1 Peter 5

Read 1 Peter 5.

As Peter closed his first letter to the persecuted believers scattered through modern day Turkey, he urged the elders over these churches to lead God’s people well (vv. 1-4). In verses 5-7, he turned to “you who are younger” and commanded them to “submit yourselves to your elders.” My interpretation of this passage is that the “younger” refers to people in these churches who were not elders; that is, they were not God’s ordained leaders for the church. Just as Christ referred to his disciples as “my children,” so Peter plays off the literal meaning of the office “elder” to speak to those who were not elders in the church.

The command to people not leading the church, then, was “submit yourselves to your elders.” Submission, in this context, means to fall into line behind the leaders. It is about surrendering control of decision making to someone else. This does not mean taking orders from the elders of the church about every detail in your life. As elders, we have no business telling you to marry this person, have four children–and we’ll name them for you, take that job, not this one, etc.

Instead, the meaning of “submit yourselves to your elders” is to let the elders of the church lead the church. If the elders decide to start a ministry, support the ministry in whatever way you can. If the elders choose to shut down a ministry–especially one you love–then understand that it is their decision to make before the Lord, not yours.

It also means listening to the wisdom of your elders in the moral aspects of your life. We, as elders, would never tell someone whom to marry. But we have told professing believers in our church not to marry–or to date–unbelievers. We have also told people in our church that we have concerns about someone they intend to marry. Our goal is not to control their lives but to help them apply Biblical truths.

Sometimes people listen to us and do what we tell them is right. Those people have obeyed the command in this passage to “submit yourselves to your elders.” Others have pushed back–hard, at times–against what we have told them. Inevitably, their pushback does not come from a place where they interpret the scriptures differently than us. The resistance we get as elders usually is about avoiding the application of scripture, not its interpretation. People are really good at justifying what they want to do. When we try to help them make godly and wise decisions, they will often give reasons why the biblical principle, which they admit is true, does not apply to them. People often think they are the exception to God’s word. Sometimes God is gracious to them anyway, but more often than not things turn out exactly as we warned them they would.

If you have godly elders, like the ones described here in verses 1-4, you can trust them. Submission is about trust. It is not about agreement; it takes no effort to “submit” to someone that you agree with. You’ve both made the same decision, so there’s no submission involved.

Submission only happens when you disagree: You want something different from what your leaders think is wise and best. If you trust them, and trust the Lord’s command here in 1 Peter 5:5, you will do what your elders advise you to do, because (a) you know they want to glorify the Lord, (b) you believe that they want what is best for you which is the will of God, and (c) because the Lord commands you to submit.

This takes humility (vv. 5b-6) and it is never easy. But look at the Lord’s promises: “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” (vv. 6-7).

Could you benefit from godly counsel in your life right now? Are you making decisions within the will of God or are you hoping to be an exception? Godly leadership–in the family, in the church–will protect you from bad choices, from the self-deception that operates so powerfully within us all. Do yourself a favor–seek counsel from your elders and submit to what we tell you. We are not perfect or infallible, but we know the scriptures, want to see God glorified, desire the very best for you, and have seen a ton of stuff over the years. Is it wise to ignore all of that?

1 Peter 4

Read 1 Peter 4.

Suffering is a key theme in this book and in this chapter. The suffering that caused Peter to write was persecution (vv. 12-16). Peter knew, however, that what he taught about suffering applied to any kind of suffering caused by doing good, not just persecution (v. 4).

People who are doing good suffer and are persecuted for one reason–to silence them. Whenever we witness for Christ, we point out to unbelievers that they are sinners and accountable to God for their sins. Unless the Spirit moves to create repentance, that message of the gospel will be offensive to unbelievers.

It is not just our words of witness that cause conviction, guilt, and retaliation in unbelievers, however. The godly choices we make to live a sober, disciplined life are offensive to unbelievers as well. Verse 3 here in 1 Peter described how pagans live, “in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Those who live this way due to unbelief “are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (v. 4). That last phrase, “they heap abuse on you,” shows how convicting a godly life is to the unsaved-ungodly. The “heap abuse” to try to silence us, to get us to conform to the undisciplined norm.

