Wednesday, August 25, 2010

God’s Patience – 2 Peter 3:15-16

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (NIV)

Back in verse 9 we briefly discussed God’s patience which allows more people to be saved. Here, Peter pulls Paul’s writings into context. Paul relates some other aspects of God’s character in relation to His patience and they also relate to salvation. Rom 2:4 Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (RSV) God’s patience is related to His kindness and forbearance or tolerance. His tolerance isn’t the politically correct tolerance of the world, but His tolerance is the kind that puts up with something for a while. God puts up with sinful man not to approve of his actions but to give us a chance to repent.

Paul spoke of God’s patience for himself. 1 Tim 1:16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (NIV) Paul persecuted the church by imprisoning and delivering believers over to execution. You would think that if God were going to destroy anyone, it would have been Paul. However, God had mercy and patience with Paul.

Many Christians today are living ungodly lives. They are living together without marriage. They are idolatrous in the way they handle their finances. They expect political solutions to spiritual problems. They put anything and everything ahead of God in their lives. Many believe that because they are able to keep up the prosperous life, that God is OK with their lives. However, the truth is that God is patient with us. He is giving us time to repent. The warning for salvation isn’t just for those who don’t believe. It is also for believers who are blaspheming the name of Jesus by their lifestyle. He will not always tolerate our way of life.

This isn’t anything new. Though history, God’s people have distorted His word to suit their own purposes. Jer 22:13-17 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms. 'So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the Lord. "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion." (NIV) This is a warning to people of all nations, believers and unbelievers alike. Oppression and extortion can take many forms. It can be as simple as not sharing with others in need, taking advantage of illegal aliens or blatant slavery. It can be looking for legal loopholes to do unethical business practices. What about those houses? I’m sure the rich have every right to build million dollar mansions, but do they do that to the exclusion of sharing their wealth?

An interesting aspect of this passage is Peter’s reference to Paul’s writing. If there is ever any question about the authority of Paul’s writing and his apostleship, this should clear it up. Peter affirms Paul as a dear brother. This is in spite of the fact that Paul had to call Peter to account for his unbiblical behavior. Gal 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. (NIV) The next thing is that Peter affirms that what Paul wrote was through the wisdom God gave him. The third thing is that Peter equates Paul’s writing with Scripture. Up until this time, the only writing that was held in this high esteem was what we would now call the Old Testament – or the Jewish Bible. Even though Paul was not counted with the original Apostles, Peter recognized that God had used him to teach us through his writings. Paul’s letters are now universally accepted as God’s Word.

Peter also affirms that Paul’s writing isn’t always easy to understand. However, difficulty in understanding doesn’t give anyone an excuse to distort what he wrote. The warning against this is clear. Anyone who distorts the Bible will bring destruction upon themselves. I have to be careful what I say when I talk or write about the Bible. Each preacher needs to be careful. Any application of Scripture to everyday life must be correct, leading to righteousness, holiness, salvation, kindness, perseverance, all the fruit of the Spirit. Using any Scripture to justify ungodly behavior will only result in heartache, sin, and possible destruction. Don’t be ignorant and unstable.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Living a Peaceful, Pure and Blameless Life – 2 Peter 3:14

And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight. (NLT)

Are you looking forward to the things that Peter mentioned? Are you looking forward to that new heaven and new earth? We should be. One of the reasons is that not only will the new heaven and earth be the home of righteousness, but it will also mean that we will see Jesus. Paul tells us that we already are citizens of heaven. Our passport back to our home has been issued by the Holy Spirit so it can never be revoked and we should be eagerly waiting for Jesus to come and take us home. When that new universe is created, we will have to be transformed so that we can live there and Jesus has the power to do that. Phil 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)

One thing about that transformed body is that it will never be able to sin. We won’t even have to think about resisting temptation or knowing what God’s will is. All that is in this current body that causes us to sin will be removed. I don’t know about you, but that will be worth the wait. However, we are not there yet. Peter tells us that we need to work at living peaceful, pure and blameless lives right now. We need to make every effort to do that, not just try to do it or work at it sometimes.

One of the key words is effort. It seems a contradiction that we are called to put effort into living holy lives when it is by faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice that we have been saved. Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (NIV) Paul was trying to show that effort in obedience to the Levitical law, including circumcision, was not going to produce a holy life. The effort that we need to exert is in following the Holy Spirit. Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (NIV)

Paul also describes this effort of living by the Spirit as putting off the old self and putting on the new self. Eph 4:22-24 … 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. (NASB) See also Col 3:8-10. The effort that we have to go through is to put aside the sinful habits that we once had when we were not Christians or the habits that we have learned from the world that lead us into sin. The only way to do this is to be renewed by the Holy Spirit and the way He does that is through the Word of God and by prayer. 2 Cor 5:17 says that we are a new creation when we become Christians. We need to utilize that new creation instead of the old self when we respond as Christ would want.

Renewing our minds takes a couple of things. We need to first of all understand what is right and wrong. That’s where the Holy Spirit convicts of right and wrong by the Word of God. We read and understand that certain things are wrong. For example, we read Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (NIV) and Eph 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (NIV) We can see the kinds of behavior that are to be eliminated from our lives and the behavior that is to replace it.

