Craving Pure Spiritual Milk

Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-3, Psalm 34

IMG_3200

This is my little grandson, Cedar Rae Groenenboom. Today he is six and a half months old.

He has grown quite a lot. When we was born he was a scrawny little runt. Now, he looks like someone has slipped him into a Sumo suit. Just this last week he sprouted two front teeth. When we skype, he smiles at us. He’s sitting, clutching, started on solids. He is smarter and more handsome than any other child on the face of the earth.

All that growth happens naturally. Just feed him, and he packs it on. As followers of Jesus, we also a called to growth. And it would be good if our growth were as easy and as automatic as Cedar’s. But that is not the case.

Pure Spiritual Milk

God’s word says

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2, NIV)

What is this ‘spiritual milk’ and what is ‘growth’?

It’s at this point our ‘bible eyes’ kick in. These are the eyes that read something, assume you know what’s being referred to, and read on, without giving too much thought. So, we read verse 2, and think ‘right: that’s talking about reading the Bible, and hungering for God’s word…”

And we think it’s then calling us to a range of activities that centre on the Bible. Things like

  • Bible reading and personal devotions
  • Listening to podcasts: download great preachers onto your phone or tablet, and you’ve got iWorship and iGrowth anywhere as you drink your pure iMilk
  • Great reading: good Christian books. Seen Tim Keller’s latest? Looks like a cracker
  • Attend worship: sit under the word, get some great preaching under your belt

Now all these activities are good, obviously. And we should be doing a lot more of them. They are relevant to what this verse calls us to. But it’s only half right to suggest they are the totality of what is commanded here.

The problem – if you can call it that – is that they do not actually make us grow. They are a means to growth, for sure, but they do not bring us growth themselves. The distinction is important. Because there is only one thing that actually brings us growth. One thing that makes us alive. There is only one that saves, and it is Jesus.

That’s what Peter is saying here: crave Jesus. Crave him so much! Crave him because relationship with him is the only way you can grow, and live, and have the wherewithal to be people of hope in a hostile world. Crave Christ!

Christ alone both conceives and sustains the life of the new birth. They are to crave the Lord God for spiritual nourishment [Karen Jobes: 1 Peter]

As I said the distinction is important. Why?

  • Because we can read the word, love the word, but miss the ultimate Word, miss Jesus
  • We can enjoy podcasts, but we can love the speaker, even worship the speaker, more than the Jesus he speaks about
  • We can read good Christian literature, but miss the One which gives ultimate meaning to the story
  • We can love worship, love the singing, love prayer, love the act more than worship for the one true audience: the Triune God. [This is the one sole reason for any and every worship war: people lose sight of Christ, and make the form of worship their functional idol – but that’s another sermon]

Crave pure spiritual milk. Crave Jesus. Crave the life only he can give. Crave him above everything else. Only he can bring you life. Only he can bring you growth.

Crave it

Which brings us to the primary command of this passage:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk

The picture is of a newborn: she seeks the breast instinctively, eagerly, incessantly. She won’t rest until she’s sated, and then she’ll slip into blissful milk coma. Crave like that.

Consider the overwhelming urge for a favourite food, we call that a craving. Two of the most craved foods in the western world are, of course, chocolate and crispy bacon. Unhappily, bacon has recently fallen out of favour as it may ever so slightly increase the risk of cancer. Dark chocolate, however, is known to contain substances that attack free radicals, and so reduce one’s risk of cancer. So it turns out if you eat bacon, and then have chocolate for dessert, even everything will be ok. [Actually, I have basically made this up, and the paragraphs above is only anecdotal, and is not supported by any scientific evidence whatsoever]

But we know about craving: It’s urgent. Overpowering. And you’ll want that desire to be satisfied.

So, taking into account what I’ve said before, this command is calling us to crave Jesus. To crave his life. To crave his grace.

Does ‘craving’ along the lines of what we have discussed in any way describe your attitude to Jesus?

The question is: Does ‘craving’ along the lines of what we have discussed in any way describe your attitude to Jesus? Does that describe what was in your mind when you walked into this place of worship?

I just want to honour Jesus!
I just want to be drawn into his love and grace!
I want to be nourished by Christ!

That’s what God is saying to us today: crave Jesus! Only he can nourish you, and bring you growth! Your growth in Jesus, growing up in him, becomes the criteria by which all your attitudes, actions, and shared life are evaluated.

Does this help me see Jesus more clearly?

Does this help me love Jesus more dearly?

Does this help us follow him more nearly?

This is why Peter starts negatively. Because if you want to grow in Christ there are a number of things that will stunt your growth:

“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1, NIV)

  • Where maybe someone would say they love the church, but they gossip behind the scenes.
  • Or where they celebrate someone’s giftedness, but in their heart they are green with envy.
  • Or they make out they are people of integrity, but are actually engaged in shonky practices or secret immorality.

If you seriously crave Jesus, you won’t have any part in those things. Why? Because knowing Jesus and growing up in him becomes the criteria by which everything is evaluated.

So, think about how you are nourished, with others, in Christ.

  • This is why we have Home Groups. Think about why you go. The goal is not to know more per se. The goal is not to connect with others per se. The goal is to see Jesus, to know Jesus, to share Jesus, to encourage others in Jesus.
    • Are your discussions drawing you deeper into Jesus?
  • Think about Bible Reading. Many struggle here. Want to know why? Sometimes it’s because we are not praying to see Jesus in his word – who does that? Who prays that simple prayer “Lord, as I read, help me to see who you really are, nourish me with the life only you can give.” There are some steps you can take with others to see Jesus more clearly in his Word
    • Start a discussion group around that goal. Do it online. People spend hours on FB – why not online Bible discussions? A place where you can chat with others specifically about what you’re reading and how it reveals Jesus. A few suggestions
      • Faithlife.com – this is good online Bible software, developed by the Logos group. If you get the app, you can make comments right out of the Bible Reading app into your online community
      • Join Gateway Online Community and join the discussion
    • Facebook: If you must use Facebook, why not follow Gateway’s Advent readings. These readings will lead you through Old Testament and New Testament passages that will focus your mind on the coming of Jesus into our world. Seriously, there is so much Christmas rubbish out there, and we are so busy, it would be a smart thing for us all to do this. It’s like taking a pure spiritual milk chill pill…
  • Sunday Worship. Craving Jesus should be the frame we have when we meet with our Christian brothers and sisters, although it rarely is.
    • What were you actually thinking about when you were driving to worship today? Some where thinking about the stress at home to get ready, others thinking that they’d rather be somewhere else – is it any wonder worship does often do it for us? Most of the time we get the worship our hearts expect, and that ain’t often good for us or glorifying to God
    • If ever there was a Sunday morning prayer, or something to pray while you’re driving to worship, it is “Lord, be my focus. Let me worship you. Honour you. Pray to you. Give to you.” That is a prayer for true Christ-centred worship, right? When that is our attitude, we don’t even have to pray for blessing, because when Christ is at the centre, you cannot help but be blessed in the worship you bring.
  • Crave times of thanksgiving together. We need to find times to tell the stories of how God has blessed us. Or share how the Scriptures have comforted you. Or celebrate how Jesus has forgiven you! Why is it that we do not often hear people speak of their challenges, their burdens, their joys and victories, and how Jesus impacts on those experiences?

