November 24, 2008

The God of All Grace: 1 Peter 5:10-14



Have you ever been just at your wits end, asking yourself “Will this pain never end?” Maybe it is sickness, injury, or unexpected death in the family; difficulty with a child; a bad job situation or supervisor; frustration with sin around us or our country on the wrong path

One of the most common ways believers endure suffering is the general rejection of our faith and lifestyles by the world Most people around us, including lots of people who proclaim their Christian faith, want little or nothing to do with holiness, but, instead, want to live in comfort, their desire for pleasure and possessions being satisfied The rejection of our values is kind of a hidden suffering. It may not be overt or confrontational, but like a dripping faucet, it does wear on us.

Peter’s first letter deals a lot with suffering. You’ll remember that his first readers were violently persecuted. Many had fled the Roman cities to rural areas to avoid being tortured or killed. They were afraid. And because of the persecution and the threat of persecution, they suffered.

In 5:10-14, the concluding verses to this letter, Peter writes:

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

God never tells us we are immune from suffering. Sometimes, we struggle to find the purpose for our troubles, and often we see that our faith grows stronger when we are facing trouble or suffering. In every case, we have the opportunity to focus not on the immediate situation, but the promises of God: the sure knowledge, as Peter tells us in verse 10, of the future with our Savior, who will make us “strong, firm, and steadfast.”

I think Peter here has two restorations in view in verse 10: (1) the restoration from the pressures and events that cause us anguish and (2) the future restoration of us to Christ Himself in His presence in heaven.

In today’s passage, Peter tells us we can depend on a great promise: God will care for us through the sufferings of this life and preserve us in our faith and our future existence in the presence of our Lord and Savior.

God’s grace and call (10)


God has promised us His grace and has demonstrated to us time after time, and He has called us to be with Him forever. Everything He does for us is because of His grace. He is, as Peter says, the God of all grace.

God’s grace to us means he shows us favor. He favors us, blesses us; our very existence and His continuing care for us are gifts of His grace. As James tells us: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Notice He has also called us to eternal glory. That is, eternal glory in heaven, with Him, where there is no more sin, disease, or death; no more pain or suffering.

The Holy Spirit through Paul describes the moment we will be perfected and glorified in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

Note that Paul writes not about a change just in form, but in our very substance: from perishable to imperishable, from mortal to immortal. It is not just that those who are saved move from earth to heaven; we are changed in substance to something new bodies in which there is no sin, disease, death, pain, or suffering.

As Christians dwelling on earth, we know that God in His mercy and grace is our sustainer and protector no matter the pain and suffering we face. He has called us to be in His presence in heaven, and He promises to restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast no matter what we endure here. The term translated “restore” in the NIV is often translated “establish”; it means to strengthen and make stable or place firmly

In short, He is committed to keep and preserve us, no matter what trials, troubles, and temptations we face; He is gracious to us and He will keep us, because He has called us to live forever with Him.

Paul also addresses this:

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory (Romans 8:16-17).


He preserves us (10)

The literal translation of the last part of verse 10 is “will Himself perfect you, establish you, strengthen you, and make you firm.” The text uses the reflexive—God Himself will do this; it is not something we can accomplish through good works and not something we deserve. It is through His grace. God will make us perfect, which means to mend, repair, or to make complete.

The Holy Spirit promises this in the context of the suffering Peter has written about in this letter. In the midst of troubles, God puts us back together to make us more and more holy. Notice Peter doesn’t say God just takes over and solves the problems of life. What Peter does tell us is that in the midst of the problems of life He improves us, perfects us, and makes us strong, firm; He “establishes” us, which means sets us firmly in place.

We have all heard people say suffering or enduring difficulties is good for the Christian because it makes us stronger, wiser, feel closer to God, etc. Well, I am one who hasn’t always received those assurances very well. They always seem to come from someone who isn’t going through struggles themselves.

But Peter puts it all in the right context: the struggles themselves do not make us strong, it’s God who makes us strong. No matter what we face, He always is with us: He perfects us (mends, repairs, makes us complete); He establishes us (sets us firmly in place on his character qualities and His promises to us). Our assurance in Him is unfazed by problems we face He strengthens us (literally, fills us with strength). And He makes us firm (stable or steadfast), which refers to our faith increasing in times of trouble.

He has all power (11)


Verse 11 is a doxology or exclamation of worship and praise. Peter is expressing His faith and assurance: God has called us to His eternal glory, He Himself will perfect us, set us firmly in place, strengthen us, make us steadfast, because He has all power.

Peter’s closing remarks (12-14)


Peter closes his letter with some personal references to Silas, the purpose of his letter, Mark, and what he refers to as “she who is in Babylon.”

