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Entries in Church (5)

Tuesday
Dec192017

The Results of Spiritual Victory

1 Kings 18:40-46.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on December 17, 2017.

Last week we saw how God had honored Elijah’s public display of faith by a miraculous fire from heaven coming down upon his sacrifice.  This was all in contrast to the pitiful failure of the prophets of Baal.  Today we will look at the fallout of that momentous event and talk about spiritual victory in our own lives. 

But before we get into that it might help if you familiarize yourself with the geography of this passage.  Click here for an online map from a great website called BibleAtlas.org.  Pay attention that we are in the northern part of Israel west of the Sea of Galilee.  The sacrifice has taken place on Mt. Carmel which is on the left of the map part way down (part of the name has been cut off).  Jezreel is basically in the middle of the map with the Kishon River (thin blue line) flowing from that area past Mt. Carmel and into the Mediterranean Sea (where modern day Haifa sits).

The enemies of God’s work are executed

When we read verse 40 the passage can be shocking to our modern, western sensibilities.  However, I would remind you right up front that we in the West are shocked by things that people in the East are not, and vice versa.  Just because it offends us does not mean it is wrong.  So try and get over the shock that the prophet of God Elijah orders the people to execute all the prophets of Baal and, instead of tossing God’s Word aside, take time to understand what God wants us to understand here.

A big question that often arises from passages such as vs. 40, is that of whether or not Christians are hypocrites when they proclaim peace and yet have such a thing in their “holy book.”    If fact, one of our recent presidents, who also claims to be a Christian, chided Christians about eating shellfish when it is forbidden in the Old Testament.  Others claim that Christians are hypocrites when they promote love for our fellow man because of passages that speak of the death penalty for sexual perversion.  Each of these statements or accusations has a problem in their logic.  They assume that the Bible itself, and more importantly God who is its author, teaches that Christians should obey the Old Testament Laws.  In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite.  You cannot point out one verse and ignore the context of the rest of the Bible and also hold the intellectual high-ground.  If we want to deal with the Bible honestly then we must recognize or determine what God’s purpose was in creating Israel as a nation.  He created then and made a covenant with them in which they promised to obey The Law that God had given them through Moses.  Clearly they did not do such a good job at that, but then we would be casting stones from a glass house.  God’s purpose with Israel and The Law of Moses was not to provide a positive template for all the nations of the world.  The salvation of the world is not found in converting the whole world over to follow the Law of Moses.  The whole purpose of The Law was to shut the mouths of those who claim to be righteous.  Israel had divine laws (i.e. better than the wisest minds of mankind could come up with at the same time period).  Yet, the people of Israel were not divine and there lies the problem.  The Law of Moses failed to save Israel for the same reasons that the Constitution of the United States cannot save us.  Nations are run by people who are weak and condemned by the very laws they claim to follow.

So let’s look back at this situation.  Ahab is completely stunned.  Only moments ago, he held all the power.  He would execute Elijah when this was over with and he would continue to lead Israel into worshipping Baal rather than the God who had created Israel, Yahweh/Jehovah.  Much like a jury nullification of the law, the powerful demonstration of Yahweh’s power nullifies Ahab’s command.  The people and even his soldiers have just seen for themselves the power of God.  Notice that Ahab does not speak until the next chapter.  Even if Ahab would have tried to command for Elijah to be executed, who would have dared to carry it out?  Ahab rolled the dice and they came up “snake eyes,” or “dogs” as the ancient Romans used to say.  The stakes were Ahab’s life against the lives of the prophets of Baal and they lost.

But, Elijah’s command could not come from a truly righteous person could it?  We need to understand that Elijah is not some murderous psychopath who loves killing people.  The Law that God had given Israel (i.e. their constitution) stated that any prophet who led Israel to worship foreign God’s was guilty of a capital crime.  Thus these prophets new they were breaking The Law and committing a capital crime.  However, they could care less because they were under the protection of Israel’s Law-breaking king.  Ahab had been leading Israel in a direction that was illegal and treasonous.  These men have been helping him to commit this treason.  If you want to verify this then read Deuteronomy 13, especially verse 5.  Several times in Deuteronomy 13, 17, and 18 God declares these things a capital crime.  So now that we have exonerated Elijah from the guilt of homicide, we must deal with God.  It was His Law.  Is it barbaric?