Peter discussed persecution at the beginning of this chapter (vv. 1-6) and at the end (vv. 12-18). In between those two paragraphs, he commanded us to serve each other within the church in various ways, reminding us that our service to each other is ultimately done by God through us, for God and for his glory (vv. 7-11). This section on service is not a digression, however. It is important to the teaching on suffering and persecution because the point of persecution (and any suffering brought on by Satan) is to shut down your witness for Christ and your service for him. If God’s enemies can discourage you, they can stop you from witnessing and from serving the body of Christ.

So what do you do if you feel discouraged by how people treat you as a Christian?

Two things: First, remember that God’s enemies will be held accountable (vv. 5, 17-18). Second, have faith in God. As verse 19 put it, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” That last part, “continue to do good” is so important. Don’t let the insults and discouragements of others stop you from serving the Lord! Part living life by faith is to continue to do what is right even when you don’t want to. What kind of faith would you need if you only served and obeyed God when you felt like it? But if you commit yourself to him and keep serving him when you are discouraged, then you will be living by faith.

Are you feeling some sort of affliction? Let this passage encourage you not to give up–don’t give up trusting Christ, don’t give up serving him, don’t give up living a godly life, and don’t give up testifying of his grace. He is with you in this and whatever you are suffering is happening “according to God’s will” (v. 19). He allowed it and will use it to strengthen and grow you, so don’t give up!

1 Peter 3

Read 1 Peter 3.

Defensiveness is a natural human response to fear. God created us with a self-protecting instinct, so when we feel threatened, we become guarded about what we do and say. We also get ready to run away or fight, and we look signs of increasing danger.

These instincts are to protect us from physical harm but they can be triggered when someone tries to harm us with words or with deception.

If you’ve been hurt often, you are probably more defensive than you naturally would be and possibly more than others around you are. The same is true if you’ve been (or felt) threatened repeatedly. It is also true in any area of your life where you feel vulnerable. My math skills are abysmal so I feel anxious when I have to make change or do some kind of calculation in front of another person. I’m sensitive to criticism in that area and always feel like I’m being judged, so I can get defensive sometimes. [BTW: being open about my weakness there makes me less feel defensive about it].

Since you and I know that we have weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we should realize that others do as well. When people surprise us by overreacting to something we said or did, we often react with defensiveness. They attack us verbally so we hit back with words ourselves. The situation can often escalate from there into a full-blown argument.

But if, in the moment, we realize that the other person is feeling defensive because they have a history of feeling attacked or a special sensitivity in that area, we have learned to “be sympathetic” as 1 Peter 3:8, which we read today, commands us to be. That gives us an opportunity to respond with love (v. 8c: “love one another”), to feel compassion for that person’s pain or weakness (v. 8d: “be compassionate”), and to swallow our pride (v. 8e: “be… humble”). That’s the internal process that growing in Christ creates in us.

The outward result of that internal process is stated in verse 9: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” If someone has ever blessed you with compassion, love, and kindness, then you know what a blessing that is. How much would our families benefit if we husbands brought that kind of consideration to our wives (v. 7) and if wives realized how attractive submission to their husbands is (v. 5)? It is so much easier to be obedient to those commands when you begin by being sympathetic to what your spouse.

How much would our church benefit if we were humble enough to be sympathetic and compassionate to those around us? How would your workplace improve? Might God use your loving attitude toward others to open doors to witness for Christ (see verses 15-16)?

1 Peter 2

Read 1 Peter 2.

There is so much more to following Christ than an eternity in heaven.

An eternity with Christ is important, of course, but believing in Christ has immediate affects on our lives today. This chapter described the sense of purpose that following Jesus gives to us in this life. It begins with the community that we have now in Christ. He is the foundation, the cornerstone, of the new group we are part of (v. 4). When we come to him in faith, he not only saves us but he assembles us and all the other believers “into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” (v. 5).

