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Feb 01, 2009

Four Keys for Endurance

Passage: 1 Peter 5:5-14

Preacher: Dan Doriani

Series: The Topics of God

Category: Endurance

Detail:

Sermon for Sunday, February 1, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani

FOUR KEYS FOR ENDURANCE

1 Peter 5:5-14

1 Peter 5 finishes the apostle's letter to his beloved, but sorely tested friends. Before he closes, he offers a four-fold counsel for endurance: 1) Humble yourselves before God. 2) Cast your anxiety on him. 3) Resist your prime adversary. 4) Know this: God's grace strengthens you to stand with his people.

There is a web site called "Real Age" that compares your chronological age to how "aged" you really are. It's based on the way you take care of yourself: stress, sleep, exercise, weight, eating, drinking, vitamins, relationships. My score seemed too good; I suspected flattery in the program, so I tested it. I pretended to be thirty years old and guilty of everything – living on cigarettes, cheeseburgers and cocaine, with no friends and a propensity to sky dive out of helicopters, to ski down isolated Andean peaks. To my dismay, my "age" rose to a mere 34. Still, the program had lots of practical advice on the healthy life.

Today we have Peter's advice, not for people who chose risky behavior, but for believers who live in a risky world. Peter has told his people God has loved, chosen, redeemed, renewed and defended them. That's the good news.

But they have changed and significant change always upsets people. When Peter's people changed their beliefs and behavior, people noticed. Old friends questioned them and the empire became suspicious, even hostile. For that reason, Peter has woven counsel on endurance through his letter:

Respect the authorities, governors and masters. Tell the truth and do good to everyone. Show love, compassion and respect. And remember that you are God's people, his inheritance, guarded by him. As Peter signs off, he has "last words" for the people he loves, counsel to help them live with integrity in their trials.

1. Humble yourselves before God (5:5-6)

The call to humility is transitional – it's his last word on leadership and his first word for everyone. Peter says leaders must lead and young men must be submissive (5:1-5). But he quickly moves to the whole church: "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'"

It is human nature – fallen human nature - to be proud. Left to ourselves, we will be the center of our universe and our own chief concern. We trust ourselves, our resources. If we succeed, we declare, "Look what I've done." If we falter we ask, "What resources do I have? What can I do? Who owes me debts because of who I am or what I've done?”

Self-reliance, a sense of our merit, runs strong in us. We do not and cannot break with selfish pride unless the Lord corrects us. Peter is writing to believers, and believers are humble because we know and confess something that is humbling. We are rebellious and selfish to the bone. We can't reform ourselves. We don't deserve God's love or the admiration of our neighbors. If God takes an interest in us, it is a grace.

Now God has taken great interest in us. He came in the flesh for us, to forgive and restore us. We must not think we deserve this; no, his loving interest in us surprises us and leads us to trust in him, not ourselves.

Peter spoke to the church in time of trial, to believers who knew the gospel. In their trial, Peter urged them to stay together, work together, in a spirit of humility. He says everyone should "clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." The New Testament tells us to "clothe ourselves" in virtue several times (Romans 13:12, Ephesians 6:11-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Peter's term means to tie something on – as we tie on an apron to protect our clothes. I've seen this. We should wrap or drape ourselves in humility.

In fact, the world is full of pride. It is visible everywhere. In interviews before playoffs, teams complain, "We get no respect. We're going to show the world we deserve respect." That's the voice of pride. In political campaigns, it's routine to complain about tiny slights. "You said, 'That's like putting lipstick on an ostrich.' My state has 300 ostrich farmers and they are offended." It's the voice of pride.

When people complain, "Why wasn't I chosen, informed, called, invited?" it's often a symptom of pride. One year I was offended that I wasn't chosen for a certain select sports team. I looked at the roster: "I'm just as good as five players who made the team." I looked again and had to admit the top twelve players were better than I. And while I was as skilled as the last three, I wasn't more skilled. In fact, there were ten players who could have joined the bottom of the team. We were all the same. The coach had to pick someone; he chose players he knew.

Why did I complain? My pride spoke and it led me to feel aggrieved. I needed to repent and wrap myself in humility toward others. That would be consistent with the gospel. Paul says we should live a life worthy of our calling. And how do we do that? By living in a way that's consistent with our calling (cf Ephesians 4:1).