Whether or not we agree with such a punishment today, we must agree that this was Israel’s law.  Part of understanding why God commands the death of false prophets is to understand the difference between God’s purpose with Israel and God’s purpose with the Church of Jesus Christ.  Israel was given the task to bring forth the Messiah or Savior for the world.  But, they also modeled to the world the problem with trying to create a perfect society through legislation.  All societies have to have laws to function.  But, even with divine laws it becomes a bloody business filled with hypocrisy.  This is true whether you are looking at the government of Israel or Sidon in the 9th century B.C., or you are looking at the modern governments of The United States of America, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, et. Al.  In the West we keep telling ourselves that if we just make better laws it will fix everything.  Yet, things keep getting worse and worse (yes, not everything is getting worse, but hear what I am saying).  We have to quit fooling ourselves.  Even divine laws, or laws created by an Artificial Intelligence, will fail to fix mankind because our problem is a spiritual one and is deep in each heart.  The best we can expect from laws is that they will slow down the evil nature of our hearts and give hope for people to see it and seek God’s help.  The only way to change a heart is repentance from our own dead works and turning towards belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  God’s laws of capital punishment on one hand teach us that some sins are worthy of death.  However, the cross teaches us that God does not want to execute us.  He is giving us a choice.  It is appointed unto a person once to live and then the judgment.   Through the Church God is warning the world of a coming judgment or execution.  Yet, He is also giving opportunity for people to make peace with Him by putting their faith in Jesus.  The Church is not about building a perfect kingdom, but rather, it is about calling people to become citizens who are being perfected by God.  Israel focused on a geographical place on earth that required capital punishment to keep it pure, and even that failed.  The Church focuses on the spiritual geography of our own heart.  Definitely Christians should obey the laws of the nation, as long as it doesn’t break God’s commands.  And, we should also work for better laws.  But laws are not our hope.  The return of Jesus our King is the hope that we hold out to the world.  This makes a big difference and makes the Gospel far more potent in light of Israel and The Law.  We await the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought down at the Second Coming of Jesus.  Until then, we do our best to live at peace with even those who disobey God.  Instead of executing those who break God’s command (as God told Israel), Christians speak the truth in love to them, while executing those things within our own heart and mind that would lead us astray from God’s Word.  That is why Christians should be restrained in the amount of laws that they promulgate.

A contrast of character

I spent a lot of time on verse 40 because the contents are important in our day and age.  In the rest of this chapter, we see a sharp contrast between the character of Elijah and that of Ahab.  Elijah is a wise leader and Ahab is a foolish one.  After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells Ahab to go eat because of the sound of a great rain.  Now it is clear from the passage that there is no sound of rain at the moment.  What is Elijah talking about?  Elijah is speaking by faith.  Even though there is no outward sign, Elijah is confident that God will keep His word.  God had told him what would happen and we see him acting and speaking upon that.  As I said earlier, Ahab doesn’t speak here.  But his administration has been one, big lack of faith in God’s Word.  Now it is important to guard our heart, mind and our mouth.  We should be careful of our decisions and the way that we speak about things.  Am I trusting in God’s Word or doubting it?  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  However, speaking by faith is not a matter of wish fulfillment, or only speaking “positive things.”  Christians should not fall into the error that tries to draw good things to us by acting and speaking positively.  Regardless of what you say and do, God is going to do certain things.  God is going to judge all the governments of the world in the future through the Second Coming of Christ.  It will be a great negative thing to those who are not on His side, but a great positive thing to those on the side of Jesus.  Speaking by faith is remembering what God has said and agreeing with it in our speech.  In other words we actually believe that God means what He says, and is not a liar.  May God help us to speak by faith in His word.

Although it is Elijah’s idea, Ahab is a king and can do what he wants.  Notice that King Ahab is feeding his belly while Elijah is praying for the rain to come.  Ahab is a man of the flesh, not because he eats food.  We all eat food and even Elijah ate food.  But something powerful and spiritual has just happened in Israel.  But one man is praying for God’s will and the other is satisfying the will of his stomach.  God’s people can enjoy the physical joys of life within godly boundaries.  However, we must not let our lives be only about them.  Though God has promised rain, Elijah will not rest until it comes.  He goes back up to Mt. Carmel and begins praying for God to fulfill His word.  Then we see a cycle of Elijah praying, and asking his servant to check and see if any rain is coming.  This goes on seven times until the servant notices a small cloud on the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea.  This seven times is intended to highlight that Elijah was not a man who would quit in prayer.  He persevered in prayer until God kept His word.  He waited upon the Lord completely and kept himself watchful through prayer.  We should be the same way concerning the Second Coming of Christ.  We should not be apathetic towards what God has said He will do with a kind of que sera, sera attitude (whatever will be, will be).  Jesus is not coming back for a people who have an intellectual assent that He will do so, but for those who have desired it and have spent their lives praying and watching for it (like Elijah).  When a cloud the size of a man’s hand is seen, then Elijah knows the fulfillment has come.  May God help us also to remain faithful even in the day of small things.  It may not seem like anything big, but God is in it and rejoices to make it happen.

