1 Peter 2
It’s not uncommon to stumble upon a story where Christianity and Christians are being attacked. Equally common is to see the guns fully firing back from Christians in response. No doubt, the natural instinct is to bristle and become defensive. We want to fight back, and perhaps even launch a counter attack. We cry out, “unfair” and too easily assume the victim role.
But as Jesus followers is this the right response? As Jesus followers are we supposed to go with the natural instinct?
Time and again the Bible tells us to expect the world to fight against us and to even expect persecution. None of this treatment or response by non-Christians should surprise us. The Bible also shows us how to respond.
What if we did things differently, more like Jesus? Imagine the impact if our collective and consistent response to persecution is to love even more. To serve even more. To count others more important than ourselves. To give sacrificially. To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. To share the grace, love, forgiveness, and freedom offered by Jesus. What if this is what we did instead of firing back in angry defense on social media?
Jesus not only told us to turn the other cheek, but He also modeled it. He was regularly attacked, lied about, marginalized, and misunderstood. However, instead of fighting back, He kept living the life on earth He was called to, completely focused on His purpose and His life as the response. Peter reminds us of Jesus, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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.”
Likewise, Peter tells the dispersed and persecuted Christians to, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Peter expects those on the outside will speak harshly against Christians. But the response according to Peter, and modeled by Jesus, should be to conduct ourselves honorably. SO THAT, they will see our good deeds and glorify God.
Our ultimate aim is to point people to Jesus. Our right jabs and contempt do nothing to bring people closer to their Savior. We most effectively do this by living honorable lives...lives that make the outside world pause and want to learn more. And I know...it is so hard. It is hard to take the often unfair and unjust criticism and condemnation. But honestly, wanting to fight back is rooted more in pride than love.
Peter says this is the will of God, that “by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” Change comes about through love and honorable living; through our actions and behavior toward others. In Christ we are FREE. However, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Peter reminds us we should not use this freedom for evil, but rather “living as servants of God.”
1 Peter 1
“To those who are elect exiles of the Dispsersion…” Peter begins his letter. He is writing to people who have been displaced. People who are no longer in the comfort of home, their community, the familiar. Temporary residents in a foreign land. It is a letter of encouragement…to keep going even while it is hard. To hang in there, that better days are ahead.
As Christians we too are displaced from our true home. We are temporarily separated from the way things should be. Do you ever look around and just feel hopeless? Do you see the effects of sin, the pain and suffering, the devil’s effective manipulations and lies, the evil and cultural hostility, and just want to give up? Do you wonder if it is all worth it?
If so, this letter is for you too. Peter’s words to hang in there is for us. We have a living hope. We have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. It is kept in heaven for us, currently being guarded, ready to be revealed at just the right time. Peter tells us we have something to rejoice about, though now for a little while we may be grieved by various trials.
The chaos around us, the news we hear, the hatred and division we see can be debilitating. But we have something greater to look to instead. Peter says we should prepare our minds for action, and being sober-minded, setting our hope FULLY on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
If you are feeling despair at the circumstances around you, place your hope on Jesus. Fix your eyes on the inheritance being guarded for you. Hang in there. Better days are coming.
Imagine your young child has wandered from the safety and security of home. You would stop at nothing to find them. You would search night and day. You would liquidate everything for a ransom. You would hang up posters and boldly bang on doors. You wouldn’t stop until they were safe in your arms.
James closes his letter with this sentence, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The wanderer is the heartbeat of James. It is the culmination of all the practical advice packed into his letter thus far, pointing to true and genuine faith; what it looks like when we aren’t lost and wandering. Perhaps he is reflecting on his personal experience as a wanderer, remembering his mocking and unbelief when Jesus, his half-brother, was walking the earth. The risen Jesus appeared to him personally and his wandering ceased. He believed and his life was changed. His Savior pursued him. He didn’t leave him in the dark.
We are part of God’s search and rescue team. Why don’t we pursue our lost brothers and sisters like we would a wandering child? Why are we so quick to leave them in the dark armed with excuses?
