holiness

Living With Honor: Part Two (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)

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13 For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruler 14 or agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. 15 You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. 16 Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. 17 Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler. 18 If you are a slave, submit yourself to the master who has authority over you, whether he is kind and gentle or harsh as he deals with you. 19 For grace is clearly at work when a person accepts undeserved pain and suffering and does so because he is mindful of God. 20 For what credit is there in enduring punishment you deserve? But if you do what is right and yet are punished and endure it patiently, God will be pleased with you... The Anointed One suffered for us and left us His example so that we could follow in His steps. [he goes on to describe this more]

3 1-2 In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3 Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights….

In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers.

 

We talked last week about how honoring others for the sake of Christ accomplishes at least four important things:

  • “hushing the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • displaying God’s grace
  • “persuading [toward Christ] by the way we live
  • supporting, not undermining, our prayers

Today, we are going to move further into this call to holiness.

 We talk in the United States about a government this is of the people, by the people and for the people. The church is of Christ, to the glory of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit…. and still for the people (the world…think the Great Commission).

The biblical language that explains our presence in the world is that we are to be salt and light. Salt preserves and protects; light shines into the darkness. We are here as Christians to preserve and protect truth, purity, love, peace, and hope to the glory of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are here to shine the glory of Jesus and truth of God’s Word into even the darkest places and hearts in our culture. We are here to be of service to others on God’s behalf.

Honor was our focus last week. This week I want to look at how Peter gave some specific instructions on how to do this that I believe are meant to be applied to us all for the sake of our witness for Christ.

The advice to servants is advice to us all: display the grace God has given to us in the grace we give to others.

There is a parable of servant who is forgiven a debt he could never pay, who then promptly turns around and demands a petty debt his servant owes him (Matthew 18:21-35). His experience of unfathomable grace did nothing in him to bring out a desire to pass that grace on to others. Luke records Jesus teaching about how we are to pass on what God has given to us:

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6)

It’s easy to love those who love us. Anybody can do that. But what about genuinely loving those who don’t love us? When we do that, we are salt and light: we step into a world that is all about “I will get what is owed to me!” and model grace (undeserved mercy). In the darkness of revenge and hate we shine the light of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

The advice to wives is advice to us all: develop a gracious and quiet spirit. Biblehub.com defines the Greek used for these terms (2272  hēsýxios) in this way:

  • quiet, still, steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness.
  • "appropriately tranquil" by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction

It’s a God-inspired, Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions. This is a challenging one, because it has a lot to do with our inner life and the expression of emotions. If the other ones in my list were purposeful actions, this is purposing to have ‘appropriately tranquil’ reactions.

  • Your boss chews you out for something you didn’t do (or did do?)
  • Your kids tell you what a terrible parent you are
  • Your spouse breaks your heart with a poorly chosen word (or perhaps a carefully chosen one)
  • Your parents push your buttons once again
  • Someone publicly shames you on Facebook

How do we respond? Do we have a Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions? To have a quiet and gracious spirit, we must actively surrender to the work of God within us, and surrender our pride, our anger, our demand for fairness, our need to look good or be right in the eyes of others. “This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live.”

The advice to husbands is advice to us all: Protect and defend those who are ‘weaker’ than we are. The context of 1 Peter likely had to do with social clout or physical strength (the gymnasiums were for men; women rarely had any kind of significant public voice). I am going to broaden the principle.

If we have areas in which we are stronger than others, that is not an excuse to dominate or bully. It’s the opportunity to serve.

Everyone in this room is strong in some way, in the sense that we all impact someone else’s life. One of the definitions of power is this: “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” That’s all of us. Our very presence directs or influences the behavior of others or the course of events.

We can be strong or have power in a lot of ways that are more specific than just our presence.

  • Have we thought about the power of our eyes? A look of contempt vs. a look of love. A guarded look vs. an open look. Dismissive vs. engaged. Honoring vs. dishonoring.
  • Our posture is powerful. Body language speaks volumes. We can lean in or lean away from people. Even things like wearing headphones or isolating ourselves on a phone can send a very clear message to people.
  • Our clothes are powerful. According to an analysis of “over 30,000 articles on fashion published throughout 2017… ‘power’ is the word that appeared the most frequently.” [1] We can steer someone’s view of us or invite someone’s gaze with a carefully chosen outfit. If I wear a suit vs. my “drug rug” (apparently that’s what my fun new sweater is called by the kids these days), I can change the impression people have of me or encourage them to view me a certain way just by what I wear. A T-shirt with a slogan will invite or direct people’s eyes to the wearer’s chest; so will a skin-tight T-shirt. That’s power. In Chicago and Costa Rica, we are told how our clothes will invite certain responses or send certain messages. There is power involve just in choosing what to wear.

Then there is personality, money, words, prayer, listening, muscles, reputation, intelligence, empathy, spiritual gifts… These are all ways we “direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.”

We are more powerful than we know.

Here’s the key biblical principle: The purpose of strength isn’t to be strong. That’s just what strength is. We might say, “I want to be strong or have power,” but then the obvious next question is, “Why?” As a Christian, I can’t just say, “So I can be strong.” Biblically, there is a purpose to our strength. I know this because there is a purpose to God’s strength.

  • Psalm 18:1-2 “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust...”
  • Psalm 22:19 “…O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!”
  • Psalm 28:7-8 “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped… the LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed.”
  • 2 Samuel 22:3 “The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge…”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”
  • Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is strongest when you are weak.”

God uses His mighty power for our good. He did not design power for us to use to separate us from others or so we can dominate, exploit or use them, or so we can isolate ourselves. The power and strength God gives us is a tool to accomplish His purposes by helping those weaker than us to the glory of the God who has made us strong.

