Archive | July, 2018

How to submit to God when life is hard

12 Jul

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There was Jesus on the worst night of his life, knowing that horror was just hours away.  He is kneeling, praying to God, experiencing human pain and anxiety, wishing like we all do that there might be another way, some escape from suffering.  What do you when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do?

You do what Jesus did.  That’s what Peter teaches next. What did Jesus do?  Let’s find out.  Peter’s third and final illustration of the principle “submit to human created authorities, for God’s sake” is found in in verses 21-25 of 1 Peter 2.

He starts by saying: “To this you were called.”  Called to what?  “Followers of Jesus,” Peter has been declaring through his letter, “you have been saved, you have been reborn into his family.  You citizens of a new nation, God’s nation.  You are his holy, royal priests. You have a totally new identity and responsibility.  To this you were called!”

That means Christians will live in a way that is different.  Christians submit to and respect human authorities, even when those authorities mistreat you.

And look at who Peter brings up as the epitome of this.  Jesus.  That’s what the rest of the chapter is all about.  From the rest of verse 21 through verse 25, Peter is glorying in Jesus.  He says Jesus is our example, and we should follow in his steps!  We can submit our lives for the cause of Christ, because Jesus submitted his life for us.  When faced with the darkest day of his life, though he looked for a way out, he still said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

So I urge you, submit yourselves to God first. Make that your daily priority the moment you wake. Pray: “Lord, I submit my life to you today.  I want to live every waking moment for your sake, for your cause, for your mission, so that as many people as possible that you bring across my path today, even if I am struggling hard, will be pointed to you by my respectful, loving attitude and actions.”

And then every moment throughout the day, live that kind of life, for God’s sake.  Throughout each day, who knows what we will be faced with? Meanness? Unkindness? Difficult situations? How will we react?  Will we take up arms and try to maim and injure and hurt back?  Will we take to social media and try to destroy?  Will we unleash venom from our tongues?

Peter says, “Live good lives.  Be respectful.”  The way of the world is to erupt and rage and react with vengeance.   Peter says that is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.

Stay focused on Jesus, our example.  In the face of intense persecution at his arrest and crucifixion he did not retaliate.  Peter was there!  He saw how Jesus handled it.

Of all people, Jesus had the right to retaliate and call down fire from heaven.  But he did not.

Yes, this is hard teaching to swallow.  Is Peter saying that we should just take abuse if we are being abused?  No!  You have to remember that it was a different cultural situation.  Peter was talking to slaves who were Christians.  Peter was talking to Christians who were being persecuted.  Facing severe bodily mistreatment was a real possibility in their daily lives.  Peter wasn’t saying that the abuse was okay or justified.  Peter was simply speaking to a situation that was their daily reality.

You and I don’t live in that situation.  In our culture, abuse is illegal and wrong, as it should be.  We have legal recourse and means to deal with abuse.  First, get away from it.  Second, take appropriate legal action.  But in the midst of our response to abuse, we can still apply the principle: be respectful and considerate for God’s sake.

Make the mission of the God your priority, even when you are being abused.

This passage also applies in many situations in our daily life when, maybe we are not being abused, but we are being overlooked or treated unkind or unfair.  And in some cases we try to take appropriate measures to address the situation, politely pointing out to a boss, for example, that we have not received a raise, while others have.  What if the boss still denies us the raise?  Peter would say, “handle that situation with the cause of Christ as your guide.  Be respectful.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Stay at that job and be mistreated.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Be a doormat for Jesus.”  He is saying, “Handle yourself with kindness and gentleness.  You represent Christ first and foremost, so represent him well, and it will be especially noticeable how you handle yourself under the pressure of mistreatment.  People will notice!”

But how do we know if we Christians should stop respecting and obeying our government?  What would we do, for example, if America outlawed evangelism like they did in Nepal last year?  What will our Nepalese sister churches do?

I will tell you what we will do, and what our sister churches have already started doing.  We’ll do what Peter said to do: “Obey God rather than men.”  I pray we never have to make that choice.  But there are plenty of places around the world, like Nepal, where this is an issue.  That’s why there are underground churches all around this world.

