Thursday, September 11, 2014

Grace isn't as amazing if it's not a wretch that it saves: an exposition of Revelation 3:14-22.

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:

Revelation 3:14 introduces a letter, and it reveals to whom and from whom the letter is written. We see that it is written to a church. It's written to a group of people who profess to know Christ; indeed, we can assume that they assemble together under that common profession. Specifically, it is written to "the angel of the church in Laodicea," but verse 22, providing the other bookend to the letter says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches," (emphasis mine). While is it written to a specific church in a specific time, the content of this letter is beneficial for the ears of all those who live under the name, "Christian." The second thing we see in Revelation 3:14 is that the letter is written from Jesus. 2 Corinthians 1:20 describes Jesus as "the Amen," the one through whom all of the promises of God are made "yes" to us. Revelation 1:5 says that Jesus is "the faithful witness." And Colossians 1:15-18 describes Jesus as the "beginning" and as the one through whom all things were made. So as we look to at this letter, we ought to first recognize that these are Christ's words to us. These are words from the one who created us, who knows us and brings a truthful testimony to us, and who came to sacrifice himself for us. As we read the words of Revelation 3:15-21, we read the very words of our Savior, words that bring authority and truth and love.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Verse 15 begins with Jesus telling the church that he knows their deeds. And, by their deeds, he knows that they are neither hot nor cold; instead, they are lukewarm. I've heard this text often interpreted on a scale. Often times, people will describe someone who is "hot" as a person who is passionate, and they describe someone who is "cold" as a person who is hard-hearted, sinful, or openly rebellious against God. Hence, a "lukewarm" person would be someone who is apathetic or back-and-forth in their faith. If this interpretation is correct, then Jesus is saying he would rather we be for or against him than to have an apathetic relationship with him. However, there's never a place in Scripture where Jesus prefers that we are against him. Jesus is always calling us to be with Him, and he says, "Whoever is not with me is against me." Instead, when Jesus uses the words hot, cold, and lukewarm, I believe he is contrasting two pleasant things with an unpleasant thing. One thing that I think supports this interpretation is that the only other place this word for cold is used in the New Testament is in reference to a cold beverage. So consider hot and cold as two pleasing drinks, things that are satisfying and good. Lukewarm is the place where those drinks become unpleasant and unsatisfying. What Jesus is saying to this church is that he looks at their deeds, and he's not satisfied by them.

And what does he say about this lukewarm church? What, by their deeds, does he say about their hearts?

Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked...

This church doesn't see their need for Christ. They're perfectly satisfied with the kind of church they are, the kind of people they are, apart from Christ.

They're wretched and they don't know it.
They're miserable and they don't know it.
They're poor and they don't know it
They're blind and they don't know it.
They're naked and they don't know it.

But how could someone be wretched and not know it? It must be because they think they aren't wretched! This is such a simple answer, but this is also an incredibly scary and philosophically troubling reality that is presented in Scripture - that people would look at themselves and see intrinsic goodness and worthiness - that people would consider themselves to have an intrinsic right to God's favor. But Scripture tells us that we are born in iniquity. Our flesh is at war with the purpose of God. We've worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. We can sing "Amazing Grace" a thousand times, but grace isn't as amazing if it's not a wretch that it saves. We diminish the cross when we diminish our sinfulness. Consider that even the Apostle Paul considered himself the chief of sinners, and who am I to even compare myself to Paul? In order to ever see the wonder of the grace extended to us in the cross we must first see ourselves as wretched and sinful apart from Christ. The bigger we see the picture of our own sin, the bigger we'll see the picture of the grace that covers it, and the bigger we'll see the cross that accomplishes it.

