By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 21, 2023
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1 Peter 4:12–14 (ESV)
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
1 Peter 5:6–11 (ESV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved. How many times have we read through scripture and used scripture within an argument and miss this one little word? Beloved. While reading through the various epistles, we often scour through them looking for great little nuggets to support our various traditions and understandings and while we scour, we often miss this one little word. Beloved. The epistles were meant to be words of encouragement in dark times. They were intended to be a balm for the wounds that were gained throughout the struggles of life. We so often use these words to cut and at times harm others, but they were written to the beloved. I want us to remember this fact, as we approach scripture. Just as David in Psalm 23 reminds us that we are sitting at the table across from our enemies, we are both at the same table eating of the feast provided by us both by the same God. Beloved.
1 Peter is filled with strange almost disjointed statements. It is one of the epistles that has weird references to ancient writings that many of us are not even aware of. And yet Peter presents them as if they have some knowledge that can encourage us. One of those statements we read last week. The weird and almost difficult to read portion at the end of the 3rd chapter where he speaks of Noah, authorities, angels, and powers. Not to mention the spiritual milk that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that is derived from the word logos instead of pneuma. In that case I made it even more weird than it really was by calling it Word Milk, it would have been much more understandable if I used a different description which is logic. We are supposed to drink or consume logic. We are encouraged to grow by the consumption of wisdom and understanding. We are encouraged to think and think deeply.
I often avoided 1 Peter because I do find it weird. And because I found it weird or strange, I felt as if I did not have an understanding or wisdom. This scares me. It is one of those books where the plain reading of scripture just does not work, because at times it is just weird. I have been criticized by colleagues at times because I have expressed that just reading scripture is not enough to build a fuller understanding of what is being said. They looked at me as if I was denying the authority of scripture, which is far from the truth. I have a deep love and appreciation for scripture. I also have a profound knowledge of my own limitations. This is why the word Beloved is where we need to begin.
Peter is speaking to people that are facing struggles. It is believed that the people Peter is writing to are just beginning their journey in faith, and because they are new many of them feel as if the world is out to get them. Some of these individuals are caught between two worlds. They know who they used to be, and yet they are a new creation in Christ. They no longer want to be who they once were, instead they strive to be someone or something they believe is better. They have this vision before them, and they are getting discouraged.
You have bene there. You have made attempts to better yourself in some manner, and then someone says a word and all at once you have fallen off the wagon again. We have this desire to be something, to do something, to change and at every turn we face discouragement. Peter knows this well. He denied his closest friend and watched him hang on a tree shortly after those denials. Peter knows discouragement, but he also knows something else. He knows, beloved. The very one that he denied, came back to him, after the resurrection, and restored and encouraged him to continue the life he began. And the words that Jesus spoke to Peter that day were also the words that Christ used to reveal the life I needed and wanted too.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” If we were to remove that one word from this sentence, these would be words of condemnation and rebuke. But Peter includes that one word, beloved, and everything changes. He is meeting them where they are. He recognizes their struggles, their pain, and he is coming alongside them as a delivering ally. This is what we are called to do in a life with Christ. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples. Disciples are ones that walk with the teacher. They eat, sleep, breathe the very air alongside their teacher. To make disciples, we need to be with not above, not under, not away from, but with or among.
Peter is with these people, even though they are in Asia minor while he is in Rome, he is with them. He understands how they feel, he hears their pleas. And he tells them, “Even I, the rock, experience this. It is not strange.” Suffering is part of human existence. It is the fruit emerging from various aspects of human activity. It emerges from revenge, greed, jealousy, sloth, lust. We could list countless activities that we would call sin, but what it really boils down to is one sided thought and various forms of perceived supremacy. The question is how will we respond? How will we react and live through the agony of these trials.
Peter says, “Beloved… do not think that something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” I have been in various trials throughout my life, and my initial response to these words is violence. I want to scream at Peter. I want to smack him in his face. How can I rejoice in the suffering? Thank goodness there are more verses. “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
I had to stop for a moment and think about this. I had to break this down word for word and consider each as they pertain to the whole. Insulted is a reprimand for a real or perceived fault presented in a harsh demeaning manner. Where or to what are the insults we face, focused? We often have misconceptions as to what is being insulted and why. As I work, I often listen to podcasts and YouTube videos. I tell my brother it is my daily dose of conspiracy theories and random facts of science and history. In many of these sources of media, I will listen to arguments from many different perspectives. I will listen to people complain about the world and I will listen to commentary on why the insults were given. As I have listened to these various voices, I have come to realize that I often agree with people I never thought I would agree with, especially when it comes to the culture wars that we often find ourselves in. This has caused me to stop and consider if my actions and words reflect God, or if they more resemble the preference and ideologies of human cultures and nations. At times, the insults are justified. Especially when they point out our own hypocrisies.
