Saturday, January 30, 2010

Living in True Freedom

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17)
The first line can also be translated, as Young’s Literal Translation has it, “Be subject, then, to every human creation,” or even as “every human creature” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 233). That would, of course, include every governing authority, but maybe Peter has something much bigger in mind than just those authorities. If we are to submit to “every human creature,” then Peter levels the playing field: Yes, we are to submit ourselves to kings and governors, but more than that, we are to understand that we are here for the sake of everyone, not just rulers. We are here to serve whoever we come across.

Jesus the Messiah is King over all, but God has allowed governments and authorities to be instituted by men. Their rightful purpose, in God’s plan, is to punish those who do evil and commend those who do good. We are to submit to those institutions and ordinances, but only in doing good, never in doing evil.

The Greek word used for “doing good,” agathapoieo, includes moral virtue, but refers, more specifically, to doing what benefits others. Not just for those who do good things for us, but as Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return” (Luke 6:35). It is the good that flows from love. The apostle John said, “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 11). Just as God loved the world and gave His Son (John 3:16), and Jesus came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), we are called to love and serve others. It is this kind of selfless giving that will help clear up misapprehensions about who we are and silence our critics.

As servants of God, we are free from everything else. However, God does not give us this freedom as a license to do evil but as the liberty to do good. Paul said, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11). Once we were in bondage to sin and our own base desires. Now we are free in Jesus the Messiah, and it is in loving God and serving others that we truly experience our freedom. Peter summarizes it this way:
  • Honor all people. We are to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  • Love the brotherhood. We are to love, in particular, our brothers and sisters in the faith. Paul said, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
  • Fear God. We are to live in awe, respect and love for God. This will be evident in how we treat others. John said, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).
  • Honor the king. Jesus said, ““Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). The king is to be honored, but God alone is to be feared.

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, January 28, 2010

Glorifying God on the Day of Inspection

Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1Peter 2:11-12)
Peter continues his exhortation in a tender and personal way, addressing his readers as, “Beloved.” Though they are exiles in foreign lands, they must be careful to abstain from “fleshly lusts,” the passions of fallen human nature. These are not neutral or inconsequential but work against us. The Message renders it this way, “Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.” The apostle Paul draws the contrast between the lusts of the flesh and the fruit God wants to produce in us by His Spirit:
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)
Now look at what the Holy Spirit is working to bring forth in us:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)
The Spirit of God wants to bring forth the life and character of Jesus the Messiah in us. This is the sort of excellent behavior and honorable conduct Peter has in mind. Part of the difficulty these scattered believers were experiencing was that the surrounding Gentiles did not understand what this faith in Jesus was all about. Jews were often slandered by Gentiles, and now those Gentiles who began to believe in the Messiah, they were included in that slander.

Gentiles thought Christians were atheists because they did not bow to any of the pagan idols; that they were disloyal to the state because they proclaimed that Jesus, not Caesar, is the divine King; that they were cannibals because they spoke of eating the body of Jesus and drinking His blood (at the Table of the Lord). Gentiles were also critical of Christians because they upset the institutions of marriage, family and slavery, giving women, wives, children and slaves new dignity. The Christian message also undermined lucrative pagan practices such as temple prostitution and the market for idols.

Peter’s answer to that was to live a noble lifestyle of love and good works. He knew the Gentiles would be “observing” — the Greek word means that they would be watching, carefully inspecting how these believers in Jesus lived. His expectation was that, by being good citizens, good servants, good husbands and wives, and having love for all, their manner as well as their message would cause their Gentile neighbors to give glory to God. This echoes what Jesus preached: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

What Peter especially has in mind here is that the Gentiles might glorify God “in the day of visitation.” The Greek word for “visitation,” episcope, signifies oversight, investigation, inspection. Peter is talking about the day of inspection, when God comes to set things right — judgment day! As the Gentiles inspected the lives if Christians, perhaps it would cause them to trust in Jesus the Messiah, so that on the day they were inspected by God, they would gladly give Him glory.

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

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Much Leaping

Now as the ark of the Lord came into the City of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6:16)
David was rejoicing before the Lord for the wonderful thing He had done in restoring the Ark of the Covenant to Israel. Now, joy is not quiet or still but demonstrable. You can tell when someone is rejoicing — it looks like something. In this case, it looked like leaping and whirling.

One of the Greek words for “rejoice” in the New Testament is agalliao. It comes from two words: agan, much, and hallio, to leap, to jump, to spring up or gush like water. Literally, agalliao means to “jump for joy.” It is an expression of joy with much leaping.

In Mary, pregnant with Jesus, this joy revealed itself as a marvelous song, known as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced [agalliao] in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). It was her spirit that was leaping for joy, just as John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice (Luke 1:44), but it emerged in exuberant song.

When the Seventy disciples returned from the mission of healing diseases, casting out demons and announcing the kingdom, Jesus “rejoiced [agalliao] in the Spirit” (Luke 10:21). It was supernatural, Holy Spirit joy at work in His human spirit. He was jumping for joy on the inside, but it manifest somehow on the outside and looked like something — that is how Luke was able to tell us about it.

When the Philippian jailer believed the good news from Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31), he was full of this leaping joy. “Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced [agalliao], having believed in God with all his household” (v. 34). His whole life had been changed and he now had a wonderful future, and so did the rest of his house, because they believed also. Imagine him in a wild state of excitement as he offered Paul and Silas, who brought him this wonderful message, the hospitality of his house. Joy was leaping inside of him and it showed up on the outside.

