Going to glory - 1 Peter 5:1-14
August 1997 is a month which Lawrence Tervit is unlikely to forget. Lawrence's life had taken a few bad turns that year. He had separated from his wife, been made redundant and had failed in his attempts to get a job. So he planned to go to Europe to find his fortune. However, after three months of searching, Lawrence decided to come home. His homecoming though was far from orthodox. He had no money and was unable to get a ferry back to England, and so he did what any ordinary man would deem madness. He built a raft to sail back to England himself. He salvaged bits of rubbish from the sides of roads and the beach, and after a sea trial of one hour, set off into the busiest shipping lane in the world, having no experience of sailing. Not surprisingly he met with disaster. After twelve hours of constant paddling, he fell asleep only to be waken by a loud noise and a very large super tanker bearing down on him. He was very lucky not to have been killed instantly, but miraculously he was washed to the side of the hull and survived. He then drifted for several more hours on what remained of his raft before being picked up by a trawler. Lawrence Tervit, you see, is a survivor, who by grim determination and his desire to see his children again, refused to give up hope and eventually made it. Every so often we hear of amazing tales of survival against the odds in extreme conditions. And the question that everyone asks in those situations is: 'Will I survive? Will I make it to the end?'
Now this morning we are coming to the end of our series looking at 1 Peter. You'll remember that Peter is writing to some churches in Turkey struggling against all sorts of pressures upon them, including persecution. In chapter 1 Peter calls them strangers in the world. They are pilgrims on their way to heaven. This world is not their own. And in chapter 5 v 12, Peter says that his aim in his letter has been to encourage them and testify to them that this is the true grace of God, and that they are to stand in it. And to encourage them Peter has reminded them in chapter 1 of their hope in heaven secured by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In chapter 2 he told them that they are God's church that God is building, a chosen people, a holy nation. And for the rest of chapters 2, 3 and 4, he has given them teaching on how to live out their Christian lives in a hostile world, which will often mean suffering. And we've found Peter speaking as much to us as his Turkish friends throughout the letter.
But by the time we get to chapter 5, we may perhaps be asking ourselves: 'Look Peter. This is all well and good, but it seems very demanding. What you have told us is daunting. We must live lives which are different from those around us because we serve the God they do not, and we are going to suffer for it. How do you expect me to survive?' Does that thought not cross your mind sometimes? Do you worry whether you will survive as a Christian, about whether you will keep going through thick and thin, whatever the world throws at you? Surely that will be a concern for all of us if we want to walk with God as obediently and faithfully as Peter tells us to in this letter. Well if that is our concern, then what Peter addresses in this final chapter is just for us. Because here Peter will tell us that we can survive, but not on our own, but with God's strength and help. So Peter tells us four things we need to survive:
1) Godly Leadership (Vv 1-4)
2) Humble Dependence ( Vv 5-7)
3) Alert Resistance (Vv 8-9)
4) God's Grace (Vv 10-14)
1) Godly Leadership (Vv 1-4)
And the first necessity which will help us to survive is godly leadership. Verse 1. Peter addresses the elders, who were the spiritual leaders of the churches: 'To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who will also share in the glory to be revealed.' Now why does Peter begin his final chapter, his great rallying call, by appealing to the church leaders? Well one suggestion is that if the church is to go through tough times, as Peter says she will in chapter 4, then the leadership needs to be in tip top condition to be able to lead this church through those tough times. They are the ones who will feel the pressure the most. And without godly leadership, the church is will be in trouble. It's the same with any group, be it Christian or secular. If you have bad leadership, then you will run aground. Why is it that football teams who play badly for months on end, finish up sacking their managers- because it is often the manager who is to blame. Why is it that companies who lose millions change the management teams? Because of poor leadership. And in the church, bad leadership brings disaster, and it's far more serious because we are dealing with people's spiritual lives. So here, Peter turns his attention to the leaders. And we need to think not simply of the main leaders of the church, though that is Peter's main focus of attention, the clergy if you like, but everyone who has some leadership role in the church- whether it be on the PCC, as a Homegroup leader, a children's worker, a leader of a student Bible study, whatever. Many of us are in leadership of some sort, and the application can be broadened out.
