“The Virtuous Christian Life” 1 Peter 4:7-11 August 7, 2011
SCRIPTURE INTRO: We’re studying 1 Peter this summer.
The theme of this letter is Christian suffering.
How as a Christian, you can live in such a way that the troubles, pains,
and sorrows that inevitably come, don’t crush you, but make you better.
The theme verses of the letter are chapter 1 verse 6 and 7:
“In 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 your faith—of greater worth than gold, which
perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory
and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
There it is: Suffering, grief, trials—refined by fire—praise, glory and honor.
In the second half of the letter, Peter makes the point over and over,
that this refining doesn’t happen automatically.
Suffering doesn’t automatically make you a better person or a better Christian.
There is a role you have to play in the refining process.
INTRO: Perhaps you saw in the news that John Stott passed away
the week before last at the age of 90.
He was an Anglican minister, pastor of All Souls Church in London,
and a leader of the evangelical movement for many decades.
Stott was a brilliant thinker and a humble follower of Christ.
He was one of those people who you are really glad was on our team.
He wrote over 50 books and all of them are good.
One of them is titled Between Two Worlds and it’s about preaching.
The thesis of the book, is that the preacher stands between two worlds—
the world of the Bible and the world of his congregation.
His job is to connect the two. There is a gap that must be bridged in preaching.
There is the gap of the original language and setting of the Bible.
The intent of the writer, his original audience.
And there are even more profound things, like world view and values
and basic assumptions about the life and human nature.
And depending on the particular portion of Scripture you are preaching on,
and depending on your audience, that gap may be small or it may be huge.
What about 1 Peter? Big gap or little gap?
I think for us, for this congregation, the gap is pretty small.
Suffering—that’s a universal human concern. All looking for answers to it.
And Peter’s answer to suffering
is one that I’m sure almost all of you believe already.
Peter says that suffering is not sovereign.
Even if your suffering eclipses the sun, even if it fills the horizon of your future—
even if it seems to be the biggest and most powerful thing in your life, it’s not. God is. God is sovereign. No one and no thing is above him.
And God is good. He’s loving, gracious, and kind.
When you suffer, it’s very hard to believe both.
If God is really in charge, why is this happening?
If this is happening, is God really good? Does he really care?
And the answer Peter brings you back to over and over is the cross.
Jesus Christ. His sufferings secured your salvation.
His suffering was part of God’s sovereign plan and brought you eternal good.
And so, through your union with Christ, are assured your suffering is redemptive.
Fiery trials don’t burn you to ashes, they refine you like gold.
I’m sure almost all of you believe that.
You may not feel it. You may question it experientially.
But you’ve worked it out in your mind and it’s the foundation of your faith.
So there’s very little gap between Peter’s main point and this congregation.
But I do think there is another part of this letter that presents a larger gap in our
thinking. That’s the point Peter makes over and over about not just learning to
suffer rightly as an individual, but as a church.
He wants us to learn these lessons corporately.
He wants us to make it our goal to help each other master these things.
I think this was a lot clearer to Peter’s original audience because as a body,
they were suffering for being Christians. Active persecution was ramping up.
Some were losing their jobs, some were being arrested. This was the beginnings
of the infamous Roman persecutions where eventually Christians fed to lions.
When someone in our church loses his job or has financial problems,
we have deep concern, but there’s a sense in which that’s his problem.
But imagine if the reason he lost his job was because he was a Christian.
And that sort of thing was going on all the time in the church.
A growing hostility at all levels of society.
We would have a much stronger feeling of being in this together.
The way Christians and churches are today in places like China and Pakistan.
As Americans, we’re individualists. And we’ve had 300 years of religious freedom.
So it takes effort to think of ourselves as part of a body that we need
and that needs us. That you can’t be all the Christian God intends for you
to be apart from a lively connection to a local body of believers.
And that your role in your church is not just to grow yourself and be fed,
but to help others in your church so that they are refined.
That’s what this passage is about. Three times Peter mentions doing things
for others, for one another. It’s an other-centered passage.
It’s about how to be a friend to those who are suffering.
How you must take an active role in the lives of others in your church.
Don’t let this passage be an occasion to feel sorry for yourself.
If suffering, don’t say: People my church aren’t doing those things for me.
If you do, will miss the point. This is for you to look to other people.