Like that jailer, all who receive Jesus the Messiah have much reason to leap for joy. The apostle Peter details some of it in his letter to scattered believers:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice [agalliao]. (1 Peter 1:3-6)
There is much power, wonder and grace packed into that paragraph, and when we understand it, it should leave us leaping for joy, in spirit if not in body. If it does not, then that is only an indication that we have not yet grasped what Peter is talking about.

There are a number of words, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament and in the Greek of the New, which speak of joy and rejoicing in a variety of ways. There is jumping for joy, shouting for joy, singing for joy, spinning for joy, and even “creaking” and squealing with delight. But there are none which speak of joy in terms of silence or stillness. It is the nature of joy to manifest somehow.

There is great joy to be had in Jesus the Messiah. How will you let yours show?

(See also The Divine Woo-hooooo! and The Fellowship of Drunken Glory)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Faith and Doubt

There is an idea that circulates among Christians concerning doubt, that doubt is somehow necessary to faith, that it is a companion to faith and not its opposite. But when I read the Bible, I don't get that impression. For example, I think of Jesus' words in Mark 11:22-23.
Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.
That does not sound to me like faith and doubt are to be companions. Rather, it sounds like doubt hinders faith. Or consider James 1:5-8:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Again, faith and doubt are not presented as companions meant to co-exist, but as opposites in such a way that faith is hindered by doubt.

The Greek word for “doubt,” diakrino, comes from two words: dia, through, and krino, to judge. It means to be of two minds, caught between two judgments, divided. It is what James calls a “double-minded man.” It does not lead to stability but to instability in all one’s ways. Imagine an automobile with two steering wheels manned by two drivers who want to go in two different directions.

The father of the young demon-possessed man that the disciples could not set free asked Jesus for help. Jesus answered, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The man said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This man was in a state of doubt. He had two things going on inside him: He had faith but he also recognized that he had some unbelief going on inside himself, and he was divided between them. But notice that he did not say, “Lord, help me learn to live with this doubt, this divided state between belief and unbelief. Help me to see that they are not opposites after all but actually companions.”

While it may be a popular answer, and one I used to promote myself, I do not think that acquiescing to a companionship between faith and doubt is an effective way to receive the benefits of faith that God intends for us. It does not square up with what the Word says: “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). Faith pleases God and God rewards it. On the other hand, James says of the man who doubts, “Let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.” Faith and doubt are incompatible.

We should never condemn anyone for having doubts about God or the Bible or the Christian faith, or else we would be doing the work of the “accuser of the brethren” instead of the work of the Good Shepherd. Though doubt indicates the presence of unbelief, by the same token, it is also evidence that there is faith at work as well as unbelief. Everyone goes through seasons of doubt, but that does not mean we have to stay there.

Nor should we deny the existence of doubt — as if that will make it go away — or that it is a problem that needs divine assistance. Remember, the father of the demon-possessed boy said, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”

Ultimately, doubt is more a matter of the heart than of the mind — “and does not doubt in his heart,” Jesus said. There is an emotional and a volitional component to doubt as well as an intellectual one.

Faith does not come to us by reasoning but by revelation, through hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). And it comes as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), not because we have reached an intelligent conclusion that is intellectually unassailable. Our ability to reason for or against faith is not greater than the gift graciously imparted by the Spirit of God.

A community of faith, love and acceptance for the one who needs help with their unbelief creates an atmosphere that encourages and allows one to grow beyond his doubt without feeling pressured.

Now, there is an important distinction to be made. My faith is in God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and my commitment is to the veracity of Scripture. But I make no claim of infallibility in my understanding of Scripture. My interpretations may be in error at some points. My theology has changed often and in many ways over the many years I have been a Christian, and I expect it will change some more. So, I will doubt my eyes and my ears, my feelings and my fears, my intellect and even my doubts — but then, I do not profess to have faith in myself. My faith is in God.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A New Kind of People

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1Peter 2:9-10)
Those who refused to believe the good news of God’s Messiah, Peter said, were destined to stumble and fall. Then he turns to the believers, who were scattered as exiles and experiencing persecution because of their faith in Jesus the Messiah. “But you …”he says, and offers them words in bold relief.
  • You are a chosen generation. The Greek word for “generation” here is genos, and means “race” or “kind.” The word for “chosen” is eklekton, “select” (this is where we get our word “eclectic”). God has selected a new kind of people, not based on biological characteristics or geographical or national boundaries but on the basis of faith in Jesus the Messiah. All who believe in Him, whether Jews or Gentiles (non-Jews, pagans, the nations) are part of this new people.
  • You are a royal priesthood. God’s plan for Israel was that she be a royal priesthood (Exodus 19:6), to come before God, not only for her own sake but also for the sake of the nations, but she failed. Now this purpose is fulfilled in a way that Israel did not expect, through Jesus the Messiah, with Him as our High Priest.
  • You are a holy nation. God also chose Israel to be a holy nation (Exodus 19:6), set apart especially for Him. Now He has enlarged that nation with believers from every nation. In Revelation, the song of praise sung to the Lamb of God is, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10). What good news for those who found themselves scattered among the nations and under their heel.
  • You are His own special people. The Greek word is peripoiesis, which comes from two words: peri, “around,” and poieo, to make or do. Put together, it means “to make around oneself,” that is, to acquire or bring into possession. God has redeemed us, purchased us at great price from bondage to sin and death, and gathered us around Himself.
Now Peter speaks of purpose: “That you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” The word for “praise” here actually speaks of the virtues and excellencies of God. We proclaim his mercy and goodness. Before He ascended to His throne in heaven, Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem:
You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:15-18)
God wants this good news, the word of His glory revealed in Jesus the Messiah, to be spread all over earth, even in the realms of heaven.
To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:8-11)
God shows His goodness and grace, not only to us, but also through us.
  • He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
  • Once we were not a people, now we are the people of God.
  • Once we had not received mercy, now we have received the mercy of God.
The last two points are a reference to Hosea 1:9-10 and 2:23, which originally described unbelieving Israel. Though they broke covenant with God, He would restore them as His people once again and show them mercy. Now through faith in Jesus the Messiah, both Israel and the nations are being restored to God as a new kind of people.

