Monday, September 27, 2010

Ancient Words for Modern Worries (1 Peter 3:10-12)

Audio available here

The writer of Ecclesiastes said, “my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless” (Eccl 12:12). Walk in any Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore, and you will immediately see the truth of this statement. One estimate for 2008 was that in that year alone, 275,232 new titles and editions were published by traditional publishers in America. Of those, nearly 17,000 new titles were categorized as Religious Books. That is nearly 47 new religious books published every day of the year for 2008. When I worked in a Christian bookstore while I was in Bible College, I was amazed that we did not stock old classics like Augustine’s Confessions, Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or Edwards’ Religious Affections. There was no room for them, with all the new books coming out each week. C. S. Lewis observed in 1944 that the “preference for the modern books and the shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology.” But he suggested that this was a “mistaken preference” because he said “a new book is still on its trial …. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages.” And this body of thought was primarily contained, according to Lewis, in “the old books.” So Lewis advocated two general rules of thumb when it came to selecting reading material. First, he said, if a person “must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.” Second, he said, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you,” he said, “you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

As Christians, we are a literary people. A large percentage of books sold each year are written by Christians and purchased by Christians. But one Book demands our singular focus. Though we may read many books, we are rightly called a people of THE BOOK, because the Bible is to be the source for all of our faith and practice. Now, why, in a world where there are so many new books published every day, would we continue to turn back to a collection of ancient writings and rely on it to answer the most pressing questions of our lives and the world? It is because this Book is the Word of God. This is what faithful Christian people have always done through the centuries when we find ourselves in need of divine truth: we turn to the Bible. And in fact, this is what the first generation of Christians did. Though the New Testament was still being written at that time, Christians in the first century understood that God had inspired the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament, and that it was His Word, as valid for them and their daily concerns as it was for those in the days when it was originally written. So, when the Apostle Peter wrote to a struggling group of Christians in Asia Minor who were facing discouragement, opposition, and persecution, he pointed to the Word of God.

At least nine times in 1 Peter, the Scripture that informs what Peter is writing is the 34th Psalm. In the verses before us today, we find an almost exact quotation from Psalm 34:10-12. In that Psalm, David is reflecting back on God’s deliverance from a distressing situation in which his life was endangered, and in which he had acted deceptively and foolishly. But David’s foolishness did not undermine God’s faithfulness, and he praises God for graciously rescuing him. From that passage, Peter instructs Christians some 1000 years later, that in the midst of their troubled times, God will be faithful to them. Today, some 2000 years after Peter wrote this letter, and some 3000 years after David penned the Psalm, we find that God’s Word is still relevant and helpful to us in the midst of our distress as well. Whether we find ourselves in situations that are the result of persecution, life in this fallen world, evil committed against us, or the consequences of our folly, these ancient words come to our aid in the midst of our modern worries.

I. God is aware of the worries that His people face (v12a)

Nearly a half-mile below the earth’s surface in Chile, thirty-three miners have been waiting to be rescued for almost two months. No one is sure when the day of rescue will arrive, but the plan is that once a shaft can be drilled to reach them, a cylinder will be dropped down to extract the miners one by one. It may take two hours or more for each person to be pulled out. So, imagine being number thirty three. For two and a half days you have watched your colleagues go up one by one, and now you help number 32 buckle his straps. For the next two hours, you are alone at the bottom of a mine shaft. The entire time, you can’t help thinking, “They still remember I’m down here right? They are going to send it back down for me right? They did count the guys didn’t they?”

Well, we aren’t trapped in a mine, and we would certainly never want to make light of their situation or compare our often-petty concerns with such a severe issue. But sometimes, when things are not going our way, when situations arise that cause us to be concerned, to be anxious, to be worried, don’t we feel like the last miner in the hole? “Hey God, remember me! I’m still down here! Did you forget?” That may have been they way the Christians in Asia Minor were feeling when Peter wrote to them. They had been uprooted from their homeland, transplanted as colonists for an Empire they did not support in a land they didn’t want to live in, threatened and mistreated by their new neighbors in that place. Nothing seemed to be going right. It might have seemed like God had abandoned them in the midst of their distress. But Peter reminds them of a truth that is easy to forget on those hard days: “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer.”

