Thanksgiving is like sunshine.

This is the first in a series in Thankfulness, by Rosie Moore.

“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:19-20).

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

The Bible commands us to give thanks always and for everything. Thankfulness is not an optional extra reserved for sunny personalities! Paul reminded first century Christians that thanksgiving doesn’t hinge on our circumstances or warm feelings, but is appropriate in every circumstance, come rain or shine. We don’t need to ask if it’s God’s will to say thank you. An attitude of gratitude is always appropriate and beneficial for those who have tasted and seen that God is good.

It’s why the Psalms are full of thanksgiving:

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Ps 136:1)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations” (Ps 100:1-5).

Gratitude is like sunshine.

Gratitude is a bit like sunshine. What I love most about living in Gauteng is the sunshine in winter. This week, the south-facing room where my computer normally sits has been like a freezer, so after a few hours of clicking away on my keyboard, my fingers turn blue and even my bones feel like ice blocks. It’s dark and cold in there, so I move around from place to place, ferreting for warmth and following shafts of sunlight. My favourite thing is to go outside at noon and sit on the warm grass, with the sunlight on my skin, feeling its rays begin to thaw me right to my core. It helps that our furry golden retriever makes his home on my lap too!

Sunshine makes us thrive as human beings. We desperately need it for our physical and mental wellbeing. And likewise, our hearts desperately need to give thanks to God, our good and caring Creator. A heart that overflows with thanksgiving is a sure sign that our relationship with Christ is healthy and thriving, that we are “rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:7). Conversely. there’s nothing that sours a family relationship more than an ungrateful, entitled child.

Like sunlight, thankfulness thaws our cold, complaining hearts. It fills us with the warmth and wonder of our Father’s blessings all around us, even in our struggles and suffering. An attitude of gratitude proves that God’s peace is ruling in our hearts and that we are acting and speaking in Christ’s name (Col 3:15-17). In fact, if you think about it, thanksgiving is the natural outlet pipe of the gospel as it works its way through our lives.

Gratitude is like Vitamin D.

Apart from the sun’s warmth and energy, one of the great and invisible benefits of sunshine is Vitamin D. Its benefits are not merely skin deep, but profound and far reaching in the human body. Much has been said about the importance of Vitamin D in recent months. It is called the ‘sunshine hormone’, because our bodies produce it naturally when exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has been shown to be essential to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles; to regulate blood pressure and mood, even to ward off depression. Vitamin D also helps the immune system act like an army that prevents invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, from taking over the homeland – our body.

Like the master key to a rich storehouse, Vitamin D enables the body to absorb other beneficial nutrients like calcium and magnesium. It is truly a wonderful fighter/protector vitamin that we can’t live without.  Actually, Vitamin D is so essential to human wellbeing that a few studies have even suggested a link between its deficiency and Covid deaths.  But sadly, over 1 billion people worldwide are short of this accessible, cheap and essential vitamin. Vitamin D reminds me of gratitude in the life of a Christian:

It doesn’t cost us much to say thank you, but it’s essential to a holy and happy life. Gratitude protects us from the life threatening diseases of idolatry, especially the idol of self. Gratitude guards and nourishes our hearts, releasing the sweet nutrient of peace, contentment and joy in our lives. We dare not neglect this essential virtue which is the key to unlock many other benefits. In his wonderful little book titled, Practicing Thankfulness in All Circumstances, Sam Crabtree concludes:

With gratitude, everyone wins. You get more delight in God, God gets more glory from you, and people around you find enjoyment from your words and gestures of appreciation. The consequences flowing either from thankfulness or from ingratitude are universal and not optional. No one can escape the fundamental order God has wired into the universe, and that includes the dynamics pertaining to gratitude and ingratitude.

The benefits of gratitude.

Like vitamin D, gratitude opens the door to a storehouse of beneficial byproducts. Because it draws us away from our own orbit into God’s orbit, thankfulness protects us from the invasion of natural predators and parasites that our sinful human hearts manufacture on a daily basis.

Have you noticed that it’s impossible to be truly thankful while simultaneously grumbling, complaining, stressing, criticizing, despairing, demanding, plotting revenge or envying?! There’s just not room in our hearts for both! We cannot worship at the altar of self and be grateful at the same time. So, gratitude protects our hearts from our own feelings and desires which draw us into the deadly black hole of self.

As Jon Bloom puts it, “Gratitude is both a vital indicator of our soul’s health and a powerful defender of our soul’s happiness.”

Expressing thanks is much more than cultural niceness or warm feelings. It’s not a“name-it-claim-it” technique that releases God’s blessings in our lives, nor a tool of flattery to get what we want from people. But, like all God’s good commands, thankfulness is essential to our wellbeing. For thousands of years, the Bible has been telling us what science is discovering:

The Power and Practice of Gratitude.

In 2003, two classic studies—showing that expressing and experiencing gratitude bring peace of mind, satisfying personal relationships and well-being, were conducted by McCullough and Emmons. They formed two groups over 10 weeks. One group wrote a list every day of things they were grateful for. The second group focused on things that had irritated or displeased them (negatives). This was the ungrateful group. At the beginning, the participants had reported similar levels of happiness, but after the 10 weeks were up, they discovered that the grateful group were far happier and their bodies were healthier than the ungrateful group. They also noted that neither group changed their lifestyle at all.

Physical benefits of the grateful group included: Stronger immune systems; Less bothered by aches and pains; Lower blood pressure; Exercise more and take better care of their health; Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.

Psychological benefits included: Higher levels of positive emotions; More alert, alive, and awake; More joy and pleasure; More optimism and happiness.

Social benefits included: More helpful, generous, and compassionate; More forgiving; More outgoing; Feel less lonely and isolated.

So, even world experts know that gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling, and it has a huge impact on our lives. There will always be irritants and frustrations, grievances and complaints in life, but if we choose to focus on these, we will become self-absorbed, depressed and anxious. We will fail to see how we’ve been supported and helped by other people. And worst of all, we’ll fail to honour God or see his good purposes in everything.

But, like sunshine, expressing thanks has many beneficial byproducts. One of them is that we begin to see ourselves as rich, blessed and privileged, even if our outward circumstances appear the opposite.

Follow the sunlight.

For a Christian, the expression of thanks is the supernatural response of a heart that sees the sunlight of God’s presence and provision, basking in its shafts of light wherever we find them. Thanksgiving flows out of a right understanding of ourselves and God’s good provision. Even Jesus humbly gave thanks to the Father, because He understood his role of submission to the Father (Matt 11:25Luke 10:21John 11:41).

“Gratitude is the divinely given spiritual ability to see grace, and the corresponding desire to affirm it and its giver as good”(Sam Crabtree). It is to bless the Lord, just as He has blessed us.

Next week, in “Acknowledging the Source”, we will look at the uniqueness of Christian thankfulness.

Prayer:

Lord, we are not naturally grateful people. Please forgive us for the grumbling, complaining, jealous words which often tumble from our mouths, out of our sinful hearts. Give us eyes to see the wonder of your blessings all around us. Thank you that, in Christ, we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Thank you that you are good and your love endures forever. Even as we pray for our needs and tell you about all our troubles, we thank you for your provision– yesterday, today and tomorrow. Keep us out of the cold, dark room of our own wrong expectations, and draw us into the wonderful sunlight of gratitude. Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who enables us speak the universal language of thanksgiving. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

“Where is his promised coming?”

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

…Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

At last we’ve inched our way to the final page of Peter’s letters. You’ve probably wondered if the end of the world might come before the end of our series in Peter!

A scoffer’s profile.

Peter’s original readers really needed to know the final destination on their road of suffering. Many hoped that Jesus would return within their lifetimes to vindicate them. And so the scoffer’s question, “Where is the promise of his coming?” may have left them wondering if Jesus would keep his promise (2 Peter 3:3-5).

“What’s taking your precious Jesus so long to come back for you?” jokes the scoffer. “Maybe he’s got himself lost on the way from heaven.”

Two thousand years on, and Christ still hasn’t returned. Mockers continue to scoff at our belief in Christ’s return and a restored Creation under his perfect rule. Sometimes we may even feel as if it’s all too good to be true.

Scoffers have always ridiculed God’s involvement with the earth. They poke fun at the supernatural, yet are seldom willing to investigate the historical evidence of Jesus Christ for themselves. That’s because their problem is not only an intellectual problem with God and his Word. It’s a moral problem, as they refuse to submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ over their lives. They prefer to remain autonomous.

Proverbs says that the scoffer resents correction, is proud and arrogant, and prefers his own simple ways to God’s wisdom (Prov 1:229:814:615:1221:24). Most offensive of all to the scoffer is the idea that God will judge the world and hold each person accountable for their own sin.

“How can you be so naïve to believe in a final day of reckoning? It’s the environmental crisis that will bring an end to this world, not your Jesus! I’ve never answered to anyone in my life, so I’ll go out on my own terms thank you! How can a good God judge people?”

But Peter reminds us that God has been involved in His world from the beginning. He spoke the world into existence. Then He came in judgment, flooding the world in the days of Noah. Scoffers are dead wrong when they say that nothing ever changes:

“…knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:3-7).

Peter says that we don’t have to worry about justice being done. “The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of Judgment” (2 Peter 2:9). God created the world with his word, and by that same word, the world as we know it will come to an end.

A scoffer’s willful ignorance.

