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Preparing for the End

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Our culture is obsessed with the end of the world. Disreputable sources tell us that zombies will soon take over, we will suffer a nuclear holocaust or a massive geologic catastrophe will wipe out all humanity. Religious people seem especially drawn to interpreting so-called “apocalyptic” events, usually from the book of Revelation. This kind of shoddy eschatology (study of "end-times") is sometimes followed with instructions to stock up on non-perishables, ammunition, and fuel while we all begin building our underground bunkers.

The Bible does teach that "the end of all things is near" but underground bunkers won't be of any use (Rev. 1:7; 6:15-16). Jesus spoke often about the coming day of judgment (Mt. 25:31-46). He promises to return in power and glory to vindicate the faithful and punish the wicked (2 Thess. 1:5-12). At that time, we will see "the end" of the world as we know it and "the beginning" of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:1-13). "The end" will be the culmination of all things, the completion of God's eternal redemptive plan which he set forth in Christ (Eph. 1:9-10). In contrast to our culture, however, the apostle Peter teaches us to make some very different preparations for the end in 1 Peter 4:7-11

The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Peter emphasizes the coming judgment (4:5, 17) to remind the suffering Christians he wrote to that all things would be made right by the just Judge in the future. Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). Some Christians had already died which may have drawn ridicule from critics (4:6). You can almost hear the taunts of first century scoffers, “Your Christ said you would live forever but his followers die like everyone else! What use is your faith?” to which Peter asserts, "the end of all things is near." 

He didn’t know when but neither did Jesus (Mt. 24:36) which makes all our speculation about the timing of the end useless. Leave the timing to God (2 Pet. 3:3-10). Ours is to believe “the end” is certain and “near” and prepare for it by living holy lives (2 Pet. 3:11-12). Here are three ways to prepare for "the end of all things" so that "God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" in us.

First, we must focus on glorifying God through prayer (4:7b). The act of prayer is humbling. By praying in faith, we are acknowledging our inadequacy and demonstrating our trust and reliance upon God (Mt. 6:5-6). To not pray is, in effect, to assert our own sufficiency and claim we have no need of God’s strength. Peter gives us guidelines to help us with our prayer lives. 

He teaches us to be of "sound judgment." For some people, knowing the end is near will cause them to indulge in immorality and lose all inhibition (Rom. 13:11-14). Peter says we are to do just the opposite. Knowing the end is near should motivate Christians to live self-controlled lives "for the sake of your prayers." In other words, we are to live in such a way that will not hinder our prayers to God.

He also teaches us to be of "sober spirit." Sobriety is mentioned twice in first Peter in connection with the judgment (1:13; 5:8). Sobriety is about more than simply not getting drunk. It means to be watchful, alert, ready to respond. The opposite is to be asleep (1 Thess. 5:6-8). By the way, Peter knows a thing or two about being asleep when he should have been awake (Mt. 26:39-41). Spiritual drowsiness leads to temptation and sin. Because the end is near we must keep our spiritual eyes peeled and be vigilant and watchful in prayer. 

Secondly, we’re told to glorify God through loving one another (4:8-9). Peter emphasizes that loving one another is central to our faith (1:22). It’s easy to love most brethren but some require a little more effort. We must love one another as God loves us: unconditionally, constantly, faithfully, and regardless of the loveliness of the other person (1 Jn. 3:10-11; 4:9-10).

That's why Peter says to “keep fervent” in our love for one another. Our love should be sustained by constant, strenuous effort. “Fervent” literally means to strain or stretch as an athlete stretches toward the finish line. We can do this only by first grasping the love God has shown us in Christ (1 Jn. 4:9-10). As the end draws near, let us exert ourselves in our love toward one another. We can express that earnest love through the acts of forgiveness (Prov. 10:12Eph. 4:32) and sincere hospitality (4:9).

Lastly, we must glorify God through serving one another (4:10-11). We may not have the miraculous spiritual gifts that Christians exercised in the first century, but God has blessed each one of us with unique abilities to serve in some way (Eph. 4:7Rom. 12:3-8). We are expected to be so motivated by Christ’s servant spirit (Phil. 2:1-11) that we would use all we are given in his service (Mt. 25:13-30). It doesn’t matter what God has given you or how much, he expects you to use it for his glory!

