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First Peter is written to Christians whom he describes as chosen aliens (1:1), outsiders who no longer fit in this world, but who have been placed exactly where they are by God the Father, set apart for holiness by the Holy Spirit, and marked by the blood of Christ as the Son brings them into his new and living covenant and marks them as his own.  For those who are in Christ, we rightly stand in awe of the Father’s generosity as we see that he has given us a living hope through Christ’s resurrection, a lavish, unfading inheritance as he gives us himself in Christ, and a lasting salvation as we are kept by God as he gives us a faith that endures to the end.  And because of this, we “rejoice greatly” (1:6).

But rejoicing happens in the face of trials.  Notice five things about these trials:

First, notice that Peter doesn’t ask us to pretend that trials don’t hurt.  “You greatly rejoice,” even though “you have been distressed by various trials.”  The word “distressed” doesn’t talk so much about physical pain and suffering (though trials could involve that).  The New King James and English Standard versions read “You have been grieved” (NKJV, ESV), and the King James captures it well: “ye are in heaviness” (KJV).  In other places, the word is translated “made sorrowful.”  It’s the mental/spiritual/emotional distress that comes with trials, the laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering how much longer this could possibly last and how you’ll ever be able to face another day with it.  So don’t be surprised if rejoicing doesn’t keep the tears from flowing.

Second, notice that trials come in all shapes and sizes (“various trials”).  Sometimes we’re inclined to look at a situation (especially someone else’s) and say, “Look, you’re not actually being martyred for the sake of Christ here—suck it up!”  We may feel guilty that the difficulties of life get to us, rather than just rolling off of us.  But the Spirit doesn’t limit the scope of trials to really big stuff, or spectacular stuff, or fatal stuff.  Trials may involve persecution and physical harm—cf. 1 Pet 2, 3, 4.  But they may also be people speaking evil of you (4:4).  Or it may be the various difficulties, pains, and disappointments of living post-Fall—there’s nothing easy this side of the Garden.  All of these trials, big or small, long-term or momentary, will in the long run serve us (more in a minute), and not one gets left out.

Third, notice that we are distressed by various trials “for a little while.”  It may feel like forever, but it really isn’t.  They may last a lifetime—but not a moment longer.  It’s why Paul calls all that he went through “momentary, light affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17), and said that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  It’s why David said, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5, NKJV).  If you belong to Christ by faith, your suffering, as deep as it may be, has an expiration date.

Fourth, notice that we are distressed by various trials “if necessary.”  Your trials do not happen randomly, or by accident, or simply as a byproduct of the Fall, an impersonal cause-and-effect relationship from Adam’s sin.  If you are in Christ, and if you face trouble (hint: you will, Jesus promised), it is because the same Father who chose you according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (v. 2), who birthed you into living hope and gave you an inheritance in Christ and lasting salvation (v. 3-5), has deemed it necessary for you to face this particular trial.  He has seen this particular trouble as the context for blessing you and all those who love God by making you more like Christ.

That doesn’t mean “try to guess what God is up to in full detail”—we’re bad mind readers!  Within that broad category of making us like Christ and equipping us to love and serve one another better, the Father may use a given trial in any of a hundred more specific ways.  Our job is less to figure out what God is doing, and more to consider how to trust and obey in the moment.  It does mean that we can take heart that our troubles aren’t a sign that God forgot us.

Fifth, notice that these temporary, necessary trials lead to an astonishing result: “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 7).  Trials become the testing ground that shows where our faith lies.  Peter says our faith is “more precious than gold which is perishable.”  Gold is shiny, durable, and long-lasting, but eventually it gets melted down and made into something else, or it gets lost, or I die and don’t care about it anymore.  Yet we still consider it valuable enough that jewelers melt it in a crucible, skim off the dross, and bring it up to a certain standard of purity, ready to make beautiful, praiseworthy works of art.

And if that’s true of temporary gold, how much more faith that God has made to last!  This testing makes it clear what saving faith is made of.  Don’t miss this: Peter isn’t commanding us to rejoice.  This passage is not in the imperative mood, telling us what to do, but the indicative—telling us what is true.  Those who are in Christ do rejoice, even as troubles keep coming.  That doesn’t mean there are no weak moments, no times when reason to rejoice gets hazy.  It does mean that, by God’s faith-giving grace, we will continue to get back up, continue to press on, and continue to rejoice in this good Lord.

Why the test?  Because not all faith is saving faith—faith is only as good as what it is placed in.  Troubles bring to light what we’re putting our trust in.  For an unbeliever, even a religious unbeliever, trials snatch away false hopes and leave a choice: see a better hope in Christ, or go down fighting for a dying hope (see Ps. 115:4-8, where those who live for pretend and worthless gods end up like them, dead and useless).  But for the Christian, trials smash idols and pull us back to Christ—the loss hurts, but it reminds us that we still really do love Christ more than what we lost.  How we react tells us what we trust.

But here’s the shocking part: notice the end result of this tested, genuine faith!  “…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  When we see Jesus, this passage doesn’t say that we will praise, glorify, and honor him.  (We will—but that’s not what Peter says here.)  The result of this genuine, approved faith is that we receive the inheritance, the salvation promised in v. 4-5!  We will be praised by Jesus Christ: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  We will share in the glory of Jesus Christ: “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev 3:21)!  We will receive honor from Jesus Christ: “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt 25:21)!

Brother, sister, if you are currently grieved by temporarily necessary trials, rejoice that the Lord Jesus is using even these circumstances to demonstrate before the universe that your trust in Christ is genuine.  Rejoice that the result will be you standing in front of Christ, sharing in praise, glory, and honor that are rightfully His, but that He generously shares with those He calls brother and sister!

