Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Temporary suffering and eternal glory

Bible Readings 

  • Isaiah 40:6-11
  • 1Peter 5:6-14

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Plastic changed our world. The toys we used to get as gifts were cars made of thin pressed metal.  The doors and the windows were painted on with real paint.  The wheels were from a sort of a cast iron and the axels were from real steel pins. Inside was an engine with a real metal flywheel.  Sometimes they had a winding spanner with which one could wind a real metal strap.  This made the car go like crazy.  

I saw one valued at hundreds of dollars the other day.  But after all, there were just toys.

But then plastic came in.  Things became cheap.  So cheap, that  they are not precious anymore.  You can replace them easily with another one.  These days you get it for free if you buy a hamburger and a cool drink.

In some way we have become plasticky, and plastic has now enemy number one, even plastic cool drink straws. Our generation became addicted to temporary things.  We became addicted to instant gratification, and in the process we lost our sense for value.  The display cases in the corner of the lounge room with the valuable items created by skilful craftsmen is replaced by the television which constantly feeds us with instant and cheap entertainment. As someone remarked, we amuse ourselves to death.

Our day is rotten if the power goes out and we can’t watch TV!  We lost a view on what really matters; we lost our view on eternity!

Be sober and alert

Let’s go back to where we left it last week.  The verse is:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The Christian who has his mind controlled by the principles of this world cant’ be sober of vigilant.  Such a Christian is easily trapped and devoured by the devil who like a lion seeks to devour.

So what’s the antidote?  The next verse gives the answer: 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Would it be too brash to put it this way, “Get real! When you resist the devil you’re in for suffering.  But get this, your suffering is not unique; it’s is a common thing for Christians.  But stand your ground!

To resist him is to treat the devil as your enemy.  To stand firm is to dig in your heals on the truth of the Scriptures.  If we need encouragement if we want to give up, there is encouragement galore from other Christians who have gone and are going through the same sort of suffering.  

I have a precious book by author Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant.  It tells of Scottish Christians in the time of the Reformation.   Amongst many recounts of men who trusted God it tells of a certain Donald Cargill, an 80 years old preacher.  It was said of him that his praying and preaching were at its best when his was in great danger and distress. Cargill said the more adversaries thrust at him that he might fall, the more sensibly and discernibly his Lord had helped him.  His favourite Bible verse was, “The Lord is my strength and song, and has become my salvation. Whom shall I fear? 

On the day he died on the scaffold he proclaimed, 

“God knows, I go up this ladder with less fear, confusion or anxiety of mind than I ever entered a pulpit to preach.  Farewell, all relations and friends in Christ; farewell all acquaintances and all earthly enjoyments; farewell reading and preaching, praying and believing, wanderings, reproaches and sufferings. Welcome, joy unspeakable and full of glory. Welcome Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” 

We need to indulge in the testimonies of brave Christians of yesteryear, as well as those going through persecution in modern times, to be encouraged to resist cheap Christianity and discipleship.

How do we resist and overcome?

Verse 10 gives us the answer.  This verse is so stacked up with the riches of gospel truths that it actually deserves days of meditation. 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10, NKJV)

Before we look at this verse in depth, let’s briefly reflect on our reading from Isaiah this morning.

God’s people had been in Babylonian captivity for seventy years—the time God had appointed.  But the time of punishment for its unfaithfulness has passed.  Israel’s suffering was for a short while, but it was time to hear the good news of God’s mercy to restore them to their land.  Now the prophet proclaimed the good news that, although man is like grass, “the Word [promise] of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  Sovereign God, who rules forever, would care for them as a shepherd, and tend them like they were his lambs (verse 11).

Why would they believe the prophet?  Their God is the Creator of heaven an earth who made everything without the help of anyone (verses 12-14).  His wisdom and power are infinite.  More than that, He holds nations and their rulers in the palm of his hand (verse 17).  No god can be compared to God who sits enthroned above all he has made.  He controls kings and princes (verse 23).  He is the everlasting God (verse 28).  But although He is above all He has made, in mercy He bows down to give strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak (verse 29).

God never changes.  He is the sovereign God Peter knew and worshipped too.  He is the One who speaks to us today—and his word is encouragement all the way.

He is the God of all grace

This phrase is rich in meaning ’God who loves us completely’, or ‘the God who shows his love for us without holding back,’ or ‘the God whose gifts are sufficient for every need and for every situation’. Because He is the God of all mercy, mercy is only limited to Him.

God called us

This call is far more that just talking to us and calling towards us. When God calls, He calls us into a relationship with Him.  In this relationship He provides what is necessary to make the relationship possible.   God calls His own by grace and to grace. He does this finally and only through Jesus Christ, who is the fulness of grace.

The fact that God is the One who calls and that Christians are the ones who are called, makes it clear that call is a another word for salvation.  God calls men in Christ through His own means and for His own purpose.  This is how we understand Romans 8:28-31

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:28–31, NKJV)

This call is through the work of the Holy Spirit, it comes by the Word of God, and it is possible because of the work of Christ.  This is what we heard about in chapter 1.

… you were … redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He … was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God… having been born again … through the word of God … which is the gospel … preached to you. (1 Peter 1:18–21, 23, 25 NKJV)

God’s eternal glory

God’s call to salvation is a call through which we share in his eternal glory.  It is a call ‘into his greatness which will last forever’, or, ‘it’s a call into his greatness which will never cease.’ 

In other words, when God calls, included into that call is all He provides to make it possible for sinners to be lifted out of the slimy pit of sin and to become holy because He is holy.  In the process God grace us a new identity in Christ, a new heavenly address, and an incorruptible inheritance.  The result is—we will see his eternal glory! 

When will we see his eternal glory?

We will see his eternal glory, now bound up and secured in Jesus Christ, after a short time of suffering.  The suffering we might experience now is only a short time compared to the eternal glory which awaits us when we receive the final call into glory.  

Israel had been in captivity which them probably felt like an eternity, but in God’s scheme of things, it was just for a little while.  The gospel through the prophet was good news summed up in these words, “This is your God”, or, “Your God is here!” (Isaiah 40:9). The wait is over, salvation has come!

But between suffering and glory God provides for us.  God Himself will restore us.

He will not forget our suffering.  There is a limit to suffering, and God will end it in his own time.  Till that time, we need to trust Him. The ‘himself’ in verse 10 is important.  It means He is constantly aware of our suffering, He is with us in our suffering, and He will call an end to it when He reached his purpose with it. All along, the suffering Christian is not in the hands of those who cause the suffering; those who cause  it are instruments in the hands of God. 

God will make us strong, firm and steadfast

The emphasis is on spiritual and inner strength, and it means  the God will ‘cause your heart to be strong’, or ‘cause your thoughts to be strong.’

God will see to that we will be firmly rooted in a strong foundation of trust and confidence in Him. Further, He also provide what we need to always endure.  He holds us by the hand so that we will not be moved in our trust in Christ.

Peter knows what he is talking about.  There was an episode before the cross of Christ when Christ gave him this assurance.  And the Lord said, 

“Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:31–32, NKJV)

Yes, there was the terrible failure to own Christ, and if Satan had his way, it would haven the end of Peter.  But Christ prayed for him, and his faith did not fail.  Almost all what Christ said to Peter then is now encapsulated in what is written verse 10.  What Peter wrote in our verse was to show that God’s word never fails.

Conclusion  

So, Peter ends his letter:

I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand. (1 Peter 5:12, NKJV)

My dear friend, stand in the grace of God.  Hang on to the Bible; it’s the true Gospel.  When the temporary plastic toy of no value leaves you disappointed and empty, seek God for permanent glory.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 12 August 2018

 

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Heavenly shaped defence (3): Submission, Humility, Trust

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 133
  • 1Peter 5:1-9

Introduction

My dear friends in the Lords Jesus Christ,

Let’s for one moment think of our congregation as an army.

We are called to battle because we have an enemy seeking to devour and destroy.  The Bible calls him our adversary, or the devil.  

…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

The army into which we are called is spread right across the world.  In one sense then this is a world war. 

Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

In this army there are officers, the Bible call them elders.  Their calling is to care for the army like a shepherd cares for the flock.  

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:2, NKJV)

Over us all we have our Officer-in-Command, Jesus Christ.  The Bible calls him the Chief Shepherd.  In another place the Bible describes him as the general.

He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:11–16, NKJV)

For this army to be effective, it needs to follow closely the commands of the officers, because the officers—or the elders—received their orders from the Commander-in-Chief.  This then takes us to this verse: 

…you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Submission and humility

I spent a few years in the army.  There are a few golden rules for any army to survive in battle.  

