. Without the science, the technology would never have happened.

That is what it sounds like when someone says they want the benefits of Christianity without having to have faith in Jesus. It simply doesn’t work that way. Without the faith, there would be no benefits. The Christianity that changed the world, the religion that has led to greater freedom for billions, more economic security, the end of slavery, the reduction of crime and suffering, is faith in Jesus Christ. Without people who actually trusted Jesus Christ, none of the benefits of Christianity would ever have come to be. You cannot be a Christian without having actual faith in Jesus Christ.

Second, when we trust him, when we build our lives upon him, we are ultimately secure. We can rely upon him. We won’t be put to shame. This doesn’t mean we will never suffer, or that life will always go well for us. But when we trust Jesus, ultimately we will be vindicated for doing so. Certainly if not before, our trust will be vindicated at the final judgment, which is where it matters most. Peter’s readers were a tiny religious minority in a culture that at times ignored them, and other times mocked them, or even persecuted them. Peter is telling them: don’t worry about that. Your trust in Jesus will turn out to be the most important thing in eternity. When life is over, the only thing that will matter is whether or not you trusted him. At that point everyone will see and be unable to deny that trusting Jesus was more important than any lost opportunity, any insult, any harm suffered for his sake.

The trajectory of our lives is bound to that of Jesus Christ:

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:6-11, ESV)

There may be a time where we are humbled by our faith in Jesus, when we may have to suffer, when it may look like the enemies of Christ are winning. But eventually, all humanity will have to acknowledge the victory of Christ. Eventually, just as we may be included in the path of his suffering, those of us who trust in him will also be included in the victory he has achieved.

This leads us to the third thing: the person of Jesus Christ is unmoving and unyielding. All who oppose him will ultimately be destroyed. Imagine trying to fight a rock with nothing more than your body. If a giant rock and your body collide, it is your body that will be destroyed, not the rock. So, Peter writes this:

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”8 and  “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

(1 Peter 2:7-8, ESV)

I’m sure Peter was thinking of Jesus’ own words when he wrote this. Here’s how Jesus himself put it:

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is what the Lord has done
and it is wonderful in our eyes?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit. 44 Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will shatter him.”

(Matthew 21:42-44, CSB)

Those who reject Jesus will eventually be broken by him. Right now, we live in a time of grace. As long as you are still alive, you have the chance to repent, and to trust Jesus. But when Jesus returns, or, when you die (either of which could happen at any time), if you have rejected Jesus, you will be broken to pieces and shattered by the cornerstone.

We don’t have the option of saying, “I’ll take Christianity, except without all the business about whether or not I actually believe.” Christianity is trusting Jesus. Jesus himself, in the passage I just quoted, made it clear that if we do not trust him, we will be destroyed. If you simply read the gospels, this is all quite clear. Jesus himself was the one who claimed that he was the only way to be saved. He consistently taught, time and time again, that our eternal future depends upon how we respond to him. That is the essential core of Christianity.

This business of being destroyed is not a threat. Christian theology has never allowed us to try and convert anyone by fear or by force. (History records Christians occasionally trying to convert people by force or coercion. But those who did so were defying the teachings of the Bible).

The situation is like this: you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and your ship has sunk. There is nothing around you but empty ocean for three-thousand miles in every direction. There is only one lifeboat. If  you want to be saved, that lifeboat is your only option, and there is plenty of room on it. Anyone who is willing to get on it will be helped to do so. If you don’t like the idea of being in that particular boat, or you don’t like the people on it, you don’t have to get in it. But it is the only option if you want to live. If the words of Jesus are correct, he is the only lifeboat in the entire ocean. If you reject him, you have refused your only chance of living. The result will be predictable.

That might sound arrogant – to say that Jesus is the only way to be saved. But that is the claim of Jesus himself, given in his own words, and also in the words of those who knew him personally, and knew what he taught about himself:

6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, CSB)

1 This Jesus is the stone rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone.
12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, CSB. This was said by Peter, who wrote the letter we are studying)

11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11-13, CSB)

There are many other places in which Jesus clearly taught that the only important thing was how people responded to him. The heart of the teaching of Jesus is that we must trust him to be saved. There is no Christianity without that.

Some people might be troubled by Peter’s words in verse eight. It makes it sound as if some people were born to go to hell. I  find the words of Matthew Henry to be helpful here:

God himself hath appointed everlasting destruction to all those who stumble at the word, being disobedient. All those who go on resolutely in their infidelity and contempt of the gospel are appointed to eternal destruction; and God from eternity knows who they are.

1 Peter 2:4 – Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible

As Matthew Henry points out, God knows who will receive Jesus, and who will reject him. So, in that sense certain people were always going to end up in hell. But even so, they go there by their own choice. What God foreordains is not who goes, but rather where they go. Those who reject Jesus are destined to be lost, because they have refused the only way of salvation.

So where are we today? Perhaps this idea of Jesus as the cornerstone is new to you. Perhaps you didn’t realize that Jesus calls each person to have allegiance to Himself above all others. Maybe you didn’t realize that Christianity without faith in Jesus is no longer Christianity. Maybe you need to hear his call today. He is either who he claimed to be, or he is a liar, or a crazy person. He doesn’t sound like a liar or crazy person, though.

The movement Jesus founded has unquestionably brought immense good into the world. It sounds bigoted to say this next thing, but it is indisputably true: Christianity has brought more good into the world, and has resulted in more human flourishing, than any other religion or worldview. Though Hinduism and Islam were dominant in the country of India for many centuries before Christianity, it was Christians who built the first hospitals and universities in India. It was Christians who turned Hindi and Urdu into written languages and taught Indians to read. It was a Christian woman (Mother Theresa) – not a Hindu mystic – who founded the first and most famous organization to bless the poorest of the poor in India. The same kinds of stories can be repeated about almost every country in the world. It is hard to believe that a liar or crazy person would have such an incredibly positive influence on the world. Maybe it’s time you came to grips with the real Person, Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you have already trusted Jesus with your life. But maybe you need to hear again today that those – like you – who trust in him, will not be put to shame. Life can be hard and cruel sometimes. It’s easy to feel abandoned by God. But we have a promise that we will be ultimately vindicated. Our trust in him is not misplaced. We may sometimes walk in the valley of the shadow of death, but we do not need to fear any evil there. Jesus too, walked through that valley, and he does so still – alongside his people who are suffering. We have eternal promises that can never be broken by this world. Our hope is in the right place, and will be rewarded with more than we could ask or imagine.

Finally, perhaps some of you need to hear that the choice is binary, because Jesus himself makes it binary. To choose against Jesus is to choose ultimate suffering, and blackest darkness, forever. This doesn’t sound like much of a choice, but that doesn’t really matter if it is a reflection of reality. If you decide you don’t like the binary confines of gravity, and you jump off a cliff, you will die, whether that seems fair to you, or not. Truth matters, and sometimes truth is hard. The incredible grace of God is that, in the person of Jesus Christ, he reconciled the truth of our rebellion against him with the truth of his immeasurable love for us. His tortuous death shows us just how serious our rebellion against God is. It also shows us how much God loves us – how much he went through to save us. The cross, and the resurrection, offer us a gateway to new life, to a new kind of life. Perhaps today is the day you will decide to receive it.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today!