Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

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.

Would you go to a church named “The Church of the Holy Royal Priesthood of the Living Stones”?

3 Jul

Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

I would like to propose a new church name: Church of The Holy Royal Priesthood of the Living Stones.

Do you like it?  Would you go to that church?

I don’t know if I would.  I’d be thinking, “Huh? Something is off there.”  I would really be suspicious of going to a church with that name.

And yet in our next section of 1st Peter, 2:4-10, Peter uses those exact terms to describe the Christians he is writing to.  So actually, if a church named itself the Church of the Holy Royal Priesthood of the Living Stones, we would have to say that church has a completely biblical name.  A weird name, for sure, but straight off the page of the Bible.

Why would Peter use those words to describe the church?

Read the passage again, and what you’ll find is that there are actually more terms Peter uses.  There were so many I couldn’t figure a good way to include them into a church name.

He starts off calling them Living stones, a Spiritual house, and a Holy priesthood.  Then it gets confusing because the next one he says is “Royal priesthood”.

Didn’t he just say “Holy Priesthood”?  He did.  Now he goes on and says “Holy nation.”  Is he changing his mind?

Holy priesthood, royal priesthood, holy nation. Peter is all over the place.  Can we sort this out?

Imagine being these new Christians hearing this read to you for the first time; would this passage be helpful to you?  In my mind, I read and think, “Peter, what are you talking about?  What is a holy, royal priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices?”

Is Peter trying to give them a job description?  Is he saying there “Here is what I want you to do?”

The simple answer is Yes.  He is giving them a job description.  That means by extension, he is giving us a job description.  We can learn in these verses what we, a church, are to do.

But before he gets to job description, he is giving them an identity, which is why he mentions all these labels.  And in particular Peter needs them to see the central place that Jesus must have in their identity as his church.

In verse 4 Peter says “you come to him.”  To who?  To Jesus.  Jesus, Peter says, is the living stone.  Then he goes on to describe Jesus three ways: Rejected by men, Chosen by God, Precious to him.  Those phrases describe Jesus’ identity.  A living stone who was rejected by men, chosen by God, precious to him.

It gives me the image of a game of backyard soccer.  The neighborhood kids come together, and they start to pick teams.  There is often one guy or girl that no one wants.  All the kids are getting picked, running over to their team captains, so thankful that they got picked.  You know how it feels to be picked for a team, right?  Doesn’t matter if you are kids or adults.  If you get picked, it is so life-affirming.  Sadly we also know what it is liked to be rejected.  To be the kid who is waiting there, hearing other kids’ names called, desperately hoping their name gets called, and one by one, the options narrow down and their name is still not called.  Then it comes down to the final two.  At the final two, you do not want to be picked last.  Your heart starts pounding, your face flushes red with embarrassment and fear.  Then you hear it. The other person’s name.  You are last.  Rejected.  No one wants you, and it hurts.  The team captain with the final choice looks at you and says “I guess you’re on my team.”  Wow, that stings, right?

Peter says that person picked last was Jesus. Jesus was rejected by men when he was crucified.  But surprise!, there is an unexpected turn of events.

Jesus was chosen by God not to die, but to rise again!  The dead stone lives.  Jesus is precious to God.  This odd living stone, whatever that means, though he is rejected by men, is actually quite amazing from a totally different viewpoint, from God’s viewpoint.

Peter is saying this because these Christians he is writing to are experiencing the same thing in their world.  They, too, were being rejected by men.  They are being persecuted.  They are not wanted in their communities.  These Christians are a tiny minority, and they seem really odd to the vast majority of the people around them.  When these Christians received and accepted the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, the word of God that was preached to them, and they started following the way of Jesus, they started becoming different.

So Peter reminds them that they, like Jesus, are actually chosen by God, and what’s more, they are precious to God!  Peter is saying that they also need to see themselves as living stones, just as Jesus was.  He is their foundation.

