Good morning to you. It's great to see you. I know Brad already welcomed you, introduced himself. My name is Beau. If you're new, I want to introduce myself as well and welcome you. We're so thankful you're with us. I'm one of the pastors and elders here. I'm just delighted you found your way into our service this morning and do pray, whether you're a Christian or not a Christian, you would find yourself looking to Christ today.
If you have a Bible, turn to 1 Peter. Especially for those of you who are new or this is your first time to be with us, it might be helpful for you to know we are finishing a month of studying this little letter in the Bible called 1 Peter. The apostle Peter wrote this letter 2,000 years ago to a group of churches that were in modern-day Turkey.
This group of churches was being persecuted and maligned. They were suffering because of what they believed in Jesus, because they were following Jesus Christ. They put their faith in him, and they were publicly living out their faith in him. People around them knew that, and they didn't like it. This group was being persecuted (these churches were). So Peter writes this letter to encourage them, to strengthen them in their faith, to, by God's grace as they remembered the things he wrote, have their character formed in such a way that they would persevere faithfully through the suffering.
As a church, we've been looking at this little letter and thinking through, okay, 2,000 years later now for us as a church in Denton, Texas, what does it look like and what encouragement can we draw from what Peter wrote for ourselves as we live in a culture that is increasingly more and more hostile to what we believe and our faith as Christians? Even just Christianity in general is increasingly marginalized in our culture. We've been looking at this little letter, and we're going to finish, as promised, today. We're going to cover chapter 4, verse 12, to chapter 5, verse 14.
By way of introduction this morning, I want to do something just a little bit differently than we've been doing. In order to introduce it, I simply want to read this last section of the letter. I just want to read it, and I want you to receive it and hear it. Many of you are aware that the churches that received this letter would have gathered in a room much smaller than this. There would have been one letter and one person who had that one letter. That one person would have read the letter to the congregation as they gathered.
They wouldn't have had Bibles in their laps, not that it's a bad thing that we do. In fact, we should rejoice in that. I'll actually tell you a story this morning that might give you a bit of background of why you even have a Bible in your lap this morning. Surely you know that reading something can leave a different impression than if you just hear it. So we're going to read through this last section of the letter, but I also want you to hear it.
As many of you are aware, you can often tell what a writer wants to leave as an impression on the hearers by what they write last. I wish we could have done this with the whole letter (just read all five chapters together), but that would have taken too long for the time we had to actually do this. So let's just read this last part. Maybe close your Bibles and just get yourself in a posture where you can listen, which is not something our culture does terribly well.
We're busy. There is always noise going on. We're just not great listeners. So let's just trust that as we read this, though, the Spirit of God will enlighten our hearts and we'd be encouraged. Even if all I did today was read the Word of God, we would be helped and encouraged by what Peter wrote. So starting in verse 12 of chapter 4, Peter says this.
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.
Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?' Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ."
Let's pray together.
Father, we thank you again this morning for your Word, that in your kindness to us as your creatures, as your sons and daughters, you have not left us alone to figure out life. You've not left us alone to figure out how to live as Christians in this life. You've given us guidance. You've given us clarity. You've given us hope.
So, Lord, as we digest what we've just heard this morning, as we think about it and look into it a bit more together, discussing the realities and the implications for all Peter has written by your Spirit here, I pray you would encourage us, you would comfort us, you would confront us where we need to be confronted, you would lovingly correct us and strengthen our hearts where we're weak and our minds where we're soft. Lord, have your way among us this morning as your Word sheds abroad the light of the glory of God on the face of Christ. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.
I don't know what you got out of that little exercise of just listening to what he wrote in his concluding paragraphs, but it's amazing to me that essentially what he said is a summary of everything the letter has said thus far. Peter, throughout the entire letter (as you've been hearing, you've been studying with us, you'll know this), has been holding these two tensions together that we are, as Christians in the midst of a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith, at the same time, exiles. This is not our home. We're not hoping in the here and now.
We're not hoping in what we see. We're hoping in Jesus Christ returning and all that's going to come with Jesus Christ and his return, namely that we're going to get to be with him. At the same time we're exiles, we're also elect exiles. We're the chosen of God. We're those who God has, by his mercy and grace, condescended to save and to draw into his family.
To put it in a sort of common way, we're refugee millionaires as Christians. That's our identity as we move through a culture that is increasingly hostile to our faith. We are, at the very same time in many ways, the most despised and rejected in all of the world and yet the most blessed because we're God's people. So we've been holding these two things in tension.
Essentially the way Peter ends his letter here is just by reminding Christians, these churches that are struggling and suffering and feeling the pressure of the world upon them and being slandered because of what they believe, that we as Christians, despite what we see, despite the circumstances we walk through, despite the fact that if we hold the line (speaking of our faith) and hold on to what we believe and stand firm in the grace of God, are going to be persecuted.
