Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Being Sober, Alert, and Standing Firm (1 Peter 5:8-9)

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8–9, NASB95)

When I read these verses I frequently think right away of Cain and Abel. They are the first two children of Adam and Eve, and they are the closest two people could have ever been to having lived in perfection but never having done so. Their parents were created without sin and placed in the garden, but when they disobeyed God as Eve was tempted by the serpent and Adam who was with her both ate of the one tree from which they were forbidden to eat, sin entered man. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, and all of their children were born in their same fallen state.

But God did not abandon them. We know this because at beginning of chapter 4 we read, “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;” (Genesis 4:1–4, NASB95)

Eve recognized that her children were a gift from God. Then when her sons were older we read they on their own brought offerings to the Lord. It seems a very reasonable assumption that God was present in their home. The children learned to some degree of Him as they were raised, and that they continued to look to Him as they got older. But there also appeared a difference between the two, with each taking a different path in regard to their work and their worship of God. Verse 4 tells us that that the younger brother, Abel, brought the best of his flock and their fat portions, and that “the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;” Abel did not hold anything back from God. But verse 5 paints a different picture of Cain. We read, “but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:5, NASB95)

Cain gave, it seems, out of obligation and not worship, and he was not happy that God had no regard for his offering. I don’t know what the communication was like that they had with God, but it certainly seems that it must have been reasonably intimate because Cain knew that God was not pleased with what he had brought. In fact, we continue to read that God spoke to Cain in his angry and face fallen or downcast state. He said to him, “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”” (Genesis 4:6–7, NASB95)

God spoke to him!! God spoke to Cain and asked him what was up? Why was he so distressed and angry? Then God told him that if he did well then it would all change, but if he refused then he was making himself an open target to be consumed by his sin. He told Cain that sin was seeking to destroy him, but that he had to master it. The rest of the story for Cain is that he did not listen to God. In fact, he went out and found his brother, told his brother what had transpired between him and God, and then he killed his brother, Abel.

Our passage for today tells us the same thing. We have an enemy crouching at the door seeking to destroy us. This is not a fantasy. It is very real. We need to be real about it. Sin destroys and there is a destroyer after us who is the devil. He is relentless and continually on the prowl like a roaring lion, and he is not nice. We are not to open ourselves to him. We are told to be “sober-minded” about this reality. We are to think clearly about these things, and be constantly watchful for those opportune moments when he would strike. And then our instruction is simply to resist and stand firm in our faith knowing that we are not alone.

Our victory does not lie in our own strength, but in our faith. Cain had likely become self-focused and self-dependent. He did not rely on God nor was he focused on doing what God had for him despite having even having had a personal relationship with God. God spoke to Him, and God speaks to us. Today we have His Word, and in His Word we are shown the way to stand victoriously in the midst of spiritual attack. One of the most pointed passages on this is found in Ephesians chapter 6 where we read not only of the nature of the battle but also of our being armored to fight it. Every single piece of armor points back to Christ. It is His truth that we are to wrap around ourselves as our belt or as the firm foundation of all that we know. It is His righteousness that has been put upon us and not our puffed-up breast which is so easily pierced. It is because of what He has done for us that we are at peace with God and we can stand with our feet shod in peace in the midst of the fiercest battle. We don’t have to hide behind our weakness but behind His strength as we are saved by faith, and it that faith that is before us as an impenetrable shield. And, when the enemy would like to sever our heard and scramble our thoughts, it is the certain knowledge that we are forever saved that is our helmet that gives us hope to stand and victoriously endure. Our sword with which we defend those attacks that can come so quickly and from every which angle is all of those promises of His Word and the things which we know of Him. His Word is our sword. Armed in Christ, we are made to stand strong against our enemy who might seem to come in flesh in various ways, but in reality is unseen by us but fully known by God. 

Paul continued in Ephesians 6 to encourage us to pray for one another. “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” (Ephesians 6:18, NASB95). Looking here to Peter’s words, we are reminded that indeed we are not alone. There are others engaged in the same battle who are being made able to stand firm by our same Lord. In this we can not only be strengthened in numbers, but also supported in prayer.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Walk Humbly Loved (1 Peter 5:6-7)

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6–7, NASB95)

Five years ago our church went through the hard struggle of seeking to reduce its staff in response a felt need to restructure how things were done within the church as responsible stewards of the resources with which they were entrusted. This was a very difficult season in a lot of ways. There were even some who took offense and there were others who were more simply hurting. The hurt was not intentional, but it happened nonetheless. As part of this restructuring Robin and I spent considerable time questioning God about His future for us. I remember a meeting in May of that year when the question was posed before the congregation, “What about Joe?” This was a hard question to hear being asked because I was that Joe. I went home very troubled that day, and I cried out to God that same question. Over the course of the next two weeks a number of things unfolded such that Robin and I were brought to a point where we had the firm leading that God indeed did have something else in store for us. I must admit that I never anticipated the walk that would follow, one that still continues today.

