I have made reference in the past weeks to something called sphere sovereignty. The three spheres of authority are the family, the church and the state. We have already talked about this at the national and state level. This morning let us consider another sphere of sovereignty called the church over which God has placed elders
Today is the 20th Sunday of 2020. This is our 10th Sunday out of our sanctuaries, the same number we were in at the beginning of the year. There is an ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.” Well, we undeniably are living in interesting times and they are definitely starting to feel like a curse. The novelty has certainly worn off this so-called novel coronavirus. You can hear the increasing annoyance and frustration, people chafing under the restraints. We see it on the news with protests and rallies and lawsuits and people defying orders. We are all wanting to resume corporate worship and wondering when that can happen. In the light of this growing angst toward those in authority I want to reflect with you this morning what Scripture has to say about government authority. It is not my intention to whack the beehive, but to give us some clarity and guidance as we seek to manage our thoughts, actions and emotions in these interesting times. Our text this morning is one of the two principle passages in NT on this topic, the other one being Romans 13. I commend both of these to you for your continued study, reflection and prayer.
This past week was the Republican National Convention. Some of you watched and listened to some of the numerous speeches. Donald Trump wrapped it all up in his hour long acceptance speech on Thursday evening. A number of analysts felt the tone was dark and pessimistic perhaps summed up with the words, “things are worse than ever and I’m going to make things better than ever.” He capitalized on the headlines of just the past month or so which are making Americans feel anxious, vulnerable, and powerless. Things really do seem to be spiraling out of control and worse than ever, there do seem to be forces out there over which we have no control. There is so much in the news about terrorism, racial tensions, senseless shootings, military coups, deadly viruses and on and on. It seems like we don’t even have time to finish grieving one tragedy and the next one is on us. On Thursday night Donald Trump offered a remedy. He promised to solve all our problems and make America safe and strong and prosperous again. Our text in I Peter is a timely challenge to what Donald Trump implied in his speech, that things are getting worse and that he is going to save us.
There is a war on out there. In fact it’s all around us. I saw a warrior on the sidewalk in front of our house last week. I saw some more on the big pier in White Rock Friday night. I hear church parking lots are especially popular places for this battle. The war I am referring to is Pokémon Go. Millions of people are playing, running all over the place using their smartphones to track down all the Pokémon characters they can catch. A lot of people think Pokémon characters are lot more real than any war with demons out there. And those demons aren’t waiting to be captured; they are out seeking us.
The chapter and verse divisions in the Bible are not inspired by the Holy Spirit. They were added many centuries later by men. The chapters were added by Stephen Langton in 1227. The verses were added by a man named Robert Stephanus in 1551. Paragraph divisions are even more recent and those can vary from translation to translation. Some of the breaks are rather arbitrary and unfortunate. And some of them if followed too strictly can lead to misinterpretations, which is why when you study your Bible you need to always look at the context before and after and sometimes ignore the chapter and verse numbers. Our text is an example. The second half of verse five should be a new verse and a new paragraph, it is a new thought. Peter is changing subjects here from pride and humility with regard to leaders, to pride and humility among all of us. Pride. Someone has said everyone has within them the soul of a king, that is the desire to be first, to rule or lord over others. This desire must be subdued. Pride is a disease that we must always be treating knowing that it is never cured in this life. We all have it and we all struggle with it and just when we think we have wrestled it to the ground it rears its ugly head yet again. Of all our sins pride might be the most resistant to treatment. It is resistant, first, because it’s often hidden, it’s not necessarily a public sin like anger or impatience. It is also tough to fight because the proud don’t see their pride. And if someone points it out, there will be a strong protest. “I’m not proud, I haven’t done anything wrong, and who are you to say? Why are you being so critical?” We have very strong defense mechanism to protect ourselves, our honor, our respect, our identity. It is human nature to be proud, to be the center of our universe, independent and self-reliant. It was the first sin, Satan started it. It was Adam’s first sin. The world we live in and the air we breathe in this culture is hostile to humility. To deal with this engrained besetting sin Peter gives three commands with three reasons, each reason being a divine word of encouragement.
Our congregation here at First CRC is made up of a pretty diverse group of people, but the majority of us are in three generational groups. Many here are part of what has been coined the “Greatest Generation,” those who were born during or grew up through the great depression and the second world war. They experienced times of suffering, sacrifice and doing without. They knew about rationing, working hard for a greater good, sacrificing for the sake of family and church. They weren’t seeking fame or fortune, but strove to do what was right and best. Then we have a bunch of baby boomers born after WWII between 1946 and 1964. They didn’t suffer the way their parents did, they had a much better life, more privileges and advantages, more money, more financial success. They started throwing off their parent’s more traditional values. The third group we have here are the Millennials or Generation Y. Millennials were born after 1980 and were becoming adults after the turn of the millennium. They are the first digital technology generation. They are even better off than their baby boomers parents and so have a stronger sense of entitlement. They are known to change jobs more frequently and have high expectations of a job that is fulfilling, rewarding, empowering, in other words a job that isn’t like work. They don’t get their grandparents at all who stayed in the same job for 45 years doing the same thing. They gave us Facebook and the like button. They like to like things and they like to be liked. They are positive bunch that doesn’t like negativity at school or work or home or church. I know I have made a lot of generalizations and have left out a lot and have painted with a large brush. I did this just to give a bit of background to why in this day and age in this country we generally have a hard time with suffering or pain or hardship.
