From Hope to Holiness

1 Peter 1:13-16

Hope-Eternal---MM

Last night the New Zealand All Blacks defeated the South Africa Springboks 20-18. Tonight, The Wallabies will meet the South African Pumas, and the winner will play New Zealand in the final on October 31. Most Australians will be praying that the referees will be on our side in these coming games as much as they were when we played Scotland…

The stakes are always high in the world cup. And opposing teams are going to ridiculous lengths to gain an advantage.

  • There are accusations the English have been spying on the Australian teams with high tech photographic equipment. One report notes “a man with a very long lens was chased away from the Australian training venue”
  • There are reports of drones being used to film opposing team training sessions
  • The All Blacks have covered the fences of their Lensbury base in plastic – presumably all black plastic – and that they have stationed security guards around the perimeter

Why would a team go to such lengths? Because their eye is on the prize. And when your eye is on the prize, that one outcome will determine all your actions.

Set your hope fully

We see this in what Peter is saying:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

He is saying, “Keep your eye on the prize! Look at what will happen in the end times!” Which is both odd and liberating.

Odd, because most people tend not to think of end times discussion as something that will bring anyone comfort. Most discussions around eschatology revolve around things that seem to vary on a scale from weird to cryptic: the rapture, the beast, the tribulation, the antiChrist. While many of these these things are mentioned in the Bible, teaching about them is often far from clear. Are they present things? Are they symbolic? Have they already happened? Should we be worried? Why can’t we understand it all? Seriously, a trawl through the end times section at your Christian bookshop will turn you off your burritos for good. Wasn’t it last week, or the week before, that some other Christian group claimed the world was going to end a few Wednesdays ago or something? Guys, if Jesus didn’t know how it was all going to play out, you can be sure it’s something we don’t need to know. He didn’t know. The people who claim to know don’t know. And you won’t know the timing either. So, yes, it may strike us as odd that Peter raises this as a reason for comfort.

It’s also liberating, because the comforting reality Peter writes about here is the proper focus of end time discussions:

“Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

Not: set your mind on all the stuff you can’t understand. Not: set your mind on working out when it’s all going to happen. But: set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. Keep your eyes on the prize. Outcome determines action.

Remember: Peter is writing to people who are being persecuted. They are undergoing ridicule and rejection for following Jesus. And he’s saying: this may be happening now, but don’t give up! Set your minds on what will happen then! Keep your eye on the prize! Now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. Now, it’s tough. Now, you’re under pressure. But then, when Jesus returns, it’s all going to be grace and celebration! Your saviour will welcome you with open arms!

You don’t have to fear punishment – that’s gone in the cross! You don’t have to think about God’s anger for sin – that’s fully and freely forgiven in Jesus! You don’t have to be hassled by your guilt and failing – there’s no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You don’t even have to worry about death, because all that’s waiting for you is life, more life and better life than you’ve ever dreamed. Keep your eye on the prize. That outcome will determine your action.

In fact – and this is the point of this passage – Peter is saying: because you know what’s coming to you, it’s going to change the way you live. That’s clear from the first part of v.13:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:13, NIV84)

Interestingly, the old KJV used to read, “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…” Think: parable  of the lost son. The father sees the son coming in the distance, tucks his outer cloak into his belt, and runs to meet him.That’s the point: we need to be ready to move. Ready for action. Be alert. Be sober. And let’s get going.

So, the flow of thought is this: You Christians are under pressure and doing it tough. You don’t want to live in denial, but don’t let circumstances dominate you. Think about the goal. Keep your eyes on the prize. A beautiful day of grace is coming your way. Let this outcome determine all your actions. So sleeves up, head down, and let’s get busy…

Be Holy

Which brings us to our second point:

“…But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16, NIV)

When you have your eye on the prize, the outcome determines your action.

In this respect, we need to know what it means to be holy. Many think being holy means doing holy things: read your bible, say your prayers, go to church, take up a collection. As the old hymn says,

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Take time to holy, speak oft with thy Lord / Abide in him always, and feed on his word…

No doubt: the Christian disciplines of reading, prayer and public worship are part of ‘being holy’. The problem is there is confusion the rest of it. So, allow me to deliver some clarity: to be holy is to be like God. How are we to be like God? By reflecting his character.