So what kind of leadership does Peter expect us to exercise? Well notice that such leaders are shepherds of God's flock. The leaders of God's church have been placed by God to shepherd the flock of God. So this church is not Melvin's church, it is God's church. It is not my Homegroup, but God's; It's not my youth group, it's God's. He has put human leaders in charge to shepherd the flock of God, and as such that is a very serious charge. We are under shepherds, leaders of God's people under God. And Peter notes three qualities such leaders are to have. First in verse 2, Peter says we mustn't do this job because we must but because we are willing. How easy it is to begrudge the charge God has given us. 'Oh, do I really have to lead this group this morning. They are such a trial!' Not begrudgingly but willingly. As God wants you to be. Secondly, we must be 'not greedy for money, but eager to serve.' Christian service easily becomes a way by which we can gain for ourselves. It may well be for money in some circles, and even poor pastors can be tempted in this area. But I guess other temptations for us as leaders might be for people's acclamation, or simply doing the job for our own pleasure. Now there is not harm in enjoying such ministry, but that's not our aim. Rather, says Peter, we are servants. A servant is not there to be praised. He's there to serve others. Do remember how Jesus exercised his leadership? Not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom? Is that your attitude in leadership? And then, thirdly, in verse 3: 'Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.' Being a leader is not an excuse for throwing our weight around, but a charter for godliness. We should be remembered as people who were models of Christlikeness, not power broking tyrants. And it's interesting how Peter is a model in this area, as he appeals to the leaders not as the authoritative apostle, as he could do, but as a fellow elder. Peter speaks as one who is in the trenches with his troops, not miles behind the front lines supping expensive port. He models good leadership.
But we may ask, is there any incentive to be faithful as leaders- after all, if Peter is right, then the leaders are in for a tough time. Well Peter gives the incentive in verse 4: 'When the chief shepherd appears, who will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.' There is a great incentive to lead as best we can- for one day we will receive the reward from the shepherd of shepherds, Jesus himself. And that should come as a challenge, to be as faithful as we can, and an encouragement- he will reward faithful leaders. So if you are a leader in whatever capacity- examine yourself against Peter's criteria for leadership- not begrudgingly, or greedily or harshly, but willingly, eagerly, and as a example to the flock. And if you are not a leader, then please pray these things for those of us who are. We need your help. There is nothing more tragic than a leader losing his or her way. So pray for your leaders. Because as strangers in the world heading for heaven, that's one of the things that will help us to survive. Godly leadership.
2) Humble Dependence ( Vv 5-7)
But the second the thing that Peter highlights in his guide to survival is humble dependence, verses 5-7. And Peter says that humility is seen in two ways. First to one another. Verse 5: 'Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'' Peter highlights young men. They are the ones in a congregation who are most likely to be brash and arrogant. That must not be for Christian young men, he says. They above all are to work at humility because it does not come naturally. But Peter also says there is a wider application to all of us in the second half of verse 5. Actually our versions miss out an important 'all' which is there in the original. Peter writes: 'All of you clothe yourselves with humility to one another.' I wonder what kind of church St. John's would be if that was our attitude to one another- seeking not our own gain but other's, working for other people's good, not our own, concerned for one another's needs, not just our own. Over coffee after the service being genuinely concerned to show care and support. What a loving place it would be. And of course that is one of the things we need to survive as Christians in a hostile world isn't it? We need one another's loving support to get us through the tough times we face. And not only that, but such pride and arrogance is something God hates. Rather he gives grace to the humble. He blesses humility. So Peter says work at your humility towards others.
But there's a second way. And that is humility towards God. Verse 6: 'Humble yourselves therefore under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.' What wonderful verses those are. How will we survive as Christians in a hostile world? Well only by continual dependence on our great God. We're to humble ourselves before him. We're to cast our cares on him. It takes humility to do that doesn't it? It's takes humility to say to someone, and to God, I need your help and strength. It's an admission we cannot survive on our own. Only God can get us through. So we must humble ourselves before him. It means trusting him in difficult times. Trusting that he has got us in his hands and will not let us go, despite that fact that things seem very unsure at the present time. But it also means praying and giving him our concerns on a daily basis. Why? Because he cares for us. He longs for us to bring our concerns to him each day. He'll deal with them. And he will lift us up at the right time, maybe not our timing, but definitely his. Do you remember the old hymn? 'What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear, what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer, O what peace we often forfeit, I what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.'
Charles Simeon was someone who took these verses to heart. He was a vicar in Cambridge in the 19th century and had a very effective and important ministry. One of his biographers tells this story: 'When in 1808 Simeon's health broke down and he had to spend some eight months recuperating on the Isle of Wight, it fell to his curate to step into the gap and to preach as many as five times on a Sunday in [the church and elsewhere]. He surprised himself and everyone by developing a preaching ability almost equal to the vicar's at which Simeon, totally free from any suggestions of professional jealousy, greatly rejoiced. He quoted the scripture: 'He must increase, but I must decrease,' and he told a friend, 'Now I see why I have been laid aside. I bless God for it.'' What incredible humility. Here is one of the greatest Christians of his day, indeed one of the greatest men Britain has ever seen, rejoicing that another man is doing better in Simeon's absence. And do you know Simeon's secret? Every day at 4 o'clock in the morning he got up to spend time with God casting all his cares on Him. Now I don't advocate the time, but the discipline is right. Simeon's humbling of himself before God, led to his humility with others. Humble dependence on the great God who cares for us. That says Peter is a key to survival in the Christian life.
