Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Tribute to My Late Grandfather

Russell Godfrey, 1923-2010

On Tuesday, August 24, 2010, my grandfather and namesake, Russell Godfrey, died following a severe stroke a few weeks prior. On Friday, August 27, I will stand in the pulpit of Ardmore United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem with Rev. Jock Ollis to conduct his funeral. As I have been asked to deliver his eulogy, I have prepared the following remarks to pay tribute to his life and his impact on mine. I post these words here for a wider audience than will hear them on that day. For those who do hear these words on that day, perhaps they will be clearer in print than through my grief-choked voice and stammering tongue.
Somewhere among the countless pieces of art that my grandfather collected over the years is a painting of the Thames river, flowing through London at evening, with the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral aglow in the background. The present St. Paul’s was designed by the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren, after the original building was destroyed by the fire of London in 1666. Wren not only designed it, but he was also the first person to be interred in the crypt of St. Paul’s. There, above his tomb, inscribed in Latin is the phrase, “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” Today, I cannot help thinking that if you want to see the monument of my grandfather, Russell Godfrey, look around you at the people in this room. You are here today, no doubt, because he touched your life in a special way, and left you with memories that you will carry on for the rest of your lives.

In the center of my grandfather’s back yard stood a small replica statue of Michaelangelo’s David. Shortly after I left his bedside Tuesday afternoon, I got the news that he had died, and I thought about the words that David spoke when he received news that Abner had died: “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel? I am weak today.” Indeed, a prince and a great man has fallen, and I am one of many who are left weakened by his death. His impact on my life is inestimable.

Russell Godfrey was born in Charlotte on March 15, 1923. The first line of Shakespeare I ever learned was taught to me by him, as he would quote from Julius Caesar to me as his birthday approached each year, “Beware the ides of March.” He was proud of his family and his roots, and had a lifelong special bond with his parents and his siblings. As a child, the family moved to the Sanford area, and then here to Winston-Salem in 1934, just a stone’s throw from this church. He graduated from R. J. Reynolds High School in 1943. I think my brother and I are about the only ones in the family who did not attend Reynolds, and my grandfather often expressed how unfortunate we were for that.

He served proudly in the United States Marine Corps during World War II in the Pacific. My grandfather showed me with pride his photo album from his years of military service and all of his medals and various treasures that he brought back from the Pacific. He had a way sometimes of embellishing tales, all in good fun, of course, and when I was a child, he showed me one of his medals and told me that he had received it because he piloted the P-38 fighter that shot down Commander Yamamoto. When I was studying about World War II in school, the teacher mentioned Yamamoto, and I raised my hand and said, “My grandfather shot him down.” I remember the disappointment of discovering that he hadn’t really done that, and my grandfather just laughed because he couldn’t believe that I had gone along with it. The medal, as it turned out, was the victory medal that was given to everyone who fought in the war. It didn’t matter to me. He was still a hero in my eyes.

After the War, he enrolled in Elon College, and in 1950 he began working for Piedmont Airlines, where he retired in 1986. Between his military journeys and his work for the Airline, he traveled to amazing places and each one of those places found its way into his heart and into his home. His eclectic collections of artwork, sculptures, and momentos were all reminders to him of the places he had been and the things he had seen. I was fortunate as a child, because my mother also worked for Piedmont, that we got to travel together as a family, and Gran was always with us.

In 1958, Russell married my grandmother, Betty Francis Roberts, and became a father to her two children, my dad, John, and my aunt Julia. He loved them as much as if they were his own. And he loved my grandmother. She died in 1975, just a short time after I was born, but his love for her never died. My grandfather, as you know was a handsome man, and quite the charmer, and often women would flirt with him. Once I asked him if he ever intended to get married again, and he let me know that no one would ever be able to replace my grandmother in his life. His undying love for her is an example I cherish every day. When I married Donia, my grandfather told me that he would be honored if I would wear his wedding band, and I have seldom removed it since. But every now and then, I will pull it off and look inside at the inscription, BFR to RGG, 4-4-58, and think about his devotion to the love of his life.

There were so many interesting things about my grandfather, that just when I thought I knew everything there was to know about him, I would learn something new. I knew he loved me, I knew that he cherished our relationship, but I never really knew why. Other kids I knew didn’t have that kind of special bond with their grandparents like I did. Donia asked him one time how he and I became so close. And I learned something that I never knew. He said that he and my grandmother had once lost a child during pregnancy, and it grieved him deeply. He had reconciled himself to the fact that he would have no biological children of his own, and that God must have intended for him to be the father that my dad and my aunt needed in their lives. But he said when I came along, right around the time that my grandmother’s illness was progressing aggressively, he thought that God had sent me into his life to love and care for like he had desired to do for his own child that was lost before birth. And he did it. I have been blessed with a loving family, and many dear friends, but I dare say that my grandfather loved me, encouraged me, and was there for me more throughout my life more than any other human being. Whenever my life’s foundations were shaken, there has always been one constant – my grandfather. I never wanted to be like another person more than I have wanted to be just like him. I carry his name with pride. I was always proud to be seen with him, and we both got a chuckle out of folks who would say to us, “Oh I see so much resemblance between you two.” Biologically, there is no way; but in every way besides biology, he rubbed off on me in more ways than I can count.

As most of you know, my grandfather was somewhat of a renaissance man. He knew a little bit about seemingly everything, and a lot about a lot of things. He loved literature, theater, paintings, sculptures, just about all of the performing arts and visual arts. He was more than a spectator; he was a collector, as anyone who ever visited his home can attest. He didn’t want to look at a piece of art, he wanted to possess it and cherish it. He saw a painting once while traveling, and he told me that he couldn’t sleep that night thinking about that painting. So, the next day, he returned to the place where he saw it, and he bought it. He saw value in things that others didn’t necessarily see. He would stumble upon a simple picture in a magazine, or receive a post card in the mail, and he would cut it out, mount it to a backing, brush over it with paints and glosses, and have it matted and framed, and you would think it came from a museum somewhere.

Gran would browse through the broken items at L.A. Reynolds or Belk, and buy something that was nearly destroyed, but he would bring it home and mix up a little concrete, or get out a little clay, and a little paint, and he would put it back together piece by piece, painstakingly, lovingly, until it was ready for display. And you know, I can’t count the times that he did this very thing for me. When I was broken, when I was in a fragile state, when it appeared that I was of little value to anyone else in the world, my grandfather would pour his love out into my life. He would invest his time in me, putting me back together as it were, piece by piece, until I could stand up straight again. And as he was dying, there were so many things I wanted to tell him, but only two things would come out and I must have said them a hundred times there by his bed. “I love you so much,” and “thank you.”

Once upon a time, Julia had a science project due for school, and the night before it was due she tried her best to mold a human mouth out of clay. She gave up and went to bed, content that she would fail the assignment. But the next morning, she awoke to find her project completed on the kitchen table. My grandfather had taken that lump of clay into the bathroom, and looking into a mirror, he sculpted the lower half of his face, from the nose to the neck, mouth open, and inserted a dental mold that he had in a drawer somewhere as teeth. And I mean, Michelangelo himself couldn’t have done it better! He told me that he always wanted to take it to beach and bury it part way in the sand and just stand back and watch people react to it. Today it sits on my desk. People come in my office and see that thing today and they say, “What’s that?” And I say, “Oh that’s my grandfather’s head.” And they just kind of look around nervously and say, “Uh, OK. Where’s the rest of him?” And that may be a question some would ask today. His body is here before us, but where is the rest of him? The Bible tells us that, for the follower of Jesus Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

My grandfather was very private about his spiritual life, private almost to a fault. As I told Rev. Ollis yesterday, I know he was a member of this church, but if you asked him, he would tell you he was a Presbyterian. And Jock said, “I know, he told me that.” His Scotch-Presbyterian Calvinism would come out in conversation, and he would say, “If I am predestined, I will go to heaven, and if I am not, there is nothing we can do about it.” And while I think the Bible affirms much of what he said, I also know that the Bible says that we can be certain that we are among the elect of God by responding in faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we hear it. As I told my grandfather on several occasions, “Even Scotch-Presbyterian Calvinists believe that.” And today I have hope based on his own words to me from time to time, and conversations that he had with others over the years, that there had come a point in his life wherein he had placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. He was a good man, better than most in my opinion, but I know I am biased. But heaven is not a place for good men; it is a place for redeemed sinners. All of us, no matter how good we are in one another’s eyes, fall short of God’s standard of holiness. We have all sinned, and none of us have any hope of heaven on our own merits. But thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our sins can be forgiven, we can receive the righteousness that God requires as a gift by faith, and have the assurance of eternal life. John Newton, who wrote that hymn we know and love, Amazing Grace, said near the end of his life, “My memory is almost gone, but I remember two things: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” All of our hope for life’s hard moments like these is anchored firmly in these two truths. Where those two truths are known and cherished in a person’s heart, we can say with a sure and certain hope that death is not the end. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and those who believe in Him will live even if they die. It is my very great hope and trust that this is so for my grandfather, and for each of you as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Husband of One Wife?

In discussing the biblical qualifications of pastors, we deal in our Pastoral Ministry course with the phrase "Husband of one wife." Here, I articulate my argument that the phrase speaks to marital fidelity (a "one woman man") rather than a variety of alternative interpretations.

- The husband of one wife – literally “one-woman-man”

--- Various interpretations

----- Catholic: Married to the church; used to defend celibacy

----- Exclusion of Polygamists: Although polygamy was practiced in the ancient world, it was illegal in the Roman Empire, and certainly unacceptable in the church. Though grammatically possible, it seems historically unlikely.

-----Exclusion of Unmarried Men: Not popular; not likely. Paul could have simply said “married” if this is what he intended. Elsewhere (1 Cor 7), he extols the virtues of singleness for the purpose of serving the Lord. Paul himself was unmarried when he wrote this, yet considered himself an elder (cf. 2 Tim 1:6; 1 Tim 4:14). Also, if this means the pastor must be married, then the passage about keeping his children under control must mean that he must have children. This is hardly tenable.

