We’ve seen so much in the media about suffering lately. We see the faces of the refugees and we hear the cries of those who witnessed terrible acts of terror and violence. We read their stories and our hearts are pricked. Not much has changed since the days of Peter’s writing this letter. There was a lot of suffering taking place then too. Some were suffering because of cultural or economic or family reasons. Others were suffering because of Christ. There is a difference, remember. When you suffer for the cause of Christ, it’s different than suffering due to other circumstances.
A few weeks ago when we last met, we studied 1 Peter 4:11-19, which addresses suffering for the cause of Christ and Peter comes back to the same subject again in chapter five. The entire letter of 1 Peter is filled with instructions about how to suffer well for Christ. Back then, being a Christian meant persecution and trials and testing and being willing to be ridiculed and beaten and even killed. Being a Christian meant following Jesus Christ, no matter where it led, no matter what happened. It almost never meant fame or notoriety or wealth or success as measured by the world’s standards.
Today our “persecution” comes when groups lobby to have the 10 commandments removed from the courthouse lawn or when Starbucks takes the snowflakes off their Christmas coffee cups. Most of us have no idea what it means to actually suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 5 includes a lot of instructions for the church as they face all of this suffering. Peter gives instructions to the elders and then gives instructions to the younger church members. He tells them how important it is to be humble. He tells them not to worry. He tells them to be sober-minded. He warns them to be watchful of the Devil because he is out to get them. Interestingly, that’s the same thing Paul tells the churches in his letters to the Corinthians and the Colossians in his closing statements to them. WATCH OUT GUYS – HE’S OUT TO GET YOU. James mentions this in his letter too – “Resist the devil and he will flee,” he writes in James 4:7. He brings it back around to suffering one final time in verses 9 and 10. He reminds them that they’re not alone in their suffering because Christians throughout the world are experiencing the same thing. He reminds them that their suffering will only be for a little while and then God will restore them. He’s basically telling them how to be Christ-followers in a world where that’s not acceptable. And in typical Peter-style, he’s cramming all of these instructions together because he knows that he may not ever get another chance to speak or write to them again and he feels a sense of urgency to make sure they’re ready.
Remember last week’s blog where I wrote that I had listened to the President of Lifeway research, Ed Stetzer speak? An interesting new trend is happening in the church, he said. The “mushy middle” (people who call Jesus Lord without actually making Him Lord of their lives) is leaving the church. For so long, church has been a great thing to be associated with and the Church has defined the culture. Remember when almost all businesses were closed on Sunday? Remember when having a kids’ sporting event on a Sunday or Wednesday was unheard of? Times have definitely changed. The world definitely doesn’t look to the Church to define anything for them.
Last week I wrote, “Yet even today if you were to walk down a busy street and ask each person one question, “Are you a Christian?” many of them would still automatically respond with a “yes” even though they have no personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. They’ll argue that America is a Christian nation, that their mom and dad always took them to church, that they are basically “good” people, but they don’t have any idea what being a follower of Christ is. Ed Stetzer explained that the statistics point to the trend that those who claim to be Christians without the substance of a genuine relationship with Jesus are leaving the church. While it’s tempting to think of this as a negative thing, this leaves the Church full of believers who are truly sold out followers of Jesus Christ, which is definitely fantastic.”
I’m going to include even more from last week’s blog. Don’t give up. Keep reading. It’s important!
Ever heard this verse before? Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
You can call yourself a Christian all day long and not be one for real.
This is terrifying to me because I know a lot of people who call themselves Christians and I am beginning to see that this applies to many of them. How do we know which ones are real and which ones are not? Back it up to Matthew 7:20- “You will know them by their fruit.” Look at Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”
Take a minute and think about a good person that you know but that does not know Christ. They may be nice and kind and full of love and patience and gentleness. They can appear to have the fruit of the Spirit, but they don’t actually have a relationship with Jesus. Most of the time we see the fruit of the Spirit come out when the heat is on, when the trials have come. We see peace when anything but peace should be there. We see self-control when self-control doesn’t make any sense.
When I went into premature labor with my twins at 24 weeks, I was immediately hospitalized and ended up being there for several months. I had so many visitors come with concerned, even sad, looks on their faces and I just never could understand it. In my mind, I was just going to lay in that hospital bed, finish baking those babies and everything would all be fine. I knew in my head what could happen if they were born too early, but I never dwelled on it and I never lost sleep worrying about it. (The fruit of the spirit is peace!) My visitors and nurses and doctors commented all the time on how happy I seemed. (The fruit of the spirit is joy!) It wasn’t until it was all said and done that I realized what a scary situation I had been in and that my babies really could’ve died. I had the peace that passes understanding and the joy that could only come from the Lord!
A pastor’s wife was shot in the head in her home a few weeks ago. One pastor friend of theirs wrote that he came into the hospital room expecting to find horrible anguish and anger. Instead, he entered a room that was filled with love and hope and joy. Tears filled that room because those that loved her were sad, but they didn’t grieve without hope! That can only be the fruit of the Spirit!
A bit more from the blog last week…
As culture changes and everything we once knew about church becomes obsolete and all of the people who used to define themselves as Christians leave the church, who will be left? Who are the real Christ-followers? The real Christ-followers are those that not only acknowledge Jesus as Savior, but those who serve Him as Lord. The real Christ-followers are the ones that bear the fruit of the spirit. The real Christ-followers are the ones with an unreserved “YES” on the table before God. Before God even calls them to do anything, their answer is yes.
A very special verse to me over the years is Isaiah 26:8. It says, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you. Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.”
Our family has lived in Gonzales for five and a half years now. That’s an incredibly long tenure for a pastor at FBC Gonzales. Most of the pastors that have been here over the last fifty years or so have been here for short times of just a few years. So it’s no surprise that those who love us here are a bit worried that we are going to move away any minute. Any time questions about that arise, we remind our friends that our “Yes, Lord” is on the table before Him. He has called us here and we are staying because our answer is “Yes, Lord.” But one day He might call us away and we will go because our answer will still be “Yes, Lord.” His name and renown is the desire of our hearts and we long for Him to use our family to make Him known.
This entire letter, 1 Peter, was written to encourage Christ-followers in Asia Minor in the first century and it was written to encourage Christ-followers in Gonzales, Texas today. The question I ask you today is “Are you really following Christ?” Most of us do a bang-up job of putting on a good show. We dress real nice on Sunday mornings and come to church and say and do all the right things. We have been taught for so long that we are all Christians, living in a Christian nation. That’s just not true. The Sunday dress won’t be enough. The American flag is not your ticket to heaven. You need to know that those of us who are truly Christ followers may soon come under real, intense persecution. I desire so much for you to be a part of the group that truly KNOWS Jesus Christ and can stand under the trials that will come. If you’re unsure, ask someone today. Ask me. Ask a friend. God promises us that when we seek Him, we will FIND Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts. (Jer 29:13)