As these things draw is into Christ, they are mother’s milk! Crave it! Desire it! Seek those opportunities. Let’s do what we can to turn this church into a powerhouse of nourishment.

Grow up in your salvation

That’s the thing: we want to grow!

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation,” (1 Peter 2:2, NIV)

We’ve tasted the goodness of God’s glorious grace in Jesus, and we want to grow! In terms of New Testament language, growth in Jesus is always something we do with others, and it is always angled toward maturity.

That is,

  • the full expression of Christ’s character in my life, and
  • the full expression of God’s will for community in the church

For any Christian and for any church this is challenge and privilege. Challenge because we have to let go of stuff that is less important to do that which is supremely important. It might be letting go of some TV time to get to a Home Group. Or letting go of some luxury items to give intentionally to the church. Or letting go of my selfishness, so I can sensitively listen to others, encourage them and pray for them. Or managing my time differently so I can meet with others, and we can together draw one another into a deeper walk with Jesus. As a church community, it might be letting go of some traditions that keep us from growing up in our salvation.

But it’s also a privilege, because when you start to grow up in your salvation, when you’re working it out with fear and trembling, when you get this sense of growing together, of sharing together in new community, it’s brilliant! When we move toward greater spiritual health, when we’re praying for one another, working together toward better ministry and mission, when we’re driven to depend on Jesus more – together – there is no better place, so more stimulating community than the church!

Paul gave his life to the goal of a mature church:
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28–29, NIV)

You probably know Paul was a man of great learning and spiritual depth. But even he knew that on his own he could never reach the maturity God desired for him. His prayer is his admission:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:16–19, NIV)

The only way we will grow up in our salvation is with one another, seeking pure spiritual milk, Christ himself. And then to seek the very things that draw us deeper into him, together.

As we read in Psalm 34, we’ve tasted, and we know the Lord is good. Today, God is calling you to grow up into Christ. To be nourished by Him.
Don’t stop at the first taste… You need to let go of some things. And you need to embrace Jesus, and start doing things that draw you deeper into him.

You are not alone: He has given his Spirit who will empower you to change, to grow, to be nourished by Christ.

You can taste it, right? That desire to grow, that overwhelming urge to have a more Christ centred life, that hunger to be in a wonderfully restored community, bringing to expression the life Christ himself has put in you. May Christ himself satisfy us as we crave this life in Him together.

How Should Christians Respond to Terrorist Attacks?

Paris

Read: Romans 12:9-21

Seeing the images coming out of Paris in the last 24 hours has been confronting and disturbing. As these events were unfolding, there was an world class cricket match being played at the WACA in Perth. And I thought: what if an attack happened there?

So, I was asking questions: Are we safe? What should we do? What should Christians say and think as they respond to Da’esh sponsored violence?

I want to mention three or four things we must do, and three or four things we must not do. Some of these were inspired by Ed Stetzer’s recent post on The Exchange . I have used Ed’s heading, though written my own content. This message was written late Saturday after I had fully completed a message for the Hope Eternal series – we’ll get to that some other time. So, I am indebted to Ed for the idea… thank you, brother.

So, how can Christians respond to acts of terror?

As this question is framed, let’s remember that his past week saw terrorist attacks in other places, including Lebanon. Earlier this year, after the first attack in France at Charlie Hebdo, a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria saw 2000 deaths. Compared to the press attention on France, these other attacks received little attention in Australian media. Two things: 1) terrorist attacks like e saw in Paris are very common in some parts of the world, and 2) our press is quite selective in what is presented. We don’t have to get all suspicious about that: no news service will cover everything.

These realities serve to show that our response needs to be more than occasional. we need to draw these responses into our everyday living as followers of Jesus.

So, back to the question: How can Christians respond to increasing prevalence of terror attacks?

1.Pray

It is for no small reason that Paul, persecuted and in prison, writes to his Christian friends in Philippi

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7, NIV)

More than any other time, when our hearts are full of fear, we must be a praying people. We call out to the One who knows all, sees all, rules all, and we have the assurance that our powerful God will hear us.

Psalm 116:1-6

Get together with people and pray. Pray for our world. Pray for Paris. Pray that Da’esh evil will be brought to nothing and our world will be rid of it. Pray that Christ will rule people through grace, love, mercy and selflessness.

2.Love the hurting

Jesus, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, reminds us that anyone who is in need, anyone who is hurting, should receive our love, mercy and attention.

We know the story: Samaritans hated Jews. Jews hated Samaritans. But Jesus tells this parable to show us that when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion.

when God rules hearts, hate is replaced with compassion

We may not know anyone hurting as a direct result of these attacks. Pray for the hurting anyway. And find some way to express that. If you use social media, Tweet like a Christian and tell people you’re praying for the hurting.

3.Love your enemies

Do you sometimes think we are becoming less tolerant and gracious? I do. And some comments in social media have confirmed that thought for me. I have seen Christians posting garbage on facebook, whipping up a frenzy of clicktivism against Muslims in particular.

Seriously friends, we shake the fist and give the finger way too easily. And it’s ugly. It drags the name of Jesus through the foulest of human mud.

Read the Scriptures: Jesus never said we should get angry or get even. Jesus never said we should talk about lining them all up and shooting them. Remember: that is what they would do to us.

Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. …” (Matthew 5:43–48, NIV)

To be honest, I am finding it very hard to pray for the perpetrators of these acts, or Isis/Da’esh. But Jesus commands me to pray for them. So I will pray they will be overcome, by the grace of God. I pray they would see how Jesus transforms people by grace. I pray they will see that fear and terror cannot win.

Think of early Christian martyrs. Thrown to wild beasts. Burned at the stake. Stories of Polycarp being burned, and yet singing hymns as the fire was set around his feet. Think of Jesus, as he was being crucified, praying “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” There’s our model, friends. Let us go and do likewise, and let us do that together.

4.Live good lives

It’s no coincidence that we have been studying 1 Peter in the Hope Eternal series. Peter wrote to persecuted people. They were hated, maligned and misunderstood. His advice? Keep living godly lives in the public square. Don’t retreat to the bunker. Keep doing good. Keep wearing the grace of Jesus on your sleeve.

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12, NIV)

Think about that when terror strikes: Keep living good lives, Gospel hearted behaviour. Let the love of the King be seen in the people of his Kingdom.

How do Jesus’ people respond to terror? To the horror of Paris?

Romans 12:14–21 (NIV)

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ kingdom, quite clearly, is not of this world, but it is our prayer that, living in his likeness and to his glory, our world will be transformed and evil will be undone.

There are some things to do. Here are a few things not to do:

1.Do not hate people

Do not hate people. It’s a fine line, but when Paul says “hate what is evil” he’s talking about actions and behaviour, not people. Even so, we need to guard our heart here.

Hatred, especially in the face of terror, feels good. There’s something about indignation that will sometimes strangely warm us. But it’s a slippery emotion.

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12, NIV)

The Gospel transforms hatred into a love that seeks Gospel good and Gospel change:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)

Remember Christian, we know how all this will end. It won’t be with the destruction of the church, or with the Christian faith being eradicated. Jesus’ promise is that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

His promise is that a day is coming when

“They will neither harm nor destroy on [the Lord’s] holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9, NIV)

In the words of 20th century Christian martyr, Martin Luther King Jr,

The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice

And again

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive our hate: only love can do that.

