Tag Archives: love

Be a Refresher of Hearts! Philemon 1-7, Part 5

23 Aug

How do people come away from interacting with you? Think about some of the recent times that you have interacted with people. Maybe it was your family members. Perhaps it was co-workers. Or even social media posts. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who were with you, or who were reading your posts or viewing your videos. What impression did you give them? Were you complaining? Angry? Joyful? Hopeful?

We started this series of posts asking, “Are you able to see yourself for who you really are?” In this fifth part in our series on Philemon verses 1-7, if you read verse 7, you’ll see that Paul really encourages Philemon, helping Philemon see himself for who he truly is. It appears that Philemon was a really great guy. But how so?

Paul says that Philemon’s love has given Paul great joy and encouragement, because Philemon has refreshed the hearts of the saints.  I wish I knew what Paul meant by that, but it would appear that Philemon was a very loving, encouraging person.  He was full of faith, to the point that when people visited Paul in Rome on house arrest, they talked about Philemon. Paul was overjoyed to hear how Philemon was living out his faith.

It is amazing to consider that Paul would be able to say this while in prison!  Paul really wants Philemon to be happy to be holding that letter in his hands and reading it.  Why?  He’s getting there. Next week in the series on Philemon 8-25, we’ll get the answer to the question of “Why?”

For now, let’s consider what we have heard in verses 1-7.  The character of Philemon is quite impressive. If you want, go back and read the previous parts of this series, starting here.

What we saw is that Philemon has qualities that are worth emulating: faith, love for all the saints, love that gave Paul great joy and encouragement, and finally, because Philemon was a giver of joy and encouragement, he refreshed the hearts of the saints

In other words, Paul sees Christ in Philemon. 

Therefore I have a question we all should ask: do others see Christ in me?

They will see Christ in you if you are like Philemon.  Full of faith, having a love for all the people in the church family, love that gives joy and encouragement, so that people’s hearts are refreshed after spending time with you.

Think about that.  How do people react to you?  Do they come away from their interaction with you encouraged, joyful, feeling loved?  What about your social media posts?  What about your interactions on the phone?  How do you handle yourself in meetings? Would people say that you refresh their hearts?

If not, what do you need to confess? How do you need to repent? And what do you need to change in order to become more like Philemon, who was a refresher of hearts?

How faith works – Philemon 1-7, Part 3

21 Aug
Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

Have you wondered how faith works? What is faith? I long ago heard that faith is like sitting in a chair. You sit down, believing and trusting that the chair will hold you up. Of course, the chair might be poorly built, and when you sit on it, the chair breaks apart and you fall to the ground! While I get the chair illustration, it can still seem difficult to know if I am truly placing my faith in God. What do I actually do?

As I said in the previous post, Jesus has numerous really important purposes for this letter Paul is writing to his friend Philemon, and one purpose that is to explain how faith works. If you haven’t started with Part 1 of this series on Philemon 1-7, I encourage you to pause reading this one and start with Part 1. Then continue with Part 2. Ok, all caught up?

Now look at Philemon, verses 4-7, which is Paul’s brief introduction to the main part of the letter.  In this intro, Paul will set the tone for what he has to say to Philemon.  So let’s look at it closely.

Verse 4 is pretty straightforward.  Paul often talks like this in his other letters.  He tells Philemon that he thanks God for Philemon, as he remembers Philemon in his prayers.  What a wonderful example Paul sets for Philemon and anyone who would read this letter, even 2000 years later.  We should pray for people, and thank God for them.  How often do you pray for the people in your life, thanking God for them?  What if that became a new habit for you?   

Also, imagine how Philemon would have felt reading that.  He would love it.  It’s so encouraging.  Paul, the guy who was one of the foremost Christians of his day, even when he is hundreds of miles away in Rome, on house arrest, is personally remembering Philemon, praying for him, and thanking God for him?  Who do you need to write a note of encouragement to, just saying, “I’m praying for you, and I’m grateful for you”?  And then actually pray for them.  I think the note itself is a prayer too.  This day and age with texting, it is so easy to send a note of thanks and prayer for people.  A few weeks ago, someone put a card on my desk in my office.  It simply said, “You are loved and being prayed for you!”  It was anonymous.  They made sure the focus was on God, not on them.  It was really encouraging!

But Paul is not nearly done with the encouragement for Philemon.  Look at verse 5. There he explains the reason that he thanks God for Philemon.  Two reasons, really.  First, he heard about Philemon’s faith in the Lord.  Second, he heard about his love for all the saints.  So word got out.  People who visited Paul were saying to Paul that Philemon is the real deal. 

I always get a little weirded out when I hear that people are talking about me.  Whether that is good or bad.  It can just feel uncomfortable.  How about you? Do you feel that way when you find out people are talking about you? 

