First look at yourself before you judge others.

Sunday 27th September 2020

I was reading Psalm 36 earlier in the week and as I read it I thought about people that this Psalm could apply to, as well as the organisations that are forcing their false ideologies on to us all in the name of freedom! 

But then something happened…. God spoke to me clearly…. Before I can apply this to others I first have to look at myself.  God also gently reminded me of Jesus’ teaching on judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). I need to take the plank out of my own eye before looking “at the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye”

The OT prophet Jeremiah made this observation:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As I prayed about Psalm 36 I sensed that God is calling us to use this Psalm to look at ourselves. So let’s spend a few minutes doing just that, because this Psalm is not just addressing unbelievers. 

The opening section of Psalm 36 helps us to understand the universal condition of sin with a blunt description of the wickedness that resides in the hearts of all peoples. 

The Bible teaches us that left to ourselves, we would gravitate away from the Lord and toward an arrogant and destructive sense of ambivalence toward spiritual truth, which leads to self-deceit, evil and, ultimately, the wilful rejection of all that is good (Psalm 36:1–4).

We all have a bad part. Saint Paul called this bad part “the old man” in us, and it makes the Christian life difficult for us. (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; and Colossians 3:9-11) There’s a song by the Christian singer-song writer Amy Grant called Shadows.  It’s about how there are two of us, one does the right thing the other does wrong so we have to keep a watch on our shadows.

This illustrates how we all live in a tension, because just as God can speak into our heart His words of goodness, hope and love, so the enemy, the devil, can speak into our heart the opposite.  Remember how Satan attacked Adam and Eve?  He spoke into their heart and convinced them that God would not be angry with them if they acted in disobedience to His command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  When we allow the enemy to speak into our hearts we are in great danger of losing any sense that terror of the Lord will come upon us because of our evil deeds.  That’s what happened to Adam and Eve, they lost any sense of the terror of the Lord coming upon them.  That’s what wickedness does, we lose any sense of anticipation that God’s judgement will come upon us because we allow our own voice to delude and flatter us.

When we allow the enemy space to speak into our heart, our words reflect our old flawed character, we thus show wickedness and deceit and we cease to be wise.

But our hope is this: the way of wisdom is constantly encouraged throughout Scripture. So by knowing Scripture we can be shaped by the story of God, the story of His great rescue plan.  We can be shaped by His ways, His character, and His mind. Therefore, wisdom comes from being transformed by the presence of God, through His Son Jesus Christ, and then living life in all of its complexity.

This Psalm, therefore, clearly teaches that sin deceives, and confuses our minds to the extent that we speak in a way that flatters ourselves beyond reality and makes us believe that we will never be caught. So when you read this Psalm do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart?

But God is Good as we read in v5-9.

The Psalmist tells us to look at our world. We can see clouds in the sky. We can see mountains and seas. God has put these there to help us remember what He is like. When we see the sky, we must remember His kind love. When we see the clouds in the sky we must remember His truth. So the clouds and the sky tells us that God will do what He promised. In other words, God will always be faithful.

When we see a mountain we must remember that God is good. But He is more than good, He is righteous because He can only do what is right, never what is wrong. And when we look at the sea we must remember the justice of God because in the end what is right and fair will happen, not what is wrong and not fair.

The New Testament teaches us that the way of righteousness is to take the Father at His word and believe that His Son is the only way of salvation. As we trust this promise of God as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ, we become righteous and are welcomed into God’s covenant of righteousness.

So when the Bible refers to the righteousness of God, it’s not saying that God is morally good. That has to be taken for granted, because He’s the standard of all goodness and morality. Rather, the righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness in keeping His word.

I love the second part of verse 9: “In your light we will see light”.

You see, Jesus is the Light of the World, so in God’s light, His Son, we see what is right and just in His world.  Then we are able to live lives of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.  Without God’s light we will live lives described in v1-4.

That’s why the Psalmist prayed that God would give His kind love and goodness to the people that know Him, as well as to help us remember how to see God in the world around us.  God is a God of protection; we do find refuge in the shadow of His wing.  Remember how God protected His people in the wilderness with the pillar of cloud and fire.  The Psalmist also prayed that bad people would not stop God doing this, protecting His people (v10-12). 