Peter reminds us that history isn’t just the same year after year. Surely the crisis of 2020/1 has proved that point. But Peter also calls out the willful ignorance of scoffers who “deliberately overlook” the clear evidence of God’s handiwork in creation and His judgment of the world in human history (2 Peter 3:352 Peter 2:4-9).

Willful ignorance mirrors Paul’s description of sin in Romans 1: In our natural state, we all “suppress the truth” in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-32). Left to ourselves, we refuse to give God the thanks and honour due to Him as the Creator. Instead, we make ourselves the judge of what is right and wrong and worship the creation. That’s the heart of sin that bubbles out of every human heart (Mark 7:20-23).

So, by nature we are all willfully ignorant. Like scoffers, we follow our own sinful desires and rightfully fall under God’s wrath and judgment (Rom 1:18). Unless God does a miraculous heart transformation to wake us up to the reality of who He is and who we are, we will always ‘deliberately overlook’ the truth right in front of our eyes. We will remain blind to the truth (Matt 13:16-17).

Not slow, just patient.

But Peter also helps us understand God’s purposes in ‘delaying’ the second coming. From God’s perspective, there’s no delay in His return. It’s just that God isn’t limited by time or geography, but motivated by compassion and patience. He has a kind heart for everyone He has made, even the willfully ignorant scoffer. Even you and me. Peter writes,

“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:8-10).

God’s patience is extended to allow as many people as possible to repent and be part of His righteous kingdom. Just think for a moment of how, even today, the Lord is faithfully stirring human hearts around the world, bringing hundreds of people to repentance and faith in Christ. In the last century in Africa alone, the Christian population has grown from ten million Christians at the beginning of the twentieth century (about 10% of the population), to close to five hundred million professing believers today. In fact, we owe our salvation to this ‘delay.’ (Click here)

Soul by soul, God is patiently growing his mustard seed kingdom into a magnificent tree, “so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matt 13:31-32). Many, many more ‘birds’ are making their home in God’s kingdom because of His ‘delayed’ return. We tend to forget that God sees time with the perspective we lack (2 Peter 3:8).

Like an artist painting a gigantic mural, God is sovereign over all human history and the cosmos. And like a seamstress stitching delicate beadwork on a wedding dress, God is also attentive and involved in the minute details of a single human life.

If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that Christ will return for his Bride, even if “the bridegroom is a long time in coming” (Matt 25:5). Jesus himself told us that there would be a delay in His coming. God is not slow, just patient in extending mercy to mankind:

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezek 33:11). That was Christ’s kind heart for the Jews of his day too (Matt 23:37).

But time is running out. The day will come for each of us to die, or for Christ to return. The time for repentance will then be over, for “just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9:27-28).

There will be no extensions or postponements of the court date that the Judge has scheduled.

A microcosm of final judgment.

Jesus and Peter saw the Flood and Sodom and Gomorrah as microcosms of the Final Judgment (Luke 17:26-302 Peter 3:6-72 Peter 2:6-8).

And a few years ago, I personally glimpsed a small preview of the Final Day on a history tour in Europe. After spending two days at Auschwitz concentration camp, I went to Nuremberg, the town where former Nazi leaders were tried as war criminals for the murder of six million Jews, along with 4-6 million non-Jewish people. The Nuremberg tribunals became a useful model for future trials of war criminals in the Yugoslavian and Rwandan genocides. As I listened to the transcripts and viewed the films, I felt sick to the stomach. I’ve never been able to forget the horrific evidence presented at those trials.

What was most surprising to me was the scoffing of the accused SS commanders. They stubbornly pleaded “Nicht Schuldig” (Not guilty), swaggering around the courtroom and joking amongst themselves. They mocked the legal process and the prosecutor’s mispronunciation of their names. They sniggered and scoffed… Even after hearing the gut wrenching testimonies of holocaust survivors; even after viewing films showing piles of corpses and roomfuls of human hair, belongings and photos of obliterated families; even after being presented with their own written reports documenting their killings.

Even after full exposure, one SS doctor who had conducted medical experiments on inmates argued that he was doing the world a favour by eliminating his Jewish patients. Hermann Göring laughed throughout the trials, yawning and making sarcastic remarks to his friends. He dismissed hard evidence as propaganda. But as the day of sentencing approached, Göring grew more and more nervous, and laughed less and less. For all his scoffing, he took an arsenic tablet the night before he was due to be executed.

The scoffing of the accused was just a human fig leaf, a grasping for self justification, a way to suppress the truth of their own guilt.

However, when the truth was finally told, the International Tribunal found almost all the accused guilty of mass murder. The guilty were sentenced to death or given prison sentences from 10 years to life. Some were tried decades later, most notably Adolf Eichman, the architect of ‘The Final Solution’ against the Jews. When arrested in 1960, he said, “I had nothing to do with killing Jews.” Many Nazis evaded justice by taking on new identities elsewhere in the world and committing suicide.

At Nuremberg I saw that at best, our attempts at human justice are flawed. In democracies, we try to follow Biblical principles of due process to ensure fair verdicts, but we all know that human justice is often perverted in society. Often, the guilty go free and cases go cold. The truth is hidden forever. Corrupt people flourish while good people suffer.

But this will not be the case on the Day of Judgment. No one will be scoffing in the presence of the Lord Jesus, who will judge with perfect justice and righteousness (Psalm 2). No one will be able to lie or escape, as there’s no place to hide from the final film reel of our lives. Never again will a criminal walk free. Never again will Satan accuse, deceive or persecute God’s people.

This is why each of us must repent of our sin and take refuge in Jesus (Rev 21:4Acts 17:30-31). He is the one and only safe place to hide on the day that “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). Christ’s death is the sacrifice that turned away the wrath of God for those who believe in Him (1 John 2:2).

And God puts his mark on his children, so they will be distinguished from those on whom judgment is to fall (Rev 7:1-3). Even now, this mark of ownership is the Holy Spirit, who lives inside us (Eph 1:13-14). With God’s seal of ownership, we are safe from the coming judgment!

Scoffers are dead wrong.

The line separating good and evil.

But Jesus didn’t allow me to walk away from Nuremberg feeling pleased with myself and better than ‘those other men’ on trial. In my natural state, I know that Solzhenitsyn was dead right when he said,

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” (The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956)

Given the same brainwashing and war conditions, I may have walked in the Nazis’ footsteps at Auschwitz. I may have bayed for Christ’s blood at his trial too. My heart is no better than theirs.

If you’ve lived your life with you in control, running it your own way, never giving much thought to Christ as your Lord and Master, loving nature but never loving the God who created it, you have set yourself up as God’s enemy. You may believe that death is the end, but it isn’t the end. There will be a second death much worse than the first. Here are three questions to ask ourselves:

Why would God welcome a rebel into his kingdom where every citizen worships Christ as King?

Why would God welcome into his perfect home an unrepentant sinner who has scoffed at his Son and despised his offer of righteousness? (2 Peter 3:13)

Why would a good God not judge wickedness and evil in the world?

But when the thief on the cross saw himself as the sinner he was, he didn’t scoff like his partner in crime. Instead, he threw himself on the mercy of Jesus (Luke 23:42). And Christ responded in mercy, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not just in paradise, but with Jesus, forever, in paradise!

So, as wonderful as it is to look forward to a completely restored Creation, without tears, death, mourning or pain (Rev 21:1-5), there is a reason why Jesus died for our sin on the cross. There is also a reason for us to turn away from our sin and live for Christ. The gospel is for those who want to meet Christ as their friend and Advocate, not as their enemy and Judge. The gospel is for those who long for a ‘forever home’, where Christ rules with perfect righteousness and justice. That home can never be swallowed by a sinkhole, flood, fire, or anything else for that matter (1 Peter 1:4).

Peter ends his letter by reminding Christians not to be fooled by false teaching but to remain steadfast in the gospel, to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and to do good wherever God has placed us. That is how we prepare to move into our forever home that Christ is preparing for us right now:

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:1-18).

In his song The Great Reckoning, Andrew Peterson expresses the wistfulness that God’s people have for Christ’s return, when justice will finally be done and God’s kingdom will come on earth, as it is in heaven.

How long until this curtain is lifted?
How long is this the song that we sing?
How long until the reckoning?

And the wicked roam the cities and the streets tonight
But when the God of love and thunder speaks tonight
I believe You will come
Your justice be done, but how long?”

Dear Reader,

Thank for your patience in bearing with me on this ten-week journey through 1 and 2 Peter! When trials come to refine our faith, I pray that we will always be inspired by Peter and his earliest readers. If we’ve been counted worthy to suffer for Christ, may the Holy Spirit help us to rejoice and give thanks in everything. Let’s treasure the precious faith that we’ve received from the Lord Jesus! And let’s remember that He is very near to each of his children, even as He gathers His people from every corner of planet earth. Let’s keep living as if we’re permanent residents of the home that He’s preparing for us!

A Mother’s song

Mother’s Day devotional, by Rosie Moore.

I’ve always smiled at Bilbo Baggin’s description of himself as “thin, sort of stretched…like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” It sounds pretty much like being a mom!

This morning I read an article about a woman from Mali who gave birth to nine babies! I couldn’t help but wonder how her body managed to carry, nourish and birth so many little bodies. An even more terrifying prospect is how she’s going to feed, clean and raise all those children until they’re self-supporting adults. This mother represents a hyperbole of motherhood in general:

Mothers are bound for life to their children– emotionally, financially and physically. Motherhood is indeed a great privilege and blessing, but being a good mother invariably comes at a high cost and sacrifice. When we become mothers, we trade our preferred future for a risky, uncertain one. But if God, in his providence, has given you children, you can be assured that He has called you to it. For a Christian, motherhood is not a weak call, but a lifelong vocation that requires great courage, trust and surrender to God’s will. In my opinion, no one embraced the painful privilege of motherhood more than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.”

