service

The End Of All Things (1 Peter 4:7-11)

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Jesus is Coming. Look busy! 

It’s an uncomfortable phrase, because it feels disrespectful even as it seems like that might be how a lot of people think. But I think it raises a  question worth considering. If we thought Jesus was coming back really soon, would it change how we live?

I remember when my sister and I were old enough to be left at home, we would at times have to scramble when Mom and Dad were coming home. We lived at the end of a ½ mile lane in an old farmhouse for a while, and we would CRANK up our music when they were gone – until we saw them coming up the lane. Things changed in a hurry. When we were even older and they would be gone a couple days, it was clean up time about an hour before they got home.

Mom and Dad were returning, and we wanted to be sure we got the house in order in time.

1 Peter 4:7-11 The Voice (VOICE): "We are coming to the end (telos – completion) of all things…"

We hear a lot about End Times today, but biblically the “end of all things” is the completion of God’s plan for history. The end began with the arrival of Jesus. “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in man ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son”(Hebrews 1:1-2) at "the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26).  James said that "the coming of the Lord is at hand" (James 5:8); John wrote, in 1 John 2:18, "It is the last hour." We are certainly always closer, but Christians have been anticipating His inevitable return since He left.

For 2,000 years, we have lived in the age in which the end is near. So what should we be doing in light of this?

 “So be serious and stable, and keep your wits about you in order to be ready to pray with perseverance.” 

We shouldn't have to scramble to clean our spiritual house like my sister and I did our physical house; we shouldn’t be afraid of our Savior’s return, wondering what we need to turn off or hide something; we shouldn’t be panicked about how we are going to survive whatever is coming.

Instead, we are to exercise self-control and exhibit the peace of the Spirit as we purposefully pray. We should be calm and collected, knowing that God is in control.

The Bible warns that we will face trials or persecution in the last days, and the last 2,000 years have proven that to be true. The United States will inevitably move in that direction if the history of world cultures has anything to offer our understanding of the times in which we live. I think we would do well to pay attention to Peter here, as I’ve noticed how easily we panic when the going gets tough for us as Christians.

There is no doubt that the United States is trending away from affirmation of religious belief and in some sectors is even becoming increasingly hostile. But even in a worst case scenario where anti-Christian bigotry eventually moves toward real persecution, what should our response be?

Should we be scared and angry, or should we glorify God by revealing His power in us by our calm engagement, peace-filled presence, and our ongoing, persevering attitude of prayer, which involves surrendering our fears to God and trusting in His sovereignty? Panic is not a good look for people of faith.

Now, Paul had no problem maxing out his rights as a Roman citizen, so I don’t have a problem with Christians around the world maxing out their political rights for their freedom and safety. But no matter what, in every situation, followers of Jesus should be “serious, and keep our wits about us, and pray more perseverance,” not panic, despair, and yell more loudly.

But, even more importantly:

Most of all,love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. 10 Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s gifts of grace in all its varieties. 11 If you’re called upon to talk, speak as though God put the words in your mouth; if you’re called upon to serve others, serve as though you had the strength of God behind you. In these ways, God may be glorified in all you do through Jesus, to whom belongs glory and power, now and forever. Amen.

It seems to me that “prepping” has increasingly been made a priority, as if it's the most urgent need facing us if the world falls apart economically or if we are ever forced underground. It is not. [1]There is prudence in preparation – I’m not belittling those who prepare - but it is not the most important thing. If Peter were to host a seminar on How To Prepare For End Times, it wouldn’t involve a lot of practical things we hear like converting cash to gold or buying food that will last. It would be this: Learn how to pray, love, help each other, and use your gifts for the glory of God!”

This love "covers a multitude of sins" – not our sins, but the sins of others. Love forgives seventy times seventy. It is not constantly critical or constantly requiring perfection of the other. God’s agape love flowing throughus toothers covers a multitude of sins.  The Bible does not mess around on this point:

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Then we see that love is expressed in hospitality, not just for those we know, but those we don’t. [2]It’s not padding our social resume, or hanging out with cool people, and it’s not surrounding ourselves constantly with close friends.  The Greek word combines philos ("friendly love") with xenos ("a stranger").  Really, this is the ability to be hospitable to strangers[3]- and let me tell you, some of us are strange J

Hospitality is a legitimate and important ministry. We can get caught up in thinking of ministry as something that happens when we are in charge of something, or oversees, or when we are involved in an official ministry. But going out for lunch with someone you don’t know, or helping someone with food, money, time or lodging when they are in need is an opportunity for deep ministry.