Bible.org commentary says of our mistaken rationale, “One member of the search and rescue team says, ‘It was really cold and stormy, and there was a good show on TV. So I just prayed for you to be okay.’ Another says, ‘I wanted to be sensitive to your feelings. I thought you might be embarrassed if we came looking.’ Another says, ‘I wasn’t sure you were really lost. It would be judgmental to imply that you actually were lost. Besides, it would be arrogant of me to say that I’m not lost. After all, we all have our own paths on the journey.’ That’s not the kind of search and rescue team that I would want if I were lost!”
The truth is, it is hard. Because unlike a physically lost child who wandered off into the woods, our spiritually lost friends don’t always want to be found and rescued. They don’t realize they are lost. They don’t know they need to be rescued. We have to trust the Spirit to lead us to those we should go after and pray that the Spirit opens their eyes to the fact that they are indeed lost. God will join us on this mission near and dear to His heart.
May we have the kind of urgency toward wandering and lost souls that we do for a physically lost child. God, soften our hearts and open our eyes to chase after who and what you are chasing.
We don’t know much about the early life of Jesus. I often wonder what it would have bene like to be his sibling or best friend growing up…to watch how he played, and learned, and interacted with family and friends. I think James, as His half-brother, would have such a unique perspective on the Gospel and Christian living. So when James teaches things like joy in trials, living humbly, not just hearing the word but LIVING it, having compassion toward those in need, showing no partiality, backing up faith with good works, being aware of the power of our words…when James teaches these things, I imagine him going back in time and remembering what it was like to be with Jesus and the way Jesus naturally lived life. Not just when crowds were around, but always…in the mundane daily chores and tasks and downtime…in the everyday relationships.
James, armed with this knowledge and perspective, doesn’t hold back either. He says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Pretty intense, right? But it echoes things that Jesus said about not being able to serve two masters and watching out for the little leaven that seems small and insignificant, but slowly and severely changes the composition of the thing it enters. We think we can handle a little of what the world has to offer; that we can manage the worldly ways and things and not be changed by them…but this is a mistake.
James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will fell from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” To think we can straddle the fence of the world and God’s kingdom is to remain double-minded.
Commentator David Guzik says, “Our problem is we often want a middle road; a little popularity, a little reputation, but still the anointing from God. We want the power without the cost.” God doesn’t share His throne and we are with Him or against Him. May we always choose God.
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” James asks. Wisdom is more than knowledge and accumulation of information. Wisdom is action; found in the living. In the Old Testament we learn that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In the teachings of Jesus, we learn that the wise person rooted in God’s truth and character. He or she hates injustice and evil; loves righteousness; is alert and ready for His return. Wisdom is a manifestation of faith and spiritual living.
“By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James continues. True wisdom will show...in our conduct, in our good works, in our attitude and posture toward others.
So, how do we know if we are wise? If we have wisdom that is from God and not from the world? James offers a series of tests by which we can verify the genuineness of their faith, because when are truly saved and genuinely know God, we display a wisdom that looks and acts like it is of God. The wisdom we display is a reflection of the kind of a person we are.
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” James tells us that ungodly wisdom looks like BITTER JEALOUSLY and SELFISH AMBITION. It’s a heart issue. It is a life of self-focus, protecting our turf and/or wanting more for ourselves. John MacArthur describes it, “They are resentful of anyone who threatens their territory, who threatens their accomplishments, who threatens their reputation, who threatens to crowd their little slice of this world. Human wisdom, then, is self-focused, and any self-focused person has a tremendous problem with bitter jealousy.”
Wisdom from the world looks like attitude and action based on self...comparison, tension, competition. It looks like drifting with the tides of culture and self, rather than anchored in God’s ways. It looks like personal gratification...no humility, no love, no seeking the interest of others. James further gives us a picture of the consequences of earthly wisdom in action, “there will be disorder and every vile practice.” It wreaks havoc on us and those around us.