It is a difficult thing to go through change, especially change that you did not want or anticipate. But it is something that happens to all of us. It even happens in churches as they continue to seek God’s leading for how they should walk properly handling what He has laid before them. There is no church that will get everything right all of the time, and there are congregations that will have to struggle as a result. The real question then is how both the leadership and the rest walk through it. Here in our passage for today we are told, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

On June 3rd of that year I was delivered the morning message in which I also let the congregation know what was going on with us. In that message, I told them that we believed God indeed had plans for us that we did not know, but until such time that He showed us those plans that this church was our home. In the years that have followed there indeed have been many struggles for us, but our church home has continued to embrace us and show us the love of our incredible God. Their continued prayer has been a huge encouragement as we look to God and wait on Him knowing that He indeed does care for us.

Just before beginning to write this post I watched a video that brought tears to my eyes. It was of an event that I loved to participate in while serving as a pastor, and realize how much I miss times like this. Over five years of searching to re-enter vocational ministry we’ve had several times when we thought it was going to happen, yet it didn’t. In some of these I know the reasoning while in others I don’t. During this I’ve had some very dark moments, but I’ve also had those ones where God has shown Himself to me and my family in one way or another not only to be faithful to hold us but also to continue to care for and direct us.

It has been a real struggle not to strive to push God’s hand away and set my own course. I can see so many things that “I” would have done differently or that “I” think were inappropriate or wrong. I know that I have failed many times in trusting Him, and He has been so loving in resetting my heart and mind. One of these resets was last week as I was listening to the radio in the car. Romans 4:18 was quoted speaking of Abraham, where we read, “In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” (Romans 4:18, NASB95) God had promised Abraham that all of the nations would be blessed through his seed, yet year after year Abraham and his wife Sarah were unable to conceive and bear a child so that this very promise could be fulfilled. We read that both of them had begun to question if they heard right, and they even sought to take matters into their own hands. Sarah gave her husband maid servant through whom to bear a child and thus fulfill the promise. Of course, a child was born. But God made it clear to them that his child with Hagar was not that child of whom God spoke. So, they continued to wait. And even when two angels came to Abraham as men and refreshed the promise we read, that Sarah laughed. But despite their doubts in in the face of overwhelming odds, God fulfilled His promise and Isaac was born to a man who was about a hundred years old and whose wife’s womb was dead (Romans 4:19).

The words “hope against hope” rang loud in my head and my heart. God had made a promise to Abraham, and long after any one would have ever expected it to be fulfilled and when every human means of measuring it as possible was exhausted, God fulfilled His promise. When normal circumstances would say that all hope is lost, we read that Abraham continued to hope. He did not hope perfectly, but he hoped, and God was faithful.

In our passage today we read that we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that He may exalt us at the proper time. Things may not go our way in our lives or in our churches. The reality is that God is not about us having it our way, but us submitting to His way and then watching Him work. We don’t know how or when our answers or our help will come. We don’t know what form they will come in. We don’t know what twists or trials will come along the way. As hard as we might try to maneuver the path the reality is that God is the one who is sovereign over everything and He does indeed have a plan for each of us. He has prepared works for us, and He has declared that we are to walk in them. For the time being those works may not be the works that we desire the most or that we think we are called to, but they are the ones that God has before us and He expects us to be faithful in them as we wait on what He might have next.

God knows our hopes and our struggles. He loves us beyond anything that we could ever ask or imagine. He has eternal glory in store for every single one of us who are saved by the blood of His Son through faith. And, it is by faith that He calls us to walk even now trusting Him for the future. The reality is that I may not return to ministry as I desire, but that does not change the desire of my heart. I am to trust God to bring the two into line and direct my path, whether it is as I hope or as He surprises me by opening up something else. We are to look to Him for the strength for today, the health to do the tasks before us, and the provision to meet the needs that press.

Every single one of us has trials in our lives. Some seasons have more than others. We all are likely to be forced to make changes that we otherwise might not have wanted. This is all part of living in a fallen world. But we are always to be mindful of this one incredible truth—Jesus has overcome the world!!

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

Our God cares for us more than we can ever know and He is powerful beyond all measure. “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31, NASB95)

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1–6, NASB95)

Friday, May 26, 2017

Living under Shepherds (1 Peter 5:5)

“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB95)

The English Standard Version translates the beginning of this verse, “Likewise, you who are younger….” Whether elder or younger, we are all to come before God with an attitude of humility. There are none of us that can stand on a pedestal with Christ and not one of us can demand anything of Him. Those who are not elders, and particularly those who are younger but not exclusively so, are instructed to submit to the elders and pastors of their church. These men have been placed there by God and they are charged as His under-shepherds to take care of His sheep. This does not mean that they are perfect, and it definitely does not preclude them from making mistakes and even being led astray.

God has an order to things, and in His church He has established that there are to be a plurality of men given to leadership. Some churches may call them elders and some may reflect the Greek term and call them presbyters. Rather than stumbling over terminology, we should focus on the fact that God’s plan includes leadership and we are to submit to that leadership. Having just read Peter’s instruction to the elders, we also see that this leadership is not free to act in any way or tone that it chooses. Elders are to follow the example of Christ as they seek the will of Christ, and non-elders are to submit to their elders as they also submit to the will of Christ.

I know that I’ve felt at times that I was right and that what someone else was doing was wrong. The question in those times was, “What am I going to do with these feelings?” An attitude of pride would lead to forcing the issue, whereas a humble attitude might lead to dropping it or alternatively to dealing with it and the individual in an appropriate way. Forcing an issue on the floor of a business meeting in front of the congregation is likely not the best thing to do. But carefully coming to one or all of the elders (as appropriate) to discuss your concerns and possible solution could certainly be the right and proper thing.

