A Leader’s Example

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25 (NIV)

An important responsibility of a good leader is to set an example for others to follow. Some leaders attempt to lead by force and a controlling hand. These leaders have a fearful following who either attempt to adopt an authoritarian approach or they see a decrease in followers who respond negatively to this leadership style. A leader who models the behaviors and the type of work which they expect from their followers tend to experience an increase in the number who follow and a positive outcome in regard to what they are trying to accomplish.

The writer of 1 Peter indicates that we have been called to follow the example of our leader, Christ. Christ is described as “the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” The example which Christ places before us is that even though he was blameless, he placed his trust not in human judgment but in God’s judgment. Even though Christ suffered he did not threaten or speak evil. While he retained all the power in creation he did not retaliate in any fashion.

The example which we are called upon to follow is one that few humans have successfully followed. Leaders who we admire this day which came close to Christ’s example include Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, among others. They did not retaliate with violence when they faced injustice and oppression. We must strive to follow their examples. By doing so we live as ones whose sins died on a cross which held our leader. We allow our wounds which are inflicted upon is to be healed by the wounds of Christ.

Addicted to the Lord

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)

Addictions are serious and usually destructive illnesses which can devastate lives and relationships. An addiction is an illness which requires the individual to alter their life in a way which will prevent a relapse once the addiction is subdued. Whatever the addiction, drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, or sex, the illness is never cured but the person learns to live in a way which does not give the addiction power over life choices and actions. The craving can surface at any point and especially is present during times of stress. Support groups and supportive friends and family can assist the individual but managing the addiction is solely a personal responsibility.

The writer of our passage from 1 Peter speaks of a beneficial addiction. The passage begins by telling the reader listener to rid self of behaviors which have negative impacts upon others. Then the instruction is given to become like babies who crave milk. In this situation, it is spiritual milk. Those things which feed one’s spirit such as: fellowship with other believers, reading of God’s word, time spent in prayer, contemplation of God’s magnificence in nature, engaged in worship and music, and anything else which feeds the soul in a positive manner. This feeding assists in preparing the soul to experience the promised salvation. Once one has experienced the Lord in these activities, the person will be addicted to the goodness of the Lord.

Generally addictions are a bad aspect of one’s life. However, the writer of 1 Peter makes clear that an addiction, craving, of the Lord in your life is a positive one. It is true that once you have experienced the goodness of the Lord, you desire more. The connection is strong. A desire to know more about the Lord grows in a greater way. The hunger for feeling the Lord’s presence and becoming more aware of that presence increases.

The message from 1 Peter is to get hooked on the Lord; become addicted!

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life. 

The Question

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

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. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

1 Peter 1:1-12 (NIV)

Is it better to know something is going to happen in advance or accept situations as they occur without advance notice? If you are like I am, the answer to the question is… it depends. There are some items like the cost of repairs, the plans for a weekend, or the arrival date of guests which I want to know in advance. I do not wish to know when something which I cannot control is going to happen because I do not want the added worry. If we knew the negative impact of certain situations, we may never take the risks of stepping out of our front door. There clearly is an important balance which must exist in our lives regarding advance knowledge. Managing that balance is not always within our control.

Today’s passage comes at the start of a letter attributed to Peter. He is writing to a group of exiled Christ followers. But the concept of being exiled here is not necessarily one of being removed from one’s home country but more the sense that a follower of Christ is now like an alien resident in the world around them. Peter speaks of their suffering and grief. They likely were ridiculed for their beliefs and felt like outsiders. A picture of living a difficult life if you are a follower of Christ emerges here. Peter says that their journey through this is evidence of their belief in Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the promised inheritance. Even though they had never seen Jesus, they believed. Peter assures them that the grace which comes to them was that of which the prophets had spoken.

My question at the start confronts me as I read this passage. Some think that if a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the person’s life will become easier. Peter makes it clear here that this is not the case. The suffering and grief did not go away for these followers. In fact, it seems to have increased. Now my original question  can be adjusted a little and applied to becoming a follower of Christ. If you knew in advance that there would continue to be suffering and grief after becoming a follower, would you still choose to follow Jesus? This is a question which you may have asked yourself before. The question may come up at various times in your life but nuanced a different way because of the current situation at the time. There is nothing wrong with asking the question because it gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, his resurrection and our promised inheritance. Consider how you would respond to the question today.

Good Managers

Today I thought I would talk again about one of the words that is used in church circles but is often misunderstood. The focus word for today is stewardship. When most people hear this word they think about a campaign each congregation launches in late fall to get financial pledges from their members for the coming year. Based on those pledges then the leadership creates a budget. The problem with this understanding is that it is far too limited.

The word stewardship comes from the word steward. A steward is a manager of property and/or finances on behalf of another person. So stewardship is the act of managing. Based on this definition, one can easily see why the word conjures in the minds of many church members the image of a financial campaign. Yet this falls completely short of the Scriptural understanding of stewardship.

The concept of stewardship is first introduced in Scripture in the first chapter of Genesis. Here, as part of the creation story, God places all creation under the care and authority of humanity.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Genesis 1:26-30 NIV

Here God is placing humans as managers over all which God just created. So stewardship includes the managing of creation.

Another aspect of creation is found in 1 Peter. Here the writer reminds us that we are to use whatever gifts (skills and abilities) we have been given to serve one another.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4:10-11b

Not only are we reminded that we are to be managers of our gifts but also of the grace which we have received from God.

As you can see, stewardship involves much more than the annual fundraising for the church. Stewardship is an expectation and responsibility placed upon us by God. We are to be managers of everything which God has created and which God has given to us.

Hopefully the next time you hear the word stewardship, you will not only include your managing of money in a way that benefits God’s church, but also consider how you are managing the other aspects of life.