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Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 4

A seed planted in Chapter 1 grows up and bears fruit in Chapter 4.  Early on in the Epistle, the Holy Spirit reveals to the saints in Asia Minor that although they have been grieved by various trials, these only serve to refine their faith, with the result that they rejoice and praise God (1 Peter 1:6-7).  Our Lord suffered in this world because he was not of this world.  Those who follow him will likewise face opposition from wordlings (John 15:18-20).  Rather than paranoia, defeatism, or defensiveness, this should rather rouse the Christian.  Indeed, we are to “arm” ourselves with Christ’s mindset (1 Peter 4:1).  

The world engages in “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry,” (1 Peter 4:3) and when Christians abstain, they are maligned.  However, the end of all things is near, and the Christian should leave these vile things in the past (1 Peter 4:3; 1 Peter 4:7).  Rather than indulgence, the Christian is called to sobriety, prayer, and Christian love (1 Peter 4:7-8).  We should live for the will of God, instead of for sinful pleasures (1 Peter 4:2).  This may translate into suffering, but our Lord does call us to take up the cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).  We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:9-14).  

The Christians in Asia Minor may have more persecution ahead of them (1 Peter 4:12).  Yet, those who suffer for Christ share in his glory (1 Peter 4:13).  Indeed, this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is with the believer (1 Peter 4:14).  If this seems difficult, or unpleasant, or unfair, then Peter asks his audience which seems better: to suffer for Christ, or to suffer the just judgement of our sin?  There is no choice.  Who are we to answer back to God? (Romans 9:20; Job 38:1-8).  

Rather than accusing God, rather than judging God, rather than condemning God, the proper Christian response is to fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Romans 11:33-36).  Though the faithful may suffer on account of Christ, this is far better than the alternative.  And God is faithful.  His will is best; he works all things for our good (Romans 8:28).  The Old Testament accounts of Joseph, as well as the Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace and Daniel and the Lion’s Den, illustrate this. 

Christ himself submitted to the father’s will, even when that meant shame, torture, and crucifixion.  But this, the greatest suffering anyone has ever undergone, has accomplished our salvation.   God is faithful, even in the midst of suffering (1 Peter 4:19). Thus, when Christ returns on the Last Day, all suffering will cease and we will be “glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).

Lent Midweek Sermon Series: 1 Peter 3

Chapter 3 begins in the middle of the section which started at 1 Peter 2:13.  The Christian has been redeemed from sin, but he still lives within God’s created order.  Just as citizens should “be subject to every human institution,” (1 Peter 2:13) and servants to their masters (1 Peter 2:18), wives should “be subject” to their “own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1).  Even if some of them have unbelieving husbands, their feminine behavior will serve as a fitting witness to the Gospel (1 Peter 3:2).  This inward adorning ought to be the true source of beauty for the Christian woman, rather than extravagant outward adornment (1 Peter 3:3-6).

Likewise, rather than selfishly taking advantage of their helpmeets, husbands are to live with them “in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel…” (1 Peter 3:7).  In every house there are a variety of vessels—some for honorable use, some for dishonorable (2 Tim. 2:20).  Though women are physically weaker than men, Christian men are not to take advantage of that fact, but instead to treat wives with honor.

Peter urges his audience to submit to authorities even when it is difficult.  If emperors, governors, husbands, or masters are difficult, the Christian is to endure suffering just as the Lord Jesus did (1 Peter 3:14). We may be tempted to rush toward hard cases; before we even finish reading we may already be asking “what if…” and “what about…”  Perhaps there is some room for discussion on how to handle certain specifics of suffering unjustly under God-given authorities.  But in the end, we must confess, with the Holy Spirit that no matter what, “even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:14). All of this is for the sake of the Christian’s witness to the world.  His good conduct will put to shame false testimony against him, even if “only” on the last day (1 Peter 3:16; 1 Peter 2:12).  With Christ as Lord, the Christian can make a defense of his faith before the world (1 Peter 3:15).

Whether wives or husbands, servants or citizens, Christians should put away malice, deceit, and other fleshly motivations and vices (1 Peter 2:1).  Since the glory of man is doomed to perish (1 Peter 1:24), and since we have been born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), we should live humbly and trust in the Lord in all matters.  This means Christian women ought not idolize physical beauty, and Christian men ought not abuse physical strength.  And Christian freedom does not mean earthly anarchy.

Just as Chapter 2 ended with Christ’s work, so does Chapter 3.  Jesus suffered in order to make us righteous.  Though God’s justice may seem distant, though we may have to suffer for doing good, nevertheless, God will intervene as he did in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20).  In the flood we have a foreshadowing of Baptism, which gives us a pure conscience before God and saves us (1 Peter 3:21).  Our Lord put his skin in the game by descending from heaven, becoming man, suffering for us, and dying.  But he has overcome all things and now sits in glory.  His victory is our victory.

Fifth Sunday after Trinity: 1 Peter 3:8-15

1 Peter 3:15, the end of the epistle for Trinity 5, is often cited in favor of apologetics.  The word “apology” in Greek has nothing to do with feeling sorry or contrite for previous actions, the most common English usage.  An “apology” is a defense, even a self-defense (which is how it came to mean feeling sorry, since one would offer a defense by way of an excuse, such as explaining why one was late).