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, January 22, 2010

Honored by God or Destined to Fall?

Writing to new believers, exiles experiencing persecution and rejection because of their faith in Jesus the Messiah, Peter offers this encouragement:
Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture,
“Behold, I lay in Zion
A chief cornerstone, elect, precious,
And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”
Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1 Peter 2:4-8)
Peter speaks of Jesus as a living stone, one rejected by men, but chosen and honored by God (the Greek word for “precious” means to be highly valued and esteemed). Then he goes further and speaks of believers as living stones. Jesus is the chief foundation stone God has laid for a spiritual house and we, as living stones, are together being built up as that house. We are also a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices in that spiritual house. Just as the Lord Jesus is accepted and established by God, we, too, are accepted by God in Him.

Quoting from Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation,” Peter highlights the connection between Jesus and those who believe in Him: “He who believes in Him will by no means be put to shame.” Those who believe in Messiah, though they be rejected by men, are accepted by God. They will not be put to shame but will be honored by Him. The NKJV has “To you who believe, He is precious.” However, the words “He is” are italicized to indicate that they do not have an actual basis in the text but are supplied by the translator. The ESV offers a better translation: “So the honor is for you who believe.” (This is supported by the HCSB, NASB, Young’s Literal Translation, Weymouth’s New Testament and other versions; also by Robertson’s Word Pictures, Vincent’s Word Studies and other expository works.)

Peter draws a sharp contrast between those who believe in the Messiah and those who are disobedient, that is, those who refuse to believe. Though Jesus is rejected by some, it does not change the truth about who He is. He remains the chief cornerstone, chosen and honored by God. But to those who refuse Him, He becomes a stone over which they stumble and fall.

At this point, Peter brings out Psalm 118:22, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” This is an important theme for him. When he was hauled before the Sanhedrin to explain himself — “By what power or by what name have you done this?” — Peter identified the power and name of Jesus the Messiah, and alluded to this verse very pointedly:
This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11)
Jesus used this same passage to identify Himself in the Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17), in which they expelled the King’s son from the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked, “Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” The chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, recognizing themselves in that parable protested, “Certainly not!” Then Jesus looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone’? Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Luke 20:15-18).

Peter adds in another Scripture, a line from Isaiah 8:14. The stone which the builders rejected, which turned out to be the chief cornerstone, has become “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence.” To those who reject Jesus the Messiah, the rock that should have been a sure foundation for them has become and a judgment. “They stumble,” Peter says, “being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.” There is only one chief cornerstone, and God knew all along that some would reject Him. Those who do are destined to stumble and fall.

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, January 20, 2010

Growing Up in New Life

Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
The old life with its old ways must be set aside; the new has come. These to whom Peter writes are not just born again, they are newly born again — babes! That is one reason why some commentators think this letter is a sort of catechism or a sermon to recently baptized believers.

There are certain things that must be put aside; they do not belong to the new life we have in Jesus the Messiah. The Greek word for “lay aside” is found elsewhere in the New Testament in similar contexts in which the apostles exhort believers:
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Romans 13:12-13)

Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. (Colossians 3:8-10)

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
Notice that it is not enough to put all these things off. There must also be something that is put on. We are to put on the new man we have become in Jesus the Messiah, wearing now the life of Jesus as our own — because it is!

This involves a renewal in our way of thinking. It is not merely an outward conformity to the life of Jesus, but a transformation that reveals outwardly what is true of us inwardly. How does this happen? James tells us to “receive with meekness the implanted word.” The Greek word for “receive” here means to take up or lay hold of. The “implanted” word is the word that was sown, like a seed, in the heart. Peter spoke earlier in his letter of being born again of incorruptible seed by the Word of God. Now he tells these new believers to “desire the pure milk of the word.” The phrase “of the word” translates the Greek word logicon, but it can just as well be rendered as “spiritual,” that is, to desire “pure spiritual milk” as the ESV, NIV and other versions have it.

The word for “pure” here is adolos and stands in contrast to the word for “deceit” in verse 1, dolos. The a in front of it is an alpha-privative, a negative prefix. Its use in front of dolos means “without,” that is without deceit. The spiritual milk of the word that Peter is talking about is pure, not mixed with or contaminated by any additive; it is wholly as it appears to be and is not a disguise for something else.

Peter continues the metaphor with, “if you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” This is a reference to Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good.” The word for “gracious” here is not the word we normally expect, charis, but chrestos, which speaks of virtue, goodness, kindness. Notice that it is very similar to the Greek word for Messiah, Christos. Peter may be making a play on words here, because when he says “the Lord is gracious,” he is referring to Jesus.

