ď1 Peter: Don't Give UpĒ
Does it seem the world in which you are living is about to come crashing down? Are you living in fear of persecution? Are your relationships falling apart? Do you wonder how you will make it from one day to the next? As someone recently put it, "I feel as if I am living in the eye of the storm." I suppose we all feel like that at times. We wonder if anything good can come out of the bad that is around us. The Christians living under the cruel reign of Nero asked such questions. The apostle Paul gave them some good answers. In his letter called 1st Peter, he encouraged them to hold fast to their faith. Peter reminded them of Jesus' suffering and encouraged them to follow His example in the face of opposition. In spite of the many problems that came with living a Christian life, Peter inspired them to have hope for the future. No, it might not get any easier but there was coming a day when things would be made right. And that is the kind of message we need to hear, isn't it? We need some good news in the midst of all the bad. We need a message that keeps us going in spite of the problems we face on a daily basis. We need to realize that if we are on the Lord's side then ultimately things will be okay. Yes, we need 1st Peter. For the next few minutes I hope you will stay tuned to this station as we study through Peter's letter. I believe his words offer the encouragement we need to survive the eye of the storm and to get to the other side. Open your Bible with me now as we study together.
A number of years ago I traveled to a place overseas which I had never been to before. I was nervous about going. I did not know for sure what to expect, and when I arrived, sure enough, my concerns and worries played out. I was of a different skin color, I spoke a different language, the food they were eating was not the kind of food I was used to eating, and our cultures were very different. Yes, I felt as if I did not belong in that country and indeed I was a stranger in a foreign place. Well, the apostle Peter wrote a letter to some Christians who felt the same way. The difference however was, they were a foreigner or a stranger in their own hometowns, in the communities and cities and villages in which they grew up. They felt as if they no longer belonged. Some time around AD 64, these Christians were persecuted by the Roman emperor Nero. In fact, just a few years later, he was the one who put the apostle Peter to death. At one time, these followers were part of their culture. They were part of their society. They fit in with everybody else. Yet now they were a part of God's family. And as a result, they were being ridiculed because of their changed behavior and their new lifestyle. Some of them were losing their jobs. Families were being torn apart. They were being persecuted for the faith, and yes, some were even being put to death. There are some places in the world today where that still happens. Followers of Jesus are being persecuted because of their faith in Him. Some of them are being put to death and we hear about that happening. We see the news clips and we read the stories and it breaks our heart to know that there is still persecution of Christians in the world today. And yet for the most part, many of us never experience that. We don't know what it's like to be ridiculed or persecuted for our faith, except on a few occasions. Well, Peter heard about what was going on with these Christians and he knew they needed some help. He could not do anything about the persecution; however, he could offer some words of encouragement, and that's what he does in this letter called 1st Peter. Notice the way he begins in chapter 1, verses 3 through 5: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by Godís power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." Now aren't those some encouraging words? Peter reminds them they have a new birth into a living hope, and that new birth represents a new start in life. They have a new direction and a new purpose. They also have a living hope. That hope, again, is not something that may or may not take place. That hope is a certain reality which has yet to be realized. They also have an inheritance, and that inheritance far outweighs any kind of earthly inheritance they might be able to receive; for this inheritance will not perish, it won't spoil, it won't fade away in any form or fashion. And then there's something else Peter identifies. They are shielded by God's power. Through their faith in Jesus Christ, in God the Father, God protects them. He shields them from the persecution and the problems of life. Oh yes, they may still experience some of those but the God shield, His everlasting shield, His eternal shield is watching over them. No, Peter does not want them to be surprised by the trials and the problems of life. He even reminds them that there are other believers scattered everywhere else who are experiencing some of the very same things. And so, they are to rejoice in that they are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, for they remember how Jesus Himself was persecuted and put on a cross and even died on their behalf. And so, Peter wants them to count it joy and to be excited that they are now a part of God's family. He also wants them to know there is coming a time when this persecution will be over and they will be rewarded as they have remained faithful and true to the Lord. Now, until that time comes, they are to live by a higher standard. They are to be set apart for the Lord's purposes. And throughout this letter, Peter identifies several different ways as to how they can do that. In chapter 2, he reminds them of who they are and to whom they belong. In chapter 3, he gives some very careful instruction to both the husbands and wives and the importance of that marital relationship. In chapter 5, he has some direction and council for the leaders or the shepherds of the church, the people who belong to it. And all of those things, no doubt, help these Christians endure the persecutions and the problems they are experiencing. There is one statement however, in the 2nd chapter, I