Vengeance belongs to God, and he will defend and vindicate his faithful ones. Believe this and make it your comfort.

2.Don’t blame refugees

It did not take long for some to associate the attacks in Paris with the refugee crisis. Seriously! It was not refugees who mounted the attacks. It was Da’esh. The refugees we tend to see, the refugees our country puts in detention camps, are people fleeing what we saw in Paris.

We are one with refugees, friends. All of us run from these attacks. Let’s not allow the uninformed opinions of some be all we see in this picture.

The Bible reminds us ver directly: God has his eye on refugees, and how we treat them. His people were refugees from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon, from Rome, from Hitler, from Stalin, from the Iron & Bamboo curtains. His own dear son and his family were refugees from Herod. (A few days after I preached this message, my sister created this meme – great work Jo!) …

Refugees n Christmas

 

Christians should be the first to respond in grace.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34, NIV)

3. Don’t blame Muslims

Bracketing all Muslims with Da’esh is like saying all Christians are KKK. It’s like saying because some Christian institutions have been places of abuse, that all Christians are abusers of children.

We believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. We want Muslims to come to know Jesus, (and they want us to know the prophet). But we must not answer injustice with prejudice. The Paris attacks were the work of extremists using Islam for their own evil ends.

4. Do not call for war on Islam

To do so is to embark on a Christian Jihad, our own holy war, a crusade. And that is repaying evil with evil, all the worse because we lump all Muslims together. When we do this we do the very thing Da’esh is doing to us.

The truth: everyone needs Jesus

The Gospel is about the transformation of the world under Jesus’ rule.

Jesus’ Kingdom is not perpetuated by fear or violence.

Jesus’ Kingdom is advanced through love, peace and selflessness in his people.

Jesus Kingdom transforms our world one life at a time, as people bow they knee, coming under his grace, and live in his likeness.

The impact of his Kingdom in people is described as fruit:

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

And when people like you and I come under Christ’s Lordship, we have new life, we are given a new start, and we start to live a miracle of grace:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

As Da’esh shows the world the face of terror, Christians must show the world the face of Christ.

In the day of terror, He is our hope. Christ in us, the hope of glory!

We see the horror, and we weep. But we know, in the end, Christ’s love will win.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails….” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8, NIV)

A Prayer

Compassionate God and Father of all,

We are horrified at violence

In so many parts of the world

It seems that none are safe

And some are terrified,

others grieving lost loved ones, and lost freedom

 

Hold back the hands that kill and maim

Turn around the hearts that hate

Remove the scourge of evil from our cities

And from our world.

 

Grant instead your powerful spirit of peace

Peace won in the cross of Christ our King

Peace that came through persecution and violence

 

Help us remember that nothing can separate us from your love

That you are with us always

That Christ’s life in us is our power to be

A people of good and a people for good

 

Keep us from prejudice, from judgemental attitudes

From superiority, and from living in fear

 

And until Christ returns,

May we live as new creation, fleeing sin

Walking in newness of life

That people everywhere will know

That because of Jesus

Our world belongs to God.

 

 

 

Love One Another Deeply – Group Study Questions

1 Peter 1:22–25 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For,

“All people are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;

the grass withers and the flowers fall,

25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

1 Corinthians 13:1–8a (NIV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails.

Discussion questions

1. “Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. Love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.”

  • Where have you see these vertical and horizontal aspects working in harmony together? What were some of the outcomes?

2. “Sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.”

  • What do you think about this statement? What Bible passages might underpin this assertion? What might this mean for how your church or Christian community operates?

3. Do you agree with the statement that we tend to underestimate God’s power to bring new life to expression in our lives (See Romand 6:1-4)? What are the common ways we do this?

4. “Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4). God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power! Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!”

  • Discuss this statement
  • Assuming you are in agreement, how would applying these truths impact on how your church or Christian community goes about its mission and ministry?

5. What specific actions will you take to love your brothers and sisters in Christ more sincerely?

6. What specific steps does your church need to take to be a more intentional community of sincere love?

Love One Another Deeply

Hope-Eternal---MM

1 Peter 1:22-25

I bet there isn’t a single person here who has not received an email from someone in Africa, claiming to be the wife of a recently assassinated national figure. She has access to millions, and despite the existence of Swiss banks and Fort Knox, out of every person on the face of the earth, she thinks the best person to trust with all her millions is actually you. You will have looked at that email and said “Is this for real?”

Or you go down to the car yard, and the salesman offers you more for your trade in than you know you can get in a private sale. You’ll think about that and ask yourself, “Is this for real?”

Or you’re down at the Fremantle markets, and you’re looking at the watches. They have all the great brands Tag Heuer, Rolex, Casio. The prices are unbelievably cheap. You’ll be wondering, “Are they for real?”

Now, people look at the church, they hear words about life, a fresh start, and transformation, and you know what are they asking?

“Is this for real?”

The Prescription

If you’re wondering how to spot authentic Christianity, Peter’s words are just what you need to hear. They open our eyes to the very thing that shows whether Christians are genuine.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:22–23, NIV)

Love is the mark of the Christian. Love identifies true community from false community. Love strengthens relationship and authenticates witness.

Of course, love can be a variety of things: Altruistic love. Brotherly love. Erotic love. The love commanded here, however, is a sacrificial, selfless love. This is the love of decision. A commitment. A covenant to love despite the cost, despite rebuke, despite rejection. It is unconditional, and in many ways, unconventional. It’s a love demonstrated in God’s saving acts in Jesus. A love that goes to rebels, to enemies. It restores relationship. It builds togetherness. It develops oneness where there is division. It makes friends out of sinners.

Peter is saying to his readers: now that you are purified and holy through Jesus, there is one core reality to operate in. One central behaviour to show Christ is living in you. One thing that matters above all: love one another.

As Jesus had said some years before

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34–35, NIV)

See, Christianity is cruciform. There’s the vertical dimension where we love God with all our heart, soul mind and strength. We believe him. He honour him. We trust him. We love him.

There’s also the horizontal dimension: love your neighbour as yourself. We’re compassionate, friendly, considerate, gracious.

Here’s the deal: love for God demands love for others. Being joined to God in faith means being joined to others in love. When God’s people love one another deeply, it’s like a new reality, new creation is born. It doesn’t get any better.

We also know the fall is still around us and in us. Christians fail each other. Communities of love can become contexts of pain and hurt. And then it’s easy to pull away, and just seek to do faith on our own. And that’s an easy option these days. If you listen to podcasts, you can have Tim Keller one day, John Piper the next, followed by John Ortberg, Matt Chandler, David Platt – your whole week can be immersed in the world’s best preachers. You can bail out of church and do it all at home. But the problem is that on your own, all you’ve got to love is yourself. And that is far from what the Lord calls you to in these verses. Loving God is never merely an individual thing. You can’t be a lone ranger in the kingdom of Jesus. Life with Jesus cannot be lived apart from Jesus’ community. Additionally, if we withdraw when we’re hurt, the hurt is never healed, it’s multiplied. Dragged deeper within, it becomes bitter and ugly.

Yet, when Jesus’ people love each other deeply, Christian community becomes the context of growth and healing where hurt and resentment can become a catalyst for growth and restoration. So: Love one another deeply, from the heart.