“Taste” speaks of an experience. Those who have believed in Jesus the Messiah have received the new birth and experienced the goodness and kindness of God. When you have tasted something good, it stimulates your appetite for more of the same. That is what Peter is getting at here: Since you have tasted the goodness of the Lord, let that stimulate your desire for more of Him, more of this spiritual food, more of His Word. This is the “milk” by which we grow up in this new life in Jesus.

And indeed, it is a process of growth. Nobody is born fully mature, not in the physical realm nor in the spiritual. Having been accustomed to — discipled by — the way of the world for so long, it requires some reorientation and learning for new believers to begin to walk out this new life we have received from God 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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Gospel of Fervent Love

Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because
“All flesh is as grass,
And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withers,
And its flower falls away,
But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. (1Peter 1:22-25)
“Obeying the truth” is believing the truth about Jesus the Messiah and living according to it. It has a purifying, or consecrating, effect on the soul. James said, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). This leads to “pure and undefiled religion before God … to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). In other words, believing and doing the truth about Jesus prepares us to love.

This is real, true love Peter is talking about. The Greek word for “sincere” is anypokritos, which is made up a two parts: a or an, which means “not,” and hypocritos, which means “actor” and is where we get our word “hypocrite.” It is not pretending to love, wearing it as a mask or disguise, or reading lines as actors. As the apostle John tells us, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1John 3:18).

Our love must be authentic but it must also be fervent. The Greek word for “fervent” is ektenos, from two words: ek, “out,” and teino, “to stretch.” It is “a constant concern to be of service, exacting and untiring zeal, urgent affection, and even lavish gift-giving” (Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament). It is fervent because it comes from the heart. It is not a mere outward conformity but reveals an inward transformation.

As these believers were living in exile, it became all the more important for them to love each other with an intense devotion that reveals the new birth we have together in Jesus. Indeed, this new birth, and the inward transformation it brings, enables such love. That is because the new birth does not come from the seed of fallen humanity, which is subject to death and corruption, but by the seed of the Word of God, the Word of Life that endures forever.

At this point, Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6-8, also written to exiles, about the brevity of human life in contrast to the eternality of the divine word. It is a messianic passage about God setting things right in the world and it is fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. Indeed, Peter takes the good news of Jesus the Messiah to be the enduring word Isaiah described: “Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.”

There are two different Greek words for “word” used in this passage. The first is logos, which is the Word of God in general principle. The second is rhema, which is the Word of God acutely articulated, for example, through preaching. What was foretold by Isaiah in prophecy now finds acute fulfillment in the message of the gospel.

The gospel is what Peter has been talking about all along in chapter 1: The abundant mercy of God revealed in Jesus the Messiah, through the new birth, a living hope, and an incorruptible inheritance because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and faith in Him. It is the gospel of fervent love — God’s love for us resulting in our love for each other.

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

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Living in Awe of the Redeemer God

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21)
Peter continues the exhortation he began in verse 13, addressing believers who are exiles, sojourners in foreign lands. But they are children of God, born anew, with the inheritance of the Father. God is a father who discerns and distinguishes between works but not between persons — Peter had long ago learned that there was no difference to God between Jewish and Gentile believers. His judgment is not that of an angry, distant deity, but that of a good father. This calls for living with a “deep consciousness of God” (The Message), or as it is called in the Old Testament, the “fear of the LORD.” It is not cringing in terror but living in respect and awe of God.

This was a new kind of living for them. Before, they had lived according to the traditions of men they inherited from their fathers. Now they had been redeemed from those old, futile ways. The Greek word for “redeemed” refers to a ransom or the purchase price for the freedom of a slave. Here it is used of those who have been ransomed or delivered from bondage, not by silver or gold, but by a much higher price — the blood of Messiah. God planned this from the beginning, even before the creation of the world, knowing that our redemption would be necessary. Now it has been revealed in “these last times,” a period that is signaled by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and will continue until He comes again.

The resurrection changes everything, giving us new expectation, new life and a glory in which all those who trust in Jesus will have a share. God has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and through the Lord Jesus, we believe in God, from whom we now receive everything good.

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

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Friday, January 15, 2010

New Birth, New Mind, New Life

The Faith Log reaches a milestone today with this, the 1,000th post.
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)
“Therefore” — because of the new birth, the living hope, the incorruptible inheritance and inexpressible joy we have in Jesus — “gird up the loins of your mind.” The mind, of course, has no loins. “Girding the loins” is a metaphor for preparing for action. The robes worn in Peter’s day could be gathered up for one to move quickly and easily. “Prepare your mind for actions” is how the NASB puts it. Or as The Message says, “Put your mind in gear.”

Peter wants believers to be prepared to think in a new way because of what God is revealing to us and in us. Paul speaks similarly in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Both Peter and Paul tell us that we need to renew our thinking with the truth of the gospel.

“Be sober,” Peter says, or “sober-minded” (ESV), or “sober in spirit” (NASB). He is talking about being directed by this new way of thinking. We are to set our hope, our expectation, on the grace of God that brings us this salvation, which will come to its completion when Jesus is revealed at the end of the age, and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

“As obedient children.” Through faith in Jesus the Messiah, we receive new birth and become children of God. The Greek word for “obedience” comes from a root, hypakouo, which has to do with hearing. As children of God, we are to give heed to a new voice. “Not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance.” Conformity speaks of our outward manner of life. Before we knew God, we were left to our own corrupt desires. But these no longer match the inward reality of who we now are in Jesus. As Paul said in Romans 12:2, we are not to be conformed but transformed, so that our outward manner corresponds to our inner being, our new life in Messiah.