----- Exclusion of Remarried Widowers: Nowhere else in Scripture is this frowned upon (1 Tim 5:14; Rom 7:1-6; 1 Cor 7:39). In response, it may be argued that all these passages address widowed women, while Scripture is silent concerning widowed men. That silence may well be instructive in excluding this interpretation.

----- Exclusion of Divorced Men: One of the most popular views. It is argued that a previous divorce may affect a man’s reputation (3:7). It is also consistent with other passages throughout the NT on divorce (Matt 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 6:18; 1 Cor 7:10-11; Rom 7:23). Some state that divorce would disqualify a man on other counts as well, such as not ruling his household well (1 Tim 3:4). This may be true, and therefore I would affirm this view with some reservations, but on the basis of 3:4, not 3:2 exclusively. I remain convinced that there are clearer ways in Greek to state “never divorced” than “husband of one wife”/“one woman man”. Also, notice that the emphasis in all these qualifications is the man’s present standing, not his past sins. If all his past sins were in view, then (for instance) we would have to interpret the next criteria as meaning that he must have never been intemperate; but we understand that it means that he may have been intemperate in the past, but not now. Note, one variation of this view holds that a pastor may have been divorced, but must have never remarried, unless it was to the original spouse. In general, I think this is sound biblical wisdom for all Christians, but I come short of disqualifying a man for ministry on this basis alone.

----- Marital Fidelity: This is the view I hold. I believe that “one-woman-man” most plainly means that the man, if married, must be completely and unquestionably devoted to his wife. After all, there are plenty of men who are not polygamists, not remarried widowers, and not divorced and/or remarried, but who are not “one-woman-men.” Also, even an unmarried man can be a “one-woman-man” in the sense that he is not a flirtatious womanizer; he is sexually pure as a single man. MacArthur, though he affirms the ideal of an undivorced pastor, also affirms this sense of the expression, saying, “The pastor must have a reputation of being sexually pure. If he is married, he is devoted to his one wife, not scandalized by past mistresses, illegitimate children, or present adulteries. He loves and desires only one woman and has been faithful to her.

Pastors, Bishops & Elders

In our Pastoral Ministry course, I argue that the terms Pastor (poimen), Bishop or Overseer (episkopos), and Elder (presbuteros) all refer to the same office. Below is a summary of that argument, along with a discussion on whether it plurality of elders is more biblically faithful than a single-pastor church:

- All three refer to the same person

--- Acts 20:17, 28 – “He sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. … Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

--- 1 Peter 5:1-2 – “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.”

--- Titus 1:5-9 – Paul exhorts Titus to appoint elders in every city, and begins listing qualifications, but suddenly changes to using the word “bishop/overseer” midway through the list.

--- No church in the NT is described as having more than two offices. Philippians 1:1 addresses the bishops/overseers and deacons; The Jerusalem church in Acts has elders and deacons (as well as apostles, but that is another matter altogether!); 1 Timothy 3 gives qualifications for bishops/overseers and deacons.

--- Gerald Cowen: “Although the term pastor is commonly used today as the title for the spiritual overseer of a congregation, it was probably never intended in Scripture to be a title but to be descriptive of what an elder does. … Bishop (overseer) also describes the nature of the work of the pastor-elder. It definitely does not describe a separate hierarchical office such as is found in some groups today. The most common term in the NT for this office is elder.”

- What about “plurality of elders” vs. “single pastors”?

--- Whenever the term elder or bishop/overseer is used in the NT, it is used in the plural, meaning that the churches customarily had at least two. There is no indication that any of them had any authority, oversight, or immediate responsibility for any other churches except the one local church they pastored.

--- This does not make “single-pastor” churches unbiblical. Church has changed in 2,000 years. Today there is no “Church of Greensboro,” as there was a “Church of Ephesus,” or “Church of Rome” in that day. There are many local churches. In that day, the church of a particular city did not meet in a single designated location. There are many indications in the NT that they met in homes. Each home-group may have had their own pastor-elder leading and teaching them. Therefore, there would be an obvious need for a plurality of elders in each church.

--- Even though there were multiple elders in each local church, there is some indication that one of them was the “Senior Pastor” (for lack of a better term). We find James (the half-brother of Jesus) as the presiding official over the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, though there were other elders in Jerusalem. In the letters to the 7 Churches in Revelation, each is addressed to the “angel” (aggelo├č, “messenger”, singular) of the church. Most agree that this reference is to the pastor. It doesn’t make sense that Jesus would instruct John to write a letter to a spirit-being to deliver to the church.

--- There is great wisdom in having multiple elders, though not all of them need to be “paid staff” of the church; however, there is no inherent sin in a single-elder church. The single-elder should be surrounded with other levels of accountability that will be lacking without the plural-elder structure.

The Church: Central in the Purposes and Plans of God

I began teaching a course in Pastoral Ministry yesterday, and throughout the semester I will post here in expanded outline form major arguments I develop for the class. These will not cover everything I discuss in class, but just the major arguments and points of contention. Our primary textbook is Pastoral Ministry, edited by John MacArthur. Much of the content comes from that source. Acknowledging that here, there will not be specific references to page numbers. Occasionally the pages are cited with the abbreviation MAC.

We began with a lecture on the biblical basis of pastoral ministry. The first major point was that the Church is central in the purposes and plans of God. Below is my teaching outline covering that point:

The Church’s Centrality in the Purposes of God

- The only institution Jesus promised to build and bless (Matt 16:18)

--- “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

--- The church belongs to Jesus; He is the builder of it, and His plans for the church will not be thwarted by men or the forces of hell.

----- “When Christ says, ‘I will build my church,’ He isn’t just letting his followers in on His future plans. He’s giving the resolution to the relational catastrophe that occurred way back in the fall of man.” Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (RA), 156.

- The gathering place of true worshipers (Php 3:3)

--- “We are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in  Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

- The church was purchased with the blood of Christ (Ac 20:28)

--- “The church of God which He purchased with His own blood

- The church is the realm of all true spiritual fellowship (Heb 10:22-25)

--- “Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

- The church is the proclaimer and protector of divine truth (1 Tim 3:15)

--- “…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”

- The church is the primary place of spiritual edification and growth (Eph 4:11-16)

--- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

- The church is the launching pad for the global evangelization (Acts 1:8)

--- “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

- The church is the environment for the nurture and development of spiritual leaders (2 Tim 2:2)

--- “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

- Important realities for us to consider in our day

--- Increasing popularity of “spiritual” activities; declining interest in “organized religion” and “institutional churches”

--- Growing number of seminary graduates; decreasing number of those graduates entering pastoral ministry; opting instead for specialized roles in ever enlarging church staffs, parachurch organizations, and private spiritual enterprises

Many new churches are being planted, some on questionable foundations; Existing churches closing; many suffering from lack of leadership

--- If we are going to serve the Lord, we need to keep the Church central in our purposes and plans because it is central in the purpose and plans of God.

----- “God’s purpose for our ambition is connected to the local church. … Christ didn’t come just to save sinners; he came to build a community of saved sinners. … The satisfaction of individual ambition is linked to our collective identity as the people of God. The individual Christian simply cannot understand his purpose, and therefore his ambition, in purely individual terms.” RA 156, 157.

------- “Our sense of community has been largely lost, or maybe overwhelmed by the power of self. We’re a culture committed to self-fulfillment, self-expression, self-esteem, self-preservation—self, self, self. … The pursuit of self-spirituality—a highly personalized vision for religious quest—replaced the idea of Christianity in community.” RA 159

------- “Ambition for the church compels us to join our imperfect selves with other imperfect selves to form an imperfect community—all for the glory of God.” RA 161

--------- “Our ambition should be higher than crossing the finish line alone.” RA 170

----- “The church is ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15) in our world and the center of God’s redemptive activity. It’s the one human institution that will shine brightly throughout eternity.” RA 164

----- “The church is essential to the Christian, not because it brings him personal advancement or even inspiration, but because, with all its failures, it is an indispensable instrument for the redemption of the world.” Elton Trueblood

Monday, August 23, 2010

Real Men of Jesus (Mandates for Godly Men) - 1 Peter 3:7

In 1999, the Anheuser-Busch corporation launched a radio advertising campaign called “Real Men of Genius.” If you’ve listened to much talk radio over the last ten years or so, you have surely heard one of these ads. The campaign has received over 100 advertising awards, making it one of the most successful radio ad series in history. In these ads, a stereotypical “regular guy” is saluted for his contribution to society. Some of these “real men of genius” have included, Mr. Fantasy Football Manager Guy, Mr. Forgot Her Birthday Man, Mr. Bathroom Stall Dirty Joke Writer, Mr. Nosebleed Section Ticket Holder Guy, Mr. All You Can Eat Buffet Inventor, and Mr. Hollywood Plastic Surgeon. While the creators of this series of ads would say that they are tongue-in-cheek satire, the ads intentionally highlight certain stereotypes of men and aim at getting cheap laughs from a male audience who finds something familiar to themselves or other men they know in the bizarre descriptions. While poking fun at a stereotype, the ads also unveil realities that are far too common, and subliminally instill ideas in the heads of men that these are the ways we are expected to behave. We have in our society today a generation or two of men who believe that their masculinity is demonstrated by their memorization of meaningless sports statistics, the amount of food or drink they can stomach, their mastery of video games, the vulgarity of their vocabulary, and the volume of their burps. Adolescence has become synonymous with the glory days of life, and thus men find it hard to leave childish things behind. After all, those childish things are often the only commonality they find with other men. They might be considered real men of genius by the standards of beer advertisers, but the real men of Jesus are radically different according to the standards of God’s Word.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the great passage which defines Christian love in its most godly form, the Apostle Paul says, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” This tells us several things: 1) There are some things that are appropriate for children that are not appropriate for men; 2) There comes a point in a man’s life when he is expected to put those things away; and 3) A real man knows when that day has come. For thousands of years, in many cultures, the transition from childhood to adulthood has been marked by a rite of passage. In Jewish culture, this occurs in the bar mitzvah around the age of 12 or 13. Of course, today in America, this is more symbolic than real, because no one is sending their sons out at that age to get a job and start a family. But overwhelmingly in America, we have abandoned rites of passage like this, and the reality upon which they are based, and therefore have blurred the lines between childhood and adulthood. Nowhere is this more evident than in the process of boys becoming men. Our society has made it possible simultaneously for boys to grow older faster and for men to stay younger longer. It is hard to know which is the greater tragedy.