So while we praise God we are living in a country where we are free to worship and to speak our opinions, let’s communicate in respectful, God honoring ways.  As Peter reminds us, we Christians are not really free to do as we please. We are, like Jesus, bound to the mission of God.  As much as possible, we submit ourselves, we bind ourselves to obey and respect all authority, so that the cause of Christ might advance.

Are you facing a situation where you are being mistreated?  How will you respond with respect to that authority, for God’s sake?

How Peter could tell slaves to submit to masters without dignifying the institution of slavery

11 Jul

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Does the Bible condone slavery?  The passage we are studying this week, in particular 1 Peter 2:18-20, seems to do just that.  As I mentioned in this week’s first post, Christian slave-owners used this passage to support slavery.  Imagine being a slave hearing sermons telling you to submit to your master, even when he beats you.  Here’s how authors Powery and Sadler describe it:

“The God [slaves] met in these sermons was firmly on the side of their tormentors, opposing their freedom, reifying the status quo.  The religion they were offered did not emphasize the love of Christ in response to their choice of will, but the subjugation of their wills as a divine duty to other humans who laid claim to their bodies.”  – The Genesis of Liberation, page 1

It is a wonder that Christianity became and remains so prominent among African-Americans.  Is there perhaps more to the story?  Let’s see what we can uncover.

What we are looking at this week is a key principle Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:13: “submit to created human authority, for the Lord’s sake.”  Yesterday’s post examined how Peter applied the principle to government.  In the second of three illustrations, today Peter mentions something incredibly hard for us to hear.  In 1 Peter 2:18-20, he speaks to Christians who were slaves, and he says “submit to your masters, even to those who are harsh and maybe beat you.”  Whew. That is a tough passage.  What was Peter thinking?

First of all, slavery in the Greco-Roman Empire had some differences from slavery in our American history.  Our slavery was racial.  In Peter’s day, it was often not racial.  Slaves in the Roman Empire could earn their freedom, become citizens, purchase land, and rise in society.  Slavery was very widespread, however, and as Peter indicates, it could be brutal.

From our vantage point in 2018, given what our nation went through and still struggles with, to hear Peter say to a slave in verse 18, “submit,” and in verse 19, “it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering,” we cringe.  We want him to say, “Slave, you throw off your chains and be free!”

But Peter doesn’t say that and you can see a Southern slave owner in 1850 pulling out his Bible and proclaiming, “Look, it says right here in 1st Peter 2 that slaves should respect their masters.”  And that’s exactly what those slave-owners did!  Their way of interpreting the Bible, and the racism inherent in their interpretation, is a factor that led to our bloody Civil War.  Those slave-owners were wrong.  They interpreted this passage wrong.

Peter is absolutely not trying to support slavery and beatings.  Peter is talking to Christians who were currently slaves, giving them advice on how to handle the difficult situation, from a distinctly Christian perspective.

Peter says to them, “submit.”  Why though?  Because when they consider the freedom they have in Christ, they will best serve the cause of Christ by being submissive and respectful to the authorities around them.  God is the focus once again, as Peter notes in verses 19 and 20.  “Be conscious of God,” he says, and “This is commendable before God.”  The principle has nothing to do with whether or not slavery is right or wrong.  The principle is simply, submit for God’s sake.

Peter is laser-focused on the mission of God.  “Christian slaves,” he is saying, “you have a grander mission, the mission of Jesus, to see people become followers of Jesus, and so therefore, you give every part of your life to that mission.”

But maybe that doesn’t help you understand Peter’s heart.  Maybe you’re still thinking, “Yeah, but Peter still could have told those slaves that the mission of God also included their freedom from slavery.  God wants slaves to be free.  And therefore, he should have told them to rise up and rebel.”  If you’re thinking that, you’re not alone.  There is a significant portion of the my thinking that agrees with you.

But let’s give Peter the benefit of the doubt, that he too likely thought through this.  He had already in verse 16 said that they were to live as free men. And yet, Peter knew what would happen if Christian slaves chose to take their freedom from their masters.  Think about the slave rebellions in our American past.  They generally didn’t go well.  They almost always led to increased pain and suffering for slaves.

