Monthly Archives: July 2018
Someone once asked C. S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”
Most of us want to avoid suffering at all costs. We long for a comfortable, risk free, ease filled life. And yet Scripture teaches that there are benefits to suffering. One of which is that suffering teaches us to withstand temptation. Suffering also teaches us to live for Christ in the present because God will judge sin in the future. These principles are found in 1 Peter 4:1-6.
The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers. So he chose three and asked them this question, “What are you doing?” The first replied, “I’m cutting stone for 10 shillings a day.” The second answered, “I’m putting in 10 hours a day on this job.” The third said, “I’m helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London’s greatest cathedrals.”
Change your mind about suffering (1). In 1 Peter 3:13-17, Peter explained that it is better to suffer to suffer for doing right than for doing wrong. In 3:18-22, he showed that Christ provided the ultimate example of one who suffered for being righteous. Now in 4:1, Peter says that we need to embrace suffering by following the example of Jesus. Like a soldier putting on his armor before a battle, so we are to change how we think about suffering. In the same way that Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:7-8), so suffering helps us break free from sin. A proper attitude towards suffering can act like armor protecting us from temptation.
Live for the will of God (2). Our culture tells us to live for ourselves. We even coined the word, “selfie,” to express the desire to be the star of our own show. In contrast, Peter says that God’s will should be the compass by which we navigate our lives.
Break completely from your old habits (3). Peter tells us that we have had more than enough time to live a lifestyle of sin. It’s time to break free and stop sinning.
A catalog of sin
|Unrestrained pleasure||Sexual sins||
Lust; evil desires
Habitual nature of sin
Carousing; drinking party that leads to sex
Idol worship; bringing the world into worship
Don’t be surprised when the world acts like the world (4). If you take a stand for Christ, you may get quizzical looks. Your old friends won’t understand why you don’t want to go bar hopping with them. They may even accuse you of being “too holy.”
No one will escape the final judgment (5). God will hold everyone accountable for their actions.
Because God will judge, the gospel must be preached (6). We need to be active in sharing the gospel with those who desperately need it. Those who believe the message will have a reason and a purpose for living.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 29, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Book Review: Auschwitz Lullaby: A Novel, by Mario Escobar
Auschwitz Lullaby is a well written, moving, sobering piece of historical fiction. Penned by Spanish author, Mario Escobar, the book was originally published in Spanish in 2015 and only recently translated into English. The book tells the story of the power of sacrifice and the strength of human dignity.
While historical fiction, the book is based on the true story of Helene Hannemann. She was a German, married to a Roma gypsy, with five children. When the Nazis rounded by the Gypsies in May 1943, she chose to sacrifice everything and stay with her children. The family was taken into custody and transported to the prison camp at Auschwitz Berkenau. A nurse by training, Helene was forced into service in the camp hospital which was overseen by the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele. Later, Dr. Mengele asked Helene to set up and run a nursery and kindergarten in the prison camp. Helene mustered all the courage she possessed to protect the children under her care. For well over a year, her efforts helped to provide a safe haven for the children of Auschwitz. In so doing, she shared human kindness, selflessness, and dignity in the midst of horrific conditions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
I can certainly identify with Darryl’s nightmare. Not only did our three children go to college out of state, they stayed there and/or moved even farther away, and then Carol and I moved as well. Now, our family is spread out around the world. Carol and I live in MA, Jonathan is in SoCal, Amanda & Phillip are in SoCal, and Caitlin & Andrew are in New Zealand. Family reunions take a bit more planning, work, and $$$.
The elders & wives of First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, meet monthly for dinner and Bible study. Over the past year, we’ve been working our way through the Minor Prophets. I recently asked if we could meet for an extended study on a Saturday morning to work through the biblical passages on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. We would then put our conclusions into writing in a position paper on the topic.
To prepare for the study, I gave our team a study packet. (Click on the link to download a copy of the study guide.) It included:
Key Scripture passages on marriage, divorce, & remarriage (3 translations & 2 paraphrases)
- Genesis 2:23-25
- Deuteronomy 24:1-4
- Malachi 2:16
- Luke 16:18
- Mark 10:1-12
- Matthew 5:31-32
- Matthew 19:1-12
- 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
- 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
- 1 Corinthians 7:39 (Romans 7:2)
- Bible Knowledge Commentary (popular level, provides a good overview)
- New American Commentary (more detailed and sometimes technical)
Taking personalities, biases, and culture out of the equation …
- What does Scripture say?
- While the commentaries should help us, they should not be a substitute for the Scripture passages.
- Focus on the Scripture, not what your favorite author says.
I’ve written the first draft of the position paper, but we have not yet discussed it. In case you are curious, here are the bullet points of our conclusions.
- Marriage is God’s plan; a spiritual dynamic; lifelong and permanent; challenging and takes work.
- Divorce is not commanded or required. In fact, it breaks God’s heart. Rather than divorce, we should encourage couples to pursue reconciliation.
- Divorce is allowed under two circumstances–adultery; desertion by an unbelieving spouse.
- Where divorce is allowed, remarriage is allowed.
- If the divorce is not for biblical reasons, the individuals should either reconcile or remain single.
