68. And Finally

Meditations in 1 Peter : 68: And Finally

1 Pet 5:12-14 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

And so we come to the end of this great little letter. In these closing sentences Peter brings greetings and in this we move into an area that lacks clarity. There are a number of questions over this passage that we are simply not able to answer with any measure of certainty.

For instance, who is the Silas that he mentions? Is it the Silas who is mentioned in Acts who travelled with Paul? Whoever he is, Peter assumes the church receiving the letter will know. In other words he is a well known figure in the early church. Then there is the reference to Babylon? There is no indication that Peter ever went east to the literal Babylon and so we must assume it is a figurative Babylon. In the book of revelation Babylon seems to be used to refer to the godless world. It is quite possible therefore that Babylon was a term used by the early church to disguise their real location, and so here it may well refer to Rome. Then there is the reference to his son, Mark. Was Mark a literal son or simply a figurative term to describe someone who had become very close to Peter (the one who wrote Mark’s Gospel?), possibly a spiritual son?  Each of these names leave us realising that not everything is clear, and we have to leave it at that. Let’s put the names aside, therefore and see what else comes out of these verses.

Peter says he has written ‘briefly’. Well we may wonder at that description after five chapters but what it must do is suggest that Peter had lots more that he could have said. In fact when you look back over this letter much of it is about the difficulties of living at that time, facing persecution, and so much of it is reassurance in the face of that.  In many ways that is quite a limited theme. Yes, Peter could have said a lot more but he limits himself to what he sees (and has heard?) is a primary need in respect of the churches to whom he is writing.

He specifies his objectives: encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God.” This is primarily a letter of encouragement (in the face of persecution) and part of that encouragement has been to explain the grace of God which is theirs. They are who they are by the grace of God. They receive from Him what they receive by God’s grace. What they receive in terms of enabling, is the grace of God. Look back over this letter and realise that it is all about the grace of God – but isn’t that exactly what our lives are? Everything about us has to do with the grace of God. It describes what we are, what we have received and what we go on receiving. It is all grace, the free gift of God.

This, he says, is what should anchor you. Remember it is not by your efforts that you stand, but by His. It is all His provision, and so receive it and stand fast in it, not letting the enemy or the people he uses put you off or bring you down. Understand that the things you experience are common to Christians all over the world and the same grace is available to all of us. For that reason we can be assured and we can stand fast in the face of all that comes.

Then he sends greetings from the church in Rome (we assume). In this there is subtle encouragement for he is, we believe, referring to the believers in Rome, a church that lives right under the nose of the emperor. If persecution hits out in the provinces, how much more so in the capital of the empire – yet they stand and from there Peter is able to write.

In the face of the things that he has covered in this letter it is understandable that he finishes with a blessing of peace. Peace is what we all need in the face of the trials and tribulations of life, especially persecution. The apostle John in his first letter wrote about perfect love casting out fear. Well love casts it out and the result is peace. When we are confident of God’s love for us, we can learn to rest in it and even in the face of opposition we can be at peace. If you have peace, you will not have fear. So, in the face of concerns, worries, and difficulties, let the love of God fill you, and may you know His peace. Amen? Amen!

 

 

67. Assurance

Meditations in 1 Peter : 67: Assurance

1 Pet 5:10,11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

And so we come to Peter’s closing comments in this letter about suffering. Again we must note that there is a context for these verses. There are distinct links from these verses to the ones that precede them. Verse 10 starts with “And”, suggesting a continuation of thought. There is the phrase, “after you have suffered a while” which links this with the previous thoughts about suffering. Previous chapters had more to say on suffering and persecution but the previous verses warning about Satan’s activities, had reminded us that, your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Now what is important to note is that although we may resist the enemy, sufferings still come, and it is about this that Peter seeks to bring this final assurance: God WILL restore you! But there is much here to be understood.

First, note his description of the Lord: “the God of all grace.” In the context of what follows this must mean the God who provides all the grace you need. Grace as a provision of God for our daily lives is simply His ability conveyed to us to enable us to cope and overcome. But God doesn’t aimlessly provide this resource for us; He does it for a purpose: “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” Now this has at least two meanings. First it can mean God who called you to share in His eternal glory, or share in His very being. Now that is certainly true for He has made His home in us when He placed His Spirit within us. Remember Jesus said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) and then Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) So God’s glory resides within us, but He is an ongoing resource to help us live out our relationship with Him.