If you think about it, Mary was the only human being present at Jesus’s birth who also witnessed his death on a cross. As a teenager, she saw Jesus arrive as her precious baby son, and later, watched him die as her Saviour. It was just as the old priest, Simeon had said, directing his prophecy towards Mary, “And a sword will pierce your soul too” (Luke 2:34-35).

Have you ever thought of the risk that Mary took when she replied to the angel’s message:  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)?

Mary’s story is worth pondering. Mary risked everything in her willingness to surrender her body, her reputation and her preferred future. She risked everything by entrusting herself fully to God’s care and mercy. Let’s stand in her shoes for a moment:

Mary was a poor teenage girl whose one hope to a future was Joseph, a good Jewish boy to whom she was engaged. Before she saw God’s provision, she was required to walk through the door of obedience, to trade her hopeful, promising future for what must have seemed a disastrous outcome.

In first century Jewish communities, pregnancy outside of marriage was a scandal that we can only begin to imagine today. Unless the father of the child agreed to marry a pregnant woman, she would probably remain unmarried for the rest of her life. If her own father rejected her, she could be forced into prostitution or begging to earn a living. Add to that Mary’s bizarre story about being a virgin and pregnant with the Holy Spirit. This teenage girl risked being labelled as an immoral liar and a delusional, crazy woman. Her reputation and standing in the community would have instantly been blown to bits. Remember that Mary didn’t know any more than what the angel told her:

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God…  38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Did you notice that the angel Gabriel doesn’t rebuke Mary for her honest, humble, practical questions (Luke 1:29-3034-35)? But neither does the angel give her a step-by-step guide on how to step into her unique role as mother of God’s promised Messiah. In spite of her own fears and reputational loss, Mary glorifies God in song for what He is going to do for the world through her. She boldly embraces God’s call to use her for his redemptive purposes.

Here is part of her song, known as the Magnificat, spoken after her cousin Elizabeth confirmed the angel’s message:

Mary’s song.

“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name….

In Mary’s song of praise and worship, we see the centrality of motherhood in the story of salvation. It’s the beginning of the fulfillment of the earliest gospel announcement in the Bible:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).

A costly obedience.

Mary shows us what obedience to God looks like.  Her song is full of humility, strength and gospel exuberance. Mary is totally at God’s disposal, a nobody for the Lord. She is willing to accept all the vulnerabilities; weaknesses and the disgrace of her pregnancy and ‘bastard’ son. The role of carrying, nurturing and raising this Messiah child was a painful privilege that Mary gladly embraced.

Picture Mary as a teenage mother raising the perfect son of God in her little home in Nazareth. Jesus was an ordinary child and adolescent with younger brothers and sisters. Amidst the normal routines of daily life, watching Jesus working in his father’s workshop, Mary must have often been reminded that her son was far from ordinary. “The child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Mary had plenty to “treasure in her heart” as she raised the Christ child (Luke 2:51-52).

And then, 33 years after the stable in Bethlehem, Mary watched her boy being rejected, humiliated, beaten and finally crucified as a criminal, on a hill in Jerusalem.

Yet, even as his own life ebbed away on the cross, Jesus was concerned for his mother watching nearby (John 19:25-27). As the eldest son, Jesus entrusted Mary to John, the only friend who stayed with him at the cross. Jesus’s attitude of care towards his mother shows us the honour and support that we should give our own mothers right to the end of their lives.

Every Christian mother’s song.

In a small way, Mary’s song is every Christian mother’s song. Lydia Brownback says it well:

“If we trust in Jesus and follow the way he has marked out for us in his word, we will know personally the blessing of every promise he ever made.”

Of course, Mary is a unique mother with a unique song of praise and surrender. She was, after all, the only virgin to have conceived; the only mother who birthed and raised God’s Son; the only teenager to be visited by an angel (Luke 1:26). God chose to use Mary to deliver on his great redemptive promise, so she is ‘highly favoured’ in a unique way. But Mary was also an ordinary mother who stood at a cruel cross and watched the death of her own child. Her heart must have shattered into a million tiny pieces as she saw the costly sacrifice of her son, the Saviour (John 19:25).

And in a profound way, motherhood mimics the cross, as it’s the great leveler of women. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved in your life or what amazing gifts you were born with, being a mother brings vulnerabilities, struggles and pain. But for a Christian mother, it is at the cross that we lay down our fears and weaknesses about shepherding our own children. It is at the cross that we share the heavy load of motherhood with the Lord Jesus, so that we are not crushed by its weight. It is by watching Christ laying down his life for us on the cross, that we too can learn to lay down our lives for our children.

Mary knew that God was good and could be trusted. Her obedience and bold surrender to God’s costly call, is an example to every Christian mother. It is God himself who assigns value to our position and role in life. It is God who tells us who we are, even if our culture tells us something different. It is because of God’s providence that we are Christian mothers and will be sustained through every season of our lives, no matter how vulnerable we feel. And because we know God’s extraordinary goodness to us, we too can give the future generations a taste of this goodness.

Mary’s song reminds us that it is God who lifts the humble and uses ordinary, willing people to make his glory known. God uses the common, the mundane, the seemingly insignificant homely jobs mothers do, to have a great impact on families, communities and the advance of the gospel in the world.  God sees us in the unseen moments of our ordinary days, and the work mothers do has great value in God’s eyes. No, we cannot save our children. Nor could Mary save her son. But Jesus saves, and he has called us to be his ambassadors in our own families and communities.

Just as God cared for Mary in her vulnerable condition, sending her to stay with Elizabeth and Zechariah during her pregnancy; preparing Joseph to stand by Mary when he could have abandoned her; sending Mary’s little family to Egypt when Herod tried to kill her baby boy; providing the Apostle John to care for Mary as a widow… so too, God gives us mercy in the difficult and vulnerable places, in every season of life. He gives us all the help we need when we are terrified, helpless and hopeless. If only we’d look up and praise God for the great things He is doing for, in and through us. This is our song,

“for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.”

 (Luke 1:49- 50)

Listen to A Mother’s Prayer, by Kristyn Getty.

Springs without water

Series: 1 & 2 Peter

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

Have you ever gone on a long hike, and in your excitement you packed the chips, biltong, sweets and cellphone, but you forgot the water bottles? I have! It’s fine in the Cape mountains where there are plenty of mountain springs to drink from, but in the dry Bushveld of Gauteng, it’s a fatal mistake! The snacks in my backpack soon made me nauseous, and who wants to share pictures on Facebook when you’re dying of thirst? My heart felt sick every time I came upon another dry river bed. It was so full of promise, yet so empty and unsatisfying. Soon all I could think of was a cool, clear stream to quench my thirst. But there was no water to be found, just empty mirages.

Waterless springs.

Waterless springs. This is one of the powerful pictures Peter uses to describe false teachers who will ‘secretly’ infiltrate the church and lead people away from the real Jesus and his true, life-giving gospel. Similarly, Jude calls them “shepherds who feed only themselves…clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead…wandering stars” (Jude 12-13). Ponder on Peter’s emotive warnings for a moment:

“These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’” (2 Peter 2:17-19).

Like Israel’s false prophets in Jeremiah’s day, these false teachers in the Church promise people salvation and sustenance, but their teaching is actually a mirage. It’s empty. “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer 23:16). They teach what is palatable and accommodating, but not what is true, “filling people with vain hopes” (Jer 23:16). Ezekiel said that they paint over people’s broken lives with ‘whitewash’ (Ezek 13:10-12). They don’t lead people into freedom, but further into slavery.

Living Water.

But, in contrast to waterless springs, the real historical Jesus offers authentic, life-sustaining water that quenches our deepest soul thirst. He tells the Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14). And about the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”(John 7:37-39).

But the real Jesus of the Bible also calls people to the ‘narrow door’ of salvation. He tells us that there is a high cost to being his follower (Luke 13:2414:33). The real Jesus calls us to repent of our real sin and to submit to him as Saviour and King (Luke 13:35). The ‘water’ he offers is the only water that can wash away our sin and quench the deepest thirst of our soul (Heb 10:22Eph 5:26-27). Christ’s living water is not just for now, but for all eternity (Rev 21:6Rev 22:1).

But, in stark contrast, false teachers promise their followers freedom and a good life now. In the words of Jeremiah, “They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you,” and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you’” (Jer 23:141617). They give people false security and false hope. Mirages.

According to Peter and Christ himself, the end of false teachers isn’t enviable (2 Peter 2:4-91321-22Luke 13:26-29).

Enemies from within.

But enemies from within are always hard to spot. Peter uses words like ‘secretly’, ‘entice’ and ‘appealing’ in his warnings. He says that they “seduce the unstable” (2 Peter 2:14). And Paul says that this subtlety shouldn’t surprise us, “for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14).

Lest we be offended by Peter’s harsh language or dismiss him as a conspiracy theorist, an un-neighbourly bigot or a paranoid fear-mongerer, consider this question:

How would you feel if you were a parent and saw a pedophile sex offender enter your house and start to groom your young children? This is the anger and outrage behind Peter’s impassioned warnings. These false teachers were twisting the gospel and threatening the eternal welfare of growing Christians. They were belittling the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, encouraging people to care for the here-and-now, without any proper fear of God or an eternity separated from his love. They were closing off the only road to salvation and offering a detour to hell (Luke 11:52).