When I'm upset, it's often my pride that is complaining. Perhaps the same is true of you. Will you examine yourself? When we let go of our pride, our anger, our hurts, may fall away too.

Peter says we should be humble with each other because "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (5:5 cf Proverbs 3:34). Peter gives a warning - "God opposes the proud" - that leads to a promise: "he gives grace to the humble."

5:5 Warning: God opposes the proud,

Promise: but gives grace to the humble.

5:6 Command: Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand,

Promise: And he will exalt you.

God opposes the proud. The Bible often says this because it is often important (1 Samuel 2:7, Isaiah 2:11-17, 26:5, Ezekiel 17:24, Lamentations 1:5, Hosea 14:9).1 Think of Cain. He and his brother Abel both brought gifts to God. Abel brought the first and best from his flocks; Cain brought whatever he pleased from his fields. When God preferred Abel's gift of love, Cain was outraged, so filled with false pain that he murdered Abel. When God confronted him, he denied any knowledge of it: "Am I my brother's keeper?" God rebuked Cain for this; when Cain refused to repent, the Lord banished him (Genesis 4:2-11). God opposes the proud.

The Lord opposed Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who strutted on the ramparts of his city and crowed, "Is this not great Babylon that I have built?" (Daniel 4:30). Yes, he did build it, through thousands of men and by God's permission. Then God humbled the king until he finally confessed that God is strong and good and true. God gives grace when the proud repent.

So then, we have a command - clothe yourselves with humility." Then a reason – because "God gives grace to the humble." That leads to a related command - "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand." Then finally a promise - "That he may lift you up in due time" or at the right time.

Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand that he may lift you up (5:6). Peter does not say "The Lord will humble you," he says, "Humble yourselves before the Lord."2 That means we cannot wait until God humbles us. We cannot wait until some hard event humbles us. We can't wait until someone blasts us with a rebuke or criticism that is so unfair and yet has enough truth that we can't close it off.We must humble ourselves. Peter does not specify how we do this. He does say we humble ourselves "under God's mighty hand." God's "mighty hand" is the power that delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt (In seventeen of twenty four uses in Bible). In the New Testament, God's mighty hand is the power to perform miracles, even to raise the dead - Jesus. He has the power to turn suffering into glory. To humble ourselves under God's mighty hand, therefore, is to wait for his power – "that he may lift you up in due time" – at the right time (5:6).

This was especially true for Peter's friends as they faced persecution, but it's true for everyone who faces adversity. There is no point in complaining, "Why is this happening to me?" It is not humble to demand of God: "How could you let this happen to me? Why haven't you relieved me?" The Lord moves his mighty hand when he chooses to do so. He acts on his schedule. Just as he led his people out of Egypt at his time, so he leads us out of trouble when he is ready.

The humble wait for the Lord to deliver them. It can be so difficult to know when we must act and when we must wait for him to act. I can't offer a formula. But if all wisdom and prayer lead to "wait," then do wait.

James says something similar: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (James 4:10). Notice the distinct phrase "before the Lord." He means: If we remember that all we do is "before the Lord" it is easier to humble ourselves. If his holy gaze is our standard, we will be humble. If we compare ourselves to others, it is easy to remain proud.

If a parent chides a child for a messy room, the child claims, "If you think my room is bad, you should see…" He then names the messiest child he knows. Adults do the same thing: "I have a problem, but I'm not nearly as bad as John." When we compare ourselves to others, we can always find someone who makes us look good. But if we compare ourselves to the Lord, excuses disappear and we see the need to be humble.

When we humble ourselves, we confess that the Lord is holy and good and mighty and we're not. Then the Lord will lift us up. This is another way to the gospel. There are two ways of life: Pride or humility. We can promote our cause or wait for God's mighty hand. We can be defensive or repentant. Jesus said, "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11, 18:14).

This is a great challenge for some of us. Since I was seventeen or eighteen, people have told me I project self-confidence. When I first heard this I was stunned. My life was a shambles. I went to seven schools from grades one to twelve. Every time I made good friends, we moved. I was often an outsider, often had to prove myself. At home, I'll just say my father became angry at his sons most days.