But how could someone be miserable and not know it? It must be because they think they are happy! What a sacrifice we make when we trade the rich satisfactions of knowing Christ for the cheap satisfactions of the pleasures and treasures of the earth. A person who is miserable and doesn't know it is a person who has sought happiness in things that weren't meant to provide it. Every source of joy on this earth is meant to point us to the fountain of all joy, Jesus Christ. All good things are from him, and when we see this world as an end for satisfaction, rather than as a means to satisfaction in God, we are truly miserable, even when we don't know it. You may think that misery is of your own determination, but that is such a foolish thought. Your happiness is extended to you by other things, and if you find your happiness in fleeting things, then your happiness is forever fleeting.

How could someone be poor and not know it? I assume you see the pattern of my questions. And the pattern of my answers: the person who is poor and doesn't know it is a person who finds contentment in earthly treasures. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that a man cannot serve both God and money. The poor man, like the miserable man, is not poor by his own determination. He is poor because he has put his hope in fleeting things. Hebrews 9:27 says that all of us will die and face the judgment of God. What leg to we have to stand on in the presence of God if all we have is what we can take with us. The person who has sought Christ for the treasure of righteousness has riches forevermore in the face of judgment. The person who has put his hope in earthly things will have nothing on Judgment Day. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus because Jesus asked him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The rich young ruler was a poor man. The person who has sought earthly treasures and luxuries and comforts will have none of it for eternity. He is truly poor.

How could someone be blind and not know it? Several times in the book of Judges it says that Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Many will argue today that people's honest attempts to do good are enough for God to grant salvation to them, or for them to even have merited it on their own. But when Judges tells us that people did what was right in their own eyes, it was not a commendation or a pat on the back or a participation trophy. This was a condemnation of Israel for straying from the revealed will of God. Jesus tells us to walk by faith and not by sight because, on our own accord, we're truly blind.

Finally, how could someone be naked and not know it? Scripture often ties together nakedness and shame. Before the Fall, we seek Adam and Eve as naked and not ashamed. After the Fall, we see the shame of nakedness awakened. What it means for someone to be naked and not know it is for them to not be ashamed of something that Scripture tells us that we should be ashamed of, or perhaps vice versa, being ashamed of something that we ought not be ashamed of. God created man in a particular image and with a particular purpose. However, in our sin, the image of God in us is broken and we have betrayed our purpose. This is our shame. This is our nakedness.

As we continue to walk through this letter, may I ask you to consider where your own heart is? I mentioned earlier that this letter presents a scary reality, namely that we can be deceived by our own hearts. Consider how significant it is that only those who would consider themselves Christians are qualified candidates for being deceived about their salvation in Christ. So let us not neglect the practice of examining ourselves, as 2 Corinthians 13:5 commends to us. Jesus said that he looked at the church's deeds, and it is by their deeds that he knew whether they were hot or cold or lukewarm. So rather than thinking cognitively about what we believe, let's examine our deeds. And, in order to do so, I want to give us some measuring sticks, in the form of questions, to see whether we are in Christ and pleasing to God or outside of Christ and what this letter describes as lukewarm.

I would suggest to you that the lukewarmness of the church that Jesus describes here in Revelation 3 can be summed up in the idea of a comfortable Christianity. Unawareness to wretchedness, misery, poverty, blindness, and nakedness involves a certain comfort-level with disobedience. A lukewarm Christian is OK with who they are apart from Jesus. A lukewarm Christian is comfortable with a reality apart from Jesus.

Are you comfortable saying that you are a Christian and not going to Jesus in prayer regularly? Are you comfortable with a life that doesn't devote itself to Jesus? Are you comfortable with a life that doesn't evangelize? Are you comfortable with spending all of your money on yourself?

Most of us would say no to those questions. But most our lives would preach yes to those questions.

When was the last time you prayed outside of a meal, or at a time that you weren't expected to because of a particular role you may serve? When was the last time you read the Bible outside of church, or even in church? When was the last time you shared the gospel with anyone?

How could we suggest that we are living lives that are pleasing to God if our lives would suggest that we're comfortable without him? Later in this passage, Jesus analogizes a relationship with him as dining with him. Could we really say that our lives look like people who are dining with Jesus?