It’s your purpose

Second: we need to love deeply because it’s a core purpose of God in saving us. Loving others deeply is not an option. It’s not something that some people are good at or gifted in, while others aren’t. It is core behaviour for the followers of Jesus. Check out that first section of v.22:

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other…” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

Christ has purified us so that we can love sincerely. Christ is doing a work in you. He’s making his love overflow. A love that is active, persistent and practical. It’s expressed in relationships, in what we think about one another, how we help one another, how we bless one another, how we serve one another.

I started the sermon with the question of authenticity. How do we know if it’s the real deal? How do you spot the true church? Surprisingly, sincere love for each other is the sole distinguishing characteristic of Gospel community. Not truth. Not doctrine. Not systems of church government. Not your affiliation. Not the level of your commitment or the amount of your tithe. These are all important, but if you do not have sincere love, it’s irritating, useless and ultimately destructive.

God has chosen the church, us, to show the world what sincere love really is. At Gateway Church we have just renewed our commitment to grow healthy Gospel community.

GCC Vision Template

We want to be a church where there’s sincere love, where the Gospel is seen. A place where we both live and proclaim Christ’s love for sinners. Where that love is expressed as his people love each other. Where it’s reflected in their love for their world.

Where this sincere love is seen the Gospel is more easily heard and believed and accepted. Where sincere love exists, every anti Christian argument, every attack on the church, is blunted. Where that sincere love persists in the face of attack, those attacks are neutralised. When sincere love thrives, anti Christ is overcome and the flaming arrows of the evil one are extinguished.

I saw last week that Richard Dawkins tweeted an article from the Economist suggesting a religious upbringing diminished generosity.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 6.05.11 PM

What ahistorical piffle. Dawkin’s thought bubble doesn’t even have a rim. It’s nothing. It’s air.

History shows us that sincere love drove the church to mission, to compassion, to cultural advancement. Churches started hospitals, churches developed public education. Christians like William Wilberforce worked to abolish the trans atlantic slave trade. Christians continue today, through the work of organisations like International Justice Mission, to repair broken systems of justice, to stop the violence that perpetuates the poverty of the developing world.

Why do they do this? Because when Jesus rules people, when they are purified through his precious blood, all they can do is love sincerely! That has to be the outcome. It has to work. It cannot not work.

It’s God empowered

Hang on, you say. It cannot not work? Is this for real?

I look at myself and I acknowledge my weakness. We are imperfect. And look around, we can see plenty of contexts where it does not work well. True: this sincere love is not going to be perfect this side of heaven, but we do need to think through what Peter is saying.

First, as we’ve already seen, this love is purposed by God. And what God purposes will come about. Second, this love is commanded by God to people he lives in by his Spirit.

God never commands his people to do an impossible task. When he commands us to “love one another deeply, from the heart” he’s only enjoining what he already empowers. Check it out:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23–25, NIV)

Love one another deeply, from the heart (why?) … You have been born again or imperishable seed…

The Perth summer is fast approaching. Coming Saturday the temperature will be some 37C. For the last few months we have been working on our lawn. Enriching it with water retention material. Organic material. Other substances that retain goodness. Keeping the water up. Because if we don’t, we know the harsh summer is going to transform our green lawn into crunchy brown nothingness.

Peter wants us to know people a like grass. Soft and green one day. Brown and crunchy the next. People don’t last. Their efforts often come to nothing.

But when God acts savingly in people’s lives, he begins to transform human weakness – your weakness – by the power of his risen son.

Christians don’t just bear fruit. With Jesus living in them they bear fruit that will last. When God saves people, they move from the realm of the mortal, to the realm of the immortal.

““I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24, NIV84)

There’s no denying: we’re not in heaven yet. We still fail, and fall, and our love is imperfect. (That’s obvious, otherwise it wouldn’t have to be commanded.) By the same token, I think we underestimate the power of our great God in us.

It’s why in our tradition we’re often short on prayer (which times do you gather specifically for prayer?). It’s why we get worried and anxious when things don’t work out – we think we’ve got to do it all. We react as if God is not in the picture. It’s why the most discussed half of the glass can often be the empty half…

But God is saying, loving this way is not about your limitations. It’s not about you being fallen. It’s not about you perishing. It’s about my living and enduring word doing the very thing that I purposed it to do. It’s about the love and grace and mercy of Jesus doing the very thing I intended it to do in you! It’s about the word that has not only been proclaimed to to, you’ve received it, believed it, it has taken root, and it is bearing fruit.

Christian you are not the same as the unsaved, powerless, sinful person you were before Jesus entered your life! Just as Christ was raised from the dead to the glory of the father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4)

God is saying: here’s my prescription, I have saved you for this very purpose, and you can do this, I will do this through you, you can obey my call in my power!

Jesus frees us to be a community of sincere love, deep love, because the God of love has redeemed us with the precious blood of his son!

“Love one another deeply, from the heart”

People talk about body language. You look at how a person is sitting and you can gauge their level of interest. If someone is in the meeting and they lean back with their hands on their head, we all know they think they’ve got the whole thing down and they may be feeling pretty superior. Body language. You can look at body language and get a reasonably accurate idea if what’s going on inside.

Guess what: Sincere love is the body language of the people of God, those who have been born with the imperishable word of God. You observe the sincere love of the people of God and you know what’s happening on the inside! God is at work, and they have been born again with imperishable seed! They are loving each other because they both love God and have been loved by him through Jesus.

Challenge:

So: is there enough sincere love here? Are we maxed out on love? Didn’t think so.

And the question, therefore, is what specific action will you take to start loving your brothers and sisters more?

I know: There’s always stuff that others can do more of, or less of. But this is about you. You and God. He has purposed this love to overflow from your life. So, what steps will you take to make that happen?

You in a home group? Discuss this question. Wrestle with it. Ask yourselves: do what you can to show more love in that context? Who’s on the sideline? Who’s fragile? Who’s in need? Speak into that. Love into that. Do something in love for them.

You’re not in a home group? Best reconsider. How can you love your brothers and sisters if you’re limiting the contexts where that love can be seen and felt and demonstrated? You’re too busy? Too tired? Best reconsider. We all get the same number of hours, and many are time poor. Instead of adjusting contexts of sincere love out of your schedule, adjust other components of your schedule to develop contexts of sincere love. Others will be the better for it, and so will be your heart.

Your church: what specific steps will you take to make your church more a place of love? Where people go out of their way to love? Where they forget about their own interests, and look to the interests of others? How will you start to do that, or extend that?

What will you change to better enfold people on the fringe? People in need? Sincere love says I can do something about that. Visit some people. Ask them around for a  BBQ or a Coffee. Steak and caffeine – what a wonderful ministry of love! See, it doesn’t have to be hard.

Like the eternal seed that started it all in us, the love and mercy of Jesus, such acts last forever.

When it gets tough, when things fall apart, the fact that God’s imperishable seed is at work in us will be our only hope, our only comfort, and our one reason for bringing glory to Jesus.

When that sincere love is good, it will be very good fruit. Those actions and events will be tasty kingdom morsels. We’ll taste them and instead of saying ‘Is this for real?’ we’ll say to ourselves ‘This is great, let’s have some more.’

Holiness: Why It’s Worth It – Group Study Questions

Read: 1 Peter 1:17-21

This section starts with the idea of God’s impartial judgement. What are your thoughts or feelings about standing before God as judge? Does this idea bring you hope or despair? How does this thought encourage you to live a holy life?

