GOD’S GLORY FOR OUR GOOD

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3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. 4 For He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love 5 He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, 6 to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6, HCSB)

11 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, 12 so that we who had already put our hope in the Messiah might bring praise to His glory.
13 When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. 14 He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14, HCSB)

4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, 5 made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! 6 Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, 7 so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.(Ephesians 2:4-7, HCSB)

I want to share some things this time that the Lord has been showing me. I don’t want to pretend that this is something new. Many, many people have written about what I am going to say here. Even so, it is a subject that is often neglected in churches these days. Also, I think I have a piece to share that makes the main lesson a bit more concrete and personal.

I have highlighted several phrases from the first two chapters of Ephesians. Here’s the first thing I want us to notice from the verses above: God wants to display his glory and his grace to the universe he created.

God is the best, most beautiful, most wonderful, amazing, superlative being in all of existence. There is nothing better than him. Nothing more beautiful. Nothing more wonderful. Nothing more worthy of praise or attention. He is the highest and best good. Therefore, the highest and supreme good, the most wonderful thing that can ever happen at any time, is that God’s wonderfulness and goodness and amazingness is displayed to, and known by, all of creation. For short, we can call this: “God is glorified.” When God is glorified, it means that his goodness, wonderfulness (and so on) is being displayed, and recognized.

Think of it like this. Just as we should seek to honor and glorify God because he is the Supreme Good, so he should seek to bring honor and glory to himself – for the same reason. That is God’s focus. That is His continual, ongoing activity. In a big-picture sense, this is always what God is up to: bringing glory to himself. This is always the end result that he has in mind, because it the best thing that can happen in the universe, and it is the best thing for the universe. The best thing that can ever happen, in any situation, at any time, is that God is glorified. This is always God’s end-goal, in every situation. Scripture tells that:

10 at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow —
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth —
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, HCSB)

25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28, NLT)

33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the LORD’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, NLT)

Stay with me here, because I think the end result will bless you. We have a bit of mind-work to do first, however. If God’s main purpose is to show his glory, then that is the thing that will most certainly happen. Nothing compares to God, and the scripture says he does not change or waver. So, we can count on the fact that God will be glorified. It is more certain, even, than death or taxes. Nothing will prevent God from ultimately being glorified in all things. His own nature and his own purpose guarantee it.

Now, if you are a self-centered creature like me, or maybe even if you are just hurting, you might say, “I can recognize that God’s goal is to be glorified, and, with my mind, I can even agree with that goal. But I don’t see how it helps me when God is glorified.” I know this is a shallow, selfish approach, but I can’t help feeling that way at times. I might think: “Good for God, that he gets the glory that he deserves. But in the meantime, I’m suffering.” If you know me, you know that I mean that part quite literally. I am physically suffering right now, as I write this. But even if you aren’t suffering, you might wonder: “What does God’s glory have to do with me?” It’s nice for God that his purpose will not be thwarted. It’s great for him that ultimately he will be glorified. But life is hard right now. Sometimes, I wonder if the idea of God working so that his wonderfulness is displayed to all creation really does much for me.

But it does.

You see, what the verses I quoted in the beginning (from Ephesians) tell us is not just that God is glorifying himself. They tell us the way he goes about bringing glory to himself. And, simply because he chose to do so, he has decided that he will make loving us a central part of his own glory. The foundation of God’s glory is his love. So, when he glorifies himself, he does it through love. Particularly, he does it by loving human beings. Even more specifically, he does it through loving you and me.

This means that God’s love is not based on something so shallow as our own lovableness, or even our own need. No, he has connected loving us to the eternal good purpose of showing his glory. He will never stop loving us, because he will never stop showing his glory. He has made his love for us central to his own nature, and integral to his own best purpose for the universe.

So now, we can say that because God will always be glorified, God will always love you. Not because you deserve it. Not even because you need it. But because God’s love for you is built into the very purpose for the universe.

This has several implications for us. First, and I mean this is a very positive way, life is not about you. This is in contrast to the message we generally get from our culture, which is all about people being the “best authentic selves” that they can be. However, for Christians, self-fulfillment can be a by-product of trusting God, but it should never be our goal. God does not exist to help you become a fulfilled person. He does not exist to fix the people around you, or to make your circumstances better. He exists to glorify himself. But because of his very nature, when he glorifies himself, you will be loved. We are safe to live not for ourselves, but for God, because God has us at the center of his own purpose. When we let God become the center of everything, our own lives in are in their proper place. It frees us from being focused on ourselves. God’s got us, because we are part of us his purpose and plan. We can relax, and let him do his work in us and through us.

Second, it means that we can trust that God is working for our good in all things. In fact, he has tied our own good to the highest good and purpose of the universe – his own glory. So Paul writes:

28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; and those He justified, He also glorified.
(Romans 8:28-30, HCSB)

Not only does God love us for his own glory, but he invites us to partake in that glory! This is not theoretical for me, and I don’t want it to be theoretical for you, either. Simply put, it means that no matter what we might experience – even very difficult things – it will be used for God’s glory, and for our good.

Most of you know that I am in a very difficult season of life. Every day I experience hours of excruciating pain. Doctors cannot figure out exactly way – the best they come up with are guesses. Doctors can’t make it stop, either – they can only provide medicine that eases it a bit, a couple times a day.

If I did not have the confidence that God was using my suffering for his glory, and my good, I would be going crazy. I would feel like these hours and hours of pain (more than 61,000 hours at this point. Not that I’m keeping track) are pointless, meaningless. I would be angry, and bitter, and I’m sure that would filter into my relationships, and make my life even worse.

But as it is, because of God’s word I know this: God will use my pain for his own glory, and for my good. He will do so not because I am worthy, but rather, because it is according to his own nature, and his own unchanging purpose.

I certainly hope you aren’t experiencing physical pain like mine. But you might be experiencing other difficult things in your life. It might be grief and loss. It might be uncertainty, or fear. It might be broken relationships, or a struggle of some other sort. You can have confidence that in every situation, God will be glorifying himself. That means that every situation, he will be glorifying himself by loving you and blessing you. Glory for him means goodness and grace for us. So in every single situation, God will bring goodness and grace to you.

I cannot guarantee that you will always understand exactly how God is making that happen. I can’t guarantee that you will always feel like God is doing good things through our pain, sorrow and struggles. But God himself guarantees that he is, in fact, glorifying himself, and bringing grace to you. He guarantees it by his own nature.

16 Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. 17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. (Hebrews 6:16-18, NLT)

God has got this. He’s got it because his very nature means that he will glorify himself by being loving and good to us. Therefore, we can be patient in difficult times. We can be at peace and trust God.

16 That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day. 17 Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine. 18 We don’t look for things that can be seen but for things that can’t be seen. Things that can be seen are only temporary. But things that can’t be seen last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, GW)

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

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

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( Mark 10:13-16, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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

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

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

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

1 Peter 3:18-20, ESV

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

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

(1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV)

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

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

(Hebrews 10:11-18, NLT)

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

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

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

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

“What about five candy bars?”

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

“What about a hundred?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Peter 3:18-20, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Peter 4:6, ESV)

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

These passages remind me of something Paul says in Romans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Colossians 2:13-15)

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

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

1 PETER #22: SHOWING JESUS TO THE WORLD

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

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

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

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

(1 Peter 3:13-16, ESV)

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

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

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

(Matthew 5:10-12, CSB)

And:

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

(Matthew 5:38-47, CSB)

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

I am supposed to find them impossible.

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

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

(Matthew 19:23-26, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 PETER #21: LETTING JESUS OUT

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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:

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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.

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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.