I suspect Peter was well aware of this and had witnessed this.  If the Christian slaves chose to embrace their freedom in Christ and not submit, they would not only face increased beatings, but they would also forfeit just about every opportunity to win their masters for Christ. Peter sees a much improved situation for slaves who are respectful, submit, and through their good lives provide a much greater chance of reaching people for Christ.

But isn’t Peter, then, preserving the institution of slavery?  Shouldn’t he still condemn it?

Even though Peter doesn’t condemn the institution of slavery, and in fact, no biblical writer does so, they did however, lay an ingenious groundwork for slavery to be abolished.  Biblical theology absolutely supports abolition of slavery and the total equality of all humanity. That discussion goes beyond the scope of this post, but I do think it is important to mention it briefly.  The biblical writers talked about racial equality, about freedom in Christ, about how in Christ there is neither slave nor free.  But we are all one in Christ.  They made a culturally-shocking theological argument against slavery.

As Christians we should passionately pursue abolition.  Thankfully slavery is no longer a part of our American situation, but the reality is that there is more slavery, globally-speaking, now than there was during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  There is much work to be done, and we Christians should be leading the charge for abolition.

Check back in tomorrow as we look at the final illustration Peter uses for how to submit to authority for the Lord’s sake.

Why and how to submit to governing authorities

10 Jul

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Yesterday we looked at Peter’s principle in 1 Peter 2:13a, “Submit to human created authorities, for the Lord’s sake.”  As he continues teaching, Peter illustrates this principle three ways:

  • Illustration #1 – verses 13b-17 – respect and submit to the governing authorities.
  • Illustration #2 – verses 18-20 – slaves respect and submit to your masters
  • Illustration #3 – verses 21-25 – Jesus as the ultimate example of submission

Starting with this post, and continuing for two more, we’re going to examine each illustration to see if we can discover why Peter would have mentioned that.  What was going on in the life of the church and in the Roman Empire that might have caused Peter to bring this up?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-17 and you’ll find Peter teaching that those Christians need to submit to the government.  He mentions the king, which is the supreme authority, and in that day it was the Roman Emperor.  In verse 14 he mentions governors, which would have been regional authorities.  And finally in verse 17 he says, “show proper respect to everyone.”

Do you remember the king Peter is talking about here?  We know exactly who he is referring to when he mentions the king, the supreme authority.  It was the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was a bit crazy.  He persecuted Christians.  Wait a minute.  Submit to Nero?  I want to say, “Peter, that is ridiculous! You should be telling these Christians to rise up and rebel, not submit!  They’re being persecuted.”

When you are being persecuted, life is hard, and certain personalities will just react, and fight back.  Perhaps Peter is hearing talk about Christians who are sick and tired of being persecuted, and there are whispers of starting armed conflict.  When we read 1 Peter 2:13, I can hear Peter saying “Woah, people time out.  I know all about what you’re going through. You do not want to pull out your swords, believe me.”  You know why I think this?  Remember what happened when Jesus was arrested in the garden?

Travel back in time with me another 30 years.  Jesus and his disciples, one of which was Peter, had been traveling around Israel, and Jesus was a rockstar preacher, gaining crowds with thousands of people.  Right around the end of his third year as a traveling preacher, things had started to get a bit heated between Jesus and the religious establishment.  The people were fans of Jesus but the religious leaders were not.  The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and they hated how Jesus regularly confronted them and they couldn’t win arguments with him. They were eager to take Jesus down.

When Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem for the beginning of Passover week that year, the people want to make Jesus King.  They’re ready to start a war.  The Jewish religious leaders see their moment.  If they can convince the Roman authorities that Jesus is a rebel, they could get Jesus killed.  Jesus knows this.  He’s not surprised.  At the end of the week, after spending a last supper with his disciples, Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives, just outside the city.  He brings the disciples with him, minus Judas who had mysteriously left the dinner early.  The disciples also are getting a sense that something is brewing.  Jesus has not been quiet about his fate.  He’s been telling the disciples straight up for weeks that he is headed to Jerusalem and a confrontation.  But the disciples didn’t get what he meant.  Jesus was so popular.  That night in the Garden, though, suddenly Judas shows up, now a traitor with a kiss, and with armed soldiers to take Jesus captive.