But there lay be another meaning to this, “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” It also means who has called is to an eternal life with Him, which starts here today and continues on forever. So we are participators in a life that goes on and on, and while on this earth we need His continual resourcing to uphold us and maintain us against the enemies attacks that we have already referred to. For that glory to continue to shine in us, despite the things that come against us, we need His continual supply of grace.

That supply is necessary because of the suffering that is implied in,after you have suffered a little while.” Despite all that has been said so far in these recent meditations, we still may not take in the truth here: Christians DO suffer and they suffer persecution. Jesus warned the church in Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) Jesus KNEW this was going to happen and wasn’t going to stop it! It was coming as a test of their faith that would abound to God’s glory!  This does happen to Christians!

For the Christians that Peter was writing to, he was confident that, God … will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” They were going to come through this. Now we have to acknowledge that that isn’t always the outcome; there are sometimes martyrs. Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59,60) and James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). It is not for us to say what the outcome of persecution will be. Our call, as Jesus said to the church in Smyrna is to “be faithful, even to the point of death.” If persecution comes and God brings us through it, we win. If we die and go to heaven, we win! This does require us to have a Biblical view of eternity and of death and heaven.

Peter then concludes, To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When he says, “to him be…” he is saying, understand that He has this and so declare it and glorify Him with it. His is the power. God has the power, all power, for He is Almighty. There is no limitation to His power so if He so decrees, none can stand before Him. But, understand this: it is His power to use as His wisdom decrees. So sometimes He uses His power to bring us through the persecution here on earth, and sometimes He uses it to bring us to Him in heaven.

Why is Peter finishing with this? He finishes with it because he wants us to live at peace in the face of whatever comes our way, secure in the knowledge that the Lord is sovereign and He will move on our behalf in whatever way is best for us. We can rest secure in His love knowing that His wisdom is perfect and His power is sufficient to achieve whatever it is that He has on His heart to achieve through us! Whenever – and always! Hallelujah! Can we rest in that? May it be so!

 

66. World Persecution

Meditations in 1 Peter : 66: Worldwide Persecution

1 Pet 5:9b because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

We have commented a number of times in these meditations that there is a danger of picking a verse out of context and thus missing something of the significance of it in Peter’s mind. For instance today’s verse starts with a ‘because’ indicating that it flows on from the previous part of the argument: Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” The part of the verse we are considering today thus becomes a reason or support for why we should resist the devil. What this does, is link Satan with all forms of persecution. He is the one behind all such sufferings of the church by persecution.

Of course the apostle John saw Satan’s influence when he wrote, the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19).  By that he did not include us, but he is quite clear on Satan’s influence on the unbelieving world. We noted in the previous meditation that Satan is also referred to as, “the ruler of the kingdom of the air(Eph 2:2) and, “the prince of this world”. (Jn 14:30/ Jn 16:11) again suggesting his strong influence over the minds of men.

So, says Peter, recognise that his activity is the same the whole world over. This isn’t something that just you are suffering. We often have a tendency to think that our experiences are unique. They are not. Christians throughout history and throughout the world have received opposition in the form of outright persecution. Although there are sometimes feuds between rival religions or sects around the world, the unique opposition that the Christian Church receives should suggest to those who are open and searching that there is something more in Christianity that raises the ire of the ungodly.

It is not that Christians are pious or arrogant; it is that they are good and godly. Their contribution to the welfare of the world over the last two thousand years is unique. It wasn’t atheists or Moslems or Communists or Hindus who were working to create hospitals, provide education, organise workers into unions, and generally work for the poor, it was Christians. The record is very clear and undeniable. So what is it that upsets the world? It is that they are good and they are godly and they dare to speak about the possibility of a living relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

But in this paragraph above we have also admitted another reason why the Christian Church receives opposition so much: they stand out as opposition to some of the big power blocks of the world – other religions such as Islam or Hinduism of the Middle East, or the ideological communists of China. In China the numbers of the Christian Church vastly outweigh the numbers of the members of the Communist party who are a small minority in that massive nation. As Communist party numbers go down, over the past thirty years the numbers of the Christian Church in China have been escalating at a furious pace. No wonder the Community party in power is fearful. It is exactly the same as we find in the Old Testament happened to Israel in Egypt: the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them. Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor.” (Ex 1:7-11) In the minds of the ungodly, the increasing numbers of Christians is a threat to be opposed. The fact that it is a sea of goodness that is growing in the land of China is of no consequence to the fearful Communist authorities.