The proud person pumps himself up and forces his way. The humble person is more willing to cut a wide path, wait on God, and seek a right time and a right response. Being shepherds of a vast array of people from different backgrounds with varying life circumstances and issues is a difficult thing. Discerning the best way to build up the body amidst the flood of information and offerings today is a constant challenge. Every Elders will not do it the same way as we might, but our attitude toward them is to be respectful of who they are in Christ and submissive to the role given them by God. In all of this, it really comes down to us entrusting the outcomes to God.

And in the event that you should have an issue with a particular elder, consider the words of Paul to Timothy as he was establishing leadership in the churches: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19, NASB95) Rather, consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, NASB95) Take some time to pray about the matter and lovingly for the individual. Then, if led to them do so, go and speak privately to the other person whether it be an elder or anyone else. Keep it as private as possible and always seek loving restoration. This is how we are to be toward one another. This is humility in action.

And similarly, if you have a concern about the elders as a whole, don’t build up a band of resistance. Pray, listen, and go if you really think it is something for which to go. We won’t always agree, but we certainly aren’t to be disagreeable. “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, NASB95)

Jesus understood submission. He was the perfect example of it, and submission is a huge part of how He calls us to live as we trust Him for the outcomes. He will give us the grace that we need. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” … “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:6, 10, NASB95) 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Shepherds of the Chief (1 Peter 5:1-4)

“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–4, NASB95)

Peter’s letter was written to encourage believers to live right before God with great hope regardless of the pressure to do otherwise. This was to apply to them personally and together as a church. As he wraps up his letter he turns his attention to the leaders of the church, and focuses specifically on their responsibility to shepherd the flock in these difficult times. Peter wrote to them elder to elders. This term “elders” (Presbyterous, Strong #4245) can be used to speak of an older person as we see in 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not sharply rebuke an older man [Presbyterō], but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women [presbyteras] as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1–2, NASB95) Here you can see the same root with different masculine and feminine endings to specify which was which. At the root of both is the word “presbus” which means elderly. But this passage is not written to people of age alone. From the verses that follow we see that Peter is specifically writing to the leadership in the churches. These were men who were specifically set aside for the role, one which Peter was personally given Himself by our Lord Jesus Christ when Jesus charged him to shepherd His sheep (John 21:15-19).

It was this task of appointing elders that Paul gave to Titus when Paul left him in Crete, and from the context we see that this was not a general appointing of selected people but a plurality of specific men. We read, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” (Titus 1:5–9, NASB95)

It is to men such as this that Peter is writing here, as he gives them instruction on how to continue in their calling in the difficult days their people were facing. Peter wrote to them not only as one who had suffered personally, but as one who had been with Christ and was witness to His suffering. Peter wrote to them as one who had denied Jesus three times on the night in which He was betrayed, but also as one who was personally tasked to shepherd His sheep as Peter was personally restored and set apart for this ministry to His church. It was Peter who gave the powerful message on Pentecost where we read that about three thousand souls were added that day. Peter understood the challenges before them, and he wrote to them of the great importance of continuing the call given to them as fellow partakers of the glory which was set before them all.

These men were to “shepherd the flock of God” that was among them. They were to stay there and be faithful to their task. This word “shepherd” is the action form of the Greek word “poimainō.” It is the same word given to Peter by Jesus, and it was in this task that Peter exhorted them to faithfully continue. We see this word used of the elders (plural) in the church and we also see it used specifically in reference to those set apart as pastors and teachers in the church, where we see in Ephesians 4:11 the word translated “pastors” is the same Greek word translated elsewhere as “elders.”

One elder or pastor is not to stand in this task alone. The church is not intended to operate with one person in the task, but functions best when this burden is shared. When we read in the New Testament of the elders in the church as its overseers we always see it in plural form. These men were to do it together as a multiplicity of elders. They were to jointly shepherd the sheep. Looking at Jesus’ instruction to Peter we see that this task not only was to include feeding the sheep or teaching them, but it was also to include tending to them in all of the other necessary ways. The shepherd’s responsibility is to tend to the sheep for their welfare and the health of the flock. It is a broad task that includes not only great oversight, but wisdom, discernment, and compassion. It involves the blending of the grace of God with the truth of God in a way that honors God for the best of the sheep.

These men are charged to do this task, “not under compulsion, but voluntarily….” So often when we do something because we “have to” we lose the enthusiasm for the task and it becomes a drudgery that not only wears on us but it obvious to those we are around. An elder who serves because he feels that he must is an elder whose joy will fade and un-Christ-like behaviors will rise. Paul wrote to Timothy, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” (1 Timothy 3:1, NASB95) In this we see that the overseer (and elder) responds to a desire and not a demand. Going back to Peter’s charge to shepherd Christ’s sheep, we read that three times Peter was asked if he loved Him. To each of these Peter affirmed that he indeed did. From this foundation, Jesus then charged Peter to serve. Similarly, the elders are to serve from a foundation of love where their actions are the proper voluntary outflow of what they know deep inside. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that this is our spiritual or reasonable response of service as we give ourselves back to God to do what He has given us to do in light of what Christ has done for us.