“Be holy because I am holy – just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do”

Not just reading your Bible, or your prayer time, but in all you do. The scene was set in vv.3-5

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NIV)

to be holy is to be like God … reflecting his character

Long before Peter wrote, the Lord had revealed his character to his people, calling them to live such a distinct life as a nation as they entered the land of promise (see Leviticus 19:1-2). For Peter’s New Testament people, as for ancient Israel, the rationale for a holy life was the same: the Lord in his grace had provided a glorious deliverance. Petes point is that this new birth and living hope “necessarily implies a decisively altered way of life” [Karen Jobes, 1 Peter]

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life. A life set apart from others by how your character reflects God’s character, Jesus’ character. It certainly involves prayer, Bible reading, and worship meetings. It certainly involves moral behaviour: honesty, integrity, keeping marriage as the place for sexual fulfilment, keeping your language beautiful, instead of polluting it with profanity – all that is included.

A holy life is not so much a religious life as a changed life, a different life, a distinctive life…

But holiness goes deeper than external behaviour. It penetrates to the heart: to the deeper values of life, how we strive to live; the kind of world we are working for. Holiness is about love, mercy, humility and justice. Isn’t that what the Lord requires of us (see Micah 6:8, Matthew 5-7)?

When the Lord spoke to the people in Isaiah’s day, they made the mistake of thinking all he wanted was religious behaviour like fasting and worship. The Lord’s response was sobering, especially when you change the word ‘fast’ to ‘worship’…

“…You cannot [worship] as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of [worship] I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call [worship], a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of [worshipping] I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.” (Isaiah 58:4–8, NIV)

It is interesting some months ago I preached a series called ‘A Time for Justice’. In that series we were reminded how God calls us to a holiness which is beyond mere morality and religious actions. A holiness of love, mercy and justice. A few people found that confronting. One or two said they couldn’t relate to it. Friends, being holy, living a distinctly different life, is to reflect the character of our holy God. And if we struggle to relate to love, mercy and justice we’re going to struggle to relate to God himself.

Here,  Peter is saying: You do relate to God. More: your life is now defined by his Son’s life. And because your life is now defined by his Son’s life, you’re looking forward to the fullness of his grace transforming you and your world completely. So, because you are headed for an eternity of love, mercy and justice why not start living it now?! Stand up and stand out! Roll up your sleeves! Heads down! Let this holiness be seen in everything you do, everything you seek, everything you are and every will be. 

It’s true: Holy lives, Christian lives, stand out.

That’s challenge for us, isn’t it? Christians are more and more in the spotlight, facing more and more opposition, having to manage rejection. And the temptation is for us to pull back or go soft, right? But Peter is saying “be holy, be distinctly Christian, live out God’s character, be noticed.”

Here’s the question: Is this true of you? Your workmates, your neighbours, your acquaintances – Do they see your different life and behaviour, and know that you’re a follower of Jesus? If those around you cannot see that, what needs to change?

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church

Can people see the holiness of God’s character in our church? Are we worshipping by loosening the chains of oppression? Do we even know where oppression exists in our community? Do we want to know? What needs to change so that we can know that?

See, it’s not just about people seeing your faith or convictions. As good as that is, it’s actually about people seeing your God. As Peter says in the next chapter, that even though God’s people are misunderstood and maligned. they should let their holiness stand up and stand out “…so people will see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 – NIV)

That’s why we should not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance. That is, the ‘before Jesus’ life. Peter’s readers remembered that time. Back then they were affirmed by all around. They had less trouble in their life. They weren’t maligned for their views. Life was easier. But they were ignorant of God. They weren’t his people. They lived without hope. They lived without mercy. They were headed to a Christless eternity.

But now, God has called them out of darkness, into his marvellous light. They stood up and they stand out. They stand out like a city on a hill. But they feel the pressure. Life is hard. They have a daily diet of ridicule, rejection, and misunderstanding.

Why do this? Because their eyes on the prize. Their vision is directed toward the goal. And holiness overflows as Christ pours his grace into them. Christ points them to a new day when the fullness of grace will be theirs as they live in a forever of love, mercy and justice.

So, let me ask: What is God saying to you in all this? Your life: is it holy? Are we living this holiness together?

In the power of Christ and his inheritance, looking forward to the abundance of grace to be poured into us, are we revealing God’s character in our communal life? What needs to go? What needs to be seen more? Is there behaviour which is tangling us up? Listen: God is speaking: You have to get rid of that. It’s blocking my character.

You may wonder whether you can do it, or why. The answer is: in Christ you have a glorious inheritance! You already know how its all going to end: Christ will pour his grace into your life. You are going to live his love, mercy and justice for all eternity. Even today he’s given His spirit to bring this life out of you now, to comfort you now, to encourage you now. Christ is with you, always. He’s your strength, your endurance, your ability to go on. To stand up. To stand out.

So today our eyes are on the prize, and that glorious inheritance will determine our every action. And we shall be holy, and God is holy.

