50. Abused

Meditations in 1 Peter : 50: Abused for Goodness

1 Pet 4:3,4 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do– living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

“There’s nothing like a cured smoker,” they say, “for going on at smokers.” Now oddly, in these verses it is exactly the opposite. It would be the smokers going on at those who have given it up! Throughout this letter Peter has been encouraging the Christians he’s writing to, to hold fast to the faith – especially in the face of persecution – and to live righteous lives. Again these verses start with a link word, ‘for’. He’s just said that we should consider ourselves “done with sin” (v.1) and not live the rest of his (our) earthly life for evil human desires.” (v.2).

When he says, “For you have…” it’s like he might say, “After all, you have spent enough time in the past wasting away your life in bad ways…” That is the thrust here. All of the things he lists are things linked to the senses and unrestrained use of the senses, a wrong use of them. This is not how you should live is the underlying sense of these things. When he uses the words, “you have spent enough time in the past,” it is like he is gently chiding or reproaching them for having lived like that, in ways that they should now know are unrighteous and ungodly. As we said above, there is this sense that he’s saying, “you frittered away your life and wasted your life living like that, so you should never even think for a minute of drifting back to that sort of lifestyle. This is yet just another reason for staying away from that sort of life – you’ve been there, done it, known it does you no good, and just wastes or fritters life away. Don’t think of going back there!

This same sort of thinking is in Peter’s mind in his second letter when he warns about people who would lead his readers back to that old lifestyle: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Pet 2:21,22) This is the sense that is behind our verses today. But in this present letter he’s been dealing with a variety of ways that we receive opposition and even persecution, and so he finishes with a recognition of how the world that they have rejected now responds to them.

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. The world doesn’t understand why it is that you have rejected that lifestyle that they are still wallowing in. They have never realised their plight or if they have they have pushed the thought away. No, they have decided that they will make indulging the senses in a life of unrestraint, their life, and they cover up their inner emptiness by so doing. On the outward side they appear to be having such fun – although to see them next morning is another story which is mostly not told!  No, they make like they are having such a wonderful time while all the while they are covering up an inner emptiness. They feel insecure and alone and seek to cover it up by a wild lifestyle. They try to convince the rest of the world that they are having such a time in their freedom. Of course for many this so called freedom is in fact slavery, for they cannot get out of it and dare not get out of it.

So from their life of excesses they look upon their ‘puritanical’ friends who have turned their back on it, and think them strange. Why are these Christians such killjoys, is what they think; how weird they are! In their blindness they cannot see the love, the joy and the freedom that their Christian friends are experiencing, the goodness of life that they are enjoying without any artificial stimulants. No, the more you look at the two contrasting lifestyles and the more you honestly face the outworking of both of them, the more obvious the folly of the old lifestyle becomes.  But of course those trapped by it cannot see it!

But it goes further, because not only do they think it strange that you have given up that lifestyle, deep down they feel you show them up and you play on their conscience and make them feel even worse than they did before, and so have to work even harder to convince themselves and everyone else what a good life they have. And so, deep down they feel resentful about what we have done and so out of defense they attack us with words, they heap abuse on us as Peter says. They denigrate and seek to demean us in this effort to cover up their guilt.

Oh yes, if you have never understood this before, please understand it now. These are the dynamics of what is going on here. Realise these things and you will realise that you never want to go back there.  Now there is a danger we need to face before we finish.  It is the danger of inadvertently crossing the line. Oh, says our modern Christian, I would never be intodebauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing.” Very well, but be honest. If you are a party person, how often are you on the verge of this? Really, how near this lifestyle are you? A man was once walking along a road alongside a field fenced by an electric fence. Inside this large field was a cow inching under the bottom strand of the fence to get the grass just out of reach while not being electrocuted. When there is a whole field of enjoyable grass, why live right on the edge? If we are doing this, we need to examine our inner self and see that we are not letting Christ minister to all our inner needs so we don’t need to boost them artificially. It is a valid concern, I believe, in modern Christianity. Please think on it.