Peter has a moment of clarity.  This could be the day of Jesus’ ascension to the throne.  Peter whips out his sword, ready to fight!  He cuts off the ear of a guy in the group who had come to arrest Jesus.  Peter is ready to start a rebellion.  Until Jesus rocks Peter’s world.  Jesus looks at Peter and says, “My kingdom is not about that.  Put your sword away.”  Then Jesus heals the ear, allows himself to be arrested and taken away.  Peter is utterly shell-shocked.  His whole conception of Jesus and the mission of God’s Kingdom is now in shambles.  You know what Peter does next?  Maybe an hour later?  He denies even knowing Jesus.  Peter got it wrong.

I suspect 35 years later, Peter is remembering that awful night.  He does not want these new Christians to think that the Kingdom of God is advanced by fighting and war.  Because it is not!

Peter was writing to Christians about how to handle themselves while living in a nation that did not always treat them kindly.  So how should Christians respond to government, even a repressive one?  As much as possible, Peter says, they should obey. Submit. Follow the law.

But you might ask, “Should they give up their faith or break God’s laws if the government said so?”  No way.  Absolutely no.  How can I say that?  Because Peter also had to deal with that too.  A few months after Jesus died, rose and went to heaven, Peter was a changed man.  Jesus had brought him back in to the fold, and now Peter understood the mission of God’s Kingdom.

In Acts 4:19 the authorities in Jerusalem arrested Peter and John for preaching Christ, and do you think he denied Jesus then?  Nope.  He said to them, “Judge for yourselves whether is it right for us to obey you rather than God.”  Jesus had given them marching orders to make disciples, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and the religious leaders were telling them to stop.  Then a few months later, they were arrested again.  This time Peter says in Acts 5:29, “we must submit to God rather than men.”

So how do we know where to draw the line about when we should submit and when we shouldn’t?  Has Peter changed his mind 30 years later?  I would submit to you that Peter has not changed his mind.

In Acts 4 and 5 what was happening?  These are the first times Christians were persecuted for their faith.  The leaders were essentially saying to the Christians, “Give up your faith in Christ.”  Peter responds, “No we’re not going to do that.  Come what may.”  What came was a severe beating, but Peter and the other Christians kept right on preaching Jesus, totally disobeying and not submitting to the religious leaders.

But in 1 Peter 2, 30 years have gone by. Peter is writing to Christians in the Roman Empire who have already been persecuted for their faith.  Those Christians didn’t need to hear “obey God rather than men and keep the faith,” because those Christians had already been faced with that choice and they had remained faithful.  What those Christians needed was guidance about how to keep the mission of God thriving.  Therefore Peter is essentially saying to them, “Don’t rise up, rebel and start a war.  As much as possible, follow the rules, live good lives.”

Look at verse 15. He teaches them to do good in the face of ignorance.  Don’t go tit for tat.  Do good.  Silence the ignorant with your goodness. If you are being mistreated, handle it with kindness.  When you are good and kind and peaceful in the face of poor treatment, it makes a huge statement.  It makes Jesus attractive!  That’s powerful!  People take notice when you handle mistreatment with grace and kindness.

Then in verse 16 he continues this thought.  He says, “You are free,” which means free to disobey government, “but don’t use your freedom for evil!”  Christians are not citizens of an earthly country. We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, so we could say that we don’t have to follow any rules of an earthly country.  We are a holy nation, the people of God.  But to that, Peter says, don’t abuse your freedom in Christ.  Instead, practice submission to the governing authorities.

He concludes with a very expansive statement in verse 17: show proper respect for everyone.  Love the brotherhood of believers, Fear God, Honor the King.

Peter is covering three major groups that Christians should practice respect.  First, the church family, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 22.  “Love one another deeply from the heart.”  Second, fear God, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 17. “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  And third, honor the king, which is a repeat of what he said in chapter 2, verse 13 and 14 which we read today. “Submit to the King and governors.”

Peter is desperate for these Christians to be respectful.

Respect the authorities.  That doesn’t mean you need to agree with all the behavior and choices of the authorities.  In their day, Nero was a wicked man.  Of course they didn’t need to agree with him.  But as much as is possible, respect and honor and submit to the King.