We too must pray as the Psalmist prayed – that sinful humanity will not stop God working in His world.  We are to see “the evildoers lie fallen, thrown down, not able to rise “. As we offer such prayers we are to know that God will decide when this will happen.

The good news is this: it’s as if the Psalmist can see God’s triumph over our enemies.  Because of events 2000 years ago God has started to answer this prayer: Jesus, who is the very image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15), definitively answered the psalmist’s request on behalf of all people by giving His life as a “ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) to save us from our sins so that all who confess their sins and believe “might live through Him” (1 John 4:9) and receive His gift of eternal life, (John 4:14). 

Praise be to the Lord’s name as we experience in greater depths the glorious power of His loyal priceless covenant of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice, knowing in our “knower” that we find a holy and supernatural refuge in and over our lives.

Digging into God’s Word
  1. When you read Psalm 36 do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart? How does that make you feel?
  2. Psalm 36 describes a way that evil takes a grip on people. Can you give examples of this from your experience?
  3. What does this Psalm teach you about the person of God?
  4. Do you see Jesus within this Psalm? Where?
  5. How are the wicked described in this psalm?
  6. What happens to the wicked according to this psalm?
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
  1. What are the two contrasts laid out in the psalm? As you hear the contrast between the wicked and the righteous, where do you stand?
  2. How are we confronted by wickedness in the 21st century?
  3. How are the godly described in verses 7 to 9?
  4. Which of the many pictures of God in this Psalm are the most important to you? Can you explain any reasons why this is so?

Be Still and Know that I am God – Going Deeper

20th September 2020

Last week Barbara and I attended a zoom Jesus Ministry Pastor’s Day and this verse from Psalm 46 was discussed;

Be still, and know that I am God.

And it got me thinking…. how do we discover how to be still and know that God is God? 

This can be hard when we look at the news headlines, about how nations rage against nations, about mental strife, the strain on marriages, strain on children, racial tensions and pandemics.  Storm clouds are looming.

I suspect we have trouble living it because we are rarely still, we rarely sleep without tossing and turning, our heads are on the fast spin cycle, and we hardly ever live sold out that God is God and we are not.

Well, then, what are we to do? How can we cease our striving and “be still”? How are we to accomplish such peace and trust?

The clues are back in verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 46.

Verse 8 tells us to “Come and see what the Lord has done,” and it is fascinating to consider what those works might have been. Psalm 46 was likely written after the defeat of one of Judah’s enemies, probably a time when God clearly did the defeating–for example, when an angel of God destroyed the Assyrians in their camp (as we read in 2 Chronicles 32:20-21). So verse 8 is a personal invitation to the people of Jerusalem to come look at the destruction of their enemies and witness God’s complete deliverance: He saved His people once again. It isn’t until verse 10 that God Himself tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Therefore, part of being still, or cease striving, is to “Come and see what the Lord has done.” When we notice His work and deliverance, this helps to assure us that we can be still and know that He is God.

I’m going to look at 4 ways we can Be Still and Know that God is God, but these are not the only ways!

First – Consider the Nations . . . and Turn Off the News

This psalm shows us that throughout time, people have been concerned about world events. Although the world situation as it comes to us through 24-hour news seems negative and out of control, this psalm reminds us that God is in charge of it all. In the midst of all of the turmoil, God is with us and will deliver His people.

Is there something you’ve noticed in world affairs in the past or at the current time that shows that God is in control–that He is with us?

Perhaps you have read the stories of Jesus appearing to people in many parts of the world in dreams and visions, and how their lives have been dramatically changed like Paul’s was on the road to Damascus, and this despite the persecution many face for turning to Christ.

Remember when the Berlin Wall came down? God proved the impossible possible.

Have you considered the consequences had the Allies not won World War II?

Yes, conflicts still rage and injustice requires voice and action, but when we get anxious, it is helpful to remind ourselves what God has done.

As part of this strategy, perhaps we could “fast” from social media, such as Facebook, twitter, Instagram (maybe you could delete them from your phones!).  As well as doing that let’s fast from the news. After all, it is man-made, because instead of helping us to consider the works of the Lord, it causes us to be anxious about temporary problems and angry at people who disagree with us. This is not from God!