Despite all this, what Peter says is we are, as Christians, to be the most hope-filled, optimistic people on the face of the planet, even if at the very same time, we're the most realistic people on the planet because we have a doctrine of sin. We have a doctrine of what is just and right. We know what we see in the world in many ways is not that. We're the most hope-filled people.
So for Christians, we are "the glass is half full" people always, not because of what we see but because of what we don't see, namely the fact that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and he has promised us (as we'll sing about in a bit) that he is going to come back, and he is going to make all things new. What's crooked, he is going to make straight. What has been a cause of tears, he is going to wipe away. All things are going to be redeemed and reconciled to himself. We are optimistic, hope-filled people because our hope is set totally on the return of Jesus.
That's what he says, and in verse 12, he starts this section of the letter. Look with me in verse 12 of chapter 4. He says, "…do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you." I love this, because he tells them… He says, "Brothers and sisters, what you're experiencing in this persecution, in this suffering, in this marginalization, is normal. It's normal Christianity. You should expect it.
Don't be surprised or think something weird is happening to you because these people are saying this about your faith or because you're rejected in this way or because you're maligned and slandered in this way. Don't be surprised by that! It's nothing weird." Listen. For the people he is writing to (just like us in many ways), they would have been surprised, because many of the people he is writing to who are in these churches were people who had just recently become Christians. They weren't Jewish people.
Jewish people knew full well the reality of suffering. The whole history of God's people, specifically ethnically Jewish, has been marked with ups and downs of suffering, and yet these Gentiles, these non-Jews that have come into the church, just put their faith in Jesus. They've heard the gospel message that this God became man, and he died on the cross for their sins. But he didn't stay dead. He rose from the dead, proving he is the Lord of the world. He is going to take care of everything.
So you can imagine the confusion and them going, "Well then, why am I still suffering? If this is the good news, if this is the message of Christianity that this Jesus has taken care of every sin and I put my faith in him and ultimately he is going to make all things right, why am I still experiencing these things?" Well, Peter is saying, "Because you have a view of eternity that is a little bit over-realized."
In other words, you're expecting now the rewards of heaven in a way you shouldn't, because yes, Jesus has risen from the dead and proved he is the Lord of everything, but at the same time, he has not yet completed that work. He inaugurated making all things new by his resurrection. He is going to complete it when he returns.
Peter is saying, "Listen. Don't be surprised. This is okay. We live between the already (Jesus has already come and done these great things) and the not yet (he has not yet returned to finished his good work he started). So in the already and not yet, we're going to have suffering. Don't be surprised about that."
Church, for us as we think about this moving forward 2,000 years, you and I (especially those of you who have been here the last few weeks) should also understand everything we've considered and even forecasted about our culture and its implications on us as Christians. It should not be a surprise to us. It shouldn't catch us off guard. As Christians, we have a doctrine of sin. We understand the world is fallen, and every human culture is fallen, and therefore a conspiracy of unbelief.
It doesn't surprise us when we look around and we see things not right. It doesn't surprise us when people malign us and slander us and disagree with us, even in hateful ways about our faith. That doesn't seem strange to us because as Christians, we know this is the sin. This is the fallenness of humanity. This is an implication of what happened in Genesis 3. So listen. We're not confused or bewildered by suffering as Christians in 2013. We don't look around at what's happening in our culture and get hysterical. It doesn't disillusion us because of sin and because of the Devil (as we'll talk about in a minute).
As Christians, we expect our faith to be marginalized. We expect our faith to be persecuted in various ways for what we believe. If you don't expect that, that will absolutely shape your response to suffering when it comes. It's important that we expect the right things. Just like if you enter into any relationship, whether it's marriage or a roommate, you should know expectations on the front end, because those expectations will indeed shape the way you respond when that roommate or that spouse doesn't do what you expect them to do.
We should expect suffering because we know the world is fallen. At the same time, we also understand because we're Christians that God is working amidst the fallenness. Right next to the doctrine of sin, we have a doctrine called common grace, that God has not abandoned the world. God loves the world, and we should love the world. We should not disengage from the world because we know God is active among our neighbors and those even who don't believe what we believe, especially those who are actually persecuting us for our beliefs.
Therefore, we don't get defensive. We don't disengage from our neighbors or put our hope in a moral majority in our culture, somehow leading us back to some sort of golden age in America where Christianity is received and thought well of by everybody. That's not where our hope is. We don't have a hope in somehow America going back to being a Christian nation, as if it was ever a Christian nation to begin with. That's not where our hope is as Christians.