Peter went on to add, “according to the will of God….” Whether we serve as an elder or in some other role, we are to serve with the recognition that God is the One who has prepared these good works for us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) Our response is to walk in them and so do the will of God with the attitude of 1 Peter 4:10-11, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10–11, NASB95)

Furthermore, we read that the elder is “not [to serve] for sordid gain, but with eagerness….” It’s not to be about what’s in it for the elder, but out of his desire to serve God that he fulfills the role given to him. Sure, there are those who serve vocationally as pastors (shepherds) in the church, but even then, these men are not to serve with their remuneration as their motivation. Elders are to serve because of their love for God and their desire to do what He has given them to do, and then to do it with eagerness. Serving in the role given them as shepherds and overseers of the flock is to be the desire of their heart and they are to do it willingly and with anticipation. Sure, there will be difficult days and unwanted tasks, but the desire to serve God will strengthen them in those times just as He does all of us when we look to Him and not to the size of the circumstance.

Lastly, Peter wrote to them, “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” I think we’ve probably all heard the phrase that someone rules “with an iron rod” or “fist.” This later form of leadership either drives people away or causes them to cower in fear, and it definitely does not reflect the character of our God. Several times in John chapter 1 we read that Jesus came in truth and grace. The two of these have to be held in balance. Truth without grace can lead to legalism and the hard hand of leadership making itself ever present. Grace without truth leads to extreme license and the absence of authority. The elders are to exercise leadership without lording or domineering. Thinking of this I am reminded of the example of Jesus during that last supper with His disciples when He wrapped Himself with a towel and washed His disciples’ feet. We read, “At the conclusion of this He said, “So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. “Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.”” (John 13:12–16, NASB95)

This is the attitude of Christ and the example set for not only all elders, but for all of us as well. And as the elders set this example they will powerfully influence their local church to the glory of God. Peter concludes this instruction to elders with, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” The recognition may or may not come now. That is not what is important. What is important is why and how we serve Who we serve knowing that He will take care of the rest. This is true for elders, and this is true for all of us who know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. He is our Chief Shepherd. His elders are given to us to carry out the work of tending to His church, and we are to submit to them as His under-shepherds for His glory.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Difficult Living – Glorious End (1 Peter 4:18-19)

“AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:18–19, NASB95)

Salvation is a complicated word. It is not because it is difficult to understand, but because it encompasses so much. Sometimes when we read, hear or speak of salvation it may not be clear as to whether we are speaking of it as a whole or to one aspect of it to the exclusion of another (justification, sanctification, and glorification). The first part of salvation is what we might refer to as “justification.” It is that moment when we “believe and receive.” It is the time when you asked Jesus to save you, knowing according to His promise that He indeed did so. This does not mean that we understood everything, but we understood enough to know our great need and to entrust ourselves to Him for His great forgiveness and ability to give us life. Justification is a legal term. It is at the moment we are saved that we are declared righteous because Jesus personally imputed (or credited) His righteousness to us. This meant that all of our sins, including those not yet committed, were fully and forever forgiven. This is much easier to understand when we grasp the truth that God knows every single one of our days and our every thought, word, and deed before we were ever born, and He chose to call us to Himself knowing these most intimate details. Salvation is a total gift from Him. There is nothing we could do to warrant it and nothing we could ever do to justify it. We are justified because of the perfect righteousness of Christ, and because of His righteousness put on us we are forever saved and unable to fall under judgment in this way.

Consider these words of Paul in Romans, “But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:15–19, NASB95)

Jumping from the beginning to the end, the last aspect of salvation is “glorification.” We read in Romans 8:30, “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30, NASB95) This speaks of the time when we leave these physical bodies and all of the struggles in them behind to enter the presence of our Lord. For most it will happen through death, but even in awaiting that we live with the hope that He will soon return. Whether it is by His return or by our passing, we are assured that we will be with Him forever. We will be perfected and enter His glory. Scripture has so much to say about this as our great promise and hope, but it also leaves so much unsaid as to what we are to expect knowing that it will be far beyond anything that we can every ask or imagine. And while Scripture does say that we will not incur judgment as those who don’t believe, we will stand before our God to have our works reviewed and receive His gracious rewards according to our faithful service in His name.

That’s the beginning and the end of salvation. What we find in the middle is the here and now. It is this current aspect of salvation that the Bible speaks of as “sanctification.” Paul wrote in Romans chapter 6, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Romans 6:17–22, NASB95)

As you can see from these verses, sanctification is the process of change, or being conformed to the image of Christ. It is as we put off the way we used to the do things (the world) and put on how we are to do things (Christ) because of what we have learned from Him about how we are supposed to live. And the amazing thing is that this process is that it is not something we do in our own strength, though we might certainly try, but it is something that God enables us to do through the power of His Spirit in us and His Word given to us. God not only shines the light on our path, but He also gives us the power to walk it. It is incumbent on us to submit to Him, obey His leading, and walk according to the power of Him in us.
Sanctification is the process of growing here into who we are already made in Christ. It is the process of being shaped into our identity. A soldier might be a soldier by enlisting, but he grows as a soldier by learning, obeying, and applying. We can never be any more holy than Christ has made us, but we certainly can grow to live more and more in conformity to the holiness of the truth of who we are as we do the works that God has prepared for us to do from before the foundation of the earth.

