A Survival Kit for Tough Times

1 Peter 5

We come this morning to the end of our series on I Peter. This is the 24th and final message. We started on the last Sunday of July and we end on Mother’s Day. It was summer when we started and we end with summer not that far away. In my first sermon I said that we were going to study I Peter because it is short, simple and it speaks to us today. Peter wrote to scattered believers to encourage them to live for Christ in a hostile world. It is both a message of encouragement (“Stand fast”) and a warning (“Hard times are upon us”). As I think about our own congregation, this seems to be a message for us in 2005. As a church, we’re no longer a truly local congregation. Many years ago, most of our people lived within three or four miles of the church building, and most people lived in Oak Park, River Forest, and Forest Park. That’s no longer true. Today we are a regional church with a congregation drawn from many different towns, cities and villages. We are a scattered people who come together once a week at 931 Lake Street in Oak Park. Most weeks, if you are not going to a church-related event or a church-related small group, you can go the whole week without ever seeing another person from Calvary. Chicago is so huge that it’s easy for all of us to be swallowed up in the big city. And it’s easy to feel alone and disconnected. Now simply take that situation and stretch it out to cover hundreds of miles, place it in ancient Asia Minor, transport it back to the first century, and add the hostile feelings stirred up by Emperor Nero, and you’ve got the exact situation that Peter faced as he sat down to write his first epistle.

 

Now we’ve come to the last part of his epistle. He has finished the major message he wanted to share with those scattered, first-century believers. In I Peter 5 he wraps up his letter with a few brief comments. We tend to do the same thing when we write a letter. (On Sunday I commented that “writing a letter” dates me since most people communicate by email nowadays. But those who still write letters know what I’m talking about.) When you start your letter, you begin by mentioning the most important topics. Those matters tend to take up most of the page. But as you come to the bottom, you remember a few things you need to mention in passing: “Tell Billy I said hello.” “Did you ever find the raincoat you lost?” “If we can, we’ll come see you in a few weeks.” It’s typical to write those things in smaller letters so we can cram more information on the bottom of the page. And if we’re really running out of space, we may write up the side of the page. Something like that is happening in I Peter 5. In these 14 verses, he covers six important topics. Let’s call them Peter’s Principles. Taken together, they form a survival kit for tough times. Even though these words were penned 2,000 years ago, they are God’s words to us today. And they meet us right where we are.

Principle #1: Get the Right Kind of Leaders 1-4

Open the survival kit and the first principle pops up in the first four verses of I Peter 5: Get the right men in leadership. These words are addressed to the elders, the top spiritual leaders of the church. They were older men who were wise, mature and faithful. Their work is summarized in one word: They are to shepherd the flock of God. What shepherds are to sheep, so elders are to the congregation. They oversee the flock and whatever the flock needs, that’s what the shepherds are to supply. If teaching, then teaching. If guidance, then guidance. If comfort, then comfort. If correction, then correction. The elders represent the Lord Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd (v. 4), to the congregation. These verses emphasize that when it comes to spiritual leadership, who you are is not as important as what you are. Elders must serve willingly, eagerly, and as good examples to the flock. God bless the men who serve that way. A great reward awaits them in heaven.

We cannot stress this point too much. The leaders are the key in any church. When our family lived in a Dallas suburb many years ago, we spent one Saturday at a hot-air balloon festival. When we arrived early in the morning, there were several dozen enormous, colorful balloons in various stages of inflation. Thousands of people had gathered for the spectacle. At the appointed hour, one particular balloon was launched before the others. As it lifted off, the announcer said, “The hare is in the air.” A few minutes later the other balloons lifted off to chase the first balloon like hound dogs after a rabbit. I thought to myself as the balloons soared over the horizon, “This is a picture of how the church should work.” The leaders rise first, filled (one hopes) not simply with hot air, but with the fire of the Spirit, and as they rise, they point the way. Soon the congregation rises with them, filled with enthusiasm, vigor and excitement. How does a church get off the ground? It rises as its leaders rise. Why? Because everything rises and falls on leadership. That’s the place to begin.

There is a second principle joined with the first. Peter moves from the shepherds to the sheep. Good leaders deserve good followers.

Principle #2: Follow Your Leaders 5a

“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older” (I Peter 5:5a). Peter addresses young men because they typically tend to be headstrong and impulsive. In stressful times, unless there is unity around the leaders, the church will begin to fracture. And in that sense, these words apply to the whole church.

