Friday, February 26, 2010

Manifesting the Glory and Dominion of Jesus

But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11)

The age of God’s kingdom has come into the world, bringing to a close this “present evil age,” as Paul calls it (Galatians 1:4). “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining,” is how John put it (1 John 2:8). The kingdom has come but it has not yet arrived in all its fullness. We are living in the in-between time, and that requires certain things of us:

  • Self-control and a clear head, so we can attend to the work of effective prayer.
  • Devoted, focused love for one another. There is no room for carrying grudges and holding on to unforgiveness.
  • Cheerful hospitality, welcoming each other with an open heart, an open house, an open hand.
Every believer in Jesus the Messiah has received a charisma, a grace-gift from God. These are given for the benefit of all so that we may minister the multi-faceted grace of God to each other. Paul calls these spirituals and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and goes into much detail about how they operate (1 Corinthians 12-14). Peter keeps it simple.
  • Paul spoke of revelatory gifts (word of knowledge, word of wisdom and discerning of spirits) and spent much time on the operation the gifts of divine speech (prophecy, tongues and interpretation of tongues). For Peter, those with speaking gifts should be careful to give God’s words, not their own.
  • Paul talked about manifestations of power (faith, gifts of healings and workings of miracles), and in Romans 12:6-8, mentioned gifts of service (serving, giving, leading, showing mercy). For Peter, in addition to gives of speaking, there are gifts of doing, or ministering, or serving. Those who serve are to do so, not depending on their own natural ability, but with the ability that God supplies.
The function of all these gifts is to serve one another and build each other up, but the purpose is that God may be glorified in Jesus the Messiah, because it is His dominion that makes it possible for us to live and serve in these ways. They manifest the reality of His kingdom and demonstrate that the age of darkness is passing away and the true light of God’s kingdom is already shining.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The End is Here?

But the end of all things is at hand. (1 Peter 4:7)

At the end of chapter 3, Peter referred to the events and circumstances of Genesis 6, namely, the disobedient spirits, the flood and the ark. It seems that he still has that in mind when he says, “The end of all things is at hand because it echoes God’s words to Noah in Genesis 6:13, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth.” There, it meant that the time had come to put an end to all the violence and corruption that was rife in Noah’s day. The world was no less corrupt in Peter’s day. Was he expecting a judgment that never came? Was he mistaken about the end of all things being at hand?

In the New Testament, to say that something is “at hand” means that it is very near, within reach, and often, that it has actually arrived and is now present. Jesus came preaching that the kingdom of God was “at hand,” and (Matthew 3:2; 4:17) and sent His disciples out to announce the same thing (Matthew 10:7). It was not far off, it was not almost there; it was now present. When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom would come, Jesus answered, “The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21).

The kingdom of God has come into the world and has been expanding ever since. Jesus said, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12 NIV). Before Jesus ascended to the throne of heaven, the disciples asked if He was restoring the kingdom to Israel at that time. He neither affirmed nor denied. They were asking about times and seasons, the when of the kingdom, but Jesus answered in regard to the how: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and the apostolic witness that all the nations of the earth are discipled and baptized and instructed in everything Jesus taught the first disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). For all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). In other words, the kingdom of God has come into the world and King Jesus now reigns over all.

But what is the end? In Matthew 24, after Jesus spoke to Peter and the other disciples of the coming desolation of the temple in Jerusalem, they asked, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age (v. 3). Jesus answered in terms of the destruction of Jerusalem, saying that it would happen in their generation (vv. 4-34). This was fulfilled in August of AD 70, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, only a few years after Peter wrote this letter. For the Jews, this was the end of the age. (I deal more extensively with all this in The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth: Keys to the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew.)

The coming of God’s kingdom into the world is the end of all other kingdoms. It must increase, as the nations believe the good news of the gospel and yield to King Jesus. The kingdom of darkness must give way to the kingdom of light. As the apostle John said, “The darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). The commission Jesus gave the disciples in Matthew 28 will not fail but succeed, for it comes with all the authority that was given to Jesus in heaven and on earth.