Apparently I learned to present an image of toughness. Yes, I'm the new kid and don't mess with me. Dad, I don't care what you say to me or do to me, you can't break me. My confidence, my toughness were just a pose, a façade, but it was a useful pose, especially before I knew the Lord.

Most of you could tell a story that is something like mine. At some point – probably without planning to do so – you began to pretend that you had it together, that you are strong, confident, undefeatable, independent.

If we adopt that posture too long, if we believe it, it will do battle with the gospel. If we think we're strong, what need do we have for Jesus or for the gospel? "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand" then he will "lift you up in due time." The due time may be soon, or not. He may choose to lift you up at his return, and not before. That is his prerogative. But whenever he does exalt you, you will know that the Lord of nations, time and history did so at the right time.

Rest in that my brothers and sisters! Because God will lift us up at the right time, we can heed Peter's second command.

2. Cast your anxiety on the Lord because he cares for you (5:7)

Peter says, "Cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for you." To "cast" means to throw or toss something (Luke 19:35). In Luke, the disciples tossed their cloaks onto a donkey to make a saddle for Jesus. We toss a bag into our car. So we toss our anxiety on the Lord.

Notice that the word anxiety is singular. We may have separate anxieties - about work or health or relationships. But when problem after problem rolls in, it can become one entity, one emotion – anxiety.

When we sense that a spouse or a friend is tense and ask, "What's wrong?" they usually answer with several things. We can weather one problem, but three or four will get us down until our tension is visible.

Peter says we should take that mass of troubles and give the whole to God. Why? Because he is mighty, because he will lift us up at the right time, and because he cares for us.

Of course, to cast our anxiety on the Lord we must admit that we have it. Yes, Jesus says we shouldn't be anxious (Matthew 6:25), and we certainly shouldn't indulge our worries, but Paul freely admits that he has anxiety. He lists all his troubles as an apostle - he was beaten, jailed, often hungry and cold, even shipwrecked – then concludes, "And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Corinthians 11:28).

We cast our anxiety on the Lord through prayer. Of course, we work on our problems if we can, but we also give them to him - both the aspects we can act on and those we cannot. We give the whole to him. Indeed, giving our troubles to God is an aspect of humility. But the Lord isn't the only spiritual being who takes an interest in us. We have a foe and that foe seeks our harm.

3. Be aware of your foe (adversary), the devil, and resist him (5:8-9).

We think we see the trouble of this life clearly. We see cruel or vain governors, angry neighbors and so on. But there is a foe who stands behind them.

People often say there are two mistakes we can make about the evil one. One is to take him too seriously, as if he has as much power or knowledge as God. He doesn't! The other is to refuse to take him seriously. One way to do that is to fall for the cartoon images – red tights, horn and pitchfork. Another is to assume that all evil and troubles come from human sin.

Peter says, "Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one 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." This tells most of what we need to know:

First, his name. The name Satan means "adversary" in Hebrew. His second name is "deceiver" – the word "devil" is deceiver in Greek. (Revelation 20:2, Zechariah 3).

Second, he can be frightening. The roar of a lion is very loud – up close, it's louder than power tools and almost as loud as a jet airplane. Hungry lions and wounded lions both attack and Satan is both hungry and wounded.

Third, the Bible tells us how he attacks. Most commonly:

He tempts or entices us to active sin (Matthew 4).

He incites idolatry – the worship of anything but the true God (Matthew 4).

He accuses us before God and tempts us to doubt our standing with the Lord (Revelation 12:10).

He causes or blinds people, so they cannot see the truth (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Over the last few years, we talk less and less about right and wrong, moral and immoral. Instead we say, "That's inappropriate" as if the problem were mere conventions. And we say, "I'm not comfortable with that" when we mean "I think that is wrong." Or "I don't want to." We should say so!

Sometimes the right course of action is intensely uncomfortable, and sometimes evil feels very comfortable. In fact, our comfort has just about nothing to do with right and wrong. How happy our adversary is when we only do what is comfortable. How many hard duties go neglected?