And why? So that we together will offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Verses 9 and 10 go on to describe the new nation that God is forming through all of us in Christ. We belong to Christ and are part of his people now but for what purpose?

For this purpose: so that “you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” When unbelievers interact with us, they should see the greatness of Christ–his love, his mercy, his power to change lives, and more–working in our lives. Part of this, of course, is our moral growth (vv. 11-12a) through the Lord’s work in us. As we move away from sin and toward holiness in our lives, people will “see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (v. 12b).

That idea of glorifying God on the day he visits us is another way to talk about evangelism. It is the conviction that our walk with God, our community with one another, and our witness for Jesus will be used by God to bring more people into the fold and that they will be looking for the coming of Christ along with us.

The rest of the chapter applied this specifically to our relationship to the government (vv. 13-16), our relationship with other people in general (v. 17), and how those who were slaves related to their slave-owners (vv. 18-25). It is amazing to think that following Christ can bring purpose to a person’s life even when that person is owned as a slave by someone else. Thankfully, none of us lives in that kind of bondage! But, if they can find purpose as slave owners through faith in Christ, how much more should we who know Christ as free men and women live lives of purpose for Jesus.

Do think much about your reason for living? As you go about your work, live in your neighborhood, and talk with others around you, does your faith show? God has embedded you as his agent in your workplace, your family, our community, and more. What will he do for us if we remember our purpose and live in ways that glorify him?

1 Peter 1

Read 1 Peter 1.

Holiness is hard work. Being declared holy isn’t hard work, at least not for us, because God did for us in Christ. When Jesus lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for sinners, he did everything that was necessary for God to declare us holy (see verse 2).

Now that we have been called to be his children, God commands us to become holy like he is, as we read today in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “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.’”

Becoming holy in real life is where the hard work of the Christian life lies. We have what we need—the Holy Spirit within us, the Word of God, the community of other believers, but we also have significant opposition from our own sin nature, the world around us and the devil.

As you live the Christian life and grow in Christ, you also experience the frustrating, painful struggle to do right when it would be so easy to do wrong.

So how do we cope with the tug-of-war between what God calls us to become and what we often want to remain?

Verse 13: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” It is thinking about the future that God has promised us in Christ that pulls us toward holiness. When we desire to sin, we need to remember what God has taught us in his word—that sin is pleasurable, but that pleasure is temporary and costs far too much while God is glorious and those who live by faith in him will be rewarded with great joy and glory when Jesus comes. That’s why Peter, after telling us in verse 13 to “set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” follows that with verse 14: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.”

Yes, the evil desires we had before we knew Christ remain in us, but when we think forward to the life Christ promises us, it empowers us to live obediently to God instead of obeying (“conforming”) to those evil desires within.

What are you grappling with right now?

What sinful urges inject evil thoughts into your mind when you least expect it?

What sin are you toying with or being tempted by?

Do you know anyone who has succumbed to this sin? Did it make them happy? Did it cause them or anyone else pain?

What would your heavenly father think if you surrendered to the desire that Christ died to free you from?

How much will that sin matter to you when you see Jesus and are welcomed into his kingdom?

These questions clarify the lies that sin and temptation tell us. Sin offers us pleasure, promises us freedom, lures us into rationalizing the act and causes us to ignore or downplay the painful consequences that sin will bring into our lives.

So, knowing what Christ has done for us and has promised us, “sober up” (v. 13a) and think about your sin, your desire, your temptations from Christ’s eternal viewpoint. That is where you will find the strength to choose holiness over sin, faith over unbelief.

2 Timothy 4

Read 2 Timothy 4.