Peter says the same thing as Paul, only in a different way: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” God has called us and it is now His voice we are to listen to. Our manner of life is to reflect what He is like — we can do that now because of our new life in Jesus. God is “holy,” which means that He is set apart; there is no one else like Him in all the world. We, too, are holy, which means that we are set apart as God’s own, and our lives should demonstrate that. Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), the work of God’s Spirit to bring forth the character of Jesus the Messiah in our lives.

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

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Intense Desire of Prophets and Angels

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven — things which angels desire to look into. (1Peter 1:10-12)
The prophets of the Old Testament spoke by the Holy Spirit, whom Peter here calls the Spirit of Messiah (Christ). They brought the promise of salvation, which has now been fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah and is being revealed to us (see The Abundant Mercy of God Revealed). Though they brought the message, these prophets did not understand exactly how and when it would come about, but they longed to know. Peter uses three verbs to bring out the intensity of this desire:
  • “inquired,” Greek ekzeteo, the craving to know something, to thoroughly seek it out.
  • “searching,” Greek ereuneo, to investigate or examine.
  • “searched diligently,” exereuneo, an intensified form of eruneo.
Pairing together “inquired” (ekzeteo) with “searched diligently” (exereuneo),” as Peter does here, concentrates these already emphatic words even more. It is almost as if he cannot find enough words to show how much the Old Testament prophets longed to know the things Peter was now talking about. Earlier, he wrote of the intense, unmitigated, inexpressible joy we can now have in Jesus (see A Joy Words Cannot Contain). Now, he reveals another dimension of that joy by describing the passionate longing of the prophets to know all about God’s plan for us.

The Holy Spirit testified beforehand, witnessing to them in advance about the things that Messiah would suffer for the sake of God’s people and the glories (note the plural) that would follow, what this suffering would mean, not just for Israel, but for all the world. The prophets understood that these things would not be fulfilled in their own day but were for future generations. Peter says they were ministering to us to whom the gospel — the good news that Messiah has now come into the world — has been preached.

Peter knows well when and why the Holy Spirit was “sent from heaven.” He was there at Pentecost, when the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus’ disciples. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus had promised, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The same Spirit who foretold the coming of Messiah through the prophets now proclaimed it through Spirit-filled witnesses.

Peter then says something that lifts this wonder up even higher. He has spoken of the great passion of the prophets to understand these things. Now he speaks of these as “things angels desire to look into.” The Greek word for “desire” is epithumeo. It is made up of two words: epi, which here signifies intensity, and thumeo, which is passion. The word for “look” is parakupto, also made up of two words: para, beside and kupto, to bend forward or stoop down. Picture angels leaning over, stooping sideways, stretching their necks, with an intense curiosity, passion and awe to see the wonderful things God has done for us. The Message Bible says, “Angels would have given anything to be in on this!”

The prophets of old did not live to see these things come to pass. Angels are sort of bystanders, “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). But we heirs of this promise. If prophets passionately sought to understand it and angels intensely desire to stoop low just to see it, how marvelous it must be for us who receive it.

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

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Monday, January 11, 2010

A Joy Words Cannot Contain

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
“In this” — a new birth, a living hope, an incorruptible and unfading inheritance ready to be revealed (see The Abundant Mercy of God Revealed) — there is cause for great rejoicing. The Greek word behind “greatly rejoice” is agalliao, which literally means to “jump for joy.” It is made up of two words: agan, which means “much” and hallomai, which means to leap, spring up or gush like water. It is not a joy that is quiet and sedate but one that is exuberant, ecstatic, animated.

It is a joy that will endure, even in the face of all the various, distressing trials that may test it. They only reveal the genuineness of faith. Not just faith as the act of believing, but also faith as the object of our trust: the promise of God we have in Jesus the Messiah.

Peter compares it to the refining of gold. There is a Jewish form of argument implied here, known as qal vahomer, arguing from the lesser to the greater. It is the kind of argument Jesus used when He said, “How much more …” (e.g., Luke 11:13; Luke 12:24, 28). If gold, which can be destroyed, is considered valuable, then how much more precious is our faith, which will not only endure but will result in praise, honor and glory when King Jesus appears.

This is an apt comparison. When gold is refined, it is heated up until the dross (impurities) comes to the surface and is scooped away. Caution is required because if it is overheated, the gold will be destroyed — it will perish. The process is repeated until the gold is so pure the refiner can see his reflection in it.

Likewise, God allows trials to come in order to refine us. Not to destroy our faith but to remove the impurities that hinder our faith, for it is our faith that overcomes the world and its present distresses (1 John 5:4). When God allows our faith to be “tested by fire,” it is so we may reflect the Lord Jesus. As John says, “When He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1John 3:2). His glory will be revealed in us, and indeed, we will share in His glory, just as the moon shares in the glory of the sun by revealing it in the darkness. One day it will all be revealed in full, but even now it has already begun.

Peter saw Jesus in the flesh, in His earthly ministry, but those to whom Peter writes had not, yet they loved Him anyway. The fact that they did not have the same physical experience of Jesus that Peter had did not matter one bit. They had the Holy Spirit in them to reveal the Lord Jesus to them (see v. 2) and that was quite enough for them to fall in love with Him. Though they did not presently see him, they believed in Him anyway. Faith does not require sight! Paul said that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God, the preaching of the good news about King Jesus the Messiah, and reveals Him to us.