This middle aspect is in a very real sense where the difficulty lies. Paul wrote of the great battle that waged in his members. There is this tension that we constantly face as the world and Satan press in and things from around us become enticements to turn our desires from God and the truth of His Word. God has no problem getting us from point “a” to point “b.” He is totally sovereign over the path in between. He knows the difficulty of the walk. Jesus made this eminently clear with His coming as a man to be tempted in all ways ultimately to endrue the cross and lay down His life for us. But He also made it eminently clear His victorious power when He took His life back up again through His resurrection.

Knowing all of this and the power that God supplies, can you imagine the path that someone walks who does not know God, His help or His hope? The person without God has no hope. There are none who are righteous, we read. There is not even one, except our Lord who gives us life. No one is able to save himself and his path apart from God will lead to certain death and judgment. There is no way around it. There is no other alternative. It is either life in Christ or death apart.

All of the suffering endured by those who reject Him will only be amplified in judgment. But for those of us who have tasted His goodness and know our certain salvation, there is great hope even today as we endure hardship and even persecution in His name. Peter referred to God here as the Creator. He is the One who began it all, and He is certainly to One who will bring it to pass. As the Creator He is the author and He is the determinant on how it should go. All creation belongs to Him and He is sovereign over every aspect. Man might try to change the rules to suit his own desires, but God holds the reins and He will steer all things to their ultimate end. Sadly, for many who have refused Him, this end is eternal judgment. But for those who have trusted Christ and have even endured trials in the process we will find in the end not only the perfection of our faith but the great hope of the glory to be revealed.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13–14, NASB95)

“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls. If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!” (Proverbs 11:30–31, NASB95)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cleaning House (1 Peter 4:17-19)

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17, NASB95)

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard about the “hypocrites” at church, and how the church having them is an excuse for others not putting their foot insider the doors. The reality of us living as people who are saved in Christ but who have not yet left our bodies behind to join His presence is that we still stumble and even sin. Though our sins have been taken upon Himself by our Savior Jesus Christ and we have been 100% forgiven, we still struggle with the desires of the flesh and the ways of the world. We engage in spiritual battles in many ways, and we even lose some of those same skirmishes over and over again. The amazing thing is that God knew absolutely every single aspect of this before He ever sent His Son. If fact, He knew it from before the foundation of the world and Him ever creating man. He knew He was to create Adam and Eve and that they would sin.

I don’t think there was anything earth shattering in the above statement or that would rock our understanding of being a Christian. Just speaking about the tongue, James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (James 3:6–10, NASB95)

The last words of this passage state the obvious truth, “these things ought not to be this way.” It is this “ought not to be this way” that Peter is writing about in this passage today. As believers we are to continually put off the old ways as we have our minds renewed by the Word of God, and put on the new ways. Rather than spending a lot of time discussing this, I am going to cite some verses that speak to this.

“How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95)

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22–24, NASB95)

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16–25, NASB95)

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

Clearly, we are to be about living differently than we did before becoming a Christian. This is not something we muscle through, but something God enables us to do as we hide His Word in our hearts and entrust ourselves to the help of His Spirit. Having said this, there are times when we all need help in the process. We need to be taught. We need to be shown where we are off course and how to get back on course, and we need to be encouraged in the journey. God does this through His Word and through each of us as Christians as we engage in this process with one another.

This is what we read in 1 Thessalonians 5. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NASB95) The Thessalonian believers were doing well here. They were actively engaged in helping each other to grow in Christ. Having encouraged them in the good that they had been doing, Paul went on to get specific about some of the details that they may have been missing or in which they may have needed some tweaking. He added, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14–15, NASB95) Did you notice the word “urge”? It has the meaning of exhorting or pleading or coming alongside to encourage. We are told that we are to be involved with one another in the building up of each other, even to extent of getting involved with the ugly stuff. As Christians, we are to grow together into accurately reflecting the image of Christ.

God takes this seriously. Peter wrote “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God….” This term “household” refers to a dwelling place or an inhabited building, and here it speaks of God purging His church. This is where judgment is to begin. This is not the judgment for salvation, because if we have placed our trust in Christ then we are truly saved and nothing can be done to remove us from His hand. He is the One that holds onto us, and we are to entrust ourselves obediently to Him in response. But the Bible does speak about God disciplining those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6). Comparing us to the father and child relationship, we read just a few verses later: “For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10–11, NASB95)

As believers, both individually and corporately, God will deal with us when we turn our eyes from Him and seek after other things. Here Peter speaks directly to the “household of God” or the church. When the church turns its eyes from God to other things God will judge the church. We see this in the first chapters of Revelation where we read that God had something against the churches.