Read Philippians 3:4b-11

When Paul looks at all his past (pre-conversion) achievements as learned Pharisee, he regards it as skubala – filthy dung, excrement, rotten rubbish. Does that mean there was no good at all in that he did? Do we need to say that everything we do outside of Christ is filth? What of the world’s great achievers who are not Christians? What are we really to understand about the assertions in Phil 3:8 and 1 Peter 1:18?

Moving back to 1 Peter, in what sense can you relate to Peter’s words about a past life of emptiness? Give that Peter’s words might be read as somewhat strong, how might you use what Peter says in an evangelistic context?

Peter’s three reasons for living a life of reverent fear revolve around 1) Judgement 2) Emptiness of one’s former life and 3) the cost of redemption. Which of these is most powerful and compelling for you? Which of these is most inclined to elicit change in the lives of others?

Share one area where God is challenging you to changed behaviour or attitudes, and then pray for one another as you close.

Through the week encourage, support and pray for one another as you embark on the path of holiness Christ is calling you into.

Holiness: Why It’s Worth It

Hope-Eternal---MM

Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-21

Why should I?

Why do I put up with this?

If you’ve ever heard them, it would have been at a time when things were tough and our fuse is short. They are words breathed and prayed when Christians react against God’s call. I’ve heard them when I’ve challenged a husband to stay faithful. I’ve heard them from a young woman bent on destructive choices. And Peter’s readers may have breathed them. They were under great pressure. Following Jesus was proving to be a costly decision.

These words may even have been on your lips: in the heat of challenge, in a moment of desperation, when it all seemed too much.

Why should I put up with this?

Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind

Peter mentions three powerful reasons which comprise a compelling rationale for a life of reverent fear. To keep living God’s way. To stay on the path of holiness. The first of Peter’s reasons is found in v.18

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV)

Peter’s challenge is to think about the futile life you’ve left behind. Eugene Peterson gets a little more into our faces, calling it the ‘dead-end, empty headed life you grew up in’.

That’s about an 8/10 on the arrogance scale, right? Why live God’s way? Because your old life was futile. Vain. Empty.

Is this true of you? Perhaps more than you realise. Maybe you’d say you were only trying to get ahead and be financially secure. But perhaps your trust was in your wealth. You had made security your idol, and you trusted yourself to deliver it. Money is a good good, but it makes a lousy god. And so it’s useless as a doorway to hope. What’s all your money going to do when you’re on your death bed? What will your cash do for your feelings of guilt, or failure?

Another scenario: Your life has revolved around your kids, setting them up, meeting their wants and needs. Maybe you’d say you were just loving your family, wanting the best for them, and doing what every good parent should. Then again, maybe your sense of purpose, worth and significance was invested in your family. Loving your family is good. Making your family god isn’t. Seeking your security and significance in your children places all sorts of expectations on them, and doing so will never really deliver the love and security you ultimately seek.

We could go on. We could talk about how people numb life’s frustration and pain with alcohol. Or shopping. Or hoarding. Or aggression. Or secret relationship. Or overeating. Or a constant yearning for affirmation.

That’s the deceit of the human heart, isn’t it? It takes what’s good, and makes it god. It lets us down every time. That’s sin for you: it promises the world and delivers nothing. It’s futility. Worthlessness. Uselessness.

So, Peter is saying, “sure, it may be tough. But what is best? A wholesome life of eternal purpose even though it may be tough, or an easier existence in the here and now that will never deliver what you seek?”

This was something Paul knew all about, too. He had dedicated a large portion of his life to seeking God’s approval and the approval of others through scrupulous religious devotion. His peers at the time agreed: this man has made it.

Then, Paul met Jesus. Or rather, Jesus met Paul. And Paul realised all he’d been trying to do, had in Christ, already been done. The perfection he was very unsuccessfully trying to maintain had already been met. He looked back, observed all his supposed achievement, and said “it’s all useless, empty, futile.” In fact, he went further: Paul used the Meatybites rule. You know, you put the meatybites in one end of the dog, and what comes out the other end? The word translated as ‘garbage’ is skubala (see Philippians 3:8). It can mean garbage, but that is a little sanitised. Dung, stinking refuse, or other forms of offensive waste are more in view.

He was making a very humbling confession: When I look at all my achievements, my obsession with religious devotion before Jesus, everything I had ever done, even though everyone else saw it as perfect and blameless, I now recognise it now as poop.

Now, when you’ve been striving for perfection all your life, but all it has achieved is poop, that is futility. And it’s a pleasure to be rescued from it.

By Jesus as Redeemer, God has rescued people from the futility of trying to fill their own lives with hope and meaning. He has delivered us from the terrible worthlessness of glaring imperfection. So we live in holy, reverent fear in honour of our great redeemer.

Think about where you’re headed

So, (1) think about the useless stuff you’ve left behind. And, (2) think about where you’re headed:

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17, NIV)

The God who has become your Father in Christ is also your Judge. One day you will stand before him.

Think about that.

Carefully.

See, sometimes we think that Christians will not be judged. That the errors of our ways will remain undisclosed. That our secret and concealed sins will never be known. Well, they are known. They are known to God, Christian, and one day you will stand before him.

That’s serious, isn’t it?

Yes, God is our father. He is gracious and loving. He gave his one and only son for us. We’re redeemed. Forgiven. Cleansed and free. But the day will come when we all stand before him. Paul writes:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NIV)

When we stand before the judgement seat, what excuses will wash there? Do you think it will work to blame others, or circumstances, then? What good will it be to delete the history then, on that day when all secrets will be laid bare?

Our father is also our judge, and an impartial one at that. Just because we are children of the father does not mean we are free to live however we like. Think of your earthly father. When you did that thing that made him so angry. Did you ever try the ‘hey, you can’t give me a beating because I’m your son!’ No, it’s actually because you are my son that I can utilise the ‘board of education.’

Fathers impose boundaries. The Christian who has been born again of the Father must live in fact as a child of God. If those boundaries are ignored, resisted or rejected, there will be a day of reckoning.

So, think about your life. Consider your behaviour. It needs to be holy. And you know there are bits that aren’t. This has not escaped God’s attention. One day you will stand before him to give account for everything you have done.

Yes, in Christ, forgiven.

Yes, in Christ, guilt has been atoned.

Yes, in Christ, no condemnation – punishment has been taken.

Yes, in Christ, raised to life.

Yes, in Christ, new heart, new soul, new beginning.

But we will still all stand before the living Lord of all, the creator God, the Righteous Father, and he will ask us to give account for the things we have done.

So, why should you? Why follow? Why live a holy life? Just think about where we are all headed. We will all stand before the Judge to give account for everything we have done. So walk in godly, reverent fear.

Remember: God has given you all the guidance you need: v.12 You have heard the Gospel. You have the Word. It’s a lamp to your feet and a light to your path. v.2 You have the Spirit. He is sanctifying you, leading into holiness, drawing the glorious character of Jesus to gloriously beautiful expression in your life.

Think about what it cost

So, (1) Think about the emptiness you’ve left behind, (2) Remember: you’ll stand before the Judge. Two powerful reasons. But Peter’s final point is the clincher:

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

Why live a holy life? Think about what it cost God bring you into it. It wasn’t silver. It wasn’t gold. Which, incidentally, is how they used to redeem slaves in Peter’s day. The slave would be taken to the temple of one of the gods on that region. Money would be paid, theoretically to the god, but passed on to the slave owner. After that, the slave would be recognised as free because he had been redeemed by that deity. So Peter’s non-Jewish readers would have clearly understood the image.

