Mike Vestal was speaking to preachers at this year’s Polishing The Pulpit in Sevierville, Tennessee, on the subject of discouragement. One of his many poignant points was that Satan would dearly love to get to the preacher. He made the striking statement, “Satan wants you!” This is true of more than the preacher. He is ever after every faithful Christian. Do you remember that shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus warned an overconfident Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to siftyou like wheat” (Luke 22:31)? It is sobering to contemplate his ravenous yearning for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:8)!
Consider that Satan wants your:
Stages of life (youth, prime, golden years)
Family (spouse, children, parents)
When we break down the totality of his voracious appetite for each of us individually, we can see just how viciously and actively he is pursuing us. He can work through the more obvious avenues like sexual immorality, unrighteous conduct, and overt worldliness. He is as content with more subtle channels like attitude, strife, grudge bearing, dishonesty, greed, and gossip. The Bible makes it clear that as long as he can make headway into the heart and life, he’ll take it.
The thrilling news is that he cannot make us or take us without our permission. Furthermore, Jesus empowers us to prevail through His sacrifice and resources. Hebrews 2:14 shows us that Jesus rendered him powerless against the children of God.
The greatest news of all is that God wants you! He has gone to the greatest lengths to prove it. If we will give our lives to Him, it does not matter what the Devil attempts. He will fail! Resist him with the power of God (1 Pet. 5:9; Jas. 4:7-8) and he will flee from you! Just don’t let your guard down! Keep your faith up!
While visiting Ray and Lupida Lewis yesterday, I got to hear the story behind her current situation. This upbeat, sweet-spirited Christian woman was minutes from undergoing the first of at least three extensive back and neck surgeries necessitated by injuries suffered as she was walking and was struck by a driver going 35 miles per hour.
Lupida has had a degenerative eye condition since childhood. It had gotten to the point that she could barely see more than shapes, but, given her educational background, she had been recruited to serve as a teacher in the Colorado School for the Blind. By last year, despite corrective eye surgery, Lupida could only see light and nothing more. That fateful September day last year, she was struck in the crosswalk by the inattentive driver and suffered brain, neck and back injuries. Some of that may be remedied, and other issues will never be resolved. One that appears permanent is that her head injuries caused her to wake up without even the ability to see light. She says, “I see only darkness now. The light has gone away.” She observed that one cannot really imagine the huge difference between being able to see light and being in total darkness.
We did not discuss it together, but I believe Lupida would agree with me that, as tragic as her circumstances are, there is a blindness worse than her own. Lupida lives with a faith and hope which assures her that her situation is, at worst, temporary. The song says, “Faith will be lost in heavenly sight.” She embraces that promise.
Today, you will constantly encounter people who may have the eyesight of an eagle when they submit to a physical test but who suffer a far greater blindness. Scripture often makes reference to wickedness as “walking in darkness” (Ps. 82:5; Prov. 2:13; Ecc. 2:14; Isa. 9:2; John 12:35; Eph. 5:8; 1 Jn. 1:6; 2:11). Tragically, it’s not the result of an accident–though it could be ignorance. Millions reject the light and pursue the darkness. They have every opportunity to see, but they don’t want to see. Ultimately, their voluntary journey through darkness leads to the outer darkness of condemnation (Mat. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Fortunately, their condition is reversible thanks to the Great Physician, but time is growing shorter by the moment. Ask God to lead you to those who are spiritually blind, and may we all endeavor to avoid such a condition ourselves (cf. Mat. 15:14; Rev. 3:17)!
Romans 6:13 tells us our body is an instrument, and we choose to use it for righteousness or unrighteousness. The Greek word translated “instrument” there means “tool or weapon.” What kind of tool or weapon are you? Are you an instrument God holds in His hand to do His will?
Are you a battering ram? The ancients would use a log or some other hard object to break down a wall or door. Have we filled our hearts with the Word to the degree that we can, speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), break down barriers keeping the honest-hearted from God?
Are you a crowbar? Crowbars pry objects apart. There are things we should separate from our thinking and lifestyle. Are we trying to pull away from worldliness (Js. 4:4)?
Are you a chisel? This is a tool that does meticulous, detailed work. Its blade carves or cuts hard materials. Do we have the tenacity and trust needed to use God’s Word and benefit from His providence to remake our lives into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Co. 3:18)?