Silas is most likely the same Silas who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. He was one of the most active missionaries in the early church (Acts 15:40) and a leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:27). Silas is called a prophet (Acts 15:32) and was in prison with Paul (Acts 16:19-40). He served with Timothy in Berea (Acts 17:14) and with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:5; 1 Corinthians 1:19). And we learn from verse 12 here, Silas ministered with Peter in Rome. Silas is mentioned in 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, and 1 Peter.

Peter also reminds his readers of the purpose of his letter: encouragement and testimony declaring the true grace of God in which his readers should stand fast. It is God’s Grace that gives us hope and assurance: our hope is real, incorruptible, undefiled, and permanent (1:3-5).

Peter’s conclusion contains what we might call an odd reference: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings.” “She who is in Babylon” refers to the church in Rome. Because of the government-led and government-sanctioned persecution of Christians, secrecy was important during this time. “Babylon” was a common reference to Rome in early church letters, to protect the Christians in Rome, in case the letters would fall into the wrong hands.

Peter also tells his readers that Mark sends his greetings. Mark was known also as John Mark. We find him in Acts 12, where we read that his home was a meeting place for Christians. He was a cousin of Barnabas, another early church leader (Colossians 4:10) and a disciple of both Barnabas and Paul (Acts 12:25). Mark accompanied Paul on part of his first missionary journey but returned to Jerusalem before the trip was completed, which displeased Paul (Acts 13:13), but later accompanied Barnabas on his missionary trip to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

Mark reconciled with Paul and was with him when Paul was under arrest in Rome (Colossians 4:10), and we find in verse 13 here that he also was ministering with Peter. This is the Mark that is the author of the gospel of Mark, and it is thought that the gospel of Mark was written while Mark was with Peter in Rome.
Finally, Peter writes, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” This was a greeting in families, a fraternal kiss. Among Christians, it was a demonstration of being brothers and sisters in Christ.

Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also the Greek New Testament. For those not acquainted in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to Strong's for concise definitions. The most useful study Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and provide the backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)

November 2, 2008

Overcoming Satan: 1 Peter 5:8-9

Back in the 1970s, the comedian Flip Wilson began starring in his own television show on NBC. One of the most well-known characters he played was Geraldine, a woman always getting into trouble and always offering the excuse, “The devil made me do it.” Hardly a baby-boomer exists today who doesn't remember that line. It was a commentary of sorts on the baby boomer generation's propensity to deny personal responsibility, a way of laughing at ourselves.

Who or what is this "devil" the Geraldine character always blamed for her shortcomings?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term is "Satan," which can be translated both as “accuser” and “adversary.” The New Testament uses both the term “Satan” and the more generic term “devil,” which can be translated “accuser” and “slanderer.” Both terms indicate the nature of Satan. In our passage today, Peter gives us a synopsis of Satan’s intent:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:8-9).


So who is this "devil" or "Satan," and how does he seek to "devour" us?

Satan’s identity


Satan is an angel that turned against God his Creator. The Bible tells us Satan was in heaven at one time and was a guardian angel or cherub. Let's look at three passages that give us clues to his identity:

Ezekiel 26:11-19:

The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings [d] were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.'"


Ezekiel uses a common literary device in this passage, giving the evil king of Tyre characteristics of the Satan, and in doing so intermingles descriptions of both.

Isaiah 14:12-15:

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.


Using the same literary structure, Isaiah gives us further details, including Satan’s long-term goals of ascending to heaven and ruling in place of God. Isaiah also tells us Satan’s ultimate destiny, to be sent to the depths of the pit, also referred to as the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; also Matthew 25:41).

In Luke 10:17-18, we find that when Jesus’ followers were surprised that the demons submitted to them as Jesus’ disciples, Jesus explained why, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

Other ancient Jewish writings claim that 1/3 of the angels in heaven joined Satan and were expelled from heaven with him. As one who wants to bre greater than God Himself, Satan wants our devotion and worship. One of the ways he sought to temp Jesus in the wilderness was to promise Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if only He would worship him (Matthew 4:9).


Satan’s techniques


Satan employs a number of techniques to turn us away from our Savior and Lord, to tempt us to sin, to fulfill our human lusts and desires instead of reflecting the character of God.

He lies and deceives


Debating with a group of Pharisees, Jesus said, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

Jesus uses the term “murderer” in this passage in the sense that the sin with which Satan enticed Adam and Eve resulted in physical death for mankind. His term, “Father of lies,” is a coloqual expression indicating that the devil is the greatest liar and deceiver.

