We don’t typically associate salvation with death. Normally the opposite is true! In the New Testament salvation normally describes forgiveness of sins (Acts 4.12, for example). Escaping spiritual death is how the word is primarily used. The exception to this rule is fascinating and sobering.
Human instinct compels us to avoid unpleasantness, suffering, and death. When faced with danger or difficulty, our default response is avoidance at all cost. This was a great temptation for many in the early church.
Peter wrote to Christians who were about to face some awful hardships. He encouraged them by promising salvation, but it was a hard message to swallow. In the following examples, Peter used “salvation” to mean something different (it would have been understood to mean this because of context):
I Peter 1.5 – Death
I Peter 1.8ff – Death
I Peter 2.2ff – Death
How is death the same thing as salvation? For those who were suffering and stayed faithful, death was the ultimate salvation. For those whose lives were upended because of persecution, being with God forever was salvation. For those who lost their family members, salvation meant reunion. The ultimate result of faith is eternal life with God.
How do we view difficulty? Do we compromise faith to avoid suffering? At worst, suffering leads to death. At best, suffering leads to death. Nothing can slow a faithful Christian down! We have salvation in this life (guilt does not weigh us down), and the end of this life is salvation. We have an awesome God.
Since March Madness begins later this week, I was reading about all the teams to help me fill out my brackets. I came across the incredible story of Damian Chong Qui, a guard for the Mount St. Mary’s basketball team that won the Northeast Conference tournament and will play Texas Southern for the right to play against Michigan. The odds of Mount St. Mary’s winning the NCAA tournament are so astronomical that the team is more likely to be hit by an asteroid in their team bus going to the arena to play, but Chong Qui symbolizes the team’s grit, determination, and uncanny ability to defy the odds. His story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. Born and raised in crime-riddled East Baltimore, his father and mother were shot in separate incidents less than two months apart in 2002, when he was only four. His father recovered, but his mother was murdered. Eight years later, his father was shot again and paralyzed from the waist down. Damian has been his father’s most consistent caregiver since then, dressing him and helping him into his wheelchair. Damian found an outlet in basketball, starting on his High School basketball team as a freshman. He was only 4 feet, 9 inches tall. A growth spurt helped him reach his current height of 5 feet, 8 inches tall. No Division One teams showed interest, so he walked on with the Mountaineers. Not only did he go on to earn a scholarship, but he is a star and the heart and soul of this scrappy squad. From his father to coaches and teammates, Damian is called dependable, hardworking, and focused (much biographical data from a 1/17/20 Baltimore Sun article by Edward Lee: “…Damian Chong Qui has overcome tragedy to shine at Mount St. Mary’s”).
There is no one who would want to go through what this young man has endured. Many might use such tragedy as an excuse or a crutch to let life defeat them, but Chong Qui shows the resiliency and resolve which is in mankind. While the Chong Quis do not sound especially devout, Damian’s father, Edward, said of him, “I feel like God has been working things out for him” (ibid.).
God does not cause evil (Jas. 1:13), but God is able to bring about good in the worst of circumstances. It is evidence of His omnipotence and omniscience. Do you remember Job’s wise and righteous assessment, even as he was in the dark about the cause of his pain and suffering? He tells God, “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (42:2). As James assesses Job’s situation, he writes, “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (5:11). Paul experienced this, too. He speaks of his “thorn in the flesh,” which God saw fit to allow him to retain. Why? Paul explains, “And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Maybe you are struggling with some thorn in the flesh, some pain and suffering, some adverse circumstance that looms over you and seems poised to undo you. How will you respond? Will you see it as an advantage? A chance for God’s power to be perfected in weakness? For the power of Christ to dwell in you? As the means of strength in weakness? Do not forget that there is no force, earthly or spiritual, that can withstand the advantages that God can bring into your life even in times of greatest adversity! His purpose cannot be thwarted. And if our lives are being lived according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28), that is confidence that can propel us through the worst of situations!
