1 PETER #20: SELF SACRIFICING MEN

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

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

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download 1 Peter Part 20

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

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

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

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

(Ephesians 5:22-33, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Peter 3:1-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the Lord speak to you today!

1 PETER #19: A BEAUTIFUL LIFE

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

To listen to the sermon, click the play button: For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen. To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Peter 3:3-4

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

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

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

(Tom’s literal-ish translation)

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

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

Tom’s literal-ish expounded translation

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

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

(1 Samuel 16:7, NLT)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know.”

“Where are we going?”

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

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

“Ah, that’s right, I guess.”

“How long will we stay there?”

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

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

“Well, uh, I guess not.”

“Why are we supposed to do this?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Genesis 1:27, ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Peter Part 18

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

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

1 Peter 3:1-6, ESV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLOSSIANS #32: THE JOY OF MALE AND FEMALE

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

God created our genders deliberately, and with a purpose. The Bible teaches us how to work with that fact in loving each other and following Jesus. The latest science decisively confirms that human beings are gendered to the core. However, because we are all made in the image of God, gender is something even deeper than biology. Women and men are made to relate to one another in a way that shows the world something of the glory of God. This happens in all sorts of contexts, not just marriage.

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COLOSSIANS #32  Colossians 3:17-18

Before we address our specific verses for today, let’s remember the context. Throughout the end of chapter two, Paul was addressing the problem of legalism. Legalism is all about performing well in order to manipulate God into accepting you, and doing what you want him to do. He explained that in Jesus we have died to performing well in order to get God to approve of us. We do not have what it takes to get God to do our bidding. Instead, we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, trusting in what Jesus  Christ did for us, rather than our own efforts. Next, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, detailed several things from which we are free, because of the death of Christ.

Then, in chapter three, he addressed the problem of lawlessness. Because we have died to the things of this world, and because we have already been included spiritually in the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to live a certain way. We are supposed to draw on the life of the Spirit, and avoid the life of our dying flesh, which is incurably self-oriented.

Paul then explained we need to put off our old sinful flesh, and no longer participate in the sins that we used to love, no longer insist on getting our wants and needs met in our way. He moved on in verse 9, and said we have put off the old sinful self and put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of Jesus.

In verse twelve, he started to tell us what this new life looks like. He explained that the character of Christ wants to shine through us, and what it means to live according to the character of Christ. We considered the several aspects of living that way, like having compassionate hearts, and forgiving each other, and so on.

Last time, we considered that everything we do, all that we say and whatever we’re about, we do it in the name of Jesus Christ.

Now, we are going to get specific. We are still talking about what it looks like to let the character of Christ shine through us. We are still talking about how to do everything in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit through Paul, now begins to explain what all of that looks like for different groups of people: Wives, husbands, children, fathers, servants and masters.

When we understand the context, we realize that these are not just random, isolated instructions that cropped up out of nowhere. These verses are there to help us think about how we do everything in the name of Jesus in different parts of our lives. They are not given to help the Colossians fit in with culture of their city – nothing at all in this letter is about how they can be better citizens of this world. It is all about living this life with an understanding that we are already full citizens in the life to come.

So, with that understanding, I give you our verses for the next several weeks:

You wives, put yourselves under the authority of your husbands, because this is what is right in the Lord.

You husbands, love your wives sacrificially, and do not cause them to be grieved, or make their lives bitter.

(My own “amplified” translation from Greek, Colossians 3:17-18)

The more direct translation of verse 17 is: “wives submit to your husbands…”

I want us to take our time with this subject. These are short sentences in both English and Greek, but they represent something that is very deep and far reaching. “Jesus died for your sins,” is also a short sentence, but it might take years of thought and study to “unpack” all of the meaning in those five words. So, these verses are also short, but they represent the end-product of a deep and important subject.