Actually, far from being paranoid, Peter is showing the oversight that all spiritual shepherds should practice when they see teachers seducing Christ’s flock with false assurances and changing the gospel (1 Peter 5:2).

Jesus gave exactly the same warnings, motived by the same loving protectiveness:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit” (Matt 7:15)… For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand (Mark 13:22-23)…

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold (Matt 24:11-12).

If we find Peter’s warnings unpalatable, then we must dismiss Jesus and the other New Testament writers too.

Peter gives many red flags to help Christians identify waterless springs and stay away from them.

Red flags.

  1. False teachers are empty talkers (2 Peter 2:17-193), often sounding impressive and appealing. They make up clever stories to manipulate people.
  2. They are boastful, bold, rebellious and arrogant– A law unto themselves. They have no fear of God and despise the leaders God has placed in authority over them (2 Peter 2:10181912-14Jude 11).
  3. They often gather a following (2 Peter 2:2).
  4. They cause disgrace and destruction to the body of Christ (2 Peter 2:1132).
  5. They exploit ignorant and unstable people for their own ends (2 Peter 2:3).
  6. They celebrate and accommodate worldly pleasures and sinful desires (2 Peter 2:1813-14).
  7. They are motivated by greed (2 Peter 2:31415).
  8. They ‘wander’ away from the truth of Christ, (which suggests a gradual falling away) (2 Peter 2:15).
  9. They eventually expose themselves (2 Peter 2:20-22).
  10. Their end game is not to bless, but to bring harm to God’s people, as in the example of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15Num 22:4-20).

Different clothes, same lies

False teachers haven’t changed their tactics or half truths since the first century, or the days of Israel. They’re new teachers, but they still proclaim an old twisted lie and produce bad fruit. In Peter’s day, they were lawless and all-embracing, openly celebrating sin as if it were normal and right behaviour. They loved money and the trappings of pleasure and power. They scoffed at the idea of God’s final judgment. They were people- pleasers, with no fear of God and his holiness (Luke 6:26).

And today, false teachers continue to accommodate the culture in their distorted ‘gospels’. It’s not my place to name names, but they are in abundance in today’s churches. They teach a Feel-good Jesus; a Revolutionary Jesus; a Blessor Jesus; a Mystical Jesus; an Ultra-grace Jesus; a Motivational Jesus; a Tuckshop Jesus; a Morality Jesus; a Marxist Jesus; an Inclusive Jesus; a Nationalistic Jesus; a Rockstar Jesus…

They continue to bend the truth of the gospel to exploit people’s thirst for money, status, sex, health, beauty, community, justice, pleasure, hope, certainty, freedom, purpose and peace. Nothing has changed since the false prophets of the Old Testament:

“They have misled my people, saying “Peace” when there is no peace.” (Ezek 13:1016). “You dishearten the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life (Ezek 13:22).

In an age where we can listen to sermons on demand, Christians are easy targets. There’s only one way to guard ourselves against false teachers and their plausible half truths. Peter says the antidote is to go back to the salvation story told in the inspired Word of God, from beginning to end. This is a book that doesn’t have its origins in man’s imagination, but “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Bible isn’t just a collection of fables or human ideas about God (2 Peter 1:16). The Jesus described by eye witnesses and foreshadowed by the Old Testament, offers the only life-giving water that exists. He provides the only true cleansing for sinful humanity and offers the only truly good news. And Jesus Christ is the ‘morning star’ who will return to earth to rule in his full glory.

But until that day, we have the Bible as a light and the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture for us (2 Peter 1:19). We have God-fearing teachers and pastors to faithfully teach us his Word, leading us to the Living Water that satisfies our deep soul thirst. If we want to be discerning instead of gullible, we need to refresh our memories and become firmly established in the truth  (2 Peter 1:12-15). We cannot just run from mirage to mirage. We must be like those noble-minded Bereans, who “received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, to see whether the things were being taught were actually true” (Acts 17:11).

This song by Shane and Shane is officially my best song ever! It reminds us that the Living Waters are found in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Why a Christian can’t just ‘let go and let God’

Series: 1 and 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

“I’ll never change the patterns of the past.”

“I’ll never be free of my addiction.”

“People must learn to accept me as I am.”

“I’m just going to let go and let God.”

Do we have the power to change destructive habits and thought patterns?

I’ve often heard Christians speak with defeat and resignation about stubborn sins, desires and habits that are causing misery in their lives and harming their loved ones. They argue that the brokenness of our fallen world means that they can’t change their basic impulses and will never be free to flourish in the Christian life, growing more joyful, loving, patient, self-controlled, stable and kind as the years roll on.

I’ve seen other Christians just “let go and let God”, waiting for a spiritual breakthrough. The implication is that because we can do nothing without God, we must simply wait for him to do the work of transformation in our lives. “Be still and know that I am God” is a verse often misquoted in support of surrender.

But look with me at what Peter says about the power to change and grow in his second letter to Christians living in AD67, amidst unimaginable obstacles and atrocities:

“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours. 2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:1-4).

Divine power.

There are many superlatives in this passage! The Apostle Peter is convinced that if we’ve been born again, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. Christ’s divine power and his great promises provide us with everything we need to live a godly Christian life! God allows us to ‘participate in the divine nature’ in order to keep us from sin and help us live for him. Grace and peace are ours in abundance, despite our circumstances!

These privileges and promises of our precious faith are not some pipe dream for a select few special Christians. They were purchased for every child of God by the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:193:18). CH Spurgeon reminds us how staggering this promise of divine power is for every Christian, without exception:

“These things come to us through His divine power! What stupendous issues are grasped in that term, divine power! It was this which digged the deep foundations of the earth and sea! Divine power! It is this which guides the marches of the stars of heaven! Divine power! It is this which holds up the pillars of the universe…”

In fact, the same divine power that God used to raise Christ from the dead is available to every believer to live the Christian life. In Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, it is on the basis of the “power of the resurrection” that the apostle declares “I can do everything through him who gives me strength! (Phil 3:104:13) There’s nothing defeatist or resigned about Paul’s conclusion.

Jesus has risen! Do we fathom what this means for the Christian life? It’s the basis for our ‘new birth’ and ‘living hope’ (1 Peter 1:3), our brand new identity and new destiny (1 Peter 2:9-10). We are no longer who we once were!

Divine paradox.

But as Christ’s royal priesthood and holy people, we cannot live the Christian life in neutral gear, waiting for God’s divine power to propel us forward via a lightning bolt or weekly emotional fix! No, Peter commands us to “make every effort to add to our faith….to make our calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:5-710). We bear the responsibility to strive, run, add and wrestle for our faith. Surrender is not an option!

Yes, it is God who works in us by his grace to will and act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13), but our self discipline is needed to persevere (Phil 2:12Eph 2:10). We do have to run the race that God has set before us (Heb 12:1-2). We do have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). We do have to use the means of grace God has provided—his Word, prayer and his people (Phil 4:6-72 Tim 3:14-17Heb 10:25Heb 3:13). We do have to take up the armour of God and stand firm in the evil day! (Eph 6:13). On auto pilot, we will surely drift away (Heb 2:1).

This a paradox we must embrace if we are to live godly, useful lives.

Knowing and growing.

Knowing God is key to living a godly life (2 Peter 1:2-3). Peter repeats the word ‘knowledge’ three times in this passage, because growing comes through knowing. But this is not just head knowledge or information. It is knowing God personally and growing in relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ. It’s nothing like ‘knowing’ someone on social media.

Lydia Brownback describes this deeply intimate knowledge of God as “a personal, committed relationship in which our deepest satisfaction is found in God’s presence—talking to him in prayer, worshipping him with other believers, and studying all he says to us in his word. This is the knowledge Peter wants for his readers.” (Lydia Brownback, Living Hope in a Hard World).

We are powerless to change if we ‘look within’ or ‘follow our heart’, because our hearts have no power to transform us (Jer 17:9). But, by knowing God and growing in our relationship with the Lord Jesus, we are empowered with everything we need to live an effective and productive life, even as we face many obstacles and adversities (2 Peter 1:84).

No matter where we are in life, we need to persistently know and grow in Christ. Then we will be able to look beyond our troubles and recognize his victories of grace in our lives, and be thankful. We will love Jesus more and more in response to his goodness and grace to us.

Make every effort.

Precisely because we’ve been forgiven from past sins, and because God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, Peter goes on to describe the active process by which believers change and grow. He gives us the regimen for our faith to flourish, and it involves concerted effort and determination on our part. We are not passive passengers:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:5-10).

Reading through Peter’s letters, it’s clear that God’s moral yardstick hasn’t changed. What God hated in the Old Testament, he still hates. What God expected of his people before, he still expects of us today (1 Peter 2:91:16-174: 2-3). Our sin is still a chronic condition that will attack our faith until the day we die.

But our sin has also been defeated and our chains have been released! “Through Christ’s death, those who turn to him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin” (1 Peter 2:24-25). To ensure that we don’t fall from our secure position, Peter concludes, “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God” (2 Peter 3:14-18). According to Peter, laziness is just blindness and ‘letting go and letting God’ is not an option. Nobody can live the Christian life for us—we must ‘make every effort’. Peter says it three times to make sure we’re clear about our personal responsibility.