Finally, we SERVE EACH OTHER FAITHFULLY (v. 10-11) with the gifts God has given us.

There are a variety of gifts given by the same Holy Spirit to each different believer, just as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11). They exist for the good of the church and the reputation of God. You aren’t given your gift for you;you have been given a gift for us to"serve one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."[i] Here is a list of gifts present in the New Testament church:

  • Prophecy(boldly proclaiming God’s mind and purpose) 1 Corinthians 12, 14; Micah 3:8
  • Serving(a wide variety of ministries that “make the dust fly”)- 1 Peter 4; 1 Corinthians 12:5
  • Teaching- (explaining God’s truth)Romans 12; 1 Cor. 12; Ephesians 4
  • Working- (bringing energy to a project)1 Corinthians 12:6
  • Exhortation(motivational skills; encouragement)- Romans 12
  • Giving(joyful, sacrificial generosity)Romans 12
  • Mercy(compassion)- Romans 12
  • Intercession(prayer) Romans 8:26, 27
  • Wisdom(knowledge rightly applied to situations)James 1:5; Numbers 27
  • Words of Wisdom (giving insightful, practical knowledge)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Words of Knowledge(giving insight into doctrine/spiritual truth)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Faith(unwavering commitment)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Healing(miraculous interventions for sickness)1 Corinthians 12
  • Miracles- (supernatural acts)1 Corinthians 12
  • Discerning spirits (insight into the “spirit” of a situation)- 1 Corinthians 12
  • Tongues(gifted in human or heavenly languages)- 1 Corinthians 12, 14
  • Interpretation of Tongues - (translating those languages)1 Cor. 12, 14
  • Apostle(founders of the church)- 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4
  • Leadership(church planters and church sustainers)- Romans 12
  • Pastor(“shepherds” who guide and lead)- Ephesians 4
  • Evangelist/Missionary(boldness in sharing the gospel)Acts 1:8; 5:32; 26:22; 1 John 5:6; Ephesians 4
  • Helps(helping/serving the poor and downtrodden) 1 Corinthians 12; 1 Timothy 3:8-13; Romans 16:1-4; 12
  • Administration(the ability to give oversight)1 Corinthians 12; 1 Samuel 11 and 16
  • Celibacy(living in abstinent sexual purity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Marriage(committing to a covenant with integrity) 1 Corinthians 7:7
  • Hospitality(openness and friendliness) 1 Peter 4:9-10
  • Craftsmanship(building, construction)Exodus 31:3; 35:30-35
  • The Arts(music, poetry, prose, painting...) - Exodus 31:2-6; Exodus 35:25-26; Psalm 150:3-5 Luke 1:1-3
  • Voluntary Poverty (forgoing wealth without envy or jealousy)1 Corinthians 13:1-3
  • Business Sense (reward from hard work and investment) Ecclesiastes 3,5
  • Courage(as seen in Gideon) Judges 6
  • Strength(as seen in Samson) Judges 13
  • Architectural Engineering (planning; constructing; building)1 Chronicles 28

Whatever your gift, it is significant. The body of Christ needs you. You are to use your gift not to glorify yourself or other people, but to glorify -God. If you want to be ready for the end times, learn how to use your gifts toward the service of one another in the harmony of the Spirit of God.

Steven Cole recounts a story that I think offers a picture that captures the purpose of this passage well.

“In 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago. Elaborate preparations were made for her visit. The waterfront was readied for docking her yacht. Litter baskets were painted. A red carpet was rolled out. Many hotels were alerted. But when they contacted the Drake, the manager explained, “We are making no plans for the Queen; our rooms are always ready for royalty.”

I like that goal.

“We are making no new plans for the arrival of the King; His house is always ready for Him.”

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[1]See this article from Focus On The Family, “A Biblical View Of Survivalists And Preppers.” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/family-q-and-a/faith/a-biblical-view-of-survivalists-and-preppers

[2]When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:12-14).

[3]"without complaint".  Paul wrote, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world . . ." (Phil. 2:14-15).

[i]These are all gifts to help you serve the church and the world.

