Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Suffering Because There Is Only One Way – 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 upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. (NASB )

It’s hard to break these passages about suffering and persecution into small chunks because they all build on one another. Previously, Peter talked about fiery trials and now he is talking about being reviled or insulted. There seems to be a big difference between a fiery trial and someone insulting me. However, as any child knows, the constant verbal abuse hurts longer than a physical blow.

Why would someone insult me because of the name of Christ? What is there about Jesus that causes people to insult His followers?

The first thing is that Jesus made the very clear statement that He is the only way to God. John 14:6-7 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (NIV) If a person belongs to a different faith, then my claim to follow Jesus is a statement that he will not go to heaven when he dies. The second thing is that Jesus’ statement declares that he doesn’t really know God. My faith is a statement that unless he renounces his faith and turns to Jesus, he will end up in hell. That is a very heavy thing to lay on a person who may have spent his whole life following a creed that either said his was the only way to God or that there were many ways. Even if his faith is to say there is no God, I have stated that he is wrong, dead wrong. His response will be essentially the same as child who has been insulted. He will respond with an insult or worse.

Understanding that the message of Jesus and the cross actually insults others helps me to accept the returned insults. How should I respond when others are offended by the Gospel? Look at Jesus’ response. Matt 15:12-14 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" He answered, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (RSV) Jesus’ response is just as difficult to accept as the fact that only His followers will see God. He recognized that those who were offended by His message were not God’s children. He said to let them go. Ignore their insults. They are responding to the spirit that they follow (Satan.) I need to expect that they will insult me, not be surprised, and therefore not take it personal. In fact I should have a sense of sorrow for them. They are leading each other into a pit and that pit is an eternal one.

Did I get Jesus’ message wrong? Was He really as intolerant as it appears? Paul’s understanding expands on the message of the cross in 1 Cor 1:18-29. In this passage Paul affirms several things about Jesus’ message of salvation.

• To the blind, the ones who are perishing, the message is foolishness
• To the ones that are being saved, it is God’s power
• God will destroy and frustrate man’s wisdom that is contrary to the cross
• Man’s wisdom (that doesn’t agree with Jesus) is foolishness
• It was God’s wisdom to make sure that these can’t know Him by their own “wisdom”
   o Wise men
   o Scholars
   o Philosophers
• Those who believe Jesus will be saved even though it seems foolish
• Jesus is a stumbling block to Jews
• Jesus is foolishness to Gentiles
• Jesus is salvation for both Jews and Gentiles who accept that
   o God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom
   o God’s weakness is stronger than man’s strength
• God did this so that no one can boast before Him

That last point is important. Jesus takes away all the boasting about how good I am or that I have somehow earned the right to heaven, whether it is through endless reincarnations or living a good life. Only dependence upon Jesus’ gift of eternal life can get me into heaven. Only by knowing Jesus can I know God.

Back to suffering, it seems that Peter is addressing someone who may think that since they are suffering, they might as well have a good reason for it and therefore steal or make trouble for others. He clearly says that it is not a valid reason for suffering. Not being a troublemaker implies that when I’m insulted, I certainly should not retaliate. I need to learn how to let it go and not get into fruitless arguments with those who insult me.

On the other hand, I should not be ashamed to suffer as a Christian. Persecution and suffering generally causes poverty and oppression. It may mean that I am not able to care for my family as I should. To some, that would be a disgrace. If a person turns to Christ and his parents then ridicule or disown him; that would be a great embarrassment in some cultures. Parents accepting Christ may embarrass their children and the children may use that guilt to turn their parents from Jesus. Peter says that even in these circumstances, God’s Spirit and His glory rest on us. We need to remember that our comfort and our goal is to please our heavenly Father even when it may result in embarrassment on earth. This will bring praise to God.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More Testing – 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. (NASB)

I wonder how many people come to Christ and think He is going to solve all their problems. They may have heard the Gospel message of forgiveness and peace with God. In some cultures, this would be equated with prosperity and good health. After all, don’t many pagans sacrifice or pray to gods so that they will be blessed by these gods? Even among Christian churches, the message is preached that if we do what God wants and have faith, He will do whatever we ask.

This passage in Peter isn’t the first time that suffering as a part of a normal Christian life has been presented and it isn’t the last. It is in complete agreement with what Jesus taught. Since this has been discussed in previous studies, I won’t go over all that again.

A key in this passage is that I shouldn’t be surprised when a fiery ordeal happens. If I’m surprised, then I must not have been reading the Bible and understand what Jesus taught. I may have been listening to someone who I thought was a good preacher but who has his own agenda instead of God’s. I can only be surprised if I’m not anticipating problems. I can only be surprised if I haven’t prepared myself to stand firm in the face of temptations. This is a call to be prepared to battle life’s problems from a spiritual standpoint.

Another key is that the ordeals are fiery. In the Greek, fiery trial or fiery ordeal is one word, purosis (poo'-ro-sis); ignition, i.e. (specifically) smelting (figuratively, conflagration, calamity as a test). Smelting takes a very intense heat. A conflagration is a large fire that causes a great deal of damage. Peter wasn’t talking about stubbing my toe; he was talking about some extreme difficulties in life. These are earth-shattering events that would cause most people to rethink their priorities and what is most important.

If I had just come to Christ and then something like this happened, would I wonder if I had made the wrong decision? I’ve seen it happen to others. They think that they have either signed up on the wrong side and go back to their former religion or that God isn’t who they thought so they abandoned their newfound faith. I clearly remember a co-worker who only turned to Jesus as a test to see if things would get better for him. When his problems weren’t solved, he renounced his decision to follow Christ. Unfortunately for him, things continued in a downward spiral. I remember a person who renounced his previous faith at his baptism, yet several years later turned back to it.

