Monthly Archives: April 2020

Suffering? Rejoice! (1 Peter 4.12-19)

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Suffering

Have you lost your job because of your clear Christian faith? Or feel rejected and unwanted because of your biblical Christian values? Remember what many of your Christian sisters and brothers face in other countries. To name only a few places, local Christians in many Muslim countries, in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, in North Korea or increasingly in Pakistan, India, and Burma, face barbaric violence and discrimination all the time.

So Peter tells his suffering readers, “Don’t be surprised . . .  as if something surprising were happening to you” (4.12). As true Christians we may expect that the Lord will try and purify us by such means. We remember Peter’s picture of gold being refined in the fire to burn off all the dross of sin (1.7). In that passage too Peter uses the same word ‘trials’ to describe the sufferings his readers are experiencing for their faith. Our sufferings have a beneficial purpose of cleansing us from all compromise and sin, sanctifying us with the purity, truth and holiness of the Lord.

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Loved

In introducing the subject of fiery trials, Peter addresses his readers as “beloved” (4.12). How heart-warming in the midst of hatred and rejection to know that someone loves us deeply! Once again, as so often in our study of the New Testament, loving fellowship amongst us as Christians is underlined.

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Rejoice!

In the context of “suffering grief in all kinds of trials”, 1.6-8 remains clearly in mind as we think of 4.12-19. Peter not only uses the word ‘trials’ in both passages, but also ‘rejoice’. In fact he uses two Greek words for ‘rejoice’ in both passages. The one reminds us of the similar-sounding word for ‘grace’, while the other (1.6, 8 and 4.13) is particularly exuberant and joyful (being British I am aware how counter-cultural it is to be exuberant in rejoicing!). To these words is further added the statement that we are ‘happy’ if we are “insulted in the name of Christ” (4.14). This word is also used in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5.3-10) where it is commonly translated as ‘Blessed’. I confess that I have not generally found it at all a matter of rejoicing when I have had to suffer for my faith. But Peter reminds his readers that it is an enormous privilege and joy to be allowed to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour, the suffering servant.

Peter elaborates on the reason for our rejoicing as Christians in undergoing trials and tests for our faith. In such times we actually have fellowship (4.13 uses the verbal form of koinonia/‘fellowship’: koinoneite) with the sufferings of Christ. He suffered and we suffer with him. We can see something of the depth of such fellowship in ordinary everyday life. People who share the same tragedies of bereavement, the same illness, unemployment or other difficulty, value and enjoy mutual sharing and friendship. How much more so with the saving sufferings of Jesus! What an amazing joy and privilege that we can join with him in the fellowship of his sufferings! “The Spirit of glory and of God rests on us” (4.14) if we are “insulted because of the name of Christ”. Our only reaction must be: WOW! We are almost (but perhaps not quite?!) moved to say, “Bring it on!”

 

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Judgment

Our joyful rejoicing is associated with looking forward to that great day when Jesus’ glory will be revealed (4.13). God’s testing of our faith marks the beginning of the final judgment. And if such suffering afflicts Christians as the outcome of God’s judgment, Peter asks what will God’s judgment mean “for those who do not obey the Gospel” (4.17). Proverbs 11.31 is clearly in mind, “If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner!” Slightly altering Proverbs, Peter doesn’t see our sufferings as our due, but with sympathy acknowledges that suffering is “hard” (4.18). But if God’s judgment is tough for believers, how fearful it will be for the ungodly. Even today let us never forget that God’s judgment awaits us all. We long therefore that God’s Spirit might move our unbelieving friends and relatives to faith in Jesus.

In closing we may note Peter’s conclusion to this passage (4.19). We are not to suffer opposition because of our own sin (4.15), but are to ‘commit ourselves to the faithful Creator in well-doing’ (4.19). Our lives ae to be characterised by loving, moral goodness. May the unbelieving world see our good works and our love, so that they too may become followers of Jesus!

 

Question to ponder: What sufferings might we face as Christians and how do we react?