As Christians, we can’t just say…

  • “I want to be rich.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with your money?
  • “I want to be smart.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with the knowledge you gain? How does what you now know express itself in loving care of others?
  • “I want to be a powerful communicator.” That’s not enough. Powerful communicators can learn very quickly how to bully or seduce others with their words. I’ve said before how I had to come to grips with the reality that I can overwhelm people with my words. I have to keep this question in front of me: How am I using my words to protect and build those around me? (By the way, that means speaking truth with grace and humility. The solution is not to stop communicating. It’s to use the power of words in a godly manner)
  • “I want to own my own business.” Why? So nobody can tell you what to do? That’s not an option. God has things for you to do. If you are a Christian, your life is God’s. Everything you have belongs to Him, and that includes your time. I suspect God wants you to use the power over your schedule for the good of those around you, especially those who have some degree of powerlessness in your life. Maybe you have time to volunteer more. Maybe you have time to fill in for your employees occasionally and give them a surprise break.
  • “I want influence. I want to be known.” It can’t be just for the sake of being known. How will you use your influence to protect and defend?
  • “I want my kids to immediately respond to me.” Why? Is this for your sake or theirs? Why do you want that power? Is it to make your life easier, or is this actually part of a very purposeful plan for their good, to protect them from…what?
  • “I want the power to prophecy, or speak in tongues, or heal.” Why? Who do you plan to serve with that gift? Paul is clear in his letter to Corinth that these are gifts of service, not gifts meant to cement authority or build one’s own reputation.

Do you remember why Peter told husbands to honor their wives? “So nothing would hinder their prayers.” If I am understanding this correctly, Peter means a husband will undermine what he is praying for if he misuses his strength. He can pray all he wants that God is glorified, but it will be hypocritical and grating if he is living in a way that makes it so that Christ is not.

This is the ultimate purpose of all of our power: to point people to Christ, to use our power to serve in order to point toward Jesus, God in the flesh, who served us at such great cost.

From “All The Poor And Powerless,” by David Mathis: [2]  You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

 Christianity is not for the self-sufficient. It’s not a religion for the rich and the strong. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the well-to-do and rally those who have their lives all in order. He didn’t come to gather the good, but the bad. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). This is one of the great paradoxes of the gospel.

 It’s the poor he makes rich, the weak he makes strong, the foolish he makes wise, the guilty he makes righteous, the dirty he makes clean, the lonely he loves, the worthless he values, the lost he finds, the have-nots who become haves. Not mainly in this age, but in the new creation to come. It is not the emotionally endowed that he blesses, but the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). It’s not the buoyant and boisterous he comforts, but those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). Not the prideful, but the meek (Matt. 5:5).

 He prophesies in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” God loves to show himself strong by being the strength of the weak, by showing mercy to those who otherwise receive no mercy. To take people that typically would hear “not my people,” and make them his people…

There is a great beauty to our God being the strength of the weak, and the riches of the poor. This is truly good news to those who of us who will acknowledge how needy we really are, how weak are hearts can be, how poor we really are in spirit. What good news that we have a God like this: who takes the foolish, the weak, and the lowly—like us—and makes us into trophies of his grace, for our joy and for his glory. ___________________________________________________

[1] https://www.wmagazine.com/story/fashion-word-of-2017-was-power-woke

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/all-the-poor-and-powerless/

 

Aliens And Exiles (Part 2)

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YOU CAN WATCH THE FACEBOOK LIVE STREAM HERE “Beloved, remember you don’t belong in this world. You are resident aliens living in exile, so resist those desires of the flesh that battle against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Last week, I rolled out the idea that there are at least three things we should do as a result of being aliens and strangers. 

  • CULTIVATE IT – SO WE ARE ALWAYS AWARE WE ARE ‘SET APART’
  • OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR ALLEGIANCE
  • USE IT - TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

 We talked last week about cultivating it: being aware of how the values and standards of the world are not the values and standards of our true home. I want to talk this week about why it is important that we own it, and how we can use it for our good and God’s glory.

OWN IT – TO AVOID COMPROMISING OUR LIFE AND OUR WITNESS

What I mean by this is that we walk into that strangeness rather than try to avoid it. If we don’t keep it in front of us as a very present reality, I think there are two potential dangers.

First, we will begin to compromise the Christian integrity of our lives. We become comfortable in a world that is not our home, and eventually we will live by the standards of the world. If it doesn’t feel strange and uncomfortable, why would we avoid it?

  1. We hear message after message about how money and things are our RIGHT and they will lead to the good life, and how dare anyone do anything to take what's ours – and if that feels comfortable, it will become comfortable, and we will begin to live in that world - a world that is remarkably at odds with every biblical principle[1] about how to use and view wealth and things.[2]
  2. We hear over and over that we should follow our heart or be true to ourselves, when biblically speaking those are both terrible ideas.[3] We are to make sure our heart follows God’s heart; we are supposed to be true to Christ. Now, as God works in us, our hearts become more reliable and our true selves become more Christ-like. But no matter where we are in our spiritual maturity, we should follow and be true to Christ, not ourselves.
  3. We are told that we are free to do anything we want and nobody should tell us what to do, but those are not biblical notions. Biblical freedom is freedom from the enslavement of sin and into the freedom to follow Jesus. God absolutely tells us what to do and who to be, and we are embedded in a community of God’s people who are supposed to speak into our lives not just to encourage us, but to reprimand us in line with God’s Word. I am guided toward what I ought to do all the time by the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the counsel of people around me who care about me. It’s life in the Kingdom of God. [4]
  4. We are told all the time what rights we have, when the Bible talks constantly about what responsibilities we have toward others because we are God’s ambassadors to people created in God’s image.
  • My culture tells me it’s my right to say virtually anything I want to say; the Bible tells me the tongue is a fire, and my words have the power of life and death, and that I dare not have bitter words come out of my mouth. [5]
  • My culture tells me privacy is a right; the Bible does not. If anything, it talks all the time about hidden things being revealed, and the importance of accountability and confession. Keelan Cook wrote: "Sin loves secrecy. It is precisely in these dark, hidden corners of our lives that sin makes its home. It lurks in the shadows of our lives, and when we discover it is there, it is all the harder to reveal those secret places to anyone, especially people in the church. Sin’s love of darkness continually pushes us away from real community. It seeks to isolate us from that vital source of growth.The church is a wellspring of life to the Christian, and as soon as we isolate ourselves from transparent, real fellowship, our spiritual self begins to shrivel. But if we submit to an open, honest life in the light of this Christian community, it will make all the difference.First, that light will reveal all of our evils and force us to confront them head on in the power of the Holy Spirit. That community will then be our helper, our fighter, our support in the battle against our own self and the grip of sin in our lives. Finally, with nothing to hide, we will come together as an actual community and taste the blessings of true fellowship.[6]
  • My culture tells me I have the right to pursue happiness; the Bible tells me I have the responsibility to pursue holiness, which may or may not lead to happiness. Some of the most holy people in history suffered intensely for their faith. They may have experienced a peace that passes understanding and even found the ability to rejoice in the midst of it, but that is a very different thing indeed from our culture’s shallow definition of happiness. [7]
  • My cultural values tell me I have the right to be in a relationship where I am independent and strong, and where my wife completes me and makes me happy. I saw a motto recently: “Fall in love with someone who doesn’t make you think love is hard.” Really? Love is always hard. It will cost you your life. The Bible tells me that I must love my wife to point of giving my life for her, because that’s what Jesus did. Love is hard. My wife and I to submit to, serve, honor and respect each other, not because its easy, or we complete each other, but because Jesus demands it. [8]