Jesus’ parable clearly fits these reactions to trials. Matt 13:20-21 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. (NIV) Peter also addresses this in 2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire. (RSV)

Earlier, Peter explained that trials are there to prove the genuineness of our faith. (1 Peter 1:7) My co-worker’s faith was proved to be false. I’m not speculating about this, I asked him point blank, why he turned away and reverted to his old ways. He admitted that he was only testing Jesus to see if it would do any good for him. This man had the knowledge of Jesus but didn’t want to submit to Jesus. It was a “me” decision, not a decision to follow Jesus.

The sad part is that when Jesus is revealed my co-worker and any others who have failed the fiery tests will not be overjoyed. They will not be able to look forward to an eternity when the trials will be over. They will only be able to look forward to eternal fiery trials because their faith was not genuine in the beginning. If their faith was genuine, they would not have departed. Peter will address this in 1 Peter 5:10.

The expectation of an eternal rejoicing with Jesus is a blessing that kept the Christians of the first few centuries going through their persecution. How much more, as we draw closer to the return of Christ, should we remain steadfast in the face of all kinds of trials and temptations?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Using God’s Gifts 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, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as 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. (NASB)

God has given me a gift. The NIV says “whatever gift.” The first thing I think about is the various gifts that are mentioned in the Bible. In Matt 25:14-15 Jesus tells a parable about a man who gave monetary gifts to three servants. Each received a different amount. By comparison, the first received five times the last. The same applies to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. No one receives the exact same gifts. Just as each person’s DNA is different for every other person, the Holy Spirit has given me gifts that are different from every other person. Rom 12:6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. (NIV)

I think it is a big mistake for anyone to believe a motivational speaker who claims that we can do great things just as Moses did, if we will only let God use us. It was clear in the O.T. that God chose Moses to do a specific job. Some of the Israelites must have heard the same motivational-you-can-do-anything speaker and decided that they could also lead Israel. In Numbers 16 the story is told how Korah and 250 men decided that they had the same gifts as Moses and Aaron. The scary part is that they really thought God had gifted them the same as Moses. God killed them all. The only thing that can come of this kind of you-can-do-anything reasoning is jealousy, guilt over failure, and/or a destroyed ministry.

Attitude is everything. Since I know I have a gift, the verse says that I should use it to serve other as a good steward of that gift. Instead of wondering what great things I can do in Jesus’ name. I should be concerned about serving others. If God is going to make that into ministry that saves millions or He makes that into a ministry that cleans the kitchen, both are pleasing to God. The parable of the gifts reveals the heart of God. In Matt 25:16-30 the story is completed when the Master returns and rewards the two servants for using their gifts but punishes the one who didn’t use his gift. The rewards were the same for the two even though their gifts and results were different.

The importance of using the gifts is emphasized in 1 Pet 4:11. The astounding statement is made that a person gifted with speaking should do it as if God is speaking through him. With crazy people claiming to speak for God as well as nationally known evangelist, how can a person take this verse seriously? It can only be done through humility. When a person becomes proud in doing God’s work, using God’s gift, God is no longer in it. Sure, some good things can still happen in that ministry, but good things can happen in a totally secular ministry as well.

Whether speaking or serving, the incredible knowledge that it is God doing the work and not me should keep me from becoming proud or thinking that I should be doing something greater than He has ordained. I should be depending 100% on His strength to complete the work whether it is speaking to millions or one person. Whether it is cleaning a toilet bowl or painting a majestic mural of the Last Supper. It also takes prayer, a good grasp of God’s Word, and other godly people to discern where He is leading.

God’s grace is manifold. That means having many forms or applications. He knows what He is doing and has orchestrated this world and the gifts given to people in it to accomplish His will. I am to participate willingly with the correct attitude, not trying on my own to do more or less than what He wants. When that happens I’ll be doing it for the glory of God though Jesus.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hospitality – 1 Peter 4:9

Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. (RSV)

I was going to write about my failings in being hospitable but that doesn’t seem to be very enlightening. I don’t think of myself as having the gift of hospitality but this verse isn’t dealing with gifts. The next verse talks about that; this one is a command without reference to a gift. That means that I am to practice hospitality whether or not it is a gift. If I think that it isn’t my gift and use that as an excuse, then I’m just plain being disobedient.

Rom 12:13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (NIV) One aspect of hospitality is sharing with God’s people who are in need. This Christmas was a great time of sharing with others who were in need. Our Bible study group was able to share with families in our church and also with families in Pakistan. It doesn’t take much to find someone in need. Gal 6:10 says to do good to all people. Our hospitality shouldn’t be limited to other believers but we should be especially attentive to other believers.

Heb 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (RSV) 3 John 5-8 Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth. (NIV) In the US we don’t see traveling evangelist and others who spread the gospel without first raising support. It was common in the 1st century for people to welcome intenerate preachers. They would offer them food and shelter for as long as they were in town. The book of Acts is full of Paul’s journeys where others welcomed him and provided. On occasions he had to work because there wasn’t anyone to provide.

We occasionally have missionaries visit our Bible study group. We always try to take up a collection for them. While the collection doesn’t offer a lot in their overall needs, it usually covers their expense to come and for babysitters for their children as well as a little left over.

While I don’t feel like I have a gift of hospitality, I do like to share with God’s people who are in need as well as the brothers and sisters who are sharing the gospel.