God’s gracious gifts are “manifold”, that is, variegated. Each Christian is uniquely equipped for a distinct function. No gift is insignificant in the church because what one member has another lacks. If your contribution to God's work is teaching, faithfulness to God's word is paramount (speak only "the utterances of God"). No matter how ordinary or how monotonous the task, serve with the strength that God supplies (2 Thess. 3:13). The only way to avoid "growing weary in doing good" is to rely on the strength of God. Remember, "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for hisgood pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) 

The goal for our Christian service, love and devotion in prayer is the glory of God (1 Pet. 4:11b). Some may superficially be involved in God's work for their own gain. But Christians pray in secret, serve on the sidelines, and love unselfishly all for the sake of God's glory. The "end of all things is near." Christians are not to sit around waiting for the end but are to be busy preparing for and hastening the end through living for God's glory (2 Pet. 3:12).

Overseen not Overlooked

Saturday, August 01, 2020

"For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

(1 Peter 2:25)

People need oversight. Employees need supervisors: the workplace with an effective supervisor is more productive. Students need teachers: the classroom with competent teachers creates an environment conducive to learning. Children need parents: homes with loving parents are better in every way. However, in all these relationships there remains the danger of being overlooked. Overlooked employees feel underappreciated; overlooked students feel left behind; overlooked children feel unloved. We have a great need to be overseen but all too often we end up being overlooked instead. In keeping with God's character, he has made abundant provision for his people in this regard.

It is God's will that Christians bind together in "teams" where they live. These "teams," or churches, work and worship the Lord together in unity (Acts 2:42-47). When Paul explained his reason for leaving Titus in Crete, he specified that Titus was to “put what remained (or what was lacking) into order, and appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5). Elders are to act as shepherds and overseers in the local congregation (see 1 Peter 5:1-3 all three terms are used interchangeably). From Titus 1:5 we must infer that a church without elders is lacking and 'out of order.'

When a church appoints elders based upon the godly characteristics Scripture lays out in places like Acts 20, Titus 1, 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 5, that group of Christians is blessed by God. Elders are not expected to be perfect but they are to be mature in their faith. All the attributes listed in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 concerning elders, with the exception of being married and having children (1 Tim. 3:2-5), are essential for every Christian to be growing in. So an elder is "not a recent convert" (1 Tim. 3:6) but a mature disciple of Christ. If mature Christians are appointed as elders according to God’s plan then a local congregation enjoys the peace and stability that God intended.

One of the greatest blessings of being under an eldership striving to fulfill their duty is that of oversight. Whereas the evangelist is to keep a close watch on himself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16), the overseer is to pay close attention to himself and the flock (Act. 20:28). These ought to be comforting words to us. Don't mistake the watchful and vigilant oversight of our elders for intrusive meddling. These are faithful men who are watching out for us, to encourage and correct us so that we can have the best possible chance to stand in the grace of God on the Day of Judgment. We have the blessing of serving our Lord Jesus under overseers who are busy “keeping watch over [our] souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17) Are we a source of joy or groaning to our elders? It's something to always keep in mind!

When godly men serve as shepherds taking their lead from Jesus (1 Pet. 5:1-5) and saints reciprocate their shepherds' service with Christlike submission and obedience, we are acting out the paradigm of Christ and his church. So then, let us rejoice that God has blessed this church with capable men to serve as our overseers. Let us especially rejoice as we consider Jesus, our chief Shepherd, the perfect Overseer, who guides and comforts us through the dark valley of this life. As part of his flock, take heart that the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him (Jn. 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:19) and that we will be overseen but never overlooked.

Humble Striving

Saturday, July 25, 2020

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." 

(2 Peter 3:18)

Peter knew his time on earth was ending (2 Pet. 1:12-15; cf. Jn. 21:18-19) so he wrote his second letter reminding and urging Christians to "grow in grace" (3:18). After his brief introduction, he lays out a chain of seven Christian virtues (1:5-7). For us to enter "into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v.11) these qualities must be evident and growing in our lives (vv.8-9).   We are to "supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love." 

The apostle puts a great deal of emphasis on our part in the development of these Christ-like qualities using phrases like “make every effort” (v.5) and “be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure” (v.10). But Peter makes it abundantly clear that this spiritual growth doesn’t all depend on us. Far from it! He points out that God is the one who has “richly provided” us with everything necessary to transform us into the people we were meant to be (v.3) and bring us to glory (v.11). So he begins and ends his admonition to "grow in grace" by highlighting God's blessing toward us that makes growth possible. Knowledge of the gospel should evoke a maturing and practical moral response from us.

This combined effort of human exertion and divine grace is the key to unlocking our salvation and entrance into the eternal kingdom (1:11; Eph. 2:8-9). Paul sums it up best when he says “… as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) God is at work when we are at work. Christian growth does not happen without our effort but neither does it happen without God's power.