That great outcome determines our individual and communal action

And our greatest joy is to have God’s holiness, his character, overflowing from our own.

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

When God Keeps Us Guessing

The promise of harvest

The promise of harvest

Read: 1 Peter 1:10-12

There are plenty of things that get us feeling impatient. It only takes one (very stupid!) driver to cut you off in traffic, or someone who does not know how to merge, to remind us how quickly awe loose patience. We are so used to having things quickly. We don’t know about something, we Google it. It gets dark, we flick a switch, and there’s light. The evening gets cool, we turn on instant heat. We are becoming unaccustomed to wait for anything, and our capacity to become impatient seems to increase in a daily basis.

Of prophets and angels

Peter gives us an angle on impatience that might surprise us.

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10–11, NIV)

At a very basic level, this passage reminds us that many of the things we get impatient about fall into the well known category of “first world problems”. More importantly, this is telling us that prophets like Isaiah and Zechariah, when they spoke of the suffering of the Messiah, did not actually understand everything they were writing.

Think of what Isaiah wrote:

Is 53:1-6

Or Zechariah’s words

““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” (Zechariah 12:10, NIV)

Why were these words a mystery to them? Well, they thought the Messiah would be a mighty warrior who would come and restore the fortunes of Jerusalem. The idea of the Messiah suffering did not make sense. Sure, they knew they were writing about God’s redemptive plan. They knew it involved his grand design to restore his people, to bring grace and forgiveness for sin. But there were too many gaps, and not enough dots to make the connections.

…they never received an answer

This is where impatience is relevant: they asked what it all meant, they searched the Scriptures they had, they engaged in rigorous study. But they never received an answer.

Surprising, isn’t it? Even those who wrote the Scriptures under the inspiration of the Spirit did not fully understand the depth of their own words! They were told a day would come when it would all make sense, but their day was not that day. They just had to wait.

Even more surprising is what we read in verse 12:

“…Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:12, NIV)

Even angels!

You’ve probably had it in the heat of summer, you’ve been outside working in the sunshine, and you go inside – for while everything seems dark. This is the image Peter uses about the angels – it’s like they are in the full light of God’s presence, and they are  peering into the dark room of human existence. They can see things moving around, but they can’t quite work out what’s happening. It may be because they are not part of earthly existence. It may be because they are not human. Either way, they longed to understand, but could not.

And then there’s us

Why do you think Peter wrote these verses? Why is he telling us this? Did he just want clear something up about OT prophecy? Fill us in on the doctrine of inspiration?

There’s more to it. Peter’s readers had their backs against a wall. Persecution was breaking out. Christians were losing their livelihoods, and their lives. Some of these people were refugees. Driven out of their homes, away from their families, left it all behind. Surely they must have asked what was going on. Why this suffering? Why this pain? Lots of questions, and to this point, God had kept them guessing.

Here’s the thing: Peter wants them to know that God has not forgotten them. Things are not out of control, even when they are hard to understand, even when there’s pain, confusion, and you want it all to stop. He wants them to see that even the people they look up to, the prophets – the very people who wrote their scriptures – even they had unanswered questions. More: the questions the OT prophets asked, how the Messiah could suffer, how he would be glorified, what it all meant – these very Christians, Peter’s people, they could understand it. They could see it. They did get it.

They could see Jesus was the greatest gift of grace, because they had received him. They could see how he suffered on the Cross as a sacrifice for sin, how he was bruised for their iniquities. Some of them may even have witnessed Jesus die in Jerusalem. They could see the glory of the risen Christ, the wonder of his return to the Father, the wonder of his rule over all things. They knew he was now seated in the most powerful place in the universe. So they actually understood things the prophets and angels could not understand. In that sense Peter’s readers were the fulfilment of things written and revealed centuries before.

“It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven…” (1 Peter 1:12, NIV)

Now, think about that from where you sit today. We are followers of Jesus, believers – have you ever considered that you understand a depth of the Gospel which even the first readers of this letter did not understand? The prophets wrote about the Messiah and how he suffered.They wrote how he would be vindicated and glorified. But they didn’t get it.

Peter’s first readers: they were suffering. They could look at the Messiah, and see how he suffered and was vindicated in the resurrection. They got it. And they must have also looked at their own suffering, and been encouraged because they would one day be vindicated. Through Jesus, they were a new people. Through Jesus, they would be raised. Through Jesus, they would become victorious in his good time through his grace and power. And these are the very connections Peter will make for them as the letter proceeds.

