Thursday, March 15, 2018

Room to Grow

“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more…”

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

It seems like, more often than not, the Christian life is one of conviction. As we spend time in the Word of God, we continually see our sin and our shortcomings. We’re continually driven to our knees in confession and repentance.

This is good. We must be willing to acknowledge our sins. We must be willing to receive correction. We must live a life of daily repentance. And we must trust in Christ, each day, for the forgiveness of our sins.

However, every once in a while, we discover that we’re doing something well. We find that we’re doing the very thing God has called us to do. We must then consider our response to this finding.

In talking to the Thessalonians, Paul notes something good happening in the life of the church. They were demonstrating brotherly love. And, for this reason, they didn’t need to have anyone write to them on this subject.  They didn’t need anyone to teach them.

They didn’t need this because they’d been taught by God himself. The Lord had so worked in their heart that they were demonstrating this brotherly love. And they were doing so not only among themselves, but among the churches in their region.

Seeing that they were doing well when it came to brotherly love, what encouragement did Paul give them? He told them to keep doing so more and more. Even though they were doing well, there was still room for growth. There were still ways in which they could better express this brotherly love.

The same principle is true for us, as well. Even when we are doing well, even when we are obeying the Lord’s leading, we must do so more and more. There is still room for us to grow. We can always find ways to do so in a greater capacity.

We can never come to the point of thinking that we have it all together. We can never come to the point where we believe there’s nothing more we can do. We can seek God’s continued work in our life that we might carry out his calling in greater and greater ways.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Out of Control

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” 
(1 Peter 4:7 ESV)

We like to think that we are in control of ourselves. We like to think that we maintain control of ourselves. But reality is often very different.

In reality, we are controlled by our sinful desires. We’re controlled by our lusts and passions. We allow them to dictate what we do and how we live.

Think, for a moment, of a drug addict. He has such a need for the high, he has such a desire for the high, that he’ll do anything to get it. He’ll do anything, no matter how immoral. He’ll steal. He’ll cheat. He'll commit acts of violence. He’ll sell his body.

In the same way, our passions drive us to feed them. And, for this reason, even if we think we’re in control of our actions, the opposite is typically true. We are out of control, allowing our desires to take the lead.

We tend to think that this is true only of non-believers. But this is often true of us as Christians. Even knowing the Word of God, we allow our sinful desires to control our life.

Peter, however, calls on us to be self-controlled and sober minded. We are to be in control of our actions, avoiding willful sin. We are not to let our sinful desires determine how we live. We are to fight them and choose, instead, to serve the Lord.

We’re to do this because the end of all things is at hand. As Christians, we live in expectation of Christ’s return. And, because of this, we must be prepared to meet him. We must not be living in unrepentance.

We’re also to do this for the sake of our prayers. When we are being controlled by our passions, it affects our prayer life. It hinders our prayers, because we’re so focused on our desires. It turns our attention from God to ourselves. And it also prevents us from praying rightly. Instead of praying for those things that will bring glory to the Lord, we pray for things that are self-serving in nature.

Let us, then, take an honest look at ourselves. Let’s see where we are out of control. And let’s confess this to the Lord, repenting of our sin. Let’s determine, instead, to live for the Lord and for his glory.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Living for Christ

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”
1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

None of us naturally embrace suffering. Our tendency is to seek the easy path. Our tendency is to do anything and everything to either avoid or escape suffering. Yet, in the above passage, we’re called to do just that.

On the surface, this is a tricky passage. Peter’s focus has been on suffering for the sake of righteousness. And we must bear this in mind if we’re to understand his words.

Just as Christ suffered in the flesh, just as he suffered for the sake of righteousness, we’re to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking. This helps us to understand his next statement, which could be easily misinterpreted otherwise. He says that whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

He’s not suggesting that, if you once had a toothache, you’re done with sin. Nor is he suggesting that, if we suffer for righteousness, we will be perfect and never again fall prey to temptation or the sinful nature. He’s saying that the one who is willing to resist the desires of the flesh, the one who is willing to suffer in service of the Lord, is living a life of repentance. He is living not for his sinful lusts, but to carry out the will of God.