Wisdom from God looks vastly different, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Pure motives. Love of peace. Humble. Patient. Forgiving. Yielding. Merciful. Compassionate. Reasonable. No partiality. No hypocrisy or hidden motives. God, please fill me with not just more knowledge, but with YOUR wisdom and let my life be a reflection of You. You must become greater, I must become less.
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” James 2:18-19
There is a difference in knowing about God — facts about Him; believing He exists — and knowing and believing IN Him. Submitting to His ways. Putting our faith and trust in Him as our Lord and Savior. We can believe our cell phone is a real thing that performs all of these useful functions, but we don’t believe it will save us.
Without a solid view of who God is we won’t ever fully submit to Him, or put much stock in who He says we are or what path He says we should be on. We can only go through the motions for so long over something we don’t genuinely believe. Without a firm footing, we will fall away easily when challenged. And this world is full of attempts to challenge our beliefs.
We often spend more time on our response to God than our relationship with God. But it is far more valuable to focus on WHO GOD IS than what we can or should be doing for Him. Because once our view of Him is right, the rest will follow…. naturally and wholeheartedly. It doesn’t mean we know and understand everything. No one does, or will, on this side of Heaven. God is far too big for our simple understanding. But it does mean we believe IN HIM, and we believe HIM. We choose HIM to be our counselor and guide.
Do you have a BIG view of God…that He is powerful, holy, good, in control, able, mighty, consistent, righteous, merciful, loving?
Do you believe He is who He says? That He keeps His promises? That He can do what He says He will do? Do you believe God created you and has good plans in store for you?
Do you believe that God is big enough to guide you, handle your burdens, forgive your sins, give you peace, have your good in mind, care about what happens to you?
WHATEVER is going on in your life, God is big enough- do you believe this? Do you choose God to be YOUR Lord and Savior?
Let’s say you really want to get in better shape. You go to a wellness seminar, you buy a handful of healthy cookbooks, you join a gym, you research and download the highest ranked fitness apps, you talk for hours with your best friend about your plans, you even make a calendar with a workout schedule and meal plan. But you never go to them gym or change your bad eating habits. The scale doesn’t budge.
Or what if you tell your teenager to clean their room. You smile as they happily head upstairs. A few hours later you peek in to check on them. They are sitting on their bed in their even messier room with a laptop in one hand, phone in the other, and sketchbook by their side. Shocked you angrily ask what they are doing. “Looking up videos on room cleaning, texting my friends for advice, and jotting down some plans. I’m all in and so inspired,” they tell you. But their room is still a mess!
Or you have this dream inside you. A gift from God. Something He has give you to do. And you think about it constantly, you pray about it and journal about it in great detail. But you never take that step toward it.
Or in a hurry to meet your dinner date, you quickly glance in a mirror. You notice your hair is a mess, your mascara smeared, your shirt inside out. You tilt your head in concern, let out a “hmmm,” then proceed to walk out the door. Though you no longer see it, you are still a walking disaster.
Or you go to church, consistently have quiet time, and wouldn’t think of missing your small group. But you never put what you hear, read, discuss into practice. It never transforms you. Your heart is still hard and your life outside of church activities hasn’t changed at all.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22
God, help my desire to do what You say be as strong as my desire to hear what You say. I don’t want to be deceived, just going through the motions. I want to be changed. I want to transform into who You know I can be; who You created me to be.
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” The writer of Hebrews quotes Scripture in the closing passages of the letter, sharing things to do SO THAT we can confidently say these words… the LORD is my HELPER. I will NOT fear. What can MAN do to me?
Wouldn’t we all love to confidently say these words and sincerely mean them? No fear. No doubt about getting help when we need it. Not seeking approval, affirmation, security, safety, support from man who will always let us down. So, what does the writer tell us to do?
Let brotherly LOVE continue.
Show HOSPITALITY to strangers.
Remember those in PRISON.
Remember those who are MISTREATED.
Honor MARRIAGE and FIDELITY.
Keep your life FREE FROM the love of money.