We often take the criticism of the church as a badge of honor because of words like Peter’s, but when we do this, we might be taking the scripture out of context. Peter does not say all insults are blessed. He says, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ.” There is an action we must take when we consider this verse. When the word, if is present then logically a then statement should follow. When we consider these sorts of statements there is always a possibility that the if statement is not true, therefore, the then statement will differ. If we are insulted for the name of Christ, then we are blessed. If we are insulted for any other reason, that blessing is not guaranteed. Peter is urging us to examine our lives. He is encouraging us to listen to the words that are being said. Listen because there may be some truth within their perceptions, and we might be dishonoring the name, or bearing or using his name in vain.
Now there are times where the if statement is true. Where the world’s perception is contrary to the reality of what we are saying and doing. This is where the insults that we receive do result in blessedness. In the ancient world many Christians were martyred because those outside the church had a perception that was faulty. The Christians would say that they eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ, and the world accused them of cannibalism. Or when Quakers protest conscripted military service because it is contrary to their expression of faith, many even in the United States were accused of crimes and sentenced to prison terms over the perception that if you are unwilling to fight for us, you must support the ones our nation believes to be the enemy. These martyrs and saints that suffered insults for the name of Christ, put their words into action and the world rejected them. This is very different to many of the arguments we hear today.
Peter encourages us to examine our lives. He encourages us to contemplate the words that are said. And to respond according to the answers revealed to us. Are we suffering a fiery trial for the name of Christ, or are we suffering because of a masquerade?
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” Humility is often misunderstood. To humble ourselves is to be honest about who we are and what our abilities are. To deny our abilities is not humility but pride, because everyone else knows better. False humility is a form of manipulation where we are forcing others to grant us position. To be humble is to be moderate, modest, and authentic. It is knowing ourselves and living within who we are. To humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God is to recognize who we are in relation to others and to God. Allowing God to handle the things that God should handle and stepping in when there is something you know you are able and should do. God gave us our abilities and wisdom for us to use, it is pride to neglect this gift from God, just as much as it is to exaggerate our own abilities.
Know who you are Peter encourages. Know who you are in relation to humanity and God. Step up if you are able, but at other times we do not know what to do or where to even begin. How are we going to fill a position for our employer if there are no applications to review? How are we going to feed our children if our bank account is overdrawn? How are we going to solve poverty, violence between nations, or countless other crises facing our contemporary world? Peter provides counsel on this as well. “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
Every time I went to my mother for advice, her first answer was always the same. “Have you prayed about it?” It is almost a cliché within the Christian community. We say we pray. We have prayer meetings which often turn into an hour of juicy gossip. And I know that often prayer just does not seem to work. We speak the words and then we dwell on the situation some more. This is not what Peter is saying. He says casting, this means to place or put something on something else with great energy. I like that definition, because it sounds like something I would write. I want you to visually imagine placing or putting something on something else with great energy. When you imagine this casting is throwing…hard. We are to cast those things causing us concern and worry. We are to propel with great energy those things that we are brooding over to the point of sleeplessness on him.
This means we should be emotional in our lives of prayer. Let God know just how important this is to you. Our anxieties are those things within us that we are unable to remove ourselves.
As stated in the ska classic “Superman” by Goldfinger:
“I’m trying to sleep, I lost count of sheep, my mind is racing faster every minute. What could I do more, yeah, I’m really not sure, I know I’m running circles, but I can’t quit. And I’m so confused, about what to do, sometimes I want to throw it all away.”
If our anxieties were unimportant, we would not be losing sleep over them. They are just simply out of our control. We want God to know just how troubled we are, but often we treat our prayers as if they were a yo-yo instead of a lifeline. We throw our troubles toward God but then we jerk our wrist and bring them back. We cast with great energy, but we forget to leave them on the something else. We let God know it is troubling us, but we do not leave it to him. We need to change this method of prayer. We need to clear our minds of these anxieties and let them remain with God.