Paul seemed certain in this chapter that his life was nearing its end. He said so in verse 6, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”

Despite the fact that he was soon going to die as a martyr for the faith, the return of Christ and his coming kingdom were still promises that were important to him:

  • It was Christ’s “appearing and his kingdom” that he had in mind when he charged Timothy to “preach the Word” in verses 1b-2.
  • The reward he was looking forward to was tied to the fact that he had “longed for his appearing” (v. 8c).

Even though Paul’s death prevented him from seeing Christ’s return from the vantage point of earth, there was no fear that he would miss out on Christ’s kingdom. As he said in verse 18, “The Lord will… bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What he wanted most in life was for Christ to return and establish his promised kingdom on earth. If he died before that happened, he still had confidence that it would happen and that he would be there to enter the kingdom with Christ.

We have milestones in our lives that we look forward to. Depending on where you are in life, it might be graduating from high school or college, falling in love and getting married, having your first child, watching your children become adults, holding a grandchild, or retiring from work. These are all noble and worthwhile things to look forward to but does the coming of Christ and establishment of his kingdom enter your thoughts as well? Are you looking forward to that day when we will live and reign forever with Christ?

If not, why not? Is it love for this present world? Are you investing too much in this world and not enough into God’s kingdom?

The coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom will be the greatest time in the history of humanity. The best family event or festival or concert or life milestone will never bring you as much joy as reigning with Christ in his kingdom. It will be the greatest time of your life and it will last forever.

If you believe that, it will help you keep serving Christ no matter what the climate or culture or traditions around you are. Enjoy and anticipate the good things in life God created for us to enjoy, but keep Christ’s return and his kingdom at the center of what you hope for. It will help you serve the Lord when truth is unwanted (vv. 1-4) and it will give you hope and comfort in the moment of death (vv. 6-8).

2 Timothy 3

Read 2 Timothy 3.

There are good reasons to be glad to be alive today. Life expectancy is greater than it has been in hundreds of years. Technology has given us the ability to communicate constantly and never to be bored. Poverty has been falling around the world (source).

So, by those gauges, times are good! Here in 2 Timothy 3:1, however, Paul prophesied “terrible times in the last days.”

The “last days” in the New Testament began on the Day of Pentecost, shortly after Christ left this earth. Paul said that these last days would be “terrible times” based not on poverty or low life-expectancy, or war. What he defined as “terrible” was the moral condition of people (vv. 2–5). As human society gets older, humans become less morally restrained. That may please those without morals who seek mainly pleasure in this life, but the effects of unrestrained immorality are devastating to humanity. You don’t have to look very far to see illustrations of everything listed in verses 2-3. Society may have become more affluent, better educated and more but, morally speaking, things are “terrible” (v. 3).

So what do we do about it? Do we rail against the sins of society? Do we seek positions of power in the government so as to force submission to God’s word on others?

No.

The contrast to the “terrible times in the last days” is not to mobilize and become crusaders against the evils of humanity. There might be a place for that, but it isn’t the primary thing God wants from us. Instead, what God wants is for us to “…continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it” (v. 14b). And “from whom” did Timothy learn? From Paul, for verse 10 says, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance….”

Yes, society is decaying morally and people are living more and more wickedly. The prescription for us, however, is to keep following Christ, keep trusting him, keep living patiently and lovingly, growing in grace and holding steadfastly to the truth. That’s a prescription for persecution (v. 12) but it comes with Christ’s promises to sustain us.

Think times are terrible? Then “continue in what you have learned and become convinced of” (v. 14).

2 Timothy 2

Read 2 Timothy 2.

Paul’s life was coming to an end.

Timothy, apparently a much younger man, would not live forever either. If the church in Ephesus was going to survive and thrive beyond the short term, the false teaching in it needed to be rooted out (vv. 16-17). While Timothy was doing that, however, he needed to be instilling good doctrine in the Ephesian church. Verse 2 commanded him to take “…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Verse 14 commanded him to “keep reminding God’s people of these things.” Truth is the antidote for false doctrine but it is also the mother’s milk of spiritual growth.

Have you ever discipled another person, passing on what you’ve learned of our faith to someone else?

