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.