Mystery remains, but victory is guaranteed

Now, we can take this message to heart, can’t we? There is much that we don’t understand. A whole lot we have to be patient about. Promises of things to come which seem like a dream.

In the same way the prophets needed to be patient, in the same way Peter’s hearers needed to be patient, so also we are called to be patient. To endure what Eugene Peterson calls ‘the long obedience in the same direction.’

To have faith. To trust. And not give up.

The prophets did not understand, but they trusted God’s plan of redemption. Peter’s hearers understood more, but they still had to trust God’s plan of redemption while their friends were thrown to the lions and others were used as candle for Nero’s parties.

And you, do you need to trust? Don’t you ever find yourself asking, does God know what it’s like to suffer? Does God know the anguish of having to trust in a time of grief?

Yes he does. More than we know. Don’t you think the father grieved when he saw his Son suffer the pangs of hell instead of you? Wasn’t it tough for Jesus in the Garden? When he had to entrust himself to the Father? In grave fear for the suffering of the Cross, sweating blood. He still prayed, “help me look beyond my circumstances and trust you, Father. Not my will, but your will be done.”

Jesus knows. He suffered. He was glorified. And because he is a mighty and powerful saviour he can help you in your time of trial.

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17–18, NIV)

This is important. Sometimes things stay unclear. Despite all your prayer, all your pleas, the promises you make. You get impatient. You get angry. Think of these prophets. Things stayed unclear for them, but God was just as faithful. God’s faithfulness and his ability to save you, to give what you need, do not depend on you understanding everything or having everything explained to you.

Think of those prophets: You get the picture more than they ever did. Think of these readers: they got it, they suffered, and they still trusted God. Think of Jesus in the garden, he suffered, he trusted the father, and he crushed the head of Satan.

His Spirit – the same Spirit who moved the prophets to write, the same spirit who opened the heart of Peter’s readers to believe, the Spirit of Jesus himself – this Spirit lives in you. And he will assure you that in Christ, God will bring you to victory!

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, NIV)

Three summers ago we planted two grape vines on our garden. My son in law, Daniel, grew up in the Barossa, so he knows a bit about growing vines. He said, you won’t get any grapes the first summer. And he was right. He said, the second summer, you’ll get some grape trusses forming. Was pretty excited that we would get some grape clusters! Daniel said: “Cut them all off.” I listened in disbelief. Cut them off? Yep. Cut them all off. You want to concentrate on building a strong vine, build the root system. Let the goodness go back into the plant for that second summer.

To the casual observer, it would have looked weird, seeing me cutting off all the trusses of flowers. But now, the third summer is just around the corner. I get out and look at the vines – which are thriving – and we have oodles of clusters forming. The harvest is going to be wonderful.

You know this, right? Sometimes, it’s not just hard to see what’s going on, we actually can’t see, and we actually don’t understand. But what we do see in the Gospel we have received is more than Isaiah saw. Even more than angels can see or understand.

Do you realise how blessed you are to know Jesus and what he has done? Do you realise how much treasure the Lord has already shown you?

Just look at Jesus, the ugliness of the cross, and how it opened the floodgates of grace.

Just look at the resurrection, his rising, and see glorious new creation in all its wonder.

Look at his rule, at how he has poured his Spirit into your life, in the church, and trust that our great God has us in his glorious hand.

Yes, while we’re this side of heaven, mystery may remain. But in Christ,  the victory is certain.

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 Glorious Inheritance [Series: Hope Eternal]

Our Glorious Inheritance

Read: 1 Peter 1:3-5

Do you ever wonder why your faith doesn’t quite connect with life? Many Christians do. They are doing the right things. Believing the right things. Praying and reading the word. But they feel their faith does not connect with their life. We could spend a lot of time analysing the possible reasons.Perhaps more importantly, the words Peter writes are the best solution. Positively, the best way for faith in Christ to connect with and impact life.

Remember, he’s writing to exiles: displaced people. People who don’t fit in. Life was hard. They had lost a great deal. The culture they lived in considered them fools. Sometimes they must have looked at their lives and circumstances and asked whether in following Jesus they had made the best choice…

New Birth

Peter directs their minds to three surprising realities: realities that made an incredible difference to how they would live. The first surprising reality is found in v.3:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth …” (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

New birth is well accepted language in Christian circles, but what does it mean? At the very least, it means our natural birth is not enough to bring us into real life. Life is wonderful. Sure. But if we’re honest it falls short of expectations. Life holds great capacity for disappointment and pain. Sickness. Relationship breakdown. We fail ourselves and others. Warfare. Injustice. Violence and abuse.