Next to our doctrine of sin we have a doctrine of common grace. God's love for the world leads us as God's people in the world to love and engage our neighbors, to do good to them in hopes that they will, despite the way they're acting and living and believing now, receive the same hope we have by grace. We're no better than anybody. We don't look down our noses at anybody. We don't become cynical, self-righteous Christians, eager to get out of here because we hate the world.
Especially for some of you who are a little bit older, this is a big temptation for you. You've seen enough. You've lived through enough. The greatest generation is past (whatever you perceive to be the greatest generation). It's really easy for you to be fatigued at culture and just become cynical about it and just start looking down your nose at those kids and this group of politicians or this group of people in your neighborhood or whatever.
Slowly but surely, you just become these embittered, cynical, self-righteous Christians who really are no help to anybody because you're just sitting around the coffee table just sort of lamenting everything that's gone wrong in the world. You have since forgotten to engage the world because God is still engaged in the world. You want to go home, not because you love Jesus and want to be with him primarily but just because you're tired of the mess.
God loves the mess. God is in the mess. As Christians, we're not looking down our noses. We're not cynical. We are glasses half full, even as we look out on the culture and see everything that's happening. Church, don't be surprised by the headlines as we make this move into the new cultural landscape as a family of faith. When the headlines actually begin to affect you and me and your children or grandchildren and my children and grandchildren, we don't get knocked off course because we think something weird and strange is happening. We know this is just normal Christianity.
That's what Peter says. Even though in some places in the world we've experienced sort of an insulation from some of these things, all over the world (as we'll talk about here in a minute) our brothers and sisters know this is just normal Christianity, which is why 1 Peter to most Christians in the world who are suffering is their favorite letter. We like Paul in the West for various reasons. Paul's letters obviously are inspired by God and helpful, but if you're suffering as a Christian in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Libya, do you know what you love in addition to Paul? First Peter, because it has sentences like I just said in verse 12.
Then he goes on and says this. Not only do we not become disillusioned or surprised at the fiery trials. He says in verse 13, "But rejoice…" So we don't do that. We actually rejoice as we share Christ's sufferings, because we know that as we rejoice and we're glad when his glory is revealed, if we're insulted, when we're insulted for the name of Christ, we are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and God rest upon you. So he says don't be surprised. Instead, rejoice because your suffering is not just something strange. It's actually an evidence that you are sharing in Christ's sufferings.
That, church, actually validates and affirms you're a Christian in some ways. Persecution for Christ because we're holding on to what he said and who he is is actually a road sign on this journey that says you're going the right direction. Far from being something that should discourage us, it should be saying, "No, keep going! Be affirmed in this direction." Our suffering serves to validate God's grace to us because the Spirit actually rests on us when we're suffering. So our suffering serves us.
Many of you don't know who William Tyndale is. Some of you do. He was a guy in the sixteenth century who translated the Bible into English. If you know anything about church history, to translate the Bible into the vernacular of the day (whatever language it was) was not a thing that was well accepted by the church and by those in authority over the church.
Because those in authority over the church felt like if you took the Bible and you translated it into the language of the people in a way they could actually read it themselves, that would lead to all sorts of heresy, which it has. We also know it led to all sorts of good, which is why you and I are in here this morning with a Bible in our laps studying this letter together.
William Tyndale was translating the Bible into English. So he was tucked away. He was hidden away in Northern Europe in exile, hiding. He was short of funds to translate the Bible again. He had translated it once. He knew there were some revisions he wanted to make. He was running out of money and needed to sell the initial translation he had made.
In order to do that, it was a dangerous undertaking, right? He needed to sell these translations so he could get money to make a better and newer translation, but to whom was he going to sell? Because if you bought the translation, you were going to be in big time trouble by the authorities. Then it happened. The bishop of London, the guy in charge, got wind of the project. He got wind Tyndale had made these translations, and he was furious! He was determined to stamp out this nonsense once and for all.
What the bishop of London did was he commissioned his agents to go and to buy all the copies they could find of the translations and bring them together to be burned. So he did. They went out. They got the translations. They paid for them. They brought them together so they'd be burned. Little did he realize in his angst and zeal that he was actually feeding the very problem he was trying to prevent.
He got the books all right, and he destroyed them, but the money he paid enabled William Tyndale to move on to the all-important second phase of the translation. That second phase became the backbone for what many of us know as the King James Version of the Bible, which changed the English-speaking world.
In the same way Tyndale's opponents actually served his cause, Peter is here arguing that the persecution we experience as Christians for our faith from our opponents serves ours as well. Oh, the wisdom of God in that, that we would be prone to be discouraged in our sufferings. Isn't it the case that often when we're being persecuted and when we're suffering, we feel like we're tempted to believe God has abandoned us? Peter is saying the opposite is true.