When David wrote these words in Psalm 34, he was thinking back to the time when he was running for his life from Saul. He fled to the priests at Nob, and he lied to them, putting them in a predicament that would eventually lead to their deaths. Then he ran to the city of Gath where he pretended to be insane before their king in order to escape danger there. David’s own dishonesty and foolishness to protect his own life only endangered him more and put innocent lives at stake. Finally, David sought the help of the Lord, who guided him into safety. And through this, David learned that he could have cried out to the Lord sooner rather than trusting his own craftiness to protect him. The Lord had never taken His eyes off of David, even though David found himself in a fight for his life. Now, with the 20/20 vision that hindsight provides, he beckons all of Israel to join him in praising the Lord whose eyes look upon His own people and whose ears attend to their prayers.

Before this truth can become a precious comfort to us, we have to wrestle with a particular qualifying term in this statement: the righteous. The good news is that God never loses sight of the righteous, and they are never out of earshot of Him. The bad news is that none of us are righteous. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). So, are we not then disqualified by our unrighteousness from this watchcare of God? It is true, we would be, unless God were to act in some way to grant to us a righteousness that we cannot manufacture in our own effort. And thanks be to God, He has. The same God who says in Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear,” also says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow.” He accomplished this in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In Christ’s death, our sins are removed from us and placed upon Him, so that He bore the penalty of that sin on the cross. In exchange, God has given us the righteousness of Christ, which was demonstrated in His perfect life as a covering. So for those who have turned to Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are now declared to be righteous before God because of His grace. This is why Paul says in Philippians 3:9 that he does not desire to stand before God with a righteousness of his own derived from the Law, but rather with a righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. All of our own righteousness is but filthy rags. But the righteousness of Christ is given to us by faith so that we have a standing before God because of Him. We are still prone to sin, but in Christ we bear His righteousness. We are, as the theologians of old said, simul iustus et peccator, at the same time righteous and sinful. David and Peter are both good prototypes of this: godly men who do dumb stuff sometimes. That sounds familiar.

Therefore, those who are in Christ can know with confident assurance that their lives are being watched over by a sovereign God who attends to their cries. This does not mean we will escape trouble. David was in trouble, and when that trouble started, he had done nothing to cause it. Some of the things he had done had compounded the trouble. And trouble will always exist for the righteous in this fallen world – sometimes for no fault of our own, sometimes complicated by our own foolishness. But God will be faithful to His own in the midst of trouble. As David says in Psalm 34:19, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” He is aware of the things that worry the hearts and minds of those who are righteous in Christ. We’ve never been out of His sight, out of His hearing, or out of His love. You may be in troubled times, but you are not alone there. You can cry out to Him in the midst of it. Those are ancient words, but they meet us at the point of our need in our modern worries.

II. God blesses the life of the one who lives according to His Word (vv10-11)

All of us are, to some extent, dreamers. We have ambitions and desires in life. Many find themselves in pursuit of what has been called “the American Dream.” Nowhere is this dream more succinctly expressed than in the Declaration of Independence. There, we read those familiar words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet, when we consider the world we live in, and the lives of people everywhere, it would seem that these truths are not as self-evident as the founders of America considered them to be; nor are they universally found to be unalienable rights. When we look in Scripture, we see that indeed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are gifts from God, but it may be a stretch to call them unalienable rights. In fact, we might find that the Bible teaches more accurately that these “rights,” if it was ever appropriate to call them that, have been forfeited by humanity in sin. They may be more appropriately considered blessings from God which are given to us from His hand when we in fact do not deserve them. But they are certainly universally desired, if not universally experienced.
Peter recognized that those to whom he was writing desired blessings of this sort in life, as did David when he penned the Psalm that is quoted here. David wrote in Psalm 34:12, “Who is the man who desires life and loves length of days that he may see good?” I want to raise my hand and say, “Me! I am that man!” I want to live! I want to have a long life and see good!” And likely you desire those things too. Peter paraphrases the Psalm here to suggest that the pathway to experiencing these blessings is to walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot claim that they are ours by right, but rather they are ours by grace. And in recognition of that fact, we must seek to align our lives with God’s word, to live in such a way that we experience these and other blessings in this life from God through Jesus Christ. While we have received in Christ a positional righteousness before God, there is a practical righteousness that we must live out. This is the proof that our righteousness before God is genuine. If we say that God has made us righteous, but our lives do not reflect that righteousness, then someone is lying. Either God is lying by saying we are righteous, or we are lying when we say we have received that righteousness. Now, we know that God is God, and He is holy, and He cannot lie. The Bible says that it is impossible for God to lie. That certainly narrows the options doesn’t it? While we will never attain perfection in this life, there ought to be a demonstrable progress and perseverance in righteousness throughout our lives as the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers to live in obedience to Him. For the true child of God, this becomes a desire, to live in the way that God has promised to bless.