In the end, it is God’s will working with Elijah’s faithfulness that brings rain to the land.  Elijah’s speech and life have been lived by faith in what God had said in the past and what He was personally telling Elijah.  In contrast, it was the unfaithfulness of Ahab and the people of Israel who followed him that led to the drought and famine, both naturally and spiritually.  We must be careful that we do not give up living lives faithful to God and His Word simply because the society around us does not pat us on the back for doing so.  Even in the face of active persecution, the hope of our land depends upon Christians living out lives faithful to Jesus.  We concern ourselves not with just physical rain and dry land, although that is important to people’s livelihood.  We concern ourselves more importantly on spreading the rain of God’s Word into the lives of those who are dry as deserts from years of rejecting or being ignorant of God’s Word.

Lastly we see that God’s power is upon those who are humble.  The power of God comes upon Elijah as the rain comes and he runs ahead of Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel.  Now in our competitive modern minds we would read this as God empowering Elijah to outrun the chariot of Ahab and to be the first to Jezreel.  Now this is no small feat.  Jezreel was about 10-15 miles away.  However, an ancient person reading this would see a servant running ahead of his master.  Elijah is running ahead of Ahab’s chariot, like a servant who is letting people know that the king is coming.  It is as if God is showing Ahab what could be.  God, and His servant Elijah, do not have to be enemies of Ahab.  Elijah was not seeking a crown, though he could have tried to take it after such a powerful display.  Who wouldn’t want a king who could call down fire from heaven?  Instead, Elijah’s run says to Ahab, I will take my place as your servant if you will take your place as God’s servant.  May the Lord help Christians today to have such a humility and empowerment from the Lord.   Instead of seeking to have the highest place, may we be the influence that those who have it need, to become what God wants them to be.

Spiritual Victory audio

Monday
Mar202017

Serving Selflessly with our Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 19, 2017.

Last week we talked about using our natural gifts to serve God’s people, and so today we will move to the area of spiritual gifts.  Though they are very different things, they are intended for the same reason, to help others.  Spiritual gifts may sometimes look like natural gifts, but they will always have a lack of natural explanation.  Thus, a person with a natural gift of healing has studied and learned through experience what works and what doesn’t.  But a person with a spiritual gift of healing simply prays for them.  When people are healed through either method, it is clear the source of gift, whether it is natural or spiritual.

It is easy to let fear in this area cause us to stay away from it, ignore it, or even reject that it is meant for today.  This fear can rise from the fact that spiritual gifts are not generally a part of our everyday experience, whereas natural gifts are.  Another issue is that the spiritual gifts have been abused quite often.  Thus many people stay away from them because they don’t trust people who are “exercising” a spiritual gift.  Many people who are not submitted to Christ have used the guise of a spiritual gift in order to manipulate people and bring glory to themselves.  However, in the Bible we are told to be careful in this area.  Just because someone seems to be spiritually gifted does not guarantee that they are motivated by God.  There are false spirits and false motivations within people.  In the Bible they had to be vigilant continually against false teachers, false prophets, and even false-Christs.  So, some have felt that this area is so fraught with difficulty and confusion that we would be best to just jettison it from our religious experience.  Let me challenge you on that kind of logic.  If we quit doing something because someone somewhere abused it, we would be hard pressed to find anything left.  In fact many Christians still believe in the gift of teaching even though this is one of the most abused spiritual gifts of all.  If they will not quit teaching the Gospel because of the fact that others distort it, then why would they quit seeking spiritual gifts and their use because they are abused by others?  The truth is that we need to grow up and approach this with a mature attitude.  We must exercise responsibility for our own motivations and the leadership of churches must also exercise responsibility for what they allow and promote as spiritual gifts.  Sure it is an area that can be abused, but when we look to the Lord for help, He helps us grow in understanding and discernment in this area.  God challenges us to grow up and become more mature, so that the spiritual gifts can operate through us and we can recognize their proper use.