Not only did they believe, they “rejoiced” — there’s that word agalliao again — they “jumped for joy” because of Him. Not only joy that was exuberant and ecstatic, but “inexpressible and full of glory.” It is a joy that words cannot contain, a joy that reveals the glory of God, a joy that makes present tests and trials pale by comparison.

It is a joy that lays hold of the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. The Greek word for “salvation,” soteria, means to rescue, preserve, prosper, restore to health and well-being. Peter has already spoken of it as something to be revealed (future tense) in the “last time,” but here he speaks of already receiving it (present, continuous tense). The future is breaking into the present and we get to experience more and more as we overcome, through faith, the various trials of the present.

The Greek word for “receive” here, komizo, is about receiving what has been promised. In King Jesus the Messiah, we have received wonderful promises and we can begin to experience their fulfillment even now. Present distresses get swallowed up by the inexpressible joy of God’s salvation already coming into the world.

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

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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Abundant Mercy of God Revealed

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Peter uses a very Jewish form of prayer: “Blessed be God.” The object of his praise is the One who is the Father of our Lord Jesus, in whom are fulfilled the promises of God to the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus is King and Messiah for the sake of both Jewish and Gentile believers, and Peter, addressing both groups without distinction, calls Him our Lord.

In Jesus the Messiah, God has displayed His abundant mercy. Though writing in Greek, Peter would have most likely had the Hebrew word hesed in mind, the word used so often in the Old Testament for the faithful love and mercy God promised to show His covenant people. Peter then details some of the ways this divine love and mercy are revealed to us in the Lord Jesus.

Through the new birth. God has begotten us again through faith in the Lord Jesus, so that we would have the right to become children of God (John 1:12). This new birth is from above, by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-6). We are born again of the Sprit but also of the incorruptible seed of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). God, who called the world into existence by His Word, gives us new birth by that same Word.

Through a living hope. The biblical use of “hope” does not refer to wishful thinking or to things that are tentative. It speaks of a positive expectation, a joyful anticipation. In Jesus the Messiah, we have a living hope. It is the joyful anticipation of divine life and fellowship without end. In Ephesians, Paul prayed that God would give us wisdom and revelation by the Holy Spirit so that we would be able to know what this hope is all about (Ephesians 1:17-18).

Through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead. Here is the direct reason we have a living anticipation: Jesus has been raised from the dead. Paul calls Him “the firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18) and spends a great deal of time in 1 Corinthians 15 talking about what that means for us who believe in Him. The Jews expected that there would be a resurrection of the just at the end of the age, but in the resurrection of Jesus, the end of the age has broken into the midst of this present age as the firstfruits, the surety of what is to come for all who trust in Him.

Through an inheritance that is indestructible and undefiled. Inheritance speaks of family and fatherhood. Through the new birth, we have God as our Father and become part of His family, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). In Adam, we inherited death and moral corruption (Romans 5). In Jesus the Messiah, we inherit life and purity. In his second letter, Peter says that God has given us “exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). This inheritance will not fade away, as flowers do, but is carefully guarded for us in heaven. It is of heaven but it is not just for heaven, for in the resurrection, our life will be on earth, and heaven and earth will finally be joined together as one (Revelation 21).

Through the coming revelation of salvation. This is the ultimate unveiling of what God is doing in us. We enter into the family by faith in the Lord Jesus, and God is currently maturing the life of Jesus in us through work of the Holy Spirit (see Transformed by the Holy Spirit). One day it shall all be revealed. John said, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2).

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

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    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    A Letter to Scatterlings

    To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:1-2)
    Peter writes to people who are “pilgrims,” “temporary residents” (HCSB), “strangers” (KJV), “those who reside as aliens” (NASB). They are a people displaced, and probably not voluntarily. They are “exiles” (ESV), probably because of the persecution in Rome that was starting to heat up under Nero. Peter probably wrote this from Rome, referring to it as Babylon (1Peter 5:13). In the Old Testament, to which Peter frequently alludes, Babylon was the place of exile for the Jews.

    These believers were diaspora, scatterlings dispersed throughout five Romans provinces in Asia Minor. The ones James wrote his letter to were mostly Jewish believers, of the “twelve tribes,” spread out among non-believing Gentiles (James 1:1). These to whom Peter writes are a blend of Jewish and Gentile believers, displace because of their faith in Jesus the Messiah.

    Peter calls them “elect,” chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God.” They are the people of God and part of His eternal plan. Whatever they are going through, it has not taken God by surprise and, more importantly, He will not let them down but will see them through.

    They are sanctified, consecrated, set apart by the Holy Spirit as God’s own. It is why He has chosen them, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood. This is an allusion to Exodus 24:7-8, when God first made covenant with the children of Israel. The people answered, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.” Then Moses took the blood of sacrifice and sprinkled it on them, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.” In Jesus Christ, we are joined to God in a new and better covenant, established on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup of wine and said, “This is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). The obedience here is the obedience of faith, putting our trust in Jesus the Messiah.

    Though Peter does not develop a theology of the Trinity here, notice how he identifies the three persons of the Godhead: the Father in His foreknowledge and gracious choice, Jesus Christ in the shedding of His blood, and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

    Then there is the benediction, the words of blessing, “Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” A common Jewish salutation was “Greetings and peace,” but the apostles altered that. The Greek word for “greetings,” chairein, means to be well and full of cheer. But the apostles used a related word, charis, the word for “grace.” In their usage, it signifies the grace or favor that comes from God. The Greek word for “peace” is eirene, but being Jewish, Peter no doubt had in mind the Hebrew shalom, which speaks of the wholeness that comes from God. The addition of “be multiplied” is peculiar to Peter’s letters and the epistle of Jude. It speaks of the fullness of divine favor and wholeness being revealed. God does not withhold His blessing from us, but as we grow in grace and come to know the Lord Jesus more and more (2 Peter 3:18), we experience more and more the fullness of His grace and peace.