Similarly in such places as India or Saudi Arabia, Hindus and Moslems feel threatened by a faith that is not filled with fear, a faith that doesn’t demand rule keeping and a faith that appeals to the poor and weak. For these reasons (and perhaps many more) the twentieth century and now the twenty-first century has been no different from the rest of Church history. People have been killed, homes have been burned down and people thrown into prison, simply for being Christian believers.

And yes, we know who is behind it and we are called to resist him. What are the weapons we are to use against such enemies: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:44,45)  There it is! Love and prayer! Of course we may add to that, that which has been mentioned so often in these studies, goodness and good works that bless people and glorify God. They may upset the ungodly but they may also reveal Him to those who are onlookers. Despite what happens, may we reveal our loving Father by the way we live?  Amen?

65. Resist the Enemy

Meditations in 1 Peter : 65: Resist the Enemy

1 Pet 5:8b Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith

Now we come more fully to the reason Peter says be alert. We have an enemy and it is important that we understand who he is, how he works and his limitations. In some ways he is slightly mysterious, and in others he is obvious and clearly described in Scripture. In fact he is mentioned so many times that we would be foolish to deny his presence. So what can we find out about him?

Scholars note two particular passages of prophetic Scripture which, they say, speak of a figure who must be far more than a mere man and thus, they suggest, Satan is being described in the prophecies.  The first is Isa 14:12-17 which notes:

–          the being referred to in these verses seems to have come from heaven,

–          he was cast down on the earth (see also Rev 12:9),

–          he was overcome by pride and wanted to be greater than God.

The second set of verses is Ezek 28:11-19 which note:

–          this being was created perfect,

–          his task was a guardian over Eden, he was made sinless, but he turned,

–          because of his sin he was expelled from God’s presence,

–          his perfect beauty became the cause of his pride and for this he was expelled.

Thus it is suggested that he is an angelic being whose origin is in heaven. Now let’s note his various designations. In a number of places he is described as “Satan” (see Job 1:6 / Zech 3:1 / 2 Cor 11:14) but Satan simply means “the accuser” (Rev 12:10). He is also referred to as “the tempter” (Mt 4:3), and “the devil ….. a murderer ….. the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), sometimes just “the devil” (e.g. Mt 4:1-11), once as “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), and at the beginning he was seen as “the serpent” (Gen 3:1).

As “tempter” he seeks to lead people astray, as “the devil” he is the leading demon, as “the serpent” he deceived and was a liar, seeking to kill (a murderer), as a deceiver he comes in disguise as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14) to lead astray. In Rev 12:9 he is referred to as “The great dragon … that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan” and so we see he also comes as a “dragon” or “lion”, (1 Pet 5:8) indicating his intent to create fear. In Eph 2:2  he is referred to as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air” and in Jn 14:30/ Jn 16:11 he is referred to as “the prince of this world”. In 1 Jn 5:19 he is simply called “the evil one”.

It is important, so that we do not get over-awed by him, we need to know:

  • he is merely one of God’s created beings,
  • he can only to go as far as God permits. (See Job 1 & 2),
  • his end is decreed by God (Rev 20:10),
  • he is used by God.

So Peter identifies him first as our enemy. An enemy is one who is against us, possibly out to get us and destroy us. He calls him “the devil” as he would no doubt have heard his Master refer to him as he would have later shared his experience with his disciples, with him in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-11). He describes his activity as being “like a roaring lion”, again one who is dangerous and who seeks prey. Indeed, he goes on, he is “looking for someone to devour”.

So how does Satan ‘devour’ someone? He takes them over and takes them into himself, or rather, gets them to let him into them (see Lk 22:3). It starts in the mind. He seeks to deceive by speaking lies. When the person receives those lies they become vulnerable to temptation and so give way to sin. The more they allow this to happen, the more the enemy holds sway over them, introducing them to the ways of the occult until eventually they are completely under his sway, oppressed or even possessed – they have been devoured!

But that is not inevitable. He cannot force himself on us. “Resist him”, says Peter. We CAN do that. James had the right order: Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) when the enemy comes, turn to the Lord. Make sure your life is fully submitted to Him. Call on Him for strength, and rely upon His word (as Jesus did in the desert). Resist him in God’s strength. Declare the truth, praise and worship the Lord and the enemy will flee. In all those ways we’ve just described, we will be “standing firm in the faith.” Hold firm to the word of God and holding fast to our relationship with the Lord, we resist the enemy by faith and he will flee.