The use of Spiritual Gifts

Starting in verse 1 we notice that Paul is concerned about ignorance.  All teaching is intended to counteract not just the lack of knowledge, but also those things that we have mistakenly accepted as knowledge.  For the Corinthians as well as for us, we come to Christ with a lot of cultural ideas and ways of thinking.  It is easy to make the Gospel conform to these ideas and “truths” that we think are true.   Paul has heard reports about some issues that are happening with spiritual gifts and wants them to understand the truth.  In verses 2-3, Paul describes what I would call testing for that which is genuine.  The Corinthians had come out of a pagan background full of idol worship, temple prophets and prophetesses, and the oracles of these false gods.  The pagan gods had no unifying principle.  Their prophecies and spiritual operations were generally cryptic and purposefully misleading.  One was left questioning the motivations of the gods and their prophecies.  This cultural background was affecting how spiritual gifts were being used in their church.  Thus they needed some instructions to help them guard against false spirits and to embrace the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s test is simply this question.  Does the person promote Jesus as the Lord or not?  Both Christ and his apostles had taught that Jesus was the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.  He had ultimate authority over all things in heaven and on earth.  Thus Paul reveals this as an important test.    We could add to this a more general test that Paul gives in Galatians 1:7-8.  There the question would be this.  Do they contradict the Gospel that has already been given from Jesus and his apostles?  In fact Paul goes so far as to say that if he himself were to come back later with a gospel different from what they had already received, then he should be excommunicated.  The technical term is to become anathema.  Galatians 1:8 says, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema).”    So what it teaches about Jesus and about the Gospel becomes the test of what spirit is behind a person.  The apostle John in 1 John 4 gives these same tests only in different words.  There John says that if someone denies that Jesus came in the flesh or is the Son of God, they are of the spirit of antichrist.  He goes on to state that those who won’t receive what the apostles were teaching were not of God.  So we are given a very clear means of knowing whether someone is of God or not.  We check what they teach about Jesus and whether or not they embrace what the apostles taught.  This of course describes the New Testament.  The Bible itself becomes the means by which we can test the spirit behind any spiritual gift.

Spiritual gifts are intended to be motivated and enabled by the Holy Spirit.  The enemy loves to promote a knock-off fake of the original.  So, each of us need to be motivated by the Holy Spirit.  It is the New Testament that helps us to have confidence that we are being led by the right Spirit, as we read it and embrace it.  We are all to be truth and error detectors.

Starting in verse 4 Paul makes the point that the spiritual gifts are diverse in their expression, but unified in their source, the Holy Spirit.  This is important because we should not try to make everybody be the same.  No, there is to be a diverse expression of the spiritual gifts that is as diverse as the people God gives them to.  Just as the Creator makes a diversity of natural things, so He operates in a diverse manner through the spiritual gifts.  Yet, they are always united by their connection to the Holy Spirit.  This is an important point.  At times churches have descended into a chaos of “dueling prophets” or teachers, each trying to get the majority to come under their influence.  This is a sure sign that the Holy Spirit is not behind what is happening.  Each claims to have the Spirit of God, all the while, they tear the Church apart.  The true spiritual gift will work in harmony with all the others in the body, because it is motivated by the same Spirit that motivates the others.  Each of us must be submitted to this truth.  God is not trying to raise me up above others, but rather, He is trying to harmonize His work through us all.

Thus in verse 7 Paul states what should be obvious by now.  The purpose of the spiritual gifts is for the common good of all believers in the Church.  The spiritual gifts are given as rewards or badges of honor to individuals to lift them above others.  They are not meant to be used to win “the Olympics” of spiritual gifts.  This question must always be behind the use of any spiritual gift, “How can this be done for the good of everyone?”  When there is turmoil and factions that develop around the use of spiritual gifts, it calls for believers to stop and remind themselves of this truth.  Even if the Spirit speaks something to us to share, we should always seek wisdom for “how” and “when” to share.  The goal is not to conflict with the other gifts and to promote the good of the whole church.

Examples of Spiritual Gifts

In verses 8-11 we are given 9 examples of spiritual gifts.  We know that there are more than nine because later, at the end of the chapter, Paul mentions two other spiritual gifts: the gift of helps, and the gift of administrations.  So let’s acknowledge that though these are some pretty big spiritual gifts, they are not meant to be a complete list of all spiritual gifts.  The first two are a word of wisdom and a word of knowledge.  People who have these gifts will receive wisdom and knowledge from the Holy Spirit.  Wisdom has to do with the plan or how to do something.  We see this in Acts chapter 15 when the early Church was debating about what to require of the Gentiles who were being saved.  The Spirit of God gave them wisdom through certain individuals that led them to refrain from requiring the Gentiles to obey the Law of Moses plus embrace Jesus.  A word of knowledge has more to do with information.  It often works in conjuction with a gift of prophecy.  God will give individuals knowledge of things that there is no natural reason why they would have that knowledge.

Next we see the gift of faith, which should not be confused with the faith by which we are saved.  In this case we are talking about a spiritual gift in which individuals have great boldness and confidence in their natural and spiritual gifts.  God uses them to help encourage and embolden the other believers.  Next is the gift of healing.  I mentioned this earlier and it hardly needs much explanation.  Though we can all pray for healing, some are given a spiritual gift in this area.  Though healings would technically be a miracle, Paul lists the spiritual gift of miracles, which is the ability either to predict or direct events that cannot be naturally explained in their coincidence.