So, if we aren’t careful, we can compromise our personal integrity as followers of Jesus.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc9gfNW5otE[/embed]

"With love in your eyes, you confront the lies, the double standards, and the party ties, My one affiliation is with your name; to share your kingdom and to share your shame." - Rez Band, "Alienated"

 

Second, we can begin to compromise the purity of our allegiance to Christ. I have to talk politics here. Stick with me. I don’t really want to talk about this, but I think as your pastor I have to. This won’t be about President Trump or Hillary. This is about the reality of living as strangers no matter who you voted for.

Here’s what our political parties have in common: they are parties of Empire, even if there are Christians in them, and that ought to make us uneasy. We ought to feel like strangers at some point. Not always, of course. It's not like they can’t or don’t align themselves with biblical stances that feel a bit like home to us.

But the parties are not church denominations; as has been said often in the past year, we don’t elect pastors at any level. If nothing feels strange and foreign to you in your party or your candidate, you aren’t looking closely enough. We have to be honest about this, or we run the danger of giving a whole-hearted allegiance to something or someone that does not deserve it.

No party has a platform on the economy, immigration, education, social services, the military, patriotism, health care, free speech, gun control or the conflict in the Middle East that should make Christians completely comfortable.

Our political parties are not the church, even if Christians are a part of them. They use fundamental principles and ideals that are not formed or informed by Christianity. At best, it is a mix of Christian values brought by Christian politicians and non-Christian values brought by those who are not. It ought to feel strange to some degree and to varying degrees (depending no what a party stands for in different areas).[9]

There is only one place I can without reservation give my allegiance; only one man in whom I can without reservation put my trust.; only one person who is above any criticism I have to offer. That is Jesus Christ.

If I am not known as a man whose first allegiance is to Jesus and the principles and values of His Kingdom, I am failing to be the ambassador God has called me to be. We must own our strangeness, or we will compromise our personal integrity and our public witness.

 USE IT: TO MOTIVATE US TOWARD LOVING ENGAGEMENT

So what do we do as aliens and strangers? Peter is clear: "Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment."

So this awareness is not meant to make us disengage; if anything, it should motivate us to live as faithful ambassadors in a world in desperate need of the gospel. Here was the direction the prophets gave to the Jews in Babylonian exile:

“Build houses—make homes for your families... Plant gardens, and eat the food you grow there. Marry and have children; find wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, so that they can have children. During these years of captivity, let your families grow and not die out. Pursue the peace and welfare of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to Me, the Eternal, for Babylon because if it has peace, you will live in peace.” (Jeremiah 29:5-11)

That’s a very specific order for the Israelites, so let’s consider how this command has played out over church history in other situation. In the early church, Christians were very good at redeeming things within their cultures, moving in and bringing with them the peace of God.

Modern Christianity has done this as well.

  • Christmas, Easter and Halloween and Earth Day have a mixed history, but the church has always found ways to take cultural celebrations and direct them toward God.
  • We move into entertainment, entering into popular music and popular forms of storytelling and using that vehicle for the glory of God.
  • We enter into the flow of art and fashion and make things that reflect biblical values.
  • We are politicians (we have the freedom to support legislation the reflects Kingdom principles in our country); we are businessmen, students, teachers, lawyers, laborers…
  • We use the platforms we have to be a faithful presence. To go back to the abortion issue, I can post videos of ultrasounds (I did last week, in fact). The Senate might not protect a 20-week-old unborn child, but I can show a video of a 20-week-old unborn child. I can make my FB wall feel like home, at least for a little bit.
  • We can get involved in our communities. I can support Pregnancy Care Center and Single MOMMs ministry to help make it easier for a mother to decide to keep her baby. I can volunteer with Goodwill Inn or Safe Harbor or Thomas Judd to be involved in helping those in need. I can support ministries that show love to the world because they help to implement one of the most important values of home.

Christians have always moved into a world that was not their home and brought the redemptive presence of Jesus with them. In showing how one particular, practical thing could be redeemed and used for the glory of God, they pointed toward the reason Jesus came: so that we could be redeemed and used for the glory of God. A faithful presence that brought about social change wasn’t the end goal; preaching salvation to a lost world is the highest calling we have. But the faithful, holy presence knocked down barriers and opened doors to the Gospel.

That’s why we don’t retreat from our culture. We embed ourselves in it. The first Christians didn’t move out of the neighborhood once they became disciples of Christ. They were just aware, in ways they weren’t before, that all around them was a broken and dying world that in some ways was terribly at odds with their new citizenship – and it broke their hearts.