Three points: I’ll make them as we go.
MP#1 You must be sober-minded on behalf of your suffering friends.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so you can pray.
Word NIV translates “self-controlled” is literally sober, abstaining from wine.
It’s one of Peter’s favorite words. He uses it three times in the letter.
As we saw last week, first-generation Christians who came out of pure paganism.
Drunkenness was a way of life. A way of drowning sorrows.
What does drunkenness do? It narrows your focus.
It gives you blinders so the bad things of life are temporarily shut out.
When you are sober, there are no blinders, you see the big picture.
Too painful for some people to bear. But for Christians, big picture glorious.
“The end of all things is near.” He’s talking about the Second Coming of Christ.
The final judgment. The end of the age.
The Christian, instead of narrowing his focus when he is suffering—
shutting out painful and disconcerting things through some kind of drug—
whether alcohol or work or entertainment or pleasure or whatever—
He expands his focus. He raises his view and sees the big picture.
He sees his suffering as just a tiny part of a grand scheme.
He sees it in light of eternity and the coming of Christ.
As Peter says later in chapter 5, the sober-minded Christian sees that in view
of the end of all things, his suffering is just for a little while.
Jesus Christ is going to return, or you are going to meet him in death—
either way, compared to eternity, the time is short.
Now, what does Peter tell you to do with this?
He says: Be sober minded about judgment and coming of Christ so you can pray.
Pray for whom? The context is clear. So you can pray for other people.
So you can pray for Christians in your church who are suffering.
And here’s what I think Peter is saying, and it’s quite amazing.
When other believers are suffering and maybe falling to pieces
It is your faith, your sober faith in the Second Coming of Christ,
your sober faith that their suffering is relatively brief—
and your prayers for them that holds them up, keeps them from falling.
The greatest preacher of the 19th century was the Baptist Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
He had a mega-church in downtown London—in the 1800s.
Crowds of over 5,000. This was in the days before microphones and amplification.
Spurgeon suffered a lot. He suffered physically from gout.
It was so painful that sometimes he couldn’t stand in the pulpit.
He suffered emotionally from depression. He called it “fighting the mist.”
He had lots of enemies, and one Sunday, just as he stood up to preach,
some troublemakers in different parts of the sanctuary started shouting—“Fire.”
There was a stampede and several people were trampled to death.
Spurgeon went into such black depression that he couldn’t preach for six months.
Even after he got back in the pulpit, never quite the same. Haunted till grave.
And to add insult to injury, all the London papers raked him over the coals
for the incident and said it was a result of his overly emotional preaching.
He was constantly criticized in print, even by other ministers.
One wrote: “I have—most solemnly have—my doubts as to the Divine reality of his
conversion. Concerning Mr. Spurgeon’s ministry, I believe that it is most awfully deceptive.”
Another wrote: “His style is that of the vulgar colloquial, varied by rant. All the most solemn
mysteries of our holy religion are by him rudely, roughly, and impiously handled. Common
sense is outraged and decency disgusted. His rantings are interspersed with coarse anecdotes.
He wasn’t a handsome man, and his physical appearance was mocked.
Jokes were made about his low forehead and beady eyes. Satirical cartoons.
He grew a beard and when asked why, he said,
They keep saying my face is ugly, so I’ve grown a beard to cover it up.
Who was sober-minded for him? Whose faith that the end is near and that Jesus is
coming and the judgment is at hand that suffering will end upheld him?
Who prayed for him in that confidence? I’m sure there were many in his church.
But one we know of was his wife, Susannah. Spurgeon died at 57.
Susannah finished his autobiography.
She wrote a postscript after the chapter about the attacks of his critics.
“No defense of my beloved is needed now. God has taken him to himself. A strange serenity has brooded over my spirit as these chapters have recalled the heartless attacks on God’s servant. I have even smiled as I have read once again the unjust and cruel words of his enemies for he is safe now, with God eternally shut in. I can bless the Lord, for the suffering has all ended.”
That’s a sober minded woman. She saw the big picture. She prayed.
That’s what you have to do for your friends.
Even when they can’t hear what you are saying. Even when all they can see
stretching across the horizon of their lives is the black clouds of suffering.
Even when they have put blinders on and narrowed their view.
You keep believing and praying and speaking the truth.