Remember, earlier on, we said God uses him? So why is the Lord allowing him to come against you? So that you will learn to resist his lies, so that you will learn to declare the truth, and so that you will learn to be strong in the Lord!  May it be so!

 

64. Alert

Meditations in 1 Peter : 64: Alert

1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.

Dictionary definition: “alert – watchful and ready, as in facing danger.” Dog owners know this. They are sitting quietly in the evening with their dog asleep at their feet and suddenly the dog is awake with its ears up – alert from a sound it has just heard. Is there an intruder? In World War Two, in Britain at least, there would be “an alert” and sirens would go off to give warning that enemy bombers had been sighted and the populace should go to air raid shelters. The same thing has been seen in old war films on airfields or ships at sea. An alert is sounded which presages the coming of an enemy and a call to get ready to counter them.

Peter is doing the same thing for the verses continue, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We’ll consider Satan as our enemy in the next meditation but for the moment let’s focus on the general need to be alert.  Some people might like to portray the Christian life more like a picnic, where everything is nice and peaceful and there is not a worry or care in the world. Unfortunately that is not how the world is.

There are two things in the world – that God has permitted to exist – and they both detract from the picture of peace and tranquillity. They are Sin and Satan. Sin is simply that tendency to be self-centred, godless and unrighteous. It is something each one of us inherited but now we are Christians God has given us the power – in the form of His Holy Spirit – to overcome Sin. Also the demands of the Law, which always accentuates the need to strive and creates the inevitable outcome of failure, have been removed in that we live lives that are loved and accepted in Christ and which are about relationship and not rules. But Sin is lurking there in the background to express itself the moment we become lax in our thinking and behaviour.

And, yes, Satan is our very real adversary as we’ll see in the next meditation, and he seeks to bring us down by various devious strategies. It is because of these that we need to remain in a state of alertness. The first strategy is that of deception where Satan attacks our thinking and seeks to distort the truth or deny the truth. If he can work in our minds and make us feel we are unloved, he’s won. If he can make us feel we have to work to appease God, he’s won. If he can get people not to believe in God, he’s won. Indeed he seeks to play on our self-awareness and turn it into self-centeredness and, in so doing, make us forget about God and so make us godless.

When he does that he can lead us then into the second strategy, which schemes for our downfall, which is temptation. In this he seeks to lead us into behaviour that is contrary to God’s design for us and is, therefore, unrighteous. Righteous behaviour is simply that which conforms to God’s design for us, His will. Unrighteous behaviour, which is contrary to that, always leads in the direction of destruction, which is what Satan is aiming for. He looks for any opportunity to lead us astray and away from the truth, and then into a wrong behaviour and wrong lifestyle. No wonder Peter calls for us to be alert – on the watch for the uprising of Sin and the sneaky approaches of Satan!

In that famous passage on spiritual warfare in Ephesians chapter 6, the apostle Paul eventually says, “With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph 6:18) The exhortation comes near the end of the passage about spiritual armour and standing against the enemy. The call is to be aware of the enemy’s activities and to be alert against them and to pray to counter his works.

But there is a bigger call to be alert in the New Testament, and it is in respect of being aware of the times in which we live, especially in the light of Christ’s return. Jesus himself, speaking of the last days declared, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mk 13:32,33). That time, described by Jesus, is presaged by enemy activity and the call is to be alert to such a time.

The apostle Paul reiterated the same thing: “While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” (1 Thess 5:3-6)  Everyone else may duped into complacency, but we are called to be alert to what is going on and ready to receive Jesus when he returns.

In the context of the ‘Last Days’ teaching, Jesus told the parable of the five virgins (Matt 25:1-13) which concludes with, Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” There it is – keep watch, be alert, look out for and be aware so that you may adjust your life accordingly. That is what this call to be alert is about. It is that we may see the coming enemy, or see the coming days, and take the appropriate counter-measures, to reject the enemy’s advances and get ready to meet Jesus. That is the significance of this call. May we heed it!

 

63. Self Control

Meditations in 1 Peter : 63: Self Control

1 Pet 5:8a Be self-controlled and alert.

Now if you are alert and can remember some of the things we’ve previously covered, you may remember that back in chapter 4 Peter said, “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) and so there we briefly considered this matter of self control – but it was only briefly!

In the world in which we live, we have had a number of instances over recent years of people who have broken loose and lost all control. Recently there was a man in the north of England who came out of prison, shot his girl friend’s new boyfriend – and her – and then went on to shoot a policeman sitting quietly in his police car. Now any one in their right mind would know that you are not going to get away with that, so why do it? You know it must have a bad ending. It did – he ended up shooting himself when cornered by the police after a massive manhunt. The end was predictable, so why start out down that path? The answer is loss of self-control.