And what is this way of living? Quoting Psalm 34:13-14, Peter says here in verses 10-11 that the one who desires these blessings must “keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” This refers to righteous speech. The area in which we are most prone to sin in our speech. That is why James 3:2 says that though we all stumble in many ways, “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” The tongue seems to be the most stubborn holdout in our sanctification. We are so quick to speak evil and to speak deceptively. Remember that these were the circumstances surrounding David’s writing of Psalm 34. He lied! And he intentionally deceived the priests of Israel and the king of Gath in order to protect himself. Perhaps some of Peter’s readers found themselves tempted to speak deceptively to defend themselves in the midst of the hostilities they were facing. But we also know that they were tempted to speak evil of others, particularly those who were speaking evil of them. In the preceding verse (3:9), Peter admonished them not to return evil for evil or insult for insult. The temptation is strong isn’t it? When we find ourselves on the defensive, our first natural instinct is to be deceptive or to retaliate with evil speech. That is why Peter uses a Greek verb tense here that literally means, “stop the tongue from evil and the lips from deceit.” He suggests that they were already speaking evil and deceit, but God cannot bless that kind of unrighteous speech. In order to experience the blessings that they so desired from God, like David, they must put away those patterns of unrighteous speaking, and allow the Holy Spirit to control their tongues so that they speak blessing and truth instead. And so we too must not expect God to bless our persistence in sinful practices that He has condemned, and this includes in our way of speaking to each other and to those outside the church.

But notice that this goes beyond just our speech. He says more generally that the person who desires the blessings of God on his or her life must “turn away from evil.” Our speech is one area where we are prone to practicing evil, but it is not the only place. Wherever we find evil present in our lives, we must die to it, and allow the Holy Spirit to uproot it. But, we must not fall into what I call a “spirituality of negation.” In other words, the idea here is not just that our righteousness consists of the evil we do not do. There is a positive injunction here. As we turn away from evil, we must also simultaneously “do good.” What are we doing to bless those around us? Remember that Peter said in verse 9 that we have been called for the very purpose of blessing others, even those who do evil against us, and that blessing others is the avenue of being blessed. So the challenge for Peter and his Christian friends in the first century, the challenge for those of David’s generation, and the challenge for us today is to discover from God’s Word how we might do good in Christ’s name and for God’s glory, rather than just not doing bad.

One of those ways is specified here – seeking peace and pursuing it. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and those who are subjects of His Kingdom are a peace-loving people. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). So, when peace is threatened or violated by evil and insult, it is the child of God who must seek peace. This we do by not responding with evil for evil or insult for insult, but by responding with a blessing instead. We are seeking to make peace with others, to facilitate peace between others who are at odds with one another, and to reconcile them under the Lordship of Jesus. But peace is elusive in a world filled with sin. A nineteenth century preacher wrote, “This great blessing (peace) does not voluntarily present itself; it must be sought; Even when sought it often eludes the grasp; it flies away, and must be pursued.” Many times the price we must pay for peace is great, and demands a sacrifice. Sometimes, the price of peace is too great. Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” This implies that sometimes it is not possible. Often we are offered peace in exchange for compromising our convictions on the Gospel or an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. This is a sacrifice that cannot be made, for faithfulness to Christ is a higher priority than peace. But faithfulness to Christ leads us to pursue peace, and to be spiritually mature enough know when we can sacrifice to attain it and when we must not.