Peter’s instructions don’t stop here, there is an even harder instruction.
MP#2 You must overlook their irritating weaknesses and minor sins.
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
Listen to the way one commentator explained this verse, Wayne Grudem:
“Where love abounds in a fellowship of Christians, many small offenses, and even some large ones, are readily overlooked and forgotten. But where love is lacking, every word is viewed with suspicion, every action is liable to misunderstanding, and conflicts abound—to Satan’s perverse delight. A similar idea is expressed in Proverbs 10:12, ‘Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.’”
There’s an idea that you sometimes hear in Christian circles:
“All sins are the same.” Have you ever heard anybody say that?
You can’t say one sin is worse than another, all sins are the same in God’s eyes.
Well certainly, all sins are sinful. All are a violation of God’s law.
And without Jesus and faith and forgiveness, all sins will be punished by God.
But the Bible nowhere says that all sins are the same. It says the very opposite.
It speaks of degrees of punishment in hell. Some beaten with many/few stripes.
There are sometimes mitigating circumstances that change the way a sin is judged. Proverbs says that if a man steals because he is hungry he has still broken the law.
He still must pay the penalty. But he bears no shame.
But, the man who sleeps with another man’s wife, his shame never wiped away.
Doesn’t mean can’t be forgiven. Of course he can. All sins can be forgiven.
It’s teaching that some sins are more heinous than others.
Some have mitigating circumstances, others don’t.
Paul makes a similar point in 1 Corinthians when he says:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body,
but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
I’m not sure I know what Paul means, but he is clearly classifying sins,
and warning about the particularly harmful effects of certain sins.
Jesus says that sins are worse depending on how much light of truth a person has.
Remember he said that it would be easier on the day of judgment for Sodom than
for the those in the towns of Galilee who saw his ministry and rejected it.
Those words of Jesus remind me of the Dutch theologian Thomas a Brekel.
He grew up in a Christian home, surrounded by Gospel and church.
Remembers mother saying: Woe to you, son, if you reject your Christian heritage.
Better you were born and died a pagan than turn your back on Jesus
after all he has done for you and given you.
The catechism says:
Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations,
are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”
Some in themselves are more heinous. Some because of aggravations more heinous
Aggravations—If you are in authority, sin worse than if low on totem pole.
The more you know the truth, more blessed worse than if a pure pagan.
Now, I say all of that because part of being a Christian is making judgments.
Peter says, as you deal with other Christians, especially suffering Christians in your
church, you have to make certain judgments. Why?
So you can overlook, forgive, and forget minor sins against you.
People who are suffering are often weaker, self-absorbed, do and say rude things.
Take that into account. Cover those things with love.
Once a Christ Covenant member came to me and said:
I’ve got a problem with someone in the church, let me tell you what person did.
And it was offensive. Would have bothered almost anybody.
Person said: I know that this church member won’t see it for what it is,
the only thing I can do is just pull away.
So I said: Let me ask you to make a judgment about what they did to you.
Was it a violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Did this person lie to you or
about you, steal from you, commit a sexual offense against you?
Or, was this a matter of thoughtless, selfish behavior?
Are you bothered because a serious sin was committed,
or because a sinner has rubbed against you the wrong way.
Person said: Definitely the latter. So I said: You have a choice.
You can talk to this person, confront them. Probably won’t make feel better.
Or you can forgive in heart, and treat them cordially.
And that’s exactly what the person did and it was beautiful to see.
Obviously, if a fellow believer has fallen into a sin that is damaging his soul
and pulling him away from the body—you have to rebuke him, have to challenge.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend. You can’t browbeat a person into repentance.
But it’s not loving to never say anything.
That’s not what Peter is talking about here.
He’s saying, a big role you play in helping your church grow as a body in
this matter of suffering well, is overlooking and forgiving and forgetting
lots of minor sins and offenses committed against you.
How does that help? You’re modeling Christ. You’re living the Gospel.
You’re providing a place for suffering people.
And Peter doesn’t stop here. He goes from your prayers for suffering people,
to your conversations with them, to something even more personal.
MP#3 You must sacrifice your time and comforts for suffering believers.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Let’s think about this within the original context of Peter’s letter.
Christians were being persecuted.
Christians were losing their jobs, having their property confiscated.
There was no social security network.
There were no government programs.
