Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Living Testimony


“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.”

(1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)



Generally speaking, if it’s our desire to do good, people will think well of us. If it’s our desire to do good, people will treat us well. However, there is an exception to every rule. And, at times, people will seek us harm because we desire good.



People may want to silence our testimony. They may desire to discredit us before others. Or they may seek to drag us into the mud, that we might wallow there with them.



Peter encourages us in the fact that, if we do suffer for righteousness, we will be blessed. And, for this reason, we should have no fear of those who seek us harm. We must simply remain faithful to the Lord. We must continue to honor Christ as holy.



However, not only are we to continue living for the Lord. We are to be always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks about the hope we possess. In other words, we are to be prepared at all times to share both our hope and the reason for it.



One of the mistakes we tend to make is that we become aggressive in making this defense. We become hostile and argumentative. But Peter encourages us to make this defense with gentleness and respect. We are to do so, maintaining a good conscience.



We are to do so that, even if we are slandered, our good behavior will shame those who revile us. Our good behavior will make it evident to everyone that the slanderous accusations, being made about us, are untrue. Our good behavior will offer convincing proof of our innocence.



He concludes by telling us that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. If we are to suffer, it is better to suffer unjustly than to suffer justly. It’s better to suffer, having done the right thing, rather than succumbing to evil.



It should be our desire, as believers, to live for the Lord at all times. It should be our desire that both our words and our actions will point people to Christ. It should be our desire that we might testify regarding our hope, and live in this hope before the eyes of others.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Blessing the Undeserving


“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For "Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."”

(1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV)



Our first instinct, when we are wronged, is to pay the other person back. Our first instinct is to treat them as they have treated us. And we instantly begin thinking of ways that we can do so.



Our mind starts thinking of a quick retort. Thoughts and plans of revenge quickly fill our mind. In fact, our mind is often consumed by these thoughts. And, quite often we act on them.



We act on them thinking that, in this way, we are standing up for ourselves. We act on them thinking that, in this way, we’re teaching them a lesson. We act on them thinking that, in this way, we are demonstrating that we will not be a doormat for anyone.



Peter, however, calls us to a different reaction. He reminds us that we have been called to bless. And, for this reason, we are to strive for a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a tender mind.



Most of us realize that we are called to be a blessing. However, we only apply this understanding in situations where kindness is being displayed toward us. We seek to bless only those who are blessing us. We fail to apply it when we are on the receiving end of evil.



But, even then, we are called to be a blessing. We are to turn from our evil desires and pursue peace. We are to do so realizing that our actions are known by God.



We must recognize that it’s not possible for us, at the same time, to pursue evil and righteousness. We must recognize that it’s not possible for us, at the same time, to pursue the Lord and wickedness. Pursuing the Lord means turning from our sinful desires. It means leaving those desires behind.



Christ himself sought the blessing of those who abused him and put him to death. He prayed that they would be forgiven. May we, then, demonstrate the same love and grace. May we seek to be a blessing even to those who are undeserving.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Apart from Love


“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)



Although we recognize that God has given to each of us gifts and talents, we often fail to use them in his service. We sit back and receive the service of others, who use their God-given gifts to bless us. But we are unwilling to serve and bless others with the gifts entrusted to us.



Yet, even when we do use them, our motives are often wrong. And, because they are wrong, we end up serving with a wrong spirit. Our service is motivated by our sinful nature.



We often serve God and one another out of a sense of guilt. We often serve God and one another out of a sense of duty. We sometimes serve God and one other in an effort to make a name for ourselves. And we sometimes serve in an effort to curry the favor of God and man.



However, as Paul tells us in the above passage, our gifts mean nothing and accomplish nothing if they are not used in a spirit of love. And, as is characteristic in Scripture, the love to which we are called in an unconditional love. The love to which we are called is a sacrificial love.



If our gifts are used apart from this love, we are only making noise. If our gifts give us great abilities, and we are without this love, we are nothing. And if we sacrifice ourselves completely, but do so without this love, we gain nothing.