Grace and peace,

Mike Yates

The audio of a sermon on this passage, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, October 16, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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Several months ago, I received a series of comments in response to a quote from J.C. Ryle on the love of Christ.  The comments specifically spoke against seeing Paul as a faithful apostle of Jesus Christ, and claimed that Paul’s message contradicted that of Jesus.  The comments continued to grow in length, and I finally decided that the interchange was not going to be especially fruitful, and that readers could see where Matthew and I disagreed.

A few weeks ago Matthew wrote again, specifically asking for an answer.  Given the length of the response necessary to address nine points in six comments, I’ve taken the liberty of making my response a separate post; to add them to the comments section would, I believe, have made them harder to read.  For those wanting further background, Matthew’s and my previous dialogue may be found here.

 

Matthew,

It’s been nearly two months more since you last wrote, and I’m only now finding time to answer; it’s been a very full season of ministry at Grace Chapel, along with other personal projects.  To be candid, back in the spring I had weighed whether or not to respond to your last five comments, and I had decided against it.  Not because the matter is unimportant—the question of what writings are God’s breathed-out Scripture and what is this Lord’s command to his people are as important as any we could ask—but because our previous conversation made our differences clear, and I figured anyone reading our dialogue could weigh the arguments (or the assertions) for themselves.  However, since you wrote again, asking specifically for my thoughts, here they are.

What you and I have laid out above are not differences between brothers; they are two different gospels, taught by two different Scriptures.  If you are right, that Paul’s writings, and Esther, and apparently James and Jude (since you say in your last poem that only Matthew, John, and Peter wrote Scripture, though along the way you cited Luke, so perhaps you were focused on denying Paul’s apostleship rather than establishing your canon) are not Scripture, and if you are right that Christianity is “essentially Judaism personally completed by their living Messiah, and now open to Gentiles also” (quoting from your website), if that is so, then I am guilty of believing words to be God’s that are not, and of listening to a different gospel than you proclaim on your website—and I would be in grave danger.  If I (and a couple of thousand years’ worth of Christians before me) are right in accepting all of the above as words given by the Holy Spirit, and if all that is in them teaches us all that is needed for life and godliness, then you have fundamentally misunderstood Jesus, and are in grave danger.

As I’ve reflected on our dialogue over the last months, I’ve often thought of Marcion, who in the second century made up his mind that the God of the New Testament must be very different from that of the Old, and so adjusted his canon accordingly, weeding out any parts of the Bible that didn’t fit his ideas.  And I have been repeatedly struck by the thought that you have kept what Marcion wrongly tossed, but have cut out almost exactly what Marcion kept.  Might this be less because you have an insight that several centuries’ of Christians have lacked, and more because it fits with what you describe on your site as Judaism with a living Messiah, rather than a people being gathered who are neither Jew nor Gentile, but are defined simply in relation to Jesus, the beginning of a new humanity?

To your eight points and a poem above, briefly:

1.  My concern with a group that would attempt to find common ground between Christianity and Islam would go far beyond them citing a desire to love God and neighbor together.  Such a phrase may simply be shorthand for Jesus’s reference to these two commands as being together the pivotal command from God, much as I used it above.  My concern is that the two groups are irreconcilably different in who they believe Jesus to be.  Jesus cannot be the second-greatest, non-divine prophet of Islam and also be the crucified, risen, and ruling eternal Son of God, very God of very God.  The bridge can’t be built, and I agree with you that the attempt forces the question of which god they will serve.

2.  To your accusation that Paul taught love of neighbor without love of God, the passages you cite demonstrate that Paul could speak of love of neighbor without explicitly mentioning love of God in the same sentence.  Jesus did the same thing; when he told his disciples to feed the crowds, he didn’t in that moment also command them to teach the crowds to love the Father.  But the two don’t stray far from each other.  That’s why in Galatians Paul speaks of justification by faith in Christ and the way we share in Christ’s substitutionary death and life (Gal. 2:16-21) as the ground for everything else we do in life; the love of neighbor in Galatians 5:13ff. is the outflow of that love from God that moves us to love of God.  In Romans 13:8-10, Paul speaks of how we love people (a theme that begins in chapter 12, and continues well into chapter 14).  But that takes place in light of Romans 1-11, eleven chapters that establish the way the Father has loved us in Christ, a love that then moves us to love and obey the Father through Christ.

Context matters.  To take the passages you cite in isolation as evidence that Paul only spoke of neighbor-love would be like listening to me talk one evening with my wife about finances and conclude that, since that particular conversation wasn’t deeply romantic, I must not love my wife and care only about money.  Chapter divisions that were added for convenience in later centuries should not be allowed to determine where we stop listening.

3.  Peter speaks (in a passage you chose to refer to) of Paul as his beloved brother, and links Paul’s writings with “the rest of the Scriptures.”  I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit your thesis.  The rest of the chapter doesn’t say anything that indicates Peter didn’t mean what he says here.  If you are referring to Peter reminding his readers of what was said by the prophets and by “the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Pet. 3:2), you’re right, as far as it goes, that he doesn’t list Paul by name there (nor any other apostle).

I’m not sure whether Paul would care whether we called him “the Apostle to the Gentiles;” he simply calls himself “an apostle”—and also “a slave of Christ Jesus” (pretty exalted language, that…).  He himself said that he preached “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”  But Jesus seems to have an idea about whom Paul will speak to, as he sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus: “Go, for he [Saul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  And as we track through Acts, it doesn’t look like Paul was too picky about whom he spoke to—he starts in the synagogues (Acts 13:5), he confesses Christ before Roman officials (13:7-12), he preaches to a bunch of Jewish women down by the river in Philippi (16:12-13).  He hangs out in the Athenian marketplace, in the Jerusalem temple, and in Roman prisons because Jesus is Lord of ethnic Jews, of ethnic Greeks, of ethnic Romans, of every tribe and tongue and nation.