No unemployment checks.
Some were literally turned out on the streets in a ruthless pagan society.
You’re sitting at home one evening and a family in your church shows up.
They literally have no place to go. Of course you insist they stay with you.
You make them some supper.
Then you move people around and find beds for everybody.
But this is not like old friends staying one night at your house on way to beach.
It’s a family in your home for who knows how long.
Months. Eating your food. Bumping into you.
That’s the context Peter is talking about.
Hospitality that involved a real sacrifice of your time and comforts
for the sake of suffering believers.
What does this look like for us? Our times and our setting are so different.
We don’t have anything like the situation these first century Christians faced.
There are so many safety nets.
Just think about the way hotels have changed things.
If somebody needs a place to stay, it’s easier and even more restful for them
if you just get them a hotel room. If it’s long term, the deacons help find an
apartment or something they can afford.
Is that not being hospitable, because you don’t actually take
them into your house and give them one of your beds?
Of course not.
So what does this mean to offer hospitality to one another?
To members of the church who are suffering?
This is not going to sound very spiritual—
but I think it means making time and taking the initiative to eat and drink with
church members who are suffering.
It might be something as elaborate as having somebody over to eat at your house,
or as simple as meeting him or her for a cup of coffee.
It may be something spur of the moment, it may be something as planned
and regular as active participation in your Covenant Group meal.
Don’t compare yourself to other people. It’s going to look different for everybody.
Peter says right after this that everybody has different gifts.
Some gifted more toward speaking, some more toward serving.
Obviously, a person with more serving gifts is going to be more comfortable
extending hospitality, will do it in more extravagant ways.
But in big or little ways, this is part of your calling to help your church
become a congregation of people who suffer well.
This came home to me a number of years ago when I was talking to a church
member who had been going through a really hard time.
He said: I know people are praying for us and always asking us how doing.
But, a few nights ago, So and so, named someone in church,
invited us over to eat and whole evening never talked about our problems.
It was wonderful and it made us feel so normal.
Eating and drinking together is a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures.
It was woven into the worship of the Old Testament church through the
celebration of the annual feasts. Remember that time in Nehemiah where he
tells the people to stop weeping and take food to those who are sorrowful.
It’s a picture of our conversion:
Jesus says that when he knocks and a person opens the door—
I will go in and sup with him and he with me.
It’s a picture of our final salvation in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
When Jesus rose from the dead he broke bread with disciples on Emmaus Road.
He ate fish with them around a campfire on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
He was about to ascend into heaven, and he took time to eat with his confused
and hurting disciples.
And, of course, there is the Lord’s Supper itself.
Have you ever pondered how significant it is that the central ritual of our faith
is a meal? And that Jesus offers that meal and is present with us?
When you make the time and takes the initiative
to eat and drink with a suffering brother or sister, you are bringing them to Christ. In a big sense, it’s a means of grace. You’re building the body.
Helping family of God suffer well.
And Peter says this is to be done “without grumbling.”
In other words, cheerfully, from your heart.
That presses home your absolute need for Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit.
A wise preacher said:
“It is one thing to live up to public expectations. It is another thing to do what God commands cheerfully, no matter who sees or notes what is done. That willingness comes from the heart alone. And with such a heart, the hospitality will be extended even to someone who arrives hard on the heels of someone else, to someone who broke you favorite dish the last time he was in your home, even to someone whose company is so deadly uninteresting that it is a monumental achievement just to keep a conversation going. For a devout heart sees Christ in that guest, loving him as loving Christ, and doing good to him as a tiny installment on the debt it owes to Christ who, while we were yet sinners, died for us.
Now, there is the Christian life: a life lived for love, by faith, and from the heart. What a grand thing it is; what a high thing! What a noble purpose for one's existence! What a demanding calling! To forsake our own interests for those of others, which we can successfully do only by a constant laying hold of the present Lord Christ for help.”
Are you helping your church learn to suffer well?
Be sober-minded on behalf of your suffering friends.
Pray for them. Your faith and prayers will hold them up.
Overlook, forgive, forget their irritating weaknesses and minor sins against you.
And take the initiative, and make the time, to eat and drink with them—
the high calling and sacrifice of hospitality that the Lord has so kindly
extended to you.
Let’s enjoy that hospitality now and come to his Table.