Suffering. Who wants it? Who likes it?
When faced with suffering, our normal human response is to escape it. Whatever it takes to get out of pain, we will do. That’s normal, and even an appropriate response, because pain is…well….pain. It hurts. We would advise ourselves and other sufferers to do whatever it takes to escape from the pain.
Today we are finishing a series on a letter the Apostle Peter wrote to churches in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. Many of the Christians in these churches were enduring persecution.
So related to this theme of suffering, what would we advise the persecuted Christians? What would we say? How should they find relief from the pain? Would we say, “Give up on Jesus. Deny him. And then the persecution will stop.” Or “Indulge yourself in any evil pleasure? You deserve it.”
The Lord, through Peter’s pen, calls the followers of Jesus to the opposite of normal human response.
As we finish our series on 1 Peter today, I have grown to love Peter’s letter even more than I did before. So rich. So relevant. For today, though, we have a wonderfully insightful and inspiring section to consider.
Let’s pray together.
Lord, we are not suffering like many Christians are today in other parts of the world. Strengthen them in the truths of Peter’s letter.
Yet, Lord, regardless of our type of suffering and trials and pain, we can have similar challenges and temptations. Strengthen us today in the knowledge of God. To know you, and to trust you.
Empower us to follow in your ways. There is opposition to our obedience, both the flesh and the devil. But empower us to do what is right, and so please you.
This morning you know our personal needs. And our collective needs. Would you please minister to us. Speak to our hearts. Give us humble hearts and open ears.
Turn to 1 Peter 5.
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
elder--- The word in the original language can be used simply to designate those who are older in age. But from the context here, I believe it’s obvious Peter is referring to the office of elder in the church.
In several places in the NT, we see 3 words used for what I believe is the same office: Elder. Shepherd/Pastor. And Overseer/Bishop. All 3 words are used here either in Noun or Verb form.
What impresses me in vs. 1 is Peter’s humility. He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He walked with Jesus. He witnessed the crucifixion and resurrection. He was the Leader of the Apostles. Yet he calls himself a fellow elder. We’ll see more about the call to humility in a few verses.
Peter addresses elders here in vs. 1-4, perhaps because as leaders they may face the brunt of persecution. Plus, these elders will need to shepherd well those in their churches who are being persecuted.
He tells them to care for the church like a shepherd cares for his sheep. Throughout Scriptures, the Lord calls his people “Sheep.” As here in vs. 2, we are “The Flock.”
This week, I re-read a tremendous book on shepherds and sheep, Phillip Keller’s “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.” I think you all ought to read it. An easy read. Not very long.
As a former shepherd, Keller has some fascinating insights into the heart of a good shepherd. And his insights into what sheep are like.
One pastor friend of mine says he thinks the only reason God made sheep is to give us a picture of ourselves and our relationship with God.
But here Peter’s focus is the Shepherds. The Elders. And he gives three requirements for the elders in the church.
First: under compulsion ---not because you must. But willingly, voluntarily.
Second: shameful gain ---Greedy for money. This is not about taking a reasonable income. But no one should be in ministry, or “so-called” ministry, to get excessive money or to get it in some shameful way.
Eagerly ---Instead he is to cheerfully, joyfully, eagerly serve.
Third: Not domineering. Not lording it over. Not being pushy and harsh. Not lusting for power.
Sheep—the four-legged kind--- are not driven like cattle. They must be led by the shepherd. Sheep--- us two-legged kind--- are just like that.
Instead, being examples. Model Christlikeness to them. An example in a humble, servant’s heart. An example in godly character.
Jesus himself, the Son of God, could have domineered. He has all authority. Yet he humbled himself and became a servant of all.
Matthew 20:28 ESV “…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And Jesus’ call to his leader are in that same vein. This is so contrary to worldly leadership, often driven by a lust for power. The call to leadership in the church is high. And the call is not lessened even during times of extreme suffering, like in persecution we see in this letter.
Then he gives a promise:
4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Peter speaks of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This has encouraged and strengthened me many, many times. When I feel the pressure of shepherding the church, when I lack wisdom, when I am afraid, when I am grieved by sin….I remember that ultimately the church is Jesus’ flock, not mine.
I am an Under-Shepherd who works for the Chief Shepherd. In the end, it is his burden, and I am not to take on more weight than is truly mine.
If you ever want to pray for us, pray that we pastors would stay very connected to Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd. Draw near to him. Every day we need his help, encouragement, wisdom, power, and his love. Pray that we would believe the Flock, the Church, belongs to him. Pray we would believe that he is the Ultimate Authority over the Flock and over us, the Under-Shepherds.