Number one: every soldier has to follow commands; and there is a line of command. 

Discipline is drilled into every soldier with the purpose that every soldier will follow commands even sometimes without thinking.  The sergeant calls out the commands which in the beginning seem silly.  They tell you when to sit, when to stand, when and what to eat, and when to sleep.  If your boots are not shiny enough to their liking you have to it all over again.  Why? There is no place for the wise guy with his own ideas about what it good and what not.

Number two:  No soldier has the luxury of questioning the authority of those above him.  Disaster strikes if the men on the ground starts to question the authority of their officers.  Soldiers then can follow their own heads, run in different directions, become divided—and as such become target of the enemy. Moreover, the commanding post would not know where to go looking for them when they get lost of are wounded.

One of the most clever tactics of the enemy is to divide and conquer.  A divided army is an army in defeat.  There should be no wise guys in an army.  Officers follow commands they themselves receive from those over them, and they are equipped with leadership qualities which make them leaders. Wise guys have to bury their wisdom and follow commands.  Their lives depend on it.

There are times when the officers might bark out commands over the radio which the infantry do not understand, purely because they don’t have a view on the whole offensive.  Officers do.  As reports come in  from the battlefield they can work out where the attack should be and when soldiers should open fire, or even retreat.

Let’s apply this then on the church. One can take the equation too far, of course.  Elders are not like army officers who bark out commands which everyone else must obey.  But in a certain sense they, as under-shepherds, received from God not only the task to shepherd the follow, but also see that discipline within the church is exercised.  No elder can demand unquestioned submission of any member of the congregation.  The authority of the elders do not make them lords over God’s people.  Elders themselves are and discharge of their duties under the Lordship of Christ.  The manual for discipline is the Word of God, under which the elders bow themselves.  But their is the injunction that elders must be respected, not for their person, but for Him who called them to represent Him.  Therefor this two pronged verse: 

… you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility… (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Both younger people and elders must be submissive to the Headship of Christ.  Actually, the “all” in this verse refers to all in the congregation.  “All” must bow under the Headship of Christ, and “all”must be servants one of the other.

There are two things the devil exceeds well in, and he has been using this tactic since day one:  He undermines the authority of God, “Is it true that God said…?” Adam and Eve fell for it.  Once they fell in sin the unity between them was affected and they started to accuse one another.

A congregation where their is disunity will not stand against the onslaught of the prowling lion.  A congregation where there is no humility, and a sense of serving one another as fellow-soldiers in the battle, is weak and there is no advancement of the Gospel.  Infighting and selfish divergent views in strategy lead to a sick congregation which forgot about the real battle as the focus of energy is aimed at keeping people apart, with members of smaller sub-groups try to oust other groups. 

Let us beware:

“God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NKJV)

Trust

It’s one thing to have the prowling lion as an formidable enemy, but it is a completely different thing to have Him, the mighty God before whom even the lion has no chance, as one’s enemy.  No one has disregards God’s good discipline for his church will survive if he faces God who gave his Son to redeem a people for Himself.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (1 Peter 5:6, NKJV)

There is another thing which can severely hamstring an army; it is something which effects them to the point that they become paralysed at the sight of the battle.  What is it?  Anxiety and fear.

I remember this young soldier who was almost useless as he was beset with fear.  In a commanders meeting it was agreed that he would be send home.  His fear not only put him in danger, but also his fellow soldiers.  He was in control of a automatic machine gun, but his hands were shivering.  Then, one Sunday night, the enemy attacked our base.  27 mortar bombs rained down on us.  Plagued by fear that soldier had not left his post, which means he was the first one to open fire.  And he did not stop.  One belt of rounds after the other were emptied into the darkness of night—and all along he lost his fear.  The next morning revealed that his braveness diverted the enemy as they thought there was a full army aimed at them.  He was awarded for bravery.

Fear and anxiety might overcome a Christian in the battle against the prowling lion.  Even more, the cares of the things of this world and the fear that one might lose it, draws one’s attention away from both the ballet and the Commander-in-Chief. Sober-mindedness go out the backdoor.  So Peter writes:

cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV)

We can get so busy with our cares, and with the things we see as valuable, that we take our eyes off God.  The moment we lose sight of how great and powerful God is we are not alert to the enemy.  Did not our Lord teach us, 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31–33, NKJV)

We need to heed the warning of Christ in the parable of the seed.  One part of the seed initially sprouted, but then disaster struck: 

Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18–19, NKJV)

How much of the things we see as important are standing in they way of us being devoted soldiers of the Lord?  When the time of choice come we act like the rich young man: uselessly and lost we walk away because our love is divided, and we just can’t pay the price of discipleship.

Conclusion

My dear friends, we are engaged in the battle between the evil forces of Satan who seeks to destroy the church, and the Kingdom of heaven.  There is only one way to survive: we need to be church as God designed it to be:

  • We need to bow under our Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ
  • The elders need to really understand their role as sherds under the Chief Shepherd and care for, and protect, the flock to the best of their ability.
  • We need to look up and respect godly leaders as people put there by God to be our guides in this battle
  • There is no room for divided loyalty and personal preferences; all should submit to the will of God.
  • We need to get our priorities in order, so that we are not distracted.  Focussing on the real thing will conquer our fear and help us to be self-controlled and alert.

May God help us.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 5 August 2018

 

Heavenly shaped defence (2) Eldership (a)

Bible Readings

  • Ezekiel 34:1-10
  • 1Peter 5:1-4

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Our study of 1Peter up to this point taught us a few major things:

  • Our citizenship is in heaven where our inheritance is kept save by God
  • Citizens of heaven are those who received the Good News of Christ, who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light. They received a new life—a new birth from above—by the Holy Spirit, and became part of the spiritual temple serving God
  • Citizens of heaven live like aliens on earth, because their minds are renewed—and this impacts on the way they live and think
  • Citizens of heaven should not think it strange if the world hates them who also hated Christ.

For this reason then disciples of Jesus Christ need to be on their guard and know their enemy. 

Last week we had a brief look at our enemy number one: the devil, our adversary, who prowls like a roaring lion seeking to devour the citizens of heaven.

Today we continue to look at other enemies.  The first then is a look at bad church leadership. Not all church leadership represents good leadership.  This has been the case in Old Testament times, and has been since the days of the apostles right through church history into our present day.

Our text gives us certain characteristics of bad leaders:

  • Bad leaders don’t know the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ
  • Bad leaders are bad shepherds
  • Bad leaders lord it over God’s people
  • Bad leaders are in it for material gain
  • Bad leaders set bad examples

Bad leaders don’t know the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ

Peter appeals to the elders as a fellow elder.  Peter makes the point that, although the elders in the church to whom he wrote did not physically see Christ, they had to know Him because of the Gospel preached to them.

To know Christ is endlessly more than knowing about Him. An elder must have an experience of the new life by the Holy Spirit which comes the the Word of God.  Therefore all elders must be able to openly and publicly declare that they are absolutely sure that they know that a they will share in the glory of Christ when He returns, and their conduct must back it up.  This is fundamental for leadership in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.  

If an elder does not have a saving knowledge and life in Jesus Christ, he in all other aspects of eldership has become and enemy to the church of Christ.  In fact, no man should be elected and inducted as elder without a saving faith in Christ. 

It is therefore a perquisite for every elder is to have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as God Himself declared it in the Scriptures.  It speaks for itself that and elder would know, believe and teach the Scriptures as the infallible and authoritative Word of God. This what Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus:   and elder must 

holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. (Titus 1:8–9, NKJV)

An elder must therefore be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:3).

Any Christian parent has the responsibility to spiritually safeguard his Christian family. This applies even to a greater degree to elders. An elder therefore must be a faithful husband, and teach his children to follow and love God.   Little wonder then that Paul stresses this truth:  an elder must be the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. (Titus 1:6, NKJV). To Timothy Paul writes about elders:  

“one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?). (1 Timothy 3:4–5, NKJV)

There is a very real problem in this regard:  immature and unsaved members of a congregation can easily elect men who do not display any signs of a genuine walk with God.  Should this happen, the congregation can only grow to the spiritual level of its leaders.

The devil has a field day in a congregation with ungodly leaders.  Such leaders can never lead in intercessory prayer for those under their care, they don’t have a basic knowledge of the Bible and therefore cannot teach the Scriptures. In fact, they dodge their responsibilities when it comes to the spiritual care of God’s flock. I went to congregations where elders never or hardly attended Bible studies or prayer meetings.  In some cases they even attended public worship only sporadically.  This is a disgrace to the name of Christ.