The gift of prophecy is not only about trying to predict the future.  Prophecy simply means to speak on behalf of God.  In a general way, all Christians are to speak on behalf of God to the lost of the world.  But, within the Church, God speaks to some in order to speak to the whole assembly.  These words of prophecy may be about the past, the present or the future.  Either way, it is up to the people of the church to discern whether the prophecy is in keeping with the New Testament.  Also, it would not be treated as being on par with Scripture.  However, we should recognize that if it truly is the Holy Spirit speaking to a person, it will be 100% accurate.  The idea that a person can be completely wrong in a prophecy and somehow still have been motivated by the Holy Spirit is a blasphemous thing to say.  At the very least, the person has presumed that their own ideas were from the Spirit of God.  It takes strong leadership to pull such people aside and caution them.   The spiritual gift of discerning of spirits has to do with an ability to recognize the spiritual motivation behind a manifestation of a “spiritual gift.”    There is no natural reason for them to question a person’s motivation, but they recognize it by the help of the Holy Spirit.

The last two spiritual gifts that Paul points to are speaking in different kinds of languages and the interpretation of such.  The Holy Spirit can help people to speak in a language that they have never learned.  This may or may not be understood by people present.  In fact, some languages may not be of this earth.  Either way, in the church assembly they are intended to be interpreted (not translated).  Both of these gifts go hand in hand.  They can be used by the same person, or with two different people.

Now in looking at all of these spiritual gifts, some of them have natural counterparts.  But, the emphasis with spiritual gifts is that there is no natural explanation for them.  They are powered and enabled by the Holy Spirit.

More about Spiritual Gifts

It is important to recognize that these are not things we can take a class on and learn.  They are not things that we can hang out with a person who has them and can mentor us.  These are given by the Holy Spirit as He desires (vs. 11).  There is no place for self-promotion or self-calling with the spiritual gifts, and yet, these very things are often on display.  Instead of worrying about what we have or don’t have, we are to be a people of prayer seeking to help one another.  In that context we will discover gifting within ourselves.  The emphasis is on helping each other, not on having a list of gifts embroidered on our lapel.  Now I want to skip to the end of the chapter to recognize how the apostle Paul wraps up this section.

In verse 31 Paul tells us to earnestly desire the best gifts, and yet there is a more excellent way.  Of course that way is the way of love in chapter 13.  This verse has two aspects.  The first has to do with desiring the best gifts.  As I said at the beginning, some are afraid of spiritual gifts and want to avoid them.  However, the apostle tells us to desire them.  I would point out that this is both individually and corporately.  However, sometimes our desire can be fueled by the wrong reasons.  The Corinthians all desired to speak in tongues because they thought that this was the most spiritual gift.  In their mentality, it must be the most spiritual because you couldn’t be understood.  Yet, Paul would show them that without interpretation this gift does not help the whole Church.   It is better to prophecy in a language that is understood than to only speak in tongues without interpretation (we are talking about within a gathering).  There misunderstanding of the purpose of the spiritual gifts had caused their gatherings to become a wild and chaotic free for all with everyone speaking in an unintelligible language.  His words are not meant to shut it all down, but rather to give it wisdom.  This way the true purpose of the gifts and the Spirit who gave them could happen.

Now the second part of verse 31 points us to the way of love.  There are some who believe that Paul is trying to replace spiritual gifts with love, like it is better than them.  However, when you honestly read the opening verses of chapter 13, we see that Paul is still talking about using spiritual gifts.  “If I speak with the tongues of angels and have not love…”  The Corinthians had become very self focused in their use of the spiritual gifts.  The more excellent way is to have our spiritual gifts tempered and directed by the love of God.  Spiritual gifts are meant to operate through the love of God.

I pray that you will not run from spiritual gifts, but I also pray that you will learn to be wise in what truly is of the Holy Spirit.  There is always going to be some immaturity in this area if we are winning people to Christ.  We will have our own moments that parallel Paul’s attempts to teach the Corinthians.  However, this can be a good thing if we have enough people who are spiritually mature in the use of the spiritual gifts and can help those who are not to grow and learn to serve properly.

Serving with Spiritual Gifts audio

Tuesday
Feb262013

Instructions to the Flock

In 1 Peter 5:5, we move from talking to the elders to talking to the “youngers.”  If God puts elders in authority then those who are not elders need to submit to that authority.  Submission has been a big theme in Peter’s letter.  It started back in chapter 2 when he told the believers to submit to the human governments.  Then he spoke to slaves about submitting to their masters.  Next he spoke to wives about submitting to their husbands.  He even mentions that, after the cross, all angels and spiritual authorities are submitted to Christ.  This last “submission” is for the Church body to its leaders.