 

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/

 

Living With Honor (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)

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I spent three summers in Kentucky at a Mennonite bible camp. One of the great parts of this was getting to experience Appalachian life, which was very different from my life in a farm community in Ohio. There are lots of stereotypes, but actually being there and meeting people gave me the opportunity to see for myself what the lifestyle and the people were like.

I was an outsider, right? I was not from there. Some of the language did not make immediate sense to me (what’s a tarpin?); some of the leisure activities were knew (catching crawdads for a meal); even going and playing pick up basketball was different, because on-the-court rules were different

But as I got to know people, I loved them and I loved it there. Now, whenever I see a movie or read a book set in Appalachia (like Justified Hillbilly Elegy), I have a context, a measure. How those around me lived set my mind toward them in a particular way. The people I got to know there represented where and who they were in a way that was compelling to me as an outsider.

Being ‘outsiders’ is a universal experience in that we all go places and are put in situations where we not comfortable because it’s not our place or not our people. It’s as simple as shopping or eating out somewhere new; vacationing somewhere new; working for new company; going to a new school. And in all these situation, you will likely have some preconceived ideas of what the experience or the people will be like (or should be like), and in every situation, your experience will confirm or change what you thought to be true. And when you leave, you will tell others what you learned.

After Peter talks about our holiness as followers of Jesus for a chapter and a half, he reminds us that we are in this challenging situation of being ‘resident aliens’ in this world, but rather than discourage us, that should encourage us to embrace a fantastic opportunity 

12” 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.”

Note: These are good works designed not to earn salvation or get brownie points in church circles. This is about bringing glory to God by living with honor. This is life as a witness: displaying the redeemed life that Jesus offers to a broken world in such a way that God’s glory at work in us is clearly seen. By doing this, they can break stereotypes and change the way the Greeks and Romans thought of followers of Jesus, which meant they would change the way they thought about the Jesus they were following.

I want to talk about what this looked like for the early church, and then how it applies to our lives today. So history first for a context, then the application.

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The ‘crimes’ of the early church involved the potential disruption of social hierarchy of authority in Greek and Roman culture: rulers above citizens, free above slaves, husbands above wives. The Romans thought it mirrored the life of the gods, and that the gods would bless Rome to the degree that the people mirrored their life.

As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature and crucial version of the order found in the realm of the gods. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  These developed into “household codes”.

Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,” and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” 

An upper class Greek or Roman husband was the head of the family (like Augustus was the head of Rome, and Zeus was the head of the gods). His word was law. His wife, kids, and slaves were all possessions. He could kill his children or divorce his wife on a whim. If a wife did not meet the needs of her husband in any way, she could be beaten.

The reason for marriage was primarily for wives to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Athenaeus explained the set up: “Is not a ‘companion’ more kindly than a wedded wife? Yes, far more, and with very good reason.  For the wife, protected by law, stays at home in proud contempt, whereas the harlot knows that a man must be bought by her fascinations or she must go out and find another.”

The double standard for women is remarkable. In the face of this behavior for men, “Good Roman wives demonstrate their character by respecting and honoring their husbands, by working faithfully to manage the domestic affairs of the household.”[1] Piety, chastity and modesty were so important for women that the words were often given abbreviations on the tombstones of women.

Upwards to 2/3 of those living in Roman society were slaves of some sort. The word for ‘slave’ that Peter uses is more specifically a house servant, of which many were probably in the church. (When Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, almost everyone he addressed specifically ‘were of the household’ of someone.[2] Slaves loved the church, because it offered honor that was unheard of before. Read the link at footnote #2)

They could own property, achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase their freedom. They were often highly educated: doctors, professors, teachers, administrators, public servants and even policemen. They often earned their freedom by the age of 30 or after an average of 10 years of work.[3]

Still, a master owned a slave like property and was free to be kind or cruel. The freed people scorned anyone who did not have freedom. Aristotle said slaves were “living tools,“ slaves by nature, almost like animals.  The Romans had a saying translated as “a slave has no persona,” no personality.

Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a “new humanity” in which the divisions so crucial to the Greeks and Romans were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were now sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of. Meals separated the free men from everybody else. While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity” because they challenged the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Peter has his work cut out. The early Christians needed to show ‘outsiders’ who they really were. They had to show the worth of Christ in the integrity of their lives. In the portion of the letter we are reading today, Peter is going to offer a way for believers to enter into the structures of a hostile culture and apply a gospel of love and servanthood that reflected the heart of Christ.