Peter was not mistaken. With the beginning of God’s kingdom age, the end of all things is at hand — now here — and has been ever since Jesus first announced it.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Armed with the Attitude of Jesus

Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1Peter 4:1-6)

Jesus the Messiah was put to death in the flesh for our sake, because of our sin. He conquered death through resurrection from the dead by the Holy Spirit and has been exalted by God to the right hand of the Father, where He rules and reigns over all. The dominion of sin has been broken; the dominion of Messiah has begun.

Because Jesus has suffered the cross in our place, He has won for us our freedom. Just as He has been raised from the dead, we also are given new life in Him. Once we were spiritually dead and under the sentence of physical death, but no more. That is what the sign of baptism is about in the previous section. Paul put it very similarly:

Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)
We are to “arm” ourselves with the same “mind” Jesus showed. There is a militancy in the word “arm.” It does not speak of passivity but of preparedness, even aggressiveness. The Greek word for “mind” speaks of intent, resolve, attitude. We are to prepare ourselves with the same attitude that Jesus has: He suffered under our sin at the cross, but now He is done with it — He has dominion over it! As Paul put it, “He who has died has been freed from sin.” That is to be our attitude: We are freed from sin. “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God,” Peter says. He and Paul track very closely on this.
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you. (Romans 6:11-14)
This is the attitude we are to arm ourselves with: We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin but alive to God in King Jesus the Messiah. No longer living according to the lusts of the flesh, the former way of life we used to know before we were set free. Peter gives a brief description here, and the list is pretty self-explanatory. Paul gives a similar list in Galatians 5:19-21 under the name “works of the flesh.” They are all things that tear down families, destroy communities and break apart the world. There is no life at all to them; they stink of death. The world has seen more than enough of them. It is time for true life and freedom to be revealed, the life and freedom that are found in King Jesus the Messiah and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Opposite the “works of the flesh,” Paul details the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23: Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Now, ironically, those who are still caught in the “works of the flesh” find this threatening. Old friends with whom we once carried on in the ways of the world may be confused that we no longer behave in those old ways. In Peter’s day, those who believed in Jesus were being persecuted because of their faith and their way of life, and that has remained so even to this day. But those who persist in their unbelief and persecute those who do believe will have to give account to King Jesus when He comes to set things right among the living and the dead. Even those who are physically dead, if they have believed the good news about Jesus the Messiah, will be made alive again by the Spirit of God, and those who have been martyred in the flesh will be vindicated in the Spirit, just as Jesus was.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Suffering Messiah, Reigning King

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

Once again, Peter draws on the example of Jesus the Messiah to demonstrate his point that it is better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Jesus was just, yet He suffered for the sins of the unjust. He did that for a purpose — that He might bring us to God!

Jesus was put to death in the flesh, His body nailed to a cross until He died. But He was made alive by the Spirit of God, resurrected in a spiritual body. Not spiritual as opposed to physical. It is still a body after all, but one empowered by the Holy Spirit. Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 15, as he relates how the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the guarantee of resurrection for those who believe in Him: The same body that is sown in corruption is raised up incorruptible. The same body that is sown in dishonor is raised up in glory. The same body that is sown in weakness is raised up in power. The same body that is sown in mortality is raised up in immortality. The same body that is sown as a natural body is raised up as a spiritual body.

It is in this spiritual, resurrection body that Jesus went and “preached” to the “spirits in prison.” The word for “preached” refers to an authoritative proclamation, which can mean the announcement of good news or of triumph and judgment. But who are these “spirits in prison” to whom Jesus makes proclamation? This is a difficult passage, but Peter does give us important clues:

  • They were those from an earlier time who had been disobedient.
  • They were from the time of Noah.
  • They were from a time when God was patiently waiting.
Some commentators think they are the spirits of men who did not believe God and live obediently before Him. In this view, the proclamation Jesus made to them was actually done through the preaching of Noah, by the Spirit, in that earlier time.

Others commentators think Peter is drawing on a common Jewish belief of the Second Temple era concerning the identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 who took wives from among the “daughters of men.” They were thought to have been fallen angels. Flavius Josephus, Jewish historian from the first century AD, held this view. The book of 1Enoch, written in the first century BC, describes them as fallen angels who were now in prison, and tells of judgment being proclaimed on them. This apocryphal book was known to the early Church and was well regarded by it; the New Testament letter of Jude refers to it.