Instead take captive the thoughts of God and think on more honourable and noble things as Philippians 4:8 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

So, the first way, make time to remind yourself what God has done for the nations, and focus on the Good News, not the fast spin cycle of the 24-hour news.

Second – look outdoors

One of my favourite ways to see what the Lord has done – which, in turn, helps me to be still and know that He is God – is to look around while I am outdoors. You can notice the colours of the sky in the early morning, midday, and sunset. Try to count the shades of green in the trees around you. Ponder the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly and all that the process involves. Take in the fresh air, supplied with perfect amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water.

Treasure words such as these written in Scripture, which are there for our nourishment and hope….

The heavens declare the glory of God;

  the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)

3 For the Lord is the great God,

    the great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,

    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

    and his hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:3-5 NIV)

Third – Look at others

A third strategy is to look at the people around you and to consider how God has worked in the lives of your friends and loved ones. Has He healed a broken heart, turned a wayward soul, or changed a countenance, both in terms of you being able to see that they look different because they have experienced something of God, and in terms of them accepting that God is real and that He loves them?

These are wondrous works of the Lord. Behold them, and be still: let yourself be in awe of what God has done.

Fourth – Look at yourself

What works has God done inside of you? How has He delivered you? What peace has He brought to you?

These are some of God’s most phenomenal works, works to behold, works that help us to be still and know that He is God. So are you seeking to “Be still, and know that I am God”?

Each day we are to take time to consider the works of God in our own life; how He has redeemed us and called us by name. Has He changed our heart or our attitude? Has He lifted our chin to see His face more clearly? Has He helped us to forgive ourselves or others?

Are you seeing the works of the Lord, especially the deliverance He has accomplished for nations, for your friends and relatives, and for yourself? Are you noticing His handiwork in creation? Are you resting easy in the truth that He’s in control?

God is calling us to rise up in our spirit and to see things from the heavenly perspective.  We are to live out of our risen self, because as resurrection people we are alive in Christ and so can be still and know that God is God.

Digging into God’s Word: Be Still and Know that I am God

  1. Psalm 46 is both a challenging and comforting psalm! Read verses 8 to 11 again, but slowly, noticing the sureness of God, His control over the nations (a good reminder for these times), and the deliverance of His people.
  2. Of the ways spoken about in finding God’s stillness and peace which ones will you use to see the works of the Lord?

Digging a BIT Deeper: Be Still and Know that I am God

Take time to be quiet with the Lord, either now or throughout the week. If you like, you can journal about these questions and sing with the songs linked below.

  1. In what area of life do you need God’s peace today?  Over what do you need to cease striving?
  2. Practice beholding the works of the Lord. Choose one of these areas and journal about it reflecting on what you can learn from God’s faithfulness and deliverance?

Idea 1: Consider the nations . . . and turn off the news.

Idea 2: Look outdoors.

Idea 3: Look at the people around you.

Idea 4: Look inside yourself.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).  Where in your life have you agreed with the enemy’s schemes, thus allowing him to steal your stillness?  Confess them and rebuke the enemy’s schemes.  Then replace them with God’s peace and stillness.

God’s Word is meant for us to apply to our own lives. How does verse 11 of Psalm 46 help you today?

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Let these songs minister to your soul as you sing along or listen to them:

Be Still and Know (Hillsong)

I Lift My Hands (Let Faith Arise, Chris Tomlin)

One Thing Remains (Jesus Culture)           

Find them on YouTube.

A Prayer…

Be still and know…that God is near. (Ps 46:1-3)

Be still and know…that God is reliable. (Ps 46:4-7)

Be still and know…that God is in control. (Ps 46:8-9)

Be still and know…that God is to be worshipped. (Ps 46:10-11)

Be still and know…that God is.