Our lives would probably suggest that we're comfortable with the idea of not knowing Jesus very well. Our lives would probably preach that we're comfortable with the idea that there are people in our community and in our family that, if they died today, would spend an eternity apart from Christ. Our lives would probably preach that we're comfortable with a reality of people suffering while we live in comfort. Our lives would probably suggest that we're lukewarm.

So what does Jesus say to the lukewarm church?

I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Jesus just told the church that they were poor and don't know it, yet he advises them to buy gold? How do you buy gold if you are poor? What a wonderful gospel Jesus brings. The gospel is where gold is free. The gospel is where shame is covered. The gospel is where blind eyes are opened. On the cross, Jesus took the wrath of God we deserve. This is huge. We're wretches who deserve to be hanging on a cross, yet Jesus, in his love, took our place there. Jesus beckons us to give him our poverty, and he will give us his riches. Give him our shame, and he will give us his righteousness. Come to him blind, and he will open our eyes. Coming to him costs us nothing but worthless things. The holy God from whom you've separated yourself with your sin wants to be with you and has paid a high cost for your righteousness. Come to him.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

You are loved by God. He seriously loves you so much that, even in your poor, blind, and miserable state, he sent Christ to die for you, that you might have the riches and the righteousness of God forever. But his love for you isn't marked by tolerance and acceptance. His love for you is often marked by reproof and discipline. For your own good, God calls you to be zealous and repent. If you've been blind to your need for God, I pray that today you will see the depth of your depravity and turn to him. When you turn to Him, he not only gives you the power and desire to live a life that pleases him; he gives you everything that is pleasing for you as well.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Jesus knocks on the door of the lukewarm. Behind his knocking is him telling you that, apart from Him, you are a wretch. Behind his knocking is loving reproof and discipline that calls you to repentance and zeal for God. And when you come to Christ, all of the benefits of Christ are made available to you for eternity. In Christ, you have righteousness and pleasure forevermore. Christ wants to dine with you and for you to dine with him. With blood, he purchased your right to be with him and to enjoy him. And by the same power that raised him from the dead, he works in you to continue fighting to give up all of the things that once separated you from him.

"Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the things of religion may become common to you!" This quote by B.B. Warfield is a wonderful reminder that the things of our religion, things like prayer and devotion and discipleship and evangelism, are not burdens or sources of boredom. In fact, he reminds us that it is a great danger for us to think of them that way. Instead, they are privileges that bring us greater satisfaction in God! Things like prayer and devotion and discipleship and evangelism are the most intimate ways that we dine with Christ.

As you dine with Jesus, you learn to taste and see that He is so much better than anything in this world. You learn that purity is so much more beautiful than impurity. You learn that temporary affliction isn't worthy to be compared to eternal glory. You learn that no temporary pleasure is worthy to be compared to your fight for joy in God. You learn that the kingdom of God is worth giving up everything for. And, increasingly, you come to realize that you want everyone else to dine with Jesus too.

Bring your wretchedness, and trade it for righteousness. Bring your poverty, and trade it for riches. Bring your blindness, and trade it for sight. Put your faith in Christ and trust him with your life. Come and dine with him at the table. Even if you're already there, come.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice Teach Us About Ourselves

You're probably familiar with the hype surrounding Victoria Osteen and the hype surrounding Ray Rice. You may, however, be wondering what I'm going to say that they have in common. But for those who have just come out of a short cryogenic freeze or have had their head buried in sand, allow me to recap the hype briefly.

On August 28, 2014, a video of Victoria Osteen went viral in which she said, "I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God. I mean, that's one way to look at it. We're doing it for ourselves because God takes pleasure when we're happy. So I want you to know this morning: just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself because that's what makes God happy. Amen?" In response to the video, social media has exploded with hate toward the Osteens for their message of a man-centered God whose greatest attribute is his favor toward us.

On September 8, 2014 TMZ released a video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiance, now-wife, in an elevator and then dragging her out the door. Within hours, his contract was terminated by the Ravens and he was suspended indefinitely from the NFL. Every sports news station featured this story throughout the day, expressing their outrage at Ray Rice and supporting the decisions by the Ravens and the NFL.