What is needed in our day is a return to the biblical idea manhood. Men in our day need to grow up, frankly, and put away childish things and take responsibility for themselves, their families, their careers, and for the spiritual matters of the Church of Jesus Christ. Parents ought to insist on it rather than enabling perpetual adolescence. Wives ought to demand it instead of taking on the role of raising a grown-up toddler. Young women need to set high standards for themselves, seeking out young men who are ready to live as real men – real men of Jesus – rather than settling for Peter Pans who never want to grow up. It is this idea of being a real man that Peter is addressing in our text today as he speaks to husbands. If your idea of being a husband is that you will have a big chair, a big television, and a little wife to cook and clean up after you and submit to your demands, society might celebrate you as a real man of genius; but the great need of our time is for real men of Jesus to rise up and fulfill their God-given responsibilities. So, let’s look carefully at our text and find here some mandates for godly men.

I. Godly men live with their wives in an understanding way

Among the thousands of books in my library is a little paperback book someone gave me a long time ago. The price of it was $2.95 when it was first published in 1992. I wanted to get a copy of it for someone recently and I looked it up online and found that it is now out of print, and so rare that used copies of it sell for $99. The book is by Dr. Alan Francis, and it is called Everything Christian Men Know About Their Wives. The blurb on the cover says that it “fully reveals the shocking truth!” The back cover says that Dr. Francis has written “a landmark book”, “based on years of research and interviews”, which “presents the most complete picture ever revealed of men’s knowledge of the women they have committed themselves to.” It’s about 150 pages in length, and here’s the thing … every single page, from the first to the last, is completely blank. When I received the book, I thought it was a mistake. But then I got it. That’s everything Christian men know about their wives. And that’s a shame. It’s funny, but it’s a shame.

The mandate for godly men is based on a much higher standard than what we often find in marriage. Peter tells the men of the first century churches in Asia Minor to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” Notice the phrase, “live with your wives.” The idea here is not just that they will be roommates. They will be partners in a union that God Himself has established and which God is developing for their good, the good of their children and community, and for the glory of God. So, how does a Christian husband move beyond being merely a roommate to his wife? He must live with her in an understanding way. Literally, we might translate it this way, “live with your wives according to knowledge.” A husband first of all must have a knowledge of God’s purposes and principles in marriage. The Bible speaks repeatedly about how godly men and godly women create a godly marriage. Husbands need to devote themselves to the study of Scriptures so as to be experts on this subject. Husbands, you need to be an advanced scholar, a theologian, if you will, of godly marriage, not so that you can preach to your wife, but so that you can practice what God has declared to you about establishing a home and family that honors Him. Men, we need to wear out the pages of our Bibles, especially around passages like this one and the parallel passage in Ephesians 5, among other places.

But in addition, a husband needs to invest the time and effort into knowing his wife. Throughout Scripture, the language of a man knowing his wife is sometimes used as a euphemism for sexual intimacy, and that is certainly one way that a man will know his wife: he will know her physically. But that is not to be the limit of his knowledge of her. Unfortunately, in too many marriages, this is the extent of knowledge between husbands and wives, but there needs to be more. Men, do you know your wife’s desires, her goals, her needs? Do you know her fears and frustrations? Do you know her strengths and weaknesses? Do you know her interests and concerns? Do you know her giftedness? Do you know what temptations she is especially vulnerable to? Do know what delights her and what she finds joy in?

Men are typically pretty simple creatures. You want to know something about us, ask us and we’ll tell you. We tend not to be too complicated. But, God has designed women to be more complex. A man might say, “If my wife wanted me to know those things, she would tell me.” Ah, but it is very likely that she wouldn’t tell you; there are some things you have to earn the right to discover. Donia and I have been married 13 years, and we were engaged for three years before that. Over those 16 years, I have come to know when something is bothering her; I can see it on her face; I can hear it in her voice. And I will say, “What’s the matter?” And you know what she says every time? “Oh, nothing.” It’s never nothing. And I have learned that if I will invest the time and energy to talk to her, or better to listen to her, to let her know that she matters to me and that she has my undivided attention, then the layers will begin to peel away and I will discover something there I never knew before. And this still happens after 13 years of marriage! I imagine it will continue for the rest of our lives.

Many times, women suffer in silence, and men ignore the indicators that something is eating away at her, and their marriage will collapse. The man will say, “Oh if something was bothering her, she never told me.” Right. Because it is your God-given responsibility to invest in her life, to shepherd her lovingly, and to know her intimately. So if there is a communication breakdown, if there is difficulty understanding one another, it is the husband who has the mandate to be understanding of his wife. She needs to know that he cares enough, that he is listening, that she has his undivided attention and unrivaled affection; in a word, she must TRUST him completely before she will begin to reveal the deep matters of her soul. If it isn’t happening, most often it is because her husband is not obeying God’s mandate to live with her in an understanding way. She has become a roommate, or worse a cook and maid, to an unsympathetic man, and that man will never understand his wife the way God has called him to know her. So, a godly man is one who, for the sake of Christ and in submission to God’s authority, lives with his wife in an understanding way.

II. Godly men protect and defend their wives

Peter says that husbands are to live with their wives … “as with someone weaker, since she is a woman.” Now, I am well aware that this statement offends many women. And I have known some women who are stronger in every way imaginable than many men I know. We have spoken much about the equality of men and women in the eyes of God. They are equally created in His image, and thus of equal worth to God. They are equally loved by God, who calls us all to salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. So the issue here is NOT one of equality.

The first thing we should notice here is that Peter does not say that women are weaker than men. He says that the husband must live with her as with someone weaker. In other words, the husband must think of her, must consider her, as being weaker, even if she is not. But, because she is a woman, if for no other reason than on the basis of her feminine nature, the man is to consider her weaker.

This is not to suggest that he has the right to push her around. There is much truth to the playground moral we learned as children: “Pick on someone your own size!” As Karen Jobes says here of this text, “Peter’s exhortation indirectly addresses the issue of physical abuse.” It is not the main point, but it is implied. If the man considers his wife to be weaker, then pushing her around cannot be considered virtuous. It is shameful. No real man, much less a man of God, can ever do such a thing. This kind of man is a coward who is afraid to stand toe-to-toe with someone of equal physical strength, and he is a perverted bully who gets some kind of twisted kick out of abusing someone more vulnerable.

Rather, the idea of considering her weaker on the basis of her femininity has to do with an ancient but long-since forgotten virtue of chivalry. Though the concept is as old as creation, the most vivid image of chivalry comes from Medieval times. This was a word that was used to summarize the virtues of noble knighthood. A knight was trained over many years, beginning in his childhood, that his duties as a man included defending the faith, defending his country, and defending women and children. Today, all of these have nearly vanished, though the need for them has never been greater. Postmodernism has threatened us to abandon defending the faith, because if we are all on the same spiritual journey, as they say, then there is no use in defending your beliefs against another’s. Individualism has undermined a man’s responsibility to defend his country, because after all, they say, if everything is OK for me, it really doesn’t matter about anyone else. And, subtly, feminism has all but eliminated the notion of a men protecting and defending women for the sake of their womanhood. Because of our sinful nature, men will regularly succumb to the path of least resistance, and if a woman says, “I don’t need a man to defend or protect me,” men will oblige. But men, we must not do this. If a woman does not want us to protect or defend them because they are women, we must do so anyway because we are men. This is what God has called us to do.

What does chivalry look like in marriage? It means that men stand guard over their homes and their families, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in every other way. It means that if someone or something threatens to bring danger, dishonor or devastation, upon our wives or children, then it must be done over our dead bodies. We must be militant against others, vigilant against Satan, and disciplined against ourselves. Men, if we are to be chivalrous, then we must watch our words and our actions in speaking about our wives, or any other women for that matter. How often do we hear men belittle their wives in public? It may be intended in humor, but the wife is often deeply hurt by those words, though she may keep it inside. How often do we hear men talk down to their wives, or see them resting lazily while the wife exhausts herself to protect, provide for, and defend the home and family? These are not the marks of the man of God!

I have a good Christian friend, a genuinely godly man, who raised three daughters. He would say, “Tonight, I am taking my daughter on a date.” Once I asked him why he did this, and he said, “Because I want to take them out and show them how a real man is supposed to treat them. That way, when someone else takes them out on a date, they will know what to look for.” I overheard him say to one of his girls once, “Make sure he opens the door for you.” She said, “Daddy, I don’t need him to do that just because I am a girl.” He said, “Sweetheart, he doesn’t need to do it because you are a girl; he needs to do it because he is a man.” I will never forget that.

When a Christian man is marked by chivalry, he will earn the trust and respect of his wife; he will demonstrate to his sons how they are to treat their mother and their future wife; he demonstrates to his daughters how they are to be treated by their future husbands. And all the while, he is also earning the respect of his children, earning the respect of other men, and demonstrating the glory of God. Douglas Wilson has written, “A man rarely stands taller than when he stands for a lady.” Godly men, real men of Jesus, protect and defend their wives, not necessarily because they need it, but because God has called them to do it. He is a man, she is a woman, and God has instructed him how to treat her.