Because he aims to deceive and to destroy, we must be watchful. When we are tempted, evil entices us. "Turn these stones to bread," Satan tells Jesus. "You're hungry, aren't you? What's wrong with it?" The tempter says, "Your life is hard. It's OK to tell a little lie to get out of trouble. You don't get what you deserve; it's OK to take a little something."

1 Peter 5:9 says, "Resist him." James adds, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." In fact, it seems that the longer we resist, the more intense the pressure. And pressure seems to ease when we give in. Suppose you have a small secret. You accidentally divulge part of it and then remember it's confidential. A friend begins to plead, "Come on, tell me. I won't tell anyone, I promise." He begs, swears himself to silence, then begins to guess. The pressure builds - until you finally break down.3 Then it eases.

Peter says, "Resist him." Resist temptation. Deny him authority. Stand against him. Don't give up during trials, even persecution. One way to resist is to flee from temptation. Paul said: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

“My dear friends, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14).

“You, man of God, flee from all this [the love of money], and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22).

When we resist Satan, he must seek another time. When we give in, we give him more time. If we resist the temptation, Satan must try something else later. If we succumb once, it's easy to sin again, because sin forms habits and pathways.

We resist as individuals and we resist sin together. Peter says, "Resist him… knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world" (5:9). We stay strong – we refuse to give in to oppression by standing against it together.

4. Stand with God's people, by God's grace (5:10-14).

The call to stand together is the last big idea regarding endurance. In fact, Peter's last words are full of exhortations to stand in God's grace with God's people.

First, Peter himself stands with Silvanus, his faithful brother, who either delivered or more likely was Peter's designated writer – his amanuensis. Peter dictated the essence of the letter while Silvanus, guided by the Holy Spirit, chose and wrote the actual words (5:12). Second, Peter also stands with Mark, whom he calls "my son" (5:13). Mark went with Paul on his first Missionary Journey and Silas was on the second, so Peter had talented, seasoned men with him. He did not stand alone.

Second, Peter sent greetings: "She who is in Babylon, chosen with you, sends you her greetings" (5:13). "Babylon" is code for Rome in the New Testament, since Rome and Babylon are the two cities that were centers both of power and wealth, of violence and indulgence. (See Isaiah 46-47, Revelation 17-18). So Peter writes from his church in Rome to churches in five Roman provinces west of Jerusalem and east of Greece. He says, "we stand together in suffering" (5:9).

Third, we stand together locally; we "greet one another with the kiss of love." The kiss of love meant the ritual touch of cheeks, not lips. And it was male to male and female to female. We do this with a handshake or a hug (Romans 16:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:26). When we stand together, we better experience the peace we have in Christ (5:14).

For that to happen, you need deeper ties to your church than you can form in one or two hours a month. We need relationships. In the hour of hardship, you need friends; the church offers you many friends. I don't know where I would be without them..

Our church is large enough that it isn't always easy to find a friend when you first arrive. I'm not going to list all the opportunities now. The bulletin today, our web site every day, mentions a few places to meet people:

Equip Central. Dinner every week for $5 with four hundred potential friends.

Join a C-group and meet fifteen people.

Smaller: Discipleship groups Monday and Wednesday, meet five people.

Sunday morning communities: Classes with ten to seventy-five people to meet.

Peter, a great apostle, never wanted to be alone. Silvanus and Mark were with him. His church wanted to greet other churches, to say, "We stand together." And in every community, we should greet each other in love.

How do we stay strong as disciples? Before God, humble ourselves. Then give him your troubles. Resist evil and the evil one. Don't try to do it alone. Do it by God's grace – stand by his grace. And do it with the family of God – they are over the world – and near you.

1 Translations of these passages very, but each features our verb, tapeinoo, I humble, in New Testament Greek or in the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septaugint.

2 In fact, the Greek verb has the passive voice, typically translated "be humbled." The middle voice would ordinarily be translated "Humble yourself." But translations render the verb reflexively "Humble yourselves" and commentators agree. Why? The passive voice can have a reflexive sense (Max Zerwick, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, 3rd ed., (Rome: Pontifical Institute, 1988), 699. Further, if Peter meant "Be humbled" we need agent – be humbled by whom? God, we surmise, but "God" is already cited in the phrase "under God's mighty hand." Thus the reflexive is the right translation.

3 On temptation, see C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: MacMillan, 1961).

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