God, Creator of time, we hurry from task to task, from crisis to crisis, carrying the weight of the world. Or in this current season, we let time pass without meaning. But the world is yours, and everything in it. Let us lay down both what keeps us too busy to be still and stillness that is void before you so that we may lift our eyes to your glory. Lord, we come into your presence. Make us still in you.  Amen

God’s harvest

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

I love seeing combine harvesters at work I stop and watch… I find it such an idyllic sight!  Despite living in the countryside I am often disappointed at not seeing that many fields in the process of being harvested.  One day a field looks white for harvest, the next it is all cut and baled.  How did I miss it… again?  As always, farmers don’t hang around.  All has to be gathered before the weather turns against them.  For the last few years I have endeavoured to spend a day with a local farmer during harvest.  Graciously he has welcomed me aboard his combine.  I’m like a boy with a new toy!

But what is the season of harvest all about?  Well, it’s a season of hope.  Seeds planted the previous year, or earlier in the year, are bearing their fruit.  It is a time to gather in the fruit of the labour spent preparing the land, planting the seed and caring for the first sights of tender shoots.

As Christians, we are to know that God IS the Gardener supreme, and He is looking for a spiritual harvest from us!  That is what Jesus is talking about in our reading from Matthew.  This type of harvest does not depend on a particular time for harvest.  We are the fields, and our prayers and lives are the seed.  So we can plant seeds of faith, eternal hope, love, joy and peace in and out of every season. 

As we plant such seeds we can gather in the lost, bring back a wandering soul, for it doesn’t have to be a fixed harvest time, because God controls His spiritual harvest.  So a harvest for Jesus is available anytime because to God it’s always harvest time.

God, as Gardener supreme, has placed us at the centre of the world He created.  He has fed us, and equipped us with what we need to survive physically.  Having provided for us physically, He looks to a different harvest from us.  A fruitfulness of lives, in service to Him and others.

For us to live fruitful lives in service to Him we need to let the God of harvest, feed us, prune us, harvest us so that our lives bring glory to Him.  You see, God doesn’t have to plant, water, and wait for a harvest.  Yet, He chooses to be the Gardener supreme – with us as His fields and our prayers as seeds.

This is a picture of us co-labouring with God to bring Him glory – what an honour (1 Corinthians 3:9) to work with Him.  As we co-labour with God He encourages and urges us, to plant our faith firmly in His Holy Living Word and in His supernatural power.  As we do this He bottles up every tear of fear and disappointment (Psalm 56:8-11) to water the harvest of His glory.

This leads us to become His fruit, a fruit ripe with testimonies that feeds the faith of others to know that they, too, can and will overcome all the evil schemes of the enemy (Revelation 12:11) and fulfil God’s plans by reaping His harvest.

Here’s what we know about God: He is a finisher.  When He begins the good work of planting you, He is faithful to bring you, His field, to a flourishing finish!  Because God plants with the FULL expectation of a vibrant, glorious bloom.

Be encouraged today. Don’t give up before you see the fruit of your prayer labour.  Right now, you may be sowing seeds of tears and prayers with no sign of a bloom in sight.  Trust that the Gardener supreme sees your tears, that He hears your cry, and has every intention to bring your purposed bloom to fruition for His glory.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Based on a sermon first delivered on 13th September 2020

Church discipline

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Who understands verse 19 of our Gospel passage to mean that if you and someone else agree about something here on earth it will be done for you by God?  For a long time, I thought that if I asked for something of God and someone else agreed with me then it would be done for me by my Father in heaven.

As I have journeyed with Christ over many years I have grown to understand that God doesn’t quite work like this!  I can’t give Him a shopping list of wants or desires, even if I have found someone who agrees they are good for me, or good for others. 

Actually such an understanding of verse 19 is completely wrong.  This verse can so easily be taken out of context, because it is tied up with the verses that come immediately before it.  Which are all to do with church discipline. 

Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples, who became the Apostles of Christ, the first leaders of the church, how brothers and sisters in Christ are to deal with those who sin against each other.  Therefore, verse 19 is all about discipline.

So how is church discipline to work? If a professed Christian is wronged by another, they are not to complain of it to others.  In other words, they are not to gossip, as too often is done.  Instead they are to go to the offender privately, and state kindly the matter.  This should resolve things.  But Jesus knows that because of our human frailty it won’t always work like that.