 

RULERS

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.

 MASTERS

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. 21-22 For you were called to this kind of life, as Isaiah said, He did no wrong deed, and no evil word came from His mouth. 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][4]

 SPOUSES

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.[5] 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.

 

Paul is telling the church how to live so their perceived criminality or wrong-doing will not get them arrested and will not be a stumbling block to those who are far from Christ. In fact, if they do this right, God will be glorified.

  • They will obey the rulers to “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish.” But they will do more than that: they will use their freedom to live as God’s servants and even honor those who dishonor them.
  • Servants will patiently obey their masters to display God’s grace, always doing right and enduring wrong, trusting in God to make things right when He judges.[6]
  • Wives, “demonstrate your character…respect and honor your husband” (the Greek/Roman ideal) so unbelieving husbands are “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live.”
  • Husbands, treat your wives with gentleness and respect so your prayers will not be hindered (possibly the prayers for their conversion, or to avoid being hypocritical. I tend to think it has to do with the genuine conversion of a wife who would have ‘converted’ if her husband did, since that is consistent with the overall topic being emphasized in this section.)

In Christ, there is no slave or free, Gentile or Jew, male or female – but in Rome, there is. So while the NT writers value how the radical nature of the Kingdom of God erases hierarchies of value and worth, here Peter is telling people in a particular time and place how to live as effective witnesses in a world that holds remarkably different values.[7]

  • Everybody - honor rulers, don’t just obey them.
  • Servants – honor your masters by serving your masters in a way that your patient suffering and grace models the patient suffering and grace of Jesus.
  • Wives - be modest, respectful and honoring of your husband to delight God, and to win him over if he is an unbeliever.
  • Husbands, your honoring of your wife removes a stumbling block that could be at odds with your prayers for your wife’s genuine conversion.[8]

This is all about living honorably as a witness. This is all about honoring God by honoring others, living in a way that gains the respect of your culture while simultaneously pointing toward God to reveal the power of His salvation and love to the world.

So that has me thinking. How do we witness to our culture today? By honoring everyone properly in order to:

  • “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • display God’s grace
  • “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live”
  • support, not undermine, our prayers for the salvation of the lost

I’d like this to be the focus of our thoughts and prayer this week. Online, at work, in our homes, at church, in every conversation we have: Did we bring honor to God by honoring others? And then, add the prayer of the surrendered and desperate: “Oh, dear God, help me to honor you by properly honoring others.”

__________________________________________________________________________

[1]Russ Dudrey, “SUBMIT YOURSELVES TO ONE ANOTHER" A SOCIO-HISTORICAL LOOK AT THE HOUSEHOLD CODE OF EPHESIANS 5:15-6:9.”

http://studyres.com/doc/14271524/-submit-yourselves-to-one-another---a-socio\

[2] “Slavery And Early Christianity.” earlychristians.org. http://www.earlychristians.org/index.php/texts/studies-and-documentations/item/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity

[3] For more insight on slavery, particularly how Paul addresses it in his letter to Philemon, see “The Best Way To Change A Culture” (https://clgonline.org/best-way-change-culture-insights-philemon/). Also, “Runners and Rulers” (https://clgonline.org/runners-rulers-insights-philemon/) and “A Place To Call Home” (https://clgonline.org/place-call-home-insights-philemon/)

[4] Paul gives the same reason why slaves should be obedient: for the sake of God’s reputation (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10) Read more at http://www.earlychristians.org/index.php/texts/studies-and-documentations/item/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity/1802-slavery-and-the-early-christianity

[5] Much has been made of the ‘weaker vessel’ comment. Roman, Greek and even Jewish men were pretty sure women were inferior by nature. Not so, says Peter. They may have less strength (physically or in social status/power at the time), but they are not a lesser or inferior person by nature or in the eyes of God.

[6] Other places Christian masters are challenged about their new responsibility as Christians, but that’s a different sermon.

[7] See the following sermons for more information:

[8] “Where there was no reciprocated respect, each recognizing the high vocation of the other, there could be no union of heart and soul in prayer.” (Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges)

The Evidence of Righteousness: Service (Romans 12-15)

How do we know beyond doubt that we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  In the face of all kinds of opinions about what constitutes true Christianity, how do we know if we truly are “in Christ”… and how do we evaluate our own walk? If we listen to the patter on the street (internet posts, magazine articles, FaceBook debates, etc.) the test is sincerity. As long as you’re sincere…you’re good to go!  And it isn’t merely the test for Christianity. It seems to be the test for all spirituality.