It has become something of a test of authentic Christianity to be disrespectful to our leaders on social media.  I think Peter would be appalled.  So, Christians, respect authorities.  Disagree if you disagree, but do so with humility, grace and respect.  Too many Christians have damaged the cause of Christ by being out of control with their approach.  “Submit yourselves, for the Lord’s sake.” And remember that the Fruit of the Spirit is to be flowing through out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

One Bible passage slave owners used to justify owning and beating slaves

9 Jul

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Southern Christians who were slave-owners in our American past used the Bible to justify how they could sing praises to God at church on Sunday and then beat their slaves Monday through Saturday.  Were they right?  Does God condone slavery?  As we continue our study through 1 Peter, this week we come to one of those passages that slave owners cited to support their ways.

Turn to 1st Peter 2:13-25, and what do you read?  Look at verses 18-20, and you’ll find Peter says, “Slaves submit to your masters.”  Then he even says that if a slave receives a beating and takes it respectfully, he is being commendable to God.  What’s more is that Peter goes on to point them to Jesus as the ultimate example of one who was beaten for God’s sake.  It almost sounds like Peter is saying, “Slaves, just take your beatings with a smile.  That’s what Jesus did, and so you should too.”  Is Peter saying that slavery is okay?

All week long we are going to try to answer these questions and look at how this difficult passage might apply to Christians in our day.

First, we need to tie in to the previous verses 11-12 where Peter tells these Christians to “live such good lives among the pagans, that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”  That sentence is key to understanding 1 Peter 2:13-25.  Peter is writing to Christians who were a tiny minority in the vast, powerful Roman Empire.  He is thinking of the mission these Christians have.  It’s not a mission Peter made up.  It was the mission Jesus had given to Peter and the other disciples.  Three decades later, Peter conveys that same mission to Christians who never knew Jesus and yet believe in him and want to follow his way.  That mission, Peter recalls, is to live such good lives that the people around them will be impacted for Christ.  Allegiance to the mission of God, therefore, is the baseline for all Christian behavior. 

With that mission in mind, Peter has a principle to share, a principle that will guide these Christians about how they should live in a culture that was toxic to them.

The principle is in verse 13: “Submit yourself for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men.”  Before we examine how Peter illustrates this principle, including slaves’ response to their masters, we need to understand this guiding principle in verse 13.  And to understand this principle, we need to do a bit of study. Let’s examine each of the principle’s three parts.

The first part I want us to look at is the phrase: “every authority instituted among men.” How many words in that phrase?  Five.  But in the original language in which Peter wrote, he only used three words.  “Every human institution” is the simplest English way to translate the three words Peter wrote in Greek.  So why does the New International Version of the Bible add those other words?  Well, the scholars tell us that the words “every” (pas) and “men” (anthropos) are pretty much straight from the Greek.  Easy to translate with one word each.  The words “authority instituted among” are a bit more difficult to translate.  There is only one Greek word in that phrase.  I suggest that “institution” is the best English word to translate it. But it has some other elements that can help us more fully understand what Peter is referring to.

The word Peter used for “institution”, ktisis, has at its root the concept of something created.  That means that these are not God’s institutions.  They were created.  So Peter is not talking about the Kingdom of God.  He is talking about institutions created by humans.

Additionally, “ktisis” carries the idea that those created institutions have authority.  What are some examples of human-created institutions that have authority?  Governments.  The State.  Police forces.  School systems.  Many even use the word “authority” in their title.  The sewer authority.  The water authority.  The port authority.  There are actually a lot of them.  As we’ll see tomorrow, Peter is going to mention a few human institutions that were in power in his day.

To summarize, the first phrase in verse 13 is “every human created authority.”

Now we come to the second phrase, which can be a tough pill to swallow.  It is the words, “submit yourselves”.  Peter says to the Christians that they should submit to these created institutions.  For a guy who just said in verses 2:4-10 that these Christians are a holy nation, a people belonging to God, it’s actually kind of shocking that he says “submit to human authorities.”  Imagine being in the room at the house church when someone first read this letter out loud to Christians.  They could easily have been thinking, “What?  Peter, you’re confusing.  You just told us that we a holy nation belonging to God.  Why should we submit to human authorities?”