But even with those caveats, does this much emphasis on “our part” of salvation contradict the doctrine of grace? Does our effort somehow negate God’s grace? Does our diligent striving turn God’s gift into a wage that he owes us? (Rom. 4:4-5

We understand no one can be justified in God’s sight by earning their salvation (Rom. 1-4). But obedience to the gospel is clearly required (Rom. 6). In fact, on this side of the cross, everything we do for God and others should come as a direct response for what God has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1, etc.). Our faith and humble obedience is always initiated by God’s gracious work. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19). So humble effort in no way contradicts God’s grace. The contradiction to grace is pride. Jesus lived in humble obedience as an example for us to follow (Heb. 5:8-9).

James 4:6 says, "But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”" Peter teaches us to "humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Pet. 5:6) Check out the handy chart by Doy Moyer below.

Trust in GodTrust in self
ServeBeing served
Obey to pleaseDo to get
Salvation givenSalvation earned

God is gracious to those who humbly strive for him. Let us, then, "be all the more diligent to make [our] calling and election sure" by putting forth "every effort" to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." 

Christian Parenting

Saturday, July 18, 2020

“Train up a child in the way he should go, 

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

(Proverbs 22:6

There is a distinct difference between training our children and controlling them. It's easy to slip into control-mode when we believe we have the power to choose our child’s destiny for them. But this approach turns parenting into a joyless, frustrating experience and turns our kid's childhood into a prison of confusion and sadness. As a parent who doesn't always get it right, I am thankful to have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us wise intruction in his word.

God teaches parents to “train” (Prov. 22:6), “discipline” (Eph. 6:4Prov. 22:15), diligently “teach” (Deut. 6:6-7) and lead their children by example. Children are a blessing from God (Psa. 137:3-5) meant to be trained up in the home and sent out into the world to be a blessing to others. How, then, can we “train” our children in the way they should go? Here a few suggestions we can learn from Scripture:

Pray for your child – We should begin praying for our children while they are still in the womb. We should thank God for them when they are born and continue to pray for them as they grow and mature. Parents ought never to stop praying for their children (1 Sam. 1-2).

Create a godly atmosphere at home – As Deuteronomy 6:4-9 indicates, faith must be woven into the fabric of our very lives. The home should be an environment of spiritual growth and safety for our child. Children should feel comfortable bringing their questions, experiences, triumphs and defeats home to discuss and process as a family using God's wisdom.

Intentionally lead your child – When family decisions are made with consistency of purpose the family is moving in a direction. It’s not going nowhere. Joshua could not force his children to follow the Lord but he could lead with purpose, sincerity and consistency (Josh. 24:15).

Instill faith in your child – Honesty is always the best policy (Eph. 4:15, 25), no matter the relationship, but especially with children and especially with issues regarding faith. A child’s questions should never be dismissed. Like math class, parents should “show their work" by telling their children what they believe and showing them why they believe it with Scripture. Explaining the faith in an age-appropriate way is not easy but it is necessary. When parents give a one word answer or dismiss their child’s question while expecting them to "just believe" they are indoctrinating and brainwashing their child not instilling faith.

Set boundaries for your child – Warnings are just as instructive as encouragements. Both the victories and the failures are invaluable moments of instruction that condition and strengthen our children to take on responsibility, develop personal accountability and cultivate wisdom. Outlining the Do’s and the Don’ts and enforcing them with discipline will help our children enter into the promises of God later for themselves. 

Correctively discipline your child – Discipline is vital in the formation of godly character and habits (Prov. 22:1523:13). However hard it might be, we must remember that appropriate discipline is a sign of love (Heb. 12:4-11). Not only should the punishment always be swift and fit the crime but children must know exactly why they are being disciplined if they are to learn the proper lessons from it. This requires having pointed discussions before the punishment is administered. 

Reward your child – When children do the right thing, they should be rewarded. It may just be a smile, an encouraging word or a special treat. This can be done without turning them into little Pharisees. Tell your kid you noticed the kind action or word and explain the significance of “walking in truth” and the joy it brings you as a parent (3 Jn. 1:4). It is easy, perhaps especially for fathers, to discourage and provoke our children to anger (Eph. 6:4). Being quick to give compliments and rewards to our children goes a long way in instilling them with confidence.

Establish a pattern of devotion – Daily worship and Bible study with our children creates an expectation and perception of what is “normal.” When true worship becomes the standard at home then what is done collectively within the congregation is helpful reinforcement. Set aside some time each day to sing, pray, read and talk to your child about the Lord (Deut. 6).

Be on the same page as your spouse – A house divided against itself cannot stand (Mt. 12:25). Children are skilled in playing divided parents against one another if it suits their purpose. But when there is consistency of leadership and Mom’s answer is the same as Dad’s answer then children will quickly learn who is really in charge… not them. 

