17. The Working of Grace

Meditations in Titus: 17:  The Working of Grace

Titus 2:11,12   For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

The word ‘For’ is a link word and links what we have here with what Paul has just said previously. He concluded his teaching about Christian slaves’ behaviour with, “so that…they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (v.10b) This verse was to be the effect of the good way slaves lived and worked so we have behaviour and effect in the previous verses. Now we have two corresponding things in our two verses above.

First there is the implication that the Gospel has become well known. Here Paul describes the Gospel as “the grace of God that brings salvation.” We know about and can have salvation because a) God has brought about the basis of it – Jesus dying on the Cross for us – but also b) because God has made it known now through the apostles and it has become well known, even if not accepted, by all. So slave owners will know about the Gospel, about the existence of this new group of believers called Christians, and so if they hear that their slave has become one, he will automatically have certain expectations, and the slave is to live up to them for the sake of the Gospel.

Second, this grace has certain outworkings, and those are things that we have just referred to when we spoke of the expectations of slave masters of their Christian slaves. Those outworkings, we will go on to see, are both present and future outworkings, although we will only consider the present outworkings in this particular study.

Paul says that God’s grace that brings us salvation, as an outworking of it, “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”  Let’s examine these things.

One the one hand there are the negative things we are to now reject from our lives.. We are to reject “ungodliness and worldly passions”.  ‘Ungodly’ simply means ‘contrary to God’. We are to reject from our lives anything that runs contrary to God’s character and will. ‘Worldly passions’ are desires that are self-centred and self-pleasing and which are so often expressions of sin.  The apostle John taught, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world— (a) the cravings of sinful man, (b) the lust of his eyes and (c) the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16) That spells it out well.

First of all, desires or cravings that flow out of the godless and self-centred heart. Second, the things this godless and self-centred hearts sees and then wants – this is covetousness and idolatry. Third, boasting or pride, self-centred boosting of ego. This is the godless self-centred life that is to be rejected now we have received the grace of God. It is a life of excesses (of food, sex, alcohol and drugs), and a life of lack of restraint morally and ethically, and a life of self-promotion.(pride, boasting, vanity in owning ‘things’, or gaining status etc.), perhaps summed up as a seeking after pleasure, possessions and power.

On the other hand, the other side of the coin if you like, there are the positive things that are to be characteristics of our lives now that we are ‘in Christ’: “self-controlled, upright and godly lives”.

  • ‘Self-controlled’ suggests that we no longer let ourselves be blown to and fro by desires or emotions. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and is to be one of those things that is worked into our lives (see 2 Pet 1:6). It brings an ordered life, one that is not unstable, and with it comes confidence and growth of godly self-esteem.
  • ‘Upright’ speaks of a morally or ethically upright or honest approach to life where things like purity, integrity and justice are clear features of who we are.
  • ‘Godly’ simply means God-focused. He is to be in all we are and do,. We can even perform the so called spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc. in a mechanistic or formal way so that God has little or no part in it. If we just list off a self-concerned list of wants in prayer, that is not godly. It can be done with the complete absence of God. You can even read the Bible with no reference to God, and that is being ungodly. You can sing songs and make music that just satisfies personal pleasure desires and are in reality ungodly. When we purposefully focus on God before we do and while we do any of these things we are being godly.

The work of God’s grace brings us away from the self-centred and godless lives that we once had and leads us into lives of relationship with the Lord. This is the will of God, the purpose of Jesus as he administers God’s kingdom, and the working of the Holy Spirit as He brings it about. This should be seen in each and every one of us, whatever our station in life (slave or not) as the working of God in us that can be seen by those around us and which, hopefully points them towards Him.

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!

 

 

32. Opposition (1)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 32:  Coping with Opposition (1)

1 Pet 2:19,20 For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.

Remember that in these recent passages Peter has been exhorting his readers to live well so that they will be a testimony to those who look on. In the previous meditations we considered first his call to respect all people and then how he applied that specifically to slaves having respect for their masters. This does really move into areas where we really need the grace of God to do the will of God. I think that very often Christians just drift through life without much thought or even (apparently) need of God, but sometimes the Lord allows us to go through times of difficulty where we have to cry out to Him for His grace to cope. But then there is teaching which, if we really think about it, we realise can only be obeyed by receiving the grace of God first.

I remember as a very young Christian going to a Bible Study in a church that shall not be named, and the subject was the Sermon on the Mount. It was a discussional study and it was clear that the people in the group wrote off the teaching as impossible ideology. What they failed to comprehend was that without God’s grace we cannot live up to the standards that God sets before us. So it is true, I believe, with these passages we are dealing with now.  The theory may be all right but when we come to apply it to our own life situations that will be something completely different!

So here Peter is continuing directly on from his exhortation to slaves to show respect by giving an extra encouragement: For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” There are some important bits to notice here. He is speaking to them about coping in the face of “unjust suffering”, i.e. to those who have harsh taskmasters. We cope in these situations because we are “conscious of God”, conscious of His desire for us, conscious of what He may be wanting to do in the lives of those who treat us harshly, conscious that He may want to speak through us to them. Yes, all of these things can help us cope when they treat us badly. The ‘natural’ man wants to react and revolt, but the Christ-led and Holy Spirit empowered Christian is to be something else. We are to be those who continue to work well and continue against the odds to respect those who are against us, for God may yet have plans for them!

To respond like this is “commendable” for indeed it is good when we can get the grace of God to not be put down by unjust suffering, but Peter goes on by comparing that with suffering that we have brought upon ourselves: “But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” The key in the comparison is you “doing wrong.” There is no credit for bearing up under punishment when you deserved it for doing wrong.

There is a cult which turns up on the door, pours out their mantras and refuse to listen to your objections, and treat you with disrespect and then gets excited because they are rejected by most. Persecution or opposition which we bring upon ourselves by our lack of grace or poor behaviour is not something to be commended. I have seen young Christians speak glowingly about the suffering which they are enduring from their families or employers because they have been trying to share the Gospel with them, but so often that sharing has been insensitive and graceless and it has been no wonder that they have been snubbed or even actively opposed. No, if we share the Gospel without respect or sensitivity, we have only ourselves to blame when we are rejected.

But how about those times, to bring all this into our own day, when we are full of grace and goodness and people treat us badly and think ill of us simply because we are Christians? It is then that Peter’s teaching becomes full on. At such times we can whinge or whine and go on about these terrible non-Christians who oppose us and who appear so hard hearted against God, or we can maintain respect and still look for good in them and for signs of God’s moving in their life – and if we cannot see it, pray for it!

Very often people who are being hard, insensitive, callous, harsh and unkind, know it deep down! God makes them aware of it. They know it but can’t do anything about it. Very often such behaviour is a response to the life pain that they have received and their inability to cope with it. They need the Lord’s help but don’t yet realise that and so struggle in their circumstances and are thoroughly unpleasant as they fail to cope. They are like we were before we came to Christ!  Like James and John (Lk 9:54) we may want to call down the fire of judgment on them but maybe God wants them to experience mercy. We are certainly to pray against sin and wrong doing, but let’s pray and work and live in such a way that we never put stumbling blocks in the way of those who need Christ. Instead let’s be light (Mt 5:16) that shows them the way to Him!