Then we also need to renew our minds by understanding the power that God gives us to live holy lives. We can’t do any putting off and putting on when we rely only on ourselves. God want us to utilize His power. Eph 1:18-21 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (NIV) Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know this power. Note that he said that this power is for us who believe. The very same power that raised Jesus from the grave and gave Him rule and authority is available to us. Why would we want to rely on our own power to resist evil and live holy lives when we can rely on God’s power?

We may have been able to clean up our lives in many areas but we often have a habitual sin that we just can’t overcome. We may do well for a while but then fail. We trust Jesus to forgive us (1 John 1:9) and cleanse us from unrighteousness but then the temptation comes again. In these situations, you may ask how do I rely on His power instead of mine? That’s where prayer comes in. We have to admit to God that we don’t have the power in ourselves to resist sin. We’ve been the ones fighting the temptation and not God.

Heb 2:18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (NIV) What we want is for Jesus to help us and He doesn’t until we ask. The next time that temptation comes, pray. Tell God that you can’t do it on your own but you need that same resurrection power to overcome the evil. He will then come to your aid and remove the desire to sin.

You say it still didn’t work? Did I mention that you must want to overcome the temptation? If you really want to enjoy that sin then you need to take a step back and ask Him for the power to hate the sin as much as He hates it.

Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Each time He was tempted, He used a scripture to tell Satan why He wouldn’t do what Satan wanted. If we don’t know God’s Word good enough to have a scriptural reason for resisting then we are in trouble.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (RSV) Submitting yourself to God is putting yourself in His hands and trusting His power to overcome the temptation. Resisting the temptation or Satan with Scripture is quoting an appropriate verse when tempted. The temptation may be your own sinful desire or it may come from the devil. It doesn’t matter which, because God’s Word is more powerful than both.

There is no excuse for failing to overcome habitual sins and making progressing in living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless. He has given us the power and the means of appropriating that power. Start living a peaceful, pure and blameless life today.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Which World Do You Love? – 2 Peter 3:11-13

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness. (NLT)

Peter keeps talking about the destruction of the world. This isn’t some flimsy theology based on a couple of obscure passages in the Bible. This is something that each Christian must fully embrace and understand. The earth is temporary. God will completely destroy it and start over with a heaven and earth that will last forever. When we get our minds and hearts around this truth, we can finally live the way He wants us to live. When we are focused on this world and the things of this world, we are ineffective and unproductive in our Christian walk and testimony to the rest of the world.

Paul knew this and it was one of the things that kept him going. After explaining some of the pressures of his ministry, he gave this explanation. 2 Cor 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (NIV) The new heaven and earth are eternal. We don’t see them now but by faith, we know that they are coming. If we set our eyes on what is happening in this world we can get worked up and frustrated when it appears that our plans or even God’s plans are not being accomplished. Either way, rather than obsess with the things of the world, we have to remember that these things are temporary.

Don’t get me wrong, however, this doesn’t mean we completely ignore the earth or the things in it. In Gen 2:15 God put Adam in charge of the Garden of Eden to care for it. In Ps 8:6-8, it says that God has made mankind ruler of all that He has made. He does expect us to take good care of the things that He has made. In fact, the Bible says that God’s wrath is coming on those who destroy the earth. Rev 11:18 … Your wrath has come … for destroying those who destroy the earth. (NIV)

The point of Peter and Paul is also emphasized by John. 1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever. (RSV) When John talks about loving the world, he explains that he isn’t only talking about the physical things of nature, but also the sinfulness of mankind. This love of the world puts these things above our love of God or of other people. Too much attention to the things of the world violates the greatest commands in the Bible. Matt 22:37-40 And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." (RSV) God is a jealous God. He wants us to love Him first, people second, and things last. Loving anything more than Him is idolatry.

This is what Peter is trying to get us to understand when he asks what kind of people we ought to be. He says we must live holy and godly lives. The only way to live holy and godly lives is to put God first. To love Him above all things and to love people next. If we do love God first then He gives us the power to love other and live a godly life.

How does this speed the day of His coming? That must be tied up in the fact that God desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4.) Is it possible that when the last person whom God has called to salvation actually turns to God, that at that time, He will set in motion the events that lead up to the final day of the Lord? If so then living godly lives and sharing the good news of our salvation through Jesus will hasten the day. If we are lax and don’t do our part, then that person may take longer to come to Jesus.

Peter puts a little self-check at the end of this passage. Are you looking forward to this new heaven and earth? Are you looking forward to a world filled with God’s righteousness? If not, then why not? Are the goals and desire of this world a higher priority and you don’t want to see them destroyed? Do you have goals to get married, see grandchildren grow up, finish college, retire, or any other things that you want more than seeing a world without sin and evil? Many of these goals may be very noble and good, but they can’t be more important than seeing the new heaven and earth with God’s righteousness filling it.

If you don’t want to see Jesus come back because you want any of the things of the world, then your heart is not in the right place. If you truly love Jesus more than any other then you will want to see Him coming back today. You will also understand that this event will far out shadow anything you might have missed. You will understand that He will take care of all our concerns for other, even those who have not yet made a decision to follow Him.

2 Tim 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (NIV)