Not the most encouraging chapter in the Bible
2Peter 2: Their evil will boomerang on them.
If you’re looking for some comforting, uplifting, encouraging words from the Bible, I suggest you skip 2Peter Chapter 2! This is full blown “hell, fire, brimstone” preaching. Peter is writing to scattered believers who are under considerable pressure from outsiders who don’t understand their faith. Now, to top that off, there are so-called “teachers” traveling here and there pretending to be Christians but are actually hucksters trying to get out of gullible believers anything they can. Peter warns his readers about such people and then he lowers the boom on these unprincipled predators. He takes us back to some of the Old Testament stories of God’s judgment: Sodom and Gomorrah and the Great Flood. He describes the false teachers in the worst of terms: insolent, brutes, loudmouths who are headed for “a black hole in hell.” Peter’s words are so heated that you can practically warm your hands above the page! The thing that has him so riled up is that these predators are preying on God’s people. Peter is good and mad and, according to him, so is God. Apparently, God takes it personally when individuals take unfair advantage of his people. Directly stated, he’s not going to put up with it. On one hand, there’s an encouragement here for believers to be prudent in who they allow to influence them in spiritual matters. On the other hand, there’s a warning for any who try it. Even though Peter uses every description he can think of in describing what’s coming for such people I can’t help but come away thinking that the actual judgment of God will be even worse.
Take Away: Be careful who you allow to influence you in spiritual matters.
Retelling the old story
2Peter 1: This is the post to which I’ve been assigned—keeping you alert with frequent reminders.
In the early days of my ministry the so-called “special days” were especially challenging to me. Every year Easter and Christmas came around and I felt challenged to come up with some innovative way to preach sermons on them. I was especially challenged by “civil” calendar events like Mother’s Day and Independence Day. Ultimately, I arrived at a two sided solution. For Father’s Day and the like, I don’t preach on the day, but acknowledge and observe it early in the service. Then, having done that, we move on to a regular worship event. “Spiritual” calendar events, though, need to be highlighted. I was still left with the challenge of preaching a sermon that would help people better process the meaning of the day. Finally, the Lord seemed to have mercy on this struggling preacher. It dawned on me that spiritual events come around as reminders. I don’t need to “dress them up” with some impressive new approach. Instead, I need to go back to the basics and retell the story. From that point on, I prepared sermons for those days with a sense of freedom. As I read this passage from 2Peter today I see that he set the example for me and countless spiritual leaders through the centuries. He tells his readers that some things need to be said again and again and that, to some extent, if the leader is successful in keeping people reminded of basic spiritual truths that leader has been successful, fulfilling his or her God-given assignment.
Take Away: We never progress to the point that we don’t need to be reminded of foundational spiritual truths.
1Peter 5: I have a special concern for you church leaders.
A church is without a pastor and the search is on to fill that vacancy. The pulpit committee has a list of pastoral qualifications and they’re sifting through applicants. They want an experienced pastor who still has children at home. The new pastor needs to be a good preacher, but who’s also a people person who’ll get along well with the diverse congregation. It’s not a bad idea to have such a list but Peter’s qualifications for church leaders ought to be prominently in the mix. He urges pastors to see themselves as shepherds who are dedicated to caring for God’s flock. He expects them to be servants who aren’t always trying to figure out ways to get more money or leverage over the congregation. He wants them to be tender in spirit and be good examples for God’s people. It would be nice to have a pastor with the right mix of youth and maturity, who is studious in sermon preparation but is also a people person. Still, I can’t help but think Peter’s criteria trumps all the above. A church with such a pastor is blessed indeed.
Take Away: Ultimately the Lord’s list of pastoral qualifications is the one that makes the most sense.
Breaking the “me centered” way of life
1Peter 4: Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your
Peter’s target audience is Christians who are isolated and suffering for their faith. He doesn’t suggest to them that suffering in itself is good but he does tell them that their suffering for the right reason gives them reason to rejoice. If the same people who hate Jesus hate us because they see Jesus in our lives their poor treatment of us may be unwelcome but in it we can see a compliment. He also tells his readers that suffering tends to wean us from the idea that we’re always supposed to get our own way. As infants, we all start off there, caring not at all about the needs of those around us, but instead, totally focused on what we want and having it right now. To some extent we never outgrow that. Peter says that suffering (something no one wants) helps break that “me centered” way of life. This, in turn, sets the table for allowing the One who knows and loves us best to have his way in our lives. Again, the suffering isn’t a good thing, but the result can be a good one. My earnest desire is that I’ll learn these lessons early and well as the Lord uses the ups and downs of my life to benefit me and his kingdom.
The disposition of the believer
1Peter 3: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble.
The original readers of this letter are under pressure, suffering for their faith. Not only that but they’re in the first generation of Christianity. In this passage Peter describes the general disposition of a believer. Christians are to be agreeable, sympathetic people. We’re to be known for our compassion on others and our humility concerning ourselves. We’re not to advance the cause of Christianity by force and people aren’t to have to worry about watching their “P’s & Q’s” when they’re around us. Even non-Christians are to feel comfortable and it should go without saying that we’re to treat one another in kind, agreeable ways. Sad to say, some believers haven’t gotten this memo. They think that they’re doing God a favor by forcing their moral code down people’s throats. They think they’re being good soldiers in his army by creating lots of collateral damage on fellow believers with whom they have a few differences of opinion. The question I need to ask myself is how do I score on this “agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble” test? Peter, it seems, can almost hear people’s self-justification at this point, so he adds: “That goes for all of you, no exceptions.” He continues, “That’s your job, to bless.” Of course, my non-Christian friends are to know that I believe there’s a superior way for them to live. At the same time, they’re to conclude an encounter with me feeling that they’ve been blessed and not cursed.