To answer that we need to first look at what he means by the word “submit”?  Submit is the concept of obedience to the orders that the authorities give.  To submit is to obey.  It’s actually a pretty simple concept.  Thus far, as we have been looking at his principle in verse 13, we have put two phrases together, and they say: “obey the orders of the created human authorities”.

The third and final part of the principle is the phrase “for the Lord’s sake.”  Peter says that they are to “obey the orders of the created human authorities, for the Lord’s sake”.  That last piece is crucial.  It’s putting God at the priority.  The submitting to or the obeying of human authority is to be done for God.  God is the focus.  There is a godly, spiritual purpose that undergirds why we submit to human authority.  Flowing from what he said in verses 11-12, the “live good lives” phrase, you could even say that in order to promote the mission of God’s Kingdom, we Christians submit to human authority. But how?

Peter is not saying that submitting to human authority is the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Submitting to human authority is like a key that can help unlock a door to advance the mission of the Kingdom. Again, I ask, how?

As we seek to answer how Christian submission to human authorities could advance the Kingdom of God, I want to muddy the waters even further.  The fact that these Christians were being persecuted leaves us feeling like something is off here.  You would think that Peter would say, “That persecution is wrong, and you should not stand for that.  You need to rebel and fight back and free yourselves.  Overthrow the oppressor.  Take up arms!”  In other words, Peter says “submit” when it seems like he should be saying, “Don’t submit!”  But Peter doesn’t do that.  Why? Is he wrong?

No, Peter is not wrong.  He has the right focus: the Lord’s sake.  Peter knows that if the Christians are submissive and obey, they will be in a far better position to advance the Kingdom of God.

But you might say to yourself, “Yeah, but Joel, where should we draw the line?  Isn’t there a time and place to rise up and rebel?”  Very good question.  We’re going to get to that.  But first, let’s keep walking through the passage and see how Peter illustrates the principle of how submitting to human authority will actually help advance the Kingdom of God.  Tomorrow we’ll look at the first of three illustrations: submitting to the State.

How all Christians have a responsibility to be priests

6 Jul

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Christians, you are all priests!  All week long we have been looking at some unusual ways Peter describes Christians’ identity and responsibility.  A holy nation, living stones, and now priests!  Yesterday we talked about how Christians can understand their identity as priests.

Now let’s look at how Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-10 describes as our priestly responsibility.  What do priests do?  Peter lists two tasks:

The first task, Peter says in verse 5, is that we offer spiritual sacrifices.  Note that the sacrifices are spiritual.  Peter is talking about the spiritual realm here.  One illustration he mentions about how to make spiritual sacrifices is when he says in verse 9 that we, “declare the praises of God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Have you ever heard the lines of the song: “we bring a sacrifice of praise”?  God desires us to praise him.  At first I thought, “Why does God want us to praise him?  Isn’t that a bit self-serving of him?”  It can seem like it.  But in the unexpected, upside-down way of God, praising him turns out to be the best possible way for us to live.

That is important.  Praising God is a lifestyle.  Praising him is not just singing songs during a worship gathering.  We try to emphasize this even about our worship services.  We would be wrong to say that they only part of our worship that is praising God is when we are singing songs.  The correct view is that all the parts of our worship service should be seen as and done as praise to God.

When we place our monetary gifts in the collection baskets, we do it with a heart of praise and thanks to God.

When we greet one another, we do so with a heart of praise to God, thanking him for placing us in a church family with all its variety.

When we share our stories of God’s work in our lives, as we pass around the microphone, we do so with praise and thanks to God.

When we study his Word during the sermon, or in our classes, we do so praising and thanking God that he still speaks.

Every part of our worship service is praise to God.  We emphasize that because we want that attitude of praise to spill out into the rest of our lives.  Drive your car, praising God.  Prepare food in your kitchen, praising God.  Go to work, praising God.  Work hard at work, praising God.  Interact with your friends and family, praising God.  Clean your house, praising God.

That’s how we priests bring a sacrifice of praise: we live lives of praise to God.

The next thing that Peter says holy royal priests do is in verse 12, live good lives. The actual text says, “live such good lives among the rest of the world that they too will see your good deeds and glorify God.”

Holy royal priest live good lives!  How do we live a good life?  I would suggest that Peter is talking about a life of following the way of Jesus.  The good life is how Jesus himself lived. Jesus calls his followers to live like he did.  How, then, did Jesus live?