You may be asking, what do Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice have in common?

What the Osteens and Ray Rice have been doing lately hasn't changed all of a sudden.

In 2004, Your Best Life Now was published. In it, Joel Osteen says, "God wants you to get your hopes up...We should get up in the morning confidently expecting the favor of God. Start expecting doors of opportunity to open for you. Expect to excel in your career. Expect to rise above life's challenges."
In 2009, in Become A Better You, Osteen says, "God wants you to go further. He's a progressive God, and He wants every generation to be increasing in happiness, success, and significance...Somebody may have rejected you, but you can hold your head up high knowing this: God accepts you. God approves you."
In 2011, Every Day A Friday told us, "It is your choice to be happy. Make up your mind to enjoy this day, to have a blessed, prosperous, victorious year. You may have some setbacks and your circumstances may change, but don't let that change your mind. Keep it set on happiness...When you take that approach, you prepare for victory, increase, and restoration. God says to the angels, 'Did you hear that? They're expecting My goodness. They're expecting to prosper in spite of the economy. They're expecting to get well in spite of the medical report. They're expecting to accomplish their dreams even though they don't have the resources right now.' When you begin each day in faith, anticipating something good, God tells the angels to go to work and arrange things in your favor."
In 2013, I Declare was published, and here are some quotes from that book. "You may be in a difficult time right now, but let me challenge you. Don't use your words to describe the situation. Use your words to change the situation. Use this book as a guide for declaring your victory each day. Declare health. Declare favor. Declare abundance...God is saying today, 'You need to get ready. Where you are is not permanent. I have explosive blessings coming your way. I will increase you beyond your salary. I will bless you beyond your normal income. I will suddenly change things in your life.' That's how the word explosion is defined. It means 'sudden, widespread increase.' That's what God wants to do for each one of us."

In February of 2014, Ray Rice was arrested for assault. A few days later, a video of him dragging his fiance out of an elevator was released by TMZ. The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL gave Rice support through the assault charges, and he went through an intervention program to avoid prosecution. Rice and his fiance were married, and their relationship was seemingly reconciled. In May, Rice formally apologized to everyone, and in July, the NFL announced that Rice would serve a 2-game suspension for Rice to begin the year. At that time, everyone who was personally involved seemed to agree that this penalty was fair. Rice even received a standing ovation from the Ravens' fans in the preseason as an acceptance of his apology and support for his attempt to move on from the incident.

What happened with Victoria Osteen and Ray Rice teaches us something about ourselves.

We are more driven by sensationalism than we are by conviction.

We all know that there are abandoned animals in need of adoption, but somehow Sarah McLachlin helps us feel it. We all know that racism exists, but somehow a white police officer shooting a black man makes us feel it. There is a problem when something that all of us already know suddenly sparks exponential emotion from us when we see it more explicitly in a 30-second video on YouTube.

It's not a good thing that we respond to something with enthusiasm only after we've been introduced to emotionally-charging portrayal of it. It's not a good thing for us to need to see Victoria Osteen succinctly saying what her husband has been teaching for over a decade before we'll exhibit real concern about the danger of a man-centered God and a gospel that promises health, wealth, and happiness. It's not a good thing for us to need to see Ray Rice hitting his wife in an elevator before we'll express outrage about an incident of domestic violence that we already knew occurred. It's not a good thing for us to need to see the holes in Jesus' hands before we'll trust that it's him.

We need to become a conviction-driven people, rather than a people who only really respond to the hyper-stimulation of our emotions. We have truths before us, and if we believe that those truths are important, then we need to take strong stands, and even act, on them without some political or social cause. Otherwise, our culture will force us into inconsistency. So will you wait until the next trending hashtag, or will you stand on truth in the downtime? I pray that our convictions will be strengthened, particularly convictions regarding the lost in this world. We have truths that God has given us to change the world. Let's not wait until we feel them before we act on them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are lazy.

The righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
But the way of the wicked leads them astray.
A lazy man does not roast his prey,
But the precious possession of a man is diligence.
In the way of righteousness is life,
And in its pathway there is no doubt.
-Proverbs 12:26-28

Proverbs 12, like many chapters in Proverbs, goes back and forth, contrasting the ways of the wicked with the ways of the righteous. At the end of the chapter, in verse 27, laziness is condemned as a way of the wicked. This chapter puts laziness in the same context as hating correction (v1), deceit (v5), a perverse mind (v8), the pursuit of worthless things (v11), desiring the riches of evil men (v12), anger (v16), rash speaking (v18), lying (v22), anxiety (v25), etc. The reality is that all of us are likely guilty of all of those things, but, for the most part, we are relatively good about recognizing the wickedness of those things. The problem comes when we begin to justify, deflect, or even celebrate wickedness in our heart, and we have a tendency to do this with laziness. We tend to think about laziness as some kind of goal. As long as there's nothing personally pressing for our temporal satisfaction, we take pride in not having to do anything. We've worked an eight hour shift, so we deserve a few hours of television. A new video game is out, so we need to spend hours playing it in order to fit in with our friends who are doing the same thing. We hit the snooze button instead of waking up to begin our day pursuing God in prayer and in Scripture reading. We're even spending our money on things that tempt us into laziness. We pay monthly bills for television, internet, and smartphone services that constantly steal our attention from God. I don't think pursuing mindless entertainment is always a product of laziness, but I think it usually is. And for most of us, our diet and our exercise and our sleep habits don't help anything. We set ourselves up to love laziness. But I hope we can look at our laziness and hear the depth of what it means for this proverb to describe it as a way of the wicked.

There is certainly some pushback from busy people. Everyone is busy. In spite of that, almost everyone finds time to spend hours every day on their own entertainment. But even if you are truly busy, don't equate busyness to diligence. Most of us are busy doing lazy things. And even when we busy doing things we deem necessary, we use our busyness to justifying laziness when it comes to doing the work of God. If we're neglecting the work of God, then there is always something more valuable we could be doing with our time than what we're doing right now.

The Lord has placed us on earth to glorify him and to guide our neighbors into his righteousness. Laziness is a means by which we lead our neighbors astray. We neglect to pray for the lost and those who are suffering. Or, if we pray for them, we neglect to preach the gospel or offer ourselves in service to meet needs. Or when we do those things, we neglect to follow up in discipleship and persistence. Or when we have done all of this, we neglect to follow up in preparing and sending those disciples to do the same work. The task of God for us is one that will not be completed until the day we die.

Do you want to know why your church isn't growing? It's probably because the members are lazy when it comes to doing the work of God.

The church needs to take seriously the task of God. There are tens of thousands of people dying every day without Christ, yet we are in a country consumed with amusing itself to death. There may be a place for entertainment and fun in the Christian life, surely there is, but the tone and balance of Scripture is a complete inversion of what most American lives look like.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are lazy. Christ died for the lazy, and he is calling them to repent. May we crucify our laziness on the cross of Jesus Christ and take up his call to diligently see his name glorified in our world.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Christians and Suffering

Is suffering a bad thing? If so, is the inverse also true? Is not suffering a good thing? Is suffering a problem that Christians should be concerned with solving? How should Christians think about suffering?

I ask these questions in light of Christian organizations that work to provide mosquito nets for children in Africa in order that they might not get Malaria. I ask these questions in light of organizations that rescue young girls from the sex trade. I ask these questions in light of organizations that provide for the needs of those in poverty. Jesus seemed to be greatly concerned with the sick and the oppressed and the poor, and it seems as if he gave incredible value to the idea of bringing people out of their suffering. And even in the New Jerusalem, we see suffering end; “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So there seems to be at least some kind of negativity regarding suffering in Scripture.