His Jewish readers would also know the Old Testament redemption imagery:

“… it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8, NIV)

As good as the exodus story is, it is dwarfed by the ultimate redemption of the Cross. The Passover was fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. The blood of the lamb meant the redemption of the people of God.

Why should I? Because you’ve been redeemed at great price.

“… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” (1 Peter 1:18–19, NIV)

I wonder: Have you ever really thought that through? The depth of God’s love in Christ? His eternal desire to free you from sin and bring you to life?

Think: Would you lay down your life for a family member? What about someone down the street? Or a stranger? An indigenous person? A refugee?

Jesus did more. Considerably more. He poured out his precious blood for rebels, for sinners, for people who hated him, for these very people who crucified him.

So, He did this for me? Then the only question is: where do I sign up? How could I not live a life of reverent godly fear? Why would I not want your glorious, gracious new life character to overflow from mine?

Think of what it cost your Saviour, friends!

And the amazing footnote Peter makes is that God has planned your holiness, your obedience, your redemption, from before the creation of the world.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20–21, NIV)

The world was in wretched sin, rebellion and futility. Broken with a humanity that rejected him. Screwed up his image. Killed his prophets. Rejected his messengers. Crucified his own dear son. But the Father’s heart is to restore his world, to mend the broken and ravaged world human sin had brought.

Your God knew and planned the complete program of redemption even down to the detail of making you a part of it. Grafting you into the vine, reconciling you through his son, and drawing you into his family, making you an heir, putting his Spirit in you, and all of that with the one goal that his broken and twisted image in you would, through Jesus, be gloriously redeemed, restored and eventually recreated in all its beauty.

Why should you? Knowing this, how could you not? Because you mattered to God, living in godly fear should matter to you.

It matters that you live in the fullness of his holiness. It may mean you’ll the flack like a refugee in a foreign land, living his way, revealing his character, in the full beauty of godly reverent fear. But it’s worth it. Look at what you’ve left. Look at where you’re headed. And look at the cost to Jesus.

You cannot find a more compelling reason for us to be holy as our great God is holy.

From Hope to Holiness – Group Study Questions

Share a few stories about times when you were really focussed on achieving a very important goal. What was it like to be so focussed? How did it impact on your life and relationships?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-16

Looking at the passage above, what does Peter want his readers to focus on?

If they follow Peter’s call, what impact might this have on their lives?

Thinking about our culture, what might the average people in our neighbourhood expect a ‘holy person’ to look like?

What does a holy life look like according to Peter?

What does this mean in concrete practical terms for a) individuals?    b) local churches?

What would your church community need to do differently for such holiness to come to greater expression?

For Peter’s readers, living a holy life would have come with many challenges and risks. Looking at the context of these verses, what would have given them strength and resolve to face these challenges courageously?

When God Keeps us Guessing – Group Study Questions

Introduction

Peter wrote his letter in a time of great challenge and uncertainty. People were suffering for following Jesus. It was hard. Some had been exiled to strange lands, leaving family members and livelihood behind. Others had lost their lives. Our finely honed sense of justice would have us demanding answers. Peter affirms the uncertainty, and pushes in a different direction: like the prophets of old, we need to be patient. Sometimes, maybe often, our questions remain unanswered…

Read: 1 Peter 1:10-12

Discuss

  • Share with the group about something you’ve always wanted to understand, but at this stage you’ve been prevented from doing so. How does that lack of understanding make you feel?
  • The Holy Spirit revealed to the prophets that some of the things they wrote about would only be understood in future generations (after the Messiah had come).
    • How might knowing this have helped Peter’s readers?
    • How does it help us?
  • How does this passage impact on our understanding of how the Scriptures were written – our view of inspiration?
    • How does it confirm or challenge your views?
  • What implications to these words have for our unanswered questions?
    • How might you use this passage and others to comfort someone struggling with unanswered questions or tough life realities?
  • Share with the group how you have seen a humble faith and a trust in God’s sovereign care expressed in the life of another
  • What would your church or small group need to do to be a better context for people to express the questions they may have?

Sermon audio can be downloaded from iTunes as  Gateway Community Church podcast

Transforming Suffering [Hope Eternal #3]

Hope-Eternal---MM

Read: 1 Peter 1:6-9

There comes a time in the life of every child when they realise the power of questions.

Why is milk cold?

Why is grass green?

Why is their air?

Why can’t I see it?

Why can’t I touch the sky?

I found one article recently which claimed a typical 4yr old could ask 400 questions a day, while a typical mother can field over 200 questions from her children. I found that hard to believe, but it was in Brisbane’s Courier Mail, so maybe we can take it with a grain of salt.

Even so, we never lose the capacity to ask why. It’s just that the questions become more serious and probing.

Why are relationships so difficult?

Why am I suffering with this cancer?

Why can’t I be happy?

Why do my friends reject me for being a Christian?

We can be sure Peter’s readers wondered why they were suffering. But the thing that catches our attention is that as they asked that question, they were also rejoicing:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:6, NIV)

How did they hold these two things together? How can you rejoice while you suffer?

Suffering Purifies Faith

Peter says there are three reasons. First: they can rejoice because suffering purifies their faith

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. …” (1 Peter 1:7–8, NIV)

In biblical times, gold was purified in a furnace. Heated to great temperatures so impurities would be burned away. It was a harsh process, but it left a beautiful result. If they wanted pure gold, this is what had to be done.

If you want faith that is pure, suffering may well be part of it. It’s a harsh process, but God assures us it will leave a beautiful result. Peter wants these Christians to see their troubles in this light.

Do you seek a strong faith? A beautiful faith? A pure faith? In some ways it will come through the crucible of pain. It’s an extreme process, but it delivers a beautiful result.

Church history bears this out. Around the time this letter was written one particular Roman Emperor, Nero, hated Christians. He persecuted them. Punished them. Made a public spectacle of them. There are accounts of Nero illuminating the Vatican area with Christian human torches. He used Christians for blood sport with wild beasts. He was trying to kill the church. And you know what they say, right? If you don’t kill it, you make it stronger. Well, Nero did not kill the church. He just made it stronger. The faith of these Christians was purified in the furnace of trial and persecution.

Something else: look at the words

“…for a little while you may have had to suffer …” (1 Peter 1:6, NIV)

The original indicates their suffering was necessary because it happened under the sovereign hand of God. This tells us the universe is not operating at random. We do not believe in fate, or luck, or karma. We believe in a moral universe and a loving God who holds us and our world in his hands. We trust a God who restrains evil so it cannot swallow us and our world completely. And in his sovereign rule he also allows trouble and trial so we become a strong and healthy church with a vibrant and muscular faith.

This is what we understand by the providence of God. It’s not that things will always be good, that we’ll get what we want, or that the green grass will grow all around. Rather, for his own glory, God will give us what we need to accomplish his will in our here and now.

27 Q. A. What do you understandby the providence of God?

The almighty and ever present power of God

by which God upholds, as with his hand, heaven

and earth

and all creatures, and so rules them that

leaf and blade,
rain and drought,
fruitful and lean years, food and drink,
health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—

all things, in fact,
come to us

not by chance but

by his fatherly hand.