Fruitful faith.

So, you see, faith is never just believing a set of doctrines, though it is that. It’s a living faith, which either grows and flourishes, or withers and dies. Faith needs to be exercised daily in godly actions and character, in the practice of moral discipline.

After all, didn’t Jesus say that the seed that falls on good soil always produces good fruit (Mark 4:8)? And his brother James wrote, “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead…I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:1718). Dick Lucas expressed this connection well:

“The man or woman who makes an effort is a man or woman of faith.”

Although these virtues are fruit of the Holy Spirit, they don’t come to us automatically. They are built brick by brick through our effort and willing co-operation. They are not optional, but necessary– like eating well, brushing our teeth and making our bed is necessary for a productive life. They are not stagnant virtues, but more like budding, growing, ripening fruit. We never master one and then move onto the next, but work on all of them at the same time. Our work has always mattered to God (1 Cor 3:13-15Gen 1:262:15). Let us be good bricklayers!

If you do these things…

In the months leading up to his death, Peter implored suffering Christians to “make every effort” to build on their faith foundation: To know God more and more (knowledge); to act with virtue and excellence (goodness); to govern themselves personally (self control); to nurture a steadfast character (perseverance); to act with love (mutual affection) and to imitate God’s holy character (godliness) (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Jesus, too, told believers to keep seeking persistently the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. To keep on asking…keep on seeking…keep on knocking…For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks and keeps on knocking, the door shall be opened (Luke 11:9-10).

Let’s be encouraged by Peter’s assurance: “for if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”. (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Prayer

Father, thank you for your limitless grace and the Holy Spirit. Although we’ll never be perfect, you’ve given us your divine power to grow in goodness every day. Thank you for the small victories of grace we see in ourselves and those we are praying for: the calmer response to stress and illness; the ability to overlook a wrong; kindness to a person who needs our help. We treasure you as the One who gives us victory day by day. When we’re overwhelmed with troubles and our sinful impulses, help us to know that you’re working in us, giving us your strength to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Today we trust in your great and precious promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.

Listen to this song by King & Country, which reminds us that the Christian life is anything but passive.

Shepherding God’s people

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Last week we looked at the amazing sunrise fish braai, when the risen Christ restored Peter, commissioning him to shepherd his people (see Before the Rooster CrowsJohn 21:15-19). Thrice Jesus asked Simon, “Do you love me?” And thrice Jesus commissioned him as shepherd: “Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep… Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). This encounter with Jesus was to become a defining moment in the Apostle’s life.

That’s why, thirty years later, when Peter gave detailed instructions for church leaders, his life had been radically hammered out by Jesus’s words to him. Simon the fisherman had become Peter the shepherd, willing to die for Christ’s name. Against this backdrop, he wrote to the first century church leaders:

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

For Peter, power dynamics and self promotion have no place in church leadership. Instead, Church elders are to lead God’s people the way shepherds lead their sheep. Shepherding is a divine trust, an urgent and important business for which leaders will give account to the Lord Jesus himself. They will be rewarded and judged based on how they fed, tended and protected God’s people. Christ identified himself as God’s long-awaited Shepherd, and hence, he has the right to set the criteria for Christian leadership (John 10:11-16Ezek 34:10-24).

If we have been entrusted with leadership over people, whether it be over a large Church, a small Bible study or a family, it is good to know what faithful Christian shepherding looks like.

Christian shepherds are humble people.

There is humility in how Peter identifies as a ‘fellow elder,’ ‘a witness of Christ’s suffering’, and a ‘partaker in the glory to be revealed’. Notice that Peter doesn’t give himself a grand title like ‘Bishop of Rome.’ He reserves the title of ‘Chief Shepherd’ for Christ alone.

Rather, he identifies himself as a fellow worker, serving alongside other elders in shepherding God’s people. Every spiritual leader should grasp that Jesus is gathering his people from every nation and generation, “so there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). This should manifest in an attitude of collegiality rather than competition towards fellow leaders and other ministries.

Remember too, that when Peter wrote his letter in about 62AD, Rome ruled the world with an iron fist and status meant everything. Yet, the Christian church was to be radically different from the power-obsessed culture in which it operated. Jesus had impressed upon Peter that in God’s kingdom, authority is based on service, not on power (Mark 10:42-45). That’s why true shepherds are always humble people.

Three contrasts.

Then Peter gives a rubric of contrasting character traits for shepherding:

Not under compulsion….but out of willingness.

Not for personal gain…but out of eagerness.

Not domineering…but by example.

These contrasts harken back to the terrible spiritual leaders in Ezekiel’s day (the ‘shepherds of Israel’) who fed only themselves, not the people. They were negligent in their spiritual duties.  They ruled God’s people with harshness, scattering and leaving them as prey to wild beasts. These bad shepherds were at best neglectful, passive and weak. At worst, they were predatory and domineering.

Peter has a lot to say about false shepherds and ‘waterless springs’, which we will explore in the coming weeks. But for now, he instructs his fellow elders to be godly shepherds who lead from the front and serve their flock.

Here are two practical needs of the flock that every shepherd must meet:

  1. Feed the sheep!

First and foremost, sheep need to be fed! Emotional gimmicks and talking points will not nourish your flock. Give your people Bible-based expository teaching as their staple diet, because people crave plain biblical truth. If your sheep are to flourish in a hard world, they need shepherds who nourish them with rich pasture and clear water, not snacks of Scripture here and there to support the leader’s own opinions (Ezekiel 34:18).

This has become clear in recent years, especially since Covid has turned the world upside down. Many in the flock are feeling let down, because their leaders are timid of the truth. Many leaders water down the Bible to attract people to their ministries. They revise it to stay relevant, or apologize for it to make Christianity more mainstream.

Many leaders are afraid to teach with the raw Bible for fear that their congregation will lose interest. They’ve lost confidence in the word of God to change hearts, minds and lives. But Peter reminds us in the previous chapter: If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11). There’s no better way to do this than to stick closely to Scripture.

Shepherds, please do not give up on the Bible! You and the sheep entrusted to you are transformed only one way: by the renewal of our minds. And we transform the world around us when we speak the plain biblical truth and do not compromise (Rom 12:2). So, whether you’re a parent, a Bible teacher or children’s worker, remember that the Bible is God’s word that is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, useful for everything in life (Heb 4:122 Tim 3:15-16). It doesn’t need to be helped along or adapted, because it is the “living and abiding word of God that remains forever” (1 Peter 1:23). “And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25). It is the only word that can save and sanctify people.

The Bible is as relevant today as in Peter’s day, because it’s simply the truth. But if men, women and children are not properly fed with God’s word, they will soon become malnourished and easy prey for Satan’s lies. Shepherds, train your sheep and lambs to be like newborn babies who crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. That’s the only way they will grow up in their faith and learn how to live healthy, holy lives in this generation (1 Peter 2:2).

Truth is like cool water in a hot desert, and recent studies are showing that Bible-centred churches are thriving, whereas liberal churches are dying. A leading study concluded that “while 69 percent of pastors at declining churches believe Christian beliefs need to change over time to stay relevant, not one pastor at a growing church says the same.”

  1. Watch over your sheep!

Shepherds, have courage to answer the big questions of our day, so that your flock will not be confused or deceived by the many false teachers who are muddying the waters of Scripture with their feet (Ezek 34:18). There are many hot-button controversial topics that you know will draw fire. You will never be able to keep everyone happy. But people will respect your courage to address a subject from a straightforward biblical perspective, even if they disagree with you. Controversy is unavoidable when you deal with truth, as it was with Jesus’s perfect teaching. The crowds who heard Jesus were always divided (John 7:43Acts 14:4). When Paul preached, he too caused revivals or riots. It’s what the truth does.

Jesus tackled the hard questions of his day too:

“What do you say about fasting?” (Matt 9:14)

“Should we work on the Sabbath?” (Matt 12:10)

“How often should I forgive someone?” (Matt 18:21)

“Is divorce allowed?” (Matt 19:3)

“What is needed for eternal life?” (Matt 19:16)

“What will signal the end of the world?” (Matt 24:3)

“Should we pay taxes?” (Matt 22:17)

Although it’s a messy, risky business, shepherding is a trust from God– a noble and vital commission. If you are a shepherd in any sphere, serve your flock faithfully and live as their example. You can’t shepherd from afar. Engage biblically with their real life issues and lead them to pure water. Feed the sheep, bind up the injured, seek the lost, bring back the strays, strengthen the weak, heal the sick and protect your sheep from predators (Ezek 34:2-9).  Anything else?! Yes, remember,

“You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” (Ex 34:31)

This song by Keith and Kristyn Getty is a wonderful reminder that Jesus is our tender Shepherd. Leaders cannot hope to shepherd others unless we ourselves are being shepherded daily by Christ.

Before the rooster crows

Haven’t you noticed that a person’s greatest strength is often their greatest weakness? No one illustrates this better than the brave and confident apostle Peter. His Achilles heel was fear of man.

Peter’s fall.

On the night of Jesus’s arrest, the eager, impetuous, quick, ready, brave disciple thrice denied having anything to do with Christ. Simon Peter was over-confident in his own ability to remain steadfast under temptation. After all, he was the favoured disciple that had been praised for his bold declaration that Christ was the Son of God: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).

But even after Jesus’s repeated warnings, Simon Peter proved to be weak and cowardly in the face of pressure. In his self-confidence, he succumbed to fear of man. His betrayal of Jesus was brutal.