They are living stones built on the foundation of Jesus.  They are being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood.  Time out?  What?  Peter is changing images so fast here.  Living stones?  We barely have a clue what that is about, and now he is calling the Christians a royal priesthood?  Why is he changing images so fast?

We will look further into those two images, but first let’s keep going through verses 6 and following. There we see that Peter goes on to describe the foundation of Jesus.

He quotes some Old Testament passages in verse 6-8 showing that Jesus is the foundation.  More specifically, Jesus is the precious cornerstone of this spiritual house.  But there is a problem.  Not everyone thinks Jesus is precious.  We who believe think he is precious, of course, but for some other people, Jesus is a stumbling stone.

You ever walk on rocky path and stumble because there was a stone you didn’t account for?  At our house, it is dog toys.  It seems like every day, someone in our family, me included, walks across the living room carpet, not looking down, and steps on a dog toy, stumbles, looks hilarious doing it, and says “Bentley!” our dog’s name.

Jesus, Peter says, is a stumbling stone for people who do not believe.  It’s not just that they don’t believe in Jesus.  They find him distasteful or repulsive.  All that Jesus stands for, they find unnecessary or unhelpful, maybe even wrong.

So when we look at Jesus as precious, we stand out at odd.  When we see Jesus as precious, we want to follow his way.  We want to be like him.  That is what Peter is saying.  We are living stones, built on the foundation of the original living stone, Jesus.

How is Jesus a living stone?  He was dead like a stone and came back to life!  Because Peter calls Christians living stones, how are we living stones?  Check back in tomorrow when we’ll take a look at why Peter uses this unique image of living stones.

The cause and cure for spiritually malnourished Christians

28 Jun

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Hey there, Christians.  Quick question for you: are you spiritually mature?  Take a few minutes and think about that.  Pause reading the rest of this post, and really try to answer this question.

I am concerned that though Peter is very clear in 1 Peter 2:1-3 that we need to crave pure spiritual milk from God in order to mature spiritually, what we actually crave is far different.

Just like the difference between skim and raw milk, I am concerned that we are skim milk Christians, when we need to be raw milk Christians.  Is it possible that we have attempted to nurture Christians on skim milk for decades, teaching them that only a thin, weak commitment to growing in maturity is what is needed?

But Peter says that if we want to grow up in our salvation, we are going to have to crave raw milk.  I’m concerned that we might be malnourished baby Christians.  In fact, it is entirely possible that people can be baby Christians for decades.  For their whole lives.  Staying in a state of immaturity because they are not craving pure spiritual milk.

Do you need to go deeper with Christ?  Evaluate how much time you give in life to receiving the nourishment of pure spiritual skim milk.  The Daily Bread is good, and the verse of the day app is good.  Nothing wrong with them.  Use them.  But they are spiritual skim milk.  We simply need to go deeper.

In order to mature as followers of Jesus, we need to take in lots of pure spiritual milk.  We talked about that yesterday.  So where does a Christian get this pure spiritual milk?  The Bible?  Is it from the Word of God?

Think about the Christians Peter is talking to in 1st Peter 2:1-3. How could they get this pure spiritual milk?  They did not have smart phones with the Bible app.  They did not have Christian bookstores where they could visit and choose from 100 different kinds of Bibles.  They didn’t have Amazon where they could go online and select from 1000 different kinds of Bibles.  This might be shocking, but those Christians Peter is writing to didn’t have any Bible at all.  So though the Bible is a source of spiritual nourishment from God, Peter is not talking about the Bible.

Where, then, could those early Christians get spiritual nourishment?  Well, they did have bits and pieces of the Bible.  They would get letters, like this one from Peter, and from guys like Paul.  Those letters were often copied and distributed.  But they didn’t have copying machines with cheap ink and paper like we have.  Each week at Faith Church we crank out paper bulletins at minimal cost.  To have one’s own copy of Peter’s letters would have been unthinkable for most Christians.  So they would gather together as a group, and they would listen to the letter read to them.  They would listen together as the apostles and pastors taught them.  They would gather in groups to encourage one another.  And of course they could grow their relationship with God through prayer, fasting and other spiritual disciplines.  Their church family was a treasure to them. That was how they could take in pure spiritual milk.