The fact that you're suffering for Christ and that you're marked by the same sufferings he endured means, no. You are God's child, and he loves you. He is near you. It's a mark that you're truly his. Even more than that, Peter would say, "If we share in those sufferings now like Christ did, we're going to share in the glory later." The sufferings now point us ahead to say, "No, you're on the right track. Just as you're suffering now, when Jesus returns to rule and reign, you're going to be a co-heir with him and reign forever."
It's unbelievable. No, God has not abandoned you. God loves you, and he is near to you. The very opposite is true of what we're prone to believe. Then he goes in to verse 15, and he says, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler." In other words, he wants to make really clear (as he has been doing throughout the entire letter) that all of these promises about suffering are only for those who are actually suffering for Christ.
It's not for those necessarily who are suffering because of foolishness or evil, which is the point he made last week, if you were here. Don't suffer because you're doing something foolish or evil. That's you. You've earned that. But if you're going to suffer, make sure you're suffering for Christ and his sake, not because of something foolish you're doing.
I need you to hear this, because much of what passes for suffering in our own minds and lives is not suffering in the sense that Peter writes about throughout this letter. You and I have to be really clear lest we take this letter and the other verses and the other letters in the Scriptures and sort of make parallels between what they're talking about and our suffering that ought not ever be made. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.
If you're a student and you're a Christian and you make that known… You want to be faithful as a student, and you go through the semester, and you're not faithful… You don't study really hard, and yet you show up into class with your opinions. You just sort of are that student, always raising your hand and trying to make sure your professor gets across that you're a Christian and you're going to argue the point, regardless of what the point is.
If, at the end of the semester, you get a bad grade and the professor doesn't like you, don't turn around and say you're suffering for Christ. You're not suffering for Christ. You're suffering because you're foolish and you didn't act like a Christian student. You didn't work hard. You didn't study hard. You didn't go into class and humbly show honor to your professor like Peter talked about last week.
You went in there and belligerently tried to share your opinion without any basis to do that, without any capital in terms of your hard work and your humility. You exhausted it, and you received the just reward for what you did and how you've lived. So don't come out of there and go, "Well, I got my F. I guess they persecuted Christ; they're going to persecute me." They did persecute Christ, and you might be persecuted, but that's not persecution. That's you getting an F you deserve and you earned perhaps. Okay?
I could give a dozen examples of this. I actually heard something this week where there was a pro ball player. I won't name the sport or the ball player, but he got traded to a different team. This person is a Christian. He got traded to a different team. It was time for him to come back to play a game in the home place of the team he had left from, got traded from, decided to go away from. He came back, and he got booed when they introduced him, which is normal. That's what you do in sports, maybe not as hatefully as they booed him, but regardless, it's what happens.
The encouragement was, "Well, Jesus suffered." Yes, he did, but you getting booed because you went to that team and played for them and not them anymore is not the same as Jesus getting persecuted. It's not the same that Peter is writing about here. Am I making my point? I'm thankful you can draw out all sorts of implications and principles from the Bible and what it says about suffering for specific situations. That's great, but just be really clear about your life, what actually is suffering for Christ, and what's suffering for evil or foolishness.
The word meddling here that he uses at the end of the verse 15 ("a meddler") means you as a Christian sticking your nose in places it doesn't belong and trying to have influence in places you have no business to have influence. So he is telling the Christians in these churches, "If you want to go down to the public square and try to barge in on people and change everything and you're going to do that in an unhelpful and not winsome or gracious way, you're a meddler.
Don't suffer like that. That's not suffering. That's not what I'm talking about. That's you doing something you shouldn't have done and getting what you should expect to have happen to you." These promises about marks of Christ and the Spirit and the glory of God resting upon you, it's not for that. It's not for that F you just got, okay? That's not what he is talking about. So we just have to be careful that we know what he is talking about.
The suffering Peter is talking about is you are suffering because you are a Christian, and people hate you because you're a Christian and because you live out your faith in a way that is public and unavoidable. It's necessarily and inevitably offensive. You're not trying to be offensive. You're trying to be gracious and compassionate and winsome, but at the end of the day, you've just a hit spot where your faith is just going to contradict what that person or that group of people believes. It's going to be offensive to them, and you're going to suffer for it. That's suffering for Christ.
He comes back and says in verse 16, "…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." The name of being a Christian. God's name. Don't be ashamed of God's name when people slander you or malign you. "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God." This was a common belief among the people of the time, especially the Jews and even some of those who became Christians, that the judgment of God, the purifying work of God on the world, was going to begin with the household of faith.
This is what Peter is talking about here, that these things you're experiencing are purifying graces of God. He says, "…it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" His point again is look ahead to judgment day.