This week we will do a brief study of I Peter 3.17-22.
In verse 17, the emphasis in the original text is “doing good.” If it is God’s desire (this is emphasized) that we suffer, it is better (stronger, more prominent, more advantageous) that we suffer for doing good works than evil works. How much more powerful a message do we send when we come under fire for doing something that benefits others? If we suffer for doing something bad, we’re just another criminal. But to suffer in the act of doing something good – in context – is a far more powerful evangelistic tool.
In the following verses, Peter gives a powerful example of Christ’s focus on getting rid of sin. He put everything into saving mankind – including giving His own life – so that we could all have the opportunity to come to God. Even before the destruction of the world through the flood He made sure everything had the opportunity to hear about their spiritual state. Whether this was done through Noah and his sons or whether He had a more direct hand in this is immaterial. The point of the text is that the message got out to those who are “now in prison.” His goal was to bring others to God, even when it caused Him suffering.
Only those who did listen and obey – eight people – were rescued from evil by the waters of the flood. Notice that the Spirit does not record Noah’s ark as being what saved them! They were saved in the important sense by the destruction of evil. Our focus is not earthly.
Just as water saved Noah and his family from evil, water saves us from spiritual death. Being immersed in water is how we make a formal appeal to God for a clear conscience! Some translations render this, “A promise to God from a good conscience,” as if baptism is some kind of outward sign of an inward faith. This is not reflected in Greek; it is a conscience cleared by an appeal to God, because of the resurrection of Jesus. He has all power, so He can clear our record when we submit to Him.
Having all of this as a background, we have some motivation to keep our actions pure, suffer for doing good things, and understand that God’s power is what saves us. Peter gives many other phenomenal motivators for living a pure life, which we will look at in detail in the coming weeks.
1 Peter 3.8ff is a passage with tons of application. What I’d like to do is simply break it down and apply as we go.
3.8 – Is addressed to every Christian, as opposed to the gender-specific commands of the previous section. Christians are told to have a unified mindset, understanding of the needs of others, affection for each other, compassion for each other, and a sober view of self.
3.9 – In the context of being ridiculed or outright persecuted for faith, we’re commanded not to stoop to a hostile person’s level. Instead, we are only to say good things to and about them. The word for “bless” here would be like us giving a glowing review of someone, even when they’re hostile to us. Why? Because God promised us a glowing review, even though our lifestyle was hostile to Him before we were faithful.
3.10-12 – If we want to have good days, we have to control our tongues, reject evil, and actively do beneficial things for others. If we do, God looks at us with approval. If not, He is against us.
3.13 – If we pursue doing good things with energy, no one can say anything against us. Who can assault the character of someone passionate about bringing good into others’ lives?
3.14 – But even if they do is a contrast not as plainly seen in English. This verse starts with a powerful contrastive (αλλα) that points to how we should act in the face of totally unwarranted hostility. Even if our pursuit of good gets us in trouble, we can still be happy! Even in this life we cannot lose. We cannot let fear dictate our behavior, and we cannot let anyone’s intimidation cause us to react with hostility.
3.15 – Instead, we should make the most special place in our heart God’s place. We don’t serve fear, we serve God. If someone shows hostility to us when we’re doing good, we have to be ready to give a rational explanation for our hope with an attitude that proves our supernatural allegiance. Our fear of God must be greater than our fear of man.
We do this because our goal is to bring others to God! It’s hard, but we can only do it when we remove self from the equation. People tend to attack what they do not understand. By using reason and by restraining our emotional response, we can help save their souls. We were all hostile to God at one point, but we now have mercy. Being controlled and rational while under “attack” is not a normal human response. Our response can mean the difference in someone’s eternal destination!
We’re going through I Peter in the college class at Lehman Avenue and we most recently studied part of chapter three. This chapter further discusses the theme of submission (giving up our power willingly to another) frequently appearing throughout the book. Christians are essentially told, “It’s not about me,” that we should get rid of certain behaviors, and an explanation for why we give up certain behaviors or power is given.