That is one of the best ways to grow strong in the faith yourself. It is also important for the growth and development of the gospel. The process Paul described in verse 2 of taking “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses” and entrusting them “to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” must not break down or the church will suffer for it in the future.

Look around and find someone who could use a good model of Christian growth or a faithful instructor of God’s word. Then, invite that person to grow with you by learning God’s word through personal discipleship.

2 Timothy 1

Read 2 Timothy 1.

This letter to Timothy was the last of Paul’s letters. It was penned during his second incarceration in Rome. Unlike the first one (the Acts 28 house arrest one), Paul was not released but executed.

We do not know how much time passed between Acts 28 and the events of this letter, but the evidence from the New Testament is that there were a few years at least in between. Unlike Paul’s other prison letters, this time he was not optimistic about being released. In this letter to Timothy, he was asking Timothy to leave Ephesus and come to see him (v. 4a). He knew it was possible, however, that the letter may not get to Timothy in time or that Timothy may not get to him in time. So the letter also left his parting thoughts to Timothy.

What would you write to a close friend in this situation?

You would certainly want to express your care for that person as Paul did here in v. 2 when he called him, “my dear son” and in verse 4 when he expressed his desire to “be filled with joy” when he saw Timothy.

But beyond expressing his care for Timothy personally, Paul was still more passionate about Christ and his work than anything else.

He prayed for God’s grace, mercy, and peace (v. 2b) and thanked God for Timothy’s sincere faith (vv. 3-5).But he also expressed confidence in Christ despite his suffering and expected death (v. 12). And, he expected and charged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” (v. 6) and “join me in suffering for the gospel.”

It was the faith they shared in Christ that gave Paul and Timothy a basis for their friendship. But it was their service for Christ together that made them such close friends. As much as he loved Timothy, Paul sent him away when necessary to do the Lord’s work but they also spent much time together traveling for the gospel and serving together in the gospel.

Many Christians since then have also formed deep bonds with other believers while serving the Lord together. While serving the Lord has its own eternal rewards, making and strengthening good, godly friendships are an important side benefit in this life of serving the Lord with others.

With a friendship that revolved around Christ like theirs did, it is understandable that Paul would want Timothy to keep going for Christ and even be willing to suffer for Jesus. Paul did not want his persecution or even his death to cause Timothy to lose faith in Christ. That’s why he wrote, “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner” in verse 8.

As Timothy continued to walk with God and work for Christ, he not only carried forward the legacy of his brother in Christ, Paul, he also demonstrated that his faith was in Christ and not in Paul.

Titus 3

Read Titus 3.

Today we read something that every Christian who uses social media should : “Remind the people… to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”

Why? Because there was a time when each of us was a sin-sick fool. As verse 3 says, “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”

Pretty ugly, right? But that’s where we all were. Christ saved some of us before these sins were in full bloom, but they were all there within us, agitating to be expressed. The difference between you and any unbeliever is not your high moral standards or your profound insight. The difference is the grace of Jesus Christ: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (vv. 4-5).

So when people do sinful things and brag about them, when they are unwise and unashamed of it, when they are disobedient to God’s word, the proper attitude we should have is not moral lecturing. The proper attitude should be “to be peaceable, considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (v. 2).

I hate how politics have been injected into everything. It turns every event and activity into some kind of argument. Those arguments, in my observation, often turn to “slander.” They lead people who profess love for Jesus Christ away from being “peaceable and considerate and… gentle toward everyone.”

But that is how God wants us to be, according to verse 2.

If someone’s sin bothers you, recognize that person is caught in the grip of a depravity from which only Jesus can rescue them. That won’t change your opinion of what they are doing but it should change your thoughts about the person and your approach to speaking to them.

Christ has rescued us from the damage that our sinful hearts long to create; look at others who are sinning not as objects to be argued with, slandered, and intimidated. Instead, look at them as people caught in sin’s grip. Then, pray and ask the Lord to release them.