Maybe this is why I struggle to do a self-evaluation performance review. I never feel like I do enough. I always feel like there is more I could/should be doing. Being a driven, responsible, doer can be both a strength and a weakness; a blessing and a curse. That and spending several months on the disabled list last year certainly didn’t help.
An experienced pastor was asked by a young seminarian how long it took him to prepare a sermon. He replied, “Thirty years plus as many hours as I can find in any given week.”
I concur, though in my case, it is “63 years plus as many hours as I can find in any given week.” It takes a lifetime to adequately prepare a sermon!
Some passages of Scripture are straightforward and easy to understand. Others are more difficult.
In our study of 1 Peter, we encounter both varieties. The commands in 1:16, “You shall be holy” and 2:11, “abstain from the passions of the flesh” may be difficult to practice, but are clear in their instructions.
1 Peter 3:18-22 is of the latter variety. These verses are a bit more confusing and challenging to understand. During the Reformation, Martin Luther commented, “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament. I still do not know for sure what the apostle meant.”
If we don’t handle this passage carefully, we can easily wind up with the heresy of universalism or salvation by works. If you misinterpret 3:19, “he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,” you could conclude that people have a second chance to believe after death. This would lead to universalism, the idea that everyone will eventually be saved. If you misinterpret 3:21, “Baptism … now saves you,” you can conclude that grace is not enough, that baptism is necessary for salvation. This results in the mistaken doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
When we study difficult passages of Scripture, we must remember the rules of interpretation. (1) Look for the main idea of the passage. If you spend all your time chasing cross references, you can lose the forest for the trees. (2) Study the circles of context. A verse is part of a paragraph which is part of the book which is written by an author. There should be a consistent use of a word throughout. (3) Seek the plain sense unless it doesn’t make sense. Interpret Scripture in a literal manner, taking into account figures of speech. (4) Seek agreement with orthodox theology. One verse or passage should not contradict another portion of theology. (5) Don’t build your theology on isolated and obscure passages of Scripture.
Putting these rules into practice, the main idea of 1 Peter 3:18-22 is … When you suffer for doing right, remember that Jesus died for you. Jesus’ death resulted in triumph over sin and the spirit world.
Christ died for our sins (18). Verse 18 provides the reason for Peter’s claim in verse 17 that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Peter provides an example of what he means.
Verse 18 is one of the shortest, simplest, and richest summaries of the meaning of the cross of Christ. In a short series of statements, Peter points out that Christ’s death is all that is necessary to provide for our salvation, the ultimate purpose of Christ’s death was to bring us to God, and that the resurrection secures and guarantees the results of Christ’s death.
Christ proclaimed victory over the spirit world (19-21). In these three verses, Peter gives two vivid illustrations to reassure us of Christ’s victory and our security. It reinforces what Peter said in the previous section (13-17) about not fearing persecution.
Illustration #1 speaks of the imprisonment and judgment of disobedient spirits or angels (19-20a). These verses raise several questions and some possible answers. Who are the spirits? (1) Unbelievers from Noah’s time; (2) Old Testament believers; (3) Fallen angels. When did Christ make his proclamation? (1) During the days of Noah—pre-incarnate Christ preaching through Noah; (2) Between his death and resurrection. What did he proclaim? (1) Salvation; (2) Victory
Looking at the various options, here are the three main views of this passage. (1) Many of the church fathers believed that between Christ’s death and resurrection, Jesus preached to the dead in Hades, the realm of the dead. (2) Many of the Reformers held to the view that Christ preached through Noah to the people in Noah’s day. (3) Most scholars today believe that before or (more likely) after his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed triumph over the fallen angels.
In Illustration #2, Peter talks about the salvation of Noah & his family. However, he is really talking about baptism. The phrase, “Baptism now saves you,” does not refer to salvation by works. Rather, it is an act of obedience that demonstrates an inner change.
As the resurrected and ascended Lord, everyone and everything is subject to Jesus (22). Christ has broken the power of evil. He now sits in an exalted position of royal authority and dignity alongside God the Father. Christ’s sovereign authority over all spiritual forces is an assurance to believers facing persecution.
Implications for Today (Adapted from 1 Peter: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, by Wayne Grudem. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p. 160-161):
- Noah and his family were a minority surrounded by hostile unbelievers; so are we (3:13-14; 4:4, 12-13).
- Noah lived a righteous life in the midst of a wicked world. Peter encourages us to live the same type of life (3:13-14, 16-17; 4:3-4).
- Noah witnessed boldly to those around him by believing God and building the ark. We are to live good lives and be prepared to answer the questions of unbelievers (3:14-17).
- Noah realized that judgment was soon to come upon the world. Peter reminds us that God’s judgment is certainly coming, perhaps soon (4:5, 7).
- At the time of Noah, God patiently waited for repentance from unbelievers before he brought judgment. God is still patient today.
- Noah was finally saved with only a few others. Though we may be few, we can have the confidence that we will be saved, for Christ has triumphed and has all things subject to him (3:22; 4:13, 19; 5:10).
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 22, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on 1 Peter. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Would that all my decisions were this easy.
My struggle is not between good and bad, safety or danger. My struggle is between good and gooder, good and great. My struggle is between what I could do and what I must do, between what I should allow others to do and what only I can do. Safety and danger, those are the easy decisions.