These “spirits” were from the days of Noah. God was waiting out a certain amount of time — “Divine longsuffering,” Peter calls it. God said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3). He was not establishing the length of a man’s life at 120 years; He was giving all men only 120 more years before He brought judgment, because He saw that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (v. 5). Then we are introduced to Noah with the words, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (v. 8).

Peter nests the example of Noah right in the middle of talking about Jesus’ suffering. Think of the abuse Noah must have endured for the sake of faith and living rightly before God. Yet, even though he suffered, Noah and his family were the only ones delivered from destruction. Then Peter uses the figure of salvation through water as a type for baptism that saves us today. However, he carefully notes that baptism does not put away the “filth of the flesh,” the sins that are committed in the body. Rather, it is the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” The Greek word for “answer” speaks of a pledge, a commitment, a declaration.

In the previous section, Peter spoke about giving an answer to those who persecute us about the reason for our hope, with a ready heart, a gentle response and a “good conscience,” because our faith is in God. Now he returns to the matter of a good conscience. It is the obedience of faith, corresponding to the faithful obedience of Noah and in contrast to the disobedience of the “spirits in prison.” The “answer of a good conscience” refers to the confession of faith given in response to questions asked at baptism, answered in good conscience as a true reflection of faith.

Baptism is a sign of faith in Jesus the Messiah, for it is through His resurrection, Peter tells us, that we are saved. Further, Jesus has now “gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him.” Though He suffered for doing good, He has not only brought about salvation for all who believe in Him, but now reigns as Lord over all, and every offending angel, authority and power are subject to Him. Just as the world in Noah’s day faced the judgment of God I the flood, while only Noah and his family were saved, and just as the disobedient “spirits in prison” were judged by the cross and resurrection of Jesus from the dead by the Spirit of God, so there is coming a day in which everyone who persecutes believers will have to face the judgment of King Jesus.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

God the Rewarder

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Notice that faith does not just require that we believe that God exists but also that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We are to seek Him, believing that it is in our best interest to do so, that as we diligently seek Him, we receive something in return. However we might describe the nature of this reward, it is, after all, still reward. So, in this relationship of faith that we have with God, there is God-interest, but that is also self-interest. And this self-interest is not merely incidental, it is required — those who come to God must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

God has often promised blessings and benefits to those who seek Him, trust in Him, listen to His voice and walk in His ways. See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:1-14, where God promises wonderful blessing for those who “diligently obey” His voice and “observe carefully” His commandments (v. 1). In Psalm 103:2-5, David reminds himself of the many benefits of the LORD:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
In Malachi 3:10-12, God invites His people to test Him concerning the tithe and promises great reward for doing so:
Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And try Me now in this,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.
And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”
Says the LORD of hosts;
“And all nations will call you blessed,
For you will be a delightful land,”
Says the LORD of hosts.
In the New Testament, Jesus promises the reward of hundredfold return to those who leave all for Him:
Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time — houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions — and in the age to come, eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)
Paul, encouraging the believers at Corinth to be diligent in the grace of giving, gives this promise:
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)
There are many other examples we could look at, but I didn’t mean to post a long article today, and this one has already gone on longer than I intended.

Now, some will insist that we should not seek reward from God, that it somehow makes our faith and our motives impure. “Seek His face, not His hand,” they say. But, to follow that analogy, if you are like me, your hand is not far from your face, and the same is true of God. And the author of Hebrews teaches us something different: We must diligently seek God for who He is, but we must also believe that He rewards those who do so, that His hand is not far from His face. Without that kind of faith, it is impossible to please God.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Ready Heart and a Gentle Response

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
In the previous section, Peter spoke about loving one another and doing good to all, even to those who do us evil. If we return evil for evil, we become part of the problem. God knows how to reward those who do good and deal with those who do evil, so we can leave it in His hands.

Peter now asks the rhetorical question, “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?” The word “and” shows that he is continuing the discussion he introduced in verses 8-12. People naturally tend to respond in kind, good for good, evil for evil. When we repay evil for evil, we only escalate the situation and increase the likelihood of coming to harm. If one suffers for doing evil, justice has been done; but if one suffers for doing good, the justice of God will set things right. If we return good for evil and blessing for cursing, we break the old cycle and establish a new one.