Yet, at the same time, I ask these questions in light of Jesus’ suffering. I ask these questions in light of the reality that we would have no hope without that suffering. I ask these questions with the words of Jesus to Peter, “Get behind me Satan,” as Peter displayed his desire for Jesus not to suffer. So in spite of the negativity that is given in Scripture to suffering, it also seems that there is a necessity to it as well.

So we turn in Scripture to the first letter from the one to which those words, "Get behind me Satan," were directed. I believe Peter offers us incredible insight into how Christians ought to think about suffering.

1 Peter 4 

The Purpose of Suffering 
Verses 1-2

Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 

Arm yourselves with the same purpose, namely, to suffer in the flesh as Christ suffered in the flesh. Does Peter really mean this? Right off the bat in this chapter it seems that Peter is calling Christians to have the purpose of suffering. Why? “Because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Obviously Peter doesn’t mean that Christ ceased from sin in the sense that he was, at one time, a sinner. But Peter is telling us that suffering is going to be a part of our becoming holy. Sanctification will involve suffering. But I think if we stop here, there is potential for us to think that perhaps the life of an ascetic monk with a propensity for self-mutilation could be the right way to go. Instead, in the rest of this chapter, I think we will see what kinds of suffering Peter means when he calls his readers to arm themselves with the purpose of suffering. 

Suffering in Repentance 
Verses 3-7

For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 

Here Peter addresses our sinful desires. The time is gone for us to pursue a course of sinfulness. We know Christ. We know there is something greater for us than that with which our flesh tempts us. But why am I calling repentance suffering, particularly when the text isn’t explicitly calling it suffering? The answer to that question is simple: repentance is hard.

Peter offers up a list of sins that I think can be categorized more simply as sexual immorality, worldliness, and idolatry. 

Sensuality and lusts involve sexual immorality. I look at myself and see how hard it has been for me to overcome the desires and habits of my flesh. And it gets even harder and more complex when we consider how much our culture wants to unite sexual preference with identity. Repentance from sexual immorality is hard. The Spirit of God wages war against our flesh, and war always involves suffering. Of course, this is a suffering that is good; it is the putting to death of our flesh. But good suffering doesn’t negate the suffering itself.

Next, Peter mentions drunkenness, carousing, and drinking parties – forms of worldliness. These are ways in which the world calls us to take part in its sinfulness. I think about how hard it is for the alcoholic to say no to a drink. I think about how difficult it is for a friend to deny the peer pressure of his friends to engage in sinful activities. I think about what it looks like for a believer who works for a company asking him to engage in sinful work. Repentance from worldliness often involves losing friends and opportunities. It’s hard. It involves suffering.

And finally, Peter mentions idolatry, specifically abominable idolatry, but what idolatry is there that isn’t abominable? Idolatry takes my mind to the story of the rich young ruler in Luke 18. Jesus tells the rich man, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But the rich man was sad because he was very rich. Jesus points out the idolatry in the rich man. Both the rich man and Jesus realize that repentance from idolatry for this man was going to involve a type of suffering. And ultimately, it was a suffering that the man wasn’t willing to endure. The treasure of heaven wasn’t enough for him to believe that the suffering of repentance was worth it.

So if repentance involves suffering, why wouldn’t we want to be like the rich man? Why would we want to put our flesh through suffering? If my debt has been paid, why would I want to suffer in my repentance? This isn’t a question of whether we should continue in sin that grace might abound. This is a question of whether we should continue in sin because it’s easier. The answer is still a resounding no!

First, building on the foundation of what was said in verses 1-2, we understand that the suffering of our flesh is intended for our sanctification. We are being made into the image of Christ, and if we aren’t becoming more like Christ in our obedience, then the reality is that we do not truly love Christ or believe in him at all. If we aren't repenting, then our debt ultimately hasn't been paid.

Second, Peter says, “they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation.” A reason we see for our repentance, beyond the centrality of repentance to our sanctification, is that others will take notice of it. Our repentance is a display of God’s grace and holiness on this earth, and the purpose of that display goes far beyond us. When we repent, we reveal a greater treasure in our heart in such a way that others can see that treasure.

