Thursday, March 17, 2016

Tested In the Prayer Closet (1 Peter 5:5–11)

Have you ever considered prayer as a trial under which you are tested (1:6)? There is no arena under which one’s faith is tested more than in prayer, and when it is thus tested and found to be genuine, it will result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:7).
Peter has called all believers to holiness of life (1:13–25), which is evidenced in four areas: (1) living stones in Christ’s spiritual house, (2) holy priests offering spiritual sacrifices (2:4–10), (3) honorable aliens sojourning in this vile world (2:11–3:22), and (4) diligent stewards of God’s varied grace (4:1–19). All this is necessary preparation for the final exhortation before us (5:5–11).
In this text Peter drills down on necessary aspects of faith with a list of instructions, all of which pertain to prayer. Citing James 4:6 and 10, he first points to the singular necessary principle for success in every test: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v. 5b). No one can hope for success in getting answers to his prayers when God opposes him.
While not specifically mentioning prayer, every phrase in this passage involves praying. First, if you want God’s ear, humble yourself before Him (v. 6; 2 Chron. 7:14). Humbling moves the mighty hand of God to lift you up. The hand is symbolic of His great power to deliver His people (Psa. 98:1). Much of our prayer is pleading for deliverance, is it not? Indeed, prayer is an enigmatic work of weak and powerless children through which He moves to act in mighty power. “Summon your power, O God, the power, O God, by which you have worked for us” (Psa. 68:28; Jer. 33:3; James 5:16). Humble, fervent, believing, earnest prayer gets God’s ear and moves His hand in powerful and effective ways. It lifts up and exalts the praying saint and gets glory to God.
Second, the closet of prayer is also the dumping ground for worldly cares (v. 7). Quoting from Psalm 55:22, Peter exhorts the burdened heart to cast or hurl its burden on the Lord. This casting is a participle: being part of the humbling process, it also involves praying. Worldly cares reflect unbelief; they distract and unduly burden the Christian life. These must be given to the Lord. Interestingly, this whole section mirrors James’s instructions on drawing near to God (James 4:6–10).
The great object of our praying is our warfare against Satan (v. 8). We need to take the devil on in the closet, wrestling in prayer (Eph. 6:12; 18–20). We are to “resist him, firm in faith.” We are not alone this, for “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (v. 9). Jesus defeated Satan on the cross; the saints carry this victory to the prayer closet.
The fruit of this suffering—and praying is suffering—is that “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (vv. 10, 11).

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Hospitality (1 Peter 4:9)

In light of the coming end of the age, Peter exhorts his readers to pursue three areas: (1) vigilant and sober praying (v. 7); (2) continued earnest loving of each other (v. 8); and showing hospitality to others without complaint (v. 9). Peter assumes that his readers are already practicing these Christian virtues but urges them to raise them to a higher level. He reasons (vv. 10, 11) that these are spiritual gifts for which all must give an account to Jesus when He comes to judge (1 Cor. 3:10–15; Matt. 25:35). These gifts are indispensable in building the kingdom for the glory of Christ (vv. 16, 17; 1 Pet. 4:11).
Hospitality is a major consideration in the Scriptures because of its importance in advancing the mission of the kingdom. Thus, it is an identifying mark of a true believer. Hospitality is simply welcoming strangers in order to do them good, helping them with needs and encouraging them in their journey (compare Gaius with Diotrephes, 3 John 5–8 with 9, 10; Gen. 18:1–5).
Under the Old Covenant, God’s people were expected to demonstrate the same care for the stranger that the Lord showed (Psa. 146:9). Hospitality reminded them that they were once strangers in Egypt (Ex. 23:9; Lev. 19:33, 34). Very severe judgment was pronounced against Ammon and Moab because they refused to accommodate Israel in their journey (Deut. 23:3, 4). It was so important to God that he required hospitality, among other things, as a condition for their remaining in the land (Jer. 7:5–7).
In the New Covenant era, hospitality serves both a practical and symbolic function. Christian hospitality made it possible for apostles, missionaries, and evangelists to move about safely and conveniently among the churches. Commercial accommodations were rare and dangerous morally and physically (Rom. 12:13; Heb. 13:2; Phile. 21, 22; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:8).
Hospitality is an extension of brotherly love and serves to identify with and welcome other believers as Christ welcomed us (Rom. 15:7; cf. 14:1–3). Eating with others is a way to show love and compassion (Acts 2:42–47). We celebrate the Lord’s Table as a reminder of His cordial welcome of us. Thus, we also are to encourage and help others in their spiritual walk, especially when it is difficult with trials and hardships (1 Tim. 5:10). Paul severely rebuked Peter for showing bias against Gentile believers at Antioch (Galatians 2:11–14). However, vigilance and discernment must also be used. True saints are welcomed, but false teachers and enemies of the gospel are to be renounced (2 John 9–11; Rom. 16:17, 18).
When He sent out the disciples, Jesus designated hospitality as a clear signal of willingness to receive the gospel message (Matt. 10:9–15). He, too, was received by sinners because they were open to hear His message. On the other hand, the Pharisees severely criticized Him for eating with sinners because they refused that message (Matt. 9:11).
Are you eager and willing to welcome others into your home? Do you cherish opportunities to help those who give their lives to advancing His kingdom? 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Loving and Judgment (1 Peter 4:8)