When we respond with good, it becomes harder for those who formerly did us evil to continue doing that. Harder, but not impossible. Though most people respond well to kindness and respect, there are still those who are bent on evil toward those they fear or with whom they disagree. Even so, we will still come out all right because we are blessed by God. Once again, Peter echoes Jesus’ teaching on the mount:
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
This puts us in very good company. Who, then, can harm us?
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Therefore, do not be afraid, Peter says. He has Isaiah 8:12-14 in mind:
Do not say, “A conspiracy,”
Concerning all that this people call a conspiracy,
Nor be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.
The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow;
Let Him be your fear,
And let Him be your dread.
He will be as a sanctuary,
But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
He quoted verse 14 earlier, in 1 Peter 2:8, concerning the cornerstone that became a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense for those refused to believe. Now he draws from verse 12, “Do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” And he makes allusion to verses 13 and 14, about hallowing the Lord and taking Him as a sanctuary: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” The HSCB translates it as “But set apart the Messiah as Lord,” reflecting the earliest copies of Peter’s letter. Paul said,
If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:9-11)
When we confess Jesus as Lord and take our refuge in Him, we do not need to back down or fear anything man may do. This frees us to give a defense when people ask us about the hope we have, the joyful expectation of faith that is in us. The Greek word for “defense,” apologia, refers to a reasoned statement in response to charges or questioning, whether in a court of law or informal conversation.

With our faith in God, we can present our case with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience. Then we will not be put to shame, even when we are called evildoers; our good conduct will prove otherwise, and perhaps cause our accusers to back down.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Towardness of Prayer

The Greek word use most commonly for “pray” in the New Testament is proseuchomai. It is made up of two words. One is euchomai, which means to petition or request and is the expression of a wish or desire. It used only a couple of times in the New Testament as “pray.” In the surrounding cultures, it was used as a word for petitioning deity. It came to be modified by the prefix pros and by the time of the early Church, this new form prevailed.

The second part of proseuchomai, and the one I want to focus on here in regard to prayer, is the prefix, pros. It is a preposition indicating directionality, with the force or sense of “toward.” I am especially captured by it when I think of John 1:1 and how this little word, pros, is used in that context: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Here it is translated as “with.” In the beginning, Jesus (the Word) was with God. But pros indicates something more than that. Jesus was not merely with God, as if they were just sitting side by side. No, Jesus was positioned toward God. There was a purpose, an intent, a focus — they were face to face! Indeed, the Greek word for “face” in Scripture is prosopon, the prefix pros, with the word ops, which comes from a word that means to look at or behold. The phrase “face to face” in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face,” is prosopon pros prosopon, face toward face.

In the beginning, Jesus and the Father were with each other face to face, is as if they were discussing something, conceiving something, planning something. This plan is bound up in the term by which Jesus is referred to here: the Word. A word is something that is spoken. The Greek is logos, from lego, “I say.” What happens a few verses later, John 1:14, is the result of this speaking, this towardness between Jesus and the Father: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Jesus was toward the Father, in intimate fellowship with God, and out of that communion rose the plan for restoring mankind and reconciling all things to Himself, so that one day we, too, will see God prosopon pros prosopon, face to face. It is not that we have no fellowship with God now — we do, with the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is rich and wonderful and full of great joy. But one day we shall experience Him in a much greater way.

In the meantime, we have the “towardness” of prayer, proseuchomai. We are with Him, toward Him, pressing into His presence and into His purposes, bringing our requests, our desires, our dreams before His face. He is also with us, toward us, and in that communion, something is conceived, given life. Then, just as the Word was with God and the Word became flesh, when we direct ourselves toward God and share our dream and desire with Him, and He shapes it, mingling with it His own dream and desire for us, there is a word that comes forth into the world. It is an answer, a fulfillment, a manifestation of what has been conceived in that towardness between us and God.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Directing God in Prayer?