There is a popular phrase in exorcisms (at least in the movies): “The Power of Christ compels you!” In this case, the love of Christ compelled them to be deeply engaged in spreading the goodness of life in the Kingdom of Heaven, not just in good deeds that will cause other to give glory to God, but using that influence to spread the heart of the gospel: the message of salvation from sins and peace with God. [10]

So our heart should be broken so that we live faithful, prayerful, engaged lives embedded where we live, and pursue the good of the city for the glory of God.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY6VAy9y_iQ[/embed]

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[1] Mark 4:19 “…but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Proverbs 23:4-5” Do not wear yourself out to get rich;  do not trust your own cleverness. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 11:28 “He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous shall flourish as the green leaf.”

Luke 8:14 “The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.”

Ecclesiastes 5:10 “Whoever loves money never has enough;    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.”

Read more at https://www.biblemoneymatters.com/bible-verses-about-money-what-does-the-bible-have-to-say-about-our-financial-lives/

 

[2] One example of how we take economic ideas for granted: did you know the concept of retirement is only about 100 years old? Yet now we order our lives around it. I’m not saying that makes it wrong; it's just a concept we take for granted that Christians for 2,000 years did not. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/how-retirement-was-invented/381802/

 

[3] Jeremiah 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Proverbs 3:5-7 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”

Matthew 15:19  “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Proverbs 28:26  “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

See also https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

 

[4] Galatians 5:1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:13  “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. “

1 Peter 2:16  “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

Romans 8:1-4  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

See also https://clgonline.org/freedom-slavery-john-8/

 

[5] https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-the-tongue/

[6] http://blog.keelancook.com/2012/08/a-right-to-secrecy.html#more-736

[7] https://www.exploregod.com/happy-or-holy

[8] https://www.theknot.com/content/bible-verses-about-marriage

[9] Practical example: The Republican Party has generally stood for the pro-life values I hold, and often introduces legislation designed to protect the unborn. In that sense, they have built a platform that in this particular area has reminded me of my true home. But this past week, a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency fully funded Planned Parenthood after insisting they would divert the money to Community Health Centers. A Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks even though they had the numbers and the President said he would sign it. A Supreme Court that leans conservative right now keeps knocking down pro-life legal arguments, [9] so even if the Senate has passed the ban, I doubt it would have held up. Though the Republican Party’s official platform on this issue still feels much, much closer to home than any other party’s, I was reminded that I am a stranger in the strange land of Washington, DC.

[10] Look at Joseph, at Daniel and his friends. They stayed engaged, they got involved - but they lived holy lives in the midst of an unholy culture. What did Paul do? Moved even deeper into Gentile culture to spread the gospel. He studied their philosophers and entertainers; he went to their cultural centers. Then he used that to make connections with his audience to talk about Jesus (Acts 17).

Hungry (1 Peter 2:1-10)

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1 So get rid of hatefulness and deception, of insincerity and jealousy and slander. 2 Be like newborn babies, crying out for spiritual milk that will help you grow into salvation 3 if you have tasted and found the Lord to be good. Come to Him—the living stone—who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. 5 Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed. 6 For it says in the words of the prophet Isaiah, See here—I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; Whoever depends upon Him will never be disgraced. To you who believe and depend on Him, He is precious; but to you who don’t, remember the words of the psalmist: The stone that the builders rejected has been laid as the cornerstone—the very stone that holds together the entire foundation,8 and of Isaiah: A stone that blocks their way, a rock that trips them. They stumble because they don’t follow the word of God, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen people, set aside to be a royal order of priests, a holy nation, God’s own; so that you may proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received it. (1 Peter 2:1-10) Have you heard the phrase, “You are what you eat?” I’m not sure that’s entirely true, as I am not more bacon and fried chicken than I am, but the idea behind it is that you become the thing you consume. Maybe better, that which fills you forms you. That’s a principle that suddenly encompasses all of life.

  • Your family fills you.
  • Your friends fill you.
  • Your job fills you.
  • Your TV and books fill you.
  • The way in which you organize or direct your thoughts and loves fills you.

That’s why we guard our heart, because it creates a well out of which flows our life (Proverbs 4:23). Whatever fills us, forms us and forms in us, and then flows out of us. So I want to talk today about being hungry, with the urgent demand of a newborn child, for the food of God’s Word.

* * * * *

My initial thought was to preach about all the things we hunger for: Money, sex and power, which is another way of saying we long for things, for pleasure, for love, for agency and control in our lives. Or maybe to talk about how we fill ourselves with spiritual junk food. There’s all kinds of great food analogies, and as a life long fan of food, I could talk about this for a long time.

But I’ve been thinking about something different this week, and that is a different problem: we are not hungry enough. Or maybe: we have so many ways to fill ourselves we can ignore how hungry we are, or we can forget what it is like to be hungry, and why God has made us hungry people.

In my perfect world, I am never too hungry. There is always something within my grasp. So when lunch or supper rolls around, I am definitely interested in food, but I’m not hungry as much as I am intrigued by the smells and looking for to the pleasure of the experience.

But when I diet, I get hungry. That growling and gnawing and sense that I am being nibbled away from the inside is really disconcerting to someone who has been able to avoid that quite successfully. Now, when it’s time for a meal, I am a little more invested. I am conscious that there is a biological void that needs to be filled.

If I stick it out, I discover in a week - or ten - that I start to like that hunger. Rather than making me angry it reminds me that I am more purposeful, more self-controlled. I’m probably feeling better overall by this point; I can see the payoff. There are other kinds of health that go with this (assuming I am making healthy food choices).

But I also get more appreciative of food. What I once took for granted because it was so easily accessible I now value more. I realize my need for it rather than just my want for it. I need to be choosy in my diet because I can’t just have everything like I used to. Something has to be taken off my previously expansive menu. And the more I ‘taste and see’ not just the food but the value of the food my hunger has led me too, the more I appreciate the source of my satisfaction.

* * * * *

I think one of the problems we Western Christians face is that we live in a culture that makes it very easy to avoid or be easily distracted from our spiritual hunger. Whenever something nibbles or gnaws inside - anxiety, loneliness, depression, lust, greed, jealousy, anger – we can feed ourselves with something: a phone, a TV show, music, books, shopping, food (again!), hobbies, a good workout, a pill, the news, even friends.