Peter also shows that the display of God’s righteousness through our repentance and obedience points to the judgment. All men are going to be judged, and those who have not put their hope in the gospel will be found guilty. So we preach the gospel in order that those who believe it would live!

There’s a famous quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (though he likely never said it), “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” This quote makes me cringe every time I hear it!

Yes, it’s important that we live our lives in such a way that the effects of the gospel in us are evident. But, in the same way that someone can only learn so much about God through His revelation in Creation, someone can only learn so much about the gospel through its revelation in our obedience. The gospel is a message of words, and our preaching the gospel always involves preaching the message of the gospel with words.

Our lifestyle doesn’t preach the gospel. Our lifestyle earns us opportunities to preach the gospel. 

Suffering in Service 
Verses 8-11

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 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 now shifts his attention to the call for the church to serve one another. In verse 8 he says to love one another, in verse 9, he says to be hospitable to one another, and in verse 10, he says to serve one another with the spiritual gifts.

Why am I calling this suffering when the text, again, does not explicitly call it suffering?

I’m calling this suffering because it does indeed involve suffering! We would never need to be called to love a people if that people were ultimately lovable. The church is full of redeemed sinners who still wrestle with their sin, who hurt one another, and who fail to be perfectly united in Christ. Peter feels the need to tell the church to be hospitable without complaint. This is a prepositional phrase that would not be necessary if there was nothing to complain about in our hospitality! And when Peter calls the church to serve one another with their gifts, he says that their gifts are tools of God’s manifold grace. Grace is not necessary where there is no sin. It takes a humbling of ourselves to serve others. It’s intrinsic in the nature of serving that we consider others more highly than ourselves. So I’m calling the service of the church suffering because it is indeed a type of suffering.

So why would we choose to suffer in our service? Why would we put up with all of the hardships that come along with suffering?

The second half of verse 11 answers this question for us. We serve “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Once again, the reason for our suffering involves something outside of us. Sure, the same way that the suffering of repentance works for our sanctification, the suffering of service in the church works for our building up, but ultimately, our service works for the glory of God. “They will know you by your love.” Our service to one another is a display of God’s glory, and we are willing to suffer in service because we understand that God’s glory is worth suffering for.

Let’s look back at the rich young ruler in Luke 18. When Jesus tells the man, “Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor,” he is displaying a certain value set that is seen both in the character of Christ throughout the gospels and in the call of the church in 1 Peter 4. Jesus is valuing the poor coming out of the poverty while simultaneously calling the rich man entering into poverty. In a more generic sense, Jesus values the idea of people coming out of suffering while simultaneously calling the church to enter into suffering for the sake of those who are already suffering.

There is a great C.S. Lewis quote from Virtue and Vice that says, “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.”

In other words, there ought to be a way in which we are lowered for the purpose of raising others. This is the heart of service through love and hospitality and our use of gifts, though I think the call of what we are seeing in 1 Peter 4 goes beyond that. Our service is meant to emulate Christ’s service, and Christ’s service certainly went far beyond material giving.

This same concept is seen in the heart of Paul that we see in Philippians 2. In verse 7, Paul says that Christ “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” And, because of the glory of Christ displayed in the world, Paul says in verse 17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” And, in verse 18, Paul offers the same call that we see from Peter in 1 Peter 4. Philippians 2:18, “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”

Our service is a pouring out of ourselves for others in the way that Christ emptied himself for us. 

Suffering in Persecution 
Verses 12-18

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? 

Finally, we come to what this chapter actually calls suffering, namely persecution for faith in Christ and obedience to Christ. It’s not likely that most of us will ever experience the type of persecution for faith that many who have gone before us have experienced. It’s not likely, in this country, that we’ll be killed or tortured for being a Christian. That has been a reality for a lot of Christians throughout church history, but it likely won’t be a reality for Christians who live and die in the United States.