Judgment day honestly for the Christian is more about us being vindicated and finally having the comfort we're longing for here and now (because Jesus is going to return and make all things new) more than it is us looking at judgment day and just beleaguering and beating down those people who disagree from us. If you're not a Christian, there is the reality that when judgment day comes for you, you're not going to hear, "Well done." You're going to be shamed eternally.
For the Christian now who is being shamed, we look upon judgment day as something to be hoped for, even though he says, "If the righteous is scarcely saved…" Even though we may just be saved as one through the fire like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians, he says if that's the true for the Christian, that we're by grace saved despite ourselves, "…what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" Again, he is pointing them ahead to say, "Look, Christian. Look forward." (As we're going to sing about as well here in a minute.)
Look forward to that day that's coming when Jesus will make all things right. You don't have to vindicate yourself. You don't have to justify yourself. You don't have to make everything here and now right in other people's eyes. You can't do that. So just endure faithfully and look ahead and know Jesus is going to ultimately come and make all things right and vindicate them.
Verse 19: "Therefore…" This is how you suffer. This is how you are equipped to suffer. He says, therefore, because we expect suffering and we know ultimately we're blessed because of it, "…let those who suffer according to God's will [for the sake of Christ] entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." You can just hear Jesus' Sermon on the Mount coming out of Peter as he writes this.
We don't take it as a surprise, and we suffer well by entrusting our souls to Jesus. That word entrust there means to actually take something of great value and to entrust it, to give it, to the care of another person. What Peter is saying here is as Christians, day by day, minute by minute, moment by moment, circumstance by circumstance, persecution by persecution, what we do is take our very soul, the thing that's most valuable to us (or at least it should be), and we give it to God again and again. We entrust it to God.
In 1 Peter 3 (if you remember from last week), he said Jesus, when he was persecuted, didn't revile back. He didn't threaten, but what did he do? It says he kept entrusting himself to God all the way to the end. That's what he is saying here. Not only do we entrust ourselves to God, but we keep doing good. Remember, doing good has already been defined by Peter. Doing good is showing honor to everyone around us as much as "Christianly" possible. Doing good is seeking the welfare of everybody around us as much as Christianly possible.
Doing good means that being a Christian makes us better students, makes us better citizens, makes us better spouses, makes us better siblings, makes us better friends, makes us better roommates and teammates and bandmates and dormmates and whatever other mate you want to be. It makes us better human beings by God's grace, because we're living with a hope that transcends circumstances. We entrust our souls to God, and we keep doing good all the way to the end. That's how you suffer well, even and especially in the midst of a culture that doesn't care for us, that, in fact, does the very opposite.
Then he says this to the elders. He turns in verse 1 of chapter 5, "So I exhort the elders…" The spiritual leaders, not just the older people. The spiritual leaders of the church. You can imagine in this conversation, he has said all of these things to the churches. Now he is going to get into the leadership. You know how crucial leadership is, so you can imagine the leadership of these churches in the midst of this culture. What a bull's-eye they would have had (and still do have in many ways) on their back.
The culture is saying, "I don't like this group of people." What do you think they're saying about the leaders of that group of people who are actually teaching them to be the kind of people they're being? Do you think they like the leaders? No. This is why Jesus said, "Listen. I'm the leader of all this. I'm the Lord of the earth. If they maligned me and hated me, how do you think they're going to feel about you? They're going to hate you too!"
These leaders, no doubt, were prone to discouragement, prone to weariness. Peter is talking about these things. He now turns to the leaders who are in the congregation, and he says this publicly. He says, "Elders, as a fellow elder, I'm in this with you." "…as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you…"
Care for, love, watch over, protect, feed. Keep doing the work of caring for the flock that's among you. He says, "…exercising oversight, not under compulsion…" He is going to say, "Don't do three things." This is the first one: "…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you." In other words, not because you have to, elders, but because you want to.
Any of you who have been in leadership, you know it can just get tiring. You just start doing the job even though you're beat down and, at some level, you may just feel like it's not going anywhere really well. You just start saying, "Okay, I'm just going to show up and do it because I have to." He is saying, "Elders, that's not how you care for God's people." If you're a pastor and you don't like your job, that says more about you than your job. Maybe you need to find a new job. Maybe you need to find a vocation. Maybe you need to be set apart to do something else.
He is not that strong but, I mean, that's the way I read it as an elder of this church. It's like if I'm getting up here and it's just brutal work to get up here and I just bemoan the fact that I get to be your pastor, what am I doing? I'm not doing what I'm supposed to be doing. That's not the vision God has for the leaders of his church, even amidst persecution. The vision he has is, "Listen. You elder and shepherd and care for and love these people and serve with them and serve them not because you have to but because you want to."