III. Godly men honor their wives as sisters in the Lord Jesus

“Show her honor,” Peter says, “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” When a Christian man and a Christian woman are married to one another, there is a blessed and glorious union. I often tell people that of all the attractive qualities my wife possesses, the one thing I found most irresistible in her was her desire to walk with the Lord. God brought our lives together at a time when each of us were ready to get more serious about living for Christ, and I believe that we have helped one another along in spiritual maturity, pushing each other upward, and challenging one another to love Christ more deeply, obey Him more consistently, and serve Him more faithfully. Before she is my wife, before she is my children’s mother, before she is anything else, she is a child of God because of her faith in Jesus Christ. Even more important than her calling as my wife is her standing as my sister in the Lord. As we bow before the throne of God, we do so on a level ground. I have certain responsibilities as a husband, as does she as a wife. I am called to lead; she to submit, both in loving and Christlike ways; but neither is more spiritually superior to the other. The blessings I have as a child of God are the same as hers; she is a fellow heir of the grace of life. And on that grounds she is worthy of honor, and most especially from me.

Men, if you have raised daughters, you know how seriously you take it when something threatens or endangers your daughter. I dare say that if you want to see the fighting side of a man, come at him by the way of his daughter. Men, I hope you realize, if you have a Christian wife, God has entrusted His daughter to you. Do you think you will neglect her, mistreat her, dishonor or abuse her and not have to deal with Her Father for it? A friend once told me that when he gave his daughter away at her wedding he felt like he was putting a Stradivarius violin into the hands of a gorilla. God has entrusted His daughters to us. How do you think He would have us to regard this gift? With honor. The Greek word here for honor is one that means “worth, evaluation, honor, value and price.” It is no coincidence that Proverbs 31:10 says that the worth of an excellent wife is far greater than jewels. What do we do with things that we evaluate to be of great and costly worth? We prize them, we cherish them, we display them proudly, we speak highly of them, we protect them, we safeguard them, we cling to them, we consider all other things to be of far less appeal than them. Men, our wives deserve this and so much more. She is more than your chief cook and bottle washer. She is your sister in Christ, if she is a believing woman, and there is no other Christian who deserves so much honor as the one to whom you are married.

Now I want to point out a small but significant little word here in the text that we can easily miss. It is the word as. We are to treat our wives as fellow heirs of the grace of life. We have been speaking about how a Christian husband should treat his Christian wife. But what if a Christian man has an unbelieving wife? We said last time that the Scripture forbids a Christian from marrying a non-Christian. We are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. But in some cases, a husband will come to Christ, and his wife will not. Notice that there is no distinction given, just as there was no distinction given in how a Christian wife is to treat her unbelieving husband. Even if she is not a follower of Jesus, the husband is to treat her no different than if she was. He is to treat her as a fellow heir, whether or not she genuinely is. And as he treats her the way a real man of Jesus should, he must not be surprised when she finds herself irresistibly drawn to his Savior. I still remember sharing the gospel with a man some years ago – he was about as rough around the edges as any man I have ever known. He was a hard man, but the Holy Spirit broke him as the Gospel was shared, and he wept loudly as he gave his life to Jesus. He said, “Will you come talk to my wife?” And we did. And she didn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus. She was very unpleasant with us and her husband in that first encounter. But over the course of weeks and months, gradually she began to join him in church, and then one Sunday, as the invitation was given, she stepped out from her pew, tears in her eyes, and came to the altar and said, “I want to give my life to Jesus! He has changed my husband’s life so radically, that I want to know Him too.” And the two of them went on to have a glorious Christian marriage. Last time I saw them they were side by side, serving the Lord together in that same local church.

Well, in closing, Peter says here that if a godly man lives with his wife in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, showing her honor as a fellow heir of grace, that his prayers won’t be hindered. That means that if he doesn’t do this, then his prayers will be hindered. It is a vivid term that Peter uses here. It comes from a word that means “to cut.” It was used in military contexts to describe putting cuts into a road. A military commander, leading his army while being pursued by his enemies, would order his men to put a cut into the road. We might think of it the same way as blowing up a bridge. And that cut in the road would stop the pursuing army dead in their tracks. It is the word that Paul uses in Romans 15:22 when he says that he has been “prevented from coming” to Rome. There was a hindrance, a cut in the road, if you will. It was also used to describe chopping down a tree. Jesus used this word in Matthew 7:19 when he said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” That is the idea here. Men, if things are not well between you and your wife, then they are not well with you and your God. Our intimacy with God is cultivated through prayer; but if there is no intimacy being cultivated with our wives, then the bridge that our prayers travel to the throne of God has been blown up. God has taken the axe to our prayers and chopped them down before they ever reached His presence. So don’t think, “Well, things are not going well with the Mrs., but I still have this strong walk with Jesus.” No, no. If things aren’t right with your wife, your prayers are chopped down before they ever reach the ceiling. He has detonated the bridge. You can sit there and pray all you want, but most of the time we can’t, can we. No matter, if we could, we could pray all day and all night, and they never reach the Lord. The tree will only be replanted, the bridge is only rebuilt, when I take the responsibility to get things right with my wife.

God intends for the covenant of marriage to reflect His covenant relationship with His people. Paul said in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. When people see a Christian man and a Christian woman in marriage, they are seeing a reflection of the love and grace of God. So if the marriage is sour, it is presenting a corrupted picture of Christ and His Church. And if the marriage is sour, more important than who is to blame is who is going to take responsibility to restore harmony in the home. And that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the godly man.

Let the world sing its songs of its real men of genius. We are seeking a generation of real men of Jesus who, under the authority of God and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, will live with their wives in an understanding way, protecting and defending her as if she was weaker, valuing her feminine nature, honoring her as a sister in the Lord, so that their prayers will not be hindered. So, men, where do we begin? First by examining ourselves, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, to see if we are in the faith. Have you given your life to Jesus and accepted Him as your Lord and Savior? Are you God’s man in the home? You cannot live out these mandates with your wife until you have entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. So today the Holy Spirit may be convicting of your need to be saved by turning to Christ. He died for your sins and is risen from the dead, and He will receive you as you turn to Him in faith and repentance. And wives, the same is true for you. You won’t have a good relationship with your husband until the greater relationship with God is settled by faith in Christ. Maybe one or the other, or both of you, need to take that step today as God reaches His saving hands out to you in His grace. And men, if your faith is secure in Christ, then you have the enabling power of the Holy Spirit within you, and by His power, you can love your wife in this way, and demonstrate God’s glory through your life and through your marriage.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On William Carey's Birthday

As I often like to do, I feel compelled to mark the birthday of William Carey (August 17, 1761) by reading some sketches of his life and ministry. For those unaware, Christian missions had fallen upon hard times until Carey's day when he challenged Christians to move out with the gospel to the ends of the earth. He went to India in 1793 and never returned to England. He died in India in 1834 at age 72, following over forty years of missionary service. The two sources I am reading today are Danny Akin's Five Who Changed the World and Archibald McLean's Epoch Makers of Modern Missions (c.1912). Following are some quotes and statements by and about the man.

- "William Carey may have been the greatest missionary since the time of the apostles. He rightly deserves the honor of being known as 'the father of the modern missions movement.'" (Akin)

- Carey was "a lone, little man. His resume would have read: Education - minimal. Degrees - none. Savings - depleted. Political influence - nil. References - a band of country preachers half a world away. What were Carey's resources? Weapon - love? Desire - to bring the light of God into the darkness. Strategy - to proclaim by life, lips, and letters the unsearchable riches of Christ." (Timothy George)

- Before going to India, Carey served several small churches as a pastor. At Barton, he walked six miles one-way to preach to them. "Having no acquaintance with ministers, he said, 'I was obliged to draw all from the Word of God.'" McLean

- "The reading of Cook's Voyages led Carey to think of the nations that are without hope because they are without God. As he worked at his (cobbler's) bench he thought of these nations and resolved to do something for the betterment of their condition. He made a globe of leather to help him in teaching geography. As he would point out the different nations, he would say to his pupils, 'These are Christians; these are Mohammedans; and these are Pagans.' As he uttered the word 'Pagan' his lips quivered and his eyes filled with tears. That humble shoemaker's shop was the birthplace of modern missions. A man without a collegiate education was the agent the Lord selected to lead in this enterprise. Many years afterward, in the English house of parliament, Wilberforce said that he did not know of a finer instance of the moral sublime than that a poor cobbler working in his stall should conceive of the idea of converting the Hindus to Christ." McLean

- Typical of the church climate of Carey's day, when Carey shared his vision for reaching the heathen at the ends of the earth during a minister's conference, the respected John Ryland Sr. famously rebuked Carey, saying, "Young man, sit down. When it will please the Lord to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine."

- Before leaving for India, someone said to Carey, "There is a gold mine in India, but it seems as deep as the centre of the earth; who will go down and explore it for us?" Carey replied, "I will go, but remember you must hold the ropes." McLean

- "This Commission (Matt 28:16-20) was as extensive as possible, and laid them under obligation to disperse themselves into every country to the habitable globe, and preach to all the inhabitants, without exception or limitation." Carey

- "Multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day are lost in ignorance and idolatry." Carey

- "I question whether all are justified in staying here, while so many are perishing without means of grace in other lands." Carey

- "O what is there in all this world worth living for but the presence and service of God -- I feel a burning desire that all the world may know this God and serve Him." Carey, Journal, 3/29/1794

- "What a heaven will it be to see the many myriads of poor heathens ... who by their (the missionaries') labors have been brought to the knowledge of God. Surely a 'crown of rejoicing' (1 Thessalonians 2:19) like this is worth aspiring to. Surely it is worth while to lay ourselves out with all our might in promoting the cause and kingdom of Christ." Carey, An Enquiry Into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

- "A Christian minister is a person who is 'not his own' (1 Corinthians 6:19); he is the servant of God, and therefore ought to be wholly devoted to him. By entering on that sacred office he solemnly undertakes to be always engaged as much as possible in the Lord's work, and not to choose his own pleasure or employment, or pursue the ministry as something that is to subserve his own ends or interest, or as a kind of sideline. He engages to go where God pleases, and to do or endure what He sees fit to command or call him to in the exercise of his function. He virtually bids farewell to friends, pleasures, and comforts, and stands in readiness to endure the greatest sufferings in the work of the Lord, his Master. It is inconsistent for ministers to please themselves with thoughts of numerous congregations, cordial friends, a civilized country, legal protection, affluence, splendor, or even an income that is sufficient. The slights and hatred of men, and even pretended friends, gloomy prisons, and tortures, the society of barbarians and uncouth speech, miserable accommodations in wretched wildernesses, hunger and thirst, nakedness, weariness, and diligence, hard work, and but little worldly encouragement, should rather be the objects of their expectation."