42. Be at Peace

Meditations in 1 Peter : 42 : Be at Peace

1 Pet 3:13-15 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

The ways of life are very obvious when you think about it. For example, if you want a life of trouble and difficulty all you have to do is be nasty to people, cheat on them, lie to them, deceive them, be spiteful to them, steal from them, do your work badly, fail to pay your debts, borrow but never give back and so on. If you are a student you skip classes, never hand work in and be casual about your learning.  If you are married you be unfaithful to your partner and be unpleasant to your kids. Now all that is so obvious that you might wonder why any of us do any of these things. Surely we want a good life, a life without stress? So why do people act like this? Because of the stupidity of sin!

Peter is painting a very different picture. He is putting up some pointers to help us live the good life and has just used the Old Testament to act as a guide. He assumes we want a life that is peaceful and free from upset. OK, he says, Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?” i.e. do good and that will stop most people from being nasty to you. People don’t feel threatened generally by goodness so they won’t attack you. If you constantly do good, you are not going to attract hostility and upset.

But Peter is a realist and he knows that in the world in which we live, although it is generally like that, there will be people so given over to the enemy that they will come against you: “But even if you should suffer for what is right.” This suffering means persecution and opposition from others; that is clear by what follows. Yes, as good as you may be there will be those along life’s way who will oppose you, just like they did Jesus for his goodness. But look what he goes on to say:But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” How will you be blessed for suffering persecution?

He doesn’t say but perhaps he has in mind his master’s teaching: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:10,11)  Yes, Jesus taught that you were blessed in such circumstances because it showed that you were a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and as such heaven will reward you. That reward may be a sense of peace that passes understanding or it may be a sense of the Father’s approval or it may be His blessing that brings further goodness into your life.

But then he seeks to reassure us: Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” This would appear to be a quote from Isaiah: “do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear.” (Isa 8:12,13) i.e. do not fear the plotting and scheming of people. The only one to ‘fear’ is God because He is all-seeing and all-mighty. We live, as children of God, under the watchful eye of our Father and He will provide for us and protect us: “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Psa 121) That IS the truth. We would do well to memorise that psalm for it reminds us of the truth.

Then Peter takes the Old Testament teaching and brings it up to date: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” The Old Testament was ‘fear the Lord’. The New Testament was ‘Jesus is Lord’. They are the same things expressed at different times with different levels of revelation. Today our submitting to God is expressed through our submission to His Son, our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ. So today, when we are facing opposition and wondering how we will cope, remember that Jesus is Lord and is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling in heaven over all things.(see Eph 1:22, 1 Pet 3:22, Rom 8:34, 1 Cor 15:25, Psa 110:1). Faith means we respond to these truths and the outworking of it will be peace. We will live in peace and live out peace. Yes, sometimes there will be opposition but Christ will be there and his grace will be sufficient as he works out all things for our good. Rejoice in this and be at peace in this! 

33. Opposition (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 33:  Coping with Opposition (2)

1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

This is the hard side of the Christian life, the side that most of us in the West prefer not to think about. We will in the next meditation go on to look in detail to how Christ acted but for now we must just focus on the fact that he suffered and we are also called to suffer for the Gospel. Remember Peter has just said about slaves, if you suffer for doing good….” This is not self-inflicted suffering; this is suffering because we are Christians.

Now to get balance we have to note that it isn’t always like that in life and there are also times in the New Testament when the church found favour with the world: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:46,47). Indeed, it should be our purpose to win favour by our good lives, as Paul said a similar thing to the slaves in Colosse: “ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Col 3:22).  Yet the truth also is that there will be times when the world around us will be hostile to us because we are Christians.

Jesus laid out this teaching very clearly to his disciples: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk  21:12-19).

