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!

 

21. Hope Restated

MEDITATIONS IN ISAIAH – No.21

Isa 10:24,25 “O my people who live in Zion , do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. Very soon my anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.”

The thing about Isaiah is that it is repetitious. There are a lot of warnings to either Israel or Judah , but there are also a lot of references to future hope. We have seen again and again (and we do need to keep on repeating it until we really understand and take it in) that it is not the Lord’s intention to destroy Israel/Judah completely. He simply wants to restore them to a place of blessing where, living in relationship with Him, they can receive all of His guidance and His goodness. The only trouble is that because He has given us free will He will not override that free will while we are on the earth. Thus if people have set their hearts to resist Him the only thing He is left being able to do is remove them from the picture and we become witnesses to their deaths. However we have also observed the bigger picture: that we all have to die sometime and there is an eternity to be faced after the very short time here upon earth. We also noted that the fact that, even the righteous (imperfect as they are) who remain here and are not destroyed by God for their sin, live by an act of His mercy and grace, but that is something that few of us realise.

It is in the light of all this that we face the challenge of Isaiah. The Lord has called this people into being to be recipients of His blessing and goodness, so that they can be a light to the rest of the world and that many others can come to know Him and similarly receive all of His goodness. But there is this stubbornness in many of them which refuses Him and is determined to go their own way. They ignore their history, ignore all the good things that God has done for them and ignore all His promises of blessing. Thus they reveal their foolishness, for it can be described as nothing less than that. All the while there is the minority who do remain faithful to the Lord and do reveal Him to others, but their testimony is being blocked by the majority. Thus we come to the words in the back part of chapter 10. A remnant, the righteous ones, will return to the Lord (10:21,22) and to them comes our verses above. The Lord’s anger against Israel will soon come to an end, for He will have completed His task of purging the nation, and so His focus will then be on dealing with Assyria.

Perhaps we need to briefly note something about the Lord’s ‘anger’ which is referred to again and again. For us as human beings, when we envisage an angry person we tend to see someone who has lost their temper and is releasing unrestrained hostility on another person. It is a violent emotional expression. When we come to consider the Lord, however, He never loses control. He is utterly in control. Nothing surprises Him for He is never caught out because He knows what is coming. He is never frustrated and doesn’t express anger as an expression of frustration, because He can do all things. Anger, in respect of the Lord, is distinct displeasure that is always directed against wilful sin. In every case where it is expressed, the object of the Lord’s anger should have known better and the anger is directed against that wilfulness.

Scholars suggest that when Jesus was at Lazarus’s tomb when he wept, there was also a dimension of anger against sin involved, that had brought about Lazarus’s premature death and the anguish for his sisters. Our anger has self as its origin; God’s anger has the sin of mankind which spoils or mars humanity as its origin. God’s anger in Isaiah is His displeasure against the sin of the majority that stops the minority being who they are designed to be. God’s anger or wrath is a cool, calm and collected emotion that is determined to remedy a wrong situation. It is perhaps better described as a determination rather than an emotion, although there is an emotional dimension to it. However, we will better understand it if we focus on the Lord’s set determination to bring His people through into a good place where they will, indeed, be the light to the world that He designed them to be.

Isaiah is communicating to a visual people, who do better with pictures than with mere words, and so we find this visual language to convey the end outcomes. When he speaks of what the Lord will do with Assyria he says, “The LORD Almighty will lash them with a whip, as when he struck down Midian at the rock of Oreb.” (10:26a) which just means, He will destroy Assyria in the same way He did Midian through Gideon, “and he will raise his staff over the waters, as he did in Egypt.” (10:26b) which means He will decree over them their destruction as He did over Pharaoh coming out of Egypt. In the verses that follow, Isaiah describes the oncoming Assyrian army getter closer and closer to Jerusalem (10:28-32), but then the Lord will cut them down (10:33,34). Much of Israel and Judah have been lopped down by this enemy in the hand of the Lord, so that only the faithful remnant will be left, and it is in the face of this picture, that Isaiah brings a further amazing picture of the Coming One in chapter eleven, but we’ll leave that until the next meditation.

Here again we have seen the outworking of the Lord’s disciplinary action in respect of this willfully disobedient foolish people. It is a controlled action and one only brought after plenty of warnings and plenty of time for consideration, and it is an action that clears away the disobedient while maintaining the faithful remnant. Fearfully awesome? Yes! But encouraging by hope? Yes, definitely! In the face of apparent impending disaster, this is very encouraging for those who are faithful and who remain strong in their belief in the Lord.

