incentive to godliness: leaving the past behind

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter wrote to Christians who had once lived what scripture calls fleshly, sinful lives. The list he gives is obvious, and today is no different. Pornography for example is a huge market, and many it has taken down. Of course there are other sins maybe more acceptable to society at large, but nevertheless destructive as well. Usually especially to relationships, and also simply to one’s well being.

Peter’s words alluding to Christ’s suffering, and then saying we should arm ourselves with the same, in a kind of bodily way, so it impacts how we live seems I suppose Catholic to many of us. So be it. Peter points back to their wild, reckless past as an incentive to live differently in the present. And in the face of ridicule for doing so. In so doing, they will be following Christ, living out that following. And to do so, Peter is suggesting, again, that they’re to arm themselves with a mindset which embraces suffering in the body. Actually what might be spoken of here is the refusal to do what one is tempted to do in the body. We realize that the rest of the letter speaks of suffering in terms of persecution for their faith.

This incentive to live godly lives because of past ungodliness might be especially helpful to younger Christians. But it should provide incentive to us all. It actually puts us in a sphere of life and experience where we live bodily for something else entirely. Not to indulge ourselves, but to deny ourselves. Not really to deny our humanity, either. The New International Version adds “evil” to “human desires” to make that clear (click link above to compare with Greek, and other translations). But in doing so, it maybe to some extent loses a certain sense of what this scripture is saying. Yes, strictly speaking Peter is not telling those Christians that they can’t eat and drink and marry, etc. But what the passage does seem to be saying is that a Christian should live not for the fulfillment of legitimate human desires, but rather for the will of God. That such an attitude is a necessary fortification to not drift into what actually is evil. And important even, in us fulfilling God’s will in our lives.

I include what is the second paragraph in the translation above, because Peter puts that together with the call to live differently. It is to be done so in Christian love with acts of service.

Our lives are lived bodily. What we do and don’t do are important. We live bent on doing God’s will. When we fail, of course there’s always confession and repentance, and if need be for a serious enough offense, restoration. This passage indeed points to reformation, to a changed life, completely different than the world not only accepts, but often celebrates. We seek to follow Christ in a different way. Finding our fulfillment, including as humans, in that. In and through Jesus.

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to remain in worship

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Habakkuk (audio) is one of my favorite biblical books, though each and everyone is just as important in its place. Habakkuk is helpful to me, because it challenges God over God’s leading, will, and work. It seemed to Habakkuk that God did not make sense in terms of what God was doing at the time. Habakkuk wanted life to make sense in a world bent against God and God’s will. And it was certainly personal to Habakkuk, who stood as one of God’s prophets, proclaiming God’s word, often of God’s judgment in anticipation of God’s justice and salvation. But what was to unfold according to God’s word given to him as we see in the book seemed to make a mockery of justice. That God would use Babylon which engaged in practices more evil than the nation God was punishing, his own people Israel, made absolutely no sense to Habakkuk.

This single thought, to be taken from the book as a whole, is vitally important, if we’re to be true worshipers of God. Habakkuk ends up being a book of worship, though it is in the process of working through real life that Habakkuk finally gets to that. And part of that process was questioning God.

God did answer, and that’s vitally important for us today. We have God’s answer in spades, when you consider not only the book of Habakkuk, but the entire Book of the Bible. And yet to live through the process, not to mention to try to get our heads around it, or more likely, just to try to begin to understand it, is really beyond us. We need God’s grace and help for sure.

But there’s nothing more important for us as God’s people in Jesus than to be true worshipers of God. To remain in that posture, we will have to work through challenges to God’s goodness and greatness. But it’s vital to us that we are committed to being worshipers of God, come what may. The thought Habakkuk closes with, quoted above. In and through Jesus.

not neglecting God’s word

ב Beth

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word.
I seek you with all my heart;
do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word.

Psalm 119:9-16

If there’s one thing that has stood out to me over the decades of being a Christian, it is the importance of scripture: God’s written word. Of course I’m referring to the “Bible.” If one reads the Bible and takes it to heart, they’ll come to realize that the Bible alone is not enough, because it points us to what else God provides for us in Christ, not least of which is the church. But we can say that scripture is foundational for life, for understanding God’s will, as well as God’s grace and salvation.

And scripture is important in helping us have an interactive relationship with God. Scripture is the primary means through which God speaks to us, at least being, again, foundational in that. We take our cues from scripture, God speaking to us both directly and indirectly through it.

It is easy to neglect God’s word, which is in part why I suppose the psalmist states that they will not neglect it. It takes commitment and effort on our part. And a willingness to simplify our lives around what is informative, formative, and vital for our Christian life. And we learn from those who are gifted and who study scripture to teach it week after week, as well as those who do the same in writing books.

We need to take this to heart and to life and keep doing so, in and through Jesus.

prayer for relief

A psalm of David.

Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

Psalm 143

I hesitated in sharing the entire psalm. But all of the word is important, even those parts which might not be directly relevant today. Not that relevancy as we see it is the test for whether or not we need something. All is important for us in some way though, a part of the whole.

David as in the Old Testament engaged in a warfare which while physical, was spiritual at the same time. For us today, as Paul tells us, our warfare is spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). It was apostolic, and in terms of the gospel, but by extension has application to all of us as followers of Christ.