In our culture today, verse 17 sounds ridiculously old fashioned. To many people, it might seem oppressive, and even perhaps hateful toward women. When we encounter any bible passage that disturbs us, we can take one of three possible approaches:

  1. We can study and pray and press into what the Holy Spirit is saying through such verses. With the faith that God knows best, and wants to speak to us through the Bible, we humbly approach the text to learn from it. We may be surprised by what we find, or we may find what we want or expect, but either way, we let the scripture set the agenda.
  2. We can decide that we don’t like it, and so we study and think and work on ways to make the verses irrelevant or meaningless to our life today. Or, we might try and find ways to show that the meaning of the verse is something other than what it seems to say so obviously. But we start with our own agenda, and try to make the scripture conform to that.
  3. We simply dismiss the verse. We ignore it, or we simply decide that we are not going listen to it, or apply it to our lives. We might even try to say that it shouldn’t be in the Bible.

Because our culture automatically rejects verses like “wives submit to your husbands,” many Christians have taken approaches #2 or #3. They start with the desire to make the Bible conform to 21st century Western cultural ideas about gender. This is a very flawed way to read and understand the bible. Instead of letting the text lead them wherever it goes, they already know where they want it to go, and so they try to make it go there. Or, they find ways to say that we don’t need to pay any attention at all to such teachings. Christians who want to “neutralize” bible verses like this believe that they are champions of gender-equality, and so they call themselves “egalitarians.” Sometimes they also call themselves “evangelical feminists,” or “Christian feminists.”

Christians who read these verses in a basically straightforward way call themselves “complementarians” because they believe that the bible teaches that men and women were created uniquely different in order complement each other. I believe that gender is all about reflecting the image of God to the world, so I call that idea “imagism.”

I have studied the issues surrounding this verse, and the other verses like it, for a long time. In fact, I wrestled with this subject for fifteen years before finally submitting to what I believe the Bible teaches. I desperately wanted to be able to be an egalitarian in good conscience. I did not want to appear to be oppressive to women, and I wanted this subject to be a non-issue. I wanted to fit in with our culture, including a lot of church culture, and not rock the boat.

Unfortunately, what I have learned convinces me that egalitarians are wrong. Even worse, the way they treat the Bible in order to make it conform to their ideals is extremely flawed, and dangerous to true Christianity. If we treated the entire Bible the same way egalitarians treat just these texts about men and women, it would make Christianity meaningless.

Now, of course, I might be the one who is wrong. However, if I am wrong, it is not because I have failed to be truly open to the alternatives. If I am wrong, it’s not because I have a prejudice against women. if I had any prejudice to begin with, it was in favor of feminism. If I am wrong, it is not because I have failed to diligently study what the  Bible says about gender, nor have I failed to study and understand what egalitarians say, and how they interpret the scriptures. If I am wrong, it is not for lack of wrestling in prayer and crying out to the Holy Spirit to speak to me about this subject. In fact, I have prayed numerous times, over a period of years, “Lord, change my heart and my mind! Show me how I can return to being an egalitarian!”

As I say, all of my study and prayer doesn’t automatically make me right, but  I would like to challenge those who disagree with me to put in some significant time and effort on this subject before dismissing what I say, and to have the integrity to let the texts lead you wherever they go, regardless of whether or not that’s what  you want. If you want to learn more about why I think egalitarianism is such a problem, or if you want to discover, in depth, what the Bible says about gender, please get a copy of my book, In God’s Image,” available on Amazon (kindle version also available). The link will take you there.

Although these are just two simple verses, they represent an understanding of human nature that is rapidly being lost in today’s world. These verses tell us that men and women are different in certain ways, and so as we relate to one another, we should be conscious of those differences, and live accordingly. In short, the Bible teaches that God created human beings in two genders, male and female, and both of the genders are vitally important for human flourishing, and also for showing the world what God is like. Consider Genesis 1:26-27

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(ESV, Genesis 1:26-27)

You see that God intended human beings to display “his image;” that is, show the world what he is like. It sounds at first like it is only talking about “man,” but verse 27 makes it clear that in order for the image of God to be displayed in the world, both male and female are important and necessary. This comes in the very first chapter of the Bible, and we learn several important things:

  • Human beings are created to display what God is like
  • In order to show the world what God is like, both male and female are necessary
  • Therefore male and female are not the same, and the differences between them are important
  • Since God does not have a body, our gender, to display his image, must be at least partially spiritual.
  • Male and female are therefore equally important, equally valuable.