 

 

 

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Easter blog

 

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A very happy Easter to you all! May the life-giving message of Easter be specially used by God’s Holy Spirit this year! And may we as God’s people and church not only rejoice in Easter for ourselves, but also share it fruitfully with others! So our great aim for this Easter, and indeed for this whole ‘lockdown’ time, is that through it all the name of the Lord might be glorified. But as we praise the Lord for all his goodness and grace, our hearts also go out to those who are suffering bereavement, serious illness, intense loneliness or other pastoral and economic needs.

On Maundy Thursday (which was also the first day of Passover) a core group from our little village church celebrated Communion together on-line and rejoiced in our freedom to join with Jesus in his crucifixion. It was so good too to enjoy such a celebration of Communion without the necessity of an ordained person leading. I felt sad to think of the many in our churches who feel they cannot benefit from this means of grace while the ‘lockdown’ is in force. How legalistic, unbending and unbiblical church rules can be!

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He was raised

In the New Testament the resurrection of Jesus normally comes in the passive: ‘he was raised’ rather than ‘he rose’. I find this wonderfully pertinent. Jesus laid aside his glory, suffered the agonies and shame of the cross and then was buried. There is nothing colder or more hopeless in its finality than the grave. Jesus seemed beyond all hope. But then God the Father stepped in and raised that cold corpse to new life. Fantastic! Wonderful! And if God can bring that dead body to new resurrection life, he can surely raise us also in our coldness and spiritual death to new life in him. If Jesus had somehow raised himself to new life, we would doubtless have worshipped him for his sovereign glory, but we might have doubted whether we could follow him and raise ourselves to new life. But now, however cold we may be, we can look to the Father to exercise his grace and power to raise us from our deadness. What a message of glory Easter brings to us! No wonder the word ‘Hallelujah’ comes to our lips so often in our Easter worship! Praise the Lord indeed!

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New life

“There must be more to life than what we’ve got”. Such sentiments hover in the thoughts of so many people around the world. Many are beginning to feel the unsatisfying emptiness of a godless life of materialism. It is blatantly obvious that society has no answer to the pressing problems of untruthful dishonesty, of broken relationships and self-centred ambition. The message of Easter breaks into our world of sin. Jesus is risen! We too by faith in him can be raised to new life.

Often Jesus’ resurrection is understood as if it were his ascension. Sermons sometimes assure us, therefore, of the glory of eternal life after death; but actually Jesus was raised to new life still on earth. His return to the Father still lay in the future for a few weeks. As we are united with Jesus in his resurrection, with him we can now experience the Father’s gift of new and abundant life here on earth. So, let us rejoice this Easter in his amazing gift of brilliantly revitalised life! Let us show the world what life should really be like! And let the glory of Jesus’ resurrection fill our hearts! Hallelujah!

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Maundy Thursday

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A double celebration this Thursday! Maundy Thursday and the first day of Passover. Of course the two go together inseparably, for on the original Maundy Thursday (Matthew 26.17-30) Jesus instituted Holy Communion/Breaking of Bread/ Eucharist when he was celebrating Passover. In enjoying the Lord’s Supper, therefore, we should also be thinking of Passover.

As we take the bread and drink the wine in remembrance of Jesus’ atoning death on our behalf, we also thank God that he delights in his work of salvation right through history. He saved his people from slavery and death in Egypt, the angel of death passing the blood-daubed homes of the Hebrews. He parted the waters of the Red Sea and took the people across towards the Promised Land. Later, after seventy years in Babylon, he again saved his people from exile and banishment. Gloriously we particularly remember in the Holy Communion service that God sent his beloved son to this world to live, die, be resurrected and ascended for our salvation. In eating the bread and drinking the wine by faith, we receive the body and blood of Jesus. As we receive him in this way we are flooded with his saving grace. We remember too that his work of salvation today still awaits the final glorious perfection of his kingdom. So Maundy Thursday should be a great day of rejoicing in the Father’s grace and salvation through Jesus, his son. Even if we cannot meet with other Christians and rejoice together this year, let our hearts be filled with jubilant praise!