I am sure you have seen them. Those cartoons of a guy in a robe standing on a street corner holding a sign, “The end is near.” Or “The end is at hand.” I have never actually seen anyone carrying such a sign. And if we ever did I suspect we would laugh or at least smile that kind of smile that says we pity the poor diluted soul. No one would believe him. But it is true. The sands of our time run out quickly. How near is the end of time for each of us? Why do Peter and so many NT writers refer to the end as near? Here we are two thousand years later and that doesn’t sound very near by our way of keeping time. Did Peter make a wrong prediction or did Peter know something we don’t? In terms of human history two thousand years has been a long time. A lot of kings and kingdoms have come and gone in that time. But that’s where we are off. Peter and the NT authors aren’t thinking of human history. They are thinking of God’s history, of redemptive history. In God’s eternal perspective there has been the creation, the fall, the covenant with Abraham, Moses’ exodus out of Egypt, the nation of Israel in the Promised Land, the exile to Babylon and the return, Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church. There is only one event left in redemptive history, the return of Christ at the end of time, and it could happen at any time. Everything is ready. Spiritually, redemptively the end is very near in the grand scheme of things. There is nothing else for us to expect or look forward to, except the coming of Christ. We really are literally living in the last days. Peter’s statement reflects the radically different way he views the world and time. Christians who have his perspective and understanding of time, who realize Christ’s return is eminent will live and act different than those who don’t give it any thought. “The end of all things is at hand, therefore …” Last week Peter said how not to live, don’t live like the Gentiles do. Gentiles live as if there is no tomorrow, as if there is no moral authority in the universe, as if there is no soon coming king to whom they must give an account. So how ought we to live? They give themselves to drunkenness, Peter calls us to sober-mindedness. They give themselves to lawless activity, Peter calls us to earnest love. They give themselves to orgies, Peter calls us to show hospitality. They give themselves to maligning others, Peter calls us to serve one another. Jesus Christ and his imminent return changes everything or it ought.
Introduction. Time. What is the value of time? What do you think of time? To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed the train. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who just avoided an accident. To realize the value of one millisecond, ask a person who won a silver medal in the Olympics. Churches have very different perspectives and values on time. I once preached at Apache Reformed Church in Apache, OK about an hour south of OKC. They informed me of a thing called Indian time but I wasn’t prepared for how different it was. At 11 there were just a few people there and no pianist. At 11:10 a few more and still no pianist. At 11:15 the elders told me to go ahead, just as I was announcing the opening hymn the pianist walked in and so we waited until she was ready. We think that everyone being in their pew before 10:30 is normal and right, but not every church is like this. Different cultures have completely different views of time. You graduates have just completed a major chapter in your life. If you live to 72 you are already a quarter of the way through your life. What are you going to do with the rest before the sands of your time run out? How much time do we have left on earth? What remains of our allotted span of days? How do you want to use the days that remain for you? Does the reality of eternity have any impact on how you think about your days and the years that remain? How will we live the rest of our days in the flesh? That’s the question Peter asks.
One of the benefits of preaching through books of the Bible is that we are fed the whole counsel of God’s Word and not just a pastors pet passages or topics. Also it means that we will hear sermons on hard texts, like this one which is considered one of most difficult in the NT. It’s a hard text for two reasons. First, it’s hard because there are some hard to understand phrases in it. Second, it’s hard because it’s about suffering for righteousness sake and that’s hard for many of us white, upper middle class, Americans to relate to. Christians in America represent a very small percentage of Christians in the world, less than 1%. American history is a very small percentage of world history, less than 5%. So American Christianity is a very tiny picture of Christianity. Because this is all we know we tend to think this is how it is everywhere. That bubble has been burst a bit by the images of ISIS killing Christians and waves of Christians fleeing their countries. For most Christians in the world today they know what it means to suffer. For most of history Christians have known what it means to suffer for their faith. For most Christians in most of the world through most of history being a Christian was not safe. I remember well preaching in Albania and feeling very much out of my depth. What business did I an affluent white American have preaching to poor Eastern Europeans just coming out of 50 years of severe atheistic Communist tyranny, every Christian living under the threat of death? So how do I preach this text to you in a way that is both faithful to the passage and relevant? Where are the connection points for us? It’s a hard text. Maybe we could try to put ourselves in the wooden shoes of our Dutch forefathers who came to this part of Washington and labored long and hard to clear the forests and give us this fruitful and abundant crop land. But that wasn’t suffering for their faith. Maybe we could try to put ourselves in the boots of those who laid down their lives for us so we could enjoy all this freedom and prosperity we have today. Lots of people suffered and died for our sake. But that wasn’t suffering for their faith. Maybe we could try to put ourselves in the bare feet of those fleeing for their very lives all across the world today because of their faith, many of them dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists. But all of that is so distant and remote, a faint thought. Oh, once in a while we feel a little sting from what some people in Bellingham say about Lynden. Maybe a bit from those who differ with us on some moral or political or social issue. A few of you are in families where there is someone who opposes you and your faith outwardly, vocally. For others it’s peer pressure.
Because of the occasion today I am skipping ahead to I Peter 5 and his exhortation of elders. The text has application to all leaders, pastors, elders, deacons, spiritual leaders, community leaders, teachers, parents, employers, all who have some position of leadership or authority. So don’t tune out just because you are not an elder. If you are a person with some spiritual oversight or influence in someone else’s life then there is application here for you. Also don’t tune out because we are all under the spiritual leadership of our elders and that has implications for all of us, and certainly for how we respond to our leaders and pray for them.