Now there are some crucial points in this. First, note, “This will result in your being witness to them.” i.e. when you are hauled before authorities see this as an opportunity to testify to the Lord. Second, note the Lord’s provision: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Wow, that is positive!

Why will people oppose us? Listen again to Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.” (Jn 1519-21). Ultimately all opposition we receive as Christians is because of Christ. The enemy is against him and against us as his representatives.

This teaching goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Mt 5:10-12) yet there it is expanded to remind us that all of God’s servants throughout time have been opposed. But, says Jesus, you will be blessed when you are persecuted and we are to rejoice in such circumstances because (implied) it shows we are part of God’s family, doing God’s will.

The nature of this persecution is made even more clear in John’s Gospel: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18) Jesus was ‘working’ on the Sabbath because his Father was working and that upset the religious ideas of some. Then we he associated himself with his Father that upset them even more.

Our call is to do the will of God as the Holy Spirit leads us. Sometimes that will upset people (see Acts 4). When we associate ourselves with our Lord that will sometimes also upset people. We are not to be purposely antagonistic but if our simple declarations spoken gently bring hostility simply because of the content – despite the delivery – then so be it!  That is our calling.  But remember it is a calling that brings the grace of God with it. He will enable and He will look after us. Those are His promises.

2. Scattered

Meditations in James: 2 :  Scattered in the world

Jas 1:1    James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

The Industrial Revolution in Britain, for the first time, split up families as men and later women went to work in mills and other industrial units away from the home. Until then the ‘family business’ tended to be where the home was and the family was largely together. The extension of that change, as now expressed in today’s living, we take for granted. Men and women leave for work, and children leave for school or college, often miles away from the home. The family is dispersed into the world each day. When young people leave home to set up on their own, it is now frequently many miles away from their parents. There has been a dispersion of families into the world. Although we take all this for granted and see it as a natural part of modern life, it has its dangers. The family, with individuals dispersed and alone, do not have the mutual support of one another and so the values of the family can be attacked in a secular society. It was for this very reason that James wrote his letter. The church was dispersed.

Initially the church was focused on Jerusalem and Judea (but Jesus had indicated that the church would go to the ends of the world – Acts 1:8). Stephen was killed andOn that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1). This was the first of a number of persecutions that would come upon the church and each time the Christians would be dispersed more and more, but this had a very positive effect:Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there(Acts 8:4,5). The truth was that God wanted the word to be shared across the world.

Initially the church was very largely simply made up of Jews and they obviously found it very difficult at times to let go their Jewish culture and upbringing as we see in the case of Peter’s vision (Acts 10:9-16) and his subsequent comment to Cornelius, You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean.(v.28). Thus they still struggled with this idea of Jew and Gentile mixing, and the church initially was still seen by them as Jewish. In fact when the word got back to Jerusalem that Peter had gone to Gentiles, the circumcised believers criticized him and said ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them’ (Acts 11:3). So when more and more persecution came and the believers (largely Jewish) found themselves isolated and away from Jerusalem’s strong influence, they would first be confused and then there may have been a tendency to blend in with whatever society they found themselves amongst. It was to counter these tendencies and meet the needs of the believers in their new situations that James wrote.

We in the West, live in an age of constantly increasing materialism and secularism and of multicultural and multi-faith living. Without doubt Christians are, at present, a minority and in many ways there are similarities with the early church of James’ day. There is a tendency, in the beginning of the twenty first century in the West, in the face of secular government and materialistic media, to wilt in the face of the barrage of the enemy’s propaganda that casts doubt on the Christian’s belief. With the popular writings of such people as Dan Brown questioning the faith and proposing things that are not true, and the atheistic attacks of people such as scientist, Richard Dawkins, who interprets scientific facts in ways that satisfy his atheistic leanings,  Christians wonder about their faith. There is in fact nothing to fear but that doesn’t stop the enemy seeking to sow doubt and fear, and so we need the constant encouragement of people like James to remind us of the basis of our faith and particularly how that faith should be working out in very practical ways in our normal, every day lives.