So, in the first place:  elders must be mature, confession Christians who serve the Lord as Saviour, and men who love the Scriptures, who are able to teach it, and also have the ability to recognise false teaching.

Bad leaders are bad shepherds

The injunction of our Lord in 1Peter 5 is that elders must be shepherds of God’s flock. Shepherds care for the flock.

It is important that we hear these words coming from Peter.  We know how he disowned the Lord three times, and three times after his resurrection, the Lord demanded Peter’s love for Him.  Peter learned to say he loved the Lord was one thing; the next thing was to show his love for Christ by taking care of the sheep.  He was appointed to feed the lambs, care for the flock, and feed the flock (John 21).

The prophet Ezekiel recorded the neglectful shepherds of Israel.  We read about it in chapter 34.  Should not the shepherds take care of the flock?  This is a rhetorical question which has an obvious answer: “Yes!” But, what did the leaders then do?  They abused the flock for their own gain.  

They did not strengthen the weak, or bound up the injured.  They could not care about the strays or search for the lost.  This led to a scattered flock, with no one searching for them.

I read these verses and a shudder before the Lord who appointed me as shepherd. My heart crumbles in the knowledge that I stand in guilt before Him.  Has our society left its mark on my heart to not bother out of so-called respect for people’s privacy and personal choice?  Are we maybe using the busyness of our daily program as an excuse to not really care? I confess my sin before God and ask his forgiveness for neglecting in this task.

Yes, we live in different times and circumstances.  We’re always in a hurry, we’ve got commitments, but somewhere along the line we need to stop and count the cost of cruising like ocean liners past one another in the dark ocean of our reserved lifestyles. I beg of you too to not allow your fellow brother and sister slip away and do nothing.

There’s so much more about good shepherdship, especially in the light of Christ’s all sacrificial shepherdship. Do pray for your elders, but also willingly give them entrance to your spiritual lives to care for you the best they can.

Bad leaders lord it over God’s people

Peter writes to the elders who are called to care for the exposed flock under persecution and pressure, the sheep who hear the prowling lion—and he says elders are not more, but nothing less, than overseers.  There is something of the idea of caretaker: the one who takes care does not own what he takes care of, but he has the responsibility of a steward who needs to give account to the owner for the care he provides.

There is a beautiful verse in the Old Testament which describes  God’s care of the Promised Land:

a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the Lord your God cares; the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” (Deuteronomy 11:11–12, NKJV)

This is the picture of “care”.

Bad leaders forget that the people they must care for do not belong to them. So they act as lords over the congregation. Ezekiel 34 describes such leaders:  Thus says the Lord God: 

“Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require My flock at their hand; I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver My flock from their mouths, that they may no longer be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:10, NKJV)

There are many examples of church leaders who have enriched, and are enriching, themselves at the cost of the flock.  There are examples of elders who control the movements, spending patterns, and even where and how their church members go in on holiday; even if they may have cars with radios.  There is such a thing as spiritual abuse where church members do not respect their leaders, but fear them.  That is not shepherding; that is lording it.  Let’s be clear, there is no hierarchy in the church of the Lord.  A minister, or and elder or a bishop—or for that matter even a pope—who has no right to be feared as spiritual policemen or be regarded person of status.  An elder does not hold a position, he merely serves.

Bad leaders are in it for material gain

Right from the beginning it was clear that elders should be men who hates dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21).  Hophni and Phinehas in the time of old Eli are examples of bad leaders who loved the job because of personal gain.  The shepherds in Ezekiel 34 were the same: they ate the curds, clothed themselves with the wool and slaughtered the choice animals for themselves.

How many church folk went hungry and became destitute before the Reformation because they were told that their sins would be forgiven through their offering on the bag, only to enrich the church hierarchy!

Thank God for the system of the Presbyterian church were there is accountability at every level.  May God protect us against leaders who may enrich themselves out of the coffers of poor widows.

Bad leaders set bad examples

Leaders in the church of Christ must lead in the way they set examples of godliness and purity.  Paul writes to Titus about elders: 

For a overseer must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled. (Titus 1:7–8, NKJV)

He adds to this in 1Timothy 3, “He must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

I recently spoke to an elderly lady who could not get herself to go back to church for more than 20 years because of an elder’s ungodly behaviour towards her in her own home.  What a shame!

Conclusion

The Bible is clear, bad leadership in a church leads to the spiritual corruption of that church. Bad leadership plays right in the hand of the devil whose one and only aim is to destroy and devour.

We as your elders are not perfect.  We stumble, we fall short—and with sorrow we admit it.  May God give us mercy and may we constantly strive to become better shepherds. Our Saviour is Jesus Christ who gave up himself to rescue us from the clutches of the devil—now no one can ever snatch us from his hand. Where we fail, friends, look at Jesus—He will never fail us. 

And, my dear friend, please don’t ever stop praying for your elders.  And ask God to raise up more godly men to shepherd the flock. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 July 2018

 

Heavenly shaped defence (1)

Bible Readings

  • Acts 20:25-38;
  • 1 Peter 5:1-11

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

If our Lord allows us, we will walk slowly through the last chapter of 1 Peter.  The topic of this sermon “Heavenly Shaped Defence”. We of course speak of our defence against the strategy of the devil.  To begin our study of chapter 5 with we will consider certain things leaving us defenceless against our adversary, the devil. More about that later.

We have had the privilege to walk through 1Peter over the last two months or so.  God has shown us many wonderful things about our heavenly shaped lives, as well our heavenly shaped future in Christ.  

  • We have an inheritance which can never perish, spoil or fade; it is kept in heaven. This inheritance is shielded by God’s power until the announcement of the last time (1Peter 1:3-5).
  • God revealed this salvation in Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all prophesies of the Old Testament, now reality in the New Testament (1Peter 1:10-12).
  • The good news about the Gospel of Christ is that, by the work of the Holy Spirit—who works through the revealed will of God in the Bible (1Peter 1:24-25)—changed our hollow and meaningless existence, from being God’s enemies, by making us children of God (1Peter 1:14-15, 18).  For this Christ redeemed us by his precious blood, worth more than silver of gold (1Peter 1:19-21). 
  • Our life on earth is temporary, but one day Jesus Christ will return and will take us to Him (1Peter 1:13), but we called to, in the meantime, live holy lives, because we were called out of darkness into his wonderful light, to proclaim God’s praises (1Peter 2:9-10).  In fact, Christians, under Jesus Christ woh is the head, is like a temple, a spiritual house, and a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (1Peter 2:5).
  • We live in this world as aliens, obeying the laws of governments, doing our daily work as if unto the Lord (1Peter 2:13-19).
  • Our marriage and family relationships must reflect the relationship between Christ and his church as a message of hope to the world (1Peter 3:1-7).

All in all, what we have heard up to now is absolute good news.  Our citizenship is in heaven, and we are kept in the hands of God: 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, (1 Peter 3:18, NKJV)

But our summary of what Peter wrote in his epistle is incomplete.  Peter also prepares us for difficult times, precisely because of our faith in Jesus Christ. In 1Peter 1:6 he writes:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials … (1 Peter 1:6, NKJV)

Why does all of this happen?

  • The world, who rejects the Lordship of Christ goes after God’s children and whip up accusations against his church (1Peter 2:12), and Christians experience unjust sufferings (1Peter 2:19-21). 
  • If Christians suffer for what is right, they are blessed (1Peter 3:14), because it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1Peter 3:17).  
  • All of this should not come as a surprise to Christians, because being united to Christ implies that his sufferings will be our sufferings (1Peter 4:12-13).

Our sufferings and the glory of Christ

It is almost as if Peter leads us in our relationship with Christ, to have a look of what drives the drama behind the curtains, so we can understand the battle we are involved in.

There’s one thing our enemy would want to prevent from happening, and us from knowing:  that the glory of Christ will be known in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ.  Peter, on the other hand, cannot stress the point more:

Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:13, NKJV)

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. (1 Peter 4:14, NKJV)

Peter is confident about the fact he himself will share in the glory of Christ when it is revealed (1Peter 5:1). Elders are encouraged to discharge of their shepherding task well, because they will “receive the crown of glory” when the Shepherd appears (1Peter 5:4).  He ends his letter with this encouraging word: 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (1 Peter 5:10, NKJV)

So, the devil’s plan to have Christians going through suffering, in the hope that they might retreat and give up following Christ as Lord—and thus miss out on the eternal glory of Christ—fails in the great plan of God:  suffering, as we saw last week is a necessary process of refinement, but it also unites us with the glory of Christ.