But it sure does help, though, to hear that they have good things to say about you.  Paul has heard people say very good things about Philemon: about his faith in the Lord and love for all the saints.  Those are two really important aspects of being a disciple of Jesus, so think with me about how faith and love work together in the life of a disciple of Jesus. Faith in God that shows it is true faith by loving people. 

I recently heard a talk about faith that was very helpful.  The speaker said that we so often think of faith as “assent,” meaning that faith is when we believe in or agree with certain ideas or concepts.  It is saying, “I agree or I believe that Jesus is God, that he died and rose again, and so on.”  But in the New Testament, when the writers, including Paul and Jesus himself, talked about faith, they were almost certainly not talking only about assent.  When they talked about faith, it included assent, but it went beyond assent to allegiance.  In other words, when we have faith in Jesus, we are saying, Jesus, you are the one true King, and I pledge my allegiance to you and you only.”  Paul says that is what Philemon was doing.  Philemon was showing that he was a true disciple of Jesus, by living out a faith that demonstrated love.

Paul is also setting a tone here.  He definitely wants Philemon to self-identify as a person who demonstrates faith in God by loving all Christians.  He has a reason for encouraging Philemon so much.  That reason will become very apparent in verse 8 when Paul says “therefore”.  We’ll get to that next week when we study the rest of the letter.  For now, observe what Paul is saying about Philemon, and ask yourself how that might apply to you.  How is your faith in the Lord?  How is your love for the people in the church?  Is your love and faith being talked about?  Are there ways you could improve? How so? What do you need to do differently?

God’s purpose for your life – Titus 3:1-8, Part 4

8 Aug
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Stop! Don’t read this post. (I know. That’s not an advisable way to start a blog post.)

Before continuing with this post, thought, if you haven’t read the previous post, part 3, please go back and read it here. In this series of posts, we’re studying the amazing teaching of Titus 3:1-8, so actually, I would recommend you start with the first post. But at the very least, please take a few minutes and scan through part 3 in this series, as you need to have a grasp of the verses in Titus 3 that post covered in order to see the significance this one will cover.

What I talked about in the previous post relates to the next phrase in verses 5-6, “renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul has been teaching about the transformation that God works in our lives. Christians often call it salvation, and in that amazing gift of grace, Paul says, God pours the Holy Spirit into our lives, further causing renewal to take place.  That means God himself enters our lives to renew us.  I don’t know that I can understate how important that is. 

I get the sense that we need to think and contemplate an awful lot more on the fact that the Spirit of God has been poured out on us to renew us. 

In the midst of busy lives, of work, of sports, of Netflix, of TV, of all that you do, have you pushed the Spirit to some tiny corner of your lives?  Intellectually, I would agree the Spirit is with me.  But in the reality of my day to day life, to what degree do I have a relational connection with the Spirit?  If I’m honest, I rarely think about or attempt to interact with the Spirit.  How about you?  Because God is with us, by his Spirit, however, wouldn’t a deeper connection with the Spirit be something we should look into? 

But Paul is not done.  Look at verse 7.  His thought continues, and there is more incredible news.  All this amazing mercy and love and kindness of God, that saved us, washed us, and renewed us from an old way of life, is for a reason.  God has a purpose. 

Before telling us the purpose, Paul has one more important phrase to set the stage. 

Paul says, “Having been justified by his grace.”

“Justified” is a really important biblical theological word, rich in meaning.  Oftentimes scholars debate as to how we should understand it.  The word that Paul used has the idea of putting things in right relation, or making things right.  That’s what God does through Jesus.  He is making things right between us and God.  Another English word that might be an even better fit is “rectification.”  By his grace, God rectifies the situation, he makes it right. As we’ve already seen in the previous post, God makes us into new people, and earlier in this post, God generously pours his Spirit into our lives. God is at work making things right in our lives.

Why would God do this?  If it wasn’t because of anything we did, and it wasn’t, why would he do this?  As I said, he has a purpose.  Paul now puts it all together telling us why God’s kind, loving, merciful gracious salvation appeared into our darkness, saving us, transforming us, even to the point of pouring out his Spirit on us through Jesus.  Why would God do all that?  Why would Jesus go through the incredible 33 years of his birth, life, death and resurrection?

Paul tells us in verse 7: “so that we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” 

This is amazing good news! 

Paul is using family language here.  God wants us to be his heirs.  That means he wants to adopt us into his family.  This is exactly what he said in Titus 2:14, that he was making a people for himself.  God wants you to be in his family. Stop reading this post, and just dwell on that thought a minute. God wants you to be in his family. Do you know that? What do you think about that?

But wait, there’s more, Paul says! God also wants you to have the hope of eternal life.  As I said in the series of posts on Titus 2:11-15, though in that section Paul was teaching about good news in Jesus, he surprisingly didn’t talk about eternal life. He does now.  God wants us to have hope of new life with him now and for eternity. That’s how much God wants you to be in his family.