It’s not that we aren’t hungry. We are. We are people with deep, strong appetites of all kinds. We long for meaning, purpose, identity, love, intimacy, connection, pleasure, power, fame, money, things. Oh, we are hungry people. We are all like babies who crave.

This is not a bad thing in itself. We are made to crave.[i] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst - for righteousness.” The problem is that we live in a setting where we can graze on all kinds of things at the first twinge of our spiritual or emotional hunger.

I saw this week that Alice Cooper is still touring in his 70’s. He once said,It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will...

He felt it, but he fed it with drugs. It doesn’t have to be that obvious. We can become grazers in all kinds of ways, never feeling too hungry because we are always shoving stuff into our minds and hearts that distract us and temporarily satisfy us.

And then we pull up to The Table of God’s Word during devotions or on a Sunday morning, and we are kind of interested, but we aren’t that hungry – or at least we don’t feel that hungry. “I think I’m good. I should probably only have a small serving – I’m still full from my spiritual chocolate-covered bacon.” If I get hungry later, I can always snack.

“If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great... The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.”  John PiperA Hunger For God

I don’t think we let ourselves get hungry enough. I don’t mean we should be trying to self-generate hunger. We don’t have to. We are wired to be hungry. I mean we spend so much time covering up our hungers that we fill ourselves with junk and never begin to crave the spiritual food we really need.

  • We don’t set down our phones when it begins to sink in how lonely we are.
  • We don’t turn off the TV or put down the book when we realize how hungry we are for a relationship with someone.
  • We avoid confronting and surrendering our envy or greed by volunteering, or working or staying busy – anything to not be alone with our thoughts.
  • We don’t talk with a friend instead of turn on Netflix when we begin to wrestle with serious questions about our faith.
  • We don’t pray about our unresolved anger instead of cooking all evening.
  • We don’t soak up God’s word instead of binge watch when our self-worth or self-image is shattered.

We don’t let ourselves feel our spiritual hunger enough - and that’s what all of these are. The immediate feeling is loneliness, or doubt, or anger, or self-loathing, or lust, greed, envy…. But if you peel back the layers, eventually you find the God-shaped hole from which all of these hungers can be traced.

That hunger is God’s reminder that there is something in you that needs to be filled, and that reminder is meant to point you toward the One who can fill it. God gives us a hunger for Him. We can’t manufacture that ourselves. This is not a sermon about how to get hungry. This is about embracing our hungers, surrendering them to Christ, and finding our satisfaction in God and His word.

I considered trying to address a whole list of things, but I think I want to just focus on one example of how I think this works.

I spent years of my life with my idea of who I was as a man wrapped up largely in three things: sexual desirability, athletic ability, and professional achievement. You might say I was hungry to matter, for my life to have meaning, to be affirmed and loved and respected.

So Sheila had a lot of pressure to convey to me that I was sexually desirable; I had a lot of pressure on myself to find the right gym and play in the right leagues; I spent years not knowing how to rest because there was always something I could be doing to further my career or build my achievements. I was hungry.

And when the hunger began to really gnaw, I grazed. I sought out my wife’s attention more; I worked out harder; I did more stuff. This was a full life in that I had plenty to do to make sure that the minute my spiritual stomach began to remind me that I was not full, something was nearby.

Of course, that didn’t work. My identity is meant to be grounded in the reality that I am a child of God, and all that matters is who I am in the eyes of God, and the fact that He loves me as a perfect Father perfectly loves His child.

So, God in his mercy made me hungrier.

Sheila and I went through some seasons in our marriage where sex had to be put on the back burner because we had some serious relational things to work through, and suddenly the identity hunger I had masked settled in. My health took some hits: knee surgeries, plantar fasciitis, shoulder surgery, the heart attack. The hunger I soothed with weights began to gnaw. And the more I worked hard in my different jobs to make a name for myself the more I realized how many people did the same things so much better than I do…

Now, I’m hungry. Now I can feel it. Now I know that whatever bread I was feeding myself with was not the bread of life. I hungered and thirsted but I always hungered and thirsted again.

And I had to cry out for spiritual milk with a desperation I had not had before – once again, not because I hadn’t been hungry before, but because I had been able to avoid feeling the depth and the implications of my hunger. That, I think, is when you begin to taste and see that the Lord is good. And to those who believe and depend on Him, He is precious.”

God will fill the hungry because He Himself has stirred up the hunger. As in the case of prayer, when God prepares the heart to pray, He prepares His ear to hear (Ps. 10:17). So in the case of spiritual hunger, when God prepares the heart to hunger, He will prepare His hand to fill.

Thomas Watson

Back to Alice Cooper. I didn’t give the whole quote.It doesn't matter how many drugs I take, I'm not fulfilled. This isn't satisfying. There's a spiritual hunger going on. Everybody feels it. If you don't feel it now, you will. Trust me. You will... Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's the real rebellion.

He said in an interview with CNS News:

“When you get out there and realize you’ve had every car, every house, and all that, you realize that that’s not the answer, there’s a big nothing out there at the end of that… A lot of people say that there’s a big God-sized hole in your heart. And when that’s filled, you’re really satisfied, and that’s where I am right now.”

That’s the real fulfillment. It’s a rebellion against the gluttony of the world and trading it for the satisfaction of Jesus.

When I felt the unsatisfied hunger of my own pursuit of my identity. I was forced to reckon with “what makes a man”: is it strength and capability or holiness? When my spiritual snacks were locked in the cupboard and I couldn’t avoid my hunger in that way, I had to fill myself with what I should have been filling myself with all along: the truth in God’s word about what makes a man a man: my identity in Christ. I found this in the Bible, in the observations of other Christians, in prayer, in writing…. I had to walk into my hunger with my eyes focused on the only One who can satisfy.

Peter say that we are made to “proclaim the wondrous acts of the One who called you out of inky darkness into shimmering light..” This is the glorious testimony of the hungry people who find our satisfaction in a God who fills us beyond what we can ask or think.

So don’t be afraid to be hungry. Don’t be afraid to feel it. God is using it to point you toward Him – for your good, and for the praise of His glorious grace.