The Bible says this has its roots in our separation from God. In human sin. At best we are indifferent to God. At worst, we are his enemies. Either way, without Jesus, people are on the road to hell.

Because of His mercy and grace, God gives new life to people

Peter does not disagree with that. But he wants us to see that because of Jesus sin does not have the last word. He wants to open our eyes to something glorious: Because of His mercy and grace, God gives new life to people. New life! Life that is not at the mercy of fallenness, sin and rebellion.

This is what Jesus refers to when he’s speaking with Nicodemus (see John 3:1-5). Later Jesus says,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:14–17, NIV)

This ‘lifting up’ refers to Jesus’ death on the Cross. God is rich in mercy: he lifted up his Son on the Cross so new birth would come to everyone who believes! Nicodemus was a religious leader, a rich man. Peter’s people were refugees. But all of them were born rebels and sinners. Yet in his great mercy God had given new life.

This is one of the most wonderful truths about Christianity. In his great mercy God has given us new life. A free gift to fallen people, even though the cost to Jesus was unfathomable. In his great mercy, God gives new life. Irrespective of your past. Irrespective of your failings, your sins, your inner rebellion. Irrespective of how much you have wronged others, or how they have broken and wronged you. In Jesus God gives new life to all who look to him in faith.

You know why it’s so good? Why Peter overflows with praise? Because this new birth transcends our circumstances.

new birth transcends our circumstances

How broken do you feel today? Is there heaviness within? Life’s circumstances bearing down on you?

God wants you to receive his new birth. To look to him in faith. To trust the Jesus whose death opens up a new reality.

Living Hope

The second surprising reality is seen in the second half of verse 3:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)

For us, using the word ‘hope’ introduces a measure of uncertainty.

Are you going to get that new job? Hope so…

Will you have enough money for the holiday? I hope to!

I hope this new Government can get the economy back on track…

No certainty with any of that!

Christian hope is very different. Christian hope is not about uncertainty. Christian hope is about waiting, waiting for something you know is coming.

In a two weeks’ time, we’ll see the AFL Grand Final,* perhaps between the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers. None of us will be there. Many of us will watch it on the television. One of those teams will win. There’ll be all sorts of celebration when the final siren goes. And while the final is held over in Melbourne, 3435km away, we know that trophy is coming to Perth. We know there’s be a champion’s parade in the city or in Fremantle. We know the flag belongs in WA. It’s just that we’ll have to wait to see that reality.

That’s Christian hope. You know it’s coming. It’s an absolute certainty. You just have to wait for it. And you know it’s coming because a great victory has been won. Christian hope is based on a greater victory! The victory Jesus has won over death on the Cross. This victory is grounded Jesus’ defeat of the evil one! This victory is grounded in Jesus’ rising from the dead!

Think of what Paul writes to the Christians in Rome:

“…just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

Or to the Colossian Christians:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…” (Colossians 3:1–3, NIV)

Can you see what it’s saying? Through Jesus’ resurrection we live a new life, now! Through Jesus’ resurrection our minds are set on things above, now! Our thoughts are directed to God’s things, now. Set on the things of his Kingdom, now.

God the Father has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Just let that sink in. Not only is Jesus’ resurrection a real resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is already at work in you.

No guilt in life, no fear in death. This is the power of Christ in me!

A new life has been born in us! Why? Because new life was born to the world through the resurrection of Jesus!

Just how Jesus’s resurrection makes a difference we will start to see when we look at verse 6 and following (next week). All we need to understand now is that the resurrection of Jesus is way more than a matter of Christian teaching! It is that, but it is way more! It is why you are alive in Jesus! It is why you can live differently, why you can cope with being rejected by your culture and the people around you. This living hope is the most astounding power of good in the world!

You’re not just a man trying to make ends meet, or a woman trying to make something of your life … you are living in hope through Christ’s resurrection!

Imperishable inheritance

This brings us to the third surprising reality. We find it in verses 4-5

“[In his great mercy he has given us new birth] … into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:4–5, NIV)

We think of inheritance as a financial gift which comes when someone dies. A good inheritance can set a person up, or relieve financial pressure. The inheritance Peter speaks of is so much better. It’s not money: it’s life itself. More life, and better life than we could ever imagine (see John 10:10, MSG). An inheritance that does not perish, spoil or fade.

This is the promise of God himself that we and our world will one day be fully liberated from sin, from the fall, from grief, from tears, from all the frustration of this fallen world. This inheritance is kept in heaven, and it’s fullness is out of sight. But one day, as N.T. Wright so aptly reminds us, heaven’s curtain would be drawn back, and the imperishable inheritance – which at present is kept safe in heaven – will be merged with our earthly reality. And all of life itself will be transformed fully. Christ’s new life will soak through our world and overflow with God’s presence, love and mercy!