4.  As far as you regarding Esther as part of the “least authoritative” part of Scripture, I’ll let your remarks speak for themselves.  If God speaks by his Spirit at all, I’m not convinced that the “least authoritative” word from God’s mouth is significantly less authoritative than the “most authoritative.”  God speaking carries a certain amount of weight in its slightest sigh.  And Jesus and his earliest followers certainly don’t treat the Psalms (also part of the Ketuvim) lightly; consider what is on Jesus’s lips on the cross, and the church’s use of Psalm 110 and others to explain Jesus’s identity as we read through Acts and the epistles, Pauline and otherwise.

As for 1 Corinthians 13 being written to stand on its own, it simply isn’t so.  It was written as part of a letter, and this part of the letter continues a broader argument that runs from 1 Cor. 12 to 1 Cor. 14, rebuking the Corinthian church for the way they were using gifts and abilities given by the Spirit to love and serve the entire church to instead glorify themselves.  Chapter 12 opens with the Spirit’s work in pointing to Jesus as Lord, and then turns to the ways in which he does so by giving gifts and abilities to those within a local church, equipping them to love and serve each other as an extension of that announcement that Jesus is Lord.  He then turns, in what our English translators have marked as chapter 13, to the attitude with which those Spirit-given gifts must be exercised.  Why is this “a still more excellent way” (12:31)?  Not because Paul is a flower child, despite your assorted poems (which still carry no weight as proof, only as illustration), but because it reflects the same love that the Lord Jesus demonstrates and commands (see the line of reasoning Paul uses later in Phil. 2:1-18).  And then, in light of the purpose of those gifts and the attitude of Christ-reflecting love with which those gifts are to be used to the good of the entire body (see below on whether the metaphor is legitimate), chapter 14 walks through the implications for how a couple of the more publicly visible gifts should be used.  The whole letter hangs together, and particularly this section, all under the heading of “Now concerning spiritual gifts” (12:1).

5.  This comment, working to claim that we don’t know what Scripture is, and that to the extent that we do know what Scripture is not all of it is of equal value, probably demonstrates most clearly how far apart you and I are.  I would agree with you that Paul is not referring in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 to his own writings, but it is not true that we have no way of knowing what writings he is talking about.  Based on the typical use of the word graphe in Jewish literature of the day, the default assumption by his readers would have been the Old Testament, the canon of which was fairly well established by this point.  That fits well with the context in 2 Timothy, as Paul has reminded his son in the faith that from childhood he heard the truths of these writings (from his Jewish mother and grandmother, 1:5), that gave wisdom that led to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  So Paul is speaking of “sacred writings” that a Jewish woman would teach her son and would, when rightly understood, point to Jesus.  If you refuse to see what writings he’s talking about, there’s very little more I can say to persuade you.

Most of your assertions about Paul have been touched on earlier in our conversation.  The biggest issue here is whether Paul’s writings are words inspired by the Spirit of Christ, carrying the same weight of authority as Jesus’s words during his ministry on earth.  You clearly believe they are not, despite claiming to accept the authority of Peter, who speaks of false teachers twisting Paul’s writings “as they do with the rest of the Scriptures” (yes, we’ve already been to that passage, and yes, it’s still there).  Christians from at least the second century on have recognized them to be so, and the earliest manuscripts we have indicate that Paul’s writings had already been collected for some time, which would point to their importance being recognized sometime in the late first century.  To be blunt, you have to have a pretty high view of your own wisdom and insight to claim better understanding than the apostle Peter and all known Christians in the past twenty centuries.

It’s interesting that you accept the words of Luke as authoritative.  He reports eye-witness testimony, but he himself never met Jesus face to face.  I agree with you that Luke’s words are faithful and true, but for someone who works so hard to undercut Paul’s apostleship, it surprises me that you would admit this, given Luke’s reporting of Paul’s conversion, in which the risen Christ speaks to him and commissions him.  And unlike Mohammad, whose claims about Jesus not only contradict the New Testament, but are not internally consistent, Paul speaks as one who received mercy from the one he persecuted, the one who revealed himself to a persecutor and made him a messenger.

As for who Jesus is and what he has done, Paul does not show a different Jesus from that of the gospel writers or the other New Testament authors.  Jesus is “born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4; cf. Matt. 1:1-23, Matt. 22:41-46, Mark 1:1, Acts 2:22-36).  God has displayed his righteousness by providing Jesus’s righteousness to all who believe, by making Jesus to redeem those who have sinned by serving as a propitiation—a sacrifice that moves us from being under God’s wrath to being the recipients of God’s favor (Rom. 3:21-26, Eph. 2:1-9; cf. Mark 10:45, 1 Pet. 2:21-25, 1 John 1:5-2:2).  This sacrifice brings us into a new relationship with God the Father, and moves us to obey him out of love and thankfulness, knowing that we have been joined to Christ by faith (Rom. 5-6, Eph. 2:10; cf. John 14:23, John 15:10, 1 John 3:1-10 [with the fruit of that obedience being seen in how we love other people, v. 11-17]).

