Sunday, 25 May 2014

Don't Worry (1 Peter 5:7)

What is wrong with worry? Of course, we need to distinguish between acceptable concern and illegitimate worry. Paul, for example, had many concerns about the churches to which he wrote, and these concerns were right (we can read some of his legitimate concerns in 2 Corinthians 11). Of course, we know that Paul prayed about the causes of care and responded to them appropriately. Yet we also know that we can respond to worries in wrong ways.  

First, anxiety can lead us to doubt whether or not God cares for us. Such anxiety is our opinion on divine providence and it reveals that we do not think God has the wisdom or the power or the commitment to deal with it in the best way. So when something seems to go wrong, instead of taking the matter to God, we start to fret over it and suspect that somehow nothing good can come out of the circumstances. We can easily see how Peter’s readers could have reacted in this way as they faced the prospect of persecution and its effects.  

Second, anxiety can lead us to take matters into our own hands in a wrong way. Peter has already warned his readers about the danger of certain sins that were liable to appear in their difficult circumstances (1 Pet. 4:14-15). Because they were deprived of goods, there was the danger of stealing; because they were physically abused, there was the danger of responding with violence. Such responses could appear among Christians at all times of difficulty.  

Another possible wrong response is to trust in the advice of humans rather than in God’s promises. If we go into a bookshop, we often find that the self-help section is beside the spirituality section. A similar proximity can occur in our lives when we place the opinions of humans above the promises of God. Of course, good advice is to be welcomed. But if the human advice is valued more than the counsel of God, then we are sinning.  

Third, anxiety can delude us into thinking that we are not in a world affected by sin. Previous generations were perhaps less likely to have this problem because they lived in circumstances where problems were expected. It was normal to live with poverty, ill health and danger. They realised that humans were liable to all the miseries of this life, as our catechism puts it. And we are liable to them as well. If an earthquake occurs, the houses of Christians and non-Christians will be affected; if an economic downturn happens, Christians may lose their employment or their financial securities may suffer in other ways. Adverse circumstances are inevitable as long as we are in this world. We should be thankful for the many benefits we have, but we should not forget that we can lose them. 

Fourth, anxiety can lead to a distorted perspective of events. It has been observed that in the past, when something went wrong, Christians would ask, ‘What is God teaching me in this circumstance?’ Today, even Christians respond by saying, ‘How could God allow this to happen to me?’ or even with, ‘What right has God to allow this to happen to me?’ When we respond with such questions, it is a sign that we have lost a true perspective on life. 

Fifth, anxiety can cripple our souls because the concerns we have become the all-consuming focus of our thoughts and we are unable to do anything else. They are with us when we waken in the morning, and they have prevented us from getting to sleep at night. Physically we end up exhausted, and spiritually we are of no help to others because we are pre-occupied with our own concerns. And yet all our worrying does nothing to help the situation. The problems remain. 

Sixth, such excessive worry is a very bad Christian witness. Can we sing Psalm 46 truthfully if we are convinced that our troubles will destroy us? The words of Psalm 23, about knowing the presence of the Shepherd in dangerous locations (the valley of the shadow of death where wild animals lurked to attack the sheep), are expressions of confidence in God. What would an onlooker say if he saw a fretting sheep walking beside its shepherd? That may happen with physical sheep, but it should not be the case with spiritual sheep. What should concern the physical sheep is how close it should keep to the shepherd, and that should be our concern as well. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Casting all our Care on God (1 Peter 5:7)

We are all aware that we live in a society marked by anxiety. People are worried about their finances, their families, their health, their security, their possessions because of the crime rate, and about many other things. We have the additional concerns connected to a declining influence of true Christianity in society and the resultant sidelining of the church. Within our own congregation there will always be matters causing anxiety, such as ill health in the physical state of our people and potential backsliding in our spiritual state.

In 1 Peter 5:7 the apostle tells his readers to cast all their care on God. They had their own concerns which affected them, such as the consequences of persecution and social ostracism. It is clear that anxiety is a universal problem, that it produces ugly consequences in our lives, which means that urgency is required in dealing with it. So what can we say about his instruction? 