God has certainly granted us these abilities and called on us to use them. But the underlying motive in their use must be love. We must serve out of our love for God, and out of love for our neighbor. We must unconditionally and sacrificially give of ourselves that we might accomplish God’s purpose and that we might be a blessing to those around us.



Because we are sinful creatures, we will naturally struggle with selfishness and impure motives. This is an ongoing battle. And, for this reason, we must always search our heart to evaluate our motives. We must always ask God to search us and reveal to us any impurity that’s directing our actions.



When it’s found that we are acting out of anything other than love, we must repent. We must look to Christ, in faith, seeking God’s mercy. And we must ask him to fill our heart with his love, that it might overflow into the lives of others.  After all, this love is a gift of his grace. We must ask him to fill us with love so that, in our service, we might seek only to glorify him and bless those in our path.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Peter's Word to Husbands


“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

(1 Peter 3:7 ESV)



In our last devotion, we looked at Peter’s instruction for wives. We saw that they can win their husband, without a word, by their conduct. And, for this reason, he instructs them to be subject to their husbands and to adorn themselves with a quiet and gentle spirit.



In the above passage, we see Peter’s instruction for husbands. He calls on them, first of all, to live with their wives in an understanding way. He then says something that many women find offensive. He calls on men to show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.



This phrase is not intended to convey disrespect. It reflects the simple reality that women are typically smaller in size and weaker in strength when compared to men. It reflects a simple reality that leaves her vulnerable.



It’s this reality that leads to the abuse of women in other systems of belief. Her rights are reduced and her status is lowered. And the tendency is for her to be exploited.



Men naturally operate by the “might makes right” principle. They live in a world where the strong rule over the weak. And their sinful nature drives them to exercise dominion by sheer force.

           

However, because she is the weaker vessel, Peter calls on Christian men to do something that runs counter to this inclination. He calls on them to show honor to their wives. They are not to use their strength to dominate. Instead, they are to treat their wives considerately and use their position to bless them.



Men are to do so, recognizing that their wives are joint heirs with them of the grace of life. They are to recognize that their wives are recipients of the very same blessing. They are to recognize that, by faith, their wives will also receive the salvation of God.  



Finally, men are to behave in this way that their prayers may not be hindered. This implies that, failing to do so, may keep their prayers from being answered. As they live in unrepentance, refusing the calling with which God has entrusted them, their prayers are impeded.

Once again, this may seem old-fashioned. In a day and age where we’re told that a woman can do anything that a man can do, it seems quaint. Yet, when we look at what Peter is saying, we understand that it does not lead to oppression for women. We find that it leads to an increased freedom and to greater opportunity.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Peter's Word to Wives


“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external-- the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

 (1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV)



In our last devotion, as we continued our walk through 1 Peter, we looked at a pretty unpopular subject: submission. This theme continues into the third chapter of this epistle.  But this passage is unpopular not only because it again addresses submission.  It also addresses it to wives.



Many women today, even Christian women, think of this as an old-fashioned attitude. They think of it as demeaning to women. And, for this reason, they try to dismiss this teaching and explain it away.



Yet, we see clearly in Scripture that God has set up an order for the home. And it in no way implies that women are inferior to men. It’s an order that reflects our position in Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-33).



However, in this passage, there’s another reason for the submission that’s commanded. Wives are to submit that their husbands might be encouraged in faith. Even if they don’t obey the Word, even if they aren’t believers, wives are called to submit that they might be won for the Lord, that they might be drawn to faith in Christ.



The simple truth is this: When a woman lives out her faith before her husband, it can make a great impression on him. It can make a greater impression on him than anyone else. It can do so because he sees her life like no one else.



When she is respectful toward him, and when he observes her pure conduct, it reveals the genuine nature of her faith. And not only is this true. When she is respectful to her husband, although he clearly doesn’t deserve it, she is manifesting the grace of God. She is expressing the grace of God which is lavished upon undeserving sinners.