And this new relationship with the Father happens in a new relationship with other people—Jew and Gentile alike are brought into one people, one family, the Church (Eph. 2:11-22).  Less is said about this in the gospels, as it is not fully revealed until after Pentecost, but even before there are hints; Blake White’s book God’s Chosen People: Promised to Israel, Fulfilled in the Church addresses this much more fully than I have room to do here.  The entire outline of Matthew pictures Jesus as the true Israel, the fulfillment of Israel’s story and the preparation for all of the Old Testament’s prophecies that the Gentile nations would come streaming in:

Matthew is very intentional in the way he starts his Gospel.  He shows that Jesus sums up Israel in himself.  He gives us a Genesis (Matt. 1:1), an Exodus (Matt. 2:15), a passing through the Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17), a temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11).  Then like Moses in Deuteronomy, Jesus goes “up on a mountain” (Matt. 5:1) to “lay down the law” (Matt. 5:17-48) before commencing on a kingly and prophetic ministry that ends with an exile (cross) and subsequent restoration (resurrection).  The story of Israel is being replayed in the story of Israel’s Messiah.  His life takes the shape of Israel’s story.[1]

Jesus is nearly killed for saying that there will be Gentiles welcomed in to the kingdom, while many ethnic Jews would be left out (Luke 4:23-30).  Peter, James, and the rest of the church at Jerusalem recognize that they, like the Gentiles, were saved, not by being faithful Israelites who have kept Torah, but say “through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:11), and that therefore the Gentiles were not to be required to keep Mosaic law, “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city who preach him” (15:19-21).  In other words, Gentiles aren’t grafted into Moses, as administered by Jesus the Messiah, but into Christ himself, the true Israel.  That’s why Peter refers to his readers as “exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Pet. 1:1, ESV), a very Jewish term, despite an audience that is largely Gentile (4:3), and refers to those outside of Christ as “Gentiles” (2:12, 4:3).  All the apostles are in agreement on this, including Paul.

6.  I agree that Paul seems to be the only biblical writer to use the metaphor of the body to describe our organic unity with other Christians, with Christ the head that gives us life and direction.  However, the description of “cutting off” those who fail to keep the Old Covenant may lend itself to development in this direction.

Metaphors are not mutually exclusive; of course, Paul elsewhere points to marriage as a picture of Christ and his church.  In other places, we see the comparison as that of a Father and his children, or a builder and his house (Matt. 7:24-27, 1 Pet. 2:4-5; though Heb. 3:6 describes Jesus as the master of the house), or an older brother and his beloved younger brothers (Heb. 2:11), or a gardener and his vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7, Mark 12:1-12 and parallels).  Sometimes the metaphors even get blended together, as in Ezek. 16, where Israel is first described as an abandoned infant, taken in and nourished by her merciful adoptive Father, and then as a young woman prepared to be a bride—a strict literalist would accuse the righteous God of incest, but we (I hope) recognize that he is moving from one picture to another to show the richness of God’s love and Israel’s ungrateful treachery.  Paul’s body metaphor doesn’t reject the other pictures, and if you hadn’t already made up your mind not to listen to Paul, you wouldn’t have reason to object to it.

7.  The notion that all of Scripture carries the same weight as the words Jesus spoke on earth is not simply the “prevailing opinion of the ‘Evangelical Establishment’ today.”  Throughout the church’s history, Christians have not simply gone to red letters, but to all of the words of the Bible (and though there were and are a few disputed books, there has been pretty broad agreement—and there has been complete agreement that we need all of God’s word, and not just the words recorded in the gospels).  You point to 2 Peter 3:2; Peter tells his readers to remember “the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.”  The Lord Jesus speaks through others, as he promised to do in John 16:12-15, so that even as Peter cites his firsthand, eyewitness standing in 2 Peter 1:16-18, he then turns and points to the words of Scripture as not being of personal origin, but coming from the moving of the Holy Spirit, speaking in turn from God the Father (1:19-21).

So, who are the apostles Peter says spoke the words of Christ?  You rightly note that the gospels and Acts describe the Twelve as apostles, and that when Matthias was chosen Peter specified that Judas’s replacement must have been a witness to all that Jesus had done and taught.  A couple of observations:

a.  Prior to the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost in the following chapter, the only way for anyone to know and to testify to Christ’s life and work was to have physically walked with Jesus.  The importance of eyewitnesses did not cease at Pentecost (hence Peter’s testimony in 2 Peter 1 and John’s in 1 John 1), but because of the Spirit’s work in giving us the New Testament writings as fully authoritative, fully reliable testimony, you and I are able to testify to Jesus’s life and works, though we have not seen him face to face.

b.  Paul did not, as far as we can tell, ever see Jesus face to face during Jesus’s earthly ministry.  However, Luke says that Paul met Jesus just outside of Damascus (Acts 9:3ff.).  Paul recognized that his appointment was unusual, “as one untimely born” (1 Cor. 15:8), but his message, his gospel, was firmly in line with the others who saw the resurrected Christ earlier (v. 5-7).

c.  Though Jesus used the term apostle occasionally to describe his core disciples, and the rest of the New Testament uses the term regularly to describe that same group, it is not a technical word used only for the Twelve.  In Acts 14:4 and again in 14:14 Luke refers to Barnabas and Paul as apostles as they preached in Asia Minor, and in Luke 10:1 the cognate verb “sent” is used for Jesus sending out the seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which reading we take) disciples as messengers.  In Acts 15, the messengers from Antioch come to the “apostles and elders” at Jerusalem,” and James the brother of Jesus is the leading speaker—whether the church used the name apostle for him or not, he was certainly treated as one.  The same word shows up in Paul’s writings of others, such as Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:25 (translated “messenger” in the NASB) and the brothers sent to Corinth (2 Cor. 8:23).  I realize that you won’t accept anything from Paul’s pen, but his use of the term at the least shows us how the word was understood and used in the first century.  Jesus in John 13:16 speaks of “one who is sent” as not being greater than “the one who sent him”—Jesus is speaking at that point to the disciples gathered in the upper room, but the principle is much broader than just the Twelve.  And the lexicon BDAG points out that the term apostolos was used outside the NT for an emissary, but more commonly for a shipping list—what was being sent from one port to another aboard a ship.  The NT use is much narrower, but given the exceptions, we ought not narrow the meaning more than the writers do.

Admittedly the noun is used almost exclusively in the NT for the Twelve as the “Sent Ones,” but the exceptions are there—and that should keep us from being surprised when one of the men that Luke names as an exception calls himself an apostle elsewhere.

