This morning we are turning to the final “sola” of the Reformation. Having considered the first four foundational “solas”of our lives as followers of Christ—Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone—we will now turn to the fifth and natural outcome of the first four, Soli Deo Gloria or to the glory of God alone:
If God, as he has revealed himself in his Son and Scripture, is the only true authority for understanding the meaning of our lives;
if he alone is worthy of our complete and utter faith and trust in his self-disclosure in his living, risen, and written Word;
if he alone is responsible for calling us to himself, despite our disobedience and even while we were yet sinners, by means of his grace alone that we might live according to his will and ways;
if he has done all of this by means of sacrificing his only Son, Jesus Christ, who is the only way we or anyone can know our heavenly Father by means of his now indwelling Holy Spirit;
then all that we do and all that we are should be done for him alone, by his strength alone, to his glory alone.
Our passage this morning from the fourth chapter of I Peter points to the profundity of these foundational truths of our faith. The context is one of believers who are suffering—who are being persecuted—as a direct result of being followers of Christ. This wasn’t necessarily a widespread persecution, as in the days of Nero, but was similar to the kinds of suffering all who seek to follow Christ may experience at some point in their lives.
Peter begins by reminding these believers that because “the end of all things is near,” they should “be alert and of sober mind so that [they] may pray.” The sense of “the end of all things” is a reference to God’s plan of creation and redemption. Because God has now come in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ, and lived, suffered, died, risen, ascended to heaven, and sent his Holy Spirit to indwell those who are his, those living at the time in which Peter is writing and all of us who follow are living in the “end times.” And though we may be certain that Christ will one day return to consummate, to complete, the kingdom he inaugurated when he, the one true King, came to earth, no one, not even the angels nor the Son of Man himself knows the day and hour of his return, only our Father in heaven does (Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32). But it can happen at any time because the end times have begun. And when Christ does return, he will restore the shalom, God’s peace, that was lost at the time of the Fall. He will restore all of life to the way it is supposed to be, the way he intended it to be from the beginning. But, as this week’s tragic events in Paris so vividly remind us yet again, things on earth are often a far cry from God’s kingdom in heaven. The level of evil that was acted out should make us all pine and cry out for Christ’s immediate return, “Come, Lord Jesus, come” that he might, once and for all, make all things right thus putting an end to all evil and suffering.
Peter is writing to Christian converts spread out through a number of regions—Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1:1)—who, as a result of coming to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, have been united with him and thus been made new creatures symbolized by the baptism all Christians share. They, like us, have died to their former godless ways and are now joined with Christ, living as he would have them live. In verse 2 earlier in the chapter, Peter reminds them that they are now living not for their evil human desires but for the will of God. And in verse 3 he specifies that they “have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Because these former pagans—or Gentiles—have left their old ways behind them and are living according to their new natures in Christ, they are being abused by those who haven’t turned to Christ who, we’re told in verse 4, “are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and” therefore they are “heap[ing] abuse on [them].” Peter calls these believers to be alert and sober-minded. They need to see this abuse for what it is. And Peter encourages them to turn to God first—to be clear-minded that they may pray. Because God is ever with his children, our first inclination should be to turn to him, our heavenly Father. We keep seeing this, don’t we? If the summary of the law and prophets is to love God first and foremost, then our first instinct should be to turn to him—to talk to him—to pray to him because he loves us and hears and is with us and is responsive to our prayers.
In verse 8 we also see the second half of the summary of the law and prophets, that of loving others, our neighbor, as ourselves: “8 Above all” Peter tells these believers “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Given that these recent converts may still be marked by their former pagan habits, their love for each other is no doubt imperfect because they’ve not yet been groomed and conditioned by the Gospel. They are still learning—as we all are—that to love others requires that we forgive them not once, not twice, but seventy times seven times (Mt. 18:22). Love covers not one sin but a multitude of sins.
And I don’t think Peter is telling these believers simply to feel love for one another but to act lovingly towards one another. And if even we, who have known Christ for a long time, ever wonder how we determine what a loving act is, we always have the golden rule taught by Jesus to fall back upon—“do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). In other words, however we would like others to treat us, is how we should treat them. In acting in a way that is loving, we are fulfilling both the first and second part of the law and the prophets. Because of Christ’s union with those who know him—because of our union with Christ—when we treat another believer with love, we are treating Christ with love; conversely, when we are being unloving towards another believer, we are treating Christ in an unloving manner. This is how intimate his association with us is. Remember Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25—to feed or give water to the hungry or thirsty, to care for the stranger, give clothes to the needy, to care for the sick or those in prison—is to care for Jesus. In Matthew 25:40, the King replies “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
In verse 9 of our passage Peter provides a practical and relevant example of loving others, that of “offer[ing] hospitality to one another without grumbling.” It may be that those who were being abused for their faith were put out of their homes. The inns available at this time weren’t always safe. So Peter is encouraging these believers to open up their very homes to those in need. Now if Jesus needed a place to stay, wouldn’t we be delighted to offer him our home? So, too, we should delight in serving others in God’s household. Not with grumbling, but without grumbling, Peter says. For, as we’re told elsewhere by Paul, God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor.9:7).