The truth is that our faith is very practical and belief in Jesus, and in the salvation he brings, should touch every area of our lives. James is going to help us see that, but even before we consider what he says to us, can we check our hearts? Are we open to the Lord to challenge us over how we are coping with this secular, materialistic, unbelieving age? Do we hold firm to the truth in the face of all the untruth that is spoken around us? Are we sure about the truth, why it is the truth and why we can believe it? These are key questions for Christians living at this point of time in the West. Be ready to be challenged. Be ready to be stirred. This letter was written for such a time as this.  Enjoy it and be changed by it!

Approval

Readings in Luke Continued – No.6

Lk 4:14,15 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.

There is a time in the early life of the Church when Luke recorded, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46 ,47). It was a good time when the blessing of God was clearly on the Church. After the Ananias and Sapphira affair it took on a different slant: “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.” (Acts 5:13). It has been said that in the early centuries of the life of the widely scattered Church in the Roman Empire, when an emperor decreed a persecution of the Christians, local Roman leaders warned the local Christians of what was to happen so that they could flee for however long it took for it to blow over, so well thought of were they in their communities. We are called to be salt and light and as such we can be a blessing to the community in which we live.

For the time being, in these early days, Jesus received the praise of everyone. He started his ministry teaching in synagogues and obviously all that he said was well received. He is, after all, the Son of God with the wisdom and grace of God and his teaching would be exemplary. However the approval he seems to be getting is almost the lull before the storm; it is about to change, but we’ll have to wait for the next meditation to see that. So far Jesus has merely affirmed the truth of God’s word, for that is what he would have been doing in the synagogues for they were primarily teaching places, where the truth of God’s word was conveyed to the local population. So far he has not said anything that will bring a challenge. So far he has simply been acting as a teacher of the Scriptures and so far that has been very acceptable.

This preliminary phase of his ministry is uncharacteristic of what followed, because soon he would declare himself, soon he would be performing signs and wonders, and soon he would be seen as a threat to the religious establishment – but none of that has happened yet. Writing this in the early part of 2008, I believe that many churches in the United Kingdom at least, are in a similar position. Having found ourselves relegated to the fringes of society, we have heard the word of the Lord to go into our communities with acts of good works. There, many of us are well thought of, and we often receive the praise of community leaders for the acts of service we perform in this needy land.

There is going to come a time, I suggest, when as more and more doors are opened to us and more and more hearts are opened to us, that we will speak the Gospel into more and more hearts and will see a harvest that is greater than has been seen for a long time. It will be at that time that we will find ourselves moving into the second phase of Jesus’ ministry, when opposition arises because we become a challenge and a threat. The larger part of the book of Acts records the hostility and opposition that the early church received as the Gospel was proclaimed. Various Roman emperors issued decrees against the Christians because they threatened the deity that such emperors dared to proclaim. Indeed early Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the Roman gods.

John, in his Gospel, records that Jesus was full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). In this early phase that grace was seen and appreciated. If was only as the truth was brought to bear, that more and more, that appreciation was eroded by the religious leaders.

That raises a question for us in the Church today. Are we well thought of before we preach the challenging Gospel? There are two negative approaches or outlooks to be considered. First, that we say and do nothing and are totally unnoticed. This is the church that is completely ineffectual by inaction. The second alternative is that we simply blast the Gospel at whoever we meet without having earned the respect of the listeners and are largely rejected as religious freaks. This is the church that is ineffectual by insensitivity and ignorance. Now I add ignorance, because it suggests that we have not learnt from Jesus. A careful observation of Jesus will reveal that he went first performing signs and wonders with great healing, doing good for needy people. He also mixed with the needy and the sinners and accepted them where they were. It was only subsequently that the convicting words of truth came and caused either a harvest of salvation or opposition.