Then he says, "…not for shameful gain, but eagerly…" So not so you can line your pocketbooks, which was a problem then as much as it is now, maybe more so now where pastors can just get this flexible gig up here. You get to preach and kind of be in front of people and get praised by people and encouraged (at least if they're nice to you and not tell you what they're really thinking). Then you get money for it, and you can just take the offering and go do what you want. Man, that is a common mindset.
Some of you come from churches like that where there's this scandal that's just marred the church, and the pastor is just driving down the road in his new whatever car that's cool to you these days in his $5,000 suits. The people are starving. He is saying, "Don't do that. That's not going to make it through this time of persecution." Then he says, "…not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
In other words, elders are not bosses. They're servants. They're not executives. They're ministers of the gospel. We don't domineer anything. He says you do this (verse 4) because, "…when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." So even elders and their work, my work… You know, what keeps me going (besides just your kindness and your love and my delight in being your pastor and watching you grow in the faith) is just knowing the Lord is going to return.
I'm always looking forward in my faith just knowing this situation, this marriage, this hardship that's going on in the middle of our church, the Lord is coming back one day. That's what sustains us. Then he turns to those who are not elders. He says, "Likewise, you who are younger…" Maybe this is a specific group in the church, maybe not. He says, "…you…be subject to the elders." You can imagine the tension that could perhaps come about in the midst of hard times.
If you think of like elders and the congregation as kind of a healthy marriage… Spouses, if you're married, you realize (and you don't have to be married to realize this; you know this with your roommates or whoever) when hard times come, when circumstances get tough, there is more room or perhaps more inclination to friction, to divisiveness, to strife, to not being kind to one another. I think that's what he is getting at. He is saying, "Listen, elders. You have to be loving the church this way. Those of you who are younger, you have to be humbling yourself and loving the elders this way."
You have to have that if you're going to persevere through suffering. If when suffering and persecution come, slander comes to the church and you just join in with one another, it's just going to be bad news bears for the church. It's not going to be a good thing. You're not going to last. Then he says, "Clothe yourselves, all of you…" He brings us all in, and he says, "Listen, tie on humility. Take off whatever you're wearing, and put on humility." This is the way you're going to interact with one another.
Why? Because, "God opposes the proud…" If there's a scarier verse in the Bible, I don't know of it. He (God) actively opposes pride. He hates it. He hates my pride that I exhibit every day in a thousand ways, and he is actively opposing it and working against it. Thank God that I'm in Christ, but just think about that. He is saying be humble, because God opposes the proud, and yet he gives grace to the humble. What we need in times of hardship and persecution is grace. We have to have grace.
He says as persecution comes and you suffer, "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…" What he is pointing them to is all this suffering, all this discomfort, all this persecution you're experiencing now, church, ultimately God's hand is in it. He has not taken his hand off of you. Though it might be a mighty heavy hand of God in some ways, God's hand is still there. To persevere through suffering, we don't give up. We humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, knowing he has his hand on us, he loves us, he cares for us.
It says do this "…so that at the proper time he may exalt you…" So just like Jesus humbled himself under the mighty hand of God on the cross, when he was raised up from the dead, God exalted him. The church follows that same pattern. Even though now we're humbled underneath God's hand, we know he is going to exalt us. We know he is going to make it new and better and great. One day our inheritance is going to be realized fully.
He says, "Humble yourselves…" Do you know how you express humility? Verse 7. By casting all your anxieties on him because you know he cares for you. The humble man is the man who casts his anxieties upon the Lord, not the man who tries to figure it out, and when he can't figure it out, gets mad and starts questioning God. That's the proud man God opposes.
The humble man is who, in suffering, throws himself upon the mercy of God and says, "I can't understand this. I'm frustrated about it. I'm discouraged about it. I'm tired, but, Lord, I trust you. I'm just going to cast my anxieties upon you because ultimately I know you love me and you care for me." It's Jesus saying the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. "You see the birds and the flowers? You think God who cares for the birds and the flowers doesn't love you?"
Cast your anxieties upon him. That's a mark of humility when you cast your anxieties upon the Lord and don't just sort of keep them to yourself and try to figure them out yourself, as if you could. The Lord says, "I care for you. I want you to do that. Why are you keeping them to yourself? I want you to do that." He is just sort of talking about humility.
Then he says in verse 8, "Be sober-minded…" Church, be mindful. He moves back into these virtues he has been talking about if you've been with us through the whole letter (sober-mindedness, watchfulness). He adds a little weight and significance to why we're to be sober-minded. It's not just kind of a, "Hey, let me throw out one of these virtues that's on my mind." He says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
One of the primary reasons we need to be sober-minded and watchful is because we have a real spiritual adversary, the Devil, who really hates us and wants to kill us. It's really the Devil who is behind these attacks we're feeling, behind these pressures, behind these discouragements. The Lord is sovereign over even that, as we learn in Job, but the Devil is the one doing good work to us (or horrible work, depending on how you look at it).