So if the first approach does not work you are to take one or two others along with you.  These are not necessarily eyewitnesses of the sin, but those who can testify as to how the attempt at reconciliation goes. If the reconciliation fails, we are to treat them as an unrepentant sinner.

Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to observe this principle, saying, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

The church is to relate to the rebellious person as an outsider, a person of no faith, – spiritually dead.

Therefore, we have to understand three things about this teaching of Jesus…

  1. That it is for Christians, not unbelievers
  2. That it is for sins committed against you, and not against others
  3. That this is how we are to resolve conflict in the church, not the community at large.

It would be difficult to resolve issues between people using Christian principles, if they don’t subscribe to such concepts.

The first recipients of this Gospel were Jews, and this would have reminded them of passages in Deuteronomy, concerning the law.  Deuteronomy 17 and 19 speak of 2 or 3 witnesses gathered to testify in court.  The witnesses were necessary to establish a case in court.

So we need to know our Scripture, because when you read these 6 verses from Matthew chapter 18 we find that this whole chapter is about Jesus teaching His disciples how they should handle situations of interpersonal sin and conflict.  These instructions from Jesus immediately follow His parable about the lost sheep (which emphasises restoring someone who has gone astray) and precedes the parable of the unmerciful servant (which is about being willing to cancel and forgive an outstanding debt). The themes that are present in these 6 verses are forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you or who has gone astray.

Therefore, when two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the sin that has been committed, and if forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation has been achieved between the parties involved, whatever you ask of God in this situation will be done for you.  This teaches us that as Christians we have a responsibility to maintain the welfare of God’s church in a wholesome and life-giving way.  For such a way brings unity.

Our first reading from Act 1 shows the church putting these words of Jesus into practice.  The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: 1-29 is another illustration of how the early church dealt with conflict.  And the common factor in these examples is prayer.

So to resolve conflict, prayer has to be at the centre, but those who pray must be gathered together in the name of Christ, for this means that they are doing three things:

  1. Trusting that Jesus is interceding for them
  2. Praying in a way that their words are not utterances of the natural but of the spiritual person
  3. Asking in entire, total submission to the will of their Father in heaven

If these three things are not there then such prayers are like the prayer of the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in Heaven.  Because this was not the will of God it would not be granted.  As followers of Jesus they would get to heaven but what they set their hearts on would not be granted (Matthew 20:20).

Praying in accordance with God’s will is so important, for when we do, our requests will be granted by our Father in Heaven. whether we pray as individuals or as a church.

Of course, this is to be understood with some restriction.  The request must be reasonable, good in itself, expedient for the petitioner; the prayer must be earnest, faithful, persevering and in line with God’s plumb line truth.  If such conditions are satisfied, the desire will be granted in some form, though, perhaps, not in the way or at the time expected.

So in all our proceedings, including church discipline, it is essential that we seek direction in prayer; we cannot prize too highly the promises that this brings us, because Jesus ends this teaching with a blessing, saying that He will always be with us.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 6th September 2020

Making sense of suffering

1 Peter 4:12-19

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Since mid-June I’ve been preaching about what the Bible says about suffering, so if there is a God who is loving, why does He allow such suffering?  Can we avoid suffering by being ultra-cautious?

Well, first of all suffering wasn’t part of God’s original plan.  The world was made by God and it was very good.  There was no suffering or death.  So, what happened?  Well, suffering results from what Christians call “the fall” – human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice by God, to choose evil.

And the Bible explores the human experience of being caught up in suffering.  The Old Testament devotes an entire book (Exodus) to the experience of an enslaved people and their journey from slavery in Egypt to the challenges of being a nomadic people.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah writes of his people exiled and oppressed by a foreign power.  The generational oppression of invasion and foreign rule is expressed by the psalmist who laments “by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept” (Psalm 137).

There is a whole book of the Bible devoted to an exploration of grief and lament for a people ravaged by war, violence and death – it is called Lamentations.

So the Old Testament shows us that God allows suffering, that He allows bad things happen to good people as seen in the Book of Job.  This is a mysterious book that deals head-on with the question of suffering.  It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil. In it, Job questions God, and says something along these lines to his accusers… “I am suffering.  I haven’t done anything really wrong.  Therefore God is unfair”

God eventually answers Job out of the storm, but He only gives him a partial answer. Because of Jesus today we can see the big picture behind God’s purposes while Job couldn’t.