There is so much more to be said on the issue of parenting but we will conclude with one more piece of advice: Listen to older parents. Fountains of wisdom and experience are all around us in the church (Titus 2:3-5). Take advantage of the godly examples around you. Also, to the older Christian parents, if you notice younger parents doing something right, tell them!


Saturday, July 11, 2020

“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.”

(Mt. 5:41

The Greek word aggareuein is used three times in the New Testament with the meaning 'to compel.' Jesus commands his disciples to go two miles when they are "compelled" to go one (Mt. 5:41). It is also the word that both Matthew and Mark use to describe Simon of Cyrene being "compelled" to help carry Jesus’ cross to Calvary (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). 

This word is Persian in origin and comes from a noun (aggaros) which means ‘a courier’ or ‘an express messenger’ and later became naturalized into the Greek language. The Persians had a remarkably efficient courier system that made it possible for news to travel quickly through the empire. They lined the roads with men stationed with horses at precise intervals. A rider could travel fastest and most efficiently for one day on average. The first rider would deliver the dispatch to the second and on down the line until the important news reached the ears of the king. The Persians gave this courier system a name: aggareion.

It was the law in the ancient world that anyone could be compelled to provide a horse or to act as a guide to keep this service going. Therefore, aggareuein came to mean "to force someone into service," whether they liked it or not. Imagine how it would feel being forcibly conscripted to give up your horse or your afternoon to grease the wheels of communication for an occupying military force.

Anyone could be impressed upon to carry a soldier’s bags or any other service the occupying force laid upon him. This is exactly what happened to Simon of Cyrene (Mt. 27:32Mk. 15:21). It is quite clear from many other ancient documents including Josephus’ Antiquities (13.2.3), the writings of Epictetus (4.1.79), Xenophon (Cyropaedia 8.6.17), Aeschylus (Agamemnon) and various Egyptian papyri that this practice of forced conscription was both widespread and flagrantly abused during the first century. Military officials requisitioned both things and people, not only for public services and for the army’s purposes, but for their own selfish profit.

This aggareia would have been one of the bitterest humiliations that subjects in an occupied country would endure. It’s not hard to imagine how one might get tired of being taken advantage of and choose to rebel against the occupying force (which is exactly what  “zealots” like Simon were doing, Mt. 10:4). Add to that the long history of the Jewish people being kicked around as slaves and exiles of one pagan kingdom after another for hundreds of years, and you have a recipe for rebellion, retaliation and compounded sin where the once enslaved become the very thing they rebelled against (Amos 2:6-8). 

That seems to be the way of history: the oppressed revolt, gain power and become the oppressors. Indeed, that is what happened after the Jewish Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids in the second century BC. Jon Hyrcanus (134-104 BC) assumed power and Jewish tyranny set in with the forced 'conversions' of the Idumeans and the destruction of the temple the Samaritans had built on Mount Gerizim (cf. Jn. 4:9). The Jews had become the same tyrannical force they fought against a generation before. And the wheel turned yet again when Jewish independence ended abruptly when the Roman general Pompey invaded Jerusalem in 63 BC.

But Jesus brought good news that broke the cycle of oppression: "Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two." (Mt. 5:41) If someone who is your social superior exacts the most humiliating and distasteful service, if someone conscripts you to do something that invades your rights and that he has no right to ask, if you feel like you are being treated as sub-human, the King says don’t resent it. But his royal command of love goes deeper. He doesn’t simply teach his disciples to grit their teeth and bear it (that’s what the Jews had been doing for centuries!). No, begrudging service brings God no glory. Instead, Jesus teaches his disciples to do what our oppressors ask of us and even more. Not only that but he teaches that we should do it with a heart of love and good will. 

Brethren, this is a word for our time. In a world which is brutalizing and devouring itself, we must speak and live this gospel message of power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). Christians are taught to actively love, pray for and seek the best for those in power regardless of their character (Rom. 13:1-7Eph. 6:5-92 Tim. 2:1-41 Pet. 1:13-17). And if they are oppressed, Christians are taught to love their oppressors (Mt. 5:43-48Rom. 12:14ff; 1 Pet. 234) to extinguish the fires of sin with the living water of the gospel. The way of Christ is the only way forward.

But how can the oppressed love the oppressor? The only power strong enough to motivate and energize us to do the impossible (Mk. 10:27) is the unconquerable goodwill that God showed us all when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus not only modeled how to suffer faithfully but healed us through his wounds so that we could go out into this broken world as his wounded healers (1 Pet. 2:21-24). Justice will eventually be done and evil will be punished but, in the meantime, may God help us to grasp the limitless dimensions of his love so that we may not only refuse to retaliate against oppression but bring his healing love to bear upon the world.

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