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.)