At first, his denial to the servant girl was evasive: “I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Matt 26:70). Later, he cursed and swore to convince them that he was not a disciple of Jesus: “I don’t even know the man!” (Matt 26:72Mark 14:71John 18:26-27).

‘The man’ he hung out to dry was his friend, the same Lord and Master that Peter had eagerly confessed as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Luke 22:54-62). Imagine the hurt and pain of Jesus, who, at that moment, was being beaten and mocked within hearing distance of his disciple and friend. Peter, one of the three most favoured disciples, fell spectacularly just two or three hours after his bold declarations of loyalty:

“I will never disown you!”

“Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matt 26:31-35).

Most of us would prefer to gloss over Peter’s denials and focus on his restoration in John 21, when the risen Christ re-instated Peter as shepherd of his flock, to feed and care for his sheep and lambs. After all, didn’t Peter repent and become the fearless leader of the church in Rome, a bold evangelist, the author of two New Testament letters, and a brave martyr of the faith in 64AD? Isn’t that the bottom line of Peter’s legacy and the focus of his funeral eulogy? Isn’t that the inspirational story we enjoy so much?

But the New Testament writers don’t allow us to gloss over his fall that quickly! Peter’s detailed denials are recorded in all four of the gospels, because there are warnings embedded in them for every Christian.

The flesh is weak.

Firstly, the gospel writers made sure that future readers would be under no illusions about Christianity’s historical heroes. Even the best men and women are frail, weak and fallible, in desperate need of grace and redemption. Actually, the Bible is littered with failed and fallen saints, as if to make the point that it’s foolish to put any human being on a pedestal. Even Peter fell to temptation on the very night that Jesus forewarned him on the Mount of Olives (Matt 26:30). The only real human hero is Jesus.

In Gethsemane, Jesus again warned the sleepy Peter: “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:40-41). Peter’s fall into fear and sin was aggravated by the fact that Jesus had forewarned him of his weakness.

We need to remember Jesus’s warnings for ourselves: Watch and pray. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Fear of man.

Secondly, fear of man was the reason why Peter denied Jesus.

The first time he was asked about his relationship with Jesus, Peter tried to dodge the servant’s question and avoid creating a scene (Matt 26:70). Then his denial progressed to cowardly betrayal. That’s how sin progresses when we fear man more than God.

And fear of man is the reason why so many of us disown Jesus and his ways when the pressure is on. We are tempted to be silent or evasive for fear of what friends will say behind our backs if we admit that we believe in Jesus and his Word. We are scared of being the butt of a joke; or being scoffed at; or cancelled on social media, because we dare to lift our head above the ‘offence’ parapet by saying something unpopular and counter-cultural. We are afraid of what people can say or do to us.

Years later, Peter committed exactly the same sin in Galatia when, for fear of the Judaizers, he denied the power of the gospel to demolish the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2:12-14). It was fear of man all over again. Fear of man is every Christian’s Achilles heel. It is what makes us weak in our time of testing.

The blindness of self-confidence.

Thirdly, Peter’s confidence in himself blinded him to the dangerous threat of Satan. Luke describes how at the Last Supper, Jesus forewarned Peter of his dangerous adversary: “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith would not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

One cannot help thinking of Satan’s part in Judas’s temptation (John 13:27).

If Peter had understood how weak he truly was, he would have relied on God, not himself. He would have watched and prayed in the Garden, as Jesus had asked him to. But because he was self-confident, Satan caught him off guard.

Just imagine how painful it must have been for Peter to hear the rooster crow, and to see the bloodied face of his Lord turning and looking straight at him (Luke 22:3460-62). He was instantly convicted of his sin and the terrible pain he had caused Jesus. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 

“Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Before the rooster crows.

Peter’s painful season of sifting warns us to have no grand delusions about ourselves and our strength to resist temptation. As a much older, humbler man, the Apostle warned scattered Christians in the first century that there is a real Satan who is still our adversary. He likened the devil to a roaring lion that seeks to devour God’s people. For this reason, Peter still urges us today to stay alert and sober minded, ready to resist Satan, standing steadfast in the faith and committed to prayer (1 Peter 5:8-91 Peter 1:131 Peter 4:7). Before the rooster crows, we must put our confidence in God alone, for “let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

“It is the Lord!”

But, by God’s grace, Satan did not have the final say in Peter’s life. My favourite scene in the whole Bible is the breakfast on the beach after Christ’s resurrection (John 21:7-13). His disciples had gone back to fishing and caught nothing all night. Then the miraculous catch of fish! And then John and Simon Peter recognized their Lord standing on the shore!

“It is the Lord!” exclaimed John.

“As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread” (John 21:7-13).

Spontaneous, eager, impulsive Peter doesn’t think twice about jumping in the Sea of Tiberius in his underwear! His exuberance is palpable. In this beach scene, Jesus completely removed the shame of Peter’s denial. Three times Peter had disowned Jesus. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and commissioned him to be the shepherd of God’s people:

“Feed my lambs…Take care of my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17).

Peter’s repentance was the beginning of his transformation. His sifting by Satan did not destroy him, but became a defining moment in his life. It purified his faith, exposed his fear of man and humbled his heart. His identity changed from impetuous Simon, to Peter the ‘rock’. His career changed from fisherman to fearless evangelist and protective shepherd. The elderly man who authored 1 and 2 Peter was indeed a courageous shepherd of Christ’s church amidst Nero’s terrible reign of terror against Christians.

Jesus’s first words to Simon Peter were “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17). His last words to him were “You must follow me” (John 21:22). Even though Peter stumbled, he turned back to Christ and was restored, whereas Judas kept walking on the path to destruction.

Peter’s trajectory gives every weak and fearful Christian hope that we are never beyond redemption. Although we may sin, backslide and even fall dramatically, we can still choose to turn back and follow Christ. Every day of our lives, the Holy Spirit is there to help us choose Peter’s trajectory of repentance, forgiveness and eternal life, rather than Judas’s trajectory of hypocrisy, deceit and death. This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. Which trajectory are you on?

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Easter devotions: The difference between Peter and Judas.

By Rosie Moore.

Both Judas and Peter were handpicked as disciples by Jesus. Both watched Jesus heal the sick, deliver demoniacs, feed the crowds and raise the dead. Both listened to his teachings on God’s Kingdom and heard him foretell his impending death. Both were part of Jesus’s trusted circle who proclaimed the gospel and did miracles in his name (Mark 6:12-13). Both men struggled with sin and temptation. Both misunderstood Christ’s mission. Both betrayed Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Yet, there were crucial differences between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot which led them along different trajectories, to vastly different outcomes.

Join us for the next two weeks to look at why the lives of Peter and Judas Iscariot ended so differently, and what lessons we can learn from them. Thereafter, we’ll resume our devotions in Peter’s letters.

Thirty pieces of silver

Many have speculated on what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. Was it greed? Was it resentment that Jesus was not the political leader he had hoped for? Was Judas a pawn of Satan or God, with no choice in the matter (Luke 22:3)? Did he try to force Jesus’ hand to rebel against Rome and set up a new political government?

What we do know is that the gospel writers highlight Judas’s greed and dishonesty. Greed was Judas Iscariot’s besetting sin. He handed Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for just 30 pieces of silver, the average price to buy a slave in the first century.

Essentially, Judas sold the Son of God in exchange for four month’s salary. Loyalty, friendship, integrity, justice, truth, innocence—None of this mattered to Judas as much as his financial interests. He used the mission of Christ for personal advancement, and he was shrewd and deliberate in his plotting:

“He (Judas) went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.”
(Luke 22:4-6)

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
(Matthew 26:14-16).

Judas, who was trusted to take care of the moneybag and give money to the poor (John 13:29-30), was a pretender right up to the moment when he came up to Jesus and kissed him (Matt 26:48-50). He wore the mask of a friend, but treated Jesus as an enemy.

Twin embryos of betrayal.

But Judas’s betrayal didn’t come out of nowhere. It was conceived from the twin embryos of greed and hypocrisy that he’d incubated in his heart for some time. The apostle John, who knew Judas as a brother, gives us insight into this progression of sin in chapter 12 and 13:

It was at a dinner in Lazarus’s home in Bethany shortly before Jesus’s arrest. Mary, motivated by pure devotion, anointed Jesus with an entire bottle of expensive nard. When Mary poured the perfume lavishly over Christ’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair, Judas was highly offended, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He was indignant at the waste of money (John 12:5).

Perhaps he valued money more than Jesus. Perhaps he was jealous of Mary. Perhaps he failed to see his own theft and lies as sin, because he was enslaved to the evil desire of greed and self promotion (James 1:142 Peter 2:19).

Judas’s pretense to care for the poor was sheer hypocrisy, as John exposes his true motives, “He did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” C.H Spurgeon makes an interesting comment about Judas’s hypocrisy:

“The kisses of an enemy are deceitful…Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence of it. Let us beware of sleek-faced hypocrisy, which is assistant to heresy and infidelity.”

Judas’s progression into sin is a shocking warning for each of us. It is a remarkable real life illustration of James’s metaphor describing how sin grows from conception to a stillborn baby:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).

Judas’s despair and death is horrible to imagine (Acts 1:18Matt 27:5). That’s why James warns us to take our heart desires seriously and not to deceive ourselves (James 1:16). They are potentially lethal.

“Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).