8.  In insisting that Paul is “the accuser of our brethren,” and particularly putting it in quotes, as you do in your initial poem, quoting from Revelation 12:10, you’re again taking words breathed out by the Spirit with a specific meaning, and twisting them by picking a meaning that you like better than the Spirit’s.  The Spirit, speaking by the apostle John, uses these words of Satan; you want to pretend they’re about Paul.  I’ll stick with the apostle’s meaning.

To point to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as Paul acting as Satan to accuse the believers in Corinth by reminding them of past sins is absurd.  Once again, context matters—and here the context is a matter of reading the very verses you cite!  As Paul calls the Corinthians not to act as the world, running to unbelieving magistrates to settle squabbles as if they themselves were not going to rule over angels (v. 1-8), Paul tells them that they are not what they used to be.  In verses 9-10 Paul reminds them (and us) that sin is fundamentally incompatible with loving and following Christ, and that those who rebel against God by practicing such things as an ongoing pattern of life give evidence that they are not people who belong to Christ and his kingdom.

Then Paul says, “And such were some of you.”  Is he rubbing their faces in past sin, saying, “Look how terrible you Corinthian Christians are”?  No!  He finishes his sentence, and so should you: “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”  He contrasts their past sin with their present state of being cleansed, set apart for holiness, and declared righteous by the life and work of Christ and by the cleansing, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  Far from blasting them, he’s encouraging them; that life is in the past tense, and they now live a different reality—and so he urges them to live in line with who they now are.  That’s why in v. 12-20 Paul addresses ongoing, present-tense sin among the Corinthians, calling them away from what looks a lot like v. 9-10, because it does not fit with their new identity and union with Christ.  If he “accuses” them of anything, he accuses them of being in Christ, despite their inconsistencies.

And of course, Paul isn’t the only New Testament writer that speaks to others’ past and present sins.  James addresses “quarrels and conflicts” among Christians that reflect a self-focused attitude that, if not repented of, is “friendship with the world” and “hostility toward God” (James 4:1-4).  That isn’t James being a bully; it’s James warning his readers (and us) that how we think and how we live matters to the one we call Lord.  Peter commands his readers not to “be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance,” but to be conformed to the Father’s character—a character we see perfectly displayed in Christ (1 Pet. 1:14-16).  He says that they were redeemed “from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers” (1:18), and that they have wasted enough time carrying out “the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries” (4:3).  Is Peter also an “accuser of the brethren”?  Hardly!  He’s showing forth the grace of Christ in rescuing a people, and he does so by reminding us where we came from—the darkness of our pasts making so much more clear the goodness and mercy that Christians have received in Christ.  And when Jesus speaks to the churches of Asia Minor by the hand of John, the risen, reigning Christ says some hard things to his churches—to the point that Sardis and Laodicea receive no praise at all, but only a call to repent.  That doesn’t make John—or Jesus!—an accuser; it makes Jesus “the faithful and true witness,” with John as his messenger.  Paul’s words are much milder than some of the words of Jesus we find in Revelation 2-3, but they are given for the same purpose: the good of the people of Christ.

9.  And finally, as to your most recent poem.  As I’ve said before, poems and stories can make powerful illustrations of a truth already established—but you haven’t established your points.  Your last point does indeed quote from Scripture, mostly from Jesus’s words recorded in the gospels.  But by taking a snippet here and half a sentence there, you’ve stitched together a Frankenstein’s monster, using Jesus’s words to make it look like he condemned Paul (I notice that the last stanza that the rest claims to support is entirely your words), when he did no such thing.  When reporters take someone’s words and use ellipses and brackets to make the quote say something other than what was originally meant, we recognize the dishonesty of that.  You have taken the Lord Jesus’s words and twisted them for your own ends.  Please take that to heart, and turn from it!

Matthew, I’d be glad to privately talk to you further about any of the above points; my email address is located under the “About Mike” tab, above.  However, I am not willing to provide a further public platform for the ideas you’ve already stated at length, so please do not add further comments and poems on this thread; they will be removed.  I am praying that the Spirit of Christ will give you wisdom as you think further on these things.

Mike

[1] A. Blake White, God’s Chosen People: Promised to Israel, Fulfilled in the Church (Colorado Springs: Cross to Crown, 2017), 29-30.

Christians are not immune from suffering and sorrow.  In fact, Jesus promised that we need not borrow trouble from tomorrow, because there will be plenty for today (Matt. 6:34).  And yet, even as Peter writes to those he calls “the Dispersion,” aliens and outcasts (1 Pet. 1:1), he says that Christians rejoice in the face of all kinds of trials because of the Father’s generosity, the Son’s anticipated appearing, and the Spirit’s kept promises.

When we read verse 6, what may stand out to us is the expectation that we will face trials—even “all kinds” of trials.  But the main idea in this sentence, the verb that tells us what’s happening, is “you greatly rejoice.”  Notice Peter doesn’t say we rejoice because of trials—he leaves that to Jesus and James and Paul (Matt. 5:11-12, James 1:2-4, Rom. 5:3-5).  But even these don’t say to rejoice because trials are such fun, or because they make up for past sin, or because they give us spiritual super-extra-bonus points in heaven.  Jesus says to “rejoice and be glad” in the face of persecution, because it shows that we are part of the same line of faithfulness as the Old Testament prophets—we’re on the right track!  James says to “count it all joy” because God uses trials to shape us and make us “perfect and complete” (that is, like Christ).  And Paul says “we…exult” because tribulations will be used by God to create Christ-like character and a Spirit-created hope that counts on the love of God to see us through trials and keep us in every circumstance.  In other words, to the extent that we rejoice in suffering, it isn’t because we like it to hurt, but because we trust God to use even the worst circumstances to make us like Christ.  And that’s where Peter goes, even more explicitly.