Little children round about 2 or 3 lose self control when they throw a tantrum. We expect them to grow up and develop self-control. Elderly people are often noted to speak without care; they put aside the social niceties that they have lived by and speak what their minds think. It seems in old age we sometimes lose self control. Comedians sometimes produce routines that are funny and the humour comes in saying what is not expected, because mostly there are certain norms in society that we seek to conform to. In a comedy routine it can be funny to face the removal of those. Self-control is something that we expect of mature and responsible human beings. For example, when an individual hurts themselves, we don’t expect them to break loose with a bunch of obscenities – but sadly in modern society that is often not so – for that is a sign of lack of self-control. I purposefully determined many years ago that if I even hit my hand with a hammer while working, I would simply respond with an “Ow!” and nothing more.

Lack of self-control is demeaning. Civilised society puts a premium on it and perhaps the English “stiff upper lip” is the classic example of that which, no doubt, went over the top. Showing emotion is not a bad thing but there is a fine line between showing emotion and breaking lose. A classic example of that was Joseph who, in love, could no longer hide himself from his brothers: Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.” (Gen 45:1,2) That was a legitimate loss of control.

An example of bad loss of control is seen in Aaron and the golden calf incident, where we read, “Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” (Ex 32:25). Now that is interesting because it shows that self-control was conforming to God’s will, the Law. Various times in the Old Testament period there were references to the land being brought under the control of Israel. Being in control meant not letting the enemy have control, so control there meant resisting the enemy’s activity – again to bring the land under the rule of God.

Self control is thus seen in these instances as being necessary to resist sin and Satan and to allow God’s will to prevail. Solomon wrote, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Prov 29:11) There are times when restraint (self-control) is the wiser course of action to resist the temptation to respond without restraint and open the way up for worse to happen.

Now another way of speaking of ‘self-control’ is ‘self-discipline’ which is why modern versions no longer speak of self-control but self-discipline when Paul was speaking to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7). Self-control or self-discipline are there seen as strong character things, indications of a mature person. Self-control, being one of the things set over and against timidity or lack of confidence, is thus seen as a sign of strength in an individual, something that enables them to feel good about themselves.

There seems a sort of circular thing here. People who feel bad about themselves often seem to exhibit lack of self-control – listen to the language of the person with low self-esteem, often bolstered by expletives which they think will make them look hard or strong. We know differently! But the person who knows they are not in control of themselves then feels badly about it. For example, the person who wants to give up smoking but can’t feels, deep down, bad about themselves. In fact any one of us who are dominated by a bad habit, feels bad about ourselves. With the presence and help of the Holy Spirit, the Lord wants us to be in control of ourselves.

The person who can’t control their eating, their drinking or looking at pornography, is out of control and each one of these things leads to self-destruction. Perhaps an essential thing is to note why people act out of control. The gunman in my earlier illustration allowed anger to develop into revenge and soon a whole downward spiral of bad attitudes were taking over that meant eventual self-destruction. The person who overeats or over-drinks or has a yearning to view pornography, needs to face their own needs and realise that the means they are using to satisfy them are destructive. Jesus has to be the answer to all our needs, and that means submitting to Him as both Saviour and Lord.

With the presence of God in us, we are called to lives of freedom and freedom, strangely, means being able to be in control of oneself. May we know His power and His presence releasing us into self-control!

 

62. He Cares

Meditations in 1 Peter : 62: He cares for you

1 Pet 5:7-9 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We live in a worrying world. It seems to be endemic to this part of history and easy communications and the media may have much to do with it. Two hundred years ago you would not have heard what was happening a hundred miles away, let alone on the other side of the world. By the time news arrived it was usually months old and you couldn’t do anything about it and, anyway, you were still there so whatever it was couldn’t have been that important!  I have recently been reading the biography of a famous reporter who lived through the years of the Cold War. We tend to forget the worries about ‘the Bomb’ or Cuba or the Russians that abounded then. Today the news often covers the deaths in Afghanistan and there are many worried parents and loved ones back here who wonder whether the one they know will be one of the victims of a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb.  Writing in the years following financial meltdowns in the City of London and in America, the threat of loss of pensions and loss of jobs is a very real anxiety for many. No, we live in an age of anxiety!