To the church at Ephesus, after commending them for their works, a warning was given: “‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’” (Revelation 2:4–7, NASB95)

To the church at Pergamum the following warning was given: “‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” (Revelation 2:14–16, NASB95)

And to the churches at Thyatira and Sardis He also had charges against them from which they were exhorted to turn lest they also incur judgment. The last of the churches was the one in Laodicea, which He said He would spew out of His mouth because it was lukewarm. To each of these He gave a warning and a promise. But there were two to whom the words were not so harsh. To the church of Smyrna there was an encouragement to endure the harsh treatment of Satan to come upon them knowing that ahead for them was laid the crown of life. And to the church at Philadelphia He said, “‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. ‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (Revelation 3:8–11, NASB95)

The relationship between Christ and His church is a priority. We are in a time when the church is being prepared for her groom as we look forward to joining in His presence at a great wedding feast. When the church turns, God will deal with it, and for some local churches this means that their light will cease to shine. God takes this very seriously. Christ’s plan for His church is so much better as we read in Ephesians chapter 5, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;” (Ephesians 5:25–28, NASB95)

In just a couple of verses Peter turns his attention to the leaders of the church. On them God has placed a great responsibility to oversee His sheep and to keep them on track such that the things warned against here do not happen. The other side of this is the incredible joy that we have in store as we are received together in heaven as one church to be with our Lord forever. It is with that hope that we live now according to His image that we bear.

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NASB95) 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Suffering for the Right Reason (1 Peter 4:14-16)

“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1 Peter 4:14–16, NASB95)

As I read this passage a Bob Dylan song from 1979 came to my mind. This song seemed to come out of the blue from Mr. Dylan, gaining him coverage for professing that he had come to salvation in Jesus Christ. But its words struck a cord for many as they were challenged to think about who and what they serve from whatever position they are in. The first part of the song went as follows:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock 'n' roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

If you were to read through the rest of the stanzas of the song you would find that he took a broad brush and tried to include everybody regardless of their place or position, pointing to the truth that everyone ultimately is serving somebody, and those somebody’s are the devil and the Lord.

Today we read of people being put to death in parts of the world because they belong to Christ or at least bear the title of being “Christian.” In our own country we read of bakers, printers, doctors, public officials and others who are being drug into court and losing their possessions and their careers because they made the choice to act according to their conscience and stand for Christ. We even see our Vice President criticized because he places the priority and protection of his marriage over his work and work relationships.

I think Mr. Dylan’s song hit home with so many because it connected first with where they were in life and then it narrowed the focus of our actions to the desires of the one we choose to serve. And, in the world there are very real consequences to both. This is nothing new. Peter spoke of “fiery ordeals” in our service to Christ in the previous passage, and here in today’s passage he speaks about the blessing that comes from making those right choices. Of course, this blessing is not in the form that many would choose but it is a blessing nonetheless because we have done what is right and God’s Spirit will rest on us in the midst.

In this world people suffer just consequences for doing unjust things while other people suffer unjust consequences for doing just things. Peter points to the better path. It is far better to suffer for doing what it right than to suffer for having done wrong. As Christians, we are not to follow the path of the world. We are not to engage in the things that mark those who do not follow God. We are not to do the obvious things like murder and stealing, but we are also not to do the less obvious things like sticking our noses into situations to stir the pot of discontent. We are not to be law breakers and rabble rousers. This is not who we are.

Regardless of who we are and our place in life we are to let our light shine for Christ, and if this means that we suffer because of it then so be it. There may very well be people who revile us or who try to shred our character and vilify us, but this is not to be a determinant of our actions. Rather, living according to who Christ has made us to be and walking according to His example is to be our priority.

Peter wrote, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Every single believer receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their salvation, but there are those times when things press in and we know that God is there because His Spirit makes His always present presence known in very tangible ways. But even when we don’t “feel it,” we still can move forward knowing it to be true nonetheless. It is as if before the world we wear not an outward scarlet letter of shame but a radiant presence of His peace. When someone asks how you can endure hardship or even face terminal cancer or persecution, you can answer that it is because of Christ in you and His powerful hand on your life. There is nothing the enemy can dish out that has not been filtered through God’s hand and is outside His ability to hold us strong.

I think for all of us who have struggled there are those moments when question creeps in, when we look to God and cry out for His help. In this we can know without a doubt that He hears our cries, that He is in full control, and that He will do what is good and right.

We are not to be ashamed of Him. The world may not see Him. The world may not listen to Him or follow His ways. The world may not even regard our actions in response to Him as acceptable, and the world may even hate us simply because of who we are. But God is bigger and more powerful than the world. The salvation we have in His Son is real. The presence of His Spirit is absolute and active. And, His Word is true and applicable to every aspect of our lives. What God has promised to do He will do, and in that we have great hope. There is nothing the world can do to steal this away.

Paul wrote in Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39, NASB95)

Jesus has overcome, and in Him so will we. Quoting John 16:33 once again, we are reminded of the words of Jesus: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

We are instructed not to hide our identity for fear of man, but considering our identity we are to do what God has laid before us to do for His glory. Then, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1 Peter 4:16, NASB95)

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NASB95) … “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Surviving the Fire (1 Peter 4:12-13)

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:12–13, NASB95)

I have commented recently that I am walking through a James 1:2 period. For some who have known me for a long time or who may be familiar with the verse, this comment makes immediate sense. James wrote, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (James 1:2, NASB95) Considering IT all joy speaks to the battle to take the trials that are present and submitting the attitudes concerning them to the truth of what God has declared and trusting Him to work in and through them for good. The next couple of verses help to clarify this, where we continue to read, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3–4, NASB95)

The word “trials” used by James is the same Greek word translated “testing” used by Peter in this passage today. It is the word “peirasmos,” and it has been used variously to speak of both testing and trials as something that God works in and through for our growth and His glory. It is in these tests and trials that God proves Himself to us in so many different ways, and it is also in them that we grow in faith as we see Him bring us through to the other side. But there is also a third form of this word that we see translated in our Bibles. It is seen in verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13 where we read, “No temptation [peirasmos] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95)