Are you a level? We live in not only a dishonest world but also a corrupt world. So many call good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). Can people find in us a reliable standard of right and wrong, as we reflect the principles of God’s Word? Levels are used to determine whether something is true and as it ought to be.
Are you a plane? The plane smooths rough surfaces by repetitiously moving back and forth across the surface. All four Gospels (Mat. 3:3; Mk. 1:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) speak of John the immerser’s work as making ready the path of the Lord, making His paths straight. We are not forerunners of Jesus; we follow in His steps (1 Pe. 2:21). As we do follow Him, we are going to forge a path safe for others to follow (1 Co. 11:1).
Are you a magnet? A magnet is an object that draws and holds another object disposed toward such attraction. Magnets can be used as tools themselves, but they are often made a part of other tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers. By living like Jesus, you will draw people to Him.
Paul also referred to “tools” or “weapons” when talking to the Corinthians. He mentions “armor of righteousness” and “weapons of our warfare” (same word). In both cases, the tools or weapons are spiritual and figurative, yet with them we can help shape and build up those around us. Be a tool in God’s toolbox!
Jesus had taught them about money (Luke 16), causing weak, new Christians to stumble (Luke 17), the coming of the church and the end of the world (Luke 17), and prayer (Luke 18). Now, He continues to teach but shifts His focus to attitude and outlook. In doing so, He leaves a pattern for the kind of perspective we should have if we are truly a follower of Jesus.
There is a pride to swallow (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Both were in the temple. Both were praying. Both were addressing God. But, the prayer was different, the attitude was different, and the result was different. Jesus’ point in the parable is clear: Instead of justifying ourselves and looking down on others, we need to keep our eyes open to the fact of our sinfulness. This will keep us from sinful pride and will keep us humble
There is a purity to seek (Luke 18:15-17). Jesus presents children as our example. We should receive the kingdom like them or we’ll be rejected. Children are innocent, receptive, trusting, and want to please—that’s got to be us, too!
There is a possession to seize (Luke 18:18-22). The rich young ruler seems exemplary. He came to Jesus (18), wanted Jesus to teach him (18), was respectful of Jesus (18), and was a moral person (20-21). But he knew he had a problem. Jesus knew he had a problem. His ultimate reaction was rejection. Do we ever let “stuff” keep us from spiritual health, from taking hold of the only thing that ultimately matters?
There is a principle to see (Luke 18:23-27). The Bible gives us a catalog of individuals who maintained deep spirituality while having deep pockets (cf. Abraham, Barzillai, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas, etc.). But Jesus makes a strong point that it’s exceedingly difficult for the rich (i.e., Americans) to enter heaven. Can the rich be saved? Yes! How? By having a proper attitude toward riches.
There is a prize to share (Luke 18:28-30). Jesus promises you cannot give up more than you will get by following Jesus. He promises reaping now and eternal life in the age to come. He’s saying it pays in the most important ways to follow Jesus.
There is a prophesy to satisfy (Luke 18:31-34). Jesus goes from telling His disciples what they stood to gain to talking about what He was going to lose for their sakes and ours. It is a thorough (31), costly (32-33), hopeful (33b), and hidden (34) fulfillment. Fulfilled prophesy is a vital way of proving Jesus as God’s Son. After the resurrection, they get it (Luke 24:44-47). Do we?
There is a pauper to serve (Luke 18:35-43). We end the chapter reading about Bartimaeus. He was in physical, financial, and spiritual need. But Jesus takes time to interact with him and gives us an example. Discipleship means ministering to the needy.
They had a strange contest in Deerfield Beach, Florida. The prize was a python worth $850. How did they determine the winner? They had a roach and worm-eating contest. Edward Archibald was among 20 to 30 contestants. He won, but soon after the contest ended, he fell ill and started to regurgitate. Eventually, he fell to the ground and was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was choking from arthropod body parts stuck in his airway. Archibald entered the contest to win the python and sell it for a profit. It was foolish and costly. What are we trying so hard to get on this earth and what are we doing to get it? Jesus urges a proper outlook, one that is essential for His disciples. May we embrace that and act accordingly.