Women put a great deal of effort into their appearance, desiring to appear beautiful. They adorn themselves with beautiful clothes and jewelry. They adorn themselves with lovely hairstyles and make-up. But Peter calls on them to adorn themselves in a different way. He calls on them to adorn themselves with internal qualities. He calls on them to adorn themselves with a quiet and gentle spirit.



We’ll address the men in our next devotion. However, may all of you ladies reflect Christ in your marriage. May your faith, and may the expression of your faith, draw your husband to the Lord rather than hinder him.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Gracious Submission


“Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

(1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV)



I think it’s safe to say that most of us want nothing to do with submission. When we’re called in Scripture to submit, the hair on our neck stands on end. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do. And we don’t want to be under anyone’s authority but our own.



Perhaps our American mindset, of absolute freedom, plays into this. We’re constantly being reminded of our freedoms and liberties. However, our problem with submission ultimately flows from our sinful nature. It flows from our desire to be lord of our own life.



Our reaction against submission is even more severe when we deem our authorities unjust. If we feel that we’re being treated unfairly, our instinct is to rebel. Our instinct is to push back.



However, as we see in the above passage, we are called to submit to our authorities. And we’re called to do so not only when we’re being treated justly. We’re called to submit even when we’re being treated unfairly.



We’re called upon, in this passage, to suffer graciously. We’re told that it’s a credit to us when we endure injustice. We are called upon to follow the example of Christ.



We’re reminded that what Jesus suffered was far from just. However, as he suffered, he did not react against his persecutors. He, instead, entrusted himself into the care of God.



He did this for us. He did this for our blessing. He did this that he might bear the punishment of our sin.



He did this that we might die to our sinful nature. He did this that we might not continue living for sin. He did this that we might, instead, live for the glory of God.



When we’re treated unjustly by our authorities, we are to graciously submit.  We are to do so for the blessing of those around us. We’re to do so even for the blessing of those who dole out our suffering.



We’re to do so, entrusting ourselves to the care of God. We’re to entrust ourselves to him knowing that, even if we don’t receive justice in this life, we will in the end. We can be confident that those who act to harm us will ultimately answer to him.


Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Why Resolutions Fail


“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?”
Romans 2:4 ESV

With the change of year, many of us make resolutions. We see things in our life that we want to change, and we resolve to do better. Maybe we want to eat better and lose weight. Perhaps we want to better handle our finances. Or maybe we want to take control of our speech.  But, whatever the case may be, we look at the new year as an opportunity to start with a clean slate.

Sadly, few of us make it even a month before abandoning our efforts. We quickly tire of battling old habits and desires, and go back to our prior way of life. And, in the end, we are no different than we were the previous year.

The same is often true in our life of faith. As we look to God’s Word, our sin is evident. And we want to do better. We want to leave these sins behind.

Once again, we strive to do better. But, we quickly tire of these efforts. And before long, we return to the sin we desired to leave behind.

We will never be free of sin this side of eternity. But, as we seek to do better, as we seek to turn from sin, we have the wrong motive. Our reason for making a change is insufficient.

We often try to change for our own sake, to make ourselves a better person. We try to change because we want to feel better about ourselves. We try to change in an effort to make ourselves worthy of God and his blessings. We try to change in an effort to improve our image and our standing in this life.

With motives like these, we will never make a permanent change. Once the battle gets hard, we’ll decide it’s no longer worth it. We’ll conclude that our efforts are futile and that true change is elusive.

However, when we truly recognize the kindness of God, true change, true repentance, is possible. Recognizing that God has provided salvation in spite of our unworthiness, recognizing that he loved us when we were unlovable, this repentance flows naturally. In response to his love, we want nothing more than to love this God in return. As we see above, God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

At this point, change that couldn’t be attained by our own willpower, that we were powerless to effect in our life, suddenly becomes possible.  And it’s the gospel that makes it possible. The message of God’s grace, and the reception of that grace, results in a sincere repentance and the power of God at work in our heart.

Our focus, then, must not be on the things we can do to change. Our focus must be upon Christ and what he has done for us. We must sincerely trust in the gospel knowing that, as we do so, he will be at work within us and that change will happen.