Satan makes evil look good and attractive and good look evil

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:14, observed, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light." That is, he attempts to twist our judgment—some things that seem to be true or make sense are not true. We can cite a number of examples. For instance, it may seem like a better choice, according to twisted judgment, to abort an unwanted fetus or to abort a defective fetus to avoid the trouble of caring for a special-needs child, yet abortion is the taking of a human life. What looks good to human judgment (getting rid of the "problem" of the pregnancy) is actually evil. Or it may be politically correct and seem to be the choice for good to accept promiscuity and homosexual behavior as merely an alternative lifestyle, even though both violate the holiness and character of God. Or we may see goodness in our preoccupation with acquiring wealth, whereas it is and expression not of our holiness, but of our self-centeredness. Many other examples also could be cited.

Paul sums up the process in Ephesians 2:1-3:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.


In other words, people who follow Satan usually don’t realize that is what they are doing. They don't believe in his existence, or perhaps just don't believe in spiritual matters, or, if they do, they see the character of God and principles for living that are recorded in the Bible as outdated or culturally not applicable. But the truth is, he is the prince of this world and seeks to influence people, believers and unbelievers, to do evil and feel that it is righteous.

From the earliest years of the church age, Satan has influenced those who believed and taught heresies. Especially in the early decades, many heresies were intended to allow Christians to live sinful lifestyles and fit in with the culture around them, from sexual promiscuity and worship of the Roman emperor and pagan gods to the judaisers who insisted Christians were under the requirements of the Jewish law. The first letter from Paul to the church at Corinth and his letter to the church at Galatia deal principally with heresies and doctrinal error. Through the centuries to the present, heresies and doctrinal errors have existed among Christians.

Satan, who is known in the pages of scripture as the prince of this world and god of this age, seeks also to keep unbelievers from understanding the light of the gospel, as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 4:4: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." In doing this, he instills a strong sense of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. To many unbelievers, the very idea of a god is outdated, mythological, superstitious, and a crutch for the uneducated and intellectually challenged. This is one of the situations the Bible describes as regarding evil as good and good as evil.

Satan tempts us

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (Matthew 4:1-3).


I sent Timothy to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless (1 Thessalonians 3:5).


Satan accuses us

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down (Revelation 12:10).


In accusing Christians, Satan causes us to feel guilty about our sin, which has been forgiven. He causes us to doubt God's grace. And when he has tempted a prominent or leading Christian, who commits public sin, Satan uses it to accuse the church itself and influences more and more unbelievers to regard Christians as unholy.

Satan tests us

"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat" (Luke 22:31).


In this passage, when the apostles were debating which one of them was the greatest, Jesus told Peter that it was Satan’s attempt to “sift” him (prove his faith to be false, separate false faith from true faith). Our struggles with temptation, guilt, and the other attempts by Satan to turn us from our faith actually help to deepen our understanding and strengthen our faith.

God allows us to be in these struggles, and Satan is always at work. We find him roaming the earth in the book of Job: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it’” (Job 1:7). And we find him prowling to find people to influence:“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for some to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Overcoming the influence of Satan

Christians are taught to actively resist Satan's influence:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (1 Peter 5:9).


If we resist Satan, he will flee from us. He is prowling around "like a roaring lion looking for some to devour." If by our resistance he finds we will not be taken in by his influence, he continues prowling, seeking to find those he can influence. And how do we resist? We resist by standing firm in our faith, by remaining true to our faith in Christ and our commitment to live as He instructs us and as He gave us the example.

We resist by taking a positive stand against his schemes for us, drawing on our faith, our knowledge of God's principles and character, and with the leading of the Holy Spirit:

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:11-17).


Taking a stand is more than quiet resistance. Taking a stand means preparing our defenses and planting our feet firmly with determination not to give an inch against the advancing enemy. It is a planned defense against an enemy, prepared in advance, by knowing truth and living according to truth, by committing ourselves to righteousness, by a faith that is strong and unwavering despite circumstances, by remembering our position before God the Father (saved and under His care), and all this from knowing and understanding the word of God.

So we must be practically prepared: living righteously; knowing the word and how to respond to temptations and testings; always keeping in mind the facts that we are God's children, our faith is secure, and His care is sure; and remembering our purpose is to honor Him and participate in building His kingdom.

October 19, 2008

A Prescription for Stress and Anxiety: 1 Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Introduction

I googled "stress" on my computer this week and found there are 222 million web pages dealing with stress. As I scanned through the first few pages of results, it was apparent that the overwhelming majority of the web sites are about personal stress (as opposed to the engineering type of stress, such as in building bridges and buildings).