The question came up our Tuesday a.m. Bible study this morning (after our prayer time and before we got into our study of 1Peter — actually, we ended up discussing this instead of studying 1 Peter) as to whether we direct God in prayer. During our discussion, I was reminded of a couple of things. One was Isaiah 45:11.
Thus says the LORD,
The Holy One of Israel, and his Maker;
“Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons;
And concerning the work of My hands; you command me.”
I’ve blogged about this verse a few times in recent years:
An interesting passage in Genesis 2 also came to mind. It is after God formed man from the ground and puffed the breath of life from His own lips into Adam’s nostrils, and man became a “living being.” The Targum Onkelos, an ancient translation/commentary of the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic, renders this as “speaking spirit.” Just as God breathed out words, man was likewise created with that same capacity (see What Are You Naming Things?)

What interests me here is what happens next, when God brings the animals to Adam.
Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19)
Notice carefully: God did not tell Adam what to name the animals. Instead, He brought them to him to see what he would name them. This was no small thing. Names are very important in the Bible. They impart identity and speak of destiny.

God authorized man from the beginning to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over all creation. So it is significant that God did not micromanage Adam, telling him what to call the animals, but gave him room to operate in that larger mandate.

This speaks to me of personal relationship, with all of its give and take. Adam understood who he was in God and who God was in him and he operated freely in that understanding. God’s purpose was big in his heart (at least at that point) and he lived, not as a slave but as a son.

That is how I think of prayer, as a personal relationship with all of its give and take. God is not my slave, nor am I his — both of those ideas are faulty, ditches on either side of the road. Rather, He is my Father and I am His son. Prayer is about understanding who He is and what is His glory, learning who He is in me and who I am in Him, letting His purposes get big in my heart, then operating in that understanding. We plot, we plan, we strategize together. We talk about things that could be done, things that should be done and things that must be done. He gives me wisdom, guidance, direction; I claim the promises He has made and lay hold of the provisions He has given. It is a partnership we share together in the world, to see the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven. All this goes on in prayer with God, with King Jesus interceding by His blood (Hebrews 7:25) and the Holy Spirit laying hold and pulling together with me (Romans 8:26).

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Life of Blessing

Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For
“He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”
(1 Peter 3:8-12)

Beginning with 1 Peter 2:13, he has been dealing with how believers, though scattered in exile, are to treat the unbelieving world around them, as well as how they are to live with each other. This includes their obligations toward governing authorities, how slaves are to respond to their masters (even harsh masters) and how believing wives are to behave toward their unbelieving husbands. Now he brings this section to a close with these words for all believers, whatever their circumstances. The Greek tense for all of these indicate continuous action; not one-time deeds but a way of life.

  • Be of one mind. Greek, homophron. Living in harmony, with no divisions, having the same mind and the same purpose (Romans 15:6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:27). Paul tells us, “Let this mind be in you which as also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5-8).
  • Having compassion for one another. The Greek word is sympatheis and is made up of two parts: sym means “together;” patho is the experience of passion or suffering. This is where we get our word “sympathy.” It is an openness to one another that moves one to act on behalf of another, especially in a time of need or distress.
  • Love as brothers. Greek, philadelphoi. We are to live together as loving brother and sisters, recognizing that we belong together in the same family, with the God and Father of Jesus the Messiah as our own Father.
  • Be tenderhearted. The Greek word here, eusplagchnos, speaks of a depth of feeling, kindness and mercy towards another, even as that of a mother for her child.
  • Be courteous. Greek, philophron. Friendly-minded toward all, with the humility of love.
Peter is well aware that these believers are being treated unjustly and persecuted for their faith, and that this would continue. But they were not to respond in kind, trading insults or retaliating with curses. Instead, they were to respond with blessing. This echoes the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:44-45)
God has called us to inherit a blessing and to live it out in the world, even when people are evil toward us. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” Paul says (Romans 12:21). When we pay back evil for evil, we have been overcome by it, but when we pay back evil with blessing instead of cursing, we overcome it. It is, of course, a matter that requires faith: “This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4). We need to trust that God will sort things out properly and set everything right.