Jesus even uses a form of this word in His response to Satan in the desert when Satan tried to get Him to respond contrary to the will of the Father, and even take things into His own hands. It was in the face of this temptation, after not having eaten for forty days, that Jesus responded, “Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test [ekpeirazo].’ ”” (Matthew 4:7, NASB95) And it is pointing to what Jesus endured that that the writer of Hebrews added, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18, NASB95)

Clearly Satan is about seeking and destroying all that is good and God-centered. He is about bringing us down and disabling us from effective service. He is about discouragement and doubt. He is about tempting us to take our eyes off of God and looking to the size of our situations and not God’s faithfulness and power. And He will not stop at anything left within his grasp by the sovereign hand of God. There is a spiritual battle going on that is beyond our ability to see, but not beyond our ability to sense or to feel its tentacles. It is in the midst of this battle that passages such as Ephesians 6:10-18 prove so vital as we are spiritually prepared for this very real spiritual warfare, where we read of one of the pieces that we are to “tak[e] up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16, NASB95)

Satan would like to burn us alive, but God uses these things to purify us for His glory and to demonstrate His power. Knowing this reality, we read in today’s passage that we are not to be surprised at the fiery ordeal among us. We are not to be shocked with trials happen. The reality is that they will. There is no way around them, and this is exactly how God intends it. Sure, it would have been great if man never sinned and if evil never entered the world. But this is not the case. We live in a world where Satan is given a level of freedom for a season and where people live according to their own desires. This even includes the battles that we have in our own minds knowing otherwise. Jesus put it plainly when He said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)

Yep, this ugly and unwanted stuff happens. But unlike the world’s view where we are just supposed to make the best of it because we can’t do anything else, God has promised to keep us and accomplish something great in the process. Jesus came and suffered greatly for us, and now we are called to walk through various forms of trials and testing without succumbing to the temptation to turn, knowing that as we endure that God will bring us safely to the other side, whether that be here or in His presence where we can fully rejoice forever.

Several years ago, after seeing the link in this one word translated these three words, I prepared a paraphrase and response to 1 Corinthians 10:13.

There is no test, no trial, no temptation to sin, no pushing, pulling, prodding, or anything else that comes my way that makes me any different than anyone else. We all experience these things, maybe in different ways and at times to different degrees, but I am no different than anyone else.

BUT GOD…. He is always faithful in all things. With every trial, test, or temptation—no matter how big or how small; with all of these things He has set a limit to them. He will not allow anything into my life beyond which He also has not given the ability to victoriously endure. With every single test, trial, and temptation He has provided a way of escape, and He will keep me from being crushed, and He will bring me out standing on the other side. This is true whether that other side is realized in this life or ultimately in His presence. This is a certain fact.

Therefore, I will place my trust in Him and look not to the size of the situation, BUT to the size and faithfulness of my GOD.

“For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.” (Psalm 66:10, NASB95)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

All to the Glory of God (1 Peter 4:11)

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11, NASB95)

In a high school English composition class I remember coming across a phrase in one of my texts that I wrote down, spent considerable time memorizing, and then annoying others reciting. Here is at least a portion of it: “When promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities and amicable, philosophical, or psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity. Let your conversational communications demonstrate a clarified conciseness, a compact comprehensibleness, no coalescent conglomerations of precious garrulity, jejune bafflement and asinine affectations” (attributed to Mark Twain). After over forty years I realized that I probably was a bit off on what I remembered, so I looked it up on the internet where I was surprised to see how much I remembered. But what does it mean and what’s its purpose? What did I really say? It’s simple. When speaking say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t use big and complicated words.

Both in the Bible and in life today we can all be tempted to try to impress others such that we receive adulation (praise) for what we either say or do. This was true of the Pharisees with whom Jesus contended, and it can certainly be true to today in our highly competitive circles of self-promotion and our smaller circles of looking good before others. But here in our passage today we find that Peter instructs us to live differently. Though we all enjoy to varying degrees being recognized or encouraged for having done good, the praise of others is not to be our motive for action.

In Colossians chapter 3, Paul wrote, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17, NASB95) Then a few verses later he added, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:23–24, NASB95) Then in 1 Corinthians 10:31 we add, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NASB95)

“Whatever” is a huge word. It is not a complicated or hard to understand word. It is just a big word because of its scope. It is a word that includes everything that fits into the category to which it applies. Here in Colossians it has to do with our words and deeds. Every single word and every single deed, without regard to how big or how seemingly small it might be, is to be done in the name of Jesus and for God’s glory. We are to be mindful that it is Him that we serve.

Beyond that, we are to also be mindful that He is the One that makes us able and that He is sovereign over our circumstances. In 2 Timothy 3:17 we read that He is the one that makes us “adequate, equipped for every good work.” And in Ephesians 2:10 we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) God is the One who created us. He drew us to Himself for salvation. He ordained the path of our steps and He even prepared the works for us to do well before we ever recognized the need. He is the One who takes the talents He’s given us, the skills we have gained through the strength and knowledge He has enabled us with, and even the special supernatural gifting of the Spirit for each of us to be used to do these things.