He uses this image of a lion. It's the most vivid imagery he could use. I know many of us have a hard time getting there because we're not hanging out and seeing lions in our backyards like they were. Maybe you can go to the Fort Worth Zoo and see him if he is not sleeping up there behind the rock where you can't even see him. It's like, "Oh, where's the lion?" "He is not here. He is up there." "I can't see him. Thanks."
I know we don't have a picture for this, so I just pulled a video that might sort of drive home what he is trying to get across here. If you get offended, Jason Jean, the production assistant, actually picked out the video, not me. Just a little disclaimer there for me. Let's watch this video, and maybe it will help us see what he is saying.
You guys are acting like it's a UFC fight going on up here. That's the most engaged you have ever been in a sermon! I'll do that more often. This is the reason he gives why we need to be sober-minded and watchful. When we're suffering, when we're tired and discouraged and the pressure of culture and the slander of those around us are making us more vulnerable to be devoured, do you not think we're going to be more lured into temptation?
Do you not think that the Enemy, who is a devil who hates us, is not going to want to seize on our vulnerability? Do you think that lion felt sorry for that little calf? No! It's the same way. That is the spiritual reality we live in. Difficulty has a way of isolating us. It has a way of leading us to want to forsake our responsibility to isolating ourselves and abandoning our faith. Peter says in verse 9, "Resist him…" Resist this Evil One who wants to devour you like a lion.
"…firm in your faith…" Entrusting yourself to God. You do this by "…knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." How amazing is that, that one of the key things that helps us actively stand firm in our faith against the Evil One and to resist him is to remember that the same kinds of sufferings we are undergoing, and even more for us, are being experienced by our brothers and sisters all around the world?
There's something about knowing that, that God has hard-wired into us that helps us to persevere in times of hardship. This is why it's helpful to know what's going on in the Christian community around the world, why it's helpful to have our little myopic vision widened. I don't know if some of you know, but right now (2013), there is more persecution of Christians than ever before in the history of the world. Do you know that? Some of you do, and you pray, and you lead us in praying. You've convicted me in your own prayers for these things. You've helped lead me in this area.
Today there's more persecution of Christians than ever before in world history. There are more Christians who today are fleeing their homes because of their faith because they're being persecuted because of their faith. I was even reading an article this morning about Iraq. You know, Iraq has just become a topic that's so politicized (sadly enough even among the church) we can't even hear the word without thinking politically. Should the troops stay? Should they go?
Do you know what? The troops are leaving. Do you know what that's leaving for the Christians who are there in Iraq? No protection. As Christians, we have to think about that. Do you know what they're doing now? They're trying to go to Syria, but you know what's happening in Syria (or at least I hope you do). They can't go to Syria. They can't go home. Our brothers and sisters, even this morning, are experiencing a kind of suffering that has left them as nomads, homeless, but blessed.
What Peter is saying is, "Listen, church. Remember that. Remember what's going on in the world." This is why we pray for other nations at Elder-led Prayer (one of the reasons you should come to prayer). This is why we pray for our missionaries who are in some of these places. It's why we even on Sunday mornings pray for the persecuted church often, because knowing that our brothers and sisters are experiencing the same kinds of things (and even more so) helps us, compels us, to persevere because God has designed it this way.
Do you know what I think the heart of what Peter might actually be alluding to here, especially on the heels of his lion illustration? It's that isolation will get you killed. Because you know one of the things that thinking about others around the world does is it helps you feel less isolated. When you don't feel like you're the only one going through it, you don't have as much self-pity. When you don't have as much self-pity, you're not as prone to discouragement.
When you're not as prone to discouragement and self-pity, you're not as prone to despair or anxiety or anger or entitlement or some of those things that even this morning many of you in this room are feeling and are tempting you to abandon your faith. He is getting at isolation, and he is saying isolation spiritually will kill you.
Some of you have no need for me to explain this to you this morning because this is where you find yourself even right now. You have isolated yourself from the people of God, and because you have, if God is gracious, you're ensnared by self-pity and discouragement, by anger and entitlement. Even as we speak this morning, your flesh this week is tempting you to act out on that out of your isolation, to go back to your former way of life, to indulge your flesh and seek comfort in things God says we ought not to seek comfort in as Christians.