So look really closely at what God has done.  Into our mess, God appears and does a work of transformation, giving us the gift of himself, so that we can be a part of his family and have hope for eternal life.  That’s good, good news.  That’s worthy of jumping, shouting, cheering, praising, and getting on iMessage, Instagram, Facebook or your phone or walking around your neighborhood and saying, “People, do you realize what God has done???” Paul is describing the revolutionary work of God that is available to all: he wants you to become new, so that you can be a part of his family now and for eternity.

Hope when life is very dark – Titus 3:1-8, Part 3

7 Aug

Do you have a dark past? Is life feeling messy or difficult right now? If you answered “Yes” to either of these questions, you’re not alone. All of us go through really troubling times. In the middle of it, we can feel a confusing mixture of fear, sadness, pain, longing, despair, and we wonder if things will ever change. Usually we think they won’t.

As we continue studying Titus 3:1-8, Paul is thinking about those dark days in the past when in verse 3 he says, “At one time.”  After talking about how the Christians in Crete should be subject to the authorities and live Christianly in the world, Paul has a shift in his flow of thought, drawing their attention to the past.  He wants them to be totally different people than he used to be, than they used to be. 

When he says, “we too,” he could be talking about himself, which is important because, as a leader, he is owning and admitting his past faults.  Paul lists the way he used to live:  foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by passions, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

Paul could be talking about himself because before he became a Christian, he was pretty rough, persecuting Christians.  This is very much connected with what he just said in the previous verse about being humble.  Christians should be willing to admit our faults.  Leaders especially, we need to be committed to admitting where we mess up.  It’s hard to admit our faults, though, isn’t it?  I sense that in our society we have moved toward less admittance of our faults.  It seems to me that people are much quicker to blame others, and not accept fault.  We have too few examples of people who screwed up, owned it, confessed it, and strove for penance, reconciliation, healing.

Paul is also not saying that everyone used to horrible, though.  But maybe there is at least something on the list that describes how you and I used to be. 

Verse 3 is difficult.  Who likes to remember our dark pasts?  And yet Paul is leading us there, so let’s follow his lead.  Look at the words he uses in verse 3 to describe the dark past.  Take a moment to dwell on them.  For the most part Paul is describing those times when we made a mess of our lives.   What was that for you?

A choice to indulge an unhealthy relationship.  To engage in addictive behaviors.  To cross the line into illegalities, because maybe you were angry, you were hurt, you were maybe trying to impress someone.  Maybe people pushed you to act a certain way, and you wanted to be included in their group.  Maybe you were deceived by someone and they hurt you.

As Paul says, remember those times when you felt malice, which is a feeling of wanting to hurt someone.  Remember those times when you were envious.  Maybe a family member or friend was prospering or gaining accolades, while you are working super hard long hours, and seeming like you are not advancing.  And envy creeps in.   Maybe you had someone at work hate you.  Maybe you have someone you hate. 

It can get dark, can’t it?  Remember the darkness? It’s no fun.  Maybe you have some of that darkness even now in your life.  Maybe you feel like you are living it now. 

And into the darkness something happens.

Look what Paul says in verse 4.  God intervened! His kindness and love appeared.  It wasn’t us.  We didn’t do it.  God stepped in.  This is so similar to what he said earlier in 2:11 – the grace of God appeared!  Praise God!  He steps into our darkness! 

When we are in the mess and muck of life, even if it is a situation of our own making, we can feel hopeless and alone.  But Paul says, God our Savior is loving and kind.

What’s more, Paul says in verses 5-6, God saved us!  He steps into our mess and saves us.  Not because of our righteousness. Remember the darkness in verse 3, which says we were far from him, the furthest thing from righteousness.  Paul says God saved us because of his mercy.  We need to spend time dwelling on that too.  God is merciful.  Even when we used to be living in a mess of our own making, he is still merciful.  We don’t deserve it, but he is loving and kind and gives us mercy.

What does mercy involve?  Just words?  Maybe just a pat on the head?  Oh no.  Paul says, God saves us so deeply, so thoroughly, from the inside out.  We’re talking transformation here.  Look at these words he uses:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth

He saved us through renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior.

Rebirth and renewal.  We need to talk more about these two! 

Paul calls it the washing of rebirth.  This is symbolized in the celebration of baptism.  The water and act of baptism symbolize the reality that God is doing within us.  All that junk we read about in verse 3, all of it is washed clean, and we are reborn.  So not only are we cleaned, but we are reborn.  We are new people.  A new beginning.  We’re not the same as we used to be.  What Paul is describing is incredibly similar to what we saw him teach last week in chapter 2, verse 14, when he talked about redeeming and purifying us.  When Jesus gets in your life, he makes a change!

Check back in as we’ll continue talking about this change in the next post.