Be CONTENT with what you have.
“Do not neglect to DO GOOD and to SHARE what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” the writer goes on to say.
In submitting and in giving, we are filled and satisfied. In our high-tech, high-information, self-help surroundings we tend to over-complicate things. But God’s message has always been clear and simple: Love God; love others.
The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?
Hebrews 12 • Day 216 of 260 • #NTin2018
Assured faith full of conviction. We want this, but how do we do this?
“Lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely”…What is holding you down? Keeping your feet from moving forward? Pulling you under? Is it comparison, sin, pride, control, insecurity, fear, doubt? Whatever it is, take it off. TAKE IT OFF! And if you have tried and tried and can’t seem to pull it off and lay it aside, spend today again in prayer. God WILL help you.
“And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”…KEEP RUNNING YOUR RACE…not your neighbor’s race, not the race of that person you follow on social media, not the race of your mentor or your best friend…YOUR race. The race set before YOU. Run hard, friend; run with endurance.
“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”…Don’t look to the side, don’t look to self-help books or podcasts, don’t look to others…they don’t know your race; they don’t know the path set before you….LOOK TO JESUS.
Why Jesus? “For the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”…The ultimate example of faith and a long, eternal view, rather than a quest for human comfort and accolades. The perfect example of living fully in God’s plans for Him. The greatest example of eyes focused on the true prize.
Consider what Jesus endured and do not grow weary. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Consider Jesus. Do not grow weary. You can do this hard thing. You can get through these hard times. He has been there…all the way to death. He won’t leave you.
Friend, “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” Keep adjusting; keep an eye on your path; keep running.
This life is HARD. In it we will be lovingly disciplined by God, and we will also be hit from all sides by things not condoned by Him. But He is in it all and will use it all. Don’t let the lies of the world shake your faith and alter your course. Don’t let culture tell you following it will be better than following God. Keep the faith. Look to Jesus. Get rid of all that is holding you down and holding you back. Keep running YOUR race. Do not grow weary. God is good and God is faithful. Love wins. God wins. The endurance and suffering are nothing compared to the reward. Praying for all of those who may be feeling pressured off course and weary today.
Faith. “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” THIS is faith, the writer of Hebrews tells us. Assurance and conviction. Strong words.
“And through this faith, the people of old received their commendation,” the writer continues, followed by example after example of faith in the Old Testament…Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, Israelites crossing the Red Sea, Israelites watching the walls of Jericho fall, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets.
Their faith was in something beyond the now or short term. Their faith was not in their current circumstances or immediate outcomes. Their faith was rooted in obedience and Heavenly, not earthly, rewards from seeking God.
They believed what they could not see. They went not knowing where they were going. They kept building when there was no rain in sight. They were willing to sacrifice when it made no sense. They hid their child without knowing what would happen. They chose God’s people. They stepped into the water. They marched around the city walls. They welcomed enemy spies. They conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to fight. And….
…they didn’t receive the things promised in their lifetime, but greeted them from afar. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, others suffered mocking and flogging, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves. But…
…they are now in a better country; a city prepared for them…the thing hoped for that they held onto with assurance and conviction, despite not being able to see it at the time.
Faith isn’t faith if it is only in seeking comfort, security, earthly rewards. Faith is far-looking and future oriented. It is in something bigger than we can see here. The opposite of fear isn’t courage; it is faith. Faith overcomes fear because faith believes God is truthful, trustworthy, powerful, and good. We won’t be as scared of obedience and short-term outcomes if we have assurance and conviction about who God is, what He can do, and the future He has prepared for us.
The Hebrews writer says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
Without faith it is impossible to please God. Why? I think it is because we would never – could never – do what is pleasing to Him without faith. It goes against our nature, our protective shells, our desire for control, our need to please others, our weakness with regard to cultural pulls. Only through faith is it possible.
God, expand our faith. Help us believe You. Trust You. Seek You and something bigger and better than our eyes can see here. Give us conviction and assurance to choose You; to please You through our faith.
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