Yes, John in his Gospel describes all these acts of power as ‘signs’ pointing to God, but they would have also warmed and melted the hearts of people towards him. When you have just healed someone of a serious illness, they feel good towards you! They are willing to listen to you. Jesus was using the power of God to do good and to open hearts to hear the truth. Some accepted it and some didn’t.

Thus today, it is a valid question to ask, are we doing the same? We may not have the same power that was flowing through Jesus, until God moves in sovereign power through us, but we may seek Him for that and get ready. In the meantime, we do have His grace to be people who bring blessing and goodness into our communities to open doors and open hearts. It is only the preliminary stage, but are we actually doing that? It bears thinking about.

Church History

REVELATION OF GOD Meditations No.10 of 10

1 John 1:1-3 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

As we are still very much aware today, the ongoing history of the Church is an ongoing battle. Those who do not want to submit to a sovereign God speak out and do all in their power to destroy Christianity. In the early centuries of the life of the Church there was tremendous persecution that went on against the Church, which went on for the first three hundred years of its life. In some measure or other that persecution has carried on throughout the whole period of Church History and in some parts of the world is just as terrible as ever. The skeptic would do well to consider why such a pointless religion (as they see it) should evoke such terrible violence and horror against it.

There was also a battle against heresies throughout those early centuries, those teachings that sought to distort the historical truths of Christianity. In the beginning of the 21st century we see a resurgence of many of those heresies. What those who refuse to study these things fail to see, is that the traditional Christian beliefs are clear cut and free from the ‘weird and wonderful’. The New Testament accounts and teaching is free from mystical or weird teaching. It is very simple and straight forward and can be understood by anyone coming to God through Jesus Christ. There is no ‘special’ or ‘mystical’ knowledge required as the variety of heresies have demanded. The testimony of John in his letter that we have above, is that this was all about the eternal Son of God who had come, and who they had seen, heard and touched. This was as down to earth as is possible to get!

Possibly the biggest struggle that the church has had is within itself, with what the Bible calls ‘sin’, that tendency to self-centredness and godlessness. Thus the further history moved on from the life of Jesus and the early apostles, the greater the distortions and variations and mishandling by men involved in leadership in the Church. Thus we had one part of the Church growing up with a central focus at Rome while the eastern part grew under the focus at Constantinople. Eventually came what was referred to as the Great Schism where the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church split apart to go their separate ways.

Through the Dark Ages, abuses eventually so upset Martin Luther that we had the Protestant Reformation, the start of a return, away from tradition and abuses, back to Biblical Christianity. At various times in Church History in various places around the world, different areas experienced ‘revival’ where the sovereign working of God brought many people to know Him, often accompanied by signs and wonders.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, while much of the Church was suffering the ravages of liberal theologians, God came by His Spirit in California with the start of the Pentecostal wing of the church, emphasising the use of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12), now a strong worldwide movement. In the latter part of the twentieth century came a fresh emphasis on the teaching that the Church is the body of Christ. With this came charismatic renewal and the so-called restoration movement. In each of these movements can be seen, by those with eyes to see, the ongoing revelation of God to and through His church, confirming and affirming all that is found in the New Testament. 

The history of the Church has included:

a) a struggle to arrive at the truth of what happened two thousand years ago

  • in and through the life of Jesus Christ,
  • and its effects for us as human beings,
    by the early Church,

b) a diluting of that truth by the formation of human institutions and ideas of men, over the centuries,
c) a recovering of the biblical truths through the protestant reformation,

d) a recovering of the biblical life of the Spirit, by a variety of moves of God over the past hundred years.

In these notes we observed the gradual revelation of God through the first two books of the Bible which is echoed throughout the Old Testament. We briefly considered the greater revelation of God through His Son, Jesus Christ, and the effects of that on mankind. The ongoing battle is to hold onto the truth of the revelation of God through the Bible, and to counter the many distortions that we, the sinful human race, seem to manage to come up with about God, that are contrary to the Biblical revelation.