First, Christians rejoice in the Father’s gift of living, lasting salvation, even in the face of all kinds of trials (v. 6-7).  Peter recounts the Father’s great and undeserved mercy, giving us a living hope, accomplished through Jesus’s resurrection (v. 3).  He thinks back to the Father’s lavish gift of an unending inheritance—not only heaven, but Christ himself (v. 4).  And he recalls our attention to the Father’s gift of a lasting salvation, in which he keeps us to the end by giving us a saving, keeping, obeying faith (v. 5).

When a Christian thinks on how kind the Father has been and is, pouring out on us what David Powlison has called counter-conditional love that is the exact opposite of what rebels against God have reason to expect, that changes the way we think about trials.  If he has been so good to us, we will trust him that these troubles really are necessary for our ultimate good, even if we don’t understand their purpose just now, and the twin promises of eternal inheritance and the Father’s faithfulness in keeping us remind us of the relative brevity of even the longest of our heartaches (v. 6).  And as we learn (and as we remind each other) to cling to this reality, those trials become, not our undoing, but the demonstration of true, saving faith—the very faith promised as a gift back in verse 5!  And even though we can take no credit for God’s faithfulness in keeping us faithful, when we see Christ face to face, he will top all of his other kindnesses by rewarding us with the “praise and glory and honor” which only Jesus has earned, but which he joyfully shares with those he calls brothers and sisters (v. 7)!

And as Peter considers this Jesus Christ who will be revealed, he says, not only do we rejoice because of the Father’s gift of salvation, but more specifically, we rejoice in Christ, the one who brings salvation (v. 8-9).  Peter freely admits that so far we haven’t seen him.  But the emphasis in this verse is not on the “you have not seen.”  The focus is “you love.”  We have believed on him, and we love him, because we have heard him in the Scriptures, as we have read the eye-witness reports (1 John 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:16).

And as we believe, we rejoice—not because of our circumstances, but because of Christ.  This isn’t a half-hearted rejoicing, but “with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”  That doesn’t necessarily mean whooping and hollering.  Some get more visibly and vocally excited—that may have more to do with personality than piety.  But as we think about the hope we have in Christ and the certainty of his coming, there is a delight that sometimes we can’t find the right words for.

Again, Peter’s in the indicative here; he’s describing what is true about Christians.  There’s no command to stir up a certain emotion or put on a show.  And emotions come and go; exhaustion and physical illnesses may leave us feeling drained, and sometimes our feelings don’t match our thinking as closely as they might in an unfallen world.  But Peter’s drawing a picture of the ordinary Christian life—a joy that looks ahead, that enjoys Christ already, without waiting for our eyes to catch up.

And as we rejoice in the Father’s good gifts, as we rejoice in the Christ we trust, sight unseen, we also rejoice that all of the Spirit’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ (v. 10-12).  Peter says this salvation isn’t something that just showed up out of blue.  The Old Testament prophets spoke of this Savior who would come.  The woman’s Seed would crush the Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).  Abraham’s Seed would bless all the nations (Gen. 12:3).  A prophet like Moses would come—and this time the people would hear and obey (Deut. 18:15).  David’s Son would rule a never-ending kingdom (2 Sam. 7).  And the Lord himself would come into his temple (Mal 3:1-3)!

But even with every word foreshadowing, promising, raising questions that create a longing for Christ, there is much left unclear.  How does a passage like Isaiah 49:1-7 about a Mighty King who inherits nations fit with a passage like Isaiah 53, where a Suffering Servant is cut off for the sins of ungrateful, runaway sheep?  Isaiah didn’t know!

And so the prophets themselves dug down deep, trying to understand—and they found that their words would be finally fulfilled, not in their lifetimes, but centuries later, when the Son of God himself would take on flesh and fulfill every promise (v. 12).

But the details would not all be seen until Pentecost, as the same Spirit who breathed out the Scriptures came to dwell in his people and explain the Scriptures.  This side of Pentecost, you and I understand more of how the promises would play out than Moses, David, and Isaiah did!  How could we not rejoice in this?

And how astonishing—these are “things into which angels long to look” (v. 12)!  Gabriel and Michael have no experience of what it is to be saved by grace.  The seraphim shouting “Holy, holy, holy,” could biblically define God’s grace, but they’ve never received it.  The cherubim have never had a single sin forgiven—all they can do is stand in awe!

And so it’s left to us to live out this good news of undeserved grace, as we look around and see a family, a living temple, that is an ongoing picture of this living hope, this sustaining and keeping faith.  That’s why we rejoice.

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, October 16, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

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Isn’t it amazing how the same words can have such different meanings, depending on our tone?  We all know about the kind of “fine” that means “it isn’t fine, and never will be fine.”  And then there’s “Bless your heart.”  In the South, it tends to mean “You’re too dumb to know better, and now I know what I’ll be talking about for the next several weeks, always prefaced by ‘Bless his heart, but…’”  But with another tone, “bless your heart!” expresses gratitude, humble thankfulness, even awe at another’s kindness.  And as Peter writes his first letter to Christians scattered through what is now Turkey, this awe-filled gratitude is exactly the tone he has as he considers all that the Father has given His people in Christ: an awe that leads us to praise the Father whole-heartedly, and a joyful gratitude that leads us to trust and obey the Father constantly in Christ, come what may.

In the opening verses, Peter calls his readers “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1, ESV)—chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father”—we’re not in this strange, sometimes hostile place by accident, but by the wise, loving, all-sovereign plan of the Father, which moves us to confidence.  Christians are chosen “in the sanctification of the Spirit”—set apart for a life of service and worship, which moves us to Christ-like holiness.  And we are chosen “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood”—brought into Christ’s new and living covenant through trusting the gospel message, marked as Christ’s by his own blood, which moves us to ongoing obedience to our King.