Then he promises reward to the elders.
The promise of reward beyond this present world is a great encouragement to any pastor, and especially to one suffering persecution and helping a flock who is so suffering. He offers no promise of reward in this life. But he most definitely does in the next life.
Crowns are spoken of about 5 times in the NT as a reward for faithful service to Christ. They might be literal crowns. Physical ones. Or they might simply be figurative for some other kind of real reward in heaven.
Either way, the Lord never forgets our service to him. This is inspiring to me. Someday, if I faithfully serve the Lord as I shepherd this flock called Stonebrook, the Lord will reward me.
That’s exciting and encouraging. And it’s also sobering and serious. A lot is at stake.
One quick note about Promises in the Bible.
Peter gives a set of commands to the Elders. Very challenging. But the deepest and richest motivation for faith and obedience for every believer is found in the promises of God, not in the commands themselves.
Promises of grace and power and reward and blessing is what inspires and empowers us. NOT the command. The Command tells us what to do. The Promise gives us the motivation.
So as you and I find ourselves faced with the commands of God but don’t have the desire or energy or power we want, we likely are missing the promises. We should search the Scriptures for them. They are not hard to find.
5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.
Likewise--- Peter indicates a new set of instructions.
Younger--- This refers to those who are younger in general, and may more specifically be directed to younger men.
Why just those younger? Perhaps because more than others, they would have more independent spirits, not wanting to follow.
Be subject-- Peter has used this now multiple times in the letter. He has told slaves to be subject to their masters. Individuals to be subject to those in government. Wives to be subject to their husbands. And now those younger to be subject to the elders in the church.
We looked at this 4 weeks ago. Authority and subjection are a normal part of human life, wherever we go. And all this is grounded in the very nature of God, for we see God the Father as the ultimate authority and the Son of God in subjection to him.
So those younger are to be subject to the elders and the authority God has given to them.
5……Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Clothe yourselves - This is a rare Greek word that could refer to a slave putting on an apron before serving.
Perhaps Peter had in mind the humility that the Lord Jesus had towards the disciples when he wrapped a towel around himself as he washed the disciples’ feet.
Humility--- literally, a lowliness of mind. The opposite of haughtiness. Pride. Arrogance. The opposite of ranking yourself as more important.
Now Peter gives a very powerful reason why they should be humble towards one another. Because God will actually OPPOSE you if you are proud. It’s a promise!!!!!
To have God opposed to us is an extremely unpleasant thought. This does not mean, of course, that God is going to condemn us if we are in Christ, but we can certainly picture firm and stern fatherly discipline (like in Hebrews 12).
But here Peter is calling on ALL of us—young or old. Elder or not--- to humble ourselves. He says, “Clothe yourselves, ALL OF YOU, with humility toward one another.
We humble ourselves in a variety of ways. One is to ask for forgiveness.
Earlier this week—Tuesday evening, I believe-- I was exhausted. Just beat. I was trying hard not to let that put harsh or impatient words in my mouth. The next morning, I had to humble myself and ask Annette, “Is there anything I said last night that I need to ask your forgiveness for?” Fortunately this time she said no. I was somewhat surprised, but pleasantly so.
Another way we humble ourselves is to stop trying to compete with others to be better than they.
Two weeks ago, I re-read this quote by C.S. Lewis this week from his classic book Mere Christianity, and it jarred me.
“Now what I want you to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive— is competitive by its very nature... Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
I was jarred by this because I am a fairly competitive person, and I was not pleased to hear that in a statement about PRIDE.
Whenever we are proud, one component to that is a competitiveness. I want to be better. Stronger. Smarter. In charge. As a pastor, I have been tempted to want my church to be better than other churches. As sheep in the church, we can be tempted to want to be better than the elders or better than the people sitting in our row this morning.
Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…..And THEN God will give you grace.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Not only are we to be humble towards one another as in vs. 5, here Peter says we are to be humble under God.
“Under his mighty hand.”
That sounds ominous and intimidating. Rightfully so. This expression in the OT indicates great power and authority.
The way Peter expresses this makes me think this: God is mighty and awesome and vast and holy. He has a mighty hand. Don’t be proud before him. Humble yourself before him. Submit to him. Yield to him.
And where will you find the strength and power to be that humble before God? The best source is the promise Peter gives us: God will exalt you someday if you humble yourself today.