One of the great weaknesses of egalitarianism is that it confuses “equal” with “the same.” But, if the Bible is true, our masculinity and femininity make us different, and those differences are good and right and important and valuable. We aren’t just androgynous souls poured into either male or female bodies – we are male and female right down to our essence. We are male and female, even spiritually. The way that we relate to each other is supposed to be a reflection of image of God.

I realize that to write this in 2020, I sound like a horrible bigot. This is one of the areas where Western culture has been running away from God at a screamingly-fast pace. Even ten years ago, very few people would have found what I just said to be offensive. Twenty years ago, people would have told me I was crazy if I thought that in the year 2020, people would call me a bigot for saying that the male and female genders were intentionally created by God, and that the differences between the two is profound.

Am I just a bigot? Are Christians crazy to say that men and women are deeply different? Thankfully, whatever the culture says, facts are facts. Today, we know more about the physical facts of being male and female than ever before, and the more we learn, the more it is confirmed that humanity is gendered to the core, and the differences are profound. You can choose to believe the earth is flat, but that does not make it so. You can choose to believe that genders are fluid and there is really no such thing as male and female, but that does not make it so.

Dr. Leonard Sax, a researcher and clinical child-psychiatrist, presented some of the recent research in his 2005 Book, Why Gender Matters. Boys and girls, women and men, are profoundly different at a fundamental, biological level, and the biggest differences are found, not in sex organs, or even hormones, but in our brains. The very tissue of our brains is different, depending upon our sex. Sax writes:

Scientists analyzed thirty samples of human brain tissue collected from different areas of the brain and different individuals. The scientists were not told the sex of the individuals from whom the specimens were taken. But just by analyzing the expression of two different genes in the brain tissue, they were able to correctly identify the sex of every one of the thirty specimens, female versus male. Female brain tissue and male brain tissue are intrinsically different.

Sax cites research that demonstrates that girls and women see color distinctions that boys and 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. That means that men and women literally, physically, see the world differently.

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.

Not only is our brain tissue different, but the brain is organized differently. Men seem to have a distinct division in brain function between the left side of the brain and the right. The left side of the brain, in men, is the center for language. This is not the case for women, who seem to distribute functions equally between each side of the brain.

Dr. Sax, who is both a clinical child-psychiatrist and a scholar, writes:

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.

Later, he adds:

Human nature is gendered to the core. Work with your child’s nature, work with your child’s innate gender-based propensities, rather than trying to reshape them according to the dictates of late-twentieth-century political correctness.

What is true of boys and girls is, obviously, also true of women and men, perhaps even more so. Our verses today start with that understanding: Women and men are gendered to the core. Therefore, the Bible teaches us how to work with our innate gender-based propensities. In our text today, the instructions to wives are different from the instructions to husbands. God understands our gendered natures – he created them for a purpose! Therefore it should be obvious that men and women need to focus on different things in order love each other well, in order to do all in the name of Jesus.

We have a lot to chew on so far, but we have only just laid the foundation. Don’t worry about the s-word (submit) for now. Instead, for this next week, take time to thoughtfully appreciate the gift of your gender, and also the unique things about the opposite gender. When we do this with an awareness of the Holy Spirit, we can appreciate without either lusting, or wonder without getting frustrated with things we don’t understand.

We are both indispensable to God’s plan to show his glory. Not only that, but each gender needs the other in order to fulfill that purpose. Men cannot display the image of God without women. Women cannot do it without men.

Women: know, and enjoy that God created you to bless the world as a woman. Men: know and enjoy that God created you to bless the world as a man. Both women and men: know that you cannot bless the world the way God intended without your opposite gender.

