Monday, February 22, 2010

Respect – 1 Peter 5:5-6

Likewise you that 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, that in due time he may exalt you. (RSV)

Peter just addressed the elders in the church and how they should be leaders, willing and eager to server, not greedy or lording it over their charges and examples to their people. So Peter now turns his attention to the rest of the church body, those that are younger. The word likewise here refers back to the way the elders are to serve. If anyone thinks that he can slack off because he isn’t an elder or in a position of leadership, this one little word should stop him in his tracks.

There are several words in the Bible that require us to look back at the previous passage for context. The more common words are “therefore” and “since.” Likewise isn’t as common and is translated “in the same way” in other versions. It really doesn’t matter what the word is, as we should be looking for them in any form. They tell us that there is something very important in the previous passage that is worth rereading and if it is worth rereading it most likely has an application to our lives that we need to work on.

Assuming that we have reread the first four verses of the chapter we can see the behavior that we are to copy. We can also see how a rash youth or a lazy person may take advantage of an elder who is eager to serve. Instead this command is to be like the elders and also subject to them. That subjection should be in inward obedience with an outward visible show of respect.

In the Old Testament it was expressed in God’s Law. Lev 19:32 "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” (NIV) God connected respect for the elders with the same reverence that He expected from His people. Your culture may have different ways of showing respect such as bowing or removing your hat. Unfortunately, with the mix of many cultures in the US, it appears that we have lost most outward demonstration of respect for elders.

Specifically in the Church, we are to obey those who have spiritual authority over us. Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (NIV) Remember, their job is to help you in your walk with Christ so that when we all arrive in heaven, we will all be able to hear Jesus say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Of course this doesn’t mean blind obedience. There are many warnings in Scripture that say some will turn from the faith and there will even be some elders. That is why it is important to know the Bible and what it says are the marks of a good elder. If we know the Word then we will be able to identify if the elders are following it and preaching it carefully. When they are, we have good reason to submit to them.

However, it doesn’t stop with showing respect only for elders. We are to have humility and respect at all levels. Not only have many lost respect for their elders but also people in their presence. With the onset of cell phones and texting, it appears that most people are showing no respect for the person they are with as they take unnecessary calls and chat or text another person. They ignore the physical person in front of them. You can read the advice columns in the newspaper and the complaints are all consistent. “My _____ (fill in the blank with son, daughter, husband, wife, mother, father, friend, sales clerk, buyer, etc.) doesn’t respect me enough to carry on a conversation with me. Instead he lets ever cell phone call or text message interrupt him.” The problems isn’t new, it just has a more annoying manifestation. It can also be TV, computer, radio, newspaper or even a book that you feel is more important than a person.

It takes a lot of grace to be humble when you are confronted by a person who isn’t showing the same reciprocal respect. Peter quoted Prov 3:34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (NIV) There is an implication that when we are disrespectful it is because we are proud. We are so full of ourselves that whatever we want and whatever we do is more important that anyone around us. The cell phone thing must make the person feel important and therefore proud to be in such demand on the phone. But in doing this, he diminishes the worth of the person he is with. The proverb says that God mocks these people. What do you think it is like to have God mock you?

Prov 1:26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you. (RSV) It’s pretty clear. Proud people sooner or later end up paying for their pride. It may be in this life or the next. The last person you want laughing at you in your disaster is God. He is the one you want helping you and He is more than eager to do that. The second chapter of Proverbs is a list of all the things that God will do for those who listen to Him. However it ends with one verse that starts with a big “but.” (But is one of those words that should encourage you to reread the previous passage.) Prov 2:22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it. (NIV)

When others are disrespectful, remain humble. He will exalt you when the time is right. Continue to be the example and you will receive the rewards from God. Reread Proverbs 2 and you will see what it means to have God exalt you. He has much in store for us. It all hinges on verse 6. Prov 2:6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (NIV) Wisdom tells us to be humble towards one another and under God.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Leadership – 1 Peter 5:1-5

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. (NASB)

It would be easy to overlook this passage because it is directed to elder or leaders in the Church. However, when I look at the Body of Christ, I discover that each of us is an elder in some respect. I may not have an official leadership role, but if I have children, then I should apply this to the way I lead my family. If I’ve been a Christian for any length of time, there is going to be someone who is watching me and learning from the way I live. There is also the possibility of meeting informally with a couple of others for Bible study, prayer, or encouragement. If so then this may apply.

There are times when a leader must raise his voice slightly to be heard above the crowd. I think is what Peter did in verse one. He has some important words of encouragement and correction so he gently reminds his readers that his words should be heeded and put into practice. As he exerts his authority, he also is humble by stating that he is an elder among the others. A good leader knows how to exercise authority and at the same time not let that authority make him proud or feel better than others. Peter does it by identifying himself as part of the group.

On the other hand, Peter also lets his readers know that he has been around longer and has seen Jesus suffer. His words are not without experience. Instead of a leader telling someone to do something just because he says so, Peter gives an example of why he should be heard. However, he didn’t go into great detail, as that would have been too much. A good leader knows when to use personal examples; he must not go overboard, otherwise the listeners will think he is trying to show off and is lording it over them.

Peter’s opening comments are like bookends. First comes the support of “I’m one of you” followed by the authority example then again supported at the end by identifying with his readers as he mentions that he is also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. The implicating of this last comment refers back to the glory to be given when Jesus comes back. That glory is preceded by suffering – something that Peter knew all about.

Are you in a position of leadership? If you are, what is your attitude about it? Peter knew that many who serve do it because they feel pressured into it. They don’t know how to say, “No,” when asked and they don’t know how to determine if it is God’s will that they should be in this leadership role. As a result, they don’t serve with joy and as a result, will not do a good job of it.