- "Let us never think of our time, our gifts, our families, or even the clothes we wear as our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and His cause. Let us forever shut out the idea of laying up a dowry for ourselves and our children. Let us continually watch against the worldly spirit and cultivate a Christian indifference towards every indulgence. Rather, let us bear burdens as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and endeavor in every state to be content." Attributed to Carey and his colleagues, Marhman and Ward, in McLean.

- "I see more and more of my own insufficiency for the great work I am called to. The truths of God are amazingly profound, the souls of men infinitely precious, my own ignorance very great and all that I do is for God who knows my motives and my ends, my diligence or negligence. When I (in short) compare myself with my work, I sink into a point, a mere despicable nothing." Carey, in a letter to his father.

* Note in the following three journal entries that were written within the span of 5 days how Carey brings himself from depression and despair into a fresh spiritual commitment to serve and live for the Lord:
*** "Nothing new, my soul is in general barren and unfruitful; Yet I find a pleasure in drawing near to God; and a peculiar sweetness in His Holy Word. I find it more & more to be a very precious treasure." Carey, Journal, 8/27/1794
*** "Nothing of any importance except to my shame, a prevalence of carnality, negligence, and spiritual deadness; no heart for private duties, indeed everything seems to be going to decay in my soul, and I almost despair of being any use to the heathen at all." Carey, Journal, 8/28-30/1794
*** "Was somewhat engaged more than of late in the things of God, felt some new devotedness to God, and desired to live entirely to Him and for His glory; O that I could live always as under His eye, and feel a sense of His immediate presence, this is life and all besides this is death to my soul." Carey, Journal, 8/31/1794

- "There were times when his soul was plunged to the depths of depression. He would bury two wives, with his first, Dorothy, sorrowfully, going insane. He would bury three children, and certain others disappointed him. He lost most of his hair due to illness in his early 20s, served in India for 41 years never taking a furlough, fought back dysentery and malaria, and did not baptize his first Indian convert, Krishna Pal, until his seventh year on the field!" Akin
*** "Krishna-Pal lived for 20 years to preach the gospel with great ability and success. His baptism marked an epoch in the history of the work." McLean

- "He had his trials. His (first) wife was insane for 12 years before her death. He lost a lovely boy five years of age. At first he was denounced by theologians, by traders, by politicians. He was said to be engaged in the maddest, most extravagant, the most unwarrantable project that ever entered the brain of a lunatic enthusiast. He was called a fool, a tinker, a schismatic. In India, he says, he was tolerated like a toad for a time, and then hunted like a beast. His great printing establishment was destroyed by fire. In an hour the labours of many years were consumed. The loss was estimated at 70,000 rupees. Important manuscripts perished. It required 12 months of hard labour to replace what had been destroyed. None of these things moved him. He was distressed, but not in despair. He did not bate a jot of heart of hope, but still bore up and pressed right onward. He turned a deaf ear to ridicule and obloquy." McLean

- "If, like David, I am only an instrument of gathering materials, and another shall build the house, I trust my joy will be none the less." Carey

- Carey, on his own 70th birthday (3 years before his death): "I am this day 70 years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on a review of my life I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust; my direct and positive sins are innumerable, my negligence in the Lord's work has been great, I have not promoted His cause, nor sought His glory and honor as I ought, notwithstanding all this, I am spared till now, and am still retained in His Work, and I trust I am received into the divine favor through Him. I wish to be more entirely devoted to His service, more completely sanctified and more habitually exercising all the Christian graces, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness to the praise and honor of that Savior who gave his life a sacrifice for sin."

- "Before Carey's death 212,000 copies of the Scriptures in 40 different languages were issued. The Word of God was thus brought within the reach of 300,000,000 human beings. He and his associates did more to spread the knowledge of the Scriptures among the heathen than all the world besides." McLean

- "The work that he did as a translator of the Bible was only part of what he accomplished. He prepared grammars and lexicons in several languages. These were elaborate works. He was one of the foremost botanists and horticulturists of his age. ... He preached constantly." McLean

- "One biographer classed him with Chaucer, the father of English verse; with Hooker, the father of English prose; with Shakespeare, the father of English literature; with Bunyan, the father of English allegory; with Newton, the father of English science. He calls him the father of the Second Reformation, that of Foreign Missions." McLean

- "Pray for us, that we may be faithful to the end." Carey, to John Williams, c. 1801.

- "You have been talking much about what Dr. Carey said and about what Dr. Carey did. Let me entreat you to say nothing more about Dr. Carey, but speak only about Dr. Carey's Saviour." Carey, on his deathbed, to Scottish missionary Alexander Duff.

- "A wretched, poor, and helpless wor, on Thy kind arms I fall." Inscription from Carey's grave, ordered by Carey himself, in Serampore, India.

- "This man who was sneered at as a low-born and low-bred made all nations his beneficiaries. He did a work that will tell on ages and that will tell for God." McLean

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hidden Beauty of a Godly Woman (1 Peter 3:1-6)

What is beauty? It is a quality we value and esteem, yet it is difficult to define. The theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas said that beauty is “that which pleases in the very apprehension of it.” In other words, we know it when we see it (because it pleases us), but we all see it differently. After all, the old saying is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Though we may all differ on what we perceive to be beautiful, we all have a category in our minds of what beauty is and we recognize it in a wide spectrum of real things. God is the one who has instilled within us the desire to seek beauty and the capacity to recognize it when we perceive it. He created us with an insatiable instinct to seek that which is most beautiful; and that which is most beautiful is God Himself. When we encounter something that strikes us as beautiful, what we are seeing is a reflection of the goodness and glory of God, who created all these things and left His beautiful fingerprints upon them. The beautiful things we perceive are messengers that God sends our way to call us to Himself. So what we desire is not the thing itself which we may call beautiful, but rather, as Christian philosopher William Dyrness suggests, we “deeply long” for a “relationship with the personal presence lying beneath such beauty. As a result, the experience of great beauty often moves unbelievers to seek God, just as it often moves believers to praise.”

Now, our perception of beauty is warped by our sinful nature. We do not perceive it perfectly; we see glimmers and fractions of it, like looking at it in a shattered mirror. Nor do we respond to it perfectly. For instance, rather than allowing the beauty of something in creation to lift our thoughts to the Creator, we may be tempted to worship the beautiful thing itself instead of its Maker. Or some perverted instinct in our fallen nature may cause us to corrupt and abuse the beauty we perceive by not appreciating its true value and purpose. Throughout history, artists have tried to depict the beauty of human beings in various ways. Over time, this is perhaps especially seen in the objectification and marketing of feminine beauty. We live in a culture that has become, in the words of some, pornified. Images of scantily clad women adorn magazine covers and billboards, they fill the television and movie screens, and they are found on advertisements for everything with a price tag. The obvious rationale is to harness humanity’s interest in beauty for capitalistic gain by exploiting the male desire to see it and the female desire to possess it. But, is this objectification of the feminine form doing justice to beauty, or is it corrupting our sense of beauty, and thereby corrupting our perception of the true beauty of God? I would argue that it is the latter.

So, we need a better perspective on beauty than our own eyes, our own senses, can provide. Through the revelation of God’s Word, we find a perfect and divine measure of beauty. We find stated in the pages of Scripture the things which God declares to be beautiful so that we can pursue and think on those things, and allow them to transport us spiritually to a higher plane where we can commune with God, who is ultimately beautiful and glorious, and who has made the beautiful things of this world to reflect His glory. We discover in Scripture that God finds beauty where man has difficulty seeing, namely in the inner person. When Samuel was sent out to anoint the successor to Saul, he took one look at Jesse’s son Eliab and thought that he must be the man. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:6-7). There is a hidden quality in humanity that God esteems, and in this text of 1 Peter today we discover that there is a hidden beauty that is precious in His sight. So what is this hidden beauty of a godly woman? Let’s discover that which God values so that we might have our perception of true beauty transformed by His Word.

I. There is hidden beauty in the character of a godly woman (vv3-4)

What could you do with $12,000? Perhaps you might make a down-payment on a house, pay off some debts, buy a new car, take a very nice vacation. Or you may do something more noble, like contribute more to missions or charitable causes. Or, in the case of the average American woman, you could buy your annual supply of cosmetics. Molly Faulkner-Bond of Sirens magazine cites a study that revealed that the average American woman spends $12,000 to $15,000 every year on cosmetics and salon services, contributing to a global cosmetics industry that is valued between 45 and 66 billion dollars annually.

The obsession with outward beauty is not a new phenomenon. In the first century, women made use of extravagantly expensive cosmetics, elaborate hairstyles and hair dyes, costly jewelry, and elegant clothing. Even long before that time, the prophet Isaiah called attention to the “anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, finger rings, nose rings, festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans and veils” that were worn by the daughters of Zion. These things were highly valued in the eyes of society, even as they are today.

Peter speaks here to Christian women here about their “adornment.” The word translated adornment in verse 3 is the Greek word kosmos, from which we get the word cosmetics. In its verb form, it means “to put in order,” thus also, “to adorn.” The noun is also used for “the world,” reflecting the orderliness that God has set in place in His creation. But in this context, it has the sense of beautification. But Peter says here that the Christian woman is not to be fooled into thinking that merely braiding one’s hair, wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses will make her beautiful. Though society may find beauty in her outward form as a result of these things, there is a beauty that is precious in the sight of God found beneath these external coverings.