Remember that the definition of submission is this: taking your proper place under a proper authority.  This definition hinges on the terms proper.  It is the Word of God that makes something proper.  Thus, we are not called to submit to everything or one that purports it is an authority.  But when we do recognize proper authority, even then, we submit to it in the proper way.  Thus it does not call for the Church body to become slavishly obedient to the whims of Church leaders.  So let’s look at what Peter has to say here.

We Should Submit To The Elders

I recognize, again, that submission has been abused by leaders.  Thus the virtue of submission requires us to use our minds and listen to God’s Word.  Submission to godly leadership does have boundaries.  They are not God and can take unscriptural positions.  However, as a virtue, submission recognizes that I too am a sinner in need of restraint.  Thus it is only proper that God should place proper authorities over me in appropriate ways.  Leaders should not be telling members who to marry.  But we should listen when they remind us of the Scripture’s injunction to not marry unbelievers.  They are the elders who have a more mature spiritual wisdom and understanding.  I am the “younger” and not just in age.  Those who are not put in leadership should carefully follow those who have been put in leadership as a child should listen to its parents.  Again, this is within Scriptural bounds.

The term “likewise” is used to point us back to the elders.  In the same way they are to submit to Christ’s calling on their life, so we too must submit to it.  How were they supposed to respond?  They were supposed to respond willingly rather than being forced into it (vs. 2).  They were supposed to eagerly serve with pure motives rather than for dishonest gain.  They were supposed to serve as examples rather than “lording” their authority over the Church.  Thus the body of Christ also needs to submit willingly without being forced.  We should be eager to submit with pure motives rather than for dishonest gain, i.e. manipulating.  We should be quick to follow the “right” examples rather than those elders who fall into coercive tactics.  When both elders and “youngers” properly respond to the Lord this can be a beautiful environment where God speaks to us in his Word and confirms it with the leading of elders.  This environment is a protective environment that keeps us spiritually safe.

The Church Should Be Mutually Submitted

Here Peter moves beyond the elder / flock distinction and speaks to the Church as a whole.  The overall or general atmosphere of the Church should be defined by mutual submission.  But under what authority do we submit to one another?  First, we do so under the authority of God’s Word.  But second, we do so under the authority of the demands of Love (i.e. God’s nature).  In love we learn to humble ourselves to serve and to be served.  Elders are simply to lead us in this area of mutual submission and growing in the Truth of Christ.  We need to listen and be led by the “commands” of love.

Next Peter says that they should clothe themselves with humility.  The word used here is one of a servant tying an apron around them.  Humility must be the “uniform” that we tie on ourselves.  It identifies us as one of Christ’s flock.  It is symbolic of the time when Jesus tied on a towel and washed his disciple’s feet.  If we serve without a humble mind it spoils the service.  But, those being washed have to humble themselves, too.  Peter was quick to tell the Lord he couldn’t wash his feet.  But Jesus told him if he didn’t wash Peter’s feet that Peter would have nothing with the Lord.  Oops!  “I take that back, Lord!  Wash all of me!”  We can be too quick to say that we don’t need any leadership.  However, it is God’s wisdom and we should not reject it.  To reject it is to jeopardize our position in Christ because we are rejecting the very Word of Christ.

Peter then quotes from Proverbs 3:34.  Believers ought to humble themselves beneath the “Mighty Hand” of God because God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.  The word resists here could better be translated as “sets himself against.”  If you walk in pride God sets himself against you.  Hmm… I wonder who will win?  Like the angel in the way before Balaam, God will stand against us if we walk in pride.  But if we humble ourselves he will be quick to give us grace.  Thus his hand is called mighty.  It is powerful in judgment to those who in their own wisdom walk in pride.  And, it is powerful in grace to those who are humble.  Which would you rather receive?

Final Instructions To Believers

On top of being submitted to the elders, Peter asks the believers to put their daily concerns upon the Lord.  When we carry around our “stuff” all the time, it leads to increased anxiety.  The picture has been used of rolling your burdens upon the Lord like the people in the middle east loaded up a camel. Let God do the heavy lifting of those daily concerns that tend to weigh us down.  When we do this we are enabled to help each other.  Can you imagine a worker showing up to move your furniture, but he has a 100 pound pack on his back and is holding an arm full of groceries?  If he is going to be any help at all he will need to unload himself first.  Peter shares this concern in the same vein.  We must learn to roll our burden onto Jesus if we are going to be able to help one another.  How do we do this?  First we do it through prayer.  When we talk through our anxieties and then ask God for his help, we begin to unload ourselves of much weight.  However, it also involves faith.  We need to trust that he really is caring for us.  This doesn’t mean he simply has emotions about our situation, but that he is also actually taking care of us.  We can talk to him about it, ask for help, and then quit worrying about it.  This unloading process is too often avoided in our lives.  It causes much pain and grief in our lives and the lives of others.