And as we reach the main body of the letter in verse 3, Peter calls us to think on the greatness and goodness of the God and Father of Jesus Christ, and to bless the Father who has blessed us with a living hope, a lavish inheritance, and a lasting salvation.

First, bless the Father who has blessed us with a living hope (v. 3)!  Notice that he did so “according to his great mercy.”  He didn’t rescue us out of obligation—we who were made to know and love God instead have rebelled against him, and the only things we deserve are death and hell.  If he has rescued us at the cost of his own Son, it’s not because of us, but because of the kind of Father he is.  He is full of abundant mercy, and there is none beyond his reach—if you are far from him, don’t despair, but come and trust his promises!

And he has “caused us to be born again.”  Peter reminds us how we got here—we didn’t give birth to ourselves.  As the apostle John put it, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  If we are in Christ, he has given us life, just as surely as he first gave us breath and a heartbeat!  And that’s good news—because we can be sure he didn’t birth us only to abandon us!  As the Lord said through Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands!” (Isa. 49:15-16).  And so he has—with iron nails driven into olive wood!  He will not forget and abandon those whom he has bought as long as his scars remain.

He has caused us to be born again “to a living hope,” making rebels into sons and daughters forever.  Where before we had only the promise of death and judgment, we have been given life and family (Eph. 2:12-14, 19; see also 1 Pet. 2:9-10).  And he has done so “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  Is it easy to come to Christ?  In one sense, yes: “Whoever comes to Me I will never cast out” (John 6:37).  In another sense, it is impossible—“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  We didn’t want to see!  It is only when the same Lord who spoke into physical darkness and created light speaks into our spiritually dark, God-rejecting hearts and creates light so that we see him as he is that we turn and follow him (2 Cor. 4:3-6).  And the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead makes us spiritually alive and guarantees that we are welcome in God’s presence (Eph. 1:18-2:7).  Do you know this life-giving, hope-giving Father?  Praise him!

Second, bless the Father who has blessed us with a lavish inheritance (v. 4)!  He has made us to be coheirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  This is an imperishable inheritance—it will not rust, will not rot, will not ruin.  It is an undefiled inheritance—it is pure and holy, and he is remaking us to be pure and holy to receive it.  It is an unfading inheritance—when we see him face to face, it will not be for a short time, but forever!  This inheritance isn’t simply heaven, as good a gift as heaven is.  This eternal, pure, unending inheritance is Christ himself—his presence and his love for us forever!  Jesus says it’s safe not to worry, not because there’s nothing scary in our lives, but because the Father is a good, generous Father, who knows our needs, provides for our needs, and delights in giving us what we never knew we needed until he came to us—himself (Luke 12:22-34)!  Do you know this generous, lavish Father?  Praise him!

And it is a reserved inheritance—held onto by the Father for us, kept in heaven where none can steal or ruin it.  And that brings us to our last point: bless the Father who has blessed us with a lasting salvation (v. 5)!  Who is this inheritance reserved for?  Notice that v. 5 doesn’t describe the inheritance being kept—“who are” refers back to v. 4, “for you.”  If we belong to the Father through Christ by the work of the Spirit, we are “protected by the power of God.”  Our confidence that we will finish well doesn’t finally rest on how good and faithful we are.  And if that doesn’t strike you as astonishingly good news, might I suggest that you don’t know yourself very well?  We’re still weak, prone to stumble, prone to let our eyes drift from Christ to the dying, deadly delights of this world.  But as our brother Jude says, he is “able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 1:24)!  He will not let us fall and stay down—the indwelling Spirit will convict us of sin, but also restore us and urge us on through the Word and through brothers and sisters.

What does this keeping look like in practice?  We’re kept “through faith.”  Being kept by God looks from our side of fence like someone clinging to Christ in faith and obedience.  Saving faith (which itself is a gift of God, Eph. 2:8) is the means by which God keeps us to the end.  When you’re tempted to give up, to despair, to go back to your old life, don’t expect the Father to keep you by physically dragging you out of bed to gather with the church, by making the computer blow up at the critical moment, or by making you suddenly feel a certain way.  His keeping will be as you put one foot in front of other, as you stand firm by the power of the Spirit when you feel like running, as you obey when you don’t want to.  It will be by intentionally spending life with brothers and sisters who will remind you and be reminded by you.

And notice we are kept “for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  This is what we were made for, what we were saved for, and what we will be given!  We’re already saved from sin’s punishment, brought into the Father’s love.  But we’re still in a broken, messed up world, and we still experience reality of sin—as Romans 8 puts it, we who have firstfruits of the Spirit, who are adopted, still groan as we wait for our full adoption and redemption.  But the living hope within us reminds us that the day will come when there is no more sickness, no more sin, no more death, no more weeping, no more fear.  He will finish what he has begun.  Do you know this keeping, saving Father?  Praise him!

So what are we to do, seeing how the Father has given us life, has given us an inheritance, and is keeping us to the end?  Peter tells us—from v. 6 to the end of the book!  Seven big ideas, very briefly:

  • Rejoice in the face of all kinds of trials, knowing that the Father will use them to bring us into our inheritance when Christ appears as He has promised (v. 6-12).
  • Imitate our holy Lord, recognizing that he has given us new life and new hope (v. 13-2:3).
  • Live as monuments to the Father’s grace, living stones and priests in Christ’s temple (2:4-12).
  • Fearlessly, joyfully honor and submit to those in authority, even when they fall far short of the God they were created to reflect (2:13-3:6).
  • Fearlessly, joyfully love and be patient towards those whom Christ has put around us, even when they are difficult and wrong-headed (3:7-12).
  • Be prepared to suffer as Christ suffered, living out our living hope in hard places, ready to tell all who ask why it is we can face the unthinkable (3:13-4:19).
  • And finally, live out this good news of hope, enjoy this inheritance, together—humbly serving and being served within the body of Christ, bringing our fears and our temptations to the one who loves us and who will bring us safely home (5:1-14).