Think of Job: his suffering came from the evil one, but only in accord with the limits God imposed.

Let me be the first to admit: there is deep mystery here. So rather than try and figure out this relationship between a sovereign God and a world of pain, we should recognise the limits of our understanding, note that our great God is sovereign, that Christ has all power, and that we are ultimately, eternally, and actually safe in his hands.

So, yes, we rejoice that through suffering and trial God strengthens our faith.

Transformation by Faith

Secondly, we can rejoice because faith transforms trials in two ways. One: our faith in Christ gets us seeing trials differently.

Suffering, of course, is painful. But we look beyond it to God’s great victory. We see this in Jesus, don’t we? In the garden he experienced such pain that his sweat was like drops of blood. He was deeply grieved that his disciples could not discern the burden he was carrying. But he still prayed ‘Not my will, but yours be done’.

The next day he was whipped to within an inch of his life. A crown of thorns was jammed on his head. His hands and feet were nailed through to the beams of a cross. He was hung there to die an agonising death.

Was he happy? The question itself is offensive. And yet we read

“let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV)

The joy set before him was his coming victory over death. So he scorned the humiliation of the cross. His faith in his Father gave him a different perspective on suffering.

Joy is not dependent on circumstances, is it? That’s why these Christians can respond to suffering in such a surprising manner. Their joy is not based in their circumstances. Their faith, or should I say, the object of their faith – Christ’s victory over all – allowed them to rejoice despite their suffering.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (1 Peter 1:8, NIV)

Secondly, faith transforms trials because through them Jesus changes us. Suffering teaches lessons about the nearness of the Saviour which cannot be learnt in any other context. Think of Psalm 23: How will we know his powerful right hand will lead us and hold us and guide us, if he never allows us to walk through the valley? How will we know that Jesus actually prays that our faith will not fail, unless we feel the sifting of the evil one?

These things are hard for us to hear, but they are true. And because they are true, while they are hard, they do us good. Faith changes how I see my trials. And faith allows me to learn more about Jesus’ loving care.

Saved through Faith

Finally, these Christians can rejoice in times of trial because they know how the story of Jesus ends. Through all our troubles, we know Jesus Christ will vindicate his people

“These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV)

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NIV)

We know this because our eternal inheritance is guarded by God. In suffering our mind goes to heaven. Some will scoff at this as ‘pie in the sky’. Karl Marx said getting the poor and broken to think about heaven turned faith into an opiate. Something that stopped people from addressing injustice on earth. Peter would never say that. In fact he says something quite different.

Faith in heaven should make us good and and godly citizens.

  • They are to have attitudes that display Christ’s rule in their lives (2:1)
  • They are to live good lives among the pagans (2:12)
  • They are even to submit to human authority – even to people like Nero. By doing good they would silence foolish and abusive talk (2:13)
  • Slaves has to serve their masters as though they were Jesus
  • Marriage and family would become a context of Gospel transformation, instead of a context of domination, inequity, and abuse.

Christians must not use thoughts of eternity to neglect their world. Rather, being saved for eternity they seek to live eternity’s values in their here and now. Their hope is fixed in one enduring reality:

“…you are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8–9, NIV)

This hope is what gave the early church such strength! Writing after both Nero and Caligula, the apostle John writes of the great victory which will be won by the King of Kings (see Rev 7:9-17)

These people were victorious because they were washed in the blood of the lamb. This is critical: if you’re suffering, the only way you will endure is to claim the ultimate victory of Christ on the Cross. That’s when every force was defeated. That’s when the evil head of Satan was crushed. That’s where life was won!

And ultimately, the really big deal is not about us, it’s that the glorious Lord, Jesus our Saviour, is glorified for the rescue he has won! Honoured for the world he has redeemed. Lifted up for the injustice he has banished from the face of the earth. Worshipped because he has borne our iniquities, carried out sorrows, and drawn us through his spirit into everlasting life!

“These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7, NIV)

Friends, faith is purified in the context of trial. Faith in Jesus changes how we see trial, and becomes a context for us learn new things about his loving grace and care. And faith points us to the great day when Christ shall be all in all, and every tear will be wiped from our eyes, every pain will end, and every injustice made right.

“Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”” (Revelation 7:12, NIV)

Our True Identity [Series: Hope Eternal]

Hope-Eternal---MM

Read: 1 Peter 1:1-2

If you’ve ever watched  Disney movie, you’ll know the story revolves around three basic questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I?
  • Where do I belong?

Lion King. Toy Story. Frozen. Terminator. All the same. OK, I’ll admit these questions aren’t as easy to pick up in Frozen… Even so, the Disney scriptwriters know something very important about us: they know our biggest question is one of identity.

Exiles

As Peter writes to these churches he starts with their identity.

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” (1 Peter 1:1, NIV)

They are exiles. Foreigners. Many scholars believe these Christians started in Jerusalem, but had been forced out in waves of persecution. They are, in fact, refugees. They have been driven from Jerusalem to Asia Minor, or what we know as modern day Turkey.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.16.50 am

You probably know what exiles are. Some of you have done this yourselves: packed up belongings and headed to the other side of the known world in an effort to seek a better life. People from South Africa, India, Nertherlands, the Eastern States of Australia. Think about what it’s like for exiles:

  • When you’re an exile in a strange land you have no citizenship
  • You have reduced rights (no medical benefits, unable to vote, no social security)
  • You will have different values. A different language. Different dress style.

People like this stand out. You’ve seen the women in the burka at the shops? What do you think about that? Rightly or wrongly we make the assumption that they are foreigners. You’ve been on a plane with the Middle Eastern men, did that feel a little uncertain? I am confident that Middle Eastern people are as honourable and trustworthy as any Australian, but because of recent history we will have a few doubts. More a reflection on us than them, I think.

This is what Peter is saying about Christians. For the church, for Jesus’ people: We don’t fit in. This world is not your first home.

Now, we need to understand something before we go on: many will hear those words ‘this world is not my home’ and immediately think Peter’s contrast is between earth and heaven. Not correct. Sure, there is an eternal inheritance which Peter will talk about later in his letter, and we’ll get to that eventually. But the contrast here is not between heaven and earth, but between Christians ruled by Jesus, and the dominant culture around them. It is between the church as God’s new community, and the world as community ignorant of God and often opposed to him. That’s why Peter says ‘Don’t be surprised if people think you’re a bit weird. Don’t be surprised if people reject you.’ Christians, you are exiles. Church, you are foreigners. Displaced people.

We know this tension, don’t we?

For almost 2000 years the church was seen as part of the solution to our world’s woes. Now we are seen, by some at least, as part of the problem. We are exiles.

This is actually a challenge for us. Why? Because we listen to our culture and we are desperate to fit in. To be affirmed. To be noticed. We need to ask what this desire is doing to our faith and our following of Jesus. Are we seeking an identity that ultimately will dilute our relationship with Jesus? Is the identity we seek harmonious with the Kingdom of God, or it undermine who we are as the people of God? Will it strengthen God’s church, or will it weaken it?

Or think of what we have witnessed today as Clint and Tash have brought little Isla to receive the mark of the covenant in Christian baptism. Could there be a more important question for them today than to know their true identity in Christ?