Stress is a big topic today, especially in the west, where people contend with job stress, financial stress, family stresses. Mental health counselors tend to group stress into four categories:

Environmental stressors: living in an unsafe neighborhood, pollution, noise, and other uncomfortable living conditions.

Relationship stressors: marital disagreements, dysfunctional relationships, rebellious teens, or caring for a chronically ill family member or a child with special needs.

Work stressors: job dissatisfaction, a heavy workload, low pay, office politics, and conflicts with co-workers or supervisor.

Social stressors: discrimination, poverty, financial pressures, unemployment, isolation, loneliness, and inadequate social services.

Did you know there is an "American Institute of Stress"? It's a nonprofit organization in New York. For $25, you can subscribe to its monthly newsletter. For $75 you can become an associate member; for $1,000, a sponsoring member. Informational packets, containing 15-20 pages of articles, start at $35, but for $25, you can order the basic information packet, which contains information on the birth and development of the stress concept, a list of 50 common signs and symptoms of stress, 10 crucial tips on how to deal with stress, 10 simple stress reduction exercises, tips on relieving tension headaches, job stress statistics, and a quiz to help you determine your level of stress.

But if you're stressed out and looking on the web for a little free advice, the Institute's web site has this disclaimer when I accessed the web site: "We are unable to provide free literature at the present time."

Then there is a company where you can buy a $300 electronic gismo. To get rid of stress, you put your finger in the sensor, and the machine gives you an LCD display of breathing and heart rates. It paces you in slowing your breathing, and that supposedly relieves stress.

Or, for $199.95, you can order a 120-day supply of pills that are the "only effective Swiss natural patented formula that cures depression, stress, fatigue, and anxiety, with a 100% immediate and long-term success guarantee."

I am trying to be a little humorous and, of course, just a bit sarcastic. Stress is a big business. And if I am surfing the net looking for help in dealing with stress, it seems that it only adds to my stress level to find I may need to buy an informational packet, a $300 stress meter, or pills "guaranteed" to cure stress.

Stress and anxiety are also big problems in our time and culture, even among Christians. And stress and anxiety were huge daily companions of the Christians to whom Peter first wrote his epistle; some had run for their lives and thousands sought to live in the rural areas to stay under the radar of the Roman government, which persecuted and killed Christians.

Some anxiety is helpful. For instance, in verse 8 Peter tells us to watch out for Satan, who is always looking for someone to devour. So to the extent that being on our guard is stress or anxiety, it can be helpful. So God gave us some capacity for anxiety for our own protection.

The Bible gives us a simple, one-sentence answer when we are facing difficult or worrisome stress and anxiety: "Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). Peter is writing about not just taking a step of faith to feel better, but latching onto the assurance we know is ours: that God does take care of us.

Cast all your anxiety on Him

Verse 5 is most likely a reference to Psalm 55:22: “Cast all your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” David wrote Psalm 55 during a time when a friend betrayed him. The reference of betrayal in the psalm is thought to have been the incident involving Ahithophel, and advisor who, it turned out, also was a traitor. You can read about it in 2 Samuel 15-17.

Ahithophel was regarded as almost a prophet by both David and his son Absalom, who opposed David and sought to overthrow him. While David regarded Ahithophel as a trusted advisor, he was actually loyal to Absalom. Psalm 55 is David's lament as he came to realize he had been betrayed. As he worked through his emotions, he reaffirmed the promise that, regardless of how awful circumstances could get, he knew his Lord would sustain him. The mood of the psalm goes from despair to complaint to confidence in God, a process that is common when we endure anxiety.

So just how do I cast my anxieties on the Lord? Through prayer. Philippians 4:6-7 tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is not an act of blind or empty faith; it is an expression of trust and confidence in Him and His promises to care for me. We might say it’s God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

Peter does not say cast our worst anxieties on Him, but “cast all your anxiety on Him.” Verse 7 actually is a phrase that completes verse 6 and would be most accurately translated something like this: “Humble yourselves . . . casting all your anxieties on Him.” So one of the ways we act with humility is to turn to God for solutions, not just when we've tried everything else, not just when our anxieties are at their worst, not just when we are at the end of our rope, but all our anxiety, every situation, all the time . . . God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

Psalm 46:10 relates closely to this teaching. It tells us, "Be still and know that I am God"; the literal translation of "be still" is "stop striving" or "stop your efforts" or can mean even "put down your weapons" and know that He is God. In other words, stop trying to solve things on your own, but trust God and the fact that He will care for us. There it is again: God-sufficiency in place of self-sufficiency.

Peter is not referring to simple natural fears, like fearing heights, fearing water if you can't swim, or fearing fire. We know that some fears can become unusual phobias, but some fears and anxieties are healthy. If I am working up on a roof, a bit of fear helps me to be careful where I walk! And a little anxiety on the freeway in Chicago makes me a more alert driver!