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[i] See this website for a bunch of verses. https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Spiritual-Hunger

 

Love From A Pure Heart (1 Peter 1:22-25)

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God declared Israel ‘holy’ to reveal Himself to the world through them.

  • Jeremiah 2:3 "Israel was holy to the LORD.…’
  • Exodus 22:31 "You shall be holy men to Me…”
  • Deuteronomy 7:6 "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
  • Exodus 19:6 “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'

To use last week’s language, He set them apart for His divine purpose so the nations would know what Yahweh was like. The prophet Isaiah said that the nations would flock to Israel if they lived in God’s design for their holiness:

  • "…I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth' Isaiah 49:6.
  • "I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people's covenant, as a light unto the nations." Isaiah 42:6.
  • "And unto your light, nations shall walk, and kings unto the brightness of your rising" Isaiah 60:3.

Paul, in Galatians 6:16, refers to followers of Jesus as the “Israel of God.” The idea is that you don’t have to be born Jewish to be one of God’s holy, chosen people. You can be “grafted in” through the acceptance of the divinity and lordship of Christ and your surrender to Him and His will.

Followers of Jesus are ‘peculiar people’ (1 Peter 2:9) who are set apart to be the way in which God reveals Himself to the world. We are called to live in God’s design for our holiness to reveal His holiness.

After last week’s message about being set apart, I was thinking there needed to be a follow-up sermon on what characterizes this holiness. It’s one thing to say, “As a child of God, you are holy and set apart; now live as those holy and set apart.” It’s another thing to put skin on those bones. What does that even mean?

  • Do I dress like the Amish?
  • Do I live in a monastery?
  • Does that mean if the culture does it, I can’t do it?
  • Does this mean we create a Christian sub-culture in everything?
  • Should there be a holy glow about me that convicts or shames everyone around me?

I started jotting down some notes, and I quickly realized it was all leading me back to one thing: love. And it turns out that’s the next thing Peter wrote, so that worked out pretty well.

 22 Now that you have taken care to purify your souls through your submission to the truth (“obedience to God, which the knowledge of the truth demands”), you can experience real love for each other. So love each other deeply[1] (earnestly – at full stretch)[2] from a pure heart. 23 You have been reborn—not from seed that eventually dies but from seed that is eternal—through the word of God that lives and endures forever. 24For as Isaiah said, ‘All life is like the grass, and its glory like a flower; The grass will wither and die and the flower falls, 25 But the word of the Lord will endure forever.’  This is the word that has been preached to you.[3] (1 Peter 1:22-25)

So if we are going to talk about living holy lives that fulfill God’s purpose of revealing himself to the world through us, we are going to need to talk about living loving lives. Specifically, how do we get this kind of holy love, and what does it look like when it is displayed in our lives?

* * * * *

The first one is easy. A holy love – a love set apart from any other kind of love – has to come from a holy God.

This love happens after God purifies our hearts, and He does it through our surrender, our obedience to His Word. Peter says that’s the process God uses, and on the other side of it we emerge as holy lovers of truth and of others.[4]

We often talk about how the world needs more love. I agree. But in order for that to happen, we must first surrender ourselves so that our hearts are pure. If our hearts were pure through our surrender to the truth of God’s Word and resulting work God does in our life, we could love each other deeply from a pure heart.

This is a daunting conclusion for me, but I can’t get away from it. I want it to be the other person’s fault that I can’t love them well. That lets me off the hook. But it’s when we surrender to God - we repent, we pray for his mercy and forgiveness and heart transformation – then we love like more and more like God loves. And God’s love does not waver based on the likableness or the worthiness of the person He loves. Think of how 1 Corinthians 13 describes love:

“Love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrong. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always, trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Can you image what it would look like if we did this from hearts that were pure? There is nothing that would stop us from loving.

Later Peter writes that we are to love each other fervently, because “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8). All but one commentary I read noted that the primary message is about the ability of the fervent lover to let love cover or forgive the sinfulness in others.

  • This is not the same as ‘like.’
  • It’s doesn’t mean we have to ignore the ripple effect of consequences that sin has on us.
  • It doesn’t mean we must pretend like nothing happened.
  • It doesn’t mean we ignore safe boundaries and ongoing care as God turns our wounds to scars. I don’t mean to ignore the fact that other people can do things that make them really hard to love. I think we all know the reality of that.

But today’s passage isn’t about them. It’s about us. Our heart is the heart of the issue. If we enter into the purification process by surrendering ourselves to God and the truth of His word, God works in that process to change our hearts so that we can love with His love and display the glory of his love to the world.

Parents, do you know why it’s hard to love our kids well? Yes, they are hard to love at times, but our hearts are not pure, not surrendered in obedience to the Word of God. Better love starts with our personal surrender to Christ.

Do you know why it’s hard to love our spouses? Our parents? Some of our Extra Grace Required friends? That obnoxious person online who always says stupid stuff? That Buckeye fan? That politial enemy you have? Your neighbor or co-worker whose lifestyle choices make you cringe?

They may be dauntingly hard to love – and they may have earned that feeling honestly - but the solution to our mutual spiritual and relational health is Christ in both of us, purifying us, and the solution to my problem of loving them in spite of them is Christ in me purifying my heart.

It would be nice if others people were easier to love, but I can’t make them that way. I can pray for God to do work in them because that’s never a bad thing for them, but my primary prayer is for God to do work in me.

God works in our surrendered lives to purify our hearts so that we can love even the most unlovable around us, because now it is God’s love pouring from us. And God is really, really good at loving the unlovable. We should know.

So how does this make us light in the midst of a dark world?

I’m going to take us back to the first followers of Christ. One thing that stands out in the historical record is their reputation for love. Some people hated them, but even they noted how the love of those following Jesus was unparalleled – and costly. [5]

Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 99:

“He [the Christian] impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother. He likewise considers the pain of another as his own pain. And if he suffers any hardship because of having given out of his own poverty, he does not complain.”

http://earlychurch.com/unconditional-love.php

The Epistle to Diognetes, c. AD 130

“They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all... They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified.They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

From the Apology of Tertullian, AD 197

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope….We pray, too, for the emperors, for their ministers and for all in authority, for the welfare of the world, for the prevalence of peace, for the delay of [Christ’s return]. We assemble to read our sacred writings . . . and with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast... On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he be able: for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary. These gifts are . . . to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines or banished to the islands or shut up in the prisons, for nothing but their [faithfulness] to the cause of God's Church… But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for they themselves are animated by mutual hatred. See, they say about us, how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner kill."