I think that we are all “Job” – we are in the suffering story and often we struggle to see any rhyme or reason in it.  However, when we meet God face to face everything, I believe, will click into place.  But how do we live in the meantime?

Job senses his need of a person to help with his suffering, a friend, an advocate, and a mediator, someone to represent him, someone to help him, someone to get alongside him.

Now, finally, here comes the good news for all of us experiencing suffering. God didn’t leave us (as we deserve) to the consequences of our own sin and to deal with suffering on our own.  He intervened with a rescue mission to offer us a way out of suffering.  And that rescue mission involved God himself suffering.

The four Gospels show us how God in the form of His Son Jesus suffered.  This Son was born as a Jew into an occupied territory, the child of a refugee teenage mother, who goes on to be unjustly accused and tried by a powerful and corrupt system of collaborators and Roman oppressors.

So the pain of suffering and injustice is not ignored or swept over by the Bible.  It is a prominent concern in both Old and New Testaments, and a significant focus of the ministry of Jesus.

But as we heard in our reading from Peter we are told to rejoice because of our sufferings.  Let me say that again, so I can check myself even as I read it!  We are, Peter says, to rejoice because of our sufferings, (v.12-13). Why?  Because fiery trials are designed to test us by proving to ourselves and to others the genuineness of our faith.  As we endure, what we believe becomes more precious to us. So rejoice. 

Secondly, we are not to be ashamed of our sufferings.  Privately we are to rejoice because of them, publicly we are not to be ashamed of them.  Instead we are to consider ourselves blessed to suffer as a Christian because then the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

Peter says if you want to see someone upon whom the Spirit of glory actually rests, don’t look to their successes, look to their struggles and see how they are enabled to endure.  Your endurance is evidence that God is at work; He is near, even resting upon you.

Finally, Peter says we are not simply to rejoice and consider ourselves blessed because of our suffering. Instead it ought to make us fearfully entrust our own souls to God in the midst of it. This is completely in keeping with Peter’s theology of grace.  We are unconditionally loved but this should never lead us to presume on the lover.  Verses 17-18 are ultimately intended to point out the end of all those who oppose God and his people; they shall not be saved, no matter how strong they look today.

You see God is the faithful Creator who cares for all who take refuge in Him, but He is also the undeniable, unassailable judge, and here Peter says His judgement has already begun.  What? Where? Where are we to see God’s judgment today?  Peter says among those who profess His name.  It is in God’s household.  But why?  Why is God seated in judgement over the church?  Well, His judgement is seen on the sufferers who turn away from Him.  Those who do this are exposed as having shallow roots.  This is why suffering is to take on a refining edge, to cause all who call upon God out of a pure heart to entrust themselves more and more to him.  Suffering acts like a great wedge that is driven into the church, sometimes with small taps, at other times with great heavy blows, separating the true from the false believer.  “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (v.19).

Peter’s uncommon strategies for enduring suffering are of course only echoes of how Jesus Himself endured when He suffered on the cross for us. Not only are we to live by Him, but we are also to live increasingly like Him. Revelation 21 clearly describes our reward for doing this:

“God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4,5)

In some ways this reminds me of our oldest daughter Rachel.  She was ultra-cautious.  But one day as a small child she fell off her tricycle.  As her father I ran to her, as I could see that it was going to happen, and I sat her on my knee, took care of the wound, and with a tissue wiped away her tears.  She was comforted and soon stopped crying and got back on her tricycle.

Isn’t this an amazing, and indeed staggering, image that we find right at the very end of the Bible.  God himself will ‘sit us on his knee’ and wipe away all our tears and pain.  All suffering and pain and even, I suggest, the memory of suffering, will be removed.  Everything that’s gone wrong will be made right, for evil itself has been defeated and destroyed!

How? Through Jesus’s death on the cross.

Why?  Because He loves us

What should our response to this be? Trust in the suffering servant – the Lord Jesus Christ.


Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 30th August 2020