By the way, when I say that, I don’t mean that everyone has to get married, or they won’t be fulfilling God’s purpose. Jesus himself never married, nor did the apostle Paul, and maybe not Barnabas either. Jesus also taught that some people are called to be single (Matthew 19), and Paul passed on that teaching in 1 Corinthians 7.

When it comes to displaying the image of God through male and female, even single people are usually connected to families, and singles also have friends of the opposite sex. The point is, the way men and women interact with each other in all sorts of different contexts shows the glory of God, if we let Him.

WE NEED RESOURCES TO DO GOD’S WORK…..RIGHT?

judas-betrays-jesus

We think we could do a lot for God’s kingdom with twelve legions of angels. Or twelve million dollars, or twelve thousand people in our congregation, or – you get the picture. We think big and powerful is always good. We think we could do so much for God if only we had ______. But Jesus didn’t have ______.  Alone, with no weapons, no money, no power, Jesus accomplished the greatest thing for God’s kingdom that has ever been done.

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Matthew #94.  Matthew 26:47-74

A lot of the so-called “contradictions” of the Bible take place in this section of the gospels. There are small details that differ between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some are details about what time certain things happened, or where exactly Jesus was taken, and when. For instance, John records that they took Jesus first to the house of Annas, who was the former High-Priest, and father-in-law to the current High-Priest, Caiaphas. John says that after that, they took him also to the house of Caiaphas. The other gospels record only that Jesus was taken to the house of Caiaphas. This isn’t actually a contradiction, but merely an omission. Matthew doesn’t say that Jesus was not taken to Annas, but rather, he simply doesn’t mention it. John agrees with the others that Jesus was also taken to the house of Caiaphas.

I haven’t examined each so-called contradiction in that much detail, but I suspect that they could all be reconciled in similar ways. The truth is, all four gospels substantially agree about what was said and done during this twenty-four hour period. In a court of law, four eye-witnesses that agreed so thoroughly would be considered very powerful evidence. The fact that each gospel writer has his own unique perspective of those events is normal, and to be expected. In addition, the fact that there are small differences is powerful evidence that the gospels were not made up after the fact. If it really happened, you would expect everyone to have some slightly different memories of it. If it was made up, or edited later, all four gospels would say exactly the same thing. Once more, we find what we would expect to find if the Bible is what it claims to be.

As we examine the text, again I remind you that there might be dozens of worthwhile teachings from this passage, all of which would be good and useful for disciples of Jesus. I’m simply giving you what the Holy Spirit gives me about this text at this time.

The first thing that jumps out to me are Jesus’ words to Judas: “Friend, why have you come?” Jesus knew why Judas had come. He already knew that Judas would betray him – we saw that in 26:21-25. So, why ask the question?

I think it is one more final opportunity for Judas to repent. We saw how Jesus gave Judas the opportunity to repent during the last supper (see Matthew #91), but once more Jesus is opening the door for Judas. I think he is saying, “Why did you follow through? Why, after I warned you, did you still do this? You should have stayed away.” I think even at this point, Judas could have repented. Jesus still would have been captured, but Judas could have broken down, asked Jesus for forgiveness, and come back to him. As we will see, he did not.

Next, comes the swordplay. John tells us that it was Peter who struck the blow, and that the man who lost his ear was a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest. Luke tells us that Jesus healed the man. They all four tell us that Jesus put a stop to the violence almost immediately.

52Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? 54How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way? ”

 55At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture Me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple complex, and you didn’t arrest Me. 56But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptureswould be fulfilled.”

Then all the disciples deserted Him and ran away. (Matt 26:52-56, HCSB)

Verse 52, of course, is the source of the famous quote: “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” I think this is worth unpacking a little bit.

First, we see in the New Testament a change from the Old. During Old Testament times, the people of Israel were often used by God militarily to punish rebellious nations. God even used the armies of pagan nations to discipline Israel. But in the New Testament, we have a change. Jesus now says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In other words, the time for God’s people to use physical violence for God’s purposes is over.