Why does Peter mention this inheritance here? Because in a time when people rarely left their village, these people were now exiles in a foreign land. They had left behind livelihoods, homes, quite possibly members of their family. They had lost much. But in Jesus they had gained everything. The God who had given new birth, who had given his Son for them, would ensure than nothing would take their glorious inheritance.

The really interesting thing is that their eternal inheritance did not prevent them from engaging with their world. It didn’t get them just thinking about eternity, and forgetting about the world around them. On the contrary, it changed how they viewed the world. And this Kingdom life started to overflow and influence every aspect of their lives and existence. God’s eternal future started bubbling over into their everyday now.

There’s the connection between faith and life friends! There’s the power of the risen Christ in his people! They had been brought into the glorious reality of the Kingdom of God! This living hope empowered them to changed lives. Their inheritance was secure! This is the thing: as a believer your life, your existence is no longer shaped by this world’s society and culture.

Did you know that?

Do you understand?

You do not belong in the culture in which you reside. Remember: you’re exiles! Jesus is risen! And his resurrection life is now at work in you! You are raised with Christ! You live a new life! And so you do not belong to this world’s society and culture. You belong to the society and culture of the Kingdom. This new birth, this living hope, this inheritance is yours! It will never perish, spoil, or fade! By the power of Christ’s salvation the Father guards it in heaven for you! God calls you to live this life! To express it. Speak it.

Kingdom thoughts.

Kingdom values.

Kingdom behaviour.

Kingdom love.

Kingdom compassion.

This is where you belong! This is your country! Your true country. Your first and only allegiance. Isn’t that what Paul declares so powerfully?

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20–21, NIV)

An imperishable inheritance! Grounded in the transformational death, resurrection and rule of Jesus Christ, kept in heaven for you!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NIV)


* This illustration shows my humanity. As it turned out, only one WA AFL side made it to the Grand Final, and then they lost – and woefully so. But you get the point: Christian hope is based on the rock solid certainty of Jesus’ victory. The battle is already won in principle, we’re just waiting for the consummation when Jesus returns for all to see as Victorious and Glorious Lord.

Our True Identity – Group Study Questions

Read 1 Peter 1:1-9

Questions:

How would you explain the idea of ‘identity’? How is the idea of identity relevant to what the author is discussing in 1 Peter 1:1-2?

We often get confused by discussions about election. What reason would Peter have for introducing the subject here? What effect might this have on his readers?

Peter calls these Christians ‘exiles’ …

  • What does this term convey, and what has brought this exile about?
  • How does the church you are part of embody the characteristics of being ‘in exile’?

New Testament commentator Tom Wright says “This is God’s purpose: to set people aside from other uses so that they can be signposts to this new reality, this new world. … They are therefore to be ‘holy’, both in the technical sense that God has set them apart for this purpose and in the practical sense that their actual lives have been transformed. The way they behave  now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures. That—however daunting and unlikely it seems—is who we are as Christians.”[1]

  • How does this compare with what we normally think about holiness?
  • What does the sentence “The way they behave now reflects God’s desire for his human creatures” say about you?

How has this passage influenced how you see 1) yourself 2) God’s work in Jesus?

 


[1] Wright, T. (2011). Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah (p. 50). London; Louisville, KY: SPCK; Westminster John Knox Press.

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.

God Loves A Cheerful Giver – Group Study Questions

Introduction

Why are we often so reluctant to talk (or preach) about money and giving?

Read 2 Corinthians 8:1-7

What impresses you most about the giving of the Macedonian Christians?

What lessons can we learn from their example?

Paul does not command the Corinthian Christians to give generously, so what are the grounds for his appeal?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v.6) How do we avoid the pitfalls of legalism on the one hand and prosperity gospel on the other hand?

When preaching on this passage, Tim Keller says “The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue“.

Share your thoughts together about Keller’s assertion.

Share some stories about the ‘cheerful givers’ you have known over the years. How did their generosity impact on their own lives? How did their generosity impact on the lives of others?

Consider/Share: What changes do you intend to make as a result of studying this passage for Scripture?

God Loves A Cheerful Giver

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Readings: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Today we want to listen to God’s word about money. Let’s acknowledge at the outset that’s not always an easy thing to do. Especially as a pastor. I think we realise that in a church like ours the pastor’s salary makes up a significant proportion of the overall budget, so preaching about giving can be construed as banging your own drum. Let’s just acknowledge that for what it is, and note that in no way do I want to bang my own drum. It’s more that we are framing our financials for the AGM, and so it’s timely for us to consider what God says to us about money, giving and generosity.