3) Alert Resistance (Vv 8-9)
But there is a third thing that Peter mentions, and that is alert resistance in verses 8-9. 'Be self controlled and alert, says Peter. Your enemy the devil prowls around you like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.' So who are we to resist- our enemy the devil. And the NT is clear that the devil is a reality and he is still actively opposed to God and his work and his people. He longs to destroy God's work and hamper God's people. And it's possible to make two mistakes with the devil. Either to ignore him, which even Jesus does not do, or to give him more credit than he is due. The fact of the matter is that he has been defeated by Jesus' death and resurrection, and yet he still holds some power and is at work in the world. And one day Jesus will come back to finish the devil off for good. It's the difference between D Day and VE Day. D Day in June 1944 saw the massive Allied advance into Europe and you could say that that was the beginning of the end. The Germans were a broken force and it was only a matter of time before the end came. But there was still much fighting and sacrifice to be had before VE Day, 8th May 1945, when the victory was finally realised. The cross and resurrection is, if you like, the spiritual D Day. The devil is defeated. And yet there is still a war going on. But one day we have the guarantee that Jesus will return on his victory Day to bring this world to an end and consign the devil to his death.
But between D Day and VE Day, we Christians need to resist evil, we need to be self controlled and alert. The devil is still at large. He is a lion, he's still dangerous, and though his teeth have been pulled, yet he can still give you a good gumming if you're not careful! And Christians must be aware of the evil around them. So Peter says in verse 9: 'Resist him, standing firm in the faithHow are we to resist the devil? By standing firm in the faith. It's not in our own strength that we stand firm. It is in the faith, trusting the gospel, knowing that are God's children and nothing can harm us, unless of course you let it! And Peter very practically says, be self controlled and alert. It's a state of mind and action. If we are not self controlled then it is very easy to be led astray. For example, if we are only at church when it suits us, then what hope have we got when temptation comes our way. If the Word of God, the Bible, is just something we pick up every so often, then what hope have we when trouble arises? What backbone will we have to resist temptation? We're like spiritual amoeba, hopeless when it comes to resisting evil and dealing with difficulty. 'Oh, it doesn't matter, we say. It's just a bit of fun.' But playing with sin is very dangerous. You've fallen for the oldest trick in the book. 'Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.' If we are in the wrong frame of mind to resist sin, if the Word of God is not shaping our hearts and minds, then every time temptation comes our way, it will knock us down, and the more that happens, the harder it is to get up, and gradually we simply can't be bothered to resist. No, says Peter be self controlled and alert. Be watchful. Train your mind and body to think God's thoughts, then you'll be prepared to resist the devil. That's Peter's third point on survival. Alert resistance.
4) God's Grace (Vv 10-14)
But there's a final thing, and that is God's grace. We've seen the need for godly leadership, humble dependence, and alert resistance if we are to survive, but the last thing is the most vital. God's grace. Verse 10: 'And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.' What a great way to end a letter. What better reminder could we need in world which is hostile to Christians and in which we often struggle and fall than that God is gracious and he will restore us, that he is powerful to bring us to heaven. The wonderful truth of these verses is that we can have absolute confidence that God will bring us home. Yes there will be suffering for a little while, but see how that pales into nothing when you compare it with an eternity of glory shared with God himself.
See what God will do for us- Peter uses for different verbs to describe what God will do. He'll restore us, he'll put us back together again when we are broken and fragile. He'll make us strong- literally he'll establish us. We won't be like unstable tables or wobbly chairs, as so often spiritually we are in this world. He'll make us firm, giving us revitalising energy, empowered to go forward. And he'll make us steadfast, literally he'll establish our foundations. All that, God will do for us, and already he is doing it. However often we fall down, or we struggle, God is behind us graciously picking us up, restoring us, establishing us. And it's all by his grace, and we can be sure he will finish the job because he's the God of all power. That's really why we can be sure that we'll survive the Christian life and be brought to heaven. Because the God of grace will bring us there. And if God has graciously kept you this far, then you can be absolutely certain he'll finish the job off. That's God's grace.
So do you worry whether you will survive? Well, if so, then remember what Peter has told us as he concludes his letter. He's shown us the need for godly leadership, so that the church won't go astray; he's shown us the need for humble dependence, an attitude of humility towards others and humbling yourselves before God; he's shown us the need for alert resistance against your enemy the devil; and he's finally shown us God's grace, the God who is gracious and powerful enough to bring us to heaven. This is the true grace of God, says Peter. Stand fast in it.
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