Their church families, therefore, were vital for spiritual growth.  Those first Christians were a small minority.  They did not and could not approach their faith in Jesus as something they did alone.  They were in this as a family.  That’s why Peter has to say “love one another deeply from the heart” and “get rid of” all the family killers.

They would have conceived of craving pure spiritual milk primarily as something they did together.  Look again at 1 Peter 2:1-3.  See all those times Peter uses the words “you” or “your”?  We can’t see it our English translations, but in the original language, those words are all plural.

If we were to capture his meaning in English we would have to add the word “all”.  Like this: “You all rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.  Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you all may grow up in your salvation, now that you all have tasted that the Lord is good.”

So craving pure spiritual milk is something we do together.  It is participating in worship, it is hearing the word of God preached, it is gathering in smaller groups and praying and discussing what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in the real world.

But it wasn’t only a group thing. Each person also has to receive spiritual nourishment.

What helps us get this spiritual nourishment?  I am convinced that spending time in spiritual disciplines is essential.  Spending time in prayer, contemplative prayer, silent prayer and studying God’s word.  And going deeper it in groups.  It requires time.  I learned that during sabbatical.  Prior to sabbatical I didn’t spend nearly enough time craving and drinking pure spiritual milk.  I was way too distracted, and figured “Well, at least I got the spiritual skim milk.”  That was an excuse to not actually drink pure spiritual milk.  I am so thankful for sabbatical.  And now in the three months that I have been back from sabbatical, I’ve made a change.  I spend time almost every day with God, particularly in contemplative prayer.

The next keep step is putting action to what we learn.  And this is where the group can be so important.  For accountability.  Telling someone what you are learning and what action you think it might be requiring.  Pure spiritual milk always leads to action. It is not simply knowledge.  And it is so much more effective when we do this with others.  That’s the plural “you” that Peter is talking about.

Make the time to bring others into your walk with God.  We Americans talk a lot about our “personal relationship” with God.  And God does love us each personally.  He cares about our individual lives, needs, concerns.  But community is where the power of nourishment from raw milk comes can really grow us.

Our church family is where we have to work through things in our lives, where we can be about doing things for the Kingdom together, as His church.  Do what Jesus did.  He had plenty of personal time alone with God. He went away to quiet places to spend time with Him.  But he also then came back to his earthly family, the 12 disciples, and he helped them understand how to live life.

So let us crave pure spiritual milk.  That almost certainly means our lives will have to change in some way.  Stopping the wrong habits and starting new ones takes work, it means establishing new patterns. It can take time.  What do you need to change?  What will it take for you to invest the time to change and grow in that area?  Do you need a mentor?  Find someone to be your guide!

Two odd but important Christian phrases about becoming spiritually mature

27 Jun

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

If you’ve ever watched a newborn nursing or drinking from a bottle, it is wild how hungry they can be.  As they grow a few months, and they start to be a bit more aware, they can get very excited when you start talking about their bottle.  They shake, they wave their arms, and sometimes start crying because it is taking you soooo long to get the bottle ready.  Then when you hand them the bottle,they slam it into their mouths, gulping furiously, and their crying stops in an instant!  I remember watching our kids do that, and thinking they are craving that milk.

Christians, that’s how we should be.

Yesterday we looked at how Peter, in 1st Peter 2:1-3 says that there are five church family killers we should get rid of.  But Peter doesn’t stop there.  Peter doesn’t just want the people to stop things.  He also wants them to start things.  Remove the poor behaviors, for sure, but then add what?

He says in verse 2, “like newborns, you should crave pure spiritual milk.”  Again he mentions the concept of new birth!  Since the beginning of his letter, this is now the third time Peter has brought up the idea that Christians are reborn.  When you are reborn in Christ, you gain citizenship in a new country, and you become part of a new family of love.  Now Peter says we should be like newborn babies who crave milk. But he calls it “pure spiritual milk.”