For example, we should get rid of hatred, taking advantage of others, hypocrisy, jealousy, and character assassination (2.1), because we know that God has shown us mercy (2.9, 10). That’s hard. We should listen to our government, even when we disagree with them (as long as it doesn’t violate God’s word), because God uses them to maintain some semblance of law and order (2.13-17). That’s hard. We should be good employees, even when our bosses aren’t fair, because Christ suffered, too, and God looks at us favorably when we suffer for doing the right thing (2.18ff). That’s hard.
In the same way – that is, keeping with the theme of surrendering our own power and doing something difficult for the sake of goodness – Peter addresses women and men specifically in chapter three.
This is an interesting study because it sheds light on a controversial topic: wives being submissive to their husbands. Let’s look at the text:
Γυναίκες (wives/women): Submit to ιδιοις (your own) husbands. Not all men, just husbands. Peter is not saying that women are inferior and should submit for that reason.
Ινα (in order that): For the purpose of cultivating godliness and influencing a fallen husband. It’s not for the purpose of manifesting inferiority, but to influence a lost husband! This involves a difficult task – as in 2.18 – which demonstrates the power of the word.
Δια (through/by): γυναικών αναστροφής (womanly or “wifely” conduct). Through her submission to her husband and through an emphasis on timeless inner beauty, she can save his soul. “Men and women have different ways of expressing godliness. Peter is showing how women can powerfully influence their husbands, which is by submitting to them” (Edwin Jones).
This sensitive topic is nonetheless a powerful one. Wives are not told to submit because it’s “just what women should do,” or because of a belief that women are somehow inferior, but are told to submit because it can save souls. Men are told to assign value to their wives and to be respectful and considerate with them if they want to be right with God (3.7), followed by a general set of commands for all Christians to act a certain way for the sake of godliness (3.8ff).
We submit and suffer as Christians to save souls and to remember that, “It’s not about me.”
Peer pressure is a topic that is usually directed toward young people. While this is something that is possibly more temping to teens and young people, adults will struggle with it as well.
Since I was in my teens just two years ago, I can still clearly remember all the times I was pressured into doing something dumb. I sometimes hung with a rowdy crowd (my brothers), and ended up paying the consequences. Fishing on a golf course at night is apparently illegal, and that can get the police called on you. Shooting at geese with a slingshot is apparently animal harassment, and park rangers won’t exactly be happy. Stringing a dead beaver over a walking trail is illegal and you can be fined up to 10,000 dollars. These are just a few random examples or hypothetical scenarios…and definitely not something I did personally.
Peer pressure is a problem we will face. Whether we are in high school, college, or at work. Our peers won’t always make the right choices, but the question is whether or not we will participate? Notice with me four steps that will help us overcome peer pressure:
Develop A New Mindset.
1 Peter 4:1 says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Think like Christ. Do what’s right, even if it leads to suffering. If we say no to peer pressure we won’t be popular, we won’t feel like we fit in, we won’t feel accepted and we may even lose a few friends. But since we are in Christ we focus on what’s truly important. Christ focused on the bigger picture. Instead of listening to the mindset of the day, He stuck to his purpose.
Peer pressure will tempt us to desert Christ. We don’t join in because we have developed a new mindset. We are reborn and no longer live like the world (Rom. 6:1-2; Gal. 5:24).
Make Decisions Based On This New Mindset.
1 Peter 4:2 says, “so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” We have ceased from sin so that we can make the most of our time on earth. No longer living for ourselves or for human passions, but for the will of God.
How can we avoid the sin of peer pressure? Make decisions based on our new mindset. We have established our reasoning. We now have a higher calling, and now our decisions are based on this new mindset in Christ.
Love The Sinner, Hate the Sin.
The mood always seems to feel a little uncomfortable when we say no to participating in sin. Our friends may get upset or call us a wet blanket, or even try and say we are acting “holier than thou.” This is one of the biggest obstacles we will face as Christians.