    This letter was to be copied and circulated especially to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, although it has, of course, come to the whole Church in the canon of Scripture. Some commentators take it as a catechism, instruction for converts, or a letter of exhortation and encouragement for the newly baptized.

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

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    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    A Letter from Rocky

    This week, the Tuesday a.m. Bible study I lead began going through the book of First Peter.
    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:1)
    The name Peter comes from the Greek word, petros, which means “rock.” It is the name Jesus gave Simon bar Jonah when he received a very important truth from God:
    When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

    So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

    He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

    Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

    Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-19)
    Simon did not come up with this on his own. It was a revelation he received directly from heaven. It was the sudden, divine realization that the one to whom he was speaking was the promised Messiah, the Anointed One who would deliver Israel and set the whole world right. It was the heaven-induced recognition that Jesus was not merely human but divine.

    Jesus called him Rock because he had received this foundational truth. On this revelation, Jesus built His Church, and the “gates,” the counsels and decisions, of hell are not able to overcome it. Peter had found a rock to build his life upon, and now God would use him to lay that same foundation in others. That is how an apostle functions. An apostle is someone who is sent as the messenger and representative of another. As an apostle of Jesus the Messiah, he serves on behalf of Jesus. His function is to prepare the way, to break the ground, lay foundation. Paul speaks of the Church as being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).

    Now, Peter was an impetuous sort of person, not a very stable trait for a leader. He threw himself into whatever he did but was often in over his head, and sometimes his boldness left him stranded.
    • He was the only disciple who, seeing Jesus walking on the waves, asked Him to bid him come (Matthew 14:28). That was bold. But he stepped out on the water and ended up sinking into the stormy sea because of his lack of faith (Matthew 14:30-31).
    • On the other hand, he failed spectacularly! He was the only disciple willing to get out of the boat and, after all, he did walk on the water for at least a little while (Matthew 14:29).
    • He was the one who boldly declared the revelation he received from the Father concerning Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 16:16).
    • But just a few verses later, when Jesus spoke of being killed at the hands of elders and priests and scribes, Peter rebuked Him — rebuked the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! — saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” At this, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:20-23).
    • On the night Jesus was betrayed, He said, to the disciples, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night.” Peter boldly said, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.” Jesus answered, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:31-34), which is exactly what happened.
    • On the third day, when the disciples received the report from Mary Magdalene, Peter was the only one who ran out with John to see the empty tomb (John 20:1-4).
    • Fifty days later, at the feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem, where the Holy Spirit filled the disciples in the Upper Room, so that they all spoke with other tongues until observers accused them of being drunk, Peter stood up in the boldness of the Holy Spirit and proclaimed Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2).
    • When Peter and John went up to pray at the temple and saw a lame man begging alms, Peter extended his faith said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk,” and the man was healed (Acts 3:1-10).
    • Then when brought up before the magistrates, Peter declared, “Let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole” (Acts 4:10). And when admonished not to preach Jesus anymore, Peter and John answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
    • Peter discerned the lie of Ananias and Sapphira and how satan filled their hearts. He was not afraid to call it what it was, and they both fell down dead (Acts 5:1-11).
    • Brought before the council again for preaching the name of Jesus, Peter answered, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” and did not relent (Acts 5:29).
    • Peter broke ground for the preaching of the gospel to the nations, going to Cornelius, a Gentile, after receiving a vision from God (Acts 10). Then he stood before the leaders of the Church at Jerusalem and testified how God was making no distinction between Jews and Gentiles but was purifying both by faith in Jesus the Messiah (Acts 15).
    • But then, it was Peter whom Paul rebuked for hypocrisy at Antioch, when Peter backed away from fellowship with Gentile believers after a certain group of Jewish believers came from Jerusalem (Galatians 2:11-21).
    Though his temperament at the beginning was “rocky” and tumultuous, God eventually smoothed him out and made him a pastor who was able to lay a good foundation for others and lead them to stability in Jesus Christ. Thirty years on from the Resurrection and Pentecost, Simon the Rock, writing in the AD 60s, now penned this letter of encouragement and instruction to converts going through difficult times.

    Keeping the Faith When Things Get ToughKeeping 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, January 4, 2010

    Transformed by the Holy Spirit

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
    “Be transformed,” Paul tells us in Romans 12:2. Notice that he does not say, “Transform yourselves.” That is something we cannot do — God must do it for us. “By the renewing of your mind,” he adds. Even that, however, is not something we can do on our own. God must renew it for us.

    This is always the way it is with the grace of God. He always initiates the what needs to be done in us — He is the only one who can — and our part is simply to respond, to yield and allow Him to do work the work in us. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

    How does God do this? By the Holy Spirit.

    In his letter to the believers at Galatia, Paul contrasts the work of the Spirit with the work of the Law. The Law, with its rules and regulations, is external to us. We might try to conform ourselves outwardly to the shape of the Law, but that can never bring about the inward transformation of the heart that is required by God. So God has given us His Spirit to do in us what we cannot.