Generosity’s Motive

We’ve looked at what Paul has written in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, and they reveal four things about generosity. First up, they tell us about generosity’s motive. It is important to see this clearly, because typically we start at the wrong place. We start with the idea of possession. That it’s our money. After all, we earn it, we work for it. We grow up with the idea of ‘my money’ and our parents teach us, as their parents taught them, that we have to build our future and strive for financial security. These things are basic to our culture.

When it comes to money, however, the bible does not start with our concepts of possession, our perception of need, or our preferred financial future. When it comes to money, the Bible starts with Jesus. We see this is 2 Cor 8-9.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV)

Want to know about giving? Then this where we start. With the grace of Jesus, who considered the riches of glory as nothing to become poor. And having said that, I think we realise these words are not a comment on Jesus’ financial status. They refer to the riches of his glory before he took on the human nature, and the abject poverty of the Cross, where we suffered for undeserving people:

Philippians 2:5–8 (NIV)

5 …have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

This is where we start, but we can also go further: back to creation. There we see the Triune God giving his creative energy, giving life to all things. God gives, and creation comes out of nothing. The Son gives, and life is given to the dead. His death and resurrection mean that hope is replaces our despair. Forgiveness is given in exchange for our guilt. Beauty is given in exchange for our wretchedness.

In Isaiah 53-55 we read about the work of the servant of the Lord, we remember the very well know words of !Isaiah 53:5. But the prophet’s thoughts do not stop with the servant’s suffering, or even redemption he shall win. God has his eye set on the renewal of his entire creation:

Isaiah 55:12–13 (NIV84)

12 You will go out in joy

and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills

will burst into song before you,

and all the trees of the field

will clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,

and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,

for an everlasting sign,

which will not be destroyed.”

We should not be surprised to find, then, that in 2 Corinthians, Paul says this totally new life, this new creation, is for those who are ruled by Jesus:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ  … God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18,21 NIV84)

This is why God loves a cheerful giver. Giving is his nature. It is the core truth of the Gospel. We see this in those most recognisable words from John’s Gospel:

God so loved the world that he gave His One and Only Son…

If we are to understand anything about Christian giving and generosity this is where we have to start. The “giving-ness of God” is the defining truth of life itself: in Jesus we were given grace, life and hope that we never deserved.

Generosity’s Model

This helps us understand the power of Paul’s model for Christian generosity: the Macedonian Christians:

1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. – 2 Corinthians 8:1–5 (NIV)

For these Christians, there was only one thing worse than extreme poverty, and that was being extremely poor and being prevented from giving!

Beautiful, isn’t it? They had so little, but they gave so much. Check it out:

8:2: their extreme poverty overflowed  in extreme generosity.

8:3 they gave as much as they were able, even beyond their own ability, beyond what might have been reasonable.

8:5 …they exceeded even Paul’s expectations!

How is that possible? How does that work, that people so incredibly poor could be so deliciously generous? It works because they valued joy more than happiness. And joy is not necessarily happiness, is it? Happiness is my here and now. Joy, at least in biblical terms, is grounded in God’s faithfulness to his promises. Like Jesus himself, who despised his ‘here and now’, his circumstances, and for the joy set before him – that vision of what a gracious God would do through his death – went to the cross (see Hebrews 12:2).

So very different to us. We think if we just get this done, get that paid for, plan the holiday, pay the mortgage, then we will think about giving. We start with our circumstances, and then determine our giving. These Macedonian brothers and sisters would look at us and say we have got it the wrong way around. They started with Jesus’ giving, his gift of life, and it changed their world.

This is why we are confused about tithing, and by that I refer to the practice of giving 10% of one’s income for the work of the Lord through his church. The question is often asked: “do I have to give 10%?” To which the answer is “Of course not.” You don’t have to give anything! God’s grace is free! God’s gift of life and salvation in Jesus cannot be bought, earned or deserved.

What we fail to understand is that giving is not about obligation. Giving is about opportunity. Opportunity to show our love for Jesus. That’s why Paul says,

“I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)

And

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NIV)

Listen: giving is a matter of the heart. Giving is about being cheerful. About being joyful and thankful for all we have received in Christ. If this is where you are, thankful for everything you have in Jesus, you’ll be a cheerful giver. So, start at the 10% figure.

On the matter of tithing, Tim Keller has a great question for us: what if your salary was cut by 10%? What would you have to do? No doubt, we’d have to make some adjustments, either in how much we save or in how much we spend. We get this. So Tim Keller says: “Go. Do it. And let this show your thanks to God for all he has given and continues to give in Jesus Christ.”