As we Christians celebrate Maundy Thursday, Jews around the world will be sharing the Passover Seder in their homes with the most delicious meal of the year. Passover is a real celebration – not just a tiny crumb of bread and a minuscule sip of wine! The joy of an excellent family meal together goes together with the solemn memory of God’s great act of salvation from slavery in Egypt. Whereas Christians will normally celebrate Maundy Thursday in the family of the church, Jews (both messianic Jews and others) will be celebrating with their household and family in their homes. Passover is very much a family affair and will of course be celebrated without any need of a rabbi being present.

How easy it is to forget that our Communion service is built on the foundation of the Passover! In the course of church history we have changed it almost out of all recognition. In this blog I want to urge us all to rethink our way of remembering the Lord’s broken body and shed blood. This present time of ‘lockdown’ makes it all the more obvious that things need to change. Many Christians will not be allowed to benefit from the visible sign of Jesus’ death for us because their church is closed and it is forbidden to break bread and drink wine without it being specially consecrated by an ordained person. We don’t know how many months it will be before they can benefit again from this means of grace. There is no biblical basis for the church rule that only an ordained person can lead a Communion Service. As we have already noted, the Passover is a family celebration and does not require the leadership of a rabbi. In Acts 2.46 it is also recorded of the first Christians that “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts”. There is no suggestion that an apostle had to be present each time! I want in this blog to urge us all therefore to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in our families or households not only on Maundy Thursday/Passover, but regularly in the future. There can be no biblical objection to this and I believe it would be a means of blessing and grace for us all.

Perhaps I should also be practical! The rule that only an ordained person can lead Communion services presents European churches with grave difficulties. With the increasing shortage of clergy we are putting undue pressure on them as they run from congregation to congregation to celebrate Communions. And if a vicar is ill or a parish is in a vacancy, it is often difficult to find someone to celebrate. As a result we sometimes impose on our congregation an unsuitable old retired clergy-person with little ability in biblical exposition. Let us be bold and encourage our churches to change traditional rules and allow chosen lay leaders to preside at Communion services. And let us enjoy breaking bread together in small groups of friends and as families in our homes!

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The end has come (1 Peter 4.7-11)

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The climactic end (Greek telos) has already drawn near (4.7). As Christians we are already now living in the ‘end times’, but still look forward to their final climax when Jesus comes again.

In contrast with the values of the past time, Peter outlines the characteristics of the end time. He starts (4.7) with our relationship with God in prayer and exhorts us to be “clear minded and self-controlled” so that we can pray aright. Even as younger people, but particularly when one gets older, our minds can easily stray when praying. And for an effective life of prayer we need to be disciplined, although self-discipline and self-control are not the flavour of the month today! But our personal relationship with God is of paramount importance in any true Christian life.

Closely tied to our intimate relationship with God comes our love for each other as Christian sisters and brothers (4.8). Such love does not dwell unforgivingly on the other person’s sin, but concentrates on all that is good in them and “covers over a multitude of sins”. Loving relationships in the fellowship of God’s church are so vital in God’s eyes that the New Testament reminds us of such love again and again, repeatedly.

Christians’ love for each other will work out in open hospitality (4.9). We are not to grumble with niggardly reluctance at the cost in time and expense, but welcome visitors with warm love.

Peter’s list of end-time values concludes with the call to use our gifts and serve others in God’s strength (4.10/11). If we have a ministry which includes public speaking, we should remember that we are to share “the words of God” and thus “the multi-faceted grace of God” (4.10). The heart of God’s message to us all is his grace, his totally undeserved love and mercy. Grace forms the pinnacle of the Christian faith and message.

What then is our purpose in serving God and his people? The answer is short and simple. Our goal is that “in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” and that he might be uplifted and glorified for ever and ever (4.11).

So as Christians we have our marching orders! Let’s go!

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