One of the Lord's timeless principles is that he exalts the humble.
First, we must note that there is nothing inherently wrong with exaltation. Rather, the issue is, who is doing the exalting: the Lord or self?
When we humble ourselves before others, it might put us at a disadvantage now. We might get recognized or appreciated less now.
But God is promising, “Don’t worry. I will make it worth your while.”
We are to humble ourselves.
I am to think of my wife’s needs as greater than my own. And I am to be willing to do the least noticed job. Even when no one notices or commends me or pats me on the back. I am to be willing to do the least desirable job.
I hate to be gross, but Tuesday our cat (our DUMB cat--haha) had a major accident in the basement. Let’s say an explosive accident. It was disgusting. I really wish Annette had discovered it so that she would clean it up.
But I had to humble myself and do the least desirable job.
Even when I am unnoticed and under-appreciated and even mistreated, the promise here is clear: The Lord notices, and he will exalt you someday for it.
Now in vs. 7 Peter speaks about our anxieties.
These Christians to whom he was writing to were undergoing various degrees of persecution. So there is plenty to be anxious about. But Peter’s words apply to all Christians: Don’t be anxious.
How are we to do this? Casting them on the Lord, who cares for you. THROW them on the Lord. He can take it. He WANTS to take it….because he truly cares for you.
The Lord has tested me in this this week. In the middle of the night Wednesday a.m. I was awake for a couple of hours. One reason was because our dog was sick. But the bigger reason was I was anxious. (A couple of upcoming funerals, one of which I will officiate at. The dog, the stupid cat, this teaching, and several other trials.)
I thought about vs. 6-7.
First, was I humbling myself under God’s mighty hand, or was I being self-reliant and proud, trying to take too much responsibility and burden on myself?
Second, did I believe the Lord really cares for me? Isn’t much of our anxiety because we doubt if God really cares? We wonder, “Does the Lord even know what’s going on with my life? Does he care? Is he interested? Is he sympathetic?”
And we wonder, “If I don’t care for myself, who will? Don’t I have to solve all my own problems?”
So humility and faith were the true issues I was wrestling with. Would I have a childlike spirit to humble myself before my mighty heavenly Father? Would I have a childlike trust that my Father cares and that he is trustworthy?
The Lord God is Great and Transcendent. His greatness is beyond our comprehension. Just look at the stars in the sky tonight and be amazed and even afraid. Yet the Lord God is not like the false gods that many worship. These false gods are supposedly so exalted and distant that they have no interest in human affairs.
The Lord has not forgotten us. He has not neglected us. Humble ourselves before him and trust him. And cast all our anxieties on him because he truly does care.
Now Peter turns to the unseen spiritual forces. Specifically, Satan. The devil.
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
To win a war, what is the first need? The FIRST need is to know you really are in a war. Ignorance of an enemy will kill you.
God, and therefore God’s people, have an enemy. His name is Satan. Lucifer. The devil. The Great Serpent. He is bent on wresting power and authority and influence from God. He is bent on ruling and ruining us, God’s people. We must believe we are in a war.
Second, we must know how to fight. We need tactics. Strategies. A plan.
Peter gives us part of that plan. Be sober-minded. This is now the third time he has told us this. We must have clear minds. Not distracted. Not physically or mentally intoxicated in any way.
Be watchful. Be alert. Pay attention. We can’t be spiritually asleep or groggy. We are like a soldier at night in his foxhole. He doesn’t know what the enemy is going to do, nor when he is going to come. So he is sleepless. Alert. Ready.
This is the same thing Jesus told Peter in the Garden, just hours before his crucifixion.
Matthew 26:41 ESV Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Our enemy, the devil himself, is lurking around like a LION. He is hunting for some fresh meat.
In my trials this week, I also thought about this passage. Satan is at work to tempt me to anxiety. To discouragement. Anger. Selfishness. Am I alert and sober-minded? Am I watchful, like Jesus told Peter in the Garden in Matt 26:41?
Then Peter tells us we are to go on the offensive. “Resist him, standing firm in the faith.” To resist simply means you oppose someone. You stand against them.
Resistance is not passive. One key way to resist is to imitate the Lord Jesus when Satan was tempting him. He fought back using the Word of God. He quoted Scriptures and believed them.
His faith was firm. Immovable. He didn’t panic. He didn’t fear. He trusted in God the Father, and refused to be shaken.
In all this, Peter is acknowledging that we are at war. And that this war with Satan is one reason there are so many problems in this world. But he is also saying that we can win. Defeat is not inevitable. You and I can have victory over temptation.