A General Historical Observation

In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for 1,500 poor on a daily basis. In Antioch in Syria, the number… reached 3,000. Church funds were used in special cases to buy the emancipation of Christian slaves.

During the Plague in Alexandria when nearly everyone else fled, the early Christians risked their lives for one another by simple deeds of washing the sick, offering water and food, and consoling the dying. Their care was so extensive that Julian eventually tried to copy the church’s welfare system. It failed, however, because for the Christians it was love, not duty, that motivated them.

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/faith/discipleship/pandemic-love

* * *

This is what I’ve pondering this week: In the early church, the surrounding pagan culture, no matter how hostile, could not help but note, “See how they love one another.” Christians were radically different because Christ’s love in them was of a radically different nature.

When is the last time we have heard anyone from our culture say this about the American church? What are we known for? One thing that is supposed to set apart a holy people is the ability to love as Jesus loves, because the love of Jesus transforms us and flows out of us. Our love bears witness to our Savior. Do we love well?

  • Do we embrace ‘the other’? Put Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans together with rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, educated and uneducated, soldiers and civilians, in the same church and there is going to be issues. Race, class, politics, religious background: it was a perfect storm. How committed are we to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our emotional or personal comfort?
  • Do we sacrifice for the needs of the church? You didn’t go to the early church to look good. You got broken and poured out for the church and the city. There was no room for pride, greed, or jealousy. Literally, you put your life on the line because that’s what Jesus did for you. How deep and radical is out commitment to showing the kind of love that comes at the cost of our financial or physical comfort?
  • Do we live in Traverse City like a people set apart: caring, sacrificing, building up, nurturing, loving in ways that can only come from a purified heart surrendered to Jesus? If a local were asked what group of people do they think of as loving everyone even at great cost, would they say, “Oh, the church!” Would it even come to mind?
  • Even closer to home: What am I known for? If someone asks anyone who knows me, “Who do you think of when you hear the phrase, ‘See how they love one another?” would I make that list? Would my kids name me? My wife? My friends? You?

This has been unsettling me all week, and it’s bringing me to my knees. I know myself; I know I don’t have it in me to love like this. No matter how hard I try, no matter what list I make of things to do. I’m just not good at that kind of love.

But God is. He will equip us for the things to which He calls us. May this call to love as a witness draw us in prayer to the foot of the cross where we kneel with others, surrender our hearts and lives in repentance for his purification, and pray for a loving, merciful, powerful God to help us love well for our good and His glory.

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[1] The comparative form of the closely related adjective  ektenes (ektenesteron) is used to describe the intensity of our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane. And being in agony He was praying very fervently (ektenesteron); and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament: Eerdmans)

[2] Fervently (1619) (ektenos [word study] from ek = out + teíno = to stretch; English = tension, etc) literally pictures one "stretching out" to love others! It pictures "an intense strain" and unceasing activity which normally involving a degree of intensity and/or perseverance. Stretched out and extended to the limit is the idea. Jowett suggests the picture of the tension and energy of a stringed instrument, "as when the string of a violin has been stretched to a tighter pitch that it might yield a little higher note." Cranfield suggests the figure of "the taut muscle of strenuous and sustained effort, as of an athlete." (Lange’s Commentary)

[3] “God does not tell us anything that we may [simply] know. He tells us in order that, knowing, we may be and do. And right actions, or rather a character which produces such, is the aim of all… moral and religious truth… And if[people] think that they have done enough when… they can say, ‘All this I steadfastly believe,’ they need to remember that religious truth which does not mould and transform character and conduct is a king dethroned; and for dethroned kings there is a short step between the throne from which they have descended and the scaffold on which they die.” (MacLaren’s Expositions

[4] “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

"The whole law comes down to this one instruction: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)

[5] Sociologist Rodney Stark: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity

https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1-300/what-were-early-christians-like-11629560.html

 

Be Who You Are - In Christ (1 Peter 1:13-21)

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So get yourselves ready, prepare your minds to act (‘gird up your minds)’, control yourselves, and look forward in hope [on heaven] as you focus on the grace that comes when Jesus the Anointed returns and is completely revealed to you. 14 Be like obedient children as you put aside the desires you used to pursue when you didn’t know better. 

15 Since the One who called you is holy, be holy in all you do. 16 For the Scripture says, “You are to be holy, for I am holy.” 17 If you call on the Father who judges everyone without partiality according to their actions, then you should live in reverence and awe while you live out the days of your exile.

18 You know that a price was paid to redeem you from following the empty ways handed on to you by your ancestors; it was not paid with things that perish (like silver and gold), 19 but with the precious blood of the Anointed, who was like a perfect and unblemished sacrificial lamb.

 20 God determined to send Him before the world began, but He came into the world in these last days for your sake. 21 Through Him, you’ve been brought to trust in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him for the very reason that your faith and hope are in Him.

There are times in life when we have to be reminded who or what we are. 

•    When I was coaching: “You are Sabre – and you are a Christian. Remember who you are and what you represent.” •    You often hear something along the lines of,  “You are a (fill in the family name). Act like one!” I don’t even know what that means – what does a Weber do that nobody else does? – but you get the idea. •    To children: “You’re 10 now. You aren’t a baby!” •     “You are an adult; act like an adult.”  •    “You are a dad/mom. Be a parent!” 

The Bible tells us who or what we are when we commit our lives to following and serving Jesus Christ. 

•    We are children of God (John 1:12; Ephesians 1:5; 1 John 3:1-2; Romans 8:17) •    We are chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) •    We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) •    We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) •    We are branches attached to the Vine (John 15:5) •    We are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) •    We are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) •    We are a light and salt in the world (Matthew 5) •    We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) •    We are like living stones building a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5)

This is what we are when we believe Jesus is who he says he is and have committed our lives to following Him. All of this is describing what the Bible means when it tells us we are holy. 