Take Away: Do people think of time with us as a blessing or a curse?
Putting Jesus on display
1Peter 2: Treat everyone with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government.
Being a Christian in a non-Christian society has its challenges. Sometimes Christians are viewed with suspicion and other times with contempt. Peter says it’s up to us to correct the mistaken views of our faith. We do that, not by standing up for our rights or debating to prove our point or by withdrawing from society. Instead, we take our spiritual lives out to the streets and let our faith be seen by anyone who cares to look. We treat people well, granting them dignity no matter what their station in life. We treat one another well, refusing to sink to petty infighting over minor differences of opinion. We live as people who reverence God, unashamedly putting our high regard for the Lord on display. Finally, we conduct ourselves as good citizens, not using our citizenship of heaven as an excuse for neglecting our duties as citizens of the country in which we live. The result is that people who don’t know much about our religion will come to respect us. That, in turn, will open the door for us to have a real influence for Jesus. We don’t try to win people by beating them over their heads with our Bibles. Rather, we win them by putting the Jesus we serve on display in our lives every day and in every situation.
Take Away: People are drawn to lives that reflect the real Jesus.
Happy in Jesus
1Peter 1: You trust him, with laughter and singing.
Peter’s words are addressed to believers who are “scattered to the four winds.” These followers of Jesus don’t have it easy. They’re treated as outsiders and sometimes they suffer because of their faith. However, Peter’s writing to them isn’t heavy and grim. He doesn’t advise them to grit their teeth and hold on. Rather, he describes the victory that’s already theirs. He envisions their gatherings as joyful, celebrative events in which they sing and laugh, buoyed by the living presence of Jesus in their lives. The idea here isn’t that they pretend everything’s okay when it obviously isn’t. Instead, it’s that they see a bigger picture and weighing their current situation against “total salvation” they find that they’re the big winners. Beyond that, it’s more than just “pie in the sky” for them. Something has happened and is happening in their lives right now. These are people who just can’t get over how blessed they are. While it’s true that my life is quite easy, especially in comparison to that of these scattered Christians, I do share in their blessings. As I get together with my Christian friends, whether it’s in formal worship or relaxed fellowship, I hear lots of good singing and good natured laughter. That, my friend, is exactly as it should be.
Take Away: It’s good to remember that it’s a joy living in Jesus and that it’s fun being with his people.
The most powerful force on earth
James 5: The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
One righteous person praying is the most powerful force on earth. It’s true you know. Prayer is the most powerful and most underutilized force available to us. Righteous praying influences the God who’s already inclined to bless us. I think I believe this but tend to not act as though I believe it. Prayer’s more an “add on” to what matters to me. I sometimes do the best I can do and then toss in a prayer for good measure. In doing it that way I do it exactly backwards. What I need to learn to do is pray first and then add my efforts to it. James’ example of a powerful pray-er is Elijah. This righteous man prays for rain, and then, when he sees the first evidence that his prayer is being answered, takes action, preparing for that answer to come. His template, then, is: pray first, then, stop praying and start acting as though that prayer is being answered. I really do believe that Elijah is correct in this but all too often I don’t act like it.
Take Away: Pray first and then act.
Planning for tomorrow with an eye toward God
James 4: You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.
James challenges Christians in how they talk about the future. He advises us to not state with an attitude of certainty what will happen tomorrow. Instead, we’re to be humble about it, saying things like, “If it’s the Lord’s will we’ll do this or that tomorrow.” Now, he’s not giving us some formula to say as much as he’s describing an attitude we’re to have. He’s opposed to Christians living self-willed, God-ignoring lives in which we imagine ourselves to be self-sufficient and operating independent of the Lord. He’s not against my making plans and having dreams. At the same time, he’s in favor of my planning and dreaming with an eye toward God. The Lord, himself is a planner, operating on a scale far beyond my comprehension. As an individual created in his image I too plan, thinking about a desirable future and working now to bring it to pass. However, unlike my Heavenly Father, my view is limited and because of that, my expectations are flawed. I remember that I’m to pray for my “daily bread” trusting the Lord to supply the need of the day. To plan for the future while ignoring God isn’t only foolish. According to James it “is evil.”
Take Away: Ultimately, my future – my life – is in God’s hands and not my own.
Taming the tongue
James 3: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue.
A person can live a good life, honest and sensible, committed to doing good things and yet still have a tendency to say things that aren’t very Christian. One problem is that we see sins of speech as less serious than sins of action. People who would never dream of robbing anyone of anything will thoughtlessly gossip about another, thereby robbing them of their reputation. Sins of words are slippery, hard to pin down. A person might say something that’s absolutely innocent. The listener, though, misunderstands the meaning, hearing something that isn’t there at all. Another person might say the same thing but intend it to be hurtful in some way. In one case it’s just a misunderstanding. In the other case it’s sin. James emphasizes the fact that no one can win the battle of the tongue. Try as I might, in and of myself, my words will betray, humiliate, and condemn me. On the surface, it appears James leaves us in this sorry state of affairs. However, a different picture is painted as I read these words in the context of the passage. James says, “My friends this can’t go on.” A few paragraphs later he describes the Christian community as a place where people are treated “with dignity and honor.” On one hand, I can’t control my tongue (or my thoughts, or, sometimes, my actions). The only hope I have is to surrender my tongue to the Lord. As I give it, and my whole self, to him, making him Lord of my life, he goes to work transforming me into the person he wants me to be. It’s a more than one time surrender. In fact, I may have to bring my tongue back to the Lord on a regular basis. As I do that, he takes control doing for me what I can’t do for myself.
Take Away: “I surrender all” is a song that needs to be sung repeatedly.