When we say no we must keep 1 Peter 4:8-9 in mind: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” How can we overcome peer pressure? Love the sinner, but hate the sin. We love the sinner because we want them to receive the same forgiveness and salvation we received. We hate the sin because it’s ugly and opposed to God and our new way of living.
Build Positive Relationships.
Find likeminded people that won’t tempt you to join in with sin. 1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
What do we use our gifts from God for? If you’re good at working on cars or lawn mowers are you using it for good? Are you good at cooking? Use it for the glory of God. If you’re a funny person, use it for the glory of God. Each one of us must use what God has given us to build positive and strong relationships, ones that are built on support and encouragement.
How can I overcome peer pressure? Build relationships that are centered around Christ. Around His church. Around His plan. Around His people. Build relationships filled with a mutual love and zeal for God.
Why do we hurt? In Bible classes and in sermons you have been pointed to scriptures such as James 1:2, which says, “Count it all joy my brethren, when you fall into various trials.” You may then find yourself wondering about that specific trial you are forced to miserably wade through.
Perhaps you think, “But what good could possibly come from this?” Or maybe you even question, “why would God let me experience this kind of heartache?” This is when a faithful Christian may sink into a pessimistic kind of bitterness that slowly steals each smile and smothers even the faintest glimmer of hope. If Jesus could sit with you and lovingly give you some wisdom, I’d imagine this is what He’d say.
I dreaded that cross, the cruel instrument of death. I felt such intense emotion with each painful and strained breath.
Embarrassed, I was stretched naked amid a hateful crowd—
but prayed for their forgiveness, with my bleeding head bowed.
I intimately knew trauma, isolation, abandonment, and shame. I lost everything for everyone, so peace and glory you would gain. It’s that joy I’ve set before you, even seen through tearful eyes,
that will push you, as it did Me, through each valley and each sigh.
No matter what you’re fighting here, don’t worry, stress or fear. Today it hurts, tomorrow it’s over, in the twinkling of an eye I’ll appear. Life is brief and fragile like that of a lowly dove, and like the dove, with broken wing still mending,look hopefully above.
–Dale Pollard (These words were inspired by the words found in Hebrews 12:1-3.)
I’d like to encourage you, if you’re suffering through a trial in life, to read Psalm 69. It’s a lament psalm, which may help you put into words what your aching heart is feeling.
“What we really need and what the psalms of lament provide is a way to live through times of disorientation with God as an intimate traveling companion.”
– Glenn Pemberton
This is a question that has been asked for centuries. If God is all powerful, why doesn’t He just kill Satan? In order to adequately answer this question we will need to look at a few different aspects of the Devil himself, as well as the attributes of God.
It’s not hard to find evidence of a world filled with sin, and logically it would make sense for God to just destroy the source of the problem…or would it? Let’s notice a few things about Satan.
Where did he come from? In Genesis 1:31, God sees His creation and it says, “everything was very good.” All of God’s work was perfect. From this we can conclude that Satan started off as good and became evil. While Scripture doesn’t reveal his exact origin, it says enough for us to draw a logical conclusion. For example, 2 Peter 2:4, Matthew 12:24, and 25:41 point to Satan as the leader of a groups of angels that have abandoned heaven. So we have to ask, why was Satan cast out of Heaven?
Based on the previous verses and what we read in Jude 6, the angels were created with free choice. And Peter explains that the angels sinned (2 Peter 2:4). We read the phrase “The Devil and HIS angels” so Satan was most likely the leader and instigator of this rebellion in heaven. Satan tried to rebel against God and failed miserably and will face the consequences of his actions (Revelation 20:1-3). Since Satan cannot win against God, he now wants to get payback by taking his anger out on God’s creation.
So why doesn’t God destroy Satan? Aside from the fact that he’s an angel and killing him would be different from killing a human, we run into another issue.