Discover for yourself by reading the Gospels, the four accounts of Jesus’ life.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Open up space in your life to read about the life of Jesus. It is amazing material. But it will require time.  Netflix can wait.

Your kids can do this too.  Have them take a break from Minecraft or Fortnite.  Read to them the stories of Jesus.  Learn about how Jesus lived.

As you read, pray: “Lord Jesus help me learn how to live like you live.”  Make a bookmark with that prayer, and use it as a reminder to pray that prayer before you read.

What you will find is that the way Jesus lived was very odd.  And amazing. His way is so different from the way of the world.  As you read, discover how you can choose to live differently, and then ask the Holy Spirit to change you, to make you more like Jesus, to live like he did.  Then try it out.  Try to practice kindness and forgiveness when your heart feels anger.  Try to practice love when you have been hurt.  Spend time alone with God like Jesus did.  Invest in helping others like Jesus did.  Speak the word of God like Jesus did.  Practice patience and goodness and self-control.

That’s the good life of Jesus that he invites his holy royal priests to live!

How all Christians should identify as priests

5 Jul

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Sometimes people have bizarre reactions when they learn I am a pastor.  If they had been cursing, once they find out I’m a pastor, they’ll over-apologize and try to stop.  Often they’ll ask where Faith Church is and talk about how they’ll visit some Sunday.

Even people within our church family can have strange reactions.  At a church meal, they’ll often wait for me to pray for the meal before they start eating.  Or if they get sick and go to the hospital, they’ll want me to visit.  I could go on an on with stories like that.  I’m just a regular guy, so even after nearly 16 years in ministry, I’m still often surprised by these reactions to me.  Pastors aren’t special pray-ers or visitors, but people often think we are, elevating us to a higher plane of spirituality.

As we saw yesterday, Peter taught against this idea when he said that all Christians are royal and holy priests.  Not just pastors.  Not just missionaries.  Not just Bible teachers.  Every single Christian is a priest!  We’re all on the same level in God’s eyes.  Sure, we have different gifts and different roles.  I am so thankful for this teaching about all Christians being part of the holy, royal priesthood.  As a pastor, I think way too much focus is placed on me.  All Christians need to learn how they are priests.  But how?

In our continuing study of 1st Peter 2:4-10, Peter explains our priestly identity, which we will look at today, and he explains our priestly responsibility, which we will look at tomorrow.  So for today, what is our priestly identity?

First Peter says we are holy.  He was telling the Christians in his day that they are set apart.  It doesn’t mean “holy” in the sense that they are perfect.  It means they are set apart for a special purpose.

They are a “people belonging to God,” he says, and “a people of God.”  We all need to see ourselves that way.  A special people, belonging to God, set apart for a purpose, which we will look at tomorrow.

Here we can start to see Peter’s flow of thought into verses 11-12 which we already covered a few weeks ago when we talked about the theme of aliens and strangers.  People who have been built on the foundation of Jesus need to see that that are so precious in God’s eyes.  Though we might be strangers and aliens in the world’s eyes, we are people who belong to God!

Another way that Peter says they are holy or set apart or special is that they have received God’s mercy.  How amazing!  You are loved by God.  He has shown mercy to you!  How has he shown mercy?  God has shown his mercy by making it possible for us to become living stones.  Read about that here.

That is the first way Peter teaches that all Christians are priests: you are a holy priesthood.

Second, he says we are a royal priesthood.

Royal? Did you know, Christians, that you are royal?

You’re like Meghan Markel.  Remember her?  She recently married Prince Harry, and is now known as the Duchess of Sussex.  She doesn’t have royal blood so she cannot be called “Princess.”  That is a title she can earn eventually.  William and Kate’s children, however, were called princes and princess at birth.  They have royal blood.

When Christians consider our relationship to Jesus, we’re like Meghan Markel.  We weren’t born of royal blood.  We were adopted into it. Or as Peter says, we are reborn into God’s family, and thus we are now children of the king, with the rights and privileges of royalty.

Think about how special God views you!