How to have loving diversity in a church family

9 Oct
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.  Sometimes church families are like any other family, and that means we can butt heads.  We don’t always see eye to eye.  With the exception of ethnic diversity, my congregational is quite a diverse.  Young and old.  Male and Female.  Rich and poor.  Conservative and Progressive.  Introvert and extrovert.  That diversity is a beautiful thing, but it means we often disagree.

In this post we continue through 1st Peter looking at chapter 4, verses 7-11, and Peter is talking about how church families can handle this kind of diversity.

Peter, in verse 7, starts by mentioning that “the end of all things is near.”  What end?  We’ve been having blood moons in recent years, and people talk about how blood moons signal that the end is near. 

When we think about end times, our minds jump to ideas like a rapture where Christians suddenly disappear, maybe a time of tribulation, or a great war called Armageddon, but did Peter think of “the end of all things” like that?  What images did he have in mind? 

Almost certainly Peter is referring to the return of Jesus.  We read in Acts 1, that right after Jesus returned to his father in heaven, angels appeared and told the disciples that Jesus would come back. But when?  Peter says “the end is near”?  Did Peter think that Jesus was going to return in his lifetime? Probably. The early church seemed to think this.  It is mentioned more than once in the NT writings.

Think about that, Peter said this 2000 years ago.  So does that mean Peter is misinformed or misguided?  I don’t think so. It is best to understand “near” in the sense of “it can happen anytime”.  As Jesus himself said to his disciples, “no one knows the time of his return, so be ready at all times.”  Jesus himself said that the Kingdom of Heaven in near.  “Near” is best understood as something that can happen at anytime, rather than something that will happen soon.  We don’t know when it will happen, but it could happen anytime.  So we must be ready.

Peter goes on to say that one way we show that we are ready for Jesus’ return is to be “sensible”.  In the NIV that word is translated as “clearminded” which is to have understanding about practical matters and thus able to act sensibly.

Peter also says that we show that we are ready for Jesus’ return by being “self-controlled”, and the word Peter uses means the opposite of getting drunk.  But he is not just talking about alcohol. One scholar defines this as “to behave with restraint and moderation, not permitting excess in general.” It is an attitude that affects action.  When we say that someone is sober-minded, we don’t mean that they are simply not getting drunk.  We mean that they have an attitude of self-control about their lives, and that attitude leads to self-controlled actions.  Peter is not just saying “don’t get drunk” or “don’t get high”.  He is saying something much larger or broad.  Be a self-controlled person. 

When Peter talks about self-control he is saying that we organize our lives in such a way to prioritize the mission of God’s Kingdom.  How do we do use self-control to focus our lives on the mission of God’s Kingdom?  Peter says that we pray. We make time in our lives for spiritual practices so we can know God more, depend on him, and make him the focus of our lives.  But Peter is not suggesting a legalistic, rigid approach.

I remember that when our two oldest were babies and toddlers; there were stretches where Michelle and I did not go to Sunday School because it was so difficult to get ready, and to place them in childcare for long stretches. Likewise, a friend recently told me the story about a phase in their lives where they had to get up really early for work, 5am.  She wanted to have time alone with God, maybe reading the Bible and praying. But given that work schedule, it wasn’t going to happen even earlier.  Every now and then I hear that we should sacrifice sleep in order to spend time with God.  I’ve come to believe that sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get good sleep.  So my friend said her devotional times were on her days off.  That’s okay.

What I’m saying is this: following the way of Jesus is not a legalistic thing.  There are phases in life where it will look different, but what should always remain is the self-control to put his ways, his principles, the fruit of the Spirit, first.  We won’t be perfect in that.  But, that is the goal.  To put his ways first.

Again, Peter says, “Because the end is near, be self-controlled, so that you can pray.”  I wouldn’t have expected that.  Why prayer?  If the end is near, shouldn’t Peter be telling people to get out on the streets to invite more people to follow Jesus?  I think Peter has something else in mind.  A memory.

Could Peter be transporting us once again back to the night Jesus was arrested in the Garden, the night before he was crucified?  We know that night was the most impactful and vivid of Peter’s life.  He had many incredible moments with Jesus, but that night was etched in Peter’s mind.  Remember what happened that night at the beginning of their time in the Garden?  Jesus brought his disciples to the Garden.  That alone was not unusual.  It was a walk outside the city and Luke tells us that in Jesus’ final week, he went out there every night to pray.

Then in Matthew we read that he asked Peter, James and John to break away from the group and go a little further into the Garden.  He said to them that he was overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death.  Jesus was really going through it, the anxiety was intense.  And specifically asks Peter, James and john to stay there and keep watch.   This is Matthew 26:38.  Jesus went a little farther from the disciples, fell with his face to the ground and prayed that famous prayer, “Father…not my will, but yours be done.”  We don’t know how long Jesus prayed.  If it was just the text Matthew gives us, it is a very short prayer.   I suspect it was a good bit longer, because Jesus mentions “one hour in the next verse.”  I also think it was a longer prayer because of what we learn next.