We need to hang on to the words of our Lord in his Hight Priestly Prayer in the face of our suffering and our battle with our adversary.

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:22,24, NKJV)

This prayer of Christ will ultimately surely be answered in full when He appears in glory: being already been gloried in Christ, those united to Him by faith will see his glory! The devil has no chance against Christ. In fact his place in the lake of sulphur is already prepared.  His tail feathers have been plucked, and his wings have been clipped.  Because he has been subjected to Christ, his is even more ferocious and dangerous. But God is not yet done with him. 

Our enemy

First, let’s look at the things leaving us defenceless. 

We look at five destructive dangers: 

  • our adversary, the devil
  • ungodly elders
  • insubordinate behaviour in God’s household
  • wavering faith in times of trouble
  • ignorance of prevalent danger

We will hear the Word of God on the first in this list, and continue next week.

The devil 

Although Peter mentions our adversary last, it does not mean that he is the least dangerous.  In fact, he is behind everything aimed at the destruction of the church of Christ.  

Let’s go to 1Peter 5:8

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Peter 5:8, NKJV)

Of all the wild animals there is one we do not want to tackle with bare hands: the lion.  Even tame lions can be dangerous and in some cases be extremely unpredictable.  

Our adversary is more than such a lion.  He prowls around with one aim and purpose:  to devour and destroy.

David prayed in Psalm 7:2

O Lord my God, in You I put my trust; save me from all those who persecute me; and deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion, rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver. (Psalm 7:1–2, NKJV)

Of his adversary the Psalmist writes:

He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den; He lies in wait to catch the poor; He catches the poor when he draws him into his net. (Psalm 10:9, NKJV)

John exposes the devil: 

He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44, NKJV)

He has sinned from the beginning (1John 3:8).  He perverts the truth of God, precisely because he knows truth so well.  He believes and his fellow fallen angels believe God, and they shudders (James 2:19). He knew very well what God had commanded Adam and Eve, but he perverted the truth and trapped them into believing his version of the truth instead.  He tried to use his version of the truth to tempt our Lord by quoting verses of the Bible.  Here is some of his strategies:

  • To undermine your faith in Christ he whispers in your ear that it is impossible to know that you are a Christian, reminding you of your sins.  
  • Or he might even prevent your from  fully trust in Christ as your Saviour by trying to convince you that you are not a sinner to begin with.  A loving God will not possible throw sinners in hell! 
  • He might try to convince you that God’s Word is not the truth, and not enough to lead you to the knowledge of who God and your Saviour is.  How can God call you through a book which was written thousands of years ago.  Can the Bible be true?  Is there power in the gospel?
  • Was grace enough for you?  Can you have security that your inheritance in heaven cannot spoil, fade or perish, and that God is shielding it for you? What about your past rebellion against God?
  • Who says God really loves you, and that He will never let anyone pluck you from his hand? Who says God really exist?
  • Another great delusion from the devil is the suggestion that Christians should not suffer for the sake of Christ. Last week we dwelled on the abominable teaching of the Health and Wealth theology, also know as Prosperity Theology.  Our adversary will be ready to whisper in our ear that God does not love us as soon as suffering shows up in our life.  And what is he so good in convincing ignorant Christians with?  He does it as he did with Christ: he makes promises he know very well he cannot deliver.  Don’t fall for it.  It is a lie from hell.   

And so you are tossed about like a wave on the ocean.  Listen to him and he will rip your heart out and laugh about you on your way to hell.

In The Pilgrims Progress Bunyan writes:  “No king will willingly lose his subjects,” said Apollyon to Christian when he stretched himself across the road, “and I swear you shall go no further; here will I spill your soul.” 

I quote from a sermon of Charles Spurgeon: 

“Do you suppose that Satan would lose his subjects one by one, and not be filled with wrath? Assuredly not. As soon as he sees a soul hurrying off to the wicket gate, with his eyes fixed on the light, away go all hell’s dogs after him. ‘There is another of my subjects going; my empire is being thinned; my family is being diminished:’ and he tries with his might and main to bring the poor soul back again.” 

There’s far more to say about the devil, but let’s wrap it up with this from Revelation 12:  it describes the battle between him and the angels of God who protects the church of the Lord out of which would be born Jesus Christ.  An enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns with seven crowns on his head appeared on the scene.  Here we have an explicit reference to him “the ancient serpent, the devil, or Satan who leads the whole world astray” (verse 9). At the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, the dragon wanted to devour the newborn child.  Satan lost the rebellion in heaven and was hurled to the earth and his angles with him (verse 8).  He then focussed upon the woman who had given birth to the son; he focussed on the church of Christ, but God is protecting his people (verse 14). Although overcome, Satan does not retreat.  He is still engaged in the battle, now honing in on all who call Jesus Christ their Lord.  Listen:  

And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 12:17, NKJV)

This is our enemy Number One.  Every soul who allows itself to be entrapped by this enemy is in great peril.  The Church of our Lord Jesus Christ has exposed itself by voices from within who denies the existence of its greatest enemy.

Conclusion

My friends, don’t be fooled or distracted.  Satan is not the little disfigured red-faced little fellow with sharp pointed ears and a pitch fork in his hands.  He is a dangerous, yet not almighty, fallen warrior.  He knows no love, although he can speak lovingly; he promises all, although he has nothing to offer; he prides as an angle of the light, yet in him is just darkness. The Bible gives us the instruction:

Resist him, be steadfast in the faith. (1 Peter 5:9, NKJV)

Hide in the righteousness of Christ and hang on to your inheritance in Him which cannot spoil, fade or perish.  This is our only defence.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 22 July 2018

 

Prayer of Praise

Lord Heavenly Father,

If we knew Scriptures well, we would know that we cannot treat You like a computer waiting to be programmed, or a vending machine dispensing lollies, passively responding to our selections. You’re not a private genie waiting for us to express our wishes.  Instead,  You are our sovereign Master, Creator of the universe, not in need of anything from anything You made.  You numbered our days and hairs.  We thank You for the privilege of knowing You this way.

But You do delight in us asking, trusting You for things that seem impossible—things beyond our control, things that will bring you glory. 

In the first instance we bow with this prayer today: may your Kingdom come and your will be done!

Lord, teach us to forget about mansions, cars and cash; or acclaim, appreciation, or applause. Give us an understanding of David meant when he wrongly focussed on those who apparently had everything, and He then almost lost faith in You, his heart became miserable, his spirit became embittered, and he became senseless and ignorant; but then rediscovered that You are always with him to guide him with your counsel.  He then proclaimed, “Whom have I in heaven but You?, and part has nothing I desire but You. As for me it is good to be near God. 

We ask You to confound our hearts all over again with your splendour, love, and grace. Cause our knees to buckle with wonder, our feet to dance with delight, and our hearts to beat with joy and to understand that your free gift of eternal life supersedes everything we may desire while on this earth.

Give us a willingness to love You and to live in a state of perpetual first-love affection for You, now and until heaven becomes physical reality after the last tick of earthly time.

We pray in the Name of Christ our Saviour. 

Amen

For forgiveness

Our heavenly Father, if we approached You this morning with our own achievements we would surely stand before You with empty hands.  But we worship You with thanksgiving for giving us the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which fills our hands with a pleasing sacrifice in your sight.  We pray that You will more and more install into us living faith to receive your grace to expel the sinful powers that hinder love to blossom and bear fruit.

Satan would want us to feel guilty, and to fight for our spiritual survival in self-centred depression and self-pity, unable to see the vastness of your mercy. If we have a wrong understanding of grace we become hypocritical and try cover our guilt, and so destroy all sincerity in relationships, which makes real love impossible; or we rumour about other people’s faults to minimise our own guilt. To meet your demand to love with all of our heart, mind, should and strength the destructive effects of guilt must be overcome.

If guilt is not removed we become fearful and we tend live in our own comfort zone and do not approach fellow human beings  who might need a word of welcome and encouragement. Or we may reject the calling of being your disciples wherever we go, because it sounds too dangerous. Or in order to experience some security we may waste money on excessive luxuries. If no,t we might get swallowed up in all manner of little phobias that make us preoccupied with ourselves, which blind us to the needs of others. All of this sort of behaviour is the opposite of love.

Or we might be greedy money on unnecessary luxuries. We don’t undertake anything risky, purely to build a wall around our precious possessions. We focus on things instead of people, or we see people as resources for our material advantage. So love is ruined.