 Now, I’ll admit that sincerity is a good and noble thing, but if the basis upon which our sincerity rests is wrong, profound sincerity does not make it right!  If I sincerely believe that a homemade bridge over a raging  river is safe for my vehicle to cross --- yet the engineering study says that the materials used in the bridge’s construction are only sufficient for foot traffic --- which premise will ultimately win, sincerity or facts?

 So, how do we know if we have truly entered into this grace-gift of “life in Christ?”  Paul and James, in particular, offer wisdom on this subject.  The text for today is actually all of chapters 12 through14, and part of chapter 15.  I’ll only be reading selected verses.  Here’s the starting point….

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1,2)

 While it’s absolutely true that God declares us totally righteous when we surrender our lives to Him, that is only the first part of the salvation journey.  God also initiates an on-going process in our lives; a process that Anthony talked about two weeks ago in the message on sanctification. In this part of the journey we participate….and, as we’ll see today, it really isn’t optional. 

At salvation, God sends His Holy Spirit to live in us, and it is the Holy Spirit’s internal influence that begins the transformation process in us. But it’s just the beginning, and Paul continually reminds us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, moving along a continuum from “indwelt by the Spirit” to “being continually filled by the Spirit.”  

 The goal of this internal action of the Holy Spirit is to radically change our lives! God doesn’t leave us in the state He finds us. The love of God is pure, and the power of His Holy Spirit is pervasive, so much so that He draws us out of our place of woundedness and brokenness, and gradually brings us into a place of health and usefulness. And this process was never intended to be optional.

 This surrender to Christ must, in time, show itself in service for God, not to secure His salvation but to display His presence. Both Old and New Testaments (including the teachings of Jesus) underscore the principle that “obeying His commands and decrees” is the evidence of His Spirit within us, thereby proving that we have been saved and reconciled to God. Let’s look at a couple times where God laid out the basic definition of who a disciple is. 

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26  (NIV)

Jesus begins by saying, “If anyone would come after Me,” he will:

  • deny himself—put aside selfish ambition; no longer live to please self
  • take up his cross—endure personal loss, whether through opposition or disappointment or pain
  • follow Me—continually be transformed into the likeness of Jesus’ life and teachings in all aspects of practical daily living. 

All disciples put Jesus ahead of the desires/demands of family and of self. All disciples choose to die to their own rights. All disciples hand over all that they have….every resource (whether time, relationships, preferences, money, possessions, or goals) to Jesus.

 Anyone who tries to add Jesus to the life they already have, while maintaining control of their life, is not a disciple and, therefore, not a Christian. Genuine Christians, realize they are “not their own, but bought at a high price,” and they order their lives accordingly. If we were to continue reading on through the next several chapters of Romans, we would find Paul giving specifics, as to what the evidence of service looks like (Rom 12:1 thru 15:13).  Let me summarize what Paul describes!

 1) Righteous believers commit themselves to God.  That is what the first two verses in chapter 12 talked about (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God).

2) Righteous believers serve one another. “So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all—it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)

3) Righteous believers obey authority.Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.” (Romans 13:1-2)

4) Righteous believers love their neighbor. It’s easy to become completely immersed within a “Christian Bubble” and alienate ourselves from the rest of our city— judging, and shaming and avoiding the world around us. Our lives as Christians should not be characterized as us versus them. It does not help us to love well. Let’s not be shocked when people who are not following Christ act like people who are not following Christ. God loves everyone. It’s a message that is radical, controversial, and, some would even say, absurd. But according to the Bible, it’s true, and as followers of Christ we should boldly say the same thing.

 5) Righteous believers depend upon Christ. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

 Grace in Graceless Places, a book currently being used in our men’s Wednesday night study group, offers the following observation: “The essence of a true and sincere relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, is that we are transformed into the image of Christ and we begin to think as He thinks and do as He did.  When we do this, our defining life-narrative moves from ‘me and my wants’ to ‘Him and His Glory and mission.’   

This is the path to living a fulfilling life; one that is rich in spiritual blessing.