God has established a chain of command in the home, in the church, in the workplace, in the government, and in society in general. One part of that chain rests on the truth that wisdom comes not from the younger but from the older. As soon as I type those words, I can think of a thousand exceptions, and so can you. I have known many young people with enormous wisdom, and unfortunately I have known my share of foolish older people. But the exceptions do not change the general principle that in God’s design, with age comes experience and from experience comes wisdom. The application is really quite simple. If someone is older than you, you need to listen carefully to what they have to say. When we are young, we tend to think we know all the answers. It is a trademark of the young (and it is not altogether negative) to be impatient and impulsive. Great confidence is a mark of youth. Tested wisdom is a mark of maturity. Consider these three verses:

“The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old” (Proverbs 20:29).

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).

“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:32).

Ponder that last verse for a moment. Why does he connect showing respect for the elderly with revering God? Because disrespecting the elderly is disrespecting the Lord who established the authority structure of the universe. It’s a wonderful thing when those who are younger go to those who are older and ask, “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” or “Do you have any advice for me?” And in this case, it’s not just those who are older in years but also those who are older in the Lord. That’s why the leaders of any church ought to be godly men and women whose faith has been tested and who over the years have developed wisdom. If you are a younger Christian, find someone who is older in the faith and learn from them. Let them “show you the ropes” of the Christian life. The older must be willing to teach the younger, and the younger must be willing to learn from the older.

Every church needs two things to prosper: The right kind of leaders and the right kind of followers. Blessed is that church for the sky is the limit.

Principle #3: Practice Humility 5b-6

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (I Peter 5:5b-6). Peter turns now to the inner life of the church and to our relationships with each other. We must “practice humility” because humility takes practice. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Humility is a tricky thing. It is a virtue which, if you think you have it, you probably don’t. It is said that D. L. Moody used to pray, “Lord, make me humble, but don’t let me know it.” Even though we can’t define it very well, we all know humility when we see it. And we know it when someone doesn’t have it either. C. S. Lewis has some helpful words at this point:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free, which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else…If anyone would like to acquire humility I can tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud…If you think you are not conceited, it means that you are very conceited indeed (Cited by Brian Bill, “Developing an Others Orientation”).

Humility comes from a proper understanding of the grace of God. All that we have comes from God. Everything is a gift. Nothing is earned. Humility is not running yourself down or hiding your talents or feeling embarrassed about your gifts, abilities or accomplishments. Whatever you have could have been given to someone else. And someday you must give it all back and give an account of what you have done with what you were given.

When Peter says, “Clothe yourselves,” he uses a very rare word. J. B. Phillips translates it, “Put on the overalls of humility.” The word describes the apron a slave wore. It’s the kind of apron Jesus tied around his waist the night he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:4). The meaning is, “In your dealings with others, put on the apron of humility and be ready to wash dirty feet.” Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, tells of a Christian he once knew in China. He was a poor rice farmer, and his fields lay high on a mountain. Every day he pumped water into the paddies of new rice, and every morning he returned to find that a neighbor who lived down the hill had opened the dikes surrounding the Christian’s field to let the water fill his own. For a while he tried to ignore the injustice but then he couldn’t take it any more so he decided to meet and pray with another Christian and came up with this solution. The next day the Christian farmer rose early in the morning and first filled his neighbor’s fields; then he attended to his own. Watchman Nee tells how the neighbor subsequently became a Christian because of this genuine demonstration of humility and Christian character (James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians,” Page 107. Cited by Brian Bill, “Developing an Others Orientation”).

In the Old Testament, the mighty hand of God refers to God moving to deliver His people from trouble and distress. If you go to the hospital, you submit yourself to the operating hands of a capable physician. You do it in hope of being raised up in due time. Even so, in our need we submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God that He may exalt us in due time. Here is the good news: God’s mighty hand is on the destiny of His people. We are not called to humble ourselves to blind fate, capricious circumstance, impersonal justice, or unseen chance, but to the gracious hand of God. We are not enslaved by the circumstances of life because we are guided by the hand behind the circumstances.

Principle #4: Release Anxiety 7

That leads us directly to the fourth great principle for stressful days: Release anxiety. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). J. B. Phillips says, “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties on him, for you are his personal concern.” Another translation says, “Unload all your worries on him.” The word “cast” means to throw off with vigor. It’s the picture of a hiker at the end of a long day unhooking his pack and tossing it down. That’s what you are to do with your anxieties. By an act of the will, you are to unload all your worries on the Lord. But that’s not all. The word “anxiety” comes from a root that means “to divide.” Anxiety produces a divided mind, one which is pulled this way and that way, constantly distracted and disturbed. I must confess that for much of this week, I have had a divided mind. Various issues and concerns have pulled me this way and that. I finally sat down, took out a piece of paper, and began to write down the things that were troubling me. I ended up with a list of 38 items. And it only took me two or three minutes to make the list. As I studied the list later, two thoughts occurred to me. First, none of the items are world-shaking in their impact. Many of them are just the normal, ongoing concerns of life. Nothing was in the category of “Bringing peace to the Middle East.” Yet the things on my list, trivial though they are, have a cumulative effect that weighs heavily on the soul. Second, I have no power to solve or change most of the things on my list, at least not immediately. Some things will take care of themselves. Other things involve God’s timing. Still others are ongoing prayer requests that I pray about almost every day. After I made my list, I turned the sheet over and wrote I Peter 5:7 on the back. It reminds me that I don’t have to solve my own problems.