Give us instead a faith in grace and your absolute forgiveness which produces love, dispelling guilt and fear and greed out of our lives. Help us to hold fast to the hope that the death of Christ is sufficient to secure forgiveness and righteousness now and forever (Hebrews 10:14).  Help us to anchor our lives in the unfailing promises of the Scriptures,”Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36, NKJV) Give us the freedom that expels  greed because it is confident that Christ is greater wealth than all the world can offer.

Grant us quick, specific, joyful repentances. Destroy our attempts at blaming others for our lousy attitudes and poor choices. Grow our capacity to stay engaged in relationships. Help us hear people clearly, and not put our meaning on their words.

Free us to love your church more than ever, see your hand and heart at work everywhere we look, and serve and encourage others every day.

Hear our prayer, in the Name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Heavenly shaped refinement

Scripture Readings

  • Psalm 119:153-160
  • 1 Peter 4:12-19

Introduction

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ

Just a few questions to the children:  hands up if you love going to the dentist!

Why do you think we usually don’t like going to the dentist?  Is it perhaps because we dislike the trip to the dentist?  Or the furniture in the waiting room? Or are dentists unfriendly people?  Or may it’s the needles?  Or perhaps because we don’t like having numb lips and tung?  Or may it be the drills and other sharp dental instruments?  Or is it because we don’t like pain!

If we don’t like pain, why do we go to the dentist?  Only because Mom and Dad wants to see us having pain?  Why then, do they themselves go?

It is for our good.  It might not look like it, but the fact that parents take their children go to the dentist, is because they love their children. And while sitting in the dental chair we might not think so, later on we understand that we have healthy teeth because of our parent’s loved for us.

The Christian life is not an escape from trials

A dangerous branch of modern day theology is the so-called “Prosperity Theology.” It claims  that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians because in the Atonement of Christ is included, not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.  Jesus Christ also atoned for the “sin” of material poverty. If one’s life does show signs of material hardship, one actually lives with untoned sins. The only tool to force God to grant prosperity is to use prayer as a tool to bind God to our bucketlist.  

Prosperity “theologians” have no understanding of the doctrine of the biblical necessity of suffering; in fact, there is just a gaping absence of a doctrine of suffering. 

One of the basic tenures of this “theology” is that, if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money.  It agrees with the New Thought movement which teaches that human beings are responsible their own happiness, health, and situations in life, and that applying mental energy in the appropriate direction is sufficient to cure any ills. To give this idea a Christian colour, something which sounds like biblical teaching became very popular, and it goes like this, “God helps those who help themselves.” In a recent survey in America almost 90% of Christians believed that this phrase actually comes form the Bible.  If this phrase was true, the Biblical teaching of  justification by faith alone is joke.  If prosperity gospel is true, grace is obsolete, God is not sovereign, and man is the measure everything in and around him.

Our passage today confirms Biblical teaching found all the way through the Bible.  

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; (1 Peter 4:12, NKJV)

James writes, 

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (James 1:2–3, NKJV)

Paul writes:

Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— (2 Corinthians 11:25–27, NKJV)

Elsewhere he writes: 

… it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:13–14, NKJV)

He was imprisoned when he wrote these words and yet he rejoices that his chains became the confidence of others to put their lives on the line for the Gospel too. His sufferings were good for the Gospel cause.

What do property teachers say about this?  Was there some hidden sin in Paul causing his suffering? Was his prayer life wanting?

The difference between punishment and refinement

We don’t like pain and suffering; no one does.  But we cannot escape the reality of it. But there is something we need to be very clear about.  The pain and suffering which became part and parcel of our existence as children of Adam and Eve are not the same thing as the trials mentioned in our verse.

When sin entered this fallen word the punishment on sin included painful childbearing, disturbed marriage relationships, cursed ground calling for painful toil all the days of our life, thorns and thistles, pest, weeds, and death, for we will return to the dust from which were created.  The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

Between sinful man and an angry and holy God stands the Cross of Jesus Christ.  That’s is what was promised that day when God announced the consequences of man’s rebellion, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The Cross is where the enmity between man and Satan was settled in the Person of Christ, the second Adam.

In Him God’s justice and righteousness were met.  In Him the gates of paradise are now wide open and God’s relationship with fallen man is restored, so that those who in Him alone find forgiveness and restoration are no longer punished for their trespasses.  The astonishing aspect of Christ’s righteousness is that all our past sin, but also our future sin, is already atoned for. Our trespasses, sins and rebellion were transferred onto Him when He took it and nailed it to the Cross.  If He is your Saviour even future sins are not punished, because His atonement was complete.  Listen to these verses:

He [Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, blameless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:23–27, NKJV)

In Christ sin is atoned, punishment came to an end, guilt is removed and sinners receive the right to be called children of God. When trials meet the Christian, he does not blame God for punishing him, for his punishment was met in Christ.  The Christian asks, “What are you teaching me, Lord? Teach me the purpose of this refinement?” Trials are not punishment, they are a sign that God treats us like true children by disciplining us.  This is possible because for the Christian suffering is not something unusual, but something necessary.  Charles Spurgeon wrote:  There is no greater mercy that I know of on earth than good health, except it, is sickness, and that has often been a greater mercy to me than health.

The Bible is however clear that those who keep rebelling against God by rejecting his offer of grace in Jesus Christ, live under the judgment of God.  Unrepentant sinners, although enjoying the common grace of God which He bestows on all of the human race—He gives rain over sinners as well as the righteous—life’s setbacks of pain and suffering are merely a precursor to the ultimate and eternal punishment of hell. Such a sinner can rightfully ask God when calamity strikes, “Why do You keep on punishing me.

Our unity with Christ

Peter continues in 1 Peter 4: 

… rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. (1 Peter 4:13, NKJV)

What should the first reaction of the Christian be when trials and suffering comes his way?  This happens because I belong to Christ. I can only belong to Christ if I am united with Him, so that what He did on the cross for me, by faith is mine; but it also means that we now walk in unity with Christ: his sufferings are mine.

Paul writes: 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death… (Philippians 3:10, NKJV)

This was one of the first lessons of discipleship.  On the Mountain Jesus called his disciples to Him and taught them:  

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NKJV)

What we don’t understand is that not only do we share in Christ’s gift of righteousness and suffering, but we share in his glory. “You will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Be insulted for the Name of Christ is a sign of “the Spirit of glory and of God resting” on us  (1 Peter 4:14). If we suffer “as a Christian” we should “not be ashamed, but praise God that we bear that name.” (1Peter 4:17) The name “Christian” indicates our unity with Christ.  It means “Christ-partakers”, or “those who are in Christ”. And this is exactly why this world hates Christians: it hated Christ and still does. 

We don’t need to go looking for trouble in the world; just tell people you are a Christian and it will evoke all sort of negative reactions.  Should we be surprised?  Peter said, “Do not be surprised.” Prosperity “theology” followers will be.

Eternal judgment

Not all who call themselves Christians within the safety of church walls are Christians.  The Bible is therefore clear that the trials we endure serve as purification of the Church of Jesus Christ:

For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

This is a very sobering verse.  In fact, it is divisive in the true sense of the word.  God’s judgement will bring division.  This is the message of the Scriptures, running like a golden thread through it. That’s the point of the Cross.  That gives meaning to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Whosoever trusts Christ for salvation does not have reason to fear the day of judgement, but we understand the meaning of “hardness” to be saved in the light of the trials and persecution of the Christ of Jesus Christ, not in terms of the measure of our own effort to work our way into heaven. 

The question is, “What will become of the ungodly and the sinner.” (1 Peter 4:18)  Let’s just think about the question.  What plausible answer do we have other than our total reliance on the righteousness of Christ?

Conclusion

We close with the words of our reading:  If you are suffering, remember it is in accordance with the will of God.  And because it is so, commit yourself to your “faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1Peter 4:19) He’s your Creator, there is no other God, and He calls you to love Him with everything you have.  Trust Him, He is with you in your trials, not because He hates you, but because He is preparing you for eternity.  He is waiting to receive his children in his eternal home when all of this is over and done with.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on 15 July 2018

 

Heavenly-shaped community

Bible Readings

  • Romans 12:9-21
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters,

Some 24 years ago the Lord led our family to leave our homeland and migrate to Australia. The buzzword for migrants was “culture shock”.  

Initially living in a different culture was somewhat interesting.  People expect you to be different, and quite frankly, we expected others to be different.  People went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and we tried our hardest to introduce them to South African food, customs and expressions.

After the first year or so things change.  The locals expect of us to assimilate and stop being different, and the migrants find it hard to interpret local customs and every day expressions.  That’s when culture shock comes in. It is easy for migrants to measure everything by their past and never become part of the culture of their new country.  If they don’t they are always referred to as foreigners.