Peter is writing about real anxieties: fears and insecurities about things we may not have any control over at all, such as anxiety over interviewing for a job, anxiety about wrong choices people in our family may make, insecurity about employment, and anxiety about any number of things we have limited or no control over. Once again, David gives us a promise to latch onto, in Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.”

But, we might ask, does God really want all our cares? Does he care about the diagnosis I just received? My job? My checkbook? My vicious boss? My gossiping co-workers? The repair bill on my car? Why should we cast our cares on the Lord? Peter answers the question:

Because He cares for you

“Because” means “for the reason that,” and that means it’s reasonable for us to trust Him with our anxieties, because He cares for me.

I know He cares for me enough that while I was still a sinner, in rebellion from Him, He died for me.

I know He cares for me because He defeated death itself and offered the same benefit to me.

I know He cares because the Bible is full of assurances and history of His caring.

That phrase “He cares for you” appears many times in the Bible, and I think the Holy Spirit leaves it kind of ambiguous on purpose. Does it mean He cares about me? Yes; He loves me and died for me. Does it mean He takes care of me? Yes.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus describes His care for us:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That’s quite a promise to us. He cares about us, and He takes care of us, and we can live our lives characterized by God-sufficiency, not self-sufficiency.

October 11, 2008

Pride and Humility: 1 Peter 5:1-6; Proverbs 3:34


To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:1-6)

He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:24)

Introduction

I remember a story I heard several months ago. I can’t take credit for it, as it was repeated to me by a colleague, who had heard it from someone else. One Sunday morning after the church service, the pastor and his wife were at the door of the church, greeting and shaking hands of the people as they left. Almost everyone told him how good the sermon was and how it had really impacted them. One or two told him he was a great preacher. Afterward, as he and his wife drove home, he mused, “I wonder how many truly great preachers there are in the world.” Without missing a beat, his wife answered, “I bet there’s one less than you think!”

I teach every week, and I can kind of identify with that pastor, in that people do seem to think about what I teach, and sometimes say nice things about the sermon. It is always good to remind myself that the credit is not mine. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the thinking of a pastor and his interaction, interpretation, and application of the word of God in sermons and Bible studies. When tempted to congratulate myself on a great presentation, I often think of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

As we know from our studies in the book of James several months ago, and from the messages we are studying now in 1 Peter, the Bible has a lot to say about pride and humility.

In the first four verses of 1 Peter 5, Peter gives some brief advice to the church and its leaders regarding the responsibilities, character qualities, and motivation of leaders in the church. He makes the points that leaders should be willing to lead, not looking for gain or profit, that they should be eager to serve and not abuse their authority, and that they should be examples to the people.

Then in verse 5 Peter turns to the subject of humility, quoting Proverbs 3:24: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” From the original Hebrew, Proverbs 3:34 can be translated even stronger: "He scorns those who scorn, but he gives grace to those who are humble." And in 1 Peter 5:6, Peter adds: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.”

A couple of months ago, when we started studying 1 Peter, I said that there indications in the text that Peter was familiar with the letter of James to the churches and relied on James' letter when composing his own. James is thought to be the earliest writing in the New Testament, written in the mid-40s A.D. Peter, writing 20 years later, demonstrates his familiarity with the letter of James here in verses five and six. Both quote Proverbs 3:24, Peter here in verse 5 and James in James 4:6.

In addition, 1 Peter 5:6 reflects the point James makes in James 4:10. Peter writes “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up (literally, “exalt you”) in due time,” while James writes in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up (“exalt you”).”

Notice that Peter has added the element of time (“that He may exalt you in due time”). This is likely due to the fact that the Christians to whom Peter wrote this letter were undergoing a terrible time of persecution. As you will remember from our previous studies, after the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D., the emperor, Nero, blamed the Christians for starting it, likely to deflect the blame away from himself. A great government-led persecution of Christians began, with many Christians being tortured and killed. Christians fled Rome and other cities by the thousands in order to resettle in safer, rural areas. The churches to which Peter wrote this letter were all in what is today northern Turkey. Peter refers to them as “God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1:1).

So Peter, in using the phrase “that He may exalt you in due time,” recognizes that his readers are in harsh physical circumstances in which they didn’t feel lifted up or exalted. But Peter is assuring them that the promises of God are sure. Peter's use of the term "may lift you up" ("may exalt you") is a little ambiguous in English. It is used in the sense that God will be able, not that God might or might not lift us up. His meaning is that God is able to exalt us once we quit exalting ourselves (that is, once we show humility before Him).