Judas’s greed and love of ill-gotten gain was fertile ground for Satan’s seeds of betrayal. The Bible is clear that the devil prompted Judas’s betrayal (John 13:227), which was all part of God’s sovereign plan (Ps 41:9Matt 20:1826:20-25Acts 1:1620).

However, the Bible is equally clear that Judas was not just a pawn of Satan or God. None of us can blame others or make excuses for our evil thoughts and wrong actions, because they are ours alone (James 1:13-14). Judas’s unchecked desires left him like putty in the devil’s hands.

Jesus himself confronted Judas with his ‘sleek-faced hypocrisy’ on the night of his arrest:

“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). There’s almost a pleading in Jesus’s question, and no doubt that Judas was an active agent in his betrayal. But by the time Judas realized he didn’t like the way things were turning out, it was too late. The wheels of God’s sovereign plan had begun to turn (John 13:210-11).

“Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Judas’s story should leave us feeling sad and troubled, as Jesus was (John 13:21). I can hardly imagine a sadder meal than the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:22Matt 26:21).

An inside job always leaves us feeling perplexed. How could a member of this loyal band of brothers betray Jesus? But in Matthew’s gospel, we see that Judas’s response is different to the response of Peter and the other disciples:

Each of Jesus’s disciples was deeply worried that he might be the traitor. Their consciences were tender and concerned. Matthew recalls that night: “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22). But there is a stark contrast in the tone of Judas’s question: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” he asks, formally (Matt 26:25).

The other disciples addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but for Judas, he was just “Rabbi”. Of course, Rabbi is a Jewish title of honour that conveys respect for a wise teacher, but it belied a deeper issue in Judas’s heart. Judas acknowledged Jesus as a man, but never as his Lord, the Son of God, with the right to rule his thoughts, desires and actions. He’d never accepted responsibility for his sins, confessed them and bowed the knee to Christ as his Saviour, as Peter had (Luke 5:8). Judas had no personal relationship with Jesus.

A tragic trajectory

Judas was a real man who, in real space, time and history, betrayed Jesus for thirty sheckels of silver. It’s a shocking and tragic story. But Judas is also a picture of anyone who ultimately rejects Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Although he was closely associated with Jesus and looked just like the other disciples, he failed to follow Christ as Lord of his life. Tragically, he committed suicide without faith and without hope.

But, no matter how great Judas’s sin was, betrayal is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is greed, theft, lying or suicide. No sin is an obstacle to Christ’s forgiveness. As Thomas Brookes explained many centuries ago:

“The least sin should humble the soul, but certainly the greatest sin should never discourage the soul, much less should it work the soul to despair. Despairing Judas perished, whereas the murderers of Christ, believing on him, were saved.”

But Judas had worn the mask of hypocrisy too long. When he realized what he had done and wanted to recant and return the money, he couldn’t humble himself to repent or even say Jesus’s name. He could only admit to the chief priests that he had betrayed “innocent blood” (Matt 27:3-10).

But Jesus’s verdict on Judas is even more tragic than his suicide: “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). Judas is called “doomed to destruction,” because he was never saved (John 17:12).

Our own trajectory

Judas’s story is not some remote cautionary tale, for we are all by nature traitors and rebels, ‘doomed to destruction’ unless we’re made right with God through Jesus. No matter what our church association or Christian pedigree, we’re either true followers of Christ or pretenders. It’s not enough to feel guilty and remorseful for sin and the havoc it causes in our lives. Even Judas did that. We need to surrender, turn back to Jesus, ask forgiveness and put our trust in him. And then we need to act on the truth that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6John 8:34).

Judas shows us that Christ is more than a wise teacher who teaches us to love our neighbour and live good lives. He is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.

And, as Christians, we’re also tempted to sell out Jesus’s unpopular teachings; to use the church and the gospel for our personal advancement; to try to force Jesus’s hand to suit our own agenda. Like Judas, we’re tempted to lie, steal, covet, envy and worship money and the things it buys.

Judas’s life is a big red flag to those ‘small’ invisible sins of the heart, like greed, resentment, pride and hypocrisy, which grow into dangerous habits and always end in terrible tragedy—now and/or in eternity. “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them” (1 Tim 5:24).

But, thanks to the gospel, we do not need to follow Judas’s tragic trajectory. We can choose to follow Christ, for “Stronger than darkness, New every morn, Our sins they are many, But his mercy is more”  (Keith and Kirstyn Getty).

This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.

Join us on Easter Friday, as we contrast Peter’s trajectory. The devotion is titled, “It is the Lord!”

Prayer

Lord, Judas’s shocking story reminds us that the human heart is deceitful above all things. Show us our invisible sins before they take root. Above all, do not let us become pretenders. Rule over every aspect of our lives and help us to be like Mary, who valued you more than anything else. Do not let us sell out the truth of your word for the sake of popularity, personal promotion or security. And though our sins are many and great, help us to remember that your mercy is more.  Amen.

Hospitality as a way of life

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, By Rosie Moore.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.”  Peter 4:9-11.

Practise hospitality… without grumbling!

Generous, cheerful hospitality. This is a vital way that God works through his church family to bring refreshment and love to others. But there is a deeper significance to hospitality than providing food, drink and a place to sleep. Hospitality is one of the ways that we welcome Christ into our everyday lives and homes. And it is the way that we mirror his gospel invitation to others.

What’s more, like all God’s commands, hospitality enables us to live well in God’s world. According to a seventy-five year old Harvard study of well-being, the happiest and healthiest people prioritize relationships with family, friends and community (Click here). God’s ways always work.

Hospitality reflects God’s heart

But hospitality has always been more about God than us. Among God’s Old Testament people, welcoming a stranger was a cultural expectation, as was hospitality among friends (Ruth 2:91 Sam 25:6Job 31:31-32). And likewise, in the New testament, hospitality is a pillar of Christian living: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13Heb 13:2).

Amazingly, Rahab the prostitute demonstrated true faith in Yahweh by welcoming the spies into her home in Jericho (Heb 11:31). And the Bible remembers the Shunammite woman and the widow of Zarephath, (both Gentiles), for their willingness to show hospitality to the prophets Elisha and Elijah (2 Kings 4:9-101 Kings 17:9).

Likewise, hospitality is listed as an attribute of a godly leader in the Church (Titus 1:81 Tim 3:2). And specific mentions are made of first century lay Christians like Aquila and Priscilla who, through their willingness to show hospitality, opened the doorway of the gospel to many people in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus (Rom 16:3-41 Cor 16:192 Tim 4:19). We read about this hospitable couple in Acts 18.

Hospitality and the gospel invitation

But the Greek word for hospitality in the Bible (philoxenia) has a much wider definition than just having our friends around for a meal. It means “love of the stranger”. It has always been a fruitful vehicle for gospel ministry. As Stacy Reaoch explains,

“We want to serve others well so they will see Jesus and desire to follow him, bearing kingdom fruit. We want them to be drawn to the love of the church, not because of our elegant china, but because of the kindness shown them”.

Hospitality is important to Christianity, because it mirrors God’s gospel invitation. And so, when Jesus told his parable of the Great Banquet, he was inviting sinners into God’s spiritual family. But then he concluded his parable by instructing his followers to offer hospitality to those who couldn’t repay them, just as God has done with us (Luke 14:13-14). And so, hospitality is an everyday, tangible way to mirror God’s gracious offer in salvation. That’s why it’s just a way of life for a Christian.

Looking from this gospel viewpoint, it would seem that when we show hospitality to someone, we welcome and serve Christ himself (Matt 25:34-3540.)

A joy… or a duty?

Yet, despite knowing all these things, I’ve often found myself viewing hospitality as just another guilt-inducing chore, a heavy burden to bear. Why are we prone to be more like Martha, “troubled by many things” (Luke 10:41), rather than like Lydia, who begged to host Paul in her home in Thyatira (Acts 16:15)? It’s easy to see hospitality as a duty rather than a joy:

Especially if you’ve got young children and can barely make it to the 5pm finish line;

Especially when your living space is tiny (and your bank balance is even tinier);

Especially if you’re an introvert and find people draining;

Especially if you’re in the habit of burning supper!

But Peter must have anticipated this response, since he adds the condition– ‘without grumbling!’ Perhaps we’ve been brainwashed by too many episodes of ‘Come Dine with Me’ or ‘Downton Abbey!” We’ve bought into the idea that hospitality is about cooking skills, an impressive menu, a decorated home and table settings.

Hospitality is not entertaining

But Jen Wilkin stresses that hospitality is nothing like entertaining, for

“Entertaining seeks to impress, Hospitality seeks to bless.’

Unpretentious hospitality is accessible to every Christian, married or unmarried… if our focus is directed away from ourselves and towards Christ and the person he has led us to serve.

The goal of Christian hospitality is not what we offer, but the heart behind it. There are many ways to show hospitality, including inviting a friend for coffee; hosting a Bible study; spontaneously inviting someone for lunch after Church; having children over for a play date; cooking and childminding for a sick friend; offering a meal or basket of eggs as a gift; baking a loaf of fresh bread. Hospitality is simply using whatever God has given us to refresh others.

The heartbeat of hospitality is to echo God’s welcoming heart, regardless of how much money we have or what our living arrangements are. I’m sure Peter’s original readers– scattered Christians in the first century—did not have fancy homes or special food. In fact, many of them were homeless, but I imagine that Aquila and Priscilla’s tents came in handy as a shelter from the cold.