believe serves as the summary statement for Peter's entire message, and that's where I want to begin. Look at verses 9 and 10 of chapter 2. Peter writes, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." Peter writes, "You are special, you are chosen, you are royal, you are holy, you belong to God." In four different ways, Peter lets them know they are somebody special in the eyes of God. Those people needed to hear that. They needed to know of their standing with the Lord God Almighty. He then writes, "Look at where you were compared to where you are today. God called you out of that dark world in which you were living and now you are living in the glorious light of Jesus Christ." Yes, Jesus has made a tremendous difference in their life, and Peter reminds them that they are called to live as lights in a dark world. And that's how they are to live. In fact he lists several things that identify one as a follower of Jesus. In no particular order, he writes out these things as they come to his mind. And as we look at them, I want us to apply them to our lives. I want us to pause and to think about what he writes and how that is to be translated into how we live, still today. Let's look at several of these statements. In chapter 1 we find these words in verses 13 through 15. "Therefore, prepare your minds for action. Be self controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" Two things are highlighted, live a life of holiness and live in obedience to God. Today when we consider the great sacrifice God made for us by giving His one and only son, Jesus Christ, for us, our natural response is to live in obedience to Him. Our natural response is to obey His commands, and that is closely connected to living a holy life. And we live that holy life because we realize God Himself is holy and His children are to be holy as well. Let's look at another passage over in chapter 2. This time let's look at verses 11 through 16. Peter writes, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and give glory to God on the day He visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lordís sake to every authority instituted among men, whether to the king as the supreme authority or to governors who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is Godís will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil. Live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone. Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king." There are many things included in those six verses, but we can summarize it by saying this; Peter wants us to live good lives by avoiding evil and doing good and submitting to the authorities and loving one another. That makes good sense, doesn't it? That is a very practical way to live. And we do those things not in order to say to God, "Well look at all the good I am doing. Look at all the evil I am avoiding. I need the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ." No, rather we do those because we have already received that salvation and it transforms the way we live. It transforms our relationships and it causes us to live that good life in the sight of God. Let's go to chapter 3. Notice these words that begin in verse 13. "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is Godís will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." Peter writes, "Be gentle with non-believers because you represent Jesus Christ, and then live with a clear conscience." You know, there probably was a time in your life when you were a non-believer. You were not a part of God's family. I can relate to that because there was a time in my life when that was true. And as I considered whether or not I wanted to follow Jesus Christ, I looked at others who claimed that they were following Jesus. I heard their words, I saw their actions and I evaluated whether or not I wanted that in my life. I looked at their example and I studied the Word and I became a follower of Jesus myself. Well realize, as Peter points out, other people are looking at you. They are considering your life and whether or not they want to follow Jesus also. No doubt, that is something we keep in mind, even in the midst of times of trial, persecution and hardship. Here's another statement which Peter makes, which I believe applies to us. Notice chapter 4, verses 7 through 10. "The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others faithfully, administrating Godís grace in its various forms." Be self controlled, love one another, offer hospitality and use your gifts to serve people; oh, those are some very common and practical uses of our time and our abilities here as children of God; that, we minister to the people God puts into our life; we are clear minded enough and we are focused on Him enough to pray and to minister to other people. Yes, that is what we fill our time with instead of being so worried and concerned about the trials and the hardships that other people may be putting upon us. Here's one more passage I want us to consider, it's chapter 5, verses 6 through 9. "Humble yourselves, therefore, under Godís mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering." Be humble, depend on God and resist the devil. Oh, oftentimes we forget that Satan is alive and active in this world. And perhaps more than anything else, he wants to draw us away from following Jesus Christ. He wants to entice us to do that which is wrong and evil in the sight of God. And that's why Peter says, "Depend upon God. Do not rely upon your own resources to defeat Satan, that won't happen. But depend upon God to give you the strength necessary to live that Godly life." This was a very different lifestyle than what these Christians were used to living. It was a change of direction, it was a new life. And their friends and their neighbors perhaps, did not understand, nor did they appreciate the sacrifice that these Christians were making in order to live in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. And yet, Peter encourages them to make these changes, as they remember who they are in the Lord. As we think about Peter's letter, we recognize that it challenges us to do