Eventually, this sort of isolation and self-pity and discouragement and anxiety and anger and entitlement, will eventually (unless God is gracious) lead you to be devoured altogether in your faith. You will have no faith, because you will have been swallowed whole by the Enemy, which is exactly what he wants. Brother and sister, if you're here this morning and you're in that place, you are more vulnerable than you dare imagine.
That little calf is just an illustration. It can't fully express the reality of how vulnerable you and I are. The Devil hates you. He wants to kill you, but your God loves you. He is a good Father. He is a good Shepherd. He wants to bring you back into the fold even this morning. Resist the Enemy here. Confess. Draw your life out into the light. Come back to the Lord and the people of God.
Church, as we suffer increasingly for what we believe, we can't isolate ourselves, which is why even in my weekly email this week, I just said, "Hey, listen. If you know of people you haven't seen in a while…" Summer. There's a lot of transition. We're going to be isolated to some degree. Follow up. Send texts. Make a phone call perhaps for the first time in a long time. Just care for one another, and encourage one another in your faith.
If people come to your mind, love on them. It's not just my job to do that as a shepherd. You are shepherds as well in a sense. If we're isolating ourselves, we're going to get devoured, which is a big part of what Peter is saying here. Then he says in verse 10… This is how he ends in verses 10 and 11. This is how he ends his letter. Some of you, this is what you heard when we listened to it earlier. "And after you have suffered a little while…"
It doesn't seem like a little while sometimes, does it? It seems like that day is just a decade. Peter, with eyes of faith, is saying, "And after you have suffered a little while [because it is a little while in light of eternity], the God of all grace, who [loves you and] has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself [come and] restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you." How comforting! So comforting, in fact, in verse 11, he just worships. "To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." That's how he ends his letter.
Then it says, "By Silvanus [this faithful brother who has been writing this letter] I have written…to you, exhorting and declaring that this [what I've just shared with you] is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it." This is true. These things we have read about for the last four weeks are true. This is the grace of God. "Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon [the church], who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings…"
This is the church at Rome. Babylon was sort of a code name for Rome, for obvious reasons. Then he says, "…sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ." It's the same way he opened his letter (peace and grace multiplied to you). That is a powerful letter filled with help and hope and encouragement.
I'll just tell you this, church. It has been my great encouragement to hear how this little letter, as you've studied it and discussed it in your Home Groups and your own relationships throughout the weeks, has helped you, how the Holy Spirit, through Peter, has really kind of begun to lead you to consider more urgently and helpfully and faithfully what perseverance looks like for you now and what it will look like in the days ahead, especially if our culture continues to become increasingly hostile to our faith.
I was trying to figure out a way to just tie a big bow on it. I don't feel like I need to because what Peter does is just the best ending you could possibly have, which is why we're just going to take the Lord's Supper and sing. Here is my hope. Beyond what the Holy Spirit does, the things of the Lord, what he has done every week in your own life personally… What I have hoped is that reading this letter would just sort of, by God's Spirit, throw out a bunch of seeds into the harvest of our hearts collectively as a church.
Do you remember the parable of the sowers? A guy was sowing seed, and he sowed in four different soils. In one soil, the Enemy came (Satan came) and took the seed before it took root. Another seed took root immediately, but there was really no deepness, no depth to it, so when persecution and trial came, that root withered, and there was no harvest at all. In the third soil, there wasn't any harvest either, because when it began to grow, the worries and the concerns of the world began to choke out the harvest of that seed as well.
He said but there was one seed that was thrown out. It went into the soil, and the harvest was good. It was so good, in fact, that some produced 30 fold. The harvest was 30 fold. In others it was 60 fold. In others it was 100 fold. My hope as your pastor as we've read this, for my own heart as well as for yours, is that as we move ahead, there will be a harvest in the midst of our church from these things. It may be two years from now. It may be five years from now. It may be 18 years from now.
But when these days come, when this persecution comes, we would be equipped, we would be ready, and this great harvest by God's grace and through his Spirit would blossom in the life of our congregation that would compel us and empower us and help us to persevere regardless of what's being said about us or done to us, because we know we are those who have been born again to a living hope from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Regardless of what's taken from us now, we have an inheritance that is imperishable, unfading, undefiled, that's being kept in heaven for us that, by God's grace even now as we meet, is being guarded for that day.
Father, we thank you for these truths and pray, oh God, that you would help us to be faithful, elect exiles, those who live our lives with one foot raised because the vision that has so stunned and captivated our hearts is not a vision of this world or what it has to offer, but it's a vision of Christ and what he has to offer for us and what he has already offered for us as we'll celebrate now as we come to the Table.
Turn our hearts now to celebrate, even as Peter finished his letter and he just worshiped. Would you turn our hearts to worship as we take these elements and as we come now after the elements and sing together? We pray in Jesus' name, amen.
Scripture 1 Peter 4:12-5:14