This life of repentance and faith sets us apart from the world around us. The people of this world are surprised that we don’t behave as they do. They’re surprised that we don’t engage in sensualities, passions, drunkenness, idolatry, and the like, and they ridicule us for it. A life of repentance and faith invites persecution. It invites suffering.

That being said, Peter also reminds us that they will answer to God for their actions. God is the judge. And they must give account to him for the things they have done.

This is why the gospel is preached to those who are dead. He means, by this, not those who are physically dead, but those who are spiritually dead. It is preached to them that, even though they are judged, even though they are spiritually dead, they might live in the Spirit.

In other words, the condemnation they receive, because of their sin, draws them to Christ. As they see their guilt and the punishment they deserve, they are drawn to salvation. They are drawn to a life of suffering for the sake of the gospel.

Once again, if we’re to be freed from our bondage to sin, we must embrace suffering. We must be willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness. We must be willing to suffer that the gospel might go forth to those who are spiritually dead. If we’re willing to surrender our very life to the Lord, if we’re willing to endure everything for his sake, we have ceased to live for the flesh and are living, instead, for the Lord.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Purpose of Prayer

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

(Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)

Our natural desire is to be seen.  Our natural desire is to be recognized.  And this desire expresses itself in many ways.

When we serve, we want to be noticed.  When we give, we want to be seen.  We want others to give us the pat on the back of which we feel deserving.

The desire to be appreciated is perfectly normal.  No one wants to be taken for granted.  But the attitude I’m discussing goes beyond this.  It’s the need to be well thought of.  It’s the desire to stand out from the crowd.  It’s the longing to be applauded for our efforts.

This desire even finds its way into our prayer life. When we pray, our concern is not so much what we’re saying to God.  Our concern is that we be heard.  Our concern is how our prayer sounds to others.  Our desire is that others come away believing that we are super-spiritual and a person of great faith.

Jesus, in the above passage, warns us against this.  In fact, he refers to this attitude as hypocritical.  And that’s exactly what it is.  It’s a performance being delivered.  It’s a mask being worn to present something other than the truth.

If we desire to be seen, that will be our reward.  If we desire to be seen, people will see us.  They will see us and, perhaps, give us an at-a-boy.  But this is all we’ll receive.

Our focus, as we pray, is to be upon the Lord.  We should long only to be heard by him.  This is why Jesus encourages us to pray in secret.  We’re to do so knowing that God, who hears in secret, will reward us.

This statement of Jesus does not forbid public prayer or group prayer.  This practice is both demonstrated and encouraged throughout Scripture. It’s an attitude of the heart that’s being addressed.  We must not waste our time seeking the applause of men.  We must, instead, use it to seek God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Baptism - A Means of Grace

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

(1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV)

Just as we are encouraged to suffer for the sake of righteousness, we’re reminded that this is also what Christ has done. Although he is righteous, he suffered on behalf of the unrighteous. And he did so that we might be brought to God.

This salvation, Peter says, is received through baptism. Baptism, he says, now saves you. Just as Noah and his family were saved through the water, so too are we.

Baptism, he tells us, isn’t a washing in the outward sense. It’s not about the removal of dirt from the body. It’s an appeal to God for a good conscience. What he means, by this, is that we are forgiven and made holy because of Christ. And these blessings are applied to us in baptism.

Many, today, think of baptism as nothing more than a ceremony. However, we see in this passage that it’s so much more. It’s a means of grace. It’s a vehicle that God uses to bestow his grace upon us.

We must not make the mistake of thinking of baptism as a work by which we become deserving of salvation. Baptism is not something that we do for God. It’s something that he does for us.


The appeal for a good conscience is made through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s because of what he’s done, it’s because he stands victorious over sin and death, that this salvation is available to us. It has nothing to do with our goodness or efforts.

This also does not mean that, because someone has been baptized, they are saved apart from faith. The promise of God, the promise of baptism, must be received in faith. It must be received by faith because, as we see in Hebrews 11:6, without faith it’s impossible to please God.

That being said, may we never fail to appreciate the wonderful blessing of baptism. And may we receive it for what it is, a means of God’s grace. As we present ourselves or our children in baptism, and as we witness the baptism of others, may we rejoice in the salvation God is extending to us.

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.