Aside from these uncompromisable convictions, we should always be willing to do what is necessary to make peace, as Paul says, “so far as it depends on you.” David was running for his life from Saul, and though he did not always make the best decisions in those situations, he never sought to retaliate against Saul. He had opportunities to kill Saul, end the turmoil, and take the throne God had promised him by force. But he did not do it. He did not return evil for evil, but sought peace. Saul continued to pursue David. But as much as it depended on David, he pursued peace. And so must we. The olive branch may not be received by the other party, but you stand before God knowing that you extended it in good faith.

So, as we go through worrisome situations in life, there is ancient truth here from the life of David, repeated to first century believers, and relevant for us, that God’s blessings can be experienced when we walk in obedience to His word. Among those blessings are life, love, and good days.

III. God actively opposes those whose ways are evil (v12b)
While the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, watching over them, blessing them, providing for and protecting them as His ears attend to their prayers, notice that the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. This does not mean that He doesn’t see them or know what they are doing. He knows everything and sees everything. But when He sees evil being done, He actively works against the evildoers in His holy wrath. This is a promise of both great comfort and liberation, as well as a solemn warning.

First, we are comforted to know that when we are the victims of evil, that God is concerned for our suffering and that He is working on our behalf against the evildoers. God has set His face against them, even as His eyes look toward us, if we are the righteous in Christ. What a comfort to know that the God of the universe is personally involved in our worrisome circumstances. But there is also a great sense of liberation here, for it means that we do not have to fight these battles. We can return evil and insults with blessing and peace, knowing that God will fight whatever battles need to be fought on our behalf. If we are in Christ, and living in obedience to His Word, we can fully expect Him to be our defense. Therefore, we are free to forgive, free to bless, free to love even our enemies and trust Him to bring justice where it is necessary.

We must not ignore the solemn warning of these words. If the face of God is turned away from those who do evil, then if we begin to do evil, we are not exempt from His chastening and His discipline. So we must be on guard against the temptation to fall into practicing evil, whether as an initiator or a retaliator. It would be tragic for us to expect blessing from God only to find chastening; to expect His defense of our cause only to find His active opposition to it.

Now in closing, let me set the truths of this text in a larger context. All of us know when we examine ourselves honestly that we have not kept our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit. We have not turned away from evil; we have not done good; we have neither sought nor pursued peace. In fact, only one has ever lived such a life with perfection and that is Jesus Christ. And when He died on the cross, all of our evil, all of our lies, all of our strife, and all of our sin was placed upon Him. And the face of the God the Father turned against His only begotten Son as He bore that sin. Jesus bore the wrath that God the Father poured out on all of our sin as He died, and He cried out in the agony of that moment, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Luther said, “God forsaken of God, who can fathom it?” God the Son, wearing my sin, bearing my wrath, for me, and face of God the Father turns away from Him because of my evil and my sin. But as a result of what Christ did in bearing my sins, I can now be made righteous in Him. His perfect righteousness is placed on my life, so that, because of Christ, the eyes of the Lord are now toward me in mercy and blessing, and His ears attend my prayers, and the blessings of life, love, and good days are available to me. What wondrous love is this? What mercy, what grace! These ancient words help us in our modern worries, but there is a timeless worry that ought to gnaw away at every human soul: How can a sinner like me ever stand before a perfectly holy God? The answer is Jesus; my sin imputed to Him in His death; the righteousness of His life imputed to me by faith. If you have never come to know Him as your Lord and Savior, then beloved today should be that day. Salvation is extended to you in Christ, God is offering you the olive branch of peace; have you received it? If not, will you this day?

And if you have, then the promises and the truths of these ancient words will be of great help to you in the matters that worry you today. If you are in Christ, then you are righteous before God, and His eye is on you; His ear attends your prayers; and as He empowers you to walk in obedience to His word, He will lead you in paths of righteousness that will be blessed with life, love, and good days, even in the midst of this fallen world’s troubles. And that life will never end, for it is eternally secure through our Risen Lord Jesus.

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tongkat ali said...
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