First, Peter’s comment is a reminder of the bigness of God. It is as if Peter has a measurement tool and he compares all other possible remedies with God. The other remedies may be helpful in one or two areas of concern, but they cannot deal with every source of worry. But God can, says Peter. So his words remind us of the capability of God, that he is able to deal with every situation. There is not a circumstance in which we cannot cast anxiety about it on God. 

Second, Peter’s words are a reminder not to expect human leaders to be able to do what is beyond their abilities. He has just instructed his readers to obey their elders as they face the difficult circumstances they were about to enter. Those elders would do their best, but even their best at times is not enough. They are limited in their capabilities, even although they are shepherds who care for their spiritual flocks and spend a great deal of time and energy looking after them. But we should not regard them as if they had the caring capabilities of the Chief Shepherd. 

Third, Peter’s advice reveals that holding on to our concerns is not an expression of humility. Alexander Nisbet, a Scottish seventeenth-century author, wrote: ‘Misbelieving anxiety, whereby Christians break themselves with the burdens of these cares which God requires to be cast upon him, is one of the greatest signs of pride in the world; and to trust God with the weight of these in following our duty is a prime evidence of true humility.’ 

When a person retains them, it indicates self-sufficiency, which is an aspect of pride in any creature. Peter links ‘casting’ with humbling ourselves. Doing so is admitting that we cannot deal with any of our cares, be they great or small in our estimation. We might admit that we should hand big concerns over to God, but we are reluctant to hand over small ones because we imagine we can deal with them, and that is an expression of pride. We should treat every situation of anxiety as an opportunity to express our confidence in the Lord’s abilities. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Risen Saviour

It is important to think often about the resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps we should compile a list of Bible passages that do so and turn to them regularly. One such reference is 1 Peter 3:21-22 where we are reminded of four features of the resurrection of Jesus.

Firstly, Jesus as the God-man has entered into a new level for humanity. His resurrection was not merely a return to life as he knew it before his death. After his resurrection, he was no longer under the normal limitations of space and time: for example, he could enter rooms with locked doors and he could disappear from a room without using its exits. In this life, our humanity has limitations, but through Jesus we are going to have a humanity that will be more capable than what we now are. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 that the resurrection body will be imperishable, dignified, powerful and spiritual. At present we have no idea what that will be like, but we know that Jesus already has experienced it. 

Second, Jesus as the God-man has entered heaven. The apostle is describing the ascension but he is not thinking that it was like a journey into space similar to what astronauts have done. Instead Jesus has entered a world that is not in our universe, he has gone to a location which sinful man can never find or penetrate. Humans were barred from entry there because of their sinfulness, but Jesus our representative has gained access for himself because of his sinless, beautiful life and for us by his atoning death. Jesus could have entered heaven at any time because he lived a completely holy life, but he could only go in as our representative after he had paid the penalty for sin and defeated death.

Third, Jesus as the God-man has ascended to a height which humans could never have reached even if they had not sinned – he has ascended to the throne of God where he sits at God’s right hand. There are not two divine thrones, one for the Father and one for Jesus. Instead there is only one throne and seated on it is One who has our human nature, and who will have it for ever. What does that mean for Christians? It is very hard to say, yet the New Testament indicates that in some ways they will be identified with the throne of Jesus. Of course, they will never become divine. But Paul does say that they will judge the world and judge angels, which gives some insight into the prominence that God will give to his people.  

Fourth, Jesus as the God-man has dominion that humans did not have before. Originally, humans were created lower than the angels (Ps. 8:5), although they had dominion over the lower creatures on earth. But now, because of Jesus, the new humanity is higher than the angelic orders, whatever they may mean for them in the future. Yet even now, the angels serve the heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:14). But his dominion means more.

So let us think about the risen, exalted Saviour today and anticipate seeing and sharing to some extent his glory.