Even if Satan were destroyed, man would still sin. James 1:14 tells us that as humans we are carried away by our OWN desires, and these desires lead to spiritual death. Satan doesn’t cause everyone to sin, at every location on earth, because he doesn’t have this kind of power. Even if God destroyed Satan, there would still be sin on earth.
There is one other aspect we must look at in order to answer this question; What is the definition of good? Without evil, how can good exist? If God is good, then evil must exist. Without darkness, how can we recognize light? There is balance and perfection in everything.
We are given free will, and if there were no other choice except faith in God, we would not have faith by choice. We would have faith by force. I think about when I was younger and got in a fight with my siblings. Mom would force us to hug each other. That hug was not done out of love, but by mom telling us to get it done. Do you prefer to be loved by choice or by force?
Satan will get what he deserves, but God is defined as a God of love. If God took away our free choice (either to serve Him or sin) then He would be a God of Force. God has the power to destroy Satan, but in doing so we would still be in a fallen world filled with sin. God loves us enough that He wants us to come to Him by choice. This is something each one of us should strive to do.
Walk with me through the crowd. At times, it will be frightening, heartbreaking, disgusting, even angering. Some are in masks. Some aren’t. You see far-left and far-right extremists, assaulting each other and maybe threatening you. Past the rioters, the protesters, the grief-stricken. You even see political activists posing as Christians spewing divisive rhetoric around–acting and reacting. There are racists of every color. Politicians. The lukewarm and apathetic. Some are jobless. Some homeless. Some wealthy and well-to-do. Many enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. They are from literally every walk of life. In many ways, this crowd is full of folks who are nothing alike or have little in common with others in it. But, in the way that counts most, they are so much alike.
You try to push through the enormous crowd full of the listless, the rudderless, the hopeless, the lonely, and the misunderstood. As you get back behind them, there’s the devil and his angels pouring over their playbook. He is the ruler of this world (John 12:31), unleashing the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12). There is a connection between this “prince of the power of the air” and “the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). He wants us all distracted from what he’s trying to hide behind him. He’s pushing the crowd further away from it. But look. You see bands of faithful, committed disciples at the foot of a rough hewn cross. You join them there and look up at your Savior. It was worth the effort to swim through the crowd and see through the devil at God’s answer. He is hanging there for that enormous crowd, to help them escape the clutches and curse of darkness. He offers light, love, grace, goodness, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation, and life. Contrast this with the carnage you have just sifted through.
Now, go back through that crowd and find someone else who needs Him, someone who realizes that for all the sin, evil, suffering, and problems they will not find the answers in that crowd. They certainly will not find it in the one who’s behind that crowd, inciting and inflaming it. Get them through the crowd to the cross (Mat. 7:13-14). Each one liberated from the crowd will be eternally grateful!
I want you to think about the furthest place you have ever traveled from home. For me, the furthest I have been is Cambodia which is approximately 9,320 miles from where I live in Alabama. There are a lot of places we could travel to that are very far away. There’s Africa, Asia, Russia or Antarctica, but there is one place in our relationship with God that is further than any place on earth.
Jesus, when he was talking about the final judgment in Matthew 25, tells of people who will be cast away from God. In verse 34, He says there will be sheep on His right and tells us of the blessing they will receive– an eternal life with God. They received this because of their good works they did on earth and their willingness to follow God.
Verse 41 says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” This word “depart” is a very interesting word. It is the Greek word “poruomai,” which is described as, “go away [or to keep] walking the way you originally were headed.” These people have already made their choice. In life they were already headed for destruction. God just tells them to depart or to keep walking the way they had already chosen to walk.
This place is one of eternal separation from God. This is the farthest place we could be from our heavenly home. I know that no one wants to go to this place, yet sadly many are unknowingly drifting away from God. Some even choose to live a sinful life and are throwing away an eternity of perfection for a brief moment of pleasure.
The good news is that God is a God of love. He wants us to be with him, and we have the opportunity to repent and turn to God. As you’ve been reading this, I want you to think about the direction you are walking. Is it toward eternal life or an eternity of suffering?