Elect

Who am I? Who are we? Exiles, yes, but Peter notes a more profound reality that shapes our identity:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” (1 Peter 1:1–2, NIV)

Who are we? As people who love Jesus we are God’s elect. What does Peter mean? At one level, Peter uses that word to show the unity these NT Christians have with the OT people of God. He says ‘remember how God’s people were exiled to Babylon? You’re like them. Remember how God’s people were scattered under the Greek Empire after Malachi? You’re like them. The point he’s making is this: It’s not that there is an Old Testament people of God, and then the church as a different people of God. It’s the one covenant people of God all the way through, even through to today. So Peter is saying this to comfort them, and us.

You are the people of the King. Even though you are exiles and foreigners, you carry his rule into your world. You are exiles, not because earth is contrasted with heaven, but because Christ’s Kingdom is in contrast to your culture, your world. The rule of Lord Jesus is opposed to, and will overcome, the rule of Caesar. Jesus is Ruler of all rulers, King of kings, Lord of lords.

But there’s another level of meaning here. Peter calls them elect, and chosen by the foreknowledge of God (see vv.12).

What does this mean? Well, it does not mean that God kind of looked into the future and somehow saw who would honour him, and  then chooses them. That can’t be true: that would make God dependent on human response, and what sort of God would that be? I suggest not a particularly powerful one.

So: What does it mean that we are elect and chosen by the foreknowledge of God? Listen carefully: Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem. He knew their names and everything about them. And even before the creation of the world, God had chosen who was going to to redeem them. He knew His name. And everything about Him.

Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem and who was going to to redeem them

Think about that. You are not here today as a person of faith merely by reason of your own decision. You are here as a believer because before the creation of the world this gracious God chose you, knew you, and by his sovereign initiative, chose you as his own. Think of little Isla. What does she know? What can she do? She knows very little, and while she can make noises, fill her nappy, and eat, she can do little else. But God says to her – little baby that she is – Isla, I love you. I am your God. I will be with you. I want you to love me, serve me, believe in me. God speaks his promise into her life before she either understand or respond. God’s election is like his promise: it is not dependent on anything in us or anything we do. Election is simply an astounding display of sovereign grace and love!

Paul writes the same thing to the Ephesian Church:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3–6, NIV)

Or think of what we read in Romans 8

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, NIV)

In fact, God’s choice of his people is like his choice of His Son’s saving role:

“[The Lamb of God/Jesus] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20, NIV)

The thing to note about Peter’s words, and those of Paul, is that every time we read about election or foreknowledge, it is written to comfort God’s people. It is never mentioned as a matter of bare theology. It is always connected with the dependability, the faithfulness, the absolute trustworthiness of God’s plan of salvation.

We are in the hands of this loving God who has guaranteed, by the precious blood of his own son, that he will bring his saving purpose to completion in us! Even before the creation of the world, God had chosen whom he was going to redeem. He knew their names and everything about them. And he has chosen who was going to to redeem them. He knew His name. And everything about Him.

Let’s read on:

“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…” (1 Peter 1:2, NIV)

God has not only chosen you, he has drawn you to himself and made you holy through the work of His Spirit. His whole purpose is to change you, so you will obey, that your life will honour God and show the true nature of life in Jesus. We need to see this clearly: God’s purpose in choosing his people, and drawing them to himself through his Spirit, is so they will be holy and obedient. Frequently, people seem to miss this. They think they can just accept Jesus’ forgiveness and not worry about his call to change. They miss the point of God’s intention entirely.

Knowing Jesus is not just about information, Jesus lives in us for our transformation. You cannot honour Jesus and keep pursuing sinful behaviour. The Spirit will work in you so you will obey Christ, and live his new life.

This is why you are an exile. Why do you quite belong, why the church stands out as a different community. It’s different because God’s people are to live holy lives and behave differently. This is one of the core meanings of holiness. It’s not about being in a special building, or using religious sounding words, or wearing some distinctive clothing. To be holy is to be set apart, to be distinct, reserved for the purposes of God, set aside to live the new life he has given us in Jesus his son.

God has chosen you in his sovereign love, the Spirit is working His sanctifying, difference making, holyfying power in your life.

Let’s go back to the verse:

“who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood…” (1 Peter 1:2, NIV)

When Peter says we have been sprinkled with the blood of the Saviour, he associates the Cross of Christ with the Old Testament Temple sacrifices. The priest used to sprinkle the people with the blood of animal sacrifice. As he did, he was saying something about the terrible depth of their sin, and the cost of atoning for it. He was saying sin was so bad, so grievous, that blood had to be shed for it. Something had to die. Someone had to pay.

The Gospel says this is what Jesus has done! When he died on the Cross, he was the great sacrifice. His death cleansed you from sin, and took your guilt. His suffering absorbed the wrath you deserve. That’s what Paul says as he writes to his Pastor colleague, Titus

“…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, … gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13–14, NIV)

In the same way Peter comforted these people with his words about election, he is now comforting them with the power of Christ’s blood, poured out on the Cross. He knows he is writing to struggling, suffering Christians. The world may have rejected them, but the Sovereign Lord has elected them. The Father chose them before creation to be his own. The Spirit has opened their heart and drawn them to God. The Son has sprinkled them with his blood. Their situation may be precarious and uncertain, but their eternity is rock solid in the sovereign, all powerful, all gracious work of the Triune God!

This is who you are, Christian! This is what you are, Church! This is where you belong! Living for the glorious Kingdom of God!

Emboldened

Imagine how those words would have encouraged these Christians, Churches scattered throughout Asia Minor! They felt rejected by the world: no big deal! They feel out of place: OK. But God was with them, and he’s preparing a new heaven and a new earth more wonderful than they could ever imagine! Disenfranchised? Yep. But it’s not their vote or influence that mattered. God has chosen them. His Spirit is changing them. Jesus has cleansed them and set them free! Hallelujah!

You’ve seen the picture of the Coptic Christian martyrs. Twenty-one men beheaded on a beach in northern Africa. Sickening. Disturbing. Abhorrent violence. But sometimes I wonder whether, as they felt the hand of their captors on their shoulder, they also felt the loving and gracious and all powerful hand of the living God, comforting them? Whether they heard the voice of God, “They may reject you, but I have elected you! Do not fear! I am with you!”

And God is saying to us: remember who you are. Remember your true identity. Remember what Christ has done for you! This will bring you grace and peace in abundance (see the end of v.2)! He is saying: remember who I am! Remember what I have done for you! Remember Jesus is your good Shepherd, no one can snatch you out of the Father’s hand!

Church, the pressure may be on, but this is not a time to shrink back. This is not a time to be ducking for cover. This is a time to rise up! As salt and light, let the Kingdom shine like a city on a hill! Be strong and courageous! Because how you act and behave will reflect God’s great plan for his world.

Rise up church, as we have seen the church rise up this week, Christians all around the country – irrelevant, bigoted oddballs to some – but they open their home. Why? Because they know what it’s like to be rejected. They know what it’s like to have your heart in another place. They know what it’s like to be loved and saved by God, so when there are people who need loving and saving, you’ll find the church right there.

The times may be tough. Tougher, no doubt, for these Christians than for us today in Australia. But they knew their identity. They knew God had chosen them. They knew Jesus had saved them. They knew the Spirit was with them. And it emboldened  them to stand as God’s new people, reflecting his new life to a broken and fallen world. May God in his grace enable us to see, and to be, his people in his world today.