In 1 Peter 1:13-19, there are three commands that relate to something that must be done regardless of how much time it takes to complete. They are, “fix your hope completely on grace” (13), “be holy in all your behavior” (15), and “conduct yourselves in fear” (17). There’s a fourth command of this type in verse 22: “Love one another from the heart.” All of these are done as the result of a salvation taught by the prophets and revealed to us. Because we’ve been saved, we should fix our hope on grace, be holy in behavior, conduct ourselves in fear, and love one another from the heart. Considering what God has done for us, we should be eager to do what He tells us to do. At the heart of the discussion, Peter calls for holiness. “Holy” is found 10 times in 1 Peter, but there are synonyms in the book, too (“behavior” or “manner of life”—7 times; “do good” or “right”—13 times). We want to be holy, do good, and behave, and this letter says a whole lot about how that looks. It’s faithfulness in suffering, distinctiveness in daily living, and keeping heavenly in focus. It’s captured in Peter’s petition (2:11). Our world places more emphasis on happiness than holiness, and if you have to choose one the world says choose happiness. But, God calls us to choose holiness. How do we do that?
Look within (13). Moral behavior begins in the heart. So, he says to keep sober in spirit and fix your hope on grace. These are both heart matters.
Look out (14,17). Sanctification and obedience appear together in three different verses in chapter one (2,14,22). Holiness is a matter of obeying the truth. This has a negative aspect (14—“Don’t be conformed”) and a positive aspect (17—“Conduct yourselves in fear”). To be holy, we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be vigilant. We’re going to look out for the traps and tricks of this world because we know we’re only strangers here.
Look up (15-16). This letter is about our need of God’s help to be holy. There’s a wide gap between our holiness and God’s holiness, and we can never forget that. Peter says to be holy like He is holy. That is an endless aspiration, a goal we’ll never achieve but must constantly work at.
Look ahead (17). God is going to impartially judge according to each one’s work. We should be holy now because we will stand before the Perfect Judge some day.
Look back (18-19). I love the way Peter ends the paragraph. It gives us such hope! The way to take time to be holy is to turn around and look back—at our salvation (1:4) and at our Savior (1:2,21). I can’t look at sin in my life and glorify it, rationalize it, defend it, hide it, or minimize it. Peter reminds us why He had to die (2:24-25).
We take the time for what is most important to us—sports, social media, hobbies, work, shopping, and the like. None of that ultimately matters. As we do anything, these or other things, we must make sure that we are holy in heart and conduct. It’s worth the time and will be worth it when there is no longer time.
What was life like in the first century? One historian writes, “It has been rightly said, that the idea of conscience, as we understand it, was unknown to heathenism. Absolute right did not exist. Might was right. The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at last to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion, and the exposure and murder of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description” (Edersheim, Book 2, Chapter 11, p. 179). Thus described the culture of the dominant world power of the day, Rome.
Those descriptions, almost without exception, could be applied to the current culture. So many specific examples could be, and often are, set forth to depict life in our world today that mirror Edersheim’s chronicle of the world into which Christianity was born. Not surprisingly, New Testament writers are prone to speak of the world in stark terms and with specific admonitions. What they said then apply to us today, and they contain counsel that will help us to spiritual success in our slimy setting.
You can save yourself from this perverse generation (Acts 2:40). That was the final recorded appeal of the first recorded gospel sermon. The message is one of hope and faith. There is escape from the pollutions of the world (cf. 2 Pet. 2:20). There is forgiveness of the sins like the ones described above as well as any and all others. The promise of the gospel message is, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Those who gladly received that word did just that (Acts 2:41).
You can shine yourselfto this perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). Paul urges the Philippian Christians to prove themselves blameless and harmless in such an environment. He’s calling for distinctive Christian living, a life that would stand out in such deplorable circumstances. We’re not trying to be oddball misfits, but faithful Christian living is detectable in the crowds we find ourselves in. That example is the first step to helping someone else save themselves from this perverse generation.
You can share your Savior with this perverse generation (Mark 8:38). Jesus warns those whom He calls “ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation.” He tells us that a true disciple’s life is one of obedience, self-denial, sacrifice, and courage (cf. Mark 8:36-38). If we never share the saving message of Christ with the people we meet and know each day, why don’t we? Could it be that we are ashamed to share His distinctive message to a world that pressures us to conform to and go along with it. If we do not tell them about Him, how are they going to find out? What hope will they have to discard the perverse life for the pure one?
It is a scary, sinful world out there! But God rescues us from its guilt through Christ’s sacrifice, then sends us back out there to tell them they can be rescued, too. Live it and then share it, no matter what, until your end or the end—which ever comes first!