The Hebrew is “qodesh” and means “apartness, set-apartness, separateness, sacredness.”   The Greek is “hagios,” which means set apart, reverend, sacred, and worthy of veneration.”   It carries the idea of being pure or unmixed in allegiance and life.  In Old Testament times, what was holy belonged to the gods in an absolute way.  

If you do a google image search of ‘hagios’, you will find a lot of pictures of temples. Temples were called hagios because they were different from other buildings in their purpose. They were set apart. Now look what Paul – who knew something about temples – writes to the Christians in Corinth:

"Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are."  (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

So holiness is a status conferred by God to those who have given their lives to Jesus. We are not just called to be holy; we are holy the minute we are set apart for God’s divine purpose in an absolute way. 

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And yet there is also language of becoming holy in the Bible. I Peter 1:3 tells us to “become holy in all we do” and cites Leviticus.  We read in Hebrews 12:4, “Pursue peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Dr. Bob Utely says this verse in 1 Peter is best translated, “You must prove to be holy.”  You must show that you are holy. 

To use grammar terms (which everybody loves), when the Bible talks about holiness it uses verbs that are both indicative and imperative: in other words, it indicates or identifies what you are and also commands you to strive to be that thing which you already are.  It’s holiness as a standing vs. holiness as a lifestyle. We are holy because of our relationship to Jesus, but we are called to act out our holiness.  

Think of a person who goes on a diet to become more healthy. The minute they change their eating habits, their diet is different, and they are set apart from the average eater, but the longer they stick with it the healthier they become. Or a person who was not a gym member becomes a gym member. They have a new identity, but they still need to work to flourish in that identity. 

Though we have been set apart and been made holy, we have to learn how to live with integrity and consistency in our holiness. There is a process of discipleship or maturity in which we increasingly become what we are. 

There are lots of ideas about how we grow in this way, but I want to go to a classic biblical image that will give us some broad principles for growing in holiness.  Peter wrote about ‘girding up our minds’. It’s brings to mind the girding Paul talks about in Ephesians 6. Living in holiness is hard, but God equips us for that to which He calls us.

10 Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. 11 Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes...Truth banded around your waist (‘girded with truth’), righteousness as your chest plate, 15 and feet protected in preparation to proclaim the good news of peace. 16 Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. 17 Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul is referencing a common sight: Roman soldiers. People knew how armor and warfare worked.

•    The belt of truth holds our outfit together. 

The Bible speaks truth.  It takes some work to properly understand everything, but it speaks truth. God inspired the writers to make sure of this. It doesn't address everything in the world, but what it does address, it address truthfully. We must be people of truth, and we must practice the honoring of truth in everything.  We are people of truth. Are we set apart by living what we are?

•    The breastplate of righteousness (right living) guards our heart. 

It does not save you; it guards you and it guards God’s reputation.  It guards your eyes, thoughts, friends, influences, and actions. We are made righteous in Christ. Are we set apart by our commitment to living what we are? 

•    The gospel of peace (with God through Jesus) is what should prepare us as we walk to the world. 

Is our goal to bring peace as we go into all the world and preach the gospel, or is our goal to win culture wars? Are we praying about how to embody the reconciling love of God? As we will see in a bit, the sword of the Bible will do its own kind of confrontation of sin, but Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17). One day, he will return as a Judge because there is plenty to condemn, but that day is not today (with apologies to Aragorn).  We are people who are at peace with God through Jesus. Do we stand out as being set apart as ambassadors for peace with God through Jesus?

•    The shield of faith quenches the fiery darts of the evil one. 

It is a wall of a shield, not a little one on the arm. When you look at the context of the word here, this is a reference to the faith that has to do with patience and endurance.  This isn’t a reference to the moment of salvation; it’s a reference to ongoing trust.

•    “Fear Not, Abraham, I am thy shield.” (Genesis 15:1) •    “The Lord is a shield to all who put their trust in him.” (Proverbs 30:5) •    “The Lord God is a sun and shield.” (Psalm 84:11) 

We are people with a shield: God himself. Do we live as shielded people in the midst of spiritual attacks because we keep our trust God, who fights for us?

•    Helmet of salvation/our Savior (the hope of salvation/our Savior)

This verse is not about the initial act of salvation, but a focus on the hope that salvation brings: a life with Christ now and fully experienced in eternity. It is the hope of victory. Jesus wins in the end, and we who are being delivered from the power of sin now will one day be freed from the very presence of sin.  I think the idea here is that our mind is guided and protected so that we never forget the reason for the hope that lies within us: Jesus came to save sinners, and He has saved me. We are people of hope; do we live with hope that we have?

•    Sword of the Spirit (the sword which the Holy Spirit furnishes, which is the Word of God)

It’s the one offensive weapon. We will have to wield it, but we are not the sword that the Holy Spirit furnishes. The Word of God does its own work.  We don’t make it our goal to cut others.  The Bible does the cutting. We just bring it to the fight boldly but carefully.  We are people who have been given the Word to fight for us; do we live as people who are confident that the Word will do its work?  

We are declared holy when God sets us aside for his divine purpose, and then we begin the journey into that holiness, a journey which will only find its end in heaven.  So what difference should this make in my life?

My life is set apart for God now.  The church is the face of holiness on earth for better or worse, and that church includes me – and you.  “What do you want me to do today, Lord?” “I have set you apart in all you do for my divine purpose. I want you to live as the child of God that you are. ”

•    When I drive my boys to school, I am a man set apart for God’s divine purposes in this moment…. •    When I get to work, I am a man set apart… •    When I hang out with my friends… •    When I discipline my kids… •    When I post something online… •    When I turn on entertainment… •    When I tell a joke… •    When I argue or go on a date with or ignore or sleep with my wife… •    When I play a family game… •    When I drive… •    When I eat… •    When I….

What difference would it make if I got up every morning with this reality in front of me? 

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