Odd Phrase #1: Do you crave pure spiritual milk?

That’s a weird question, isn’t it?  “Do you crave pure spiritual milk?”  I don’t think I ever in my life asked that question before.  What is pure spiritual milk?

It’s pure. That means it is not infected, it is not diluted.  It is not half and half.  It’s not skim.  It’s not pasteurized. It is pure, like raw milk straight from a cow.

Also that pure spiritual milk has a purpose. Peter says in verse 2 that the purpose of this milk is that, “by it you may grow up in your salvation.”

This pure spiritual milk is stuff that helps you grow.  But not physical growth.  It is spiritual milk and it helps you grow spiritually, in your salvation, Peter says.

Odd Phrase #2: Grow up in your salvation

“Grow up in your salvation” is one of those Bible-sounding phrases that I could skip by really quickly assuming that you know what that means.  It is a very Christian kind of thing to say.  We Christians talk about salvation as if it is normal and everyone knows about it.  But do they?

“Grow up in your salvation.”  Look at that phrase.  Who talks like that?  You won’t hear that phrase anywhere in our culture.

You will hear “Grow up.” If a person is acting immature, we say, “Grow up!”  Why? They are not acting their age.

Or we use “grow up” from the perspective of a child who is dreaming about what they want to do when they grow up.   Usually it is about the career they want to have.  We often ask children, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Of course there are some adults who are also wondering what they want to be when they grow up.  Usually that is because they aren’t sure they have found that thing, that meaning, that fulfillment, in their career.

We know the term “grow up.”  It refers to a change that needs to take place.  A development in our lives.  It is a development toward maturity, right?  Growing up means that we are putting aside immaturity, kind of like Paul saying “Get rid of” the family killers in your life, and we are moving toward maturity.

Craving and taking in pure spiritual milk so that we can grow up in our salvation is just like that.

Our salvation is a way that Peter is describing our relationship with Jesus.  By his life, death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to be saved from the penalty of sin.  When we trust in and obey him, as Peter said in verses 1:21-25, we are saved, we are reborn as citizens of a new spiritual country, the Kingdom of Jesus, and thus we are reborn as new babies into a new spiritual family, the church.

That’s what happens when we trust and obey; we are saved, we are reborn. Thus the image of new babies is perfect for the Christians that Peter is writing to.  They need to see themselves new babies in a new family.  Thus they should want to grow up and mature.

The implications are clear.  Christians are not to stay in the infant stage.  Christians should grow up.   Growing up as followers of Jesus requires that we take in a form of nourishment called pure spiritual milk.  Just as a baby derives nutrients and calories from milk, and that causes the baby to grow, so Christians must take in pure spiritual milk, and the spiritual energy it brings will cause them to grow and mature as followers of Christ.

Also, Peter is saying this pure spiritual milk is not option.  He says we should crave it.  We need to want it.  That means we need to have humble teachable hearts to see those areas of our lives that are immature, where we need growth.  Then we can seek pure spiritual milk to help us in those areas.

Finally, Peter answers where this spiritual sustenance comes from.

In verse 3 he is saying, “Christians, you have tasted that the Lord is good.  You know that he is the real deal.  He is the truth, and because you have tasted the goodness of the Lord, that means that the pure spiritual milk is from the Lord.”

Only the Lord can satisfy the longing of your life.  In other words, if you want to grow up in your relationship from the Lord, you need sustenance that only comes from him.  That’s what pure spiritual milk is.  Pure spiritual milk is spiritual sustenance, spiritual calories that are only available from God.  If you want to grow up in your salvation, if you want to become more mature in your practice of discipleship to Jesus, drink more spiritual milk.

Check back in tomorrow as we’ll give practical suggestions about how to get this pure spiritual milk and take it in to our lives on a regular basis.