Either he carries the worry or we do. If we do, we’ll be divided, distracted, disturbed, confused, frustrated and burdened. If he carries the load, we may still have trouble and difficulties, but no consuming anxiety, no dominating fear, no undue concern, and no hopeless despair.

The reason we can do that with confidence comes in four simple words: “He cares for you.” This touches a secret fear we hardly ever talk about. We fear that if we submit our lives to Jesus Christ, he’ll mess things up for us. He’ll ask us to do things we don’t want to do, he’ll send us places we don’t want to go, he’ll bring unpleasant people into our lives, and he’ll force us to be someone we don’t want to be. We secretly fear he can’t be trusted to take care of us. So we decide to handle our own problems and we wonder why we are frustrated and unfulfilled spiritually. I’m convinced for most of us that our deepest problems are theological. We’ve never settled the question, What kind of God do we believe in? In Peter’s terms, we’ve never settled the question of whether we believe God really cares for us. We think he does, we hope he does, but many days we’re not sure. When you get right down to it, we’re not sure about God: We can’t quite bring ourselves to trust him. Will I stake my life upon the fact that God cares for me? Until that question is settled, all lesser questions will go unanswered.

After the second service on Sunday morning, a woman commented to me that she doesn’t have any problem casting her burdens on the Lord. Her problem is that she keeps pulling her burdens back, like a fisherman with a casting rod who throws the line into the water and then reels it back in again. Many of us can identify with that. As the old chorus says, the secret is to “take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”

Here is the genius of biblical Christianity: God cares for me. He proved it by sending his own Son to die for me. The issue was settled for all time at the cross. Any God who would sacrifice his own Son for a person like me must care for me. There’s no other reason he would do such a thing. When we come to God, we don’t have to convince him to hear us. We don’t have to chant or shout or burn incense or ring bells or use a priest or offer a sacrifice. We come as his children and gladly he hears us. We don’t do anything to make God care for us. We start from the assurance, rooted in history, that God cares for us. And on that basis we can unload all our worries on him.

Principle #5: Watch for the Enemy 8-9

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (I Peter 5:8-9). This principle acts as a counterbalance. We are to cast our cares on the Lord but we are not to be careless. Indeed, the opposite is true. We are to keep watch for the enemy.

Satan desires to destroy us. Have you ever seen a roaring lion at the zoo? Even protected by bars and a moat, a roaring lion is a fearful thing. Satan is like that. He’s crafty, cruel, restless, vicious and brutal. That Christian is a fool who believes himself immune to Satan’s attacks. The Jerusalem Bible says that Satan walks about like a roaring lion “looking for someone to eat.” Get it straight. Satan is hungry, and gullible Christian is on the menu.

Satan constantly seeks out our weak points. That’s why he prowls about. How foolish to say we will never fall. Every one of us has a weak point and most of us have more than one. It may be an area of temptation, it may be a bad habit, or it may be a besetting sin. Our weakness may be disguised as an area we think is our strength. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, the devil does too. And he knows just how to attack and when and where. So be on the alert. Don’t let your guard down for a moment.

Verse 9 reveals a two-fold strategy for defeating Satan’s attacks: Resist and Remember. First, we must resist him by standing firm in the faith. Note the definite article: standing firm in the faith. We don’t defeat Satan by standing firm in our faith because our faith alone is no match for his infernal power. We must stand firm in the faith. That means standing firm in the truth of Scripture. When you are in a howling rainstorm, you stand firm by finding a piece of solid ground. The truth of Holy Scripture provides the firm foundation we need for resisting Satan’s attacks. Do what Jesus did when the devil tempted him in the wilderness. Fight back with the Word of God (Matthew 4:1-11). In your own strength, you are no match for the devil, but when you “stand firm” in “the faith” revealed in the Bible, you will not be defeated.