External beauty fades over time. Fashions go out of style. But the beauty that God values is imperishable, as we see in verse 4. Like our eternal inheritance as children of God which is spoken of in 1:4, this kind of beauty will never fade away or become defiled or corrupted. This beauty is found in “the inner person of the heart.” It is not a beauty that can be seen in photographs. It is not the kind of beauty that can be enhanced by a visit to the salon or the department store. This is a beauty is cultivated through a life of devotion to the Lord. As Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.” As the Lord transforms the woman whose heart is fixed upon Him, her inner beauty becomes evident through her character.

Peter says that this beauty consists of “a gentle and quiet spirit.” This adjective, gentle, only occurs three other times in Scripture, and two of those are in reference to Christ (Matt 11:29; 21:5). The third refers to that quality that God has promised to bless in the Beatitudes of Jesus, saying, “Blessed are the gentle (or meek), for they shall inherit the earth.” It describes one who is “not insistent on one’s own rights,” or “not pushy, not selfishly assertive,” “not demanding one’s own way.” If we are inclined to protest here and think it is demeaning to think of a woman in these terms, we must bear in mind that this same word describes the Lord Jesus, and certainly we would not think it demeaning to call Him gentle in this sense. Since it is a quality of Christ Himself, it is something that should be reflected in the lives of both Christian women and Christian men. But it does not come naturally. We find the same Greek word as a noun, translated gentleness among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. This means that this quality must be developed within a person as a result of the indwelling Holy Spirit. But when it is found in a godly woman, it is beautiful in the sight of God. He sees in her the reflection of His glorious Son.

“Quiet” is, in this sense, not a command for total silence. The Corinthian Church of the New Testament was struggling with all sorts of disorder and dysfunction when Paul wrote the first epistle to them. One of those matters was that certain women were disrupting the meetings and worship services of the church by speaking in meaningless tongues. To these women, Paul said, “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak” (1 Cor 14:34). There he used a different word than is used here. The issue in Corinth was not the gender of the person speaking, but their theological error in misunderstanding the gift of tongues, and their disruptiveness. Would that all people, both men and women, who are in theological error and disruptive in their speech, would be silent! In Corinth, the case happened to be the main perpetrators of such chaos were women. But this is not the issue here. Peter is speaking of a humble, tranquil demeanor. We need only think of the contrast between the sisters, Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10. There we find the every busy Martha firing off a complaint that Mary is not helping her. But Mary was seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word. In her quietness, she was vindicated by Jesus, who said to her sister, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Mary possessed this tranquil quietness before the Lord, and her inner beauty was evident to Him even when it was not observed by her sister.

So we see here that a woman’s true beauty is not found in her outward adornments, lavish and costly though they may be. Her true beauty is found in the hidden person of the heart; it is a beauty that will never perish or fade away; it is a beauty that is produced by the Holy Spirit of God and demonstrated in a gentle and quiet spirit. God Himself has estimated this kind of beauty to be precious in His sight. It is a hidden beauty that is found in her character.

II. There is hidden beauty in the conduct of a godly woman (vv1-2, 5-6)

This past week, a church member told me that they had read the text ahead for this week’s sermon, and they felt that they should warn me that the last time I preached on wives’ submitting to their husbands, there were some who accused me of being a male chauvinist. I suppose if I was the kind of person who feared what others thought of me, I might try to avoid this passage today. But alas, I find myself ultimately concerned with being faithful to what God has called me to do, and that is to preach His word as it stands written. So, if you are inclined to disagree with what is said here, I can only say that I am happy that I will ultimately answer to God, and not to you, for my handling of the text. I did not write the Scriptures; God inspired the Scriptures as the revelation of His divine truth. My task is not to judge the Bible; the Bible judges me. My responsibility is not to argue against the words of Scripture, but to understand them, to believe them, to apply them, to obey them, and to proclaim them. I think if we would be humble enough to submit ourselves to the authority of God’s Word, we would find that the teachings of Scripture on wives and their relationships to their husbands would restore a sense of honor and dignity to women in general, and wives in particular, even as it did in the first century when these words were first recorded. To disregard His word, to twist His word, to thrust our opinions upon His word, would open the door to chauvinism, both male and female.

The context of our passage is filled with discussion about submission. All Christians are called to submit to earthly authorities for the Lord’s sake. These might be governing authorities, they might be masters over servants, or they may be authorities that God has established in the home, or as Chapter 5 will indicate, in the church. Authorities exist because God establishes or allows them. Christian people demonstrate their faith and confidence in God by submitting to those authorities. Jesus Himself is given as an example of submission to authority, leaving us an example, says 1 Peter 2:21, “to follow in His steps.” So to submit to authority is not unchristian, as some may claim, but rather is the very imitation of Christ. And when speaking to Christian wives, Peter says that there is an expectation that the wife will be submissive to her own husband (3:1). Note that Peter is not saying that all women are to be in submission to all men. The context is restrictive – wives are to submit to their own husbands. This is done, in the same way, he says. Which way is he speaking of? He is speaking of the way of Christ, who submitted to authorities, both His Father and those who held earthly power in His day. And it is done in the same way as described in 2:13, for the Lord’s sake. Jesus is both the pattern and the motivation of this kind of submission.

It is not a new command among God’s people, though it was radically different from the societal norms of the day. Peter demonstrates that the pattern of life for the “holy women” who lived in “former times” was one of submission to their own husbands (v5). This was their adornment, their cosmetic. In saying this, notice that Peter is asserting that the submission of a wife to her husband is not time or culture bound. He is pointing his audience back to more than 2,000 years (which would be 4,000 years from our perspective) of redemptive history in events that took place in many cultures and countries and across many generations. The women of former times who lived this way were considered to be “holy women,” women who were set apart as precious unto the Lord. One specific woman is named as an example from this great multitude of holy women. This is Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He says in verse 6 here that Sarah “obeyed Abraham, calling Him lord.” You know that in certain cultures, the title of “lord” was used to confer honor and dignity on a person, not to equate them with deity. The same is true in some parts of the world today, like in England, where the title of Lord is given to certain men of distinction. In Kenya, we used the Swahili word Bwana to praise the Lord in church, and to get the attention of the waiter in the restaurant when we needed an extra fork or something. Sarah called Abraham “lord” in this sense of speaking to him respectfully and with honor. But notice that it is not her obedience and the calling of Abraham “lord” that Christian women in Peter’s day are specifically called to emulate. These are just demonstrations from her life of how she submitted herself to her husband’s leadership in the home. It is submission in general to which Scripture calls the Christian wife, and not slavish obedience and the use of honorific titles. Both of these can be rendered without respect or heartfelt affection. But genuine submission goes far deeper than these observable behaviors.

Some have laughed at the idea of Sarah obeying Abraham and calling him “lord.” After all, in at least three cases in Genesis, we find Abraham obeying or submitting to Sarah. In Genesis 16:2, he obeys her command to have sexual relations with the servant Hagar. In this case, we find that it led them both into disobedience of the Lord and created turmoil that is still being played out in the Middle East today, for the conflict over who has the rights to the land of Palestine is rooted in the rivalry between the sons of Abraham through Isaac (Sarah’s son) and the sons of Abraham through Ishmael (Hagar’s son). Again, in Genesis 16:6, Abraham yielded in allowing Sarah to continue to harshly mistreat Hagar and Ishmael, which cannot be said to be pleasing to God. It is only in Genesis 21:11-12 that we find God commanding Abraham to “listen to whatever Sarah tells you.” This is concerning the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael from among them, and in this case it is not because of the jealousy between the two women but because of God’s purpose to build a people for Himself through Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac. What we find elsewhere in the narratives concerning Abraham and Sarah is a picture of a wife who allows her husband to take the responsibility for family decisions, even though he sometimes uses poor judgment and reaps the consequences. Perhaps the best illustration of her submission to Abraham’s leadership is found in Genesis 12 when Abraham follows God’s command to leave the country of his people and go to the land that God is going to give him and his descendants. We often speak of the great faith of Abraham in following God into the unknown walk of faith, but let’s not forget the great faith of Sarah here, who trusted the Lord, but who also trusted her husband enough to follow him into the desert when he said God had led him to do so.

So, Peter says that the Christian wife becomes the daughter of Sarah when she does “what is right.” Her life of faith in God and trust in her husband is reflected in theirs as they submit to their husbands for the Lord’s sake. In Galatians 3, Paul says that all of us who have put our faith in Christ have become the children of Abraham. Perhaps Peter has this idea in mind here, speaking of women who demonstrate their faith in the Lord by doing as Sarah and the rest of the ancient holy women did. This is the “right thing to do” he says.

When we speak of submission in this regard, we do not mean to suggest that women are inferior to men in any way. The Bible tells us that both male and female are created in the image of God, and therefore both have equal value before the Lord as human beings. The Bible also tells us that salvation is freely offered through Jesus Christ to all mankind, whether slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. So both are equal as objects of God’s redeeming love. But within the bond of marriage, there are specific functions assigned to each: for the man to lead in a loving and Christlike way, and for the woman to submit to his leadership out of regard for the Lord’s will. Both are difficult; both require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as Paul indicates in Ephesians 5; both are equally held accountable to God for their obedience to these commands; and both bring glory to God in equal ways when they obey these commands. We might think of these roles within marriage as parallel to the unique roles that exist among the Persons of the Trinity. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are One.” By this He meant that they are of the same nature, equal in deity and power, equally worthy of worship, equally co-eternal and co-existent. But elsewhere, like in John 8:28, Jesus also said, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” So, even though they are equal in every way, there is a willing submission of the Son to the Father in terms of their function and their role in redemptive works. And you may remember the term we have used to describe this? Intertrinitarian Functional Subordination. So we may also speak of intermarital functional subordination, wherein the husband is commanded by God to lovingly lead, and the wife to respectfully follow. Is this demeaning? Again, we would have to ask, “Is it demeaning for Christ to submit to the Father?” We must agree that it is not demeaning for Christ, nor for wives who follow His example and pattern in this way.