Apologetics are an important aspect of being a Christian.  As Peter emphasizes throughout the whole letter, Christians will suffer for being Christians in the world.  There is no peace between the world and between Christ, so servants cannot expect to be different from their Master.  Therefore, Christians must also be prepared to stand firm in the face of worldly opposition, offering “a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).  The one asking may do so sincerely or derisively, but to deny Christ in such an hour means that He will also deny us before God the Father (Matthew 10:33).

Apologetics certainly involves an intellectual aspect.  Being a Christian means that we must “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  We are not Christians in one part of our being or thinking and “neutral” in the rest.  Either Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, or He is not.  The Bible is not, therefore, a self-contained document that has reference only to itself and not to the rest of the world.  The Word of God forms the foundation of all of our thinking, which invariably puts it into conflict with the world.  Christians should be prepared to speak clearly, something possible only through abiding in the Word.

This aspect of the apologetical task should not frighten anyone.  After all, it is the Holy Spirit who converts, enlightens, and preserves.  Nor should one think that the only people who can “do apologetics” are those who are the most educated.  The hand of the Lord is not limited to the best of His servants.  Making a defense of the hope within you means standing firm even in the face of opposition, trusting in the Lord to guide and deliver us in all things.

More than this, making a defense is not limited to the intellectual aspect.  It’s not even the primary part of it.  The surest defense of the hope within you is to “honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15), and this is Peter’s primary point.  Unity, love, and humility, some of the fruits of the Spirit, mark the Christian as belonging to Christ.  “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Peter also makes this point prior to this passage when he exhorts Christian women to “not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear–but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4).  Virtue does not consist in what is seen, but in what is not seen.

It may very well be the case that such a defense will only increase the hatred of the world.  Christians may suffer for righteousness’ sake.  But a Christian does not suffer for the sake of Christ by giving way to sin and unrighteousness.  Punishment follows wickedness, even if the deed was done for seemingly the right reasons.  Christians rather are called to follow after Christ all the more in the midst of suffering, because “when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).

Fourth Sunday after Trinity: Romans 8:18-23

Because sin, working through the Law though not being a part of it, brings death, the Christian engages in an internal, personal war.  The holy and righteous Law of God is his delight, but sin works in his members against it.  To be in Christ is to suffer with Him, because being in Christ means being a new creation, wholly distinct from the old.  How, then, does God call His creation to live in Him?

Paul emphasizes in the reading just before the pericope for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity that Christians live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.  Christians follow after the Spirit of God as sons, not as slaves of the flesh.  Sin is not a necessity, in that sense, for the Christian.  He will sin, of course, because of his great weakness, and sin remains ever at the door, desiring entrance.  But he is no longer ruled by sin, but by Christ.  Being in Christ means suffering with him in order to be glorified with Him, for the Christian is being remade in His image.

This suffering is not meaningless, nor is it worthy of serious concern.  It is “not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).  Being glorified with Christ will show these present sufferings for what they really are:  fleeting and temporary, meant for building us up and not for our destruction.  “Weeping may tarry for the night” (Psalm 30:5), and a dark night that might be, wherein “I drench my couch with my weeping” (Psalm 6:6)!  Even the most intense trouble now will give way to joy, but not in a trivial way.  Christ’s own suffering was far from trivial.  Who has suffered like He suffered on our behalf?  Yet His suffering came to an end and the Father has bestowed on Him a glory far exceeding any earthly glory, “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

On that day will come “the revealing of the sons of God,” the moment in which our glory in Christ will no longer be hidden.  “We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).  The sheep will be distinguished from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).  It will be the day of the fullness of our redemption, the resurrection from the dead, the hope toward which we press.  Salvation is both now and yet to come, because while our assurance comes in this moment, the fullness of our redemption will come when Christ finally brings all things under His feet.  Sin will be no more in that day, and all of the former things will pass away, never to return again.

Even creation awaits this revelation.  It too is in bondage, because Adam’s sin frustrated its original purposes.  Adam is, after all, the head not only of the human race, but of all creation.  He holds dominion over it, given to him by the Lord (Genesis 1:28).  His sin causes the earth to fail in bringing forth the fullness of its strength (Genesis 3:17-19).  Even more to the point, not only does creation undergo the judgment of the Flood because of man’s sin (Genesis 6:7), it also falls under the covenant made with Noah (Genesis 9:8-11).  Therefore, man’s sin means the creation suffers with him.  It longs to be set free from this slavery and return to its original state, just like the restoration of man in Christ.

If the world longs to see the great day of redemption, how much more do we as Christians?  We must wait, of course, and such patience is a fruit of the Spirit.  Yet, as Paul goes on to say, “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28).  Even if we must suffer, we suffer with Christ.  Even if we must wait for the fullness of our salvation, we wait with Christ.  Even if we must die, we die with Christ.  Our war with sin is not fruitless or pointless, but part of separating us from the body of death and making us heirs of eternal life.