Helmets, seat belts, bullet proof vests, insurance, handguns, and home security systems are all means we use to protect ourselves. The adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” has proven itself worthy time and time again. We want our homes, families, and health preserved, shielded from potential danger. What about our inward selves?
It’s possible for us to become a spiritual casualty. We can fall away. Peter urges us as Christians to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves in 1 Peter 2:11-12. One is negative and the other is positive, but both are necessary!
Abstain from fleshly lusts (11)!
We must do this because of who we are (“pilgrims and strangers”). We must realize where we’re from and where our home is (cf. Heb. 11:13-16). In a moral and spiritual sense, we have a higher law. We don’t see right and wrong, fair and unfair, the way the world does. Our ethics, morals, and our principles are derived from God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
We must do this because of what they are (“fleshly lusts”). Peter is addressing base physical desires, things like he discusses in 1 Peter 4:3. These are things the world engages in that can do physical damage, but they certainly lead us away from God. They are morally wrong in God’s eyes and are destructive desires. God knows there are things that harm us, hurt our influence, and are hated by His holy heart.
We must do this because of what they do to you (“wage war against your soul”). Just as desiring the sincere milk of the word (2:1-2) gives you a taste for God’s kindness, satisfying fleshly lusts will destroy your soul.
What a valuable guidelines God gives us as we evaluate an activity, a means of entertainment, who to befriend, an indugence—whatever it is. We should ask, “Where is this thing or person leading me, toward God or away from Him?” Instead of debating our Christian liberty or looking for loopholes to pursue something we crave or desire, we would do well to analyze it through the prism of Peter’s petition in verse 11.
Keep your behavior excellent (12)!
Moral and holy behavior does more than just protect our souls. It reaches others. You are being watched on the job, at school, and everywhere you go. More people are guided by your influence than you realize. How many measure right and wrong by your example? They may not the Bible, but they know you. By your wise and righteous conduct, who knows how many you may lead to Christ? Ultimately, there will be people who stand on the Lord’s right hand at the judgment because you led them there by excellent behavior. So many people are looking for the purpose and meaning of life, and as Christians we know what it is. As we consistently live it out before them, they will want to know more about that way.
It was such a joy to accompany the BVBII students on campaign to Greensboro, Georgia. Chuck Ramseur, one of our graduates, is doing a great job with Brianna and their four children, and the church was so warm and hospitable. Yet, one of the things I’ll remember the most from this trip was the continual service displayed by Bonnie Saldana. Her husband, Mario, is a freshman and we had the same host family. Throughout the week, Bonnie would jump up and clear the dishes from the table and clean the kitchen. Our hosts, Dean and Karen, would urge her to sit down, but you could tell how much they truly appreciated it. She made no fanfare about it, but quietly and diligently worked.
Mario is a joy to be around, but his wife’s willingness to jump in and get involved will help raise his “stock” when he graduates and looks for a place to preach. Increasingly, I have seen women married to preachers who, in apparent protest at the thought of being part of a “package deal,” do little if anything to be involved (clean up, teach classes, otherwise volunteer, etc.) in the local church. This sends a powerfully clear message to the other ladies (and men) in the congregation. Rather than greatness, it shows gross selfishness.
Jesus proclaimed service as the way heaven esteems greatness (cf. Mat. 20:26-28). I wonder how He feels when He sees those unaware and unwilling to look around and assist where work is to be done. The particulars of the problem are not given at Philippi between the divided women, Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2), but an overarching solution to “church trouble” is to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
What is to be eliminated? (1) Selfishness (Louw/Nida—“What they do is just for themselves,” 88.167), (2) Empty conceit (“A state of pride which is without justification,” ibid.), (3) Personal interests (A selfish preoccupation with with one’s own affairs, O’Brien, NIGTC, np). What is encouraged? (1) Humility of mind, (2) Higher regard for others, (3) Looking out for the interests of others. Apply this to cleaning up after fellowship activities, babysitting, helping with workdays, providing transportation, practicing hospitality, listening to others’ ideas and input, doing security, greeting visitors, providing meals for those in need, visiting the hospitals and nursing homes, taking an interest in the youth through the elderly, teaching a class, nurturing a new Christian, and using your training and talents however you can to help the church grow.
There are many Christian women and men out there like Bonnie. May each of us look at examples like these and eagerly imitate them. In noticing them, we are following heaven’s example. In following them, we are following heaven’s advice.