Notice also here that this submission is to be carried out “without being frightened in any way.” What would a woman have to fear if she were to live this way? For one thing, most obviously, she may fear that her husband will take advantage of the situation, and perhaps abuse his authority or mistreat her in some way. This is a legitimate fear, and one that needs to be addressed. If she fears that he will abuse his authority, she must not forget that God will ultimately hold her husband accountable for that. Does he make foolish decisions that she disagrees with? Abraham did that as well, and God brought consequences upon him for that. God will be faithful to judge the man who selfishly abuses the authority God has given him in the home. Now, if she fears that she will be mistreated by her husband, we would advise that she may need to protect herself and her children by leaving the home. This does not have to mean divorce, but separation for safety sake, until such time as her husband comes to repentance and their relationship can be restored. But perhaps her fears are different. Perhaps she fears what other women will think of her if she lives this way. This is certainly a legitimate concern in our day, whether or not it was in Peter’s day. But notice he says “without being frightened by any fear” and that would include this one. Do other women make light of your submission to your husband? Then be glad that they are not your final judge, but God who commands this is; and He is their judge as well. So remember that the Proverbs say that the fear of man brings a snare; we fall into that trap when we let others dictate how we should think or act rather than God. Ultimately, the godly woman is one who, like the holy women in former times, “hopes in God.” Her hopes are not ultimately grounded in her social acceptance among other women, or in the security her husband can provide for her. Her hope is in the Lord, who will be faithful to her even in difficult times. She need not fear standing before Him and giving account for obeying His word concerning her submission in her marriage. This will be displayed as beauty in His sight.

Then finally, we are told here that there may yet be one other reward for her if she conducts herself in marriage in this way. Perhaps she is married to an unbelieving husband. Now, the Scripture forbids a Christian from marrying an unbeliever, so what is likely in view here is that the woman has come to faith in Christ after she was married. But her husband has not. In the situation described in verse 1, it is likely that her husband has heard the Gospel, but has not believed. Otherwise, he may be described as being ignorant rather than unbelieving. In this case, her hopes for his salvation are not found in incessantly preaching to him about his need for Christ, though certainly she (and other Christians) will want to speak to Him of this from time to time. But as we said, it is likely that he has already heard, and continues in unbelief. What is left is not for him to hear about the Gospel over and over again, but rather to see its effects upon her life. When he begins to see the inner beauty that God is developing in her, a beauty that outshines and outlives her external adornments, a beauty that consists of chaste and respectful behavior (v2), he may be won to Christ without a word. Our verbal witness to others is always reinforced by our behavior. If our lives are marked by disobedience to the Gospel and the Word of God, then we must not be surprised when people find our words unconvincing. But when the unbeliever sees that the Gospel and God’s Word has begun to shape us and develop in us a character and conduct that is entirely unnatural, then there is power in our witness, compelling enough even to persuade a disobedient and unbelieving husband to call upon Christ.

There are so many points of application from this text that I dare not try to list them all and risk short-circuiting some work that the Holy Spirit may desire to do in someone’s heart today. Perhaps you say, “Well what about the men? What about the husbands?” Stay tuned! That’s coming up next. We’ll get to him next Sunday. Suffice to say now that husbands should not take this Word to mean that God has given them a slave to boss around. He will hold you accountable severely if you should bruise the beautiful flower with whom He has blessed your life. And I will say more about that in a week. But maybe you are like many women today and deal with insecurity and low self-esteem or depression, and you think that you can elevate yourself in the eyes of others by dressing in nicer clothes or wearing finer jewelry or doing something different with your hair. Perhaps, but these are merely externals, and they appeal to a shallow culture that can only see the outside, while inside there are still things the Lord wants to change to make you beautiful in His sight. Allow the Holy Spirit to cultivate in you a life like this, marked by chaste and respectful behavior, a gentle and quiet spirit, and submission to your husband, and know that this is true beauty in the eye of the only Beholder that matters – this is beauty that God considers to precious in His sight. And only a fool would despise what God has called beautiful. Be concerned ultimately for His approval, not that of others in your life, be they your spouse or your peers. Young women, our society is throwing images and messages at you at the speed of light and sound, telling you how to be beautiful and attractive to others; perhaps how to win the man of your dreams. And young men, this same culture is trying to tell you what you should seek after in a woman. Don’t believe it! Believe what God has said. Let His definition of true beauty inform you as to what you should be, and what you should desire in others. Or maybe you find yourself today married to an unbelieving husband. You might say, “I’ve talked to him ‘til I am blue in the face, and he just won’t listen.” The Christian witness is one of show and tell. You’ve done the telling. Now is time for the showing. Let him see the beauty that God sees in you, and trust that God will use that to draw him to salvation. He might even be by your side today. Friend, if that is the case, and you come along with your wife to church but you do not personally believe, I pray that you would see the work that God is doing in your wife, and that the beauty of it would be compelling to you as you consider the fair offer of salvation that God is extending to you. Jesus died for you just as He did for her, and He lives again to save you both. Your life can be transformed alongside of hers, and you will experience, not only the beauty of a godly wife, but the glory of a godly marriage if you would surrender to Christ’s Lordship today.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Healed By His Wounds - 1 Peter 2:24-25

Audio available here (the first few minutes were accidentally not recorded)

The great Southern Baptist bible scholar, Dr. A. T. Roberston, once said, “It is pitiful to think how the Bible has been abused by men who did not know how to interpret it. Many a heresy has come from a misinterpretation of Scripture.” Heresy is serious business, and it always spiritually deadly. In some cases, it can be physically deadly as well. Take, for instance, the controversy that has surrounded the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, Oregon. Over the last few decades, the church came under suspicion when a medical examiner reported that 25 of the church’s children had died in a 10 year period due to lack of proper medical attention. An investigation discovered that 21 of 78 children buried in the church’s cemetery had died of easily diseases and disorders. Within the last few years, a wave of deaths and serious illnesses among the congregation’s children has brought them into the spotlight again. In 2008, a 15-month-old died from pneumonia; months later, a 16-year-old died from a bladder blockage; in 2009, a premature baby who was delivered without medical assistance died from infection. A few days ago, the parents of that child were indicted for manslaughter. About a week prior to that indictment, another couple in the church were charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment and had their 7-month-old child taken into state custody because the parents had not sought medical treatment for a growing mass of blood vessels that was developing on their daughter’s forehead threatening permanent blindness. How can one explain such a wave of tragedy among the children of a single congregation? In each case, these parents refused medical treatment for their children because the church taught that God would heal the children by faith, and medical care was severely frowned upon. In some cases, members of the church have been shunned for seeking medical care.

Members of that church follow a line of teaching that claims that physical healing is always to be expected from God, and when it is not received, it demonstrates a lack of faith on the part of the believer. You don’t have to go to Oregon to find that kind of unbiblical thinking (though you know what I say about those folks out west!). There are plenty of churches around us who teach the same things, and plenty of Christians we encounter almost daily who believe that if we only have strong enough faith, we will not experience sickness or any physical ailments. Of all the preachers on television, a vast majority of them regularly teach this. They say that genuine faith in Christ will always make one healthy, and also wealthy! And how does one demonstrate this kind of faith? Usually it is proven by sending monetary contributions to the preacher. One of the scriptures that is often used to validate this teaching is this statement from 1 Peter 2:24, “by His wounds you were healed.” This is paraphrased from Isaiah 53:5, that rich prophecy about the suffering of the Messiah which says, “by His scourging we are healed.” One of these teachers once claimed that he had not suffered flu in many years because, in his words, “I’m redeemed from the flu! … I’m healed by the stripes of Jesus.” Another even goes so far as to say, “The basic principle of the Christian life is to know that God put our sin, sickness, disease, sorrow, grief, and poverty on Jesus at Calvary.” Is that really the most basic principle of Christianity?

But do we not believe the Bible? We do indeed, every word of it. And does the Bible not say these things? Does it not say, “By His wounds you were healed?” It does, we see it in this very text. But in this case, as in so many other dangerous heresies, what has happened is that the words of Scripture have been removed from its context and twisted to mean something it never intended to say. We are all in need of healing, and in more ways than just physical. But the phrase we find here does not mean that we can expect an immediate physical healing from the maladies that plague our bodies. So, in what sense then can we say that we are healed by the wounds of Jesus?

I. We are healed from the disease of sin (v25)

It should come as no surprise to anyone here today when I say that we are all going to die. Of course, the only possible exception to that is that if any of us are alive when the Lord returns, and we don’t want to rule that out. But aside from that, we are all going to experience physical death. Now there are a growing number of folks today who seem convinced that this does not have to be so. They claim that with the right vitamins and supplements, diet and exercise, we can stay younger longer, and avoid death or at least postpone it indefinitely. Listen, folks, the Bible teaches us in many passages and with many words that death is inevitable for us. Consider, for example Hebrews 9:27, which says, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” And there is no cheating death. The day of our death is an appointed time on God’s calendar. The Psalmist said, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalms 139:16). And we know the reason why we are all under this death sentence. It is because of sin. The entrance of sin into the world through Adam’s disobedience brought a terminal condition that has been passed on to each of his descendants. In our bodies, the wages of sin are at work, corrupting us from conception to the day of our death. And because we are sinners by nature, we are also sinners by practice. We aren’t called sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.

Peter describes our sinful condition this way in verse 25: “You were continually straying like sheep.” This again borrows from Isaiah 53, where we read, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Notice that it is not a one-time incident where we stepped off of the right path of life. We were continually straying, he says. It was the pattern of our lives to stray away from the Lord. We were not going His way, but as Isaiah said, “each of us has turned to his own way.” There may be some who would object and say, “Not me! I’ve always walked the straight and narrow. Been in church since the day I was born, and always did right.” First of all, just plainly speaking, that’s a lie; and lying is sin, so immediately you discover you aren’t as good as you thought. But even giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe you have always tried to do good, always been a church-going person who did good things. Remember what God said about Israel: “This people draws near to Me with their words and honors Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” In other words, their religion was all talk and going through the motions. Their hearts were just as heavy laden with sin as the most irreligious people in the world. That kind of religious performance may fool some people, but it never fools God. He sees the heart. He sees what no one else can see and He watches when no one else is looking. None of us are immune to sin and its effects in our lives. And the most obvious effect is death.