the very same thing. Oftentimes we are tempted in this world to fit in with everybody else. We are tempted to do what our society and the world around us is doing and we want to be a part of that. It's hard to make some of those changes and adjustments. And yet living as an alien in this world is what Peter calls upon us to do. Living as a follower of Jesus Christ requires that we make some sacrifices. It calls upon us to make some hard decisions about saying yes and saying no in certain situations. And, it also invites us to make an intentional effort to live differently than those who do not know Jesus Christ, to shine as a light in the midst of their dark world so that they too will come to recognize to whom we belong and how Jesus can make a difference in their life as well. These Christians needed to know their suffering was not in vain. There was coming a time when God would come back and make all things right and He would provide the necessary strength they needed until that time arrived. And that is the way Peter concludes his letter. I want to read one more verse in chapter 5, verse 10. "The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." Peter began his letter by reminding these Christians of who they were and the hope that they had in Jesus Christ, and now he reminds them there is coming a time when God will bring all of that into reality; that, He will make things right in due time. Another version of verse 10 reads like this, "God Himself will restore, establish and strengthen you." Yes, God Himself will do that. He won't send another representative. He won't send an angel, but God Himself will restore, establish and strengthen us at just the right time. Yes, those are some very encouraging words and these Christians needed to hear that. We need to hear it too. There was a time in my life when I felt as if I was ridiculed and persecuted. I felt like an alien, I felt like everyone had abandoned me, and yet I, deep down, knew that was not the case. But I spent some time in 1st Peter chapter 5 and I read verse 10 over and over again and I realized that, yes, God Himself is looking for that right time to restore and establish and strengthen me, and that time came. I'm thankful that it did. I don't know what you are going through in your life today but hang onto that hope. Don't give up. Yes, the words of 1st Peter encourage us. They give us the confidence we need to keep on trusting in the Lord and they remind us that God really does take a personal interest in our wellbeing. He sees what's going on in your life and my life and He cares about each one of us individually. When we find ourselves being persecuted or when we need the courage to live differently than the world around us, remember two things; number one, remember who we are; and number two, let us remember to whom we belong. We are somebody special in the eyes of God, as Peter pointed out in chapter 2. And we belong to Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son who gave His life so that we might have the promise of an eternal life with our Father in heaven. Yes, God has done some wonderful things in our life through His son Jesus Christ. And it causes us to consider, even in the midst of difficult days, even in the midst of times of persecution and hardship, even when we feel like we don't fit in and we are an alien in the world in which we live, yes, let us know, that God loves us. He takes a personal interest in what's going on. And there is coming a time when He will make things right. My prayer and my encouragement for you today is to not give up, to spend some time in 1st Peter and to be encouraged by his message to keep on walking and living in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, as you make a difference in this world.
The letter of 1st Peter touches on many aspects of the Christian faith. Peter mentions things like dealing with persecution and loving one another. He writes about the importance of serving others and the responsibilities we have within our families. 1st Peter is one of the most comprehensive letters found in the New Testament. He reminds believers everywhere to not give in to evil and to the temptations of Satan. Oh, following Jesus requires one to make some difficult choices and to live differently from those who do not know the Lord. We do that by relying on God's grace and mercy. Peter wants us to remember, we are special and holy in God's sight and we are to live as His representatives in this world. No matter what challenges we may face, there is coming a day when we will be rewarded.
Thank you for studying God's Word with us on "Key to the Kingdom." Even though the letter of 1st Peter was written many years ago, its message is still timely for us today. I hope you will spend even more time reading and studying 1st Peter on your own. This lesson can be downloaded in a variety of formats through our website, keytothekingdom.com. It does not cost anything to do that and I hope you will take advantage of the free offer. While you are visiting the site, take a few minutes to notice some of the other things that might be of interest. A free Bible study, short inspirational videos and other resources are readily available. The latest copy of our quarterly newsletter is there as well. Please take a few minutes to read about the exciting things God is doing through this ministry. To request the same free Bible study by mail, please call the number on the screen, we'll be happy to send it out in the next few days. It requires no commitment and it is designed to be studied at your own pace. Some of you may want to access our ministry through Roku television. A free app for Android or Apple iPhone users is another way to find "Key to the Kingdom." We provide all of these options as convenient ways to study God's Word and to grow in your daily walk with Him. Every week we try to share messages that give us greater insight into God's will for our lives, and hopefully today's message did just that. Thank you for spending the last few minutes with us. I invite you to tune in again next week as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."