Peter quotes from Psalm 34:8-12 (he alluded to Psalm 34:8 earlier, in 1 Peter 2:3, about tasting the goodness of the Lord). It is a song of thanksgiving David wrote about a time when he was living in exile among the Philistines and God answered his prayers for deliverance. It supports what Peter has been saying throughout this section: Those who want to enjoy a good life should refrain from speaking evil, but do good and diligently pursue peace. God looks with favor on those who do what is right, and He will answer their prayers. But let God deal with those who do evil and speak curses. This is how we live a life of blessing — blessing others and being blessed by God.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Transforming Marriages with True Freedom (Part 2)

Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:1-7)

The first part of Peter’s household code concerning marriage addressed wives whose husbands were not believers, so that their husbands might come to share in the faith with them. Now, Peter has a word for husbands who are believers.

  • “Husbands, likewise …” Husbands also are to be submissive to every human creature — including their wives.
  • “Dwell with them with understanding.” The Greek word for “dwell with” is sunoikeo, made up of two words: sun, “together,” and oikeo, to occupy a house. It speaks of a domestic relationship and, in the case of husband and wife, would include sexual intercourse. A husband is to have understanding for his wife in every aspect of their relationship.
  • “Giving honor to the wife.” She is to be honored, just as he is. The Greek word for “honor” has a substantive value and, in this case, would include the husband properly providing for and taking caring of his wife.
  • “As to the weaker vessel.” This does not refer to spiritual, moral or intellectual weakness but, rather, to physical weakness. A vessel is a container, just as the body may be thought of as a container for the soul.
  • “And as being heirs together of the grace of life.” The Greek term for “heirs” here refers to co-heirs or joint-heirs. There is no inequality here; husbands and wives share equally in the inheritance of new life in Jesus. The husband is not spiritually superior to his wife; they are both the same before God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
  • “That your prayers may not be hindered.” Paul said that faith works through love (Galatians 5:6). If we are not walking in love towards our mates, it can hinder our faith and, consequently, our prayers.
As believers in Jesus, true freedom in marriage is found in mutual submission. It’s not about who’s the boss but who’s the servant. We are each to love, give to and serve one another, not as scorekeepers or accountants, but generously and freely. It is because God so loved the world and Jesus came to give His life for us, that we an able to love one another in this way, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. It is how marriages become strong, and powerful in prayer and faith.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Transforming Marriages with True Freedom (Part 1)

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear. Do not let your adornment be merely outward — arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel — rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror. (1 Peter 3:1-6)
Peter writes to scattered believers about the true freedom we now have because we belong to God through Jesus the Messiah. This liberty is not a thinly veiled license to live according to the lusts of the world. Rather, it is the freedom to love, give and serve, just as God revealed Himself in the example of Messiah.

All this is summed up for Peter in the words “be submissive.” The Greek word is hypotasso, made up of two words: hypo, “under,” and tasso, which has to do with order or arrangement. Literally, it means to subordinate. Peter began an earlier section with “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man” (1 Peter 2:13). French theologian Ceslas Spicq thinks a better translation of the unusual Greek expression behind it is, “Submit to every human creature” (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 425 n. 9). This idea is reinforced a few verses later when Peter says, “Honor all people.” What does it mean, in practical terms, to submit? Spicq offers this:
It means first of all accepting the exact place God has assigned, keeping to one’s rank in this or that society, accepting a dependent status, especially toward God (Jas 4:7), like children who are submissive to a father’s discipline (Heb 12:9), after the fashion of the child Jesus. This religious subjection is made up of an obedient spirit, humaneness of heart, respect and willingness to serve. To submit is to accept directives that are given, to honor conditions that are imposed, to please one’s superior (Titus 2:9) or honor him by the homage that is obedience (cf. Eph 6:1), to repudiate egotism and aloofness. It is to spontaneously position oneself as a servant towards one’s neighbor in the hierarchy of love. (Ibid., pp. 425-6).
Peter showed how this works in relation to governing authorities and how it can be redemptive for those trapped in slavery (which ensnares masters as well as slaves) in a way that actually undermines that institution. Now he speaks of how to live it out in the marriage relationship.