10. Be an Example

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 10

Job 4:1-3 Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient? But who can keep from speaking? Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands.

Job has just poured out his heart in anguish. He rues the day that he was born that allowed his life to develop to this day of pain. It’s a short-sighted cry but when you are in complete anguish that isn’t very surprising. When he comes to the end of his cry, there is a brief pause and then Eliphaz can’t hold himself back any longer. Remember, he is one of the three friends who have come to “sympathize with him and comfort him.” (2:11).

First of all he recognises that Job is in a state and therefore he launches out somewhat defensively: “If someone ventures a word with you, will you be impatient?” He knows that in Job’s state he might object to whatever comes. Yet, as we said, Eliphaz can’t hold himself back: “But who can keep from speaking?” Anyone watching you and listening to you Job, would want to help and say something, is what he is saying. This sounds just like a concerned friend but sometimes those who appeared concerned have another agenda!

See where he goes next: Think how you have instructed many, how you have strengthened feeble hands. Hullo? What is this saying? Think about where you’ve come from! See how he continues: “Your words have supported those who stumbled; you have strengthened faltering knees.” (v.4) It looks like he’s saying, think about the sort of man you’ve portrayed yourself as, a righteous man who can straighten out others. Where is this going? “But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed.” (v.5) That sounds like a clear rebuke that says, you should not be like that, does your past count for nothing? Have you not learnt from what you have taught others? It gets worse: “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (v.6) This sounds like a bit of a snide shot, as if to say, “if you are as righteous as you have thought you were, shouldn’t that be what you trust in?” Now that’s nasty because it could be taken in two ways. First, it is just as it comes and is therefore a challenge to snap out of it and trust in what he knows. Second, it could have an implied, barbed edge to it that suggests, well if this has happened to you, perhaps it shows that you were not as righteous as you thought!

That’s not nice! What do people in anguish need? Our church’s mission statement speaks of being a people that are “loving, accepting and caring.” It is that middle word that the person in anguish needs – acceptance. I remember once I was in rather a mess, mostly not of my making, but we needed help from outside and two people ‘helped’ us. One of them, when he first came, started out with, “Well, you blew it that time didn’t you!” As someone in deep anguish it wasn’t what I needed. The other man, fortunately, took me where I was and just lovingly accepted me and helped me through.

A couple of elderly good friends have loved and accepted us through the years and never uttered a single word of criticism. The hard nosed fundamentalists at this point say, “But you were probably wrong sometimes, you needed correcting!” No, I needed loving. I am a Christian and the Holy Spirit lives in me and He corrects me. When I am loved and accepted then I feel secure enough to come out from behind my defensive barriers and acknowledge failure and then let the Lord do His work. The second man and the elderly couple have almost certainly been the greatest agents for change in my life over the years. Why? Because they came without judgement and just loved and accepted us and their love has transformed us! We are utterly different people because of their love.

I sometimes see people from other churches, who live in an environment of harsh correction, living under preaching that is more focused on pointing out our failures than providing hope. For them Christianity is a struggle and guilt is always not far away. No, when we are struggling with life, we need hope and encouragement. When we are in the midst of a crisis we need loving acceptance that understands what we are going through. Eliphaz started out looking like he was there for Job, but his words had an edge that seemed judgmental.

We can all of us forget the fundamentals of life. Eliphaz pointed at Job’s past and assumed it made him less vulnerable in the present. It doesn’t matter who the great man of God is, we’re all vulnerable today. It’s not just the person who feels weak; Paul warned, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor 10:12). We are sometimes most vulnerable when we are feeling strong. The key point here though, is that even though you were strong last week, today we still need the Lord’s grace and protection just as much. Don’t ever take leaders for granted and think they don’t have the same struggles that you have; they do! Temptations come, potential crises arise, and anguish can be just over the horizon for any of us. Is this being negative about life? No, it is simply being real. There’s a whole lot more we could say in respect of guarding ourselves and getting the support of others in the body of Christ, but even the best of us come under pressure from the enemy.

A final point here, perhaps in preparation for what is coming: don’t make any assumptions about why a person is going through a crisis. We may jump to terribly wrong conclusions. Like Job it may be nothing to do with their sin. Yes, it may be because of their sin, but at that point they need gentle handling and heaven will be checking our motives and the way we speak: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal 6:1-3). There is enough there in those three verses to provide a week of meditations. Our goal – restore gently. Our danger – we might be tempted. Our approach – carry each other’s burden. Our folly – to think we are something better than others. Let’s learn how to be better comforters!