1 Peter 5: 6-11 (Epiphany 5 - 2018)
Strong in Christ!
I wish I were stronger! Is this an ageless, universal lament of human beings? The commercial world is laced with machines, gym plans, diets, and pills to make us better, healthier, more vibrant … stronger. Is this an ageless, universal lament of Christians? I wish my faith were stronger. I wish had more courage to stand up for my faith; I wish I had a better grasp on the Bible; I wish finding joy in a sad world wasn’t so heavy a task; I wish my relationship with God was … stronger! Take a closer look at the verses for today. Perhaps you have heard them before. See Christ giving strength six times.
When there is an opportunity to teach from Peter’s letters, it is good to be reminded of the context of his readers. Earliest of Christians were immediately faced with harsh persecution. Homes were lost. Families were ripped apart. People were imprisoned and put to death for the sake of Christ. Also during that time Asia Minor was torn by natural disasters and economic mood swings. There was need for courage; for faith; for spiritual strength! Peter’s letters focused their hearts on Christ, and united them.
“Be Humble” (v. 6). Peter mentions that humility stands in contrast to a mighty God. Humility begins with: “Against you only, Lord, have I sinned” (Psalm 51: 4). Humility begins with: “My sins against God damage my relationship with God. My sins against God are most often sins against the people around me.” Humility begins with “I was wrong. I am sorry. I need you.” I submit that humility takes strength.
Humility finishes with a God who lifts up in Christ. Humility finishes with a God who forgives sins in Christ. Humility finishes with Christ who humbled himself in a manger to bring us back to our Father’s love. Humility rejoices in the help God gives. Humility seeks the good of others above my own; the same way that Christ sought my good on the cross where he humbled himself to the point of death (Philippians 2: 8).
“Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you” (v. 7) Casting anxiety clearly implies prayer; prayer to the One who cares and knows how to help. Paul wrote: “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving bring your requests to God” (Philippians 4: 6).
Do not be anxious about anything? I suspect Christianity is filled with depression. I suspect none of us have escaped every anxious thought (CW 167:1). A persecuted Church was littered with anxiety. That Church is under pressure still and again. The need for solid Christian counseling has risen to new heights: loneliness, addictions, grief, thoughts that breach suicide, and the constant badgering of our faith in Christ.
Thankfully the Lord provides. “He cares for you.” He cares about you. The Lord who invites your anxiety be placed entirely on his shoulders, knew the loneliest of abandonments on Calvary. The Lord who invites your prayers be placed on his heart, has a “soul that was overcome with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). So cast away the anxiety for it is put to rest by a Christ who gives his Word, courage and strength!
“Be self-controlled and very alert …” (v. 8a) Peter calls us to be alert to our own weaknesses. Keep your radar on. Know yourself. Know that you are sinful to the core. We can be as deceitful to ourselves as the devil himself. We rationalize sin all the time. We deceive ourselves into thinking it can be hidden in the deep cavities of our own hearts, keep our own secrets. But David knew to confess even his “hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12) because when he “kept silent about them his bones wasted away” (Ps. 32: 3).
In Christ there is strength for self-restraint. In Christ there is room for staying on high alert. Christ promises: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my Father’s teaching. My Father will love him and we will make our home with him” (John 14: 23). Christ lives in our hearts with his Father. Christ gives power through his pardon of our sins. His Word dwells in us, too, and there is power for sober-minded judgement; for self-control; for attentive lives that are sanctified only by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word.
“Your enemy the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (v. 8b) The devil is prowling for your faith. This is likely the most familiar phrase of our lesson for today. The devil is hungry for destroying your faith. The devil is a tricky, conniving, fierce beast in search of your soul. He knows what he is doing and counts on the fact that he has a power you do not know.
In two weeks we will begin the Lenten season. It makes sense that we focus on Christ’s temptation in the wilderness on the First Sunday of that Lenten season. Then we will see his mighty power over the evil one again. Then we will see the Word make the devil fall and run. Then we will see a perfect Lamb of God defeat what we could not: temptation. The devil’s lies will crumble beneath the Son of God. “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
“Know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (vs. 9-10). Peter knew that true Christian suffering was a great equalizer of the Christian church. Many times he was taught by his Master, Jesus, to know that following him brings trouble. There is uniqueness to the kind of sufferings that Christians know and experience.
It would be arrogant to think that our brand of suffering is different, better, or worse than any other Christian. It would certainly be arrogant to think that my own personal brand, or your own personal brand, is worse than everyone around me. Peter was binding the Christians together. Peter was reminding them that cross-bearing was not some sort of sick martyr contest and the biggest loser wins!
“Suffering, produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope and hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5: 3-5). Suffering for Christ unites the Church. Suffering for Christ ends in strength for the Church; strength for firmer grasp of his Word, for a solid welding of our fellowship with his cross and with each other. In suffering for Christ, he shall give true strength for believing, teaching, confessing and defending the truths he gives to unite us and to bind our hearts to him.
“We share in [Christ’s] sufferings that we also may share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). Then we are reminded that: “our present sufferings are not worth comparing the glory that will be revealed in us” (18).
“The God of grace, who has called you into his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, he will himself make you strong, firm and steadfast” (vs. 10-11). That glory has already been granted for others who died in Christ. He will come for you as well. There is strength in Christ now in knowing that glory waits for us there in the eternal Glory of heaven.
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia! (CW 551:5).