Some of you have experienced the pain of raising a child who turns away from the path you have taught them to follow. You worked hard to provide for them, you taught them right from wrong, you instilled biblical truths in their lives from an early age, and they chose to stray from the path. You know how heartbreaking that is. That is why our hearts resonate so much with Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel According to Luke. We can all identify with that story in some way. We either find ourselves in the loving parent or in the selfishly sinful son, or sometimes in both. But the story is not primarily one about childrearing. It is about humanity’s relationship with God. He created us all, and provided for us all, and cares for us all. But we have all “continually strayed.” As heartbreaking as that may be for human parents to endure, it is infinitely moreso for God, whose fatherly love has been trampled upon by every one of us in our sin.

Peter says here that in our straying we are like sheep. It’s not intended as a compliment. Sheep are notoriously stupid animals. They are prone to follow one another into deadly predicaments. A news story from 2005 illustrates the point well. In a small Turkish village, a herd of sheep was grazing near a cliff and one of them fell off the cliff. Suddenly, 1500 sheep followed it over the edge. The bad news is that 450 of them died. The good news is that the pile of dead sheep at the bottom of the cliff cushioned the fall of the other 1100 who survived the event. That’s pretty stupid, isn’t it? But we are like those sheep; we follow the herd. The first human-sheep, Adam, plunged into the death of sin, and the rest of us have followed him and one another right over the edge. And we will plummet to not only a physical death, but unless our sinful condition can be healed, there will be an eternal death to suffer at the end of the fall.

We are told here that we have been healed by the wounds of the Lord Jesus. The healing described both here in 1 Peter and in the Isaiah passage is not a healing from sickness, not immediately anyway, but a healing from sin. The context makes that clear. Nowhere in these verses have we read a single word about sickness, nor do we in Isaiah. Rather, surrounding this mention of healing we find repeated emphasis on sin; and in Isaiah, we find synonymous terms like transgressions and iniquities. And because this healing from sin is available to us, we can turn from the cliff’s edge before going over the edge.

This is the point of the concluding statement in the passage. “Now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” You remember how Jesus looked on the multitudes with compassion, seeing them “like sheep without a shepherd.” He looks upon humanity following after one another in sin, like those sheep leading one another astray over the edge of the cliff. But He is the Shepherd that we are wandering from. He said of Himself in John 10, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He is the Shepherd of whom David spoke in Psalm 23, saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” And because of the healing that He has provided for us, healing from our sins, we are able to return to His care. It is a picture of repentance, much like we see in the prodigal son story when he comes to the end of himself and runs home to his father’s embrace. So we come to the place when we are ready to receive His healing and we return, we repent, we turn from the path on which we are going astray, and turn to Him. He becomes for us the Shepherd that we need. The biblical word here is poimen, interestingly the same word that is translated as “Pastor” elsewhere in the New Testament. We come under His care. As the Psalmist says, we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:7). And He is also the Guardian of our souls. The word used here is episkopos, another word used to describe human leaders in the church, namely the Bishop or Overseer. Jesus has become our spiritual guardian; our souls are under His guidance and protection. This relationship with Him begins as we turn from our wayward path of sin and receive the healing that He has provided for us.

Christ heals us from the disease of our sin. But a question remains unanswered: How is this healing possible? What took place to make this healing something we can experience? Verse 24 gives us the answer.

II. We are healed through the death of the Savior (v24)

A friend and I were trekking through villages in Kenya about 13 years ago, and we kept noticing all these kids with open sores all over their arms. My friend had this thought: “I wonder if Neosporin could help those sores?” So we pulled out our first aid kits and began applying Neosporin all over the kids hands and feet and faces, praying for each one as we did. And as we trekked through the villages day-by-day, the kids were showing us how their sores were healing up, and they were delighted. Parents were begging us to come and put the magic lotion on their children too. It wasn’t magic. It was just a little tube of Neosporin, and prayer (I think it was both), but it seemed to be the remedy. They had never seen or heard of Neosporin; we had never seen sores like those. And who knows how many kids we walked by we might have been able to help because we didn’t know we had the cure to their sores in our backpacks?

Well, Neosporin might be a wonder drug, but it won’t heal us of our greatest ailment – it is useless in dealing with sin. There is no medicine behind the pharmacist’s counter, no topical ointment or potion we can take; but there is a cure. The cure is not found in a pill but in a person – Jesus Christ.
In Zechariah 3:1-5, the prophet records a vision he had of Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD. Many scholars believe that this expression “the angel of the Lord” refers to the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus in His preincarnate state. But Joshua is not alone there. Satan is standing there, ready to accuse him before the Lord of all his sins. And it doesn’t look good for Joshua. The Bible tells us there that “Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel.” This is a picture of each of us. We are standing before the Lord, covered in the foulness of our sins, with Satan accusing us before the righteous Judge of all that we have done to violate His commands and ordinances. Deserving only of wrath and hell, we stand justly condemned before the Lord. But suddenly, the scene takes an unexpected turn. The angel of the Lord says, “Remove the filthy garments from him. … See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Joshua has his sin-stained garments taken away and is clothed in clean garments before the Lord. And this is a picture of what Christ has done for those who have been healed of their sins.
This is possible because “He Himself bore our sins.” Imagine we are standing before God and around our necks are hanging tablets that list all of our sins that we’ve ever committed. Not a one is left off. We know that we rightly deserve the wrath that we fear we will experience. But then imagine that Jesus comes to us and removes those indictments and places them around His own neck and then stands in our place to receive the divine wrath of the Father against all of our sins. That is the idea here when Peter says He bore our sins. The wording indicates He was placed under a heavy weight, the weight of our sin and the full judgment that our sin deserves. But it isn’t imaginary or just a mystical, spiritual event. It was a physical, historical event. He bore our sins, Peter says, “in His body.” His body took the scourging, the beating, the torture, the nails of execution, that our sins deserve.
Because of sin, we are all under a curse. And Christ has born our sin and their curse. The Law of Moses stated that a person who is hanged on a tree is accursed. The Apostle Paul understood that this ultimately pointed to Jesus, the beloved Son of the Father, who for our sake became accursed to heal us of our sin. In Galatians 3:13, Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE.’” He “who knew no sin became sin for us,” as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, so that sin might be fully and finally dealt with in His body on the cross. All of our indictments against all of our sins, are hung upon Christ; and Christ is hung upon the cross to suffer and die for our sins. Colossians 2:14 says it this way: “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The wounds Christ received in bearing our sins are the source of our healing from sin. By His wounds we are healed. Isaiah said “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well -being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isaiah 53:5-6). Christ bore our sins, He bore them in His body, He bore them on the cross, so that as a result of His suffering, we are healed.

Because of His suffering in our place as our substitute, we may now “die to sin and live to righteousness” as Peter says in verse 24. We demonstrate this spiritual reality every time a believer is baptized. He or she is buried in the water, depicted both the death of Christ for us and the death of our old way of living that was dominated by sin. Then the believer is raised up from the water, depicting both the resurrection of Christ and the raising up of a new life which is cleansed from sin, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a holy life. We are justified by faith in Christ, meaning that we have been declared righteous by God on the basis of Christ’s righteous life and substitutionary death; and we begin to experience sanctification as the Holy Spirit transforms us throughout the remainder of our lives, making us more like Jesus. Sin begins to loose its enchantment, and we develop a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Every genuine believer in Christ should find this taking place in his or her life – a growing dissatisfaction with the emptiness of sin, and an increasing longing to live more and more by the Spirit’s power for the glory of God. Though in this life, we will continue to struggle with sin, and wrestle against its effects in our lives and in our world, the healing we have experienced is real. Christ died bearing our sin, that we might be reconciled to God forever. This is true healing.

We have been healed from the penalty of sin. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, those who trust in Him as Lord and Savior will not receive the wrath of God against sin for Christ has borne it for us. We are being healed from the power of sin. As we grow in Christ, we find sin’s grasp weakening upon our lives, and we are finding more power from the Holy Spirit to say to no to sin, and to say no to ourselves and our sinful desires, and more power to say yes to the things of God. And one day, praise God, we will be fully and finally healed of all of sin’s presence. We long with all of creation for the day of complete redemption when every last effect of sin will be put away for eternity. On that day, when we arrive at our eternal home in heaven, we will be forever done with all sickness and suffering. Revelation 21:4 says of that place and time that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Christ has brought us healing, and has struck the deadly disease that afflicts us all at the roots. Sin has been dealt with completely in His death and resurrection. The roots are withered. The leaves and fruit are still visible – suffering, weakness, sickness, death. But they are attached to a dead root, and will one day perish as well.

So, Christian, when you suffer, when you are sick, when you are weak, and when you stare death square in the face, don’t let anyone tell you that it is a sign of God’s displeasure with you. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is because of a lack of faith. If that were so, how can we explain the fact that Jesus, the beloved Son in Whom the Father is well-pleased, the One whose confident faith in the Father never wavered, suffered beyond anything we can comprehend, and died brutally and unjustly in our place? We accept by faith that because of what Christ has done for us, bearing our sins in His body on the cross, that our most life-threatening ailment, SIN, has been healed. And we accept by faith that though we will continue to sin and suffer in this life, a complete healing awaits in glory. And all of it, the spiritual healing and the physical healing are ours through Christ. He is our Shepherd, He is the Guardian of our souls, and we must entrust ourselves to His loving care through all of the hard days of this life, knowing that He is guiding us safely home through many dangers, toils and snares. But under His Lordship, we will arrive there, and our healing will be complete.

If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I pray you would see your own name written between the lines of these words in our text today. Christ bore YOUR sins in His body on the cross, so that YOU might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds YOU are healed. For YOU were continually straying like sheep, but now YOU have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of YOUR soul. I pray it will be so. May the Spirit of God move upon your heart and draw you to turn from sin and trust in Jesus, who died for you that you might live for Him.