Matthew records that Jesus takes a break from praying, and goes back to check on Peter, James and John, and what does he find?  They are asleep. He wakes them, and Matthew mentions that Jesus specifically speaks to Peter, “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?…Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak.”  Then Jesus went back and prayed again, “Father…may your will be done.”  And again he checked on the disciples and again they were asleep. This time he didn’t wake them, instead returning to prayer, praying the same thing.  Finally Matthew says that he returned to the disciples a third time, waking them with, “Are you still sleeping and resting…Look, the hour is near.”  Just as he was saying those words, Judas, the betrayer, arrived with armed men to arrest Jesus.

I think Peter remembers that night quite well.  “The hour is near,” Jesus said.  The exact same words that Peter uses in 1 Peter 4.7!  “The end is near.”  Just as Jesus called Peter and the disciples to watch and pray, now Peter is calling Christians to be self-controlled and pray.

These are parallel situations.  Moments of intensity and ultimate destiny, and where Peter failed to be self-controlled and therefore did not pray, he wants something better for these Christians 30 years later. 

But again I ask, prayer?  Why prayer? Why then?

Because prayer roots us in the will and ways of God. Prayer says, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.”  Prayer is a submission to God.  Prayer is act that shows that we depend on God.  In the middle of crisis, prayer is especially vital.  Normally in crisis, we want to take matters into our own hands and resolve it.  Prayer, however, hits the pause button and refocuses our lives on God, who is the true power.  But when we are freaked out it is hard to pray!  Maybe when we are so distracted, so anxious, our minds are out of control and we can’t pray.  I have definitely felt that in moments of high anxiety.

We can be so emotional that we just can’t settle our minds enough to prayer.  I believe this is where Peter is going with this. He remembered his own failure and wants these people to learn to depend on God during moments of crisis.

Or we become so distracted by the things of this world that we set prayer aside.  We are literally too busy to pray, we say.  But I know for myself that, while I can say that I am so busy, and I feel so busy, I sure have time to watch TV daily, check the news on my phone.  So let us make more space in our lives for prayer.

With this foundation of depending on God in prayers, Peter builds on that in verse 8, returning to a theme that we have seen multiple times in the letter: that the church family should love one another deeply.  He quotes an Old Testament verse, Proverbs 10:12, “love covers a multitude of sins.”

This also quoted by James, and there are echoes of it in the famous love chapter 1 Cor. 13.  What does it mean, that love covers over a multitude of sins?  If you love someone you have to accept their sinful choices and be okay with them?  This is very picturesque word. In Proverbs, it is the image of love as clothing that covers over sin.  Forgiveness is very much a related concept, and in fact the Hebrew word used in Proverbs 10:12 is in some circumstances translated “forgive”.

Love can overlook faults, it doesn’t seek revenge, forgives.  Love gives grace, and it doesn’t seek perfection.  You know how some personalities rub you the wrong way? Love says that we accept the people who are difficult for us. 

Remember that proverbs are not promises.  Proverbs are principles that are generally true.  They hold true in most cases, but not in all cases.  So when Peter quotes this proverb, he knows that.  He is not trying to say that love means we should somehow turn a blind eye to sin.  What he is saying is that in a church family, we need to be gracious and forgiving.

But how do we know when to cover over the sin?  I would submit that a big part of the answer to that question is how the sinning person responds.  If they are repentant and humble and seeking to change, then let love cover over their sin.

But if they are unrepentant, repeating their behavior, unwilling to submit to correction, then the most loving thing to do is hold them accountable and create boundaries for them.

This is hard.  We are not people who like boundaries.  We flee boundaries.  We want chances to start over, wipe the slate the clean, as if the past was gone. 

What, then, does repentance look like?  I want to bring up a word called penance.  We need to be people of penance.  Penance means that you work hard to show you are sorry, that you are repentant.  You are willing to do the hard work to heal a broken relationship, make real changes in your attitude, actions, and lifestyle choices.

Have any of you watched The Crown on Netflix?  The final episode of season 2 tells the story of John Profumo.  Ever heard of him?  Profumo was the British Secretary of State for War in the 1960s and he fell into a sexual scandal that led to his resignation. 

Politicians and sex scandals.  Sadly, we’ve heard that before many times, right?  I read an article by writer AJ Jacobs who tells the untold story of what happened next that the episode of The Crown didn’t tell.  And where political sex scandals are commonplace, the untold part of the Profumo story is unheard of.  Still today.  Though Profumo was well-connected and likely could have gotten a cushy job, he left public life and never fully returned.  You know what he did?  He began to volunteer at Toynbee Hall, a charity in London that seeks to alleviate poverty.  He started by doing menial work, and over the decades…decades!…he became a primary fundraiser for the charity.  He never sought office again.  For the rest of his life he worked out of the public eye to serve the poor.  He did this for fifty years.  That’s penance.  He knew he did wrong and made changes in his life that showed that.