Coming into a position of leadership can happen in various ways. The most common way is when a leader observes the qualities of leadership in another and asks them to become a leader. This is the way God works through leaders to bring about new ones. I’ve been in this situation and firmly believed that I wouldn’t have been asked if God hadn’t put it on my pastor’s heart to ask me to lead our home Bible study group.

Sometimes there are no leaders and someone volunteers to take over. Hopefully, the person who does this has been praying about it and has asked the advice of some godly people to confirm it. Perhaps God reveals to the person that this is the direction they should go as a direct answer to prayer.

This can also be a result of a direct call from God. A good example is Gideon in Judges 6:11 and the following verses. No one was stepping up to lead Israel so God picked the person He wanted. Gideon was reluctant at first but went on to do great things as God worked through him.

In each of these situations, God can accomplish much. However a leader should remind himself how he came into that position otherwise he can end up doing it under compulsion rather than willingly.

It seems that even in Peter’s era, there were leaders who look at their position as job instead of a calling from God. They were more interested in seeing how much money they could make rather than serving their congregation. I’ve heard of people going to school to become a pastor simply because they thought it would be a good job. I don’t know where they got their guidance. Many pastors have to work a second job to support their families. The pastors I know usually work a lot more than 40 hours a week. The only ones that seem to be doing well, financially, are on TV and are using questionable theology to get rich. Peter was clear – that should not be the attitude of a Christian leader. Jesus was pretty clear about it too. Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (NIV)

This leads right into Peter’s conclusion. When Jesus, who exhibited the qualities of selflessness, appears He will give a crown of glory to the elders who have been leading with the right attitude. Shepherds were servants. They didn’t receive any glory for their hard work. They had to give themselves to care for their sheep. We can enjoy the current rewards of fellowship and seeing people cared for, but even these are only temporary. However, like Jesus, we need to look ahead into eternity to see what the real rewards of being a leader are all about.

Monday, February 1, 2010

What Happens to Nominal Christians? – 1 Peter 4:17-19

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. (RSV)

When Peter was writing this, Christians were undergoing some of the fiercest persecutions that occurred during the first 300 years after Christ. From Peter’s viewpoint, it was God’s judgment on the Church, not a judgment of punishment, but a judgment of refining. He started this letter explaining that the trials come so that our faith would be proved genuine. Peter could see what the members of Christ’s body were like. He knew that some were living a life that was what we would call “nominal.” That word means “in name only”. Nominal Christians are people who call themselves Christian without having any life commitment to Jesus.

How does this happen? One way is that their parents belonged to a Christian church and so they believe that they also are Christians. Another way is that they may attend a Christian church on occasion. They may live in a Christian nation – one where the majority faith is Christian – regardless of the fact that few actually are committed to that faith.

What does a nominal Christian’s faith look like? They visit a church on Easter, Christmas or even monthly. In other words, they have no commitment to worship God. After all, Sunday is the only day they have to sleep in. They own one or two Bibles but they haven’t read it in recent memory. They believe that God is real and that Jesus was somehow connected to Him. They believe that the 10 commandments are good but can’t recall more than two. They believe that they are a good person and even though they may have broken most of the commandments. In fact they see themselves as better than most people and therefore, they will be near the front of the line to get into heaven. They give very little if anything to their church. They do what they please during the week with little or no regard to how God might want them to live.

Why would God bring judgment on the household of God? If His Church has many nominal Christians among its members, perhaps He wants to wake them up. Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (NIV) Jesus wants His Church to be holy, without stain, wrinkle, or any other blemish. If you look at the members of a church from Jesus’ perspective, you would be able to see into the depth of each heart. You would be able to see the nominal Christians, the weak Christians, and the strong. Would any of these be a blemish? Ask those outside the church. They see the hypocrisy. Of course they don’t like the strong Christians either, but that is their perspective.

What does God’s judgment of His Church look like? Rev 2:4-5 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (RSV) The church, that is the group of people meeting at a certain place, will eventually disappear. This is what happened to the church at Ephesus. No traces of that organization can be found. This occurs all over the US when a church abandons the Gospel and starts teaching other doctrines. The congregation dwindles and the doors are eventually closed.

If the church is strong, then it will survive the trials. Rev 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (RSV) The reference to having ten days of tribulation is not necessarily a promise to us that the worst we will face is only ten days in prison. It is, however an indication that any trial is only temporary. See 2 Cor 4:16-18 where Paul assures us that our trials on earth are only temporary. Temporary refers only to the things that happen here on earth. Otherwise, we would not be able to accept Jesus’ command to be faithful unto death. A strong church is going to know that all persecutions are there for testing, to cleanse the church of those who claim to be followers of Christ or shake them up so that they will be committed to Jesus. As Peter said, when we suffer for Christ, we need to do it because we are entrusting our souls to a faithful Creator.

What about Judgment on those opposed who don’t accept the Gospel of Jesus? Ps 1:4-5 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (NIV) There will be a time when the whole earth is judged. God isn’t going to put up with sinful mankind forever. He gives us every chance to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (RSV) Some think that because God’s judgment hasn’t happened, it never will. They can’t see beyond their own existence and measure everything by what they see. They even deny that any will perish (go to hell.) Peter is warning them that when God’s judgment starts, it may very well be too late.

John saw a vision of this judgment in Rev 6:15-17 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?" (RSV) These are afraid of God’s judgment. They are trying to hide rather than welcoming an end to sin and evil. They have made their choice to reject Jesus and therefore God and are now trying to hide. It won’t work. They can’t hide from Him.

Where will you be when God’s judgment falls? Will you be trying to hide under a rock or will you be receiving a crown of life? Jesus paved the way to that crown of life if you are willing to follow Him more than “in name only.”