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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someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

God’s word a light for life

נ Nun

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have taken an oath and confirmed it,
that I will follow your righteous laws.
I have suffered much;
preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.
Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth,
and teach me your laws.
Though I constantly take my life in my hands,
I will not forget your law.
The wicked have set a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.[d]

Psalm 119:105-112

There is something about scripture which is unique. It is written for us in this world. Most if not all of it is actually not written to us, but all of it ends up being for us, so that in an indirect way, it is written to us. God’s written word for God’s people individually and together.

We certainly have to read it in context, and together, depending on the Spirit as well as how the Spirit has directed God’s people, even the church, staying away from interpretations which deviate from that.

It is called a lamp for the psalmist’s feet, and a light on their path. We often don’t seem to put the same value on the word. Or we do, but we fail to avail ourselves of it.

That thought needs to be considered with the rest of this segment (called, pericope). It is in the context of commitment, suffering and prayer. Along with delight. For us today, all of this in and through Jesus.

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.

patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

sadness is good for the heart

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 7

Back to one of my personal favorite books of the Bible; it’s there for a reason, and not just for its ending. I like to think that Jesus could laugh with the best of them, but was more given to being with those who suffered, entering into their world and suffering empathetically with them, and relieving that suffering so that ultimately they could take up their cross and follow.

In the series at the church we’ve been attending, taking our grandchildren, and may become a part of, we’re in the midst of a new series on the book of Philippians called “Choosing Joy Under Pressure.” It seems to me that this deep joy thrives in the midst of pain and sadness, yes indeed- pressure. So that what the writer of Ecclesiastes might be getting at is how superficial people can be, so that their thoughts and lives do not at all rise to any level beyond the absurd.

Maybe this is in part why Jesus said the poor and poor in spirit are blessed, while the rich are not, at least not necessarily so, but open to woe and rebuke, and a cursed existence. I for one have lived with a lot of internal pain most all of my life. But I am also more and more realizing the joy of seeking to follow the Lord in the midst of it. Grace and peace from God accompanies all of our life in Jesus, including our pain.

In following Jesus, we are not living it up with partying and laughter, though that is a part of life as God created it to be, and can be a way to get to understand where people live, Jesus himself eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. The very heart of God is what we look for, and that is a heart of love, giving everything for others, for the world, in and through Jesus. And to do that, we must enter into the depths of what it means to be human, both in the enjoyment and appreciation of life, and in the difficulties, even death, which accompanies all of that. In and through Jesus.

when there is no answer or rest

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22

We are in Lent, now close to Holy Week, a time of reflection on our Lord’s sufferings, and also a time for repentance along with the acknowledgement of our mortality. It is a season during which we in a sense should embrace suffering both in rememberance of what our Lord suffered, as well as seeking in some way to participate in that suffering. And besides, we suffer ourselves because of our own sins, and because of the sins of those around us, which again reminds us of how our Lord took the brunt of our sin upon himself in the death that he died.

But what about times, as the psalmist said, quoted above, when God does not seem to be answering our prayer, and when we can find no rest? Those surely are the times to persevere in faith and not quit, even as the psalmist did not (see the entire psalm from the link above). Nor Jesus himself, hanging on that cross. We continue to pray and look to God, and carry on with our assigned tasks, even when the world seems crashing in on us. And in that process, we do find God’s answer, and at least the final rest, in and through Jesus.