Next he tells them to be watchful over their souls.  This involves sobriety, i.e. not being drunk on the pleasures of this world.  And, it also involves vigilance.  The watchful shepherd is standing at attention, watching both the sheep and the hills for sign of trouble.  We need to take our spiritual condition serious and not get caught up in living life to please our flesh.  We have an enemy who is an equal opportunity eater.  Like a lion he will eat anything that isn’t ready for it.  So take your stand against the enemy.  Like David of old, do not rely upon your own wisdom and strength.  But, rather, rely upon the power and might of the Spirit of the Lord.  He can only devour those who are not sober and vigilant.  “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”

Final Thoughts

We can get so worried about the things of life that we forget; it is God who takes care of us.  Perhaps you are worried about all the things you shouldn’t be, and not worried about all the things you should?  Let the Spirit of God speak to your heart and correct you in this area.

Also, God has given us all the instructions we need to outwit the devil’s schemes.  We just need to trust him.  Godly leadership is a part of that.  Don’t settle for saying it doesn’t work.  Find a place where there are elders who trust God and are caring for the souls of those who attend that church.  You won’t always agree with them.  But humble yourself and let God use them to help watch over your soul.  In doing so you are thwarting the work of the devil in your life.

 

Instructions to Flock Audio

Tuesday
Nov272012

Submission In The Home 1

As we begin 1 Peter chapter 3, I recognize that as a man it would be easy to tune me out at this time.  A lot of garbage has washed under the bridge of submission in the home.  So let me first try to bring us back to Peter’s main point.  He is concerned with our ability to submit because of the way in which our refusal to do it will cause Jesus to be seen as a rebel.  If we rebel against authorities in the name of God’s Word then we can give the wrong impression of who God is.  In fact we will attract all the wrong people to the Church (rebels).  Jesus, who was God in the flesh, submitted himself to wicked authorities because he trusted the plan of the Father.

Yes, we can use God’s Word to justify rebellion against governments, and we can use God’s Word to justify a slave’s rebellion against his master.  But the goodness of the government or master was never the question.  It was an issue of the heart.  It is hard for modern man to hear these words, especially Americans.  We are so used to getting our way that we don’t understand how we more easily embrace rebellion and despise submission.  Submission as a virtue does have boundaries.  But even then our response needs to be more about submitting to God’s will above the will of an earthly authority, rather than one that is about my flesh rebelling against authority.  America was not founded upon a rebellious “no one will be in authority over us.”  It was the desire to submit to God over the top of a wicked king.

So as we approach this subject of wives submitting to husbands, let’s approach cautiously and with a listening heart.

Wives Should Be Submissive To Their Own Husbands

It doesn’t take rocket science to see Peter’s first instruction.  He tells wives to “take their place under” the authority that a husband has been given.  The gospel taught that in Christ there was no longer slave and free, Jew and Gentile, or male and female.  Such teachings could naturally lead to strife in the homes of Christians.  It is important that we represent Christ well in this world.  If we send the wrong message in order to get our justice now, then we have sacrificed God’s reputation and ability to draw people unto him for ourselves.  Peter speaks against such selfishness in each of the cases of submission he has brought up.

Now notice that the context is not men and women.  Women are not told to be submitted to men in general.  But a wife should not strive with her husband for authority in the home.  Why would he say this?  Paul makes it clearer in Ephesians chapter 5.  Paul pointed back to creation and explained that God made the species of man as male and female on purpose.  He wanted the relationship of marriage between a man and a woman to be a picture of Christ’s love for the Church.  Thus when we marry we are not just agreeing to love each other.  We are also entering into an agreement to work together to model the relationship between Jesus and his Church.  Thus God gives man, not just the authority, but also the responsibility for the home.  Religion is not the “woman’s” place.  Each husband will be responsible before God for how he lead his family in worship of God or lack thereof.

Peter recognizes that a believing woman married to an unbelieving husband would be tempted to divorce him, or at least fight his authority and ungodly leadership.  Peter asks the wife to submit to the ungodly husband in order to win him over to Christ.  Imagine telling your husband on one hand that he should turn from his sins and believe on Jesus (who submitted to death on a cross) and yet you are unwilling to submit to something far less.  Now are there obvious exceptions to Peter’s point?  Of course there are, however, Peter is not dealing with submission in the home as his main point.  It is a side point to the greater problem of Christians embracing rebellion and justifying it with God’s Word.  If a husband is physically abusing his wife then God is not telling her to submit to it.  However, it would be foolish to tell her to fight back.  In fact without repentance a divorce may be the only solution.  Can we hear the heart of Peter’s point without trying to completely dismiss it?