That has its place within the main point of this post: the prayer for relief in the midst of trouble. We need the sense that everything is going to be okay in the end, that God will work all the difficulties out. In a sense it is true that “all is well that ends well.” But unfortunately there’s more than enough trouble on the way to that, and especially difficult is the heartache over people, and their troubles, especially when they make poor decisions, and fail to entrust their lives to God. Not that we know anyone’s heart, or understand anything fully like God does.

This is a wonderful prayer. Though we won’t mean exactly the same, we can trust that God will answer it according to his will, the Spirit even praying for us (Romans 8) when we are at a loss, and don’t know how to pray, ourselves. And with this psalm in mind, it’s good and even important for us to pray our own prayers.

God wants to give us relief from our troubles. As his people, we need to keep coming to him for the help that we will always need in this life. In and through Jesus.

completely accepting one’s place

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.

Psalm 16:6

Much of my life I aspired to something interesting ahead. But it was more or less fuzzy in my mind, and uncertain. Somehow it seemed elusive, always just beyond my grasp. One finally comes to the place where the expectation level is waning, low, or they’ve given up.

And then there were the years of disappointment, not really liking what I had to do, though grateful to God for his provision. With that can come danger when one is not simply settling into the good God has for them at the time. Not that danger isn’t always present, because it is, but we can strengthen ourselves against it by trusting in God and his word, and applying wisdom from God.

For me a recent breakthrough of sorts is to accept that what I’ve been looking for over the years simply isn’t going to be, either in some small way, or whatever. It is likely not to be. It hasn’t materialized year after year, now going into decades. Someone told me a few years back that I am exactly at the place God wants me. I couldn’t understand that at the time; it seemed disappointing at best.

Settle down, and settle in, the Lord could be saying. And recognize the good God has and is giving you, both in terms of blessing received and being a blessing to others. Do good where you’re at, and praise the Lord.

Something I believe God has impressed on me just recently.

living for God’s will, period

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

1 Peter 4:1-6

The call to follow Christ does not exclude human desires. We should enjoy God’s gifts, certainly including our humanity. The problem is that we are fallen, broken, and twisted in everything. Although I would prefer that the NIV wouldn’t have added “evil” to “human desires”, in the context that’s understandable, so maybe the addition is debatable. Human desires per se is not the issue so much in the context. Yet on the face of it, it does seem God is calling Christians to a different orientation: away from human desire to do the will of God. But God’s will does not negate our humanity. We might say it regulates it according to God’s standards as opposed to merely human standards; what God thinks, not what man thinks.

So our passion in life should be to live for God’s will, not for human desires. In the context, Peter refers to suffering in the body, being willing, even arming ourselves with the attitude of accepting such suffering, since Christ also suffered in his body. Such suffering seems to bring a sanctifying, purifying effect on us. So that we no longer live for what we want, but for what God wants. No longer living as the world does, but as Christ did.

I guess being Christian does somewhat marginalize us in the United States, but it’s actually an acceptable part of our culture, even to this day. To think that the culture of the US was ever Christian through and through is mistaken, although certain Christian standards were once nearly universally accepted, whereas now, such is not the case. Peter’s list here of the acts of pagans are universal, and often those raised in the church have participated to some extent in them. There’s a call here to reject all such, which for those following Christ is a given. But no longer living for human desires as a Christian means living for and in God’s will. That should be our passion, what we want, what we choose to do day after day as we seek to follow our Lord. In and through him.

fixed on what will last

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Sometimes we think of James as the book to the point, and stark in its black and white. But John in the first letter seems to come across much the same. And in this passage, John makes it clear that to be taken up in the things of this world, meaning the world system, is to be taken up with something that won’t last.

The world, the flesh, and the devil have been called the unholy trinity. Whether that’s really apt or not, they are an alliance in scripture, particularly in the New Testament, which you can’t really break apart. John describes all that’s in the world in terms which certainly fits all three together. We can easily see the lust of the flesh as the weakness and sin of fallen humanity, the lust of the eyes as something more of the same, and the pride of life as something akin to the devil. Of course people justify all such to the point that it is subtly framed into what it takes to be successful in life. It’s all apart of getting to the top, and just needs the right controls on it. Nothing bad in itself.

But for the Christian, the believer and follower of Christ, all such attitudes, drives, even passions, are out, no place whatsoever for them, not even in the tiniest corner of one’s heart and life. There’s one thing and one thing only that’s to drive and motivate us, of course faith, hope and love present and paramount in all of this: Doing the will of God.

John gets right to the point, painting stark contrasts, and this is one such place. We either are taken up in the ways of the world, or we’re doing the will of God, period. Nothing in between.

That does create challenges for us for sure. And we can start in the small spaces of life, where we live, and what takes up our time. Do these even have a hint of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life? I’m not referring to things we enjoy necessarily. We ought to appreciate the good God has given us. But it can be small, subtle, and easily justified, and has the tendency to take up too much of our time.

Instead we need to be intent on one thing: Doing God’s will. That is the goal or required end result of faith, hope and love. Those absorbed into the things of this world will end up lost with it in the end. But those doing God’s will find that which lasts, and will last with it. A will that is good and lasting for us and for all, in and through Jesus.