In light of the impending return of Christ and the judgment He brings to earth, Peter urges his readers to disciplined prayer, deep loving, and deliberate hospitality. These things seem a bit strange as a response to the danger and disaster that are to accompany the last days. Of course, the first admonition to pray with vigilance and sobriety is a must for the Christian soldier (Eph. 6:18). But where does loving one another earnestly and showing hospitality without grumbling fit in?
The problem with most contemporary Christians is that they have little Old Testament foundation for interpreting New Testament truth. It is not that they can never understand what Peter is saying but that they have to dig deep in order to do so. Reading the Bible through regularly helps a great deal to unlock its unity of message. One begins to see the threads and how they relate in drawing out the whole scheme.
In comparing Israel with Christ followers, similar themes begin to present themselves. God called Israel to Himself and designated that His people are to be a holy people, the Lord’s particular possession (Deut. 7:6). That applies to New Covenant saints also (1 Pet. 2:9). The purpose of this unique relationship was that the Israel of God would serve as an example of what a people among whom God dwelt should look like (Deut. 4:5; 1 Pet. 2:11–12, 4:2–5). It should be a community so distinct as to draw attention (Eph. 5:1–16).
To live a godly and exemplary life among pagans is not easy. Moses exhorted the people, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9, see also v. 23). It is very easy for us to let our own sinful hearts draw us away to self-interests and to self-seeking. To avoid this, God gave us His Word with its teaching, statutes, and rules (Deut. 4:14). The whole of these rules are summed up in just two: love the Lord and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37–39). God knows your heart, but your neighbor does not (Rom. 13:9, 10). He sees your attitude and your conduct. Will he know you love the Lord? You show your neighbor that you love the Lord by keeping His rules (Deut. 11:1). Through obedience, you love your neighbor and show Him what God is like (1 Cor. 15:34). This background fits the context of Peter’s challenge (1 Pet. 4:7–11; cf. 1:22).
 There are lots of opinions on what Peter means when he says that love covers sins (v. 8; see Prov. 10:12; James 5:20). It may be best to understand these sins as potential and that loving acts prevent potential sins that would otherwise come into judgment. Whatever this means, the first part of the verse is clear. We must love each other earnestly, as with every muscle stretched. That takes supernatural strength, for we are far more likely to preserve our presumed dignity than risk pursuing others for the love of Christ.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Will God Get Glory in 2016?

Isaiah opens with a clear message of intention from God, who will establish His house in the latter days on Mount Zion (2:1, 2). All the nations will make their pilgrimage to it. It will be a glorious thing. He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in them as He wills that we should.
That goal is to be accomplished by His sovereign work. It is a clear fact that His creatures, created in His image, do not do so now. The land is filled with idols because every admonition from God concerning them is resisted or ignored. However, the day is coming when “The haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. And the idols shall utterly pass away” (Is. 2:17, 18).
As a church and as individual members, we want the Lord to be exalted in our midst. Sadly, pride often seems to get in the way, and we end up taking pleasure in the very means we choose to exalt him. For example, we want to build church membership, and, if we are successful, we take pride in that success and the plan we used to accomplish it. A really successful effort is usually led by some charismatic individual. That person gets invited to share his plan with others who also want the same result. A book is published detailing the plan. A million copies are sold, and hundreds of churches testify to dramatic growth. Conferences are held, which are “must-attend.” But who gets the glory?
The desire to glorify God often ends up focusing on the means and/or the one who developed the means. The glory goes to the means. This applies to everything that we use—preaching, music, programs, revivals—everything. It is this way even when we sincerely desire it to be otherwise. That is because we are naturally prideful. Pride is an idol maker. We want to serve Christ, but in our present condition, our best service is full of idolatry because we start taking pleasure in the service, not the King we are to serve.
God has given us all things to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). Nevertheless, we tend to take those good things and abuse them in our effort to find fulfillment in the things given rather than in the Giver. The angel’s warning in Revelation 14:6, 7 is that all God’s creatures must fear God, give Him glory, and worship the Creator. Idolaters worship the creation.
An example of this is sex, a very powerful and precious gift that comes with very clear rules. Because humans are selfish and prideful creatures, the gift gets abused, and idols are proliferated. What was designed by God to enrich the lives of married couples becomes an abomination, wrecking lives and destroying nations. Fallen creatures cannot control their urge to find pleasure in gifts while spurning the Giver and His rules.
The great and glorious hope that must drive us is that because of the first coming of Jesus Christ, we are going to see the day when He will come again. Our pride will be humbled and our idols will pass away. When that is done, the glory will go to God alone. He alone will be exalted in that day. May that day come in 2016!