Now our verse above is one of those that can be taken right out of context and it still holds true, but actually when you look at the verse before and verse after, you see there is a linkage between them: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” At the beginning is the (possible) anxiety of holding a right balance in your attitude and outlook before God, and in the latter one we’ll come to in a subsequent meditation, there is the concern of having to cope with attacks from the enemy, which are very real. Those two concerns – rightly relating to God and combating the enemy’s tactics – are real concerns in whatever age. Today we may have more concerns and worries (certainly different sorts of worries, real or imaginary) than two hundred years ago, but in whatever age we live, these two things are genuine concerns to be worked through.

Now there are two parts in the verse to be noted. To start with, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Even within that there are three things to note. First, this general picture of casting something on someone else. Today, bluntly speaking, we might say, “Dump it all on Jesus.” However we see it, it is an action that we have to carry out, something to be done as an act of will. The apostle Paul said it in a slightly different way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6), i.e. get rid of your anxieties by giving them to Jesus – pray! It is an action, something you have to do.

So to the second thing: actually Peter doesn’t say “anxieties”, he says “anxiety” and that is slightly different. Anxieties are the individual worries – and yes we are to give them to Jesus – but “anxiety” is an attitude or way of thinking, a more general thing. Some of us take worrying to an art form!  We have a general approach to life where anxiety is constantly there in the background. We are unsure of ourselves and we are unsure of God and so we worry. It isn’t over anything specific; it is a general thing.

So, says Peter, put this attitude to rest by taking it all and putting it on Jesus or seeing it all in the light of all you know about Jesus. This is the third thing which will lead us on in a moment to the second part of the verse.  Focus on Jesus and realise that you don’t have to worry about what the Lord thinks or feels about you and your life. Hold to the truth:

  • Jesus died for you (Jn 3:16) and
  • so now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1), and
  • Jesus intercedes for you when you get it wrong (1 Jn 2:1) and
  • he is with you and will never leave you (Heb 13:5) and
  • Jesus always remains the same (Heb 13:8) and
  • will provide all you need (Phil 4:19).

Let these truths about Jesus melt away your general anxiety, your worry about not being loved or cared for. Rely on the truth and not your feelings. Bring your feelings in line with these truths, but daily declare these truths as an act of faith.

This takes us on to the second part of the verse: “because he cares for you.” Now that is so obvious that it shouldn’t need commenting upon – but it does! Now if we accept that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and the whole series of references we quoted just now suggest that is true, then everything we know about love suggests that it also involves ‘care’. In an earlier meditation I defined love as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others. Now if that is so, and I believe it is, then that good-will towards others will involve caring for them, looking for their well-being – and God cares for us because He loves us.

Briefly what does it mean to be cared for? It means, first of all, feelings of concern and desire for your well-being. First of all, God feels for you. Second, it means He takes action to secure your well-being. If you are a mother and care for your child, or you are an adult child who cares for your aging parent, you will do things as the expression of your caring for the one who is reliant upon you, to secure their well-being. THIS is why you do not need to be anxious; because God is there, looking after you and working to secure your well-being. Declare it and thank Him for it!  Hallelujah!

 

61. Humility for all

Meditations in 1 Peter : 61: Humility for all

1 Pet 5:5,6 All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,   “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time

The world in which we live tells us to stand up and be ourselves. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do; be yourself! Stand up for yourself; make something of yourself. Don’t be a wimp, rise up above the rest. Be exalted in your greatness; make yourself even greater. These are the words of the twenty-first century. Rise up and go for it. They are, of course, words of deception. They are basically saying, pretend to be what you are not; make yourself something more than you are. Take one of the many ‘self-help’ courses that are available, change yourself.

Possibly an analogy that comes near the truth is of a cancer patient who is told, think positive thoughts. Positive thoughts can help – in a measure – but you still have cancer. Or to take an even more extreme idea – a man who is delusional and who genuinely believes he will never die. Yet in old age his body starts to decay and he keeps on telling himself, “I will never die.” Fear makes many of us deny the truth. You see it in a conversation between a Christian and a non-Christian. As the talk gets on to sin, the non-Christian starts getting edgy. “Don’t you tell me I am a sinner; I’m as good as the next man!” Deep down, that fear that the truth may be that “I am indeed a sinner” collides with the wrong thought that God is an angry, vicious, spiteful dictator who loves punishing people, and as the two ideas collide, fear acts in the only way it knows how and denies the truth – I am not a sinner!!!  But however much you say it, it doesn’t change the truth.