We see throughout Scripture the concept that God opposes the proud but gives grace to those who are humble. So in verse 5 Peter doesn't tell us just to be humble, but to "clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." Peter isn't writing about the kind of pride in a job well done or the pride parents feel about their children. He is writing about the kind of pride that puffs us up, that makes us arrogant; pride that is conceited and judgmental of others.

We find examples of pride and humility throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 & 3)

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)


The temptation was temptation of pride: to be more like God. And when confronted, Adam blamed Eve and blamed God for creating Eve; Eve blamed the serpent, all because they yielded to the pride of wanting to be like God:

“Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13)


The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)


These people were the descendants of Noah. Genesis 10 recounts the regions to which they had scattered. Genesis 11 gives us the reason, a kind of flash back. The descendants of Noah, numbering probably in the thousands or tens of thousands, found an inviting plain in what is today central or southern Iraq (the exact location of the Plain of Shinar is not known for sure). They shared a common language, settled on the plain, began building a city, and decided to build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” not to honor God, but “that we may make a name for ourselves.”

Lacking stone, they made bricks and used bitumen (a thick tar-like substance in the ground) for mortar. We’re not sure about the specific purpose of the tower. Perhaps it would be for idol worship, or perhaps it would be merely a monument to symbolize mankind's domination and pride of life. Whatever the specific purposes, the overall symbolism of the tower would be “that we may make a name for ourselves.”

God acted so that they would not inflate their own egos, but once more rely on Him, the one who had preserved their forefathers during the flood. And suddenly, various families couldn't understand each other. They stopped building the city and the tower and moved off to various parts of the earth and thus be able to fulfill God's command to Noah's descendants to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth” (Genesis 9:7). God took direct action to stop their attempt to build a monument to themselves and once more to humbly honor and rely on Him. And the place they had started building their tower and city was called “Babel,” which sounds like the Hebrew word for “confused.”

It is interesting that there is a tradition that the plain of Shinar was where the city of Babylon grew, but there are no ruins of any brick and bitumen structure there. Today, there is some speculation that Babel was the ancient city of Eridu, where there are the ruins of a huge ancient foundation made of brick with bitumen (tar) mortar. Eridu was just a few miles from Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, a descendant of one of Noah's sons, Shem.

David (2 Samuel 11 & 12)

The very familiar story of David and Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11. It was his pride of his position as king that led David to believe he could do just about anything he wanted. We know the story. He sent for Bathsheba, fell in love with her, arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, and brought her into his house as his queen.

It was his pride and arrogance, not any need or void in his life, that led David to satisfy his lust. God had made him king over all Israel; he had land, palaces, servants, the best food, the best wine, and hundreds of wives. Yet he was filled with pride in himself, and when that takes place, there is always the desire for more.

You remember the story in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan, a prophet of God, came to David and accused him of the sin. David repented and once more became the strong leader God meant him to be. And once more we are reminded of Proverbs 3:24: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Herod (Acts 12)

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:21-23)


Here is another instance of pride and wanting to be God-like and perhaps the extreme example in the Bible of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)


Our final example is in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Notice the words of Jesus in verse 14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Conclusion

Pride isn't always blatant; it can be subtle. Pride is the enlargement of self and diminishing of God. Humility is just the opposite. It does not mean, however, denying the sense of self-worth or accomplishment. It means keeping God in His proper place in our thinking: our creator, our sustainer, our source of accomplishment.

Note that Peter, in verse 6, qualifies how we should regard humility: under God's mighty hand. Humility is not denying self. Humility is affirming God. In the letter of 1 Peter, our Lord calls us to be honest with ourselves about our need for God and His Spirit in us, and to trust in God's mercy and grace, not our abilities and achievements.


Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also the Greek New Testament. For those not acquainted in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to Strong's for concise definitions. The most useful study Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and provide the backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)

October 5, 2008

Persecutions and Trials: 1 Peter 4:12-19


The idea of persecution is ingrained in the old unregenerate nature, what Paul calls “the natural man” who does not know the nature of God. The fact that Christians over the last 20 centuries have been among the most persecuted groups just seems odd, however. One question people might ask is, what would anyone have against any Christian, whose faith calls him or her to pursue righteous living, humility, and unselfishness? An even greater question might be, how can God allow someone who believes in Him and lives to please Him to suffer persecution?


In the west, we live in vastly different circumstances than the Christians to whom Peter first wrote the letters we know as 1 and 2 Peter. They had fled the cities to the rural areas of what is today northern Turkey, in order to escape vicious government-sanctioned persecution.