Still, the words of Peter should bear weight on our lives. When he says, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you,” he is reminding us of a truth that has always and will always be true, that a Christian worldview is going to offend and chafe against a secular worldview. We should not be surprised when we find that our beliefs cause problems. The gospel demands a confrontation with sin. So whether it’s an MSNBC reporter calling conservative Christians kooks or an atheist looking for a fight, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are insulted or hated because of our Christianity.

If you’re not being persecuted by the world for your Christianity, it’s because you’re not displaying it for the world to see.

Not only does Peter tell us that persecution should be expected, he tells us that this persecution is for our testing. Our response to persecution reveals something about how we feel about our faith. Do we respond to persecution with reservations because we are ashamed of our beliefs? Peter shows us that we ought to respond to persecution with joy because “the Spirit of glory and of God” rests upon us.

Now, in verse 15, Peter brings up an exception to the type of suffering that Christians are called to endure. If you’re arrested for stealing diet pills from Kmart, that isn’t suffering for being a Christian – it’s suffering for being a sinner. The suffering that Christians are called to endure is a type of suffering that confronts the world with the holiness of God.

When the apostles are persecuted for their faith, being flogged for preaching the gospel, they respond, as we see in Acts 5:41, “rejoicing, that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for his name.” I can’t imagine actually being flogged for preaching the gospel, and I certainly can’t imagine coming away from the flogging with a spirit of rejoicing. But the reality is that, as we are persecuted in the name of Christ, we are putting the glory of God on display by showing that His name is worth suffering for.

In verses 17-18, Peter reminds us again that our suffering and our response to it point to the judgment of God as an underlying reality. All of the suffering we experience on this earth points to the judgment of God. Temporal suffering points to eternal suffering. It isn’t necessarily that there is a correlation between who is suffering temporally and who will suffer eternally. Rather, the suffering that occurs in this world is a result of the fallen nature of the world because of sin. And this suffering points to the reality of judgment – all sin will be judged. As believers, we trust that the wrath for our sin was placed on Christ on the cross.

Paul, in Romans 8, gives us an incredible example of how Christians see suffering in light of eternity. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Christians ought to be willing to go into dangerous places and risk disease and endure persecution because they understand that the worst of sufferings on this earth are not even worthy to be compared with their eternal treasure. 

The Result of Suffering 
Verse 19

19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. 

It makes no sense for a Christian to be willing to suffer unless there is an assurance of hope that the purpose of suffering is far greater than the cost of that suffering. When we suffer, we trust our souls to God, and we reveal the depth with which we believe Christ’s suffering was worth the cost.

A chapter earlier in our Bibles, in 1 Peter 3:15, Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you.”

It is in our suffering that our hope is revealed.

As we mortify our flesh in repentance, we reveal our hope that Christ is a greater treasure than any of our lusts. And as we pour ourselves out in service, we reveal our hope that we are more satisfied in Christ than we are in ourselves. And as we suffer in persecution, we reveal our hope that Christ’s glory in the world is more valuable than our own. All of these revelations of hope in our life are entirely counterintuitive to the nature of life apart from Christ, and they are intended to be tools by which our lives can be used to point to the gospel.

There are a lot of types of suffering that are not mentioned in 1 Peter 4, but I think even for the most random suffering, like an accidental injury, that we ought to think of it as it relates to eternity. All suffering pales in comparison to future suffering and is not worthy to be compared to our coming glory. So as we think about children with Malaria, girls in sexual slavery, and those who are in poverty, we are right to think that it is a good thing for them to come out of their suffering because, in their coming out of suffering, the hope of an eternity with no suffering is emulated in them. And when we experience similar types of suffering, we can endure those sufferings because we understand that same hope.
Peter calls Christians to be armed with the purpose of suffering in the flesh. We voluntarily enter into suffering as it relates to repentance and service, and we willingly endure the suffering that comes from the world as a result of our obedience to Christ. All of this suffering reveals the hope of the gospel in us and serves to glorify God in our lives.

May our suffering be a sweet fragrance to the world, that the world may know the beauty of our God.