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.
Parents, summer is coming soon and I encourage you to get your kids off the screens and into the imaginative world of reading. Maybe cut a deal with them, for every minute of screen time there has to be a minute of reading time. I say this to recommend the children’s books by the Christian author N.D. Wilson. He writes stories of adventure and danger and darkness because “… every single mortal child is growing into a life story in a world full of dangers and beauties. Every one will have struggles and ultimately, every one will face death and loss. The goal isn’t to steer kids into stories of darkness because those are the stories that grip readers. The goal is to put the darkness in its place. … In the end good wins. Always” (N.D. Wilson). A hundred years ago another great author put it this way: “Fairy tales (stories with scary beasts and dragons) are not responsible for producing in children fear, … fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The [child] has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon” (G. K. Chesteron). Books like that are honest and that’s what our kids need and what will prepare them for the world. Another honest book of course is the Bible. It is filled with violent and dark stories, stories of defeat and victory, death and resurrection. It has the dragons of suffering and sin and Satan. It tells it like it is. That’s certainly what Peter does dealing with fear and suffering and evil.
Last week on vacation our son, Reed, set us up on an open air jeep tour of the interior of Catalina Island. It was four hours over rugged terrain on winding dirt roads. There were steep sections, sometimes climbing to two thousand feet and dropping down to sea level. There were beautiful overlooks and scary narrow cliff hangers. And there were obstacles, like bison on the road. It was a pretty good snapshot of life. Life is a long journey over some pretty rugged terrain. There are flat, smooth stretches with glimpses of beauty and then there are ups and downs, twists and turns, bumps in the road, and unexpected obstacles. Sometimes they are manageable, sometimes overwhelming. Just ask any of our members dealing with cancer or death. Sometimes the challenges come from circumstances, health, finances, personal issues, and sometimes they are from other people. How do we deal with the challenges of life when they are other people, whether strangers, relatives, or even people in our church? Our text is very practical, it’s about how to relate to those around us, especially those with whom we have difficulties, even those who may be hostile toward us, or heaven forbid, toward whom we may feel hostile.
Two weeks ago I pushed the pause button on my sermon on I Peter 3:7 about living with your wives in an understanding way. This morning I am pushing the play button and resuming that sermon. But it might help to hit fast rewind and do a fast forward just to remember the highlights. You can also read or listen to that sermon on line at the church website.
Last week I said verse 11 was a shift in Peter’s letter from doctrine to practical application and that verses 11-12 were the generalization before the specifics. Now we come to specifics. In our war against the passions of the flesh that are out to kill our souls, what is the godly conduct that we should have in this world and among unbelievers so they might see it and glorify God? I Peter 2:13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. Those are strong words. Let me remind you of the context in which they were written. First, they were written by a man who on the night Jesus was betrayed took a sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant who had come to arrest Jesus. Not exactly submitting to authority. Decades later Peter is much older and wiser. Second, Peter wrote this letter during the time of the wicked reign of Nero who took particular delight in persecuting Christians and who was behind the martyrdom of Peter himself. Of all the Caesars, Nero was one of the worst, he killed his stepbrother, his mother and his wife. He demanded to be worshiped. These are not caviler words tossed out lightly, these are serious words for serious Christians in serious times, times like ours. If he said that then, how much more would it apply to us? How do Christians who are citizens of heaven and sojourners and exiles on this earth relate to governing authorities? How do we juggle this dual citizenship? What does the Bible say about how we are think about and behave toward those in places and positions of power or authority over us? What is our duty?
Beloved. Peter loves those he is writing to, this is a love letter, full of compassion, care and concern. But the one writing this letter through Peter loves also and His love extends not just to them but to us. This letter is one of countless expressions of God’s love for us. Have you ever had some one really important, really busy, really wise, turn aside to you and give you special time and attention and focus? Have you ever felt honored by such an action? This is that to you this morning. Beloved by God, sojourners and exiles in this world, once not a people but now a people, God is speaking to you, He cares more about you and your soul than you or anyone else. Listen to the very words of God to you this morning. They are His warm embrace. I John 3:1-2 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. … 2 Beloved, we are God's children now. As Peter writes, so I feel as I preach and teach and pray and minister here. I carry a deep burden for this flock and for your souls. You are loved by God and by your pastor. Beloved, I preach to you who are sojourners and exiles in this land.
I remember being in a communications class at Wheaton College and being told by the professor to pair up and he would guide us through a series of questions to ask each other. The first question was easy, “who are you?” The second question was a little harder, “Who are you?” We had to give a different answer. The next eight questions were all the same and with each one it got harder as we had to drill deeper and deeper into who we are. If you had to finish the sentence, “I am …” how would you finish it and if you had to finish it ten times what might you say? How do we define ourselves, how do we think of ourselves? Peter has shown us God’s salvation. Now he shows us how it defines us, what it says about us and how we should to live it out. Verse five is the key verse and the one that gives us an outline for unpacking this passage:
Last month I had the blessing of visiting with a newly wed couple. I delivered new Bibles to them from our church to replace their Bibles that were burned when their home burned down while they were away for their wedding and honeymoon. When we met with them they told us an amazing story. When the fire marshal finally let them into their home to look for anything salvageable they went in their bedroom and on the two night stands were the crumpled ashes of several books but their two Bibles were intact, singed around the edges, with smoke and water damage but intact, you could open them and read them. All the other books unrecognizable ashes. And get this, the fire marshal said he had seen the same thing many times before. What a picture of the imperishable Word of God. Peter sets before us the fact of imperishable seed which is the living and abiding Word of God which has been preached to you. Scripture reflects its author. Whatever you can say about God you can say about the Bible. Just as God is eternal and everlasting, so is His book. Just as God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so is His book. Just as God is true and trustworthy, so is His book. Just as God is holy, righteous and just, so is His book. Just as God is good, wise and discerning, so is His book. Just as God is unchangeable, so is His book.
What is your most treasured possession? If your house was on fire and everyone was out safely, what would be the one thing you would most want to get out? Many people say their pictures, especially those old ones that can’t be replaced, but besides pictures what one thing, some family heirloom, some irreplaceable treasure that has special meaning to you. What is more treasured or valued or precious to you than anything else? How many people would say the blood of Jesus is their most treasured possession? If you remember from last Sunday we moved into the meat of Peter’s letter that started with a therefore and then three imperatives, three calls to action which summarize the Christian life, live in hope, live in holiness and live in holy fear. This morning Peter builds on that foundation and gives another argument or reason for living in holiness out of a godly and good fear. Peter’s reason is based on our knowing what our most treasured possession is and why. Conduct yourselves with holy fear, because you know God has redeemed you out of a futile and sinful life at the great cost of His Son and by His precious blood.
I know you all know when you hear the word “therefore” in Scripture you are supposed to ask what it’s there for. Therefore means the verses before are ammunition for what’s coming; they are a foundation on which something is now going to build. Peter is going to make an appeal to us based on what he has already said. What has he said? We have been elected by the foreknowledge of God from before the foundations of the earth, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, sprinkled by the blood of Jesus, caused us to be born again to a living hope by the mercy of God, and to an inheritance and a salvation kept in heaven. Furthermore, this great salvation was prophesied by the prophets, predicted by the Holy Spirit and desired by the angels.