Peter now goes on in verse 9 to say that our love for one another should demonstrate itself in being hospitable to one another without grumbling.

Look around your life: who needs hospitality?  What is hospitality?  The specific word that Peter uses is to be a friend to strangers, but notice how he also qualifies this word by adding “one another.”  Showing hospitality to strangers.  What strangers?

There are strangers around us.  Refugees, tourists, and people in our neighborhoods and schools who we don’t know.  I have been particularly convicted lately about the lack of ethnic diversity in my life.  That concerns me because my local school district reports that it is 1/3 comprised of people of color.

Do we have eyes and hearts open to practice hospitality to strangers?  We Christians should be leading the way in that!  We should be known for that!

But remember Peter’s qualifier, “one another”.  He is primarily talking about how these Christians practiced hospitality or friendship with one another. The reality is that some people in our church family are strangers to you, or some feel very different from you.

In Peter’s day, these Christians were very counter-culture.  They were following a religion that was very new and considered a cult.  As we saw last week in verse 4, these Christians were facing abuse because they were following Jesus. 

So they had to break down the norms.  They had to create family where there was none before.  One author I read said this, “In certain cultures that are strongly family-oriented, the bringing of strangers into a house may be somewhat shocking.  Yet Christians overcome these conventions because God’s love has made them into a single great family.”

There is nothing wrong with spending a lot of time with people you find enjoyable and are close with.  But it is also important to reach out to those who you are different than you, even people you butt heads with, and you still reach out to them anyway and Peter says to do so without grumbling. 

That’s family isn’t it?  There are those within our natural families that are easier for us to connect with than others.  There are those within natural families that we want to be with more than others.  But, still we are family, and still those who are feeling alone, and those who are not, need to try to reach out to each other.

Then offer your friendship and hospitality, and this is the kicker!, without grumbling. I get it, helping people can be a great joy, but it can also get to a point where it can be tough. It can go on a long time, and over time the hospitality wears us down and we can grumble. Some people are easier to offer hospitality to than others.

But Christians are people who are self-controlled and loving and thus go beyond the difficulty and awkwardness!  We are people who serve, and we serve some more, and we sacrifice.  We get this strength to press on in love for the strangers among us by making time in prayer and by making the way of Jesus our priority.

That’s exactly where Peter goes next in verse 10. He says that you have each received a gift, and you are to use it to serve one another as a good steward of the manifold grace of God. What gifts?  They are received gifts.  Received from who?  God.  God has blessed each one us with a gift. And how are we to use these gifts?  To serve others.

When the NIV says “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms,” Peter is using the word “steward”.  We are stewards of God’s grace.  Stewards are not owners.  We have been given a gift, but that doesn’t mean it is now our possession to do with what we want!  God is just giving it to us as a privilege and honor, and we are to use our gifts the way he would want them to be use. They are gifts of God’s grace, Peter says, gifts that are graciously given to us, and in various forms.

So in verse 11 Peter talks about the two main categories of gracious gifts that God gives us to steward.  Speaking gifts and serving gifts. Notice what kinds of gifts that Peter is not talking about.  Not the miraculous.  Not healing, not speaking in tongues, not prophesying. The gifts he is talking about are gifts that minister in a church family: speaking and serving

First of all the Speaking gifts.  What speaking?  Teaching, preaching. 

When we use the gift of teaching and preaching and speaking into someone’s life, Peter says, it is like an oracle of God.  Or speaking the very words of God.  Wow.  Does that mean if I speak, I am guaranteed to be speaking the words of God.  No.  But Peter is saying “do it AS one speaking,” meaning that we should see the weight and responsibility of it. The impact should be to glorify God, to encourage people in God’s direction.

Next are gifts of Serving. 

Who are you choosing to serve in our church family?  Who are you reaching out to?  Each of us should be ready and able to answer this.  Who are you serving?  Peter says, serve with the strength God provides, so that God may be praised through Christ.

Note that the focus on this is clearly God, for the use of both categories of gifts.  Peter wants the focus on God.   Not on ourselves.  Not on our comfort.  God and his ways are to be our priority.   As a pastor, I have the distinct blessing of being able to see so many ways that many in my church are reaching out, are serving, are sacrificial to others within this church family.  I am so grateful for that.  Keep at it.

So whether the person next to you in church is old or young, Democrat or Republican, male or female, and any other category, let us sacrificially love one another to keep our focus not on ourselves, but on God.

I want to end with this quote that my wife found in a Beth Moore study she’s doing.  In it she is speaking about discipleship, but I think you will see the connection.