This is easier said than done. I cannot tell you how many nights I have lain in bed praying over and over about various things that have troubled me about our Meeting, the Yearly Meeting, and people that I know. This is where the Psalms come in, and the discipline of contemplative prayer and Lectio Divina. We express ourselves, and cast our anxieties on God, then we need to fill our minds with something different and break the yo-yo cycle of our anxieties. Say your words, then read a Psalm and just let the words flow through your mind and over your heart. Meditate and redirect our thoughts away from our struggles and focus on the words that God inspired throughout the scriptures. When we focus on those words, we will be reminded of God’s care and grace. His mighty hand and his gentle heart. As we grow in this discipline, we will find that eventually the anxieties we once carried are indeed cast away. But it is important to note that at times it is important to have trusted friends and counselors to assist us in these things, because anxiety disorders are very real, and it is not a weakness to seek professional help. It is a sign of strength.
Peter encourages us to examine ourselves and the situations we face, he then encourages us to cast the anxieties we carry on the Lord in prayer. Peter then advises us to be sober-minded and watchful. When we hear the word, “sober” our mind drifts to intoxication. And I have heard well intentioned pastors use this very verse to promote abstinence, but this is not what Peter is meaning. To be sober-minded is to curb the influence of inordinate emotions and desires. It is becoming reasonable, self-controlled and well-balanced. This is important because often when we are in the clutches of our anxieties, we are unreasonable. We are caught in a loop and cannot find our way out. By engaging in the disciplines of prayer we break that cycle so that we can be reasonable once again. He then speaks of being watchful, or aware and mindful of the situation and your surroundings.
When I was a manager for a company, I would often listen to people wishing to make major life changes to relieve the anxieties they faced. They would come to talk, they wanted me to listen and to accept their resignation, and many would be surprised at the suggestion I gave. In most cases I would give them a few days off to rest, and I would encourage them to explore their options and determine what was causing their anxieties. In many of those case, they would return from the extra time off and would continue to work in the position they were in. In other cases, they would request a transfer to a different position within the company, but in every case, they remained, and they remained because they became aware of the situation and their surroundings. They took a step back from their anxieties, rested and they were able to make the necessary corrections to alleviate what was causing their troubles. This is the sort of thing that Peter is speaking of. He is encouraging us to drink the milk of the word, to use logic and wisdom, as we step back and allow the anxieties to calm to a point, we can see beyond the trial we are facing.
This does not only apply to work. Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Before we get too deep in this sentence, I want to be mindful of the words and grammar. Devil in this sentence is not capitalized. In fact, in the thirty-four times the word we translate as devil is used it is never capitalized. For most of us when we see and hear this word we immediately think of an adversarial spiritual being, but the lack of capitalization indicates that this is not necessarily referring to a specific personality. Devil can also refer to slanderous people; people that wish to separate and divide through the telling of lies. This does refer to a specific spiritual being but there are many other personalities surrounding us that could fit this definition. There are people surrounding us whose very existence seems to revolve around, preventing us from living a life of joy and hope. This is what the term roaring refers to. It is a cry with a loud and continued sound. These devils will not stop they are constantly speaking and deceiving, they continue to promote division and separation until they accomplish their destructive work. Peter tells us to be mindful and aware of them and their activities so that we do not provide fuel for their slanderous activities.
“Resist him,” Peter says, “Firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” As we face the trials brought about by slander, we remain loyal to the Word. This is what faith means, its loyalty and trust. It is recognizing who and what we will believe. Will we be swayed by the slanders spoken about ourselves and others, or will we remain firm in the truth.
Each of us faces the agonies of trials. Some jaded and pessimistic philosophers will say that to be human is to suffer. They are not completely wrong, we just do not like being reminded of it. At times we bring the trials on ourselves, while at other times the anxieties are out of our control. How will we respond? How will we cope? Peter once looked at his friend, Jesus, as the crowds were turning away from him due to the slanderous words people spoke about him. Jesus looks at Peter and the other disciples and he asked, “Will you also turn away?” And Peter said, “Where will we turn, you have the words of life.” Where will you turn, where will we turn? Beloved. Friends. Where can we turn? Our experiences are not strange but common. We have anxieties, we have doubts, we even question if we believe or ever believed. We look at the world around us and at times it does feel as if everything is falling around us. I encourage you to drink the spiritual milk found in the Word. I encourage you to throw your anxieties as hard as you can to God, and then to let the words of scripture flow over you in prayer. Beloved, He cares for you. He loves you, and he loves us to such a degree that he sent his one unique son to be born into a family and community. He loves us so much that he grew in knowledge and wisdom, and he taught us what life with God truly is. He loves us so much that as he hung on the cross, he cried out forgive them for they do not know what they do. While we were still sinners, while we were still enemies and adversaries of God, Christ died for us, and was buried in a cold and dark tomb. And then on the third day he rose from that grave to give us hope. He rose to confirm, strengthen and establish us in his glory. This hope and strength are available to all who believe and put their trust in loyalty in him. Beloved will we believe?
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