The broader principle Peter offers in making these admonitions is that of stewardship. As we’re told in verse 10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” So what is Peter talking about when he refers to “whatever gift you have received”? I think it’s easy to over-read or over-think this. I’ve seen and even taken seminars on “finding your spiritual gift” but though well-intentioned, I think that sometimes we make more of figuring our spiritual gift than we should. Sometimes we speak of these “spiritual gifts” as though they are completely divorced or different than our natural gifts or abilities. And the danger with this is that it can cause us to view our lives in an over-compartmentalized fashion, as if, for example, only those who have the “gift” of evangelism should share the gospel; or only those who have the “gift” of working with children, should be concerned with the raising of children. My point is that if we’re able to meet a need, we should do so even if we don’t think we have that particular gift, because God is a God of both nature and super–nature, to quote John Stott. So even our natural gifts can be a means of expressing God’s supernatural grace to others. In verse 11 Peter states, by way of example, “11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Peter is acknowledging that our gifts and abilities are an expression of God’s grace—of his goodness to us. And, as believers, we are to use all of our abilities for his service—which includes the service of those around us, those whom he has place in our lives.
In fact, one definition I found for “steward” is “a person whose responsibility it is to take care of something.” Well, brothers and sisters, ultimately the “something” we are most responsible for is God’s grace—the unmerited gift of salvation he has provided us by means of his Son, Jesus Christ, and his now indwelling Spirit. Because of God’s grace, we belong to him and are to live our lives for him. And to be stewards of this grace means that the primary responsibility you and I have been given is to love and care for each other—without grumbling—because love covers over a multitude of sins. So one meaning of living for the glory of God alone is that of doing all that we do for his sake—for his pleasure—in the way that he would have us live. If we speak, we should do so in a way that honors him; if we serve, we should do so in full recognition that we serve with the strength he provides. If we do what we do with him in mind and in reliance upon him—if we seek to imitate Jesus Christ as we see his life portrayed in the Gospels in communion with his heavenly Father in all things, then in all things in our lives God may be praised through Jesus Christ. And to him will be the glory and power for ever and ever.
Now if being “in Christ” means that as we treat others, so we treat Christ, we should be aware that being “in Christ” also means that since Jesus was not spared suffering in this life, neither will we. In fact, as believers we may very well be called to suffer for Christ. In verses 12–14, Peter admonishes, “12 Dear friends”—or I like the translation of “beloved” better—“do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” We need to keep the context of I Peter in mind here. As already mentioned, at least part of the suffering these believers are undergoing is due to their having left their pagan ways and, as a result, those who didn’t leave their pagan ways are “heaping abuse” upon them. Though we can’t be certain of the nature of this abuse, we do know that it has caused suffering in the lives of these believers and I think many of us may have experienced similar kinds of abuse in one way or another.
Last week in our adult ed class, we talked about how there may be times in our lives as Christians that, as a direct result of doing what is right, we may end up being looked down upon by others or being overlooked for a promotion or raise or being thought to be simpletons or overly scrupulous about the way we conduct our lives. After all, if “everybody else” is doing something in order to get ahead, why shouldn’t we? But as believers, we’re called to hold to what Christ, not our society, says is right.
As a positive example of this—and yes, I asked his permission to share it!—I remember Ron telling me that when he applied for a mortgage to purchase the house we now live in, he was asked if he had reported all of his earnings or if he also received some unreported money as a painter. The bank official was actually hoping it was the latter because granting him a mortgage was a tough sell. When he told her he in fact reported all of his earnings to the government, her countenance fell. It would have been so much easier to make his case if he hadn’t. This is just one small example of Christian values clashing with those of society but aren’t there many practices that our society winks at that we, as those who bear the name of Christ and are therefore called to be his ambassadors—his representatives—and light in this dark world, ought not to wink at? Waiters or waitresses underreporting tips so as not to have to pay taxes? Politicians making promises they have absolutely no intention of keeping for the sake of getting votes? Sexual activity outside of the context of marriage? Misrepresenting our qualifications on a resumé or job application? As even comedian Stephen Colbert has noted, anymore what passes for truth in society is truthiness, not truth. But we, as those who have been purchased by the precious life of Jesus Christ who is the truth, that we might live according to his will and ways, should be living according to his truth, as preserved for us in Scripture.