As we discussed in earlier messages, after the great fire in Rome in 64 A.D., the Roman emperor, Nero, seized about 100 acres of the land that had been ravaged by the fire to begin building a new palace and grounds for himself. The people of Rome suspected Nero of having the fire set for this purpose, and, to deflect public unrest, Nero accused the Christians of setting the fire. A fierce persecution resulted, with the government sanctioning the killing of Christians. Whole families were slaughtered, many crucified by government forces. Many Christians in Rome and other metropolitan areas left the cities to settle in rural areas; as Peter refers to them, “God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1). These Christians to whom Peter wrote this first letter had settled in what is today northern Turkey.


We can imagine whole families in the Roman cities finding it necessary to silently slip off in the middle of the night, leaving homes, possessions, and livelihoods behind, in order to escape the mobs and government persecution.


There were many other accusations against the early Christians, in addition to being accused of burning Rome. For example, Christians were generally regarded as traitors and insurrectionists, because Christians refused to worship the emperor, which was a Roman subject’s civic duty. Another accusation was that Christianity broke up families, since some members would become believers and others not (Matthew 10:34-39). The Christians were regarded as heretical by both the Jews and the Romans. Jews charged Christians with heresy, since the Christian faith had its roots in Judaism but Christians did not follow the Pharisaical laws. The Romans charged Christians with heresy for failing to recognize and honor pagan gods or recognize deification of the emperor.


Two more outlandish accusations against the Christians were that they practiced cannibalism and were immoral. The charge of cannibalism resulted from the communion terminology (“eat my flesh, drink my blood,” John 6:5f; “this is my body . . . this is my blood,” Matthew 26:26, 1 Corinthians 11:24). The charge of immorality grew from the referring to communion as the “love feast,” which to Christians meant a fellowship meal. Pagans regarded it as an orgy, as many of their pagan religions practiced. In addition, the prophecies of the return of Christ to rule were regarded as fomenting revolution.


Persecution of Christians has continued and still continues, though in most eras it has not been as vicious as in the first three centuries of the church. We know persecution as sometimes subtle, often not so subtle, but almost never physical or life-threatening. We live in a quite tolerant culture, and we ourselves tend to be tolerant. To us, persecution may be the derogatory references to creation, biblical standards of marriage and promiscuity, or simply the social attitude of how silly evangelical Christianity seems to the unregenerate mind.


But even in our sophisticated modern world, Christians die because of their faith. From 1917 to 1991, the USSR executed thousands of Christians because of their faith and jailed hundreds of thousands of Christians who practiced their faith outside a government-controlled registered church. Christians in Islamic nations today, especially in Egypt (where the Coptic Christians practice their faith openly), Iran, and Afghanistan, are jailed or even killed for the crime of evangelism; in Saudi Arabia, possessing a Bible can bring a sentence of several years in prison. In the conflict in Kosovo in the late 1990s, more than 100 churches were burned and hundreds or thousands of Christians killed by Muslims simply for being Christians. Muslim clerics predict a future when Islam will rule a world in which Christians and Jews are to be either subservient or executed for the crime of opposing Islam.


With that as a rather negative-sounding introduction, let’s look at what Peter tells us about facing persecution:


Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (1 Peter 4:12-19)

Don’t be surprised at persecution (12)


Peter tells his readers “do not be surprised at the painful (fiery) trial you are suffering , as though something strange were happening to you.” (The “trial” he refers to is the persecution they are going through.) He uses the same word here as in 4:4, to describe how the people around them thought it “strange” that Christians would not join them in drunkenness, partying, and idolatry, and for that “they heap abuse on you.” In the same way, Peter tells us not to think it “strange” (surprising, shocking, foreign) that we face painful trials and persecution.

Often, we are perplexed at why God simply does not shield us from insults and persecution, particularly when it is painful, as in the case of Christians today in the Middle East, China, Egypt, and many other countries.


But as Christ warned His followers, the world hates devoted Christians: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19).


Even in our western culture, being an authentic believer creates difficulties. People oppose the stands we take. They do not understand someone who strives for humility, holiness, purity, and putting faith first. We find, in the final analysis, the world often wants little to do with us. And while in the west that may not mean angry mobs, it can mean social scorn, loss of credibility, and legislation limiting rights to practice some beliefs or, in limited cases, free speech.

So what good comes from persecution? Two positive results of persecution that come to mind are more dependence on and trust in the strength and care of our Lord and more intimacy with God. As James tells us, we learn patience, endurance, and steadfastness in faith; in fact, trials and persecution give us a measure of our faith and strengthen our faith.


Oddly, our response to persecution can prove the strength of our faith to others and attract them to our Lord. When we read about martyrs of the past, we even find instances in which the persecutors themselves were drawn to Christ by the Christians’ endurance.