He adds:

The Bible says … there can be no significant spiritual growth in your life unless you put your money and what you think about your money into God’s hands. Because it’s just too big and just too pivotal an issue[1]

Generosity’s Promise

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “if I make that change, how will I be able to do what needs to be done, and pay what needs to be paid?”

Great question! The answer is our third point: Generosity’s Promise: We have to take God on his word, to trust the promise of the Lord:

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6, NIV)

We are called to be generous sowers, and as we do we give God an opportunity to show more of his faithfulness.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

Do you believe that?

Do you believe that God will look after you?

Will you sit down with your bank statement, see your income, and say to your God “I believe you will provide for me as I do this. I trust you to keep your word”?

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 9:10, NIV)

Take God on his word, friends!

Think about it: why do you live here? Why has the Lord given you life in this place, at this time, in this great city, in a wonderful country? His word reminds us:

“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, … 2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

He has looked after you, hasn’t he? Of course he has! And he will continue to do so as you walk in his ways. The question is do you believe this? Really, this truth – that God will meet out needs – should thrill us! It should excite us! It should warm our heart!

God will look after us, not because we give, but because he loves us and has promised to care for us.

You want proof? Just look at the cross! The Cross shows us just how committed God is to giving us what we need to follow him and love him. He gave us his son!

Take God on his word. Adjust your giving. He will give you what you need. God loves cheerful givers.

Generosity’s goal

Finally, let’s think about the goal of this generosity. Again, as we think about this, we often focus on our immediate needs. Our financial position. Our salary. Our mortgage. Our church perhaps struggling to meet the budget, or a cash deficit which needs to be managed. All these things are important, and we need to be responsible as we address them. They are important, but they are not the most important consideration. For once again, Bible directs us to God. When we discussed generosity’s motive, we started with God’s grace. As we discuss generosity’s goal we are focussed not on our needs but on God’s glory. This emphasis permeates 2 Corinthians 9

“…through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:11, NIV)

When Christians are generous givers, God gets the praise!

“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12, NIV)

“Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” (2 Corinthians 9:13, NIV)

“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (2 Corinthians 9:14, NIV)

You have already seen this today. We could miss the look of obvious delight in the faces of children in Operation Christmas Child they opens their shoebox? This past week I saw correspondence from Compassion which quoted a sponsored child saying “they [the sponsors] have no idea how much I praise God for their love.” Or who has not seen the look of absolute gratitude in the faces of people rescued by International Justice Mission operations?

One thing we do not see, which I sometimes see, is how people right here in this community, when they are helped by something we do, people who have nowhere else to turn, often express such rich gratitude. Do they become Christians? I am not aware that has happened. Do they thank God? I have not heard them doing that. But when God’s church is honoured and gratitude expressed for works of service, it is a win for the Kingdom. And I would like to think that that next time any of these people are engaged in a conversation about God’s love of his mercy in Jesus, it might just be a little easier for them to believe, as they have seen his love through his people’s generosity.

Jesus challenges us, quite starkly, to not focus on the things everyone else focuses on: What we drive. Where we live. What people think of us. The next cruise. What labels we wear.

Jesus’ people have their concern  elsewhere:

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us in Jesus – that we should be called children of God!

Look at what he has given me! The natural question then is, How can I give more? What does my church need? What is God calling us to do, and how can that happen through generous giving?

Jesus’ words are clear:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31–34, NIV)

Today, Jesus is inviting you, all of us, to step into His Kingdom existence. To have his Kingdom, his Lordship, change our view of money. To discover a whole new identity in him: new creation, new rules for living, new attitudes, new life, new hope, new values.

And as his people this we will do, and may he received all the praise and the glory.

Endnotes:

[1] Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Living Members: A Church of Character – Group Study Questions

LM ppt background

Read Matthew 5:1-16

Which churches in your local community have ‘social standing’? What might the reasons be for this? Is their social standing a positive or negative thing?

How would you respond to someone who says the church should just stick to spiritual matters and should not involve itself in their local community? Which New Testament passage would you refer to to answer them?

In Matthew 5:1-16 Jesus does not say the church is ‘called’ to be salt and light, or that they should ‘strive to be salt and light’ He simply makes a declaration ‘you are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world’ What’s the difference? And what does this mean for your church?

Read 1 Peter 2:11-12 What’s the ultimate motive for Christians to live a good life? What does this passage imply about the world around us?

Share some ideas about what things your church could do to live ‘a good life among the pagans’