Now vs. 10. Some of the more beautiful words you will ever hear as a Christian.
10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Peter is speaking of a day in the future. A day when all things will be made right. A day of Justice and Righteousness and Mercy and Glory. A day when all the suffering of God’s children will end. Yes, his people are suffering, even terribly, now. But it won’t last long.
In all of our suffering in life, for whatever reason, it’s tempting to quit. It’s tempting to seek pleasures outside the will of God.
But this God who is full of grace—so much grace that he sent his Son and has now called you to share in his Eternal Glory--- this God will make you Brand New.
He will make us whole and strong on that day. No more pain or brokenness. No more struggle with Satan (like in vs. 8-9), nor with evil, unbelieving authorities (like in chapter 2), nor with our flesh (like in chapter 2).
We will be brand new because of Jesus Christ.
So take heart now. Be strong in your faith. Don’t give up. Keep trusting. Continue to obey.
Proclaim to the world your great Savior.
I love this next verse. Short and very sweet.
11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Such a short statement. Just a few words. It is tempting to skip over this. But this week, I was impressed by it in a New, Fresh way.
Peter is giving a DOXOLOGY. An expression of Praise to our Great God. To God belongs all dominion. The word means strength and power to rule.
So to God belongs all power and authority and strength to rule. And he will rule forever and ever.
There have been hundreds of strong human leaders over the centuries. Good and evil leaders. Alexander the Great. Napoleon. Abraham Lincoln. Adolph Hitler.
None had THE Dominion. And certainly none had an eternal rule. Only a few short years.
Remember, Peter is writing to churches who are enduing varying degrees of persecution. Unjust, unfair suffering.
Lest they and we be shaken by the instability and evil all around us, Peter reminds us who is really in charge: the One who has dominion forever and ever, who wields a "mighty hand" (like in vs. 6).
This verse greatly encouraged me this week.
In all my stresses and anxieties….In all the pressure of my concern and care I have for all of you...
…the Lord is the Great Ruler. He has the Great Power. No one is above him. No one is even in the same league as the Lord.
A favorite old hymn of mine: “This is My Father’s World.”
This is my Father’s world,
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
God through the work of his Son is the Great Ruler. The Conqueror and Victor and Leader.
Peter’s words here to suffering Christians appropriately look to God’s power and rule over a world where so much evil is present…. A world so badly in need of God’s just reign.
He rules now. But a day is coming soon when he will rule with finality. And all evil and injustices will be over.
To him be the Dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Now Peter is wrapping up the letter.
12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.
I believe he is giving a purpose statement, of sorts, for his letter.
He says, “I have exhorted you and declared to you what is the true grace of God.”
The word “this” is key. What is “this”? He doesn’t specifically say. I think he is referring to the thrust of the letter in general.
So to find what that is, we need go back and see what he wrote. Examine the themes. Look for key verses.
"The word this is best understood to refer to the entire way of life described in the letter as a whole.
“The entire Christian life is one of grace - God’s daily bestowal of blessings, strength, help, forgiveness, and fellowship with himself, all of which we need, none of which we ever deserve." (Wayne Grudem, Tyndale NT Commentary)
Then with all that he wrote in mind, Peter says, “Stand firm.”
Don’t quit. Hang in there. Continue walking by faith. Don’t let these terrible trials of persecution and other suffering turn you away from your Savior.
Continue to believe the Lord. Continue to obey him and walk like him.
Next time you read Peter, keep the theme/point in mind. (Then give a summary, flavor, etc.) Then the fruit of this series will go on for many years.
In the face of suffering you encounter in life---particularly suffering persecution, but really any suffering--- hold on to God’s amazing grace.
The grace he has given to send his Son to die in your place. The grace he has given you to make you born again, now adopted as his child. The grace he has given to make you holy like him. The grace he has given to put you on display to the world to reveal the greatness and glory of all who he is and has done.
Hold on. Keep trusting. Keep obeying. Don’t give up.
Lord, this passage reveals so much about you.
That you are a Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd. That you are a rewarder. That you make and keep promises. That you have mighty hand.
That you exalt. That you care deeply for us. That you have power over Satan. That you have the power and will to restore us someday, to make us whole. That you have Eternal Dominion.
Lord, with all this, help us to trust you. To have childlike faith in you. Help us to worship you. To celebrate your greatness.
Strengthen us to obey you. And to realize disobedience is only harmful to us.
Keep us from evil, and from the Evil One.