Many years ago, in college, I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. The primary tool we used for evangelism was the “Four Spiritual Laws,” which they have now reworked into, “Would You Like to Know God Personally? The first Principle (formerly called “Law”) is, “God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life.” The starting place was letting people know that God loved them and that He was intimately aware of them and cared about their lives. More than that, He had a plan for their lives. This is what we read in Scripture as in the passages just cited. God is behind our whole package, and He has a plan for its unfolding throughout our lives. God loves us and He is intimately involved with us.

In our passage for today we read that when we speak we are doing so as ambassadors of God, and as such we are to speak with the awareness that our words match the reality of who God is and who we are in Christ. This implies, but is stated more clearly elsewhere in Scripture, that we be people of His Word. In order to speak the words of God we need to know the Word of God. And then, as we speak it we do so with the prayerful expectation that He will work in and through those words. This does not mean that we always quote a Bible verse, but it does mean that our words reflect not only His truths but also His character in the way that they are delivered. Paul put it this way in Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6, NASB95) Then he also asked the readers of his Ephesians leader to pray for him, writing, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,” (Ephesians 6:18–19, NASB95)

Similarly, when we act around others they see not only our actions, but the attitude we display in doing them. As such we are to serve not only with the recognition of who we serve but also in the power that He gives us to serve. Sometimes this service is uncomfortable and it requires doing when we would otherwise not be doing. It might even require us to pause and adjust our attitude, as we look to God and the opportunity to serve Him that has been laid before us.

We are instructed by Peter, “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies….” And the end objective in this is, “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Faithfully Different (1 Peter 4:9)

“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10, NASB95)

Last week at our men’s breakfast we were looking at the question of what we believe to be our spiritual gifting and how we are using that gifting in our lives. One of the passages we were directed to is this very one. It was interesting to see the answers that were given and the varied understanding of what the Bible means by spiritual gifts and then how we are to practically put them into use. Speaking for myself, I have spent a great deal of time looking at this subject and was even charged a number of years ago to develop a course on the subject.

Having this background and being so familiar with the subject did not mean that the answer I gave that morning was easy. It might have been easy several years ago, but during this current season things are different. They are not as I anticipated they would be, and the ways in which I am able to serve are not as they once were. Some days this is a real struggle, and it brings to mind how much even as Christians we can struggle with our perception of our identity and our understanding of effectiveness. We see things done in our bodies, but is this really how God see them?

In today’s passage we read that God has gifted each of us in a special and unique way. Every single believer has been gifted by God through the power of the Holy Spirit from the point of their salvation so that we can be used by Him to accomplish His divine purpose. In 1 Corinthians 12:1-4 we read, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, NASB95) Do you see the distinction? It is not about my talents and abilities standing in the gap for God, but me being faithful in whatever circumstance that God has me to use all that He has given me for His glory and the common good.

What I was given to do several years ago happens not to be what God has for me today, but what He has for me today is still something that He has predetermined and I am to be a good steward in this new setting. While my hope is that He still has vocational pastoral ministry in my future, I currently am employed as a cashier working with a mixture of all sorts of people serving a community of people with a similar makeup. It is in this setting that I am still called to be faithful to use what He has given me for His glory. This past week it included continuing to encourage and pray for customers who are facing various trials and sitting down in the break room during lunch to answer a question about how I deal with untruth when there are so many different understandings of truth.  This is what we are told to do in this passage, to employ God’s enablement of us “in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” The people at work know who I am and they are watching. It is for me to be faithful when God’s Spirit moves and I have opportunities to walk with them another step.

We are to serve “one another.” In 1 Corinthians, we read that these gifts were given for the common good. In both of these passages there is a particular focus on how we are to walk with one another such that we are all built up in Christ and made effective in His work. But, there is also another side. What we do alongside and for believers is commonly done in the presence of non-believers. This is the power of the servant love. In John 13:35 we read, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NASB95) Just maybe this is what prompted the one employee to ask that question. I don’t know, but I do know that I can trust God to do His work in her life and maybe even look forward to another opportunity to talk and share more of Christ’s love and incredible salvation.

We are to be “good stewards.” We are not the determinant of our gifting, but the recipient, and as the recipients we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. If we are gifted by God to be able to encourage others, then we are to be faithful to do it wherever He has us. If we are gifted by God to understand His Word and to be able to wisely apply it, then we are to be willing to do this wherever He has us. And, if He has gifted us to serve or give in some special way, then does it really matter what and where the need is if God has placed the need before us. This doesn’t mean that we say “yes” to every situation or request. Sometimes, as I encountered last week as well, we are not able to do so. But it does mean that we are also not to quickly say “no,” but to learn to look to God and step out as opportunity and leading come together. Rather than finding excuses not to respond, we are given the example of Christ whose desire was to perfectly do the will of the Father.

Peter says that we are stewards of the “manifold grace of God.” Some translations use the word “various.” What we read here is that God doesn’t do all things in all people in the same way. Every single one of us is unique before Him and we are all uniquely talented and gifted to between us do the vast variety of things that He has for us to do. There are no cookie cutter Christians. There is no other Christian who is our standard, but God who calls us all to be faithful to what He has given us for His glory.

What incredible freedom there is in knowing that God does not expect us to be the “best” at anything. What He calls us to do is to be faithful, and in our faithfulness, He will shine.