Peter’s point is that if we suffer as a result of seeking to live according to the mandates in Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised. To live rightly will expose those who are living wrongly. But not only should we not be surprised, but we should rejoice because when we suffer for seeking to live according to God’s will and ways, we can be sure that we are participating in Christ’s sufferings for Jesus always sought to please his heavenly Father and he, too, often suffered for doing so. Any suffering we undergo for the sake of Christ will not be in vain. And in Peter’s words in verse 13, we see a second sense of God’s glory—his presence. Peter says that when believers suffer for Christ—due to following the teachings of Christ—they should “rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
One day, Christ—who as we saw last week, is the way, the truth, and the life—will be proved right and all other claimants for truth will be proved wrong;
One day, loving God and others will be shown to be God’s way, and living for self-interest and self-gain will be shown to be wrong;
One day, all evil will be done away with; all darkness will be dispensed with; God’s kingdom will come; God’s will will be done on earth even as it is now done in heaven;
One day, all will see God’s glory—as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10–11—one day “at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” but only those who now know him will be overjoyed when his glory—his presence—is one day revealed. Others will then see the error of their ways—and tremble.
But in the meantime, Peter reminds these believers in verse 14 “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” Because of our union with Christ, we are indwelled by his Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness. So we are blessed because Christ’s glory—his presence by means of his Spirit—rests upon us. In Romans 8:26–27 Paul tells us that that there are times when “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” So we can be confident of God’s help and love and mercy as we seek to live for him, even if doing so results in suffering for his sake.
Now the flip side of suffering for Christ is suffering because of our own wrongdoing. Not all suffering a believer undergoes is due to following Christ. As Peter says in verse 15, “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.” Whether a big sin like murder, or a seemingly little sin like meddling, Christians should have no part in sin. Our new nature is Christ’s nature. We should seek to live holy lives even as he is holy. But if we suffer for succumbing to temptation, we shouldn’t blame him; but if we do succumb to temptation we can be confident that even then we can return to him and be assured of his love and forgiveness even as the prodigal son, after whittling away his inheritance, was joyously embraced when he returned to his father (Luke 15:11–32).
However, if we suffer as a Christian—verse 16—Peter says, there’s no shame in that. In fact not only should we not be ashamed but we should praise God that we bear his name. Now judgment—verse 17—begins with God’s household. We as a community or family of believers are God’s household. We are his temple and as his temple we are to be pure and holy even as Christ is. Because our judgment was placed upon him, we are now to live as he did, leaving behind our former ways and nature and putting on God’s ways and nature. The judgment of believers then is now judgment in the sense of purifying and cleansing. And the “hardness” of the righteous being saved—verse 18—highlights that holiness is hard work. We are righteous as a result of our union with Christ so that when God looks upon us he sees not how far we have yet to go, but how the blood of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, covers all of our sins past, all of our sins present, and all of our future sins. And if holiness is work for those who know Christ and belong to Christ and are indwelled by his Spirit, how can someone who doesn’t have the benefits of Christ live according to God’s will and ways? They can’t. So we should share the good news of Christ with all those around us.
But, verse 19, believers “who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” Brothers and sisters, this life isn’t the final answer.
We can trust in what God has disclosed to us in his Word—in Scripture alone;
we don’t need to worry that we can’t measure up to the standards given us in Scripture but are called rather to live by faith alone in Jesus Christ, who has lived up to God’s standards for our sake;
and we can have faith in the one who has called us not because of any good or merit in us but by his grace alone so we needn’t worry he will ever change his mind about us or leave or forsake us. He loves us because he loves us;
and we can cling to and believe in and follow Christ alone who alone is the way to the Father; who alone is ever the truth; who alone offers us his eternal life; who alone, by his life, death, resurrection, and return will one day bring God’s shalom—God’s peace—even here on earth and make things as they ought to be, as he intended them to be once and for all.
But, in the meantime, you and I as Christ’s ambassadors are called to live according to his will and ways. We are called to share his love. We are called to share his truth. We are called to bring his shalom to our little corner of the world. And if we do, even if we suffer, we can rest assured that our seemingly small lives and thoughts and deeds are not lived in vain but will one day bear witness to the goodness and glory of our loving and heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone.
Let us pray.