Something of this dynamic applies to Christians and the conduct living in this world, but something of quite the opposite should be strived for: we are forever foreigners, but we need forever to win people in Christ for the Kingdom of God.

Our study of 1 Peter up to the reading of chapter 4 taught us about our heavenly citizenship, our rebirth by the Spirit of God, our status as aliens in this world—being built into the spiritual temple.  Remember this verse.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his [God’s] own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10, NET)

Back to the future

The paragraph we will study together today, 1Peter 4:7-11, in some way, looks back from the future. The gist of what Peter brings across is that the church, redeemed by the completed work of Christ, and having received a new birth by the Holy Spirit to become God’s holy people, should have their community life shaped by their future citizenship.

Christians live today by tomorrow’s standards, which are anchored with Christ in heaven.  Christians are called to have wisdom to influence their surrounding culture with heavenly shaped living. Our task is to serve our King, Jesus Christ, in a world which hates Him. We are called to not love the world, yet our calling includes a calling for compassion upon those who are facing eternity without hope.

In 1957 Nevil Shute wrote a book titled On the beach.  It dramatises an accidental nuclear explosion, with clouds of nuclear radiation drifting from the northern hemisphere down over the southern hemisphere.  Here is a quote from that book:  

There would be time to prepare, time to seek solace in religion, or alcohol, or frenzied sex, or in the thing that one had always wanted to do. To drive a fast, expensive car. To buy some splendid object with one’s life savings. To consume the best bottles of wine from the cellar of one’s club.  

In the end, when the sickness could not be stopped, the government would issue cyanide pills to those who waited, hoping they would not have to use them, knowing they would.

(As quoted by  Helm, D. R. (2008). 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: sharing christ’s sufferings (p. 144). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)

This is an apt description of the hopelessness of a world without Christ. The end of this world is gulping down a cyanide pill in an effort hasten death without hope.

This is not the view of the Christian.  Our hope is in the eternal sovereignty of God, displayed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. We live our today united with Christ, grounded in eternity.

This is the background for verse 7:

… the culmination of all things is near.

How can we possibly remain focussed, calm, collected and clear-minded when culture and community are crumbling around us?  Let’s get to the next points—and they are connected: prayer, love, service, keeping the glory of God in focus.

So, in what way is the life of the church then shaped by eternity?

Uncluttered minds

If someone knocked on your door to tell you that he saw your house is on fire, panic strikes and clear thinking flies out the back door.  To announce that the end of all things are near, might send panic into the hearts of unbelievers, but believers should react calm and collected.

We might even be alarmed by what is going on in this world and be overcome with fear.  Peter insist that Christians remain collected, single-minded, and mentally prepared.  It is easy to get distracted; it is easy to despairingly throw the arms up into the air over the persecution of Christians, the change in the marriage act, the stupidity about gender fluidity and how it may find it’s way into law; or become flustered about the so-called Safe School program, or the general direction of the United Nations and godless world leaders.

Now is the time that we need to think into the future and act back to the present—because we are seated with Christ in heaven.  We share his victory, and we will see his purposes worked out.  Do you remember our call to worship? 

I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure…’ (Isaiah 46:9–10)

Prayer

The time is near when all things will end. So think clearly and control yourselves so you will be able to pray. (1 Peter 4:7)

At our last assembly meeting our new moderator spurred us on in our task because of the urgency of our time.  He made this remark: the task of the church is not to pray so that we may embark on successful programs; prayer isthe task of the church!  A church which stopped praying can have all the programs they wanted, but it will not come to fruition if their first and foremost task—prayer—is neglected.

Commentators point out that in this paragraph Peter most probably had in mind the last night before our Lord was crucified.  More than once did Christ warned the disciples to not be “troubled”—which is opposite to our word “being sober-minded.” This was in connection with the announcement of Jesus Christ that his time with them is coming to an end.  Later that night they were with Christ in the garden, and repeatedly they could not stay awake to pray.  Jesus said: 

Stay awake and pray for strength against temptation. The spirit wants to do what is right, but the body is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

I think the apostles looked back on that night with deep regret.  If only they could stay awake and pray with Jesus.  When Peter wrote the letter, the part we read from this morning, he most probably had had more than one experience of being in prayer to Jesus to help him in very difficult circumstances.  

Our bodies are weak and will certainly fall if be prayer we need to resist temptation.  Prayer is our connection with God in the Name of Jesus who overcame death, hell, sin and satan.  Prayer feeds our faith and helps us to be focussed as we trust God.

O, that we would once again rediscover the beauty of prayer, so that we can remain focussed when the waters around us are getting troubled!

Love for the brethren

I sometimes think Christians do not need a destructive force from without, because we can sometimes do a better job ourselves. How sad that we sometimes boast in our assertion that we are Christians, but if left to our own devices, we can easily tear one another apart, and sometimes even enjoy it!

It is only logic that Christians who are united with Christ, who has open heavens gate to now intercede with the Father, for Christians who are filled and guided by the Holy Spirit, would demonstrate in their lives and conduct something of their their heavenly origin.  It is not unreasonable to expect Christians to live together in the church as a community of God’s people, to live together in love.

We’re suppose to not hold grudges one against the other.  Instead, love helps us to act proactively:  we forgive and forget.  That’s what is meant by Peter’s words, “love covers a multitude of sins”. We need to learn to say, “It’s okay. I forgive even before you ask for it.” Love does not keeping harping about wrongs done.  This sort of love covers a multitude of sins.  Self-righteousness on the other hand, keep uncovering things, it always open the wounds, and it always wants to wring out apologies.  Christians don’t do this sort of thing.

John writes, as he too recalls the night on which Jesus stooped down as a servant to wash their feet, giving them the command to love one another—he writes: 

We know we have left death and have come into life because we love each other. Whoever does not love is still dead. Everyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. (1 John 3:14–15)

Service to build one another up

I remember the exercises in the Army to drill it in that a unit of soldiers is indeed a unit.  There was a thing called “buddy” training. We had to pick and carry a “wounded” soldier and care for a fellow soldier who seemed to be caught up behind the line of fire.  Officers issued us with a backpack with canned food of which the labels were removed, so that we would share with one another, just in case you opened a can of beetroot for breakfast—if you had to rely on your own supply you were stuck, but because you had buddies, you could share. 

For the upbuilding of the church God gave some people different gifts.  We even refer to a preacher as a minister—which only means “servant”. Whatever the God-given gifts may be should be used to mutual upbuilding, and not personal boast; or even worst, to look down on others who do not have the gift we have.  That was the problem of the Corinthian church. Paul took them to the most useful of all gifts:  love!

Something of this must be seen in the life of every church.  Therefore the command to be hospitable.  If my brother or sister in the Lord is in need, my house becomes their house.

It was quite common in those days that itinerant Christians, mainly because they lost their jobs elsewhere, or maybe they were on a journey looking for scattered families, or maybe even as missionaries, travelled far and wide.  There was no money to pay for accomodation, but it was not needed, because the home of a fellow-believer should be open to travellers. It was not the custom in Rome  for unbelievers; for Christians is was the normal thing to do.

Another circumstance arrived:  people became Christians are converting from paganism to followers of Christ.  How would they find shelter in a hostile world?  Go to your fellow brother and sister: they will treat you like Christ did.  What if they can afford it?  God will provide when He demands of us to give which we cannot afford.

The glory of God

We need to tell one another over and over again, each one should keep in mind, we are citizens of heaven.  Whatever we do, we need to do as unto the Lord.  It is always for his glory.

Conclusion

Christ’s community on earth is unique.  It is a community with its foundations in heaven.  It is a community of aliens living in a world which doesn’t understand them.  They are called to shine their light in this world and show practical Christian living, but by doing so, Christians live counter-culturally. When the world seems to be in a mad rush, Christians keep their heads and stay focussed.  Christians live on the oxygen of prayer.  Christians love when others follow their natural instincts and rather live for themselves.  Christians always serve with the upbuilding of all members of the church in mind.  Therefore when the call for hospitality presents itself, they open their homes, because they understand what they have, is in any case a gift from God.

Let’s live like that.  Let’s follow God’s command and make the church a slice of heaven for those we come in contact with.  Let’s make God look great in a world without hope.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 8 February 2018

 

My funeral, my new life

Bible Readings

  • Romans 6:1-14
  • 1 Peter 4:1-6

Introduction

My dear friends in Christ,

Has it struck you that many contestants in TV shows, when they are knocked out of the game, might express regret, but find consolation in what they call fun.  “It is sorry to go, but I had a lot of fun.”   “Whatever you do, have fun”, is the advise of some parents to their teenagers.   Our society is one of fun-seekers. Fun is the principle, not moral uprightness.  We find the Bible’s advice in  Ecclesiastes 7:2 then strange, “It is better to go to a house of mourning Thant to go to a house of feasting.” Why this advice?  The next part of the verse helps us:

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2, NIV)

There’s only one thing more sure than life, and that is death.