 

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, August 21, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

Think about what it would be like to be a refugee, far from home, moving from place to place, nothing permanent.  There’s a sense of loneliness, because it’s clear to everyone else you aren’t from here.  And there’s a sense of lostness—everything’s different from back home, and even a trip to the grocery store involves a learning curve.

Now picture being a refugee, but knowing the situation is temporary.  In fact, imagine knowing your refugee status was imposed to prepare you to rule wisely as a prince or princess when you get home.  Sound like a movie?

According to Peter, that’s the truth about every follower of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if we had to sum up the first two verses of Peter’s first letter, we could say that we are chosen refugees—hand-picked outsiders—chosen ahead of time by God the Father, set apart by the Holy Spirit, and brought into obedience to Christ’s new covenant.  Peter writes “to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood” (1 Pet. 1:1-2, ESV).

Notice, first, that Peter calls Christians to expect to live as elect exiles (v. 1).  When he calls his readers exiles, he speaks of resident aliens, those who live in a land that isn’t theirs.  It’s the word Abraham uses to describe himself when he had lived in Canaan for over half a century, but didn’t even have a place to bury his wife (Gen. 23:4).  Peter’s readers may have owned homes and lived in one place their whole lives, but they needed to realize “this world is not our home, we’re just a-passing through.”  They weren’t a special interest group or a political powerhouse; they were outsiders scattered to bring the gospel wherever they went.

Yet with these references to being foreigners—refugees, far from home, scattered across the globe—Peter says they are also chosen: “elect exiles.”  We are not where we are by accident, but by God’s good plan for His good purposes.  Peter tell us more about that in v. 2, and in the process tells us how to live as hand-picked refugees.  First, we live out our exile in confidence, because we are elect exiles by our Father’s knowledge and plan (v. 2a).  As Ephesians 1:4 puts it, the Father “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.”  He didn’t merely know about us (that’s true of all people), but He knew us intimately.  It’s the same word Peter uses when he says that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20); the Father didn’t merely know that Jesus would come; it was His plan that He was bringing about.

So what is this plan that the Father has for us?  The Father is creating a family, causing us to be born again, giving us living hope and an unending inheritance in Christ (v. 3-5), and He will use every circumstance to accomplish this.  And remember, we didn’t jump into this plan because we understood it and wanted to sign up.  We were by nature opposed to God, aiming to live our lives for ourselves.  And if we are now living for Christ, loving Him and imitating His love for His Father and for those around us, that’s only because He has given us new hearts and new eyes that see Him for who He really is.

But now that our eyes have been opened, we will live out our exile in holiness, because we are set apart by the Spirit (v. 2b).  We usually think of sanctification as that ongoing, lifelong process of becoming more like Jesus—and Peter will get to that later in letter.  But here Peter’s focus is on what we call positional sanctification—the believer being set apart for use in worship, much as the Old Testament temple and altar were.  This is how the Father’s choosing has been carried out; He doesn’t just say, “Okay, Mike is mine, but he can do whatever he wants.”  He declares us righteous only because of Christ’s righteousness, but He also awakens and indwells us by His Spirit.  He makes us His temple, and then starts cleaning house, as our new love and gratitude toward God leads us to live more and more like Him (see 1:13-16, 2:9-11).

And as we live out our exile in confidence that the Father knows and loves us, as we live out our exile in holiness because the Spirit has sanctified us, we will live out our exile in step with King Jesus, trusting and living in His new covenant (v. 2c).  Pastor Tom Schreiner notes that obedience and sprinkling picture salvation from two angles.  First, there is obedience.  Obeying here is not so much our actions, but responding to the gospel message (see Rom. 10:16, 1 Pet. 4:17) by turning from sin to follow Jesus, trusting His promises as our king and the one who paid our ransom.  Second, the sprinkling with Christ’s blood recalls Exodus 24:1-8, as Israel entered into covenant.  The people promised to obey, a sacrifice was made, blood was sprinkled on the altar to deal with sin, and then on the people to mark them as the Lord’s.  Now we have been given a new covenant, with a better sacrifice and better promises, and we are marked as the property of Jesus.  In Exodus 25-31 God immediately told Israel to build a tabernacle and consecrate priests; in this new covenant He is gathering the church to be a living temple and a holy priesthood to show what He is like by the way we love one another (2:4-12).

We’re not home yet—but we’re heading that way.  In the meantime, Christians are elect exiles—outsiders who don’t quite belong, but outsiders who belong to a Father who knows us, a Spirit who sanctifies us, and a Son who brings us into a new covenant sealed with His blood.  That gives us every reason to live in confidence, in holiness, and in step with our King until we see Him face to face.

The audio of this sermon, which was preached at Grace Chapel Baptist Church, Kingwood, on Sunday, August 7, 2016, may be listened to below, or it may be downloaded by right-clicking and “Save Link As” here.

The friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

—G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), 213.  Quoted in Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015), 65.

He who clothes himself with light as with a garment

Stood naked at the judgement.

On his cheek he received blows

From the hands which he had formed.

The lawless multitude nailed to the Cross

The Lord of glory.

 

Today is hanged upon the tree

He who hanged the earth in the midst of the waters.

A crown of thorns crowns him

Who is the king of the angels.

He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery

Who wraps the heaven in clouds.

—Orthodox hymn for Good Friday, tr. by George Papadeas, in Greek Orthodox Holy Week and Easter Services (Daytona Beach: Patmos, 2007), 322; quoted in Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2015), 59.