The bulk of his instruction in this present passage is for wives. Wives in the surrounding regions did not enjoy equal status or honor with their husbands but were considered inferior, so they were the ones more likely to be treated unjustly. More specifically, Peter addresses those wives whose husbands were not believers. The prevailing religious culture would have simply expected them to worship the gods of their husbands. But Peter shows Christian wives how to approach this in a different and effective way: “Be submissive — spontaneously position yourselves as servants, in the hierarchy of love — to your own husbands.” This does not mean giving up one bit of what the wives believe nor does it mean doing evil or committing injustice. Rather, the conduct of their lives should be pure, modest and innocent, with reverence toward God and respect toward their husbands. Even though these husbands may not be receptive to the word of the gospel in preaching or teaching, they might still be favorably influenced by the way they see it lived out in their wives and be won to faith in the Messiah.

It was fashionable, then as now, for women to adorn themselves in fine clothes, fancy hair and expensive jewelry. But for Christian wives, the emphasis should be on “the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” This pleases God and can transform one’s marriage. Peter again uses the Greek word aphthartos, “incorruptible.” He has already used it twice: In 1 Peter 1:4, he used it to describe the inheritance God has for us. In 1 Peter 1:23, he refers to the new life we have in Jesus through the incorruptible seed of the Word of God. Born of incorruptible seed for an incorruptible inheritance, we have an incorruptible beauty at work in us — a gentle and peaceful spirit. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and we must let Him bring forth that fruit and transform our lives. Sarah serves as an example here, who showed proper respect for Abraham but was not intimidated or afraid of him.

So far, Peter’s comments have been for those wives whose husbands are not believers, so their husbands might come to share faith in the Messiah with them. Next, Peter will have a word for husbands who are believers.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Undermining Slavery with True Freedom

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
“Who committed no sin,
Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:18-25)
In his letters to the Ephesian and Colossian believers, the apostle Paul addresses the relationship between slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1), and between husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19). Likewise, Peter deals with those same issues here in his letter to scattered believers. In the previous section, he said to honor all people. This is how we experience the true freedom we have in Jesus the Messiah, by loving God and serving others. He also discussed the believer’s relationship to governing authorities. Now he turns to the issue of slavery.

Slavery was a reality of Roman culture, but Peter voices neither approval nor disapproval for it. Instead, he undermines it. The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, Jesus said (Matthew 13:33), and that is how Peter appears to approach the matter of slavery. Writing to household servants, the class of slaves most likely to have access to this letter, he says, “Servants, submit to your masters with all due respect.” Not only to those masters who are good and gentle but even to those who are harsh, and especially when treated unjustly.

It is commendable — praiseworthy, thankworthy, finds favor — if, because of being conscious or mindful of God, one puts up with being wrongfully penalized. What Peter may have in mind is servants being persecuted because of their faith in God, the same faith that, as it turns out, enables them to endure unjust treatment. Of course, nobody gets praise for submitting to penalties that are deserved. But when one patiently endures punishment they have received although they do not deserve it but have actually been “doing good” (there’s that Greek word agathapoieo again, the giving of self that blesses others), that is the kind of response that finds favor with God. It may also win respect with masters and cause them to think more favorably about faith in Jesus the Messiah. As Paul’s letter to Philemon shows concerning the runaway slave, Onesimus, a master who believes in Jesus can no longer think the same way about slavery, especially when the slave is his brother in the Lord. The institution must eventually yield to the love of God.

Peter then gives the supreme example of suffering while doing good, and how that turns to redemption. He draws from Isaiah 53, the prophet’s portrayal of Messiah as the “Suffering Servant.” Peter had witnessed firsthand how this was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, who was persecuted and punished by men even though He was without sin or deceit. Yet, though shamefully abused, He did not respond in kind or threaten any vengeance. Rather, His words from the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Consider what the suffering of Jesus has done for us.
  • He bore our sins in our place. In Him, we are now dead to sin and have the ability to do what is right before God. Paul says, “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
  • He took the stripes, the scourging we rightfully deserved, and we are now healed.
  • We once were like sheep gone astray; now we are restored to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
In a similar way, by submitting to those who have authority over us and doing good, it may cause them to turn to God through faith in Jesus the Messiah.

Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Keeping the Faith When Things Get Tough
Peter’s Letter to Jesus Believers Scattered Everywhere
Bite-Sized Studies Through First Peter
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.