The time of death can’t really be postponed to create opportunities for the person who is dying or for the close relatives to put things right.  It is only in very rare occasions that people have this opportunity.  But once death has arrived, it’s all over.  Those who are left behind can speak, but there is no reaction from the one who just passed away.

Death is decisive and absolute.  There is this final moment of moving from this world into the next.  There is the final heartbeat and the final breath.  Once death has stepped in, it’s over; nothing can cheat death; it always has the last say, and it leaves human beings powerless in its power.

Death has a 100% success rate.  It’s inescapable.  It was not so from the beginning, but man’s rebellion and sin against God brought death into our world, and life on earth has become a painful place.  If God left man to himself he would live in misery and he would die in misery.  Nothing would have any meaning, not even meaning itself.

Spiritual death – a life without Christ

Apart from dying physically, every person born into this life has to reckon with spiritual death.  Not only does our physical heart stop beating, and do we stop breathing, and do our bodies become lifeless, but sin brought spiritual death, and without salvation in Christ Jesus we face eternal death. 

The non-Christian is someone who is controlled by human desires.  This is the “me”-life.  It’s about what I want for myself; it’s self-termination; a life governed by what my heart desire.

It’s a life of thumbing the nose at God.  When it’s all about me and my desires, it quickly blossoms in immorality.  I become the standard of who I do and what is right.  

Verses 3-4 of 1 Peter 4 refers to this life. There are three outstanding characteristics: 

  1. sexual sins—indecency, lust; 
  2. sins displaying a lack of restraint—drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties; and
  3. depraved religious practices—the detestable worship of idols.

Let’s go back in history.  God called Moses to the mountain to give him the Law.  Moses stayed away too long for the people and they soon wanted to have some for of worship.  What did they do?  

… and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. (Exodus 32:6, NKJV)

Don’t for one moment that “play” was having a game of ring-o-ring-of-roses.  It was revelry in an idol and openly mocking God; it surely, dancing around  an idol of fertility there was ore involved.

They fell into idol worship and made a golden calf.  What did this calf represent?  Fertility!  So they engaged in an orgy of lust like the heathen.  This was almost the first thing recorded about God’s people did after they we rescued from slavery in Egypt. All three things Peter mentions manifested in sinful Israel.

Drunkenness in 1Peter 4:3 conveys not only excessive drinking, but habitual intoxication. Orgies describes the result of excessive drinking; another way of expressing it is “excessive feasting,” “wild parties”. There is but a small step between drinking parties and orgies;  one is result of drunkenness, and the other provides the occasion for it. Included in the word is the idea of drinking competitions to see who can drink the most. I get a vision pub crawls. 

To better understand what Peter is conveying here one can combine the meanings of orgies and drinking parties.  It’s not uncommon in our day for people to habitually and specifically create occasions to get together to drink a great deal and then act in a shameful manner, and almost consider it as a human right to be drunk and become immoral and disgustingly silly.  

Peter refers to a flood of dissipation.  It literally means pouring out, or to overflow, like a river; here, an overflowing of immorality. Reckless translates the same word used to describe the way of life of the prodigal son (Luke 15:13). Paul uses the same word when he writes: 

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18, NIV)  

Applied to elders, Paul writes:  

… a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. (Titus 1:6, NIV)

The flood of dissipation describes a person who no longer cares about anything as long as he can enjoy the pleasures of life. In reckless living he lives a life without any limits, or living in such a way as to fulfil every desire of his body.  We live in the “who cares” generation.  In other words, living without concern for the consequences of what one is doing and the consequence for oneself and others are.  Do we find it strange then that ambulance personnel get beaten up?

Living such a life is to be worthless in the eyes of God.  Peter writes in 2:10:  

Once you were not a people … once you had not received mercy … (1 Peter 2:10, NIV)

This leads to judgement.  

But they will have to give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5, NIV)

New life

But there is grace.  And this grace is wrapped in the Gospel about Jesus Christ.  Some of those to whom Peter wrote had lost  family members and friends; they had once been part of those who lived in the “flood of dissipation”, but they heard the message of the Gospel respond to the grace of God before they died.  Peter says: 

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6, NIV)

What does it say?  They heard the Gospel; they received the grace of the Gospel call; they die; judgement for them is no terror.  What they did in their bodies no longer stand as judgement against them; and at the day of judgement God will deal with them applying the standards of his eternal judgement, but now with Jesus Christ as their advocate.  

Not giving heed to the Gospel call is to continue in spiritual death which leads to the second death: it’s eternal irreversible, and certain. 

Where do you stand with the Gospel?  Where do you stand with Christ?  Death may walk into your door today and the consequence of living as someone who either turned God’s grace away, or someone who received that grace and turned towards Christ for salvation will make an eternal difference.

Spiritual Funeral

The verse we look at now is 1Peter 4:1

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. (1 Peter 4:1, NIV)

It’s the last part of this verse we need to look at now.  … whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” Paul helps us to understand this better:  

We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:2, 6–7. NIV)

Paul continues:  

… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:11–13, NIV)

Back to 1Peter 4:1-2.  One of the marks of a Christian is his union with Christ.  He is willing to suffer with Christ, for Christ and like Christ – but thank God, not the same way Christ suffered, and surely not for the same reason. 

This verse means that anyone who in this life turns his back on sin, suffers physically:

  1. As he/she no longer has any desire to keep on sinning.  He has said no to sinning and has turned away from sinning. 
  2. The Christian is not controlled by his own desires, but now lives under the control of God’s will.  

This life-changing event makes to non-Christian wonder.  Why not enjoy the so-called good things in life?  You chose to become one of those who can’t enjoy yourself!  What’s wrong with you?  And you call what we do wrong?  Come one, just one night of wild parties, what can go wrong?  Do you really tell me that you will forever be satisfied with one woman or man?  Are you keeping your body from enjoying what everyone enjoys?

But living under the grace of God changes everything.  It changes the way I look at things, the way I laugh and what I laugh about; I changes the way I choose my friends and who I hang out with;  it changes the way in which I spend my money;  and moreover, the saving grace of God changes the way I spend my time. My previous life was a waste of time, it was a waste of oxygen and energy.  God loves me in Jesus Christ and gave me eternal life, and I owe my life to Him:  I need to love Him with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind.

Conclusion

I met this lady in Sydney.  I was billeted to her during one of the Assemblies.  She was well into her seventies.  I was surprised to see many theological and other very good Christian books on her bookshelf in the sitting room.  

The way she spent her day also intrigued me:  every day of the week was filled activities connected to the church of which she was a member – Bible studies, hospital visitation, caring for those in need, feeding the hungry.  

I asked her one night to tell me more about her life in the Lord.  She told me her husband became very ill and ended up in hospital, terminally ill.  At that stage he was not a Christian, but the pastor of the church of her daughter came to visit him and led him to Christ.  He died in peace knowing that his sins were forgiven.  At his funeral the same pastor preached.  Next to her were her daughter and son-in-law, a minister himself.  The pastor told the story of how her husband repented of his sins, confessed it to the Lord and asked for forgiveness, accepting God’s grace in Christ.  He then said, “We will  join him in heaven one day.”  

My lady-host said God worked it in her heart to understand that if she wanted to see her husband again, let alone see Christ and God and heaven, she must do the same:  before the sun set that day she confessed her sins to God and received the grace of Christ.  She was a new person.  

Then she said to me, 

“I have wasted a lot of time in my life.  There is so much to know about God, and I can’t stop reading about Him; there are so many people who do not know God, and I can’t stop helping them to learn more about his love and forgiveness.”  

Her life without Christ was spiritual death, aimed at herself – but it led her nowhere.  Her turning to Christ was her spiritual funeral – there she said no to sin and she became obedient to the will of God; she learned to reckon that she was dead to sin.  She heard the Gospel call and she responded with her whole life.  Her life in Christ was the beginning of her walk to eternal glory.  She was prepared. She knew better things were coming.

I enquired about her when I saw her son-in-law last time.  He told me she went into glory with God.