    That is why this work is called the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is not externally produced; it comes forth from the life of the tree. If you have ever driven through an orange grove or a peach orchard, you might have noticed that you never see workers pinning oranges or peaches to the trees. They do not have hot-glue guns to stick the fruit to the branches. No, the oranges and peaches come forth from the inside, springing from the life of the tree. What the workers do is nurture the life of the trees, allowing that life to do the work of bearing fruit, then at harvest time they reap the benefit.

    It is the same way with the fruit of the Spirit. It comes forth from the life of the Spirit of God at work in us. Our part is to yield and let Him transform us. Then that inward change will eventually work its way outward and produce the fruit of the divine life that is in us.

    This fruit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (or faith, the Greek word is the same for both), gentleness, self-control — is what people are looking to see in others and longing to see in themselves. It is the only fruit that will endure, the only fruit that can transform the world with the reality of God’s kingdom (see The Transforming Reality of God’s Kingdom).

    It does not and cannot come by outward conformity to any rule or regulation. That’s what Paul means when he says, “Against such there is no law.” It is solely a work of the Spirit of God, the Spirit by which we are born again through faith in Jesus Christ.

    The fruit of the Spirit is not about conforming to rules and law but about being transformed by the life of God at work in us through His Spirit.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    The Transforming Reality of God’s Kingdom

    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)
    We are called to change our way of thinking. The world — this present age — wants us to think the way it thinks and act the way it acts. It wants to squeeze us out, like play dough, according to its own mold, to follow the will of the world.

    But this present age is passing away and the age of God’s kingdom is breaking into the world. “Because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining,” is how John the apostle puts it (1 John 2:8).
    Instead of letting the world conform us to its way of thinking, we are to let our minds be transformed, made new by God. Instead of bowing to the will of the world, God wants us to discover how good, how fitting, how rich and complete is His will for us.

    Elsewhere, Paul tells us to let the same mind be in as that which was in Jesus the Messiah, who, though He was God, and contrary to the way of the world, humbled Himself and became a servant to all, even to the point of death on the cross. It is this mind that God honors, even as King Jesus has been exalted by God and given a name that is above every name (Philippians 2:6-11).

    Again, Paul says, “If then you were raised with Christ [and Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:4-6 that indeed we were], seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). Our minds are to be established on the way heaven thinks, not according to the limiting thoughts of earth. This is not for the purpose of escaping from the world, but so that world may be transformed by the glory of King Jesus.

    The earth itself is waiting for this transformation, this renewal, the manifestation of the sons of God. “The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God … because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19, 21)

    Be transformed by the renewing of your mind with the mind of Jesus the Messiah, that the earth may be transformed by the reality of God’s kingdom, the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven.

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    The Prosperous Way of God

    How happy is the man
    Who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
    Or take the path of sinners,
    Or join a group of mockers!
    (Psalm 1:1 HSCB)
    A new month, a new year, and a new decade (although some will dispute that last one, being mathematically correct but culturally irrelevant). And a fresh turn at the psalms.

    It has been my habit for the past twenty years or so to pray through the book of Psalms each month (150 psalms divided by 30 days in a month comes to 5 psalms a day). Each time I come around to Psalm 1, it always captures my attention, calibrates my heart and excites me with the prospect of a life well lived.

    The world has a lot of advice and counsel to offer us, about how to succeed and prosper. It is trumpeted abroad, even more now with the coming of the digital revolution and the ease of worldwide communication. We are discipled in it from a very early age. It can be very enticing, offering us a way to success that often seems fast and easy. It may even appear to work in the short run, but it does not create a prosperity that endures, nor a life of lasting value. See Psalm 73, where the writer laments the prosperity of the wicked, and is even envious of it for a time, but finally realizes that the way of the wicked, which at first seemed so effective, is not well-founded and inevitably end up in ruin.But there is a counsel that is wise, teaches us the right way of doing things and leads to prosperity that endures.
    Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
    And he meditates on it day and night.
    He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
    That bears its fruit in season
    And whose leaf does not wither.
    Whatever he does prospers.
    (Psalm 1:2-3 HSCB)
    This is the way of extreme happiness the psalm writer speaks of with in verse 1: “How happy is the man.” Not the person who follows the advice of the wicked, but the one who delights in the instruction of the Lord.
    The Hebrew word for “instruction” is torah and is usually translated as “law.” But that often carries such negative connotations when it really is a very positive thing, a guide for living well. “Instruction” is captures that well. When you realize that God wants you to enjoy a prosperous and successful life and know abundant happiness, His words of instruction become a source of delight.

    This requires a change in how we think. The world has been very effective in training us up into seeing and thinking and doing things its own way. That’s why Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2 HCSB). J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English translates this as, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” The Message version says, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

    When you change how you think about things, you change how you live your life. The way to change your mind and live a prosperous and happy life is to let God change it by His instruction. He will work in you in by His Word and Spirit to bring about a change of heart and mind that brings about a positive change of life. That is why the psalm writer speaks of meditating on God’s instruction day and night. He is talking about immersing in it, marinating in it, soaking in it in order to be changed by it.

    Look at what it leads to. You will be like a tree plant by rivers of living water, and your life will be full of good fruit that will not wither but endure, and whatever you do will prosper! What a contrast to the way of the wicked:
    The wicked are not like this;
    Instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
    Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
    And sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
    For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
    But the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
    (Psalm 1:4-6 HCSB)
    Two ways lay before you. The way of the world may seem good for a season but ultimately leads to ruin. The way of God leads to prosperity and happiness. All it requires is a change in thinking, and God knows how to bring that about by His Word and Spirit.