Second, we must remember our brothers and sisters who at this very moment are standing firm in the face of satanic attack around the world. During this sermon series, I have tried to bring to your attention the plight of the persecuted church. I have mentioned suffering saints of God in India, China, Nigeria, Iran, Eritrea and Afghanistan. Yesterday I learned about a 22-year old woman in Vietnam named Le Thi Hong Lien. A member of the Mennonite Church, she was arrested ten months ago for teaching the Bible to children. She was not only imprisoned, she was placed in a mental hospital in an attempt to destroy her faith. The authorities injected her with mind-altering drugs, beat her, and electrocuted her with a cattle prod. When she was released from Center II in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on April 28, her face was disfigured because her jaw had been broken during her captivity and had never been properly treated. That was a week ago Thursday. On Sunday night, one week ago, she met with a group of Mennonite Christians in the home of a pastor who is still in prison. Without warning, the authorities broke up the meeting, arrested the Christians and held them for four hours before releasing them with threats of further punishment. Le Thi Hong Lien’s father said that no matter what the authorities did, his family would continue to worship God. (Details found on the Compass Direct website: www.compassdirect.org/en/index.php.)

I tell you that story (and others like it) so that we will stop feeling sorry for ourselves. Our troubles are small by comparison. When you feel like giving in, resist and remember. Resist by standing firm in the faith. Remember your brothers and sisters who suffer every day for their Christian testimony.

Our only hope is constant vigilance against the enemy. Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant, be firm in your faith” Oliver Cromwell told his troops, “Trust in God and keep your powder dry.” Resist the devil. Stand like a granite wall against his infernal attacks. The attack may come at any moment. And he may attack from any source. Expose a weakness and there the devil will come in.

Resist him and let your faith be a solid wall.

Principle #6: Trust God for Your Stability 10-11

The final principle occurs in a benediction. Peter’s final prayer for his readers forms a fitting conclusion to the entire book: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:10-11). How do you handle days of stress and times of uncertainty? Peter says, Look beyond the present to the future. “After you have suffered a little while.” That’s this whole life compared with eternity. That’s 70 years compared with the unfolding ages ahead of us. That’s sickness now and healing later. That’s rejection now and acceptance later. That’s failure now and success later. That’s the persecution of evil men now and the praise of God later. Today the cross of shame. Tomorrow the crown of glory. “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Though the ultimate fulfillment comes in heaven, the promise also applies to the here and now. Peter uses four words to describe what God will do for those who suffer.

“Restore you.” God himself will make up whatever you lack.

“Make you strong.” God himself will give you whatever you need to complete the task.

“Firm.” God himself will strengthen that which is weak.

“Steadfast.” God himself will set you on a firm foundation. The Living Bible translates the last part of verse 10 this way: “He will personally come and pick you up and set you firmly in place and make you stronger than ever.”

Why will God do all that? Because he is “the God of all grace.” It literally means the God of every kind of grace.

If you are confused, he has grace for you.

If you are discouraged, he has grace for you.

If you are upset, he has grace for you.

If you are angry, he has grace for you.

If you are guilty, he has grace for you.

If you feel like giving up, he has grace for you.

If you feel like the world has turned against you, he has grace for you.

Whatever kind of grace you need, he has an unlimited supply. He’s the God of all grace. This is not an abstract principle: God himself intervenes for us. He does that not only because he is the God of all grace, but also because he has all power. Verse 11 says, “to him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” He has grace for every need and the power to apply that grace to every problem you face. What could be better than that?

Never Give Up

In the light of all that God has promised, let us never give up. Stand your ground when the devil attacks. Don’t give in to bitterness or to fear or to moral compromise.

Never give up.

Never give up.

Never give up.

It’s amazing what God can do through people like us. We’re absolutely ordinary as far as the world is concerned. We make no claim to special gifts or to unusual ability. And it’s amazing what God can do through people like us when we dare to stand our ground, trust in God, and believe his Word.

Where do we go from here? I can tell you one thing for certain. We’re not going back. We’re going forward by faith. Ninety years ago a tiny group of pioneers launched our ship in Oak Park. The founders have long since gone to heaven, and in the meantime we’ve added a lot of new passengers and we’ve sailed a long way across the ocean. We’re not where we were when we left the harbor in 1915, and we’re not where we were even five years ago. But that doesn’t matter because the Captain of our Salvation remains at the helm. Outwardly things may change, but nothing that matters as changed since our founding 90 years ago. We have the same God, the same Bible, and the same eternal promises for the future.

Best of all, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And he alone is the Savior of the church. We rest our case with him. As pastor of this church, I urge you to trust him as Savior. Run to the cross! Put your trust in the one who died for you and rose from the dead. Lay your sins on Jesus and he will take your guilt away. Do it now while you have time and opportunity. May God grant you faith to believe in Jesus.

And as we face the future, I urge all of us to trust him anew as Savior and Lord. Commit yourself to him once again. Say in your heart, “Lord Jesus, I truly do believe you are the Son of God, and I gladly commit myself to you, without reservation, with joy in my heart, now and forever.” In these days of change, he remains the same. This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. Amen.

2005-05-08-A-Survival-Kit-for-Tough-Times

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RAY PRITCHARD

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