“Discipleship involves a constant volleying between being apart and being a part. To pursue deeply satisfying intimacy with Christ, learning how to be apart from everyone else and alone with Him is a necessity. But discipleship also places a high premium on community and fellowship, on camaraderie and co-working. To know only how to be apart with Jesus but not a part of a holy partnership of believers leaves more than a deficit of human company…it also subtracts from our knowledge of Christ. Similarly, we are vastly less equipped in our effectiveness if we’re perpetual spiritual shut-ins. Isolation is not His way….One common cause of loneliness is the natural human tendency to limit our search for comrades to people who look or seem very much like us. We will miss what would have surely been some of our favorite people on earth if we don’t look beyond our mirror image in age, marital status, background, and personality.”

So we need to be working on our priority relationship with Jesus.  Time with him in prayer and time growing ourselves in HIS ways is so important.  From that foundation, then, we take those things we are learning, and we work them out with each other in our church family. So let’s be somber-minded and self-controlled as we focus on making his ways our priority.

The Top 5 adjectives that should describe a church family (do you know them?)

1 Aug

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Get out a pen and paper, or open up a note-taking app.  What are the first five adjectives that come to mind if you were trying to answer the question: “What are the five top adjectives that should describe a church family?”

This week we are studying 1 Peter 3:8-12 where Peter teaches how a church family should interact with one another.  Yesterday we saw the first of five adjectives that Peter says should define a church: harmonious.  A church should be unified.  Today we going to look at the remaining four adjectives, and I think you’ll see that they all very much relate to or support the idea of being harmonious.

The second adjective is Sympathetic.  Sympathy is when you have common feelings or emotions with someone.  Hear the unity in that?

Third is Brotherly Love.  This is the Greek word philadelphia again, just like we saw in 1:22, “love for your brothers.” Same word.  This is vital for unity.  Love is the basis for unity.

Next is Compassionate.  The passion part of this word is not about erotic passion.  The word Peter is using is about painful passion.  We English speakers almost never use the word passion like that, except in one week of the year.  You know which week?  Holy Week.  It is also called Passion Week, and churches do Passion Plays, and what passion are they talking about?  Jesus’ passion, his suffering!  Jesus’ arrest, beating, crucifixion and death are his passion, his pain, his suffering.  And that is what the word compassion is getting at.  It means to “suffer with someone.”  We normally think of compassion as when we see someone hurting and we go, “Awwww…it will be okay,” or some platitude like that.  But true compassion is to enter into the pain with that person.  That is a whole deeper level of kindness and relationship that we can see totally spurs on unity!

Finally, Be Humble.  That one is huge.  Humility, teachability is critical for unity in the church family.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  In a church family, we must simply be humble.  Pride and arrogance will destroy our relationships.  When I did my missionary internship between my junior and senior years in college, I spent three months in Guyana, South America.  There were probably 15-20 different missionaries working together in the same general area.  My host family were really awesome, and they taught me so much about ministry.  One thing they taught me was humility.  One night the wife was telling me about how they had been having significant relationship problems with one of the missionaries.  This other missionary was being extremely difficult about a policy and making false accusations against my host family.  They prayed hard about how to respond, because they knew they had not done what they were accused of.  You know what my missionary host family told me they decided to do?  “It is better to take one for the team and preserve unity, than it is to be right.”  Wow.  That’s humility.

Those are the five adjectives Peter says should describe a church family: harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly love, compassion and humility.  So how many did you get?  And more importantly, are there any that you need to work on?  Who can you talk with in your church family about improving on that characteristic?

But Peter is not done.  He finally gets to some verbs. We’ll start looking at them tomorrow!

If you want to be a loving church family, seize the 167!

19 Jun

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Yesterday I said that Peter, in 1st Peter 1:21-25, says that a church family must love one another deeply from the heart.  What is this love Peter is talking about?  We all know what love is, right?  It’s obvious.  Love is love!  Well even though there is one English word for love, Peter uses two words for love here:

First is the word, philadelphia.  In the Greek language that Peter wrote in, it is literally the word philadelphian, one who practices brotherly love. Peter is referencing here the love that a Christian should have for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, for their church family.

But notice that Peter tacks on another word to this.  He adds the word “sincere,” and thus he is talking about brotherly love that is genuine, lacking in any pretense or show.  It is real.  This is the love that those Christians had for one another, flowing from their obedience.  They had real brotherly love.

Peter says there is another kind of love too.  This other love is called agape, and he uses the word agape in the phrase, “love one another deeply from the heart.”  The word “deeply” means “unceasing or earnest.”  But what is agape love? Scholars define it as “affection and high regard.”  Peter is also using the imperative tense here, thus teaching the people that they must love like that.  He is saying to them, add this love to the brotherly love you already have shown.  And it is not just agape, but it is agape love that flows deeply from the heart.