To make hospitality a sustainable way of life, we must avoid the fuss-trap! Here are some principles to help us:

  1. Hospitality starts at home.

During Covid, the Lord has shown us that hospitality begins in our own household: Make a regular dinner-time, arrange a special night of the week to read Scripture and speak words of blessing over your household. Invite one or two guests at a time to share a meal, especially the vulnerable and lonely. Ask them to share what the Lord is doing in their lives. Pray that guests will find Christ in your heart and home.

  1. Focus on people, not preparation!

You’re much more likely to practice hospitality if you keep things simple from the word go! Collect simple recipes for one-pot meals and cook double quantities so that there’s always a spare meal in the freezer for unexpected guests. Use up whatever you have in the house to avoid a special trip to the shops. Remember that the goal of hospitality is to make your guest/s feel loved and cared for, rather than to impress them with a fancy menu and spotless home. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

  1. Hospitality is a team effort

Hospitality is often misrepresented as a one-sided gesture—the host must wait hand-and-foot on the guest, who sits on the sofa! But the Bible speaks of mutual sharing and reciprocal serving among his people. In fact, the phrase “each other” occurs 100 times in the New Testament. So, if your guest offers to contribute something or to help with the meal, accept their offer gladly. Great conversations happen over the chopping board and braai! And if you have children, train them to help. Make your meal a team effort, so you won’t say, “Once, but never again!” Likewise, if you are the guest, think of how you can refresh your host.

  1. Be you!

Remember that there’s no rubric for hospitality!

My mom’s love language is food and her meals are pure heaven! Even at 80, when she invites people over, her table groans with a feast that the best chefs would envy.  She loves poring over recipes, planning menus, and her greatest joy is watching her grandchildren relish five roast potatoes for Sunday lunch! In contrast, my sister and I are in the habit of serving ‘recycléés’ to our guests– a fancy French term for recycled leftovers! Our greatest joy is seeing an empty fridge by the end of the week!

But I remember being a child and living for six years in a tiny caravan. Even with four children in that tiny caravan, far from the nearest town, I watched my parents offer generous hospitality to friends and strangers alike. We had a steady stream of guests staying with us, eating and laughing around our wobbly green table! If I were to sum up what I saw in our home, it would be this:

People mattered, not perfection. My parents were genuinely interested in other people, and so they created a home where the elderly were cherished, young people were welcomed and children were loved. Relationships were nurtured and nourished as a way of life.

In obeying Peter’s instruction to practise hospitality, we do not have to meet some unattainable standard. We don’t have to pretend that our homes and families are perfect. We just need to be ourselves. Peter reminds us that God has gifted us differently to serve one another in the church family, “as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And God’s name is glorified when we open our hearts and our homes to those around us, whether that’s over a three course meal, Uber Eats or a can of baked beans on toast.

Loving each other in times of testing

(Painting by Aaron Spong)

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Knowing God in a personal relationship should naturally lead to a grace-based life. This is how Peter instructs first century believers to go about their everyday lives, as homeless exiles scattered all over the Greco-Roman world:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Peter affirms the ethic we see throughout Scripture—that love is our top priority as God’s special community (Luke 10:27Lev 19:9-18): “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This distinctly Judeo-Christian idea, which is given flesh and bones in 1 Corinthians 13, used to be known as Christian charity. Charity is the natural response of a believer who grasps the mercy and grace of Jesus poured out in their own life. What’s more, God is praised when we use our abilities as he directs, to help others (Matt 5:161 Peter 4:11).

What’s striking about Peter’s instructions is that the first century church’s base was broad—it crossed cultural, social, ethnic, gender and economic lines. Mutual love across these lines wasn’t natural or socially acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Yet, Peter urged this diversely-gifted, mixed bag of Christians to love one another, as ‘good stewards of God’s varied grace.’

Love one another earnestly

If Peter is to be believed, fiery trials are never wasted on a Christian if we continue to use whatever gifts God has given us to love one another earnestly.  Some of these diverse gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-81 Cor 12:8-11 and Eph 4:11, but Peter sorts them into two pigeonholes: Serving and speaking.

I love that word “earnestly”! It means seriously, sincerely, eagerly and from the heart. It’s like a pure stream of love for fellow believers that wells up in response to the gospel which has saved us all. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love each other deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

A few months ago, when a woman joined a Bible study group that I’m part of, her husband was taken aback, “Where did you find all these new friends who love you so much? I’ve never known you to have such caring friends, and you’ve only known them a few months!” Our care for each other is born out of our common bond and precious faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:1). It is a natural, but at the same time a supernatural kind of love that makes instant friends out of total strangers. But it’s also a love that mutually serves.

Peter must have recalled the night when Jesus had illustrated earnest love with a bowl of water and a cloth:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet…A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 1434-35).

Although none of us will live up to the radical love of Jesus, who gave up his life to save his enemies, we know that loving and serving our neighbour is part of our DNA as Christians. It’s what makes us different from the world.

Peter lays out four identifying marks of love that would distinguish them from their culture:

  1. Steadfast service.
  2. Love that covers over a multitude of sins.
  3. Cheerful hospitality.
  4. Christ-like speech.

We’ll explore the first two marks today.

Steadfast service

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ll have discovered that love is easier to talk about than to do over the long haul. It’s hard to keep serving in relationships, when our own selfish hearts rub up against real people with their fears, weaknesses and sins. Virtue signaling is a lot easier than obeying Peter’s instruction to “keep loving each other” in the present continuous tense.

Like a car, relationships require ongoing maintenance, not a once-off visit to the carwash!

Joni Earekson Tada describes this kind of steadfast service as ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Bearing in mind that Joni is now 70 years old and has been a quadriplegic since she was 16, her perspective is pretty amazing:

“Someone once said that the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we balk when patience is required over a long haul. We don’t much like endurance. It’s painful to persevere through a marriage that’s forever struggling. A church that never crest 100 members. Housekeeping routines that never vary from week-to-week. Even caring for an elderly parent or a handicapped child can feel like a long obedience in the same direction.

If only we could open our spiritual eyes to see the fields of grain we’re planting, growing, and reaping along the way. That’s what happens when we endure…

Right now you may be in the middle of a long stretch of the same old routine…. You don’t hear any cheers or applause. The days run together―and so do the weeks. Your commitment to keep putting one foot in front of the other is starting to falter.

Take a moment and look at the fruit. Perseverance. Determination. Fortitude. Patience.

Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

(Joni Eareckson Tada, Holiness in Hidden Places).

But, just in case we think we can serve in our own strength, Peter reminds us to serve “with the strength God provides” (1 Peter 4:11). If we depend on our own abilities, or serve to feel better about ourselves, we’ll be burnt out before we’re around the first bend. Christian charity is fuelled and directed by Christ, and it’s about God’s glory not our own: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Love covers over a multitude of sins

Then, in verse 8, Peter makes the point that it’s not possible to keep loving and serving one another unless we also overlook offenses and extend mercy to each other, for “love covers over a multitude of sins”. Paul describes this charitable love as “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

Charitable love gives people the benefit of the doubt. It extends Christ’s tenderhearted forgiveness (Eph 4:32Col 3:13) even when it’s undeserved. It doesn’t look for hidden faults or motives in what a person says or does, but takes people at face value. Covering over a multitude of sins is only possible when we know how much it cost Jesus to cover over our own sins. How much we need his mercy every day!

Lydia Brownback comments that verse 8 “doesn’t mean that love erases sin or the pain it causes. Peter’s point is that love wants to see the best in others and interprets their circumstances in a favourable light whenever possible. And even when it’s not possible, love takes no pleasure in harping on someone’s sin or discussing it with others.”

The prophet Zechariah adds substance to this charitable attitude: “Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zech 8:16-17). Authentic peace in relationships is never achieved at the expense of truth and charity. Truth and charity go hand in hand.

The receiving end of charity

As Peter wrote these words, I’m sure he remembered how he had been on the receiving end of truth and charity many times in his own life:

There was that breakfast on the beach when the risen Jesus had forgiven him after his three denials (John 2:15-17). Christ hadn’t harped on Peter’s disloyalty, but had restored Peter with grace and truth.

Then there was the time in Galatia, when Peter had acted like a hypocrite for fear of offending the Judaizers (Gal 2:11-12). Peter had effectively enabled division in the church when he favoured one group (Jews) and would no longer eat with the other group (Gentiles). Yet, after Paul’s truthful confrontation and Peter’s repentance, Paul and Peter remained fast friends, because love covered over a multitude of sins.

How do we find the power to show grace to a person who has hurt us deeply, to cover over a multitude of sins? Certainly not by our own strength or willpower, for ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6).

It is only possible through Christ’s Spirit in us. It is only Christ’s love that can move us to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:14), to forgive as he has forgiven us. As sinners saved by grace, our relationships can only be sustained by Christ’s supernatural grace in us.

But the Holy Spirit will never compel or bully us into extending charitable love–Love that covers over a multitude of sins. Gordon Macdonald and Corrie Ten Boom remind us that forgiveness requires our co-operation:

“Forgiveness, I came to see, is about cleaning up the memory by renouncing and flushing vengeful feelings about other people.” (Gordon Macdonald, A Resilient Life: You can move ahead no matter what.)

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

Lord, with all the brokenness and needs around us every day, help us to be led by your Spirit in how and whom we serve. Make us aware of the gifts you have given us, so that we will be good stewards of your varied grace. Give us your heart of mercy, compassion and unfailing love. Give us your strength and grace to love deeply, to forgive easily, to be charitable and to serve each other faithfully and steadfastly. To the glory of your name, Amen.