Now why, you may be thinking, am I rambling down this particular path? What is the connection with humility? Well, humility is simply an honest recognition of who we are. I am a sinner and without God I am utterly lost. I owe my entire life to the Lord. All that I have, which is good, has been a gift from Him. Left to myself, I am a mess. I am certainly no better than any other person. All I can do is say, thank you. Humility faces the truth about ourselves. Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of the incredible goodness of God that has blessed me over the forty years that I have known Him. I have grown incredibly thankful, mightily grateful for what He has done for me, in me and through me.

But there’s been something else growing in parallel with that sense of gratefulness; it is the awareness of who I am and, looking back down the years, a recognition of the weakness, failures, inadequacies and so on, of my life. That simply makes the good things that God has done, or made of me, even more wonderful. I can be blessed at who I have become, yet aware that I have nothing to be proud about because it has not been of my working. If anything, it has been despite me!  I have absolutely nothing to boast about. I have done some great things and blessed a good number of people, but I know the truth about that! It was Him! It was at His directions and it was with His enabling and still, today, I am incapable of any good thing without His guidance, direction, inspiration or power. I know who I am! Humility is not a “I’m a nobody,” but an accurate assessment of who you are.

Pride, by comparison, is having an inflated view of who you are or of your own importance. Now, says Peter, clothe yourself with humility – put it on like you would put on a coat. How do you do that? You do what I’ve just done; you state the truth about yourself, both the bad news and good news. The bad news is that left to myself, I am a wreck. The good news is that in Christ and with his direction and enabling I am a child of God who can prove to be a real blessing to people. ‘Putting on’ humility is declaring those truths.

Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble”? The answer is because He is always working for the truth or for reality. The proud are not being truthful about themselves and so He opposes their untruths, but the humble who are being utterly real and acknowledging their frailty, weakness, inadequacy etc. of themselves, these ones He is able to take and use and so blesses them with His grace, His enabling to cope, serve or triumph.

And so what about when he says, Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time? This means bring yourself into a right attitude or outlook in life where you realise your utter dependency on Him so that He may take you, pick you up, and exalt you as He uses you. Consider Elijah (1 Kings 18) who opposed the prophets of Baal. He was utterly dependent on God – and knew it – and he was exalted in people’s minds because of what God was able to do through him. Jesus, likewise spoke of the glory he had received which in fact belonged to his Father as he served him. We don’t seek it; in fact we seek nothing except to be obedient to the Lord, utterly reliant on Him, and when we do that we will be exalted – but we’ll still know the truth!

 

60. Young Men

Meditations in 1 Peter : 60: Guidance for Young Men

1 Pet 5:5a Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.

There are two schools of thought in churches about house groups or cell groups or whatever else you call them. One school separates people according to background, job etc. on the basis that the things they have in common will enable people to open up to each other and relate together better than might otherwise happen. They will also be better at reaching those with similar backgrounds. The other school mixes people up in groups on the basis that we learn from different ages and backgrounds.  Both schools have merits. It is useful to focus on the commonalities – which include the unique experiences – of specific age groups or people groups, as well as mixing them up to learn from one another’s different experiences.  However it is the former thing that comes out here.  Peter now gives a simple word of guidance to a specific group – young men.

Interestingly each of the main apostle-writers picked up on young men at various times. Paul encouraged Titus by saying, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” (Titus 2:6,7) John in his first letter also wrote, “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one …… I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 Jn 2:13,14). Each of these writers thinks of something that is peculiar or unique to the experience of ‘young men’. For Paul it was the awareness that young men were full of vigour and energy and life which could be poured our in unrighteous, unrestrained, profligate living and so he cautions them to be self-controlled, observers of those who they could emulate well.  John was aware similarly of the vigour and energy of young men but who, when they were Christians, could be valiant warriors who oppose the enemy and stand out in their generation.

Peter has a different aspect of being young and vigorous in his thinking. He recognises the tendency in the young, in the fullness of their energy and life, to feel that they are the people for today and it therefore becomes very easy to slip into a way of thinking that despises age. We are after all, they might think, the ones full of energy, the ones who are likely to bring change into this dull world, the ones with fresh new ideas. We are the church of today, the ones who are going to change the church and the world.