John Wesley occasionally worried when some time had passed since he had been insulted because of his faith, regarding persecution as a sign of a strong, visible faith. He is quoted once as puzzling over having gone several weeks without opposition. “Can it be,” he is quoted as saying, “that I have sinned and am backslidden?”


Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ (13-16)


What an odd statement! Rejoice that I endure persecution and suffering? Especially in our culture, we prefer comfort, security, freedom, good health care, a decent home, the right to travel, see family, think and say what we want, have cable or satellite TV, lots of stuff to make us comfortable! Our instinct certainly is not to rejoice when things aren’t just the way we think they should be. And to add to the confusion, we are bombarded in Christian broadcast media and on the shelves of Christian bookstores with the gospels of health, wealth, and positive thinking. Yet the message of the Bible is different: through Peter, the Lord tells us “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.”


So when we really consider what Peter is saying, we have to realize our faith is not just about comfort, security, and lots of stuff. It’s about devotion and righteousness, regardless of circumstances.


Jesus proclaimed salvation and holiness as the son of God, and for that He suffered rejection, physical beating, and death by crucifixion. If we proclaim Him and try to conform our lives to His example, as He told us in John 15, the world will hate us. In that context, perhaps we can identify with John Wesley and not wonder why we are persecuted, but wonder what may be wrong when we are not undergoing some kind of persecution and rejection because of our faith!


What Peter means when he writes “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” is that if we endure rejection because of our identification with Christ and righteous principles, whether it be a mild intolerance as in our society or violence as in the Islamic and totalitarian states, we in fact join our Savior in suffering, for the very same reason He suffered. The world rejected Him; likewise, the world will reject those who are really serious about following Him. And far from offering expressions of pity about the trials of his Christian readers, Peter points out that what they are going through is a privilege!


This is a truth the apostles, including Peter, recognized from the beginning. In Acts 5, we find Peter and other apostles, rejoicing in their suffering. After appearing the second time before the Sanhedrin on the charge of teaching about Christ in Jerusalem, Peter and the other apostles were beaten and released with orders not to teach the people about the Savior anymore. In Acts 5:41, we read their reaction: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. . . . they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”


Peter also relates present persecution to future reward in verse 13 when he writes “so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” This is a consistent theme of the New Testament. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).


Verse 14 tells us that persecution is a sign that we are doing something right: “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of the glory of God rests on you.” The word translated “insulted” in the NIV means more than a simple insult; it could be translated something like “reproached without cause” and implies rejected, ridiculed, or abused unjustly.


Peter adds in verse 16 not to be ashamed if we suffer for our faith, but to be proud to bear the name “Christian.” In verse 15, Peter reminds us not to confuse suffering because we are Christians with suffering the consequences we bring on ourselves by unrighteousness actions. If we break the law, there are likely to be consequences, but not because we are Christians, but because we broke the law. Peter lists some examples: along with murder, theft, and other criminal acts, he even lists meddling (literally: a busybody; i.e., demeaning, gossiping, troublemaking).


God purifies His people in trials (17-19)


Verse 17 is one of those hard sayings for Christians in the west today: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God . . .” The term “judgment” in verse 17 does not mean condemnation; it refers to chastening, purging, or purifying the church. That God would allow us to endure difficulty as a means of strengthening our faith is not a concept with which we readily identify. I am reminded of the metaphor of the refiner’s fire. Paul used it to describe the Christian’s works in 1 Corinthians 3, that our works the build the kingdom will be shown pure as the refiner’s fire purifies gold and silver. God is described as refining and purifying His people by the Old Testament prophets Jeremiah (9:7), Zechariah (13:9), and Malachi (3:3).


In a practical sense, we can observe that trials and persecution draw us closer to God. When things are going well, when we fit in with our culture and have its approval, when we feel in control and self-sufficient, it is then we often find we pray less and rely on God less. Often it is the difficulty or trial that brings us back into closer communion with Him, and we more clearly see Him for what He is: our deliverer and sustainer. God is not the author of persecution, but he will use it to bring us back to Him.


Finally, Peter gives us another perspective in verses 17 and 18. What we go through at the hands of those who insult us and persecute us is slight compared to the eventual outcome for those who are not His people. Compared to the difficulties God allows His own people to endure, how much more serious will His judgment be to the people who have rejected Him?


So, in verse 19, we who are His will endure trials and suffering because we are Christians. His standards for us are the same, whether circumstances are great or lousy: “commit themselves to their faithful Creator (entrust, put ourselves under His care) and continue to do good.”


Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also the Greek New Testament. For those not acquainted in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to Strong's for concise definitions. The most useful study Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and provide the backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)