The big question now today:  have you been to your spiritual funeral?  Have you started living?  Are you living a life to the glory of God where only his will counts?  Can you face the ridicule of the world and the sufferings of a Christian? Please, make sure of it.  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 June 2018

 

The witness of countercultural living

Bible readings

  • Psalm 34
  • 1 Peter 3:8-22

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

One thing about a Christian, is that the direction of his/her life completely changed when Jesus Christ became their Saviour and Lord.   One day the apostles were professional fishermen, the next they became followers of Jesus Christ, leaving everything behind.  On one day Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians, the next he was worshipping the same Jesus he persecuted.  The disciples in the end chose to die for the One who saved them from eternal hell to bring them to God. It still happens today.  I want to read parts of a report I read.  It’s about Christians in Syria.

I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose.  Every time we talked to them, they were always saying, We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do. They just wanted to stay and share the gospel.

“All were badly brutalised and then crucified.They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.  

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.  One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, ‘Jesus!'”

She knew her hope.  These people knew Christ, and they knew their hope.  They died with honour, and the doors of heaven were opened for them in the same way as Stephen died, 

They stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59–60, NKJV)

Pardon and acceptance with a reconciled God; fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and constant grace and peace out of his fulness; the preserving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; victory over death and hell; and an everlasting possession of heaven as a inheritance gift. All is understood and fully believed by the Christian as his position in Christ: by hope, he surveys it all, anticipates it all, enjoys it all. The life of the Christian is countercultural!

Unbelievers do not comprehend Christian living 

Why does the Christian turn his/her back on this world?  Why allow good prospects of career advancement pass you by just because you are a Christian?  Why does the Christian choose to be the odd one out to not laugh when bad jokes do the round, or when the outcast is ridiculed?  Why not grab the bribe and go on the promised holiday?  Why give some of your income to support the poor or missionaries far away, while you can enjoy it yourself?  Why not allow the white lie to go through if the truth is going to hurt your chances in life?

These questions and the answers and Christians give stuns the world.  Are you out of your mind?  Carpe diem! Grab the day!  No one is going to pick you up when you have fallen.  No one is going to stand in for you when you tell the truth and get fired.  Wake up to yourself!  Get real!  

The Christian answers, not with any smugness or self-pity, but with gentleness and respect,  “I have never been more real in my life!  See, the difference in Christ!”

For this the Christian is more often than not excluded from friendship circles; they are not invited to parties anymore; they are not included in deals anymore; they sometimes become lonely; they become the outcast, the weird, the dumb, the stupid.  When they resist temptations to immoral activities, when they stand up for the sanctity of marriage as God intended it to be, when they speak up against abortion and one night stands or any alternative  definition of marriage, they are condemned as unloving, bigots and downright evil.  That’s when we know that evil has become good and good has become evil.  “Woe to you when men speak well of you”, our Lord said.

Christians are not welcome in the world

Our Lord said:  

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19, ESV)  

Our chapter takes us to Psalm 34 to teach us how we should react to the hostilities of this world and even those who proclaim to be Christian, who are not.  

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:12–14, NIV)

Who said these words?  David.  When?  Although Samuel anointed David as king, he was nevertheless forced to become a refugee before Saul. David, the elect of God, was forced to suffer on the earth as an exile.  Twice during those refugee years David had the opportunity to take Saul’s life. On the first occasion David cut off a corner of Saul’s robe when Saul unknowingly had come into the cave where David was hiding. After Saul arose and left, David called to him from the opening of the cave, and Saul replied: 

“Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly.  When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. (1 Samuel 24:16-17, 19, NIV)

On the second occasion David spared Saul’s life while he slept in his own camp. He did not take Saul’s life.

Our chapter from 1 Peter says of those who are wronged by this world while they submit to the Lord:  

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:9, 12, NIV)

God knows our struggle and our loneliness when we are rejected and would, if things were in our hands, love to see retribution:  His eyes are upon the righteous, and his ears listen to our prayers.  He will vindicate those who belong to Him.

When the time comes and people want to know why we act differently, and why it sometimes looks as if we don’t have any backbone to stand up against those who would love to tread us underfoot, we regroup, we fix our eyes upon Christ, we reaffirm our submission to Him – we set Him apart in our hearts as our Lord – and we take his Name as the sweetest of all names on our lips as we stand firm for his glory; we pray that He will give us his gentleness, and we look at those who want to ridicule us as God’s own creatures – with respect -; we pray that Christ will keep us from falling and so defile our own conscience before Him and those who falsely accuse us – because we only want to see glory of our Lord on display – and we tell them of Him who called us our of darkness into his marvellous light.  That is to give reason for the hope that we have (1Peter 3:15).  The hope God gave us cannot fade, it’s about an inheritance which cannot be spoiled, now already put away in heaven for us whose hope is in Christ.  And we leave it to God to use our testimony to the salvation of the lost, or to the hardness of heart of those who revile our Lord. 

The example of our Lord 

Peter continues in his letter:  

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NIV)

He was reviled and denounced, mock and spat upon.  They hated Him to the point that they stripped Him naked, put a crown of thorns on his head and nailed Him to a cross with criminals, mocking and jeering the Son of God!  He was willing to take this treatment to bring up to God.  So, why we should be surprised if those of the same spirit do the same thing to us.

But, and this is the great but, Christ was made alive.  Peter records something which is hard to understand because it is only here we read about Christ preaching to the spirits of the disobedient.  We don’t know when it happened, and we don’t really know who the disobedient spirits were.  What we know is that their disobedience is connected to Noah and the flood.  These people probably thought old Noah was some stupid and off his mind when he, the righteous preacher warned them of the pending judgement of the Lord upon their sin – they thought they had the last word – but they were wrong!  the victorious Christ who was raised by the Spirit of God did not go to preach to them any message of hope as Noah would have done; no, his message as the Victor over death, hell, sin and Satan was to seal their condemnation – forever! The righteous Noah and Enoch were vindicated by the victorious Christ. Let’s take courage from this. 

And, united by faith to Him through baptism, and by the sacrament of wine and bread, we humbly but joyfully proclaim that we share in his victory.

How do members of the congregation care for one another in times of persecution?

Verse 8 gives us direction:

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; (1 Peter 3:8, NKJV)

In the time when Peter wrote this letter, Christians were violently mistreated.  They were beaten and regarded as second class citizens.  But we would be living in fool’s paradise to think that persecution against Christians were only happening then, or are only happening in the middle east or in China and Pakistan.  Indeed, in those places persecution is brutal and violent—may our Lord protect his people—and may He guard us living in this part of the world such brutality. But persecution happens here, right under our noses, it just operates under a different cloak. 

Reality is that none of us here today can boast that being treated like dirt will leave us untouched.  It hurts when people spread unfounded rumours about you; it hurts when one applies for a job and loses out because you are a Christian; it hurts when you are made a public spectacle because you stand by your principles in Christ; it hurts when those whom you rub shoulders with in the workplace abuse the Name of your Saviour and ridicule you for defending his honour.

Peter in 3:8 these terms to describe a family unit which stands together and takes care one for the other. 

  1. Be of one mind.  When persecution and victimisation becomes the experience of one member, the last thing he or she needs is a divided church family.  The most natural attitude within the church family would be to care and defend. We need to stand together and defend the honour of our brother and sister.  Touch him, and you touch me!” In the Name of Christ, we owe it to one another to encourage one another by being one in mind and purpose.
  2. Having compassion for one another:  This expression is the opposite of being unmoved and cold towards the hurt of the next member of God’s family.  Not only will I defend you, but I will weep with you as we both work through the hurt of being ill treated. I will pray for you and with you. And if needs be, my home is your home; if you need food and shelter, what is mine, is yours. 
  3. Be tenderhearted:  When your fellow Christian feels the psychological and physical hurt of discrimination and victimisation, he would know there is a church family who feels for him/her.  You’re my brother, you’re my sister, I’ll look out for you, because as Christ loved us, I need to have the widest room for you in my heart. What happened to you could just as well have happened to me.
  4. Be humble, or to self-abasing:  When someone hurts, the last thing needed is someone who takes a “holier-than-thou” attitude which sends the message, “I’m so glad it didn’t happen to me. You must have known better to not instigate the situation.” Christians don’t do that; the world does, but we are not from this world.  It is by our love for one another that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

So, my dear friend, when the hard times come, or when you face the ridicule of this world because of your testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow the example of David’s Son – Jesus Christ.  Take it on the chin, but never, ever forget this:  victory is yours through Jesus Christ.  We have a hope which cannot spoil or fade, kept in heaven for us, shielded by the power of God.  Look to your left and your right, you will find a fellow brother or sister to help you in your hour of need. Follow in the footsteps of our Saviour:  submit to all authority, but never disobey or disown your Lord. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 June 2018