Now such thinking is good as long as it is seen within context: you are just part of the body of Christ and perhaps nowhere more than here in matters of youthfulness do Paul’s words about being part of a body ring true and need remembering: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) and “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Cor 12:14) and “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Cor 12:21)

The tendency of youthfulness is to say, “We don’t need you,” but that comes from lack of understanding. To be fair one has to say that that isn’t always true, at least in a church where the older people are loving and caring and open to the young people. I have been blessed by hearing some of our young people say they are blessed to be able to relate to, and be alongside, older people. The challenge, perhaps, is more for the older people!

But Peter is being more specific: be submissive to those who are older.” Peter knows that an aspect of this youthful independence means a rejection of the wisdom and authority of those who God has called to lead the church, and that independence could therefore make them very vulnerable to the enemy. The answer is to be rightly related to the authority within the church which resides in those with wisdom and maturity in the church. Yes, youth does have all the energy and vibrancy that goes with younger years but without doubt wisdom comes with the experience of years. Unfortunately we live in an age when wisdom does not rate very highly in discussion areas, it is not valued. It is not realised that wisdom comes with experience and godly wisdom comes with experience of God.

Being submissive is all about attitude. It is about recognising that on our own we are vulnerable. It is about recognising that God calls leaders and our call is to recognise, acknowledge, esteem and let them lead. It is about having a teachable spirit, one who recognises they have much to learn (may we all have that until we go to heaven!) and is therefore open to hear what those who have walked this path before us have got to say. They may not have learnt the wisdom of the years but, nevertheless, listening to them will be instructive. It is about recognising authority that God has established and respecting and honouring it. It is about coming to an understanding of some of the burden that they carry, the responsibilities that they carry, their accountability to God. All these ways are simply expressions of what it means to be submissive to those who are older and in authority. In a day when the world and the enemy derides these things, we would do well to look at them again and ensure they are alive and well in the church.

 

 

59. Shepherds’ Guidance

Meditations in 1 Peter : 59: Guidance for Shepherds

1 Pet 5:2-4 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Peter, we saw in the previous meditation, is speaking to elders of the local church, the local leaders. Here he now instructs them to act as shepherds. Whereas “elder” is the designation of position, being a senior member of the local church in a place of oversight, ‘shepherd’ is a clearly defined role. We all know what shepherds do – they look after sheep – and if we aren’t very clear about it, Peter explains it in quite a lot of detail which every church leader should consider.

The first thing that spiritual shepherds are to realise is that the flock belongs to God. The people of God, the local church, only exist because each one has been born again – as we saw in earlier meditations – and they are each a unique work of God. The apostle Paul, when instructing the Ephesian elders said, Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). If you bought something with some of your own blood, it would be very precious to you. The church is precious to God and we need to remember that. This is God’s flock we are thinking about.

Next then he states the obvious in his description of this flock: “that is under your care.” If you have been called into the position of leadership we need to realise that it is first of all a position of care. Our role is to care for these people, to look after them. Again Paul warned the Ephesian elders prophetically, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:29-31) I include those verses in their entirety because they convey the awfulness of what can happen to the local church and the responsibility that local leaders have to prevent such things happening.

He then goes on to say that we do these things as we serve as ‘overseers’. Obviously an overseer sees over the whole flock and should be able to see the landscape surrounding the flock and so be on the alert to pick up any needs within the flock and ward off any attacks coming from outside the flock.

Then he touches the subject of motivation: not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” There should not be a sense of heavy duty about this call but a glad willingness which is a joyful response to seeing the need and sensing the call, which provokes the response, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8) Indeed, he adds, not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” This is not a job and money is not to be the motivation; this is a calling to serve God and serve the people of God. The leader of the local church is first and foremost a servant of God. Jesus taught, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mt 20:26-28). But there is another side of this coin: the flock needs to realise that this man is God’s servant and as such is both answerable and accountable to Him, but also under His direction and protection. This is a man to be honoured.

But that doesn’t mean that the man is put on a pedestal for Peter continues to describe the way of serving: not lording it over those entrusted to you.” There is no room for pride, arrogance and any similar thing in a leader in the church, no room for throwing your weight around. This is a calling to humility in service.

Yet this something more in this ‘job description’: “being examples to the flock.” The leader is to be someone who goes ahead and who therefore sets an example in life and service for the flock to follow. Paul laid down the criteria for this example giving, in his instructions to Titus: “An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless–not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:6-9) In all those ways he is to be an example for the flock to follow.

And his reward? And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Jesus will reward this servant in due time in the right way. This is not to say don’t pay the man, for Paul speaks strongly about this elsewhere; it just says God will honour this servant in due season. Rest in that. There are many important issues here for the local church. May we heed them!