In political and religious discussions, it is common for non-Christians to say: “The Bible teaches violence to God’s enemies. How can you be so critical of other religions like Islam, which teaches the same?” But the Christian Bible does not approve violence as a means for Christians to advance God’s Kingdom. In Christianity, the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament; that is, we interpret the Old Testament through the lens of the New. If there is a difference, the New Testament supersedes the Old. Therefore, we see that Jesus taught that now, since His own death and resurrection that redeemed us, violence is not an appropriate way to advance the kingdom of God. I can only say that though Christians have sometimes claimed the support of the Bible in using violence, they did so in ignorance of the teaching of Jesus, who, after all, also told us to turn the other cheek when we are struck, and to love our enemies.  In addition, the New Testament teaches us that the real battle is not physical, but spiritual. Paul writes:

10Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. 12For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. (Eph 6:10-12, HCSB)

Christians, either in the past, or in the present, who interpret the Bible  to condone violence (except in self-defense) are using bad and invalid interpretation practices. They are out of step with the entire history of Christian theology. Though the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition used violence in the name of Jesus, it cannot be justified with consistent Bible interpretation; it can’t be justified with words of Jesus himself. Christian theology has always been consistent on this.

Jesus, in his words to Peter about the sword, is saying this: “That isn’t how it works, Peter. If it worked that way, I could call down legions of angels to force people to submit to me.” Instead, in the spiritual battle, Jesus chose the way of humility, submission and even suffering. God’s kingdom comes about through those sorts of things.  We see that Peter, later in life, learned this lesson well. He writes to Christians in Asia Minor:

19For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. 21For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps.

22He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth; 23when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.

 24He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds. 25For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1Pet 2:19-25, HCSB, some parts made bold by me for emphasis)

I think there is a related lesson here, also. The kingdom of God is not made real, or advanced, through human beings forcing it. James writes:

for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. James 1:20  (HCSB)

Jesus himself says, “How would the scriptures be fulfilled if I used all of the tremendous force at my disposal? How could the Kingdom of God be accomplished?”

We don’t think this way. We think we could do a lot for God’s kingdom with twelve legions of angels. Or twelve million dollars, or twelve thousand people in our congregation, or – you get the picture. We think big and powerful is always good. We think we could do so much for God if only we had ______. But Jesus didn’t have ______.  Alone, with no weapons, no money, no power, Jesus accomplished the greatest thing for God’s kingdom that has ever been done.

The kingdom is advanced, as Peter says, when we follow in Christ’s footsteps of suffering and humility. Many times I have seen people seek to advance the kingdom, not through violence per se, but through what I would call “force.”

I think I may have done that myself. I fancy myself a pretty intelligent guy. I’ve read a few books in my time, and I remember a lot of what I read. Every so often I meet someone who claims to be an atheist. This used to get me very excited, because I have yet to meet someone who can out-argue me about the reality of God and the reliability of the Bible. But the truth is, my arguments – which have plenty of intellectual “force” – have never convinced anyone to become a Christian. I have helped to lead a number of people into God’s kingdom, but it never came about through any kind of “force” at all. The kingdom of God doesn’t happen through violence or force.

I’ll leave you with one additional thought. The kingdom of God comes through suffering and humility: and that is scary. As Jesus embraced this right before their very eyes, as he declared that the scriptures were being fulfilled in their presence, the disciples ran away. I can’t help but think that if they had really known the end of the story, they might have stuck around. But even though Jesus had told them it would all be OK in the end, they were so shocked and terrified by what was happening, they fled. It was a mistake they never made again afterwards.

Sometimes, the suffering and humility that goes along with following Jesus might be scary or unpleasant. But Jesus has already told us how it will end. There is no reason to fear. To run away would be silly. It sometimes feels horrible in the middle of it, but the ending is better than we can imagine.

Let the Holy Spirit continue to speak to you about these verses today.