If I were to guess, most of us would never think, “I am a holy, royal priest in God’s Kingdom.”  We don’t see ourselves that way.  I suspect we don’t think of ourselves that way because we are humble or feel unworthy.  Humility is respectable.  But Peter is saying, “You actually are holy, royal priests in God’s Kingdom,” and because of that we all need to see ourselves that way.

But note that the world will not see us that way, and we shouldn’t try to get them to!  Being a holy royal priest of God doesn’t mean that we go around saying that!  “Look at me, I’m a holy, royal priest!”  That would be really weird or arrogant.  Instead, we stay humble.  We know that God looks at us as holy royal priests, and so we gratefully and humbly serve him.  Jesus, our great high priest, gave us the pattern for how live in his Kingdom when he washed the disciples’ feet and gave his life as a sacrifice.

So all you Christians, your identity is holy, royal priests.  Yeah, it is an unexpected identity.  But take on that identity.  And tomorrow we’ll see how Peter describes our priestly responsibility.

Why all Christians need to see that they are living stones and priests

4 Jul

Photo by Jen Millet on Unsplash

We’ve been seeing lots of images of lava in the news in the last month or so, as volcanic activity has rocked Hawaii and Guatemala. Red hot glowing lava seems alive, as it crawls along the ground.  But it is not alive.  Lava is molten stone.  There is no stone that is alive.  Maybe something like coral is close.

Yesterday we looked at 1 Peter 2:4-10 where he says that Jesus a living stone.  There Peter also calls Christians living stones. How are we living stones?

A living stone is an anomaly.  Stones are dead.  They have no life in them.  But living stones?  How can a stone be alive?

What Peter describes here is something that is physically impossible.  A stone that is alive.  For a stone to be alive, a miracle has to take place.  The stone’s physical properties have to change.  The rules of biology and geology must be replaced.  That is exactly what has happened for Christians.  We once were dead in our sins, but we have been made alive in Christ Jesus.

That is good biblical talk right there, but what does it mean?  “Dead in sin, alive in Christ.”  It means that all humans have a sin nature, and we will choose, over the course of our lives, to behave in such a way that goes against God’s will for us.  That is sin.  Choosing to do what God does not want us to do.  From the littlest white lie to grand acts of violence and everything in between.  Because of that, the biblical writers figuratively call us dead in sin.  What they mean is that when we die, we will be separated from God forever. That’s really dead.

But thanks be to God, it doesn’t have to be that way.  Because of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection for us, God is at work rectifying the sin problem.  He has made it possible for us to place our faith in Christ, to trust in and obey Jesus, and thus be reborn.  This is what baptism symbolizes!  The idea of new birth is the idea of new life that Peter has mentioned three times so far in his letter.  Here he hints at it again.  This time he is not talking about being born again as babies, but he is talking about the concept of something that was dead that is given new life.  A stone that is alive.

In Christ, we are living stones, just as Jesus was the original living stone.  As he died and rose again to new life, so we too, when we trust in and obey him, we can become living stones, which means that when we die in this life, we will not be separated from God, but we will be with him forever.

The image of living stones, then, is an image of hope!

Now Peter quickly changes images.  Next he says that we, the church, are a holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, and we have a job to do!

Priesthood is not a word that is common to many Protestants.  In Catholic circles, it is common.  The priesthood is how Catholics and some other denominations describe their pastors.  Would the idea of priesthood have been common to those first Christians Peter was writing to?  Some of them likely came from a Jewish background, and it was a big part of their history, there were priests of the nation of Israel.  Also, some of these Christians were Greek or Roman, and there again, pagan religion in Greco-Roman society had priests.

In each of their societies/culture there was a priestly class.  But in those cultures, like ours, only the rare few were priests.  Most people are not priests or pastors.

Peter teaches something shocking.  He says they are all members of the holy, royal priesthood.

Not just the pastors.  Not just the missionaries.  Think about that: Every single one of us that is a living stone is now in the priesthood!  You transformed living stones are all priests!  We so rarely talk about that.  We should not elevate a priestly class within the church.  I’m the pastor.  It doesn’t mean that I am in a different special class in the church or in the Kingdom of God.  The young, the old.  The males, the females.  We are all on equal footing in God’s eyes.

So how did Peter envision that these Christians live out their role as living stones in a royal and holy priesthood? We’ll look at that tomorrow!