Wives Should Have Virtues Of The Heart

Peter turns to women more fully and speaks to them as daughters.  Verse 3 begins to challenge them to be more concerned about their inner heart than their outer appearance.  This is not just about adornment but is connected to the issue of submission.  Must I force the conformance of my marriage to an outward appearance that I want, all the while losing the transformation that Christ is doing in my heart?  Peter is not asking women to “stuff it” and submit.  Rather he is asking them to focus on their inner heart and make sure it is following Jesus and not their own flesh.

Now verse 2 encourages “chaste conduct accompanied by fear.”  Let me just say that God does not want women to be afraid of their husbands.  This is simply a misreading of what is being said.  Part of that is a cultural issue and part of it is our own sinful nature.  The Hebrew people had an understanding of fear, far more broad then we do.  It is the same with love and hate.  Do you remember in Genesis 29 when the Bible talks about Jacob loving Rachel more than Leah? The very next verse says that when God say Leah was hated he opened her womb.  Now we reserve the word “hate” for a strong revulsion against something.  But the context clearly shows that Jacob merely loved Rachel more.  Rachel was special to him.  He didn’t hate Leah in the way that we would think.  But he did love Rachel more than her.  This word for Hate can be exactly what we are used to it meaning, but it can also mean to love less.  This is the same with fear.  It can mean to be scared and in terror of something.  But in the context of authority it usually means respect for the job or position the person in authority has.  So the point is not to be afraid of the husband but rather to respect the gravity of the position he holds.  He will be accountable to God one day for how he leads.  Are you helping him to understand that and not be condemned or are you pushing each other to further error, in which you will both give account before God?  So a Christian wife should have chaste conduct that flows from a heart of respect for the duty God has placed on her husband.  She should be working with him and not against him, even when he is making poor choices.  Again, submission does have its boundaries and God is not calling women to be slaves.  Historically this has been misinterpreted and taken advantage of by men, for which they will give account.

Peter points to the importance of inner beauty over the top of outer beauty.  This is not a prohibition against outward adornment.  But rather, it is a call to spend more time on inner beauty than outward.  Outward beauty is fading.  You cannot spend enough money to counteract the effects of aging forever.  You will lose it.  What will you be left with?  If you spent all your focus on outer beauty then your life will be crushed and there will be no inner beauty within.  You can grow more beautiful with age.  God’s plan is not for men to have a mid-life crisis, divorce their wife, and marry a 25 year old.  His plan is for us to recognize the beauty in each other that is beyond the skin.  Will I be desirable when I am 50, 60, 70, 80….?  I will only if I focus on the inner above the outer.

Next he mentions a gentle and quiet spirit.  The word gentle is fairly clear.  It is basically strength under control.  A strong person can learn to be gentle and still strong.  We do not look for the weakest people to be our brain surgeons; rather we train them to be extremely careful and gentle in their movements.  The word “quiet” does not mean silence.  It actually means peaceful and tranquil.  Even when we disagree with one another we can interact in a peaceful way rather than with a rancorous fight.

Peter then gives an example of Sarah the wife of Abraham.  The main point is that she trusted God.  Her trust in God enabled her to peacefully walk with Abraham through some mighty, stupid plans of his.  I can hear Sarah now.  “We are moving, but God hasn’t told you where we are going yet?  O, great plan, Abram.”  Or, “I’m supposed to pretend to be your sister?  Please, do you think that cockamamie plan is going to work?”  Sarah trusted God and in the end God was faithful to her.

Lastly, Peter mentions that he doesn’t want the wives to be in fear and terror.  Mostly likely he is referring to the duty of submission although it could apply to their husbands as well.  Terror is not God’s plan for women.  He wants them to embrace it out of love to him.  But also out of a love of him, because God is not a rebel.  He is a submitted being at heart.  Historically, men have used strength to terrorize women into submission.  Is that Christ?  No, it is sin that will be judged by Christ when he comes.

Final Thoughts

Satan has wedged men and women against each other since the garden.  It is time we recognized that and fought back by uniting together in love.  A Christian marriage can be a beautiful thing for both husband and wife when they love each other in heart and action.  We should never justify horrible marriages under the banner of submission.  Rather, we should correct each other according to the word of God.

Don’t be driven by the desires of your flesh.  Rather,  be driven by the desire to properly represent the Lord and his gospel.

Submission Home I Audio