Sounds great, right?  Just love one another!  No problem, right?  The reality is that that kind of selfless love can be difficult.  1 Corinthians 13 is considered the love chapter in the Bible. “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, never gives up, etc”?  1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the best description of agape love anywhere.  It is beautiful.  It is used in weddings, because husbands and wives should love each other like that, but if you look at the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll see really quickly that the author, the Apostle Paul, was not talking about weddings or spousal love.  He was talking about how people should love one another in the church family.  That’s same group of people Peter refers to in 1st Peter 1:21-25.  What both Peter and Paul describe is a sacrificial, selfless love.  It’s beautiful, but that kind of love is not easy to give.

One author that was quoted at our week pre-sermon roundtable Bible study remarked that it is easier to love Jesus who we cannot see, than it is to love our brothers who we can see.  Isn’t that ironic?

But think about it.  What do we think of when we think of Jesus?  His love for us, his self-giving sacrifice on our behalf, his perfection.  It’s easy to love that.

On the other hand, what do we think of when we think of brothers and sisters in Christ?  Some we love deeply, some are easy to love.  Others in the church family are difficult, and they rub us the wrong way.

Sounds like a family to me.  Families are comprised of people with differing personalities, styles, emotions, and habits.  And man oh man, can we rub each other the wrong way.  Same goes for the church family.  Think about your church family.  My guess is that there are people whom you find very difficult, people you probably don’t want to spend time with.

When I say that, it could be easy to think, “Is he talking about me? Surely not me! Everyone would want to talk with me and hang out with me!  I’m likeable. I’m easy to get along with.”  If you are thinking that, think again.  None of us should think that everyone would find us easy to get along with.  Not me, not you.

Before we can love one another deeply from the heart, we need to admit that it can be hard.  But let that not be an excuse!

As Howard Snyder says,

The church today is suffering a fellowship crisis.… In a world of big, impersonal institutions, the church often looks like just another big, impersonal institution.… One seldom finds within the institutionalized church today that winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds—where there is literally the fellowship of and in the Holy Spirit.[1]

Is Snyder right?  Well, before we answer that, let’s see how Peter finishes out the chapter.

In verse 23 he says, “you have been born again of something that is not perishable, but the imperishable word of God.”  Then in verses 24-25 he quotes a passage from the Old Testament that agrees with and supports what he just said in verse 23.  From Isaiah 40:6-8, the quote affirms the perishability of humanity, but the imperishability of the word of God.  That imperishable word of God, he says, in verse 25, is the word that was preached to them.

There you see the continuity between the OT and NT.  To people who are being persecuted, to people who are uncertain about life, this is a statement of the one certainty in life, the word of God.

So let’s put it all together.  What can we conclude about Peter’s teaching?

Peter envisions a transformed community of believers.  Peter is saying that a church is a group of people who have heard the imperishable word of God and are reborn into a new family which is marked by loving one another deeply and radically.

Peter isn’t just making this stuff up.  Jesus taught it to Peter.  30 years before Peter wrote his letter, we can read a story in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) about a time when Jesus said something that could have been interpreted as being really cold to his family.  He was in a town, healing people.  Preaching.  Crowds were following him.  Huge crowds.  Everyone wanted to see this Jesus guy.  In this town Jesus was at someone’s house.  We’re not told which town it was or whose house it was. But the crowd was packed in the house so tight, hoping to get close to Jesus, that people couldn’t squeeze their way in anymore.  Guess who shows up?  Check out Matthew 12:46-50.  Be forewarned, when you hear who shows up, and then what Jesus says to them, it might shock you.  Go ahead, click the link and read the story.

Now how about that?  You see what Jesus is saying?  In Jesus’ Kingdom, your family identity is not based on genetics, not based on blood, but based on how you respond to him!  There is a new family for those who have been reborn in Christ.

This command was very much in the hearts and minds of the original 12 disciples because look at how the early church started out. In Acts chapters 2:42-47, 4:32-37, and 6:1-8.  I think you’ll see in these chapters how the early church took Jesus very seriously and attempted to create a new family.

What we can conclude about this is that what happens during the one hour we gather on Sundays only scratches the surface of what it means to be a church family.  One Christian organization I appreciate has started using the phrase “Seize the 167!”

The 167?  What do they mean?  There are 168 hours in a week.  Most churches gather for worship on Sundays for approximately one hour.  What about the other 167?  The rest of the week is where we live out our faith!  What we read in these passages in Acts, and what Peter describes is a practice of loving one another as a church family in the other 167 hours of the week.

Peter has to teach these new Christians how Christians are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply.  That same calling exists for us.  Faith Church we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family.  But we can’t do it in one hour per week.  A church family that loves one another deeply will have to do so in the other 167.

Check back in tomorrow as we start to look at how we can Seize the 167 and love one another.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.