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Wednesday
May082013

Partaking In The Sufferings Of Christ - I Peter 4:12-14

In today's world, straight talk is increasingly rare - even in the church.  But the Scriptures present to us an unflinchingly honest view of life and the world.  In this text, the apostle seeks to further prepare God's people for what may happen as they profess Christ and seek to follow Him.  But what is unexpected is that Peter's fist concern is about our perspective of the suffering which may occur.  The fact of suffering is assumed:  the text says, "...which is to try you."  But whether we are experiencing actual suffering or persecution or not, the principle remains the same.  To be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ – to surrender yourself to Him – means that you are, by definition, at odds with the world.  There will be conflict of one sort or another.  So, don't think that fiery trials are strange.  Peter's exhortation would indicate that it is natural to wonder why fiery trials are part of the Christian life.  That is Peter's point in trying to comfort you.  When they come, don't think that you are being singled out for unfair treatment or that God has abandoned you.  Rather, recognize that the fiery trials we may experience are to try us.  That is, trials are like the refiners fire.  The dross is burned off while the gold is purified.  So, don't be surprised by trials; rather, rejoice.

Verse 12 told us not to be surprised when trials come, verse 13 tells us what our response should be:  rejoice to the extent that you are a participant in the sufferings of Christ.  The implication is that there is a kind of suffering which is not part of our participation with Christ.  (Peter deals with that in verses 15-19.)  But what does Peter mean when he refers to our participation in Christ's sufferings?  Let's start with what it is not:  it is not an addition to the work of Christ on behalf of His people.  He did it all.  In no sense whatsoever do we add to the redeeming work of the Savior.  The text says "of" his sufferings, not "in" his sufferings. Now, what it is:  in salvation, we are united with Christ in such a way that we bear His name, we follow Him wherever He leads, we are joined to Him by covenant with the signs and seals appropriate to that joining as in the marriage covenant (baptism and the Holy Supper).  He is our head, master, and Lord, and we belong to Him body and soul forever.  Since we are joined to Him, the world responds to us like it did to Him:  some receive us and our message with joy; others with contempt and even persecution.  Therefore, "suffering saints should rejoice in this, that their sufferings are accounted by Christ as his own, who in all their afflictions is afflicted; and that they are honored to suffer for his name's sake, and are hereby made like unto him…" – John Gill

In verse 14, the apostle designs to reinforce us to persevere through suffering.  He gives you two reasons for joy and perseverance.  First, if you suffer for the name of Christ, you are happy, blessed, well-off.  It is an indicative:  a statement fact.  Second, if you suffer for the name of Christ, the spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  The Savior promised that He would never leave us or forsake us and that promise is always fulfilled – even when trials come.  Peter recognizes that the relationship between those in the world and those on pilgrimage through the world is irreconcilable outside of Christ:  there will be conflict.  We ought not to run from that antagonism.  Rather, we embrace it and seek to persevere through the trials that come by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And if the world rages, reviles and rejects, even unto death, in Christ alone we have joy, peace and assurance that we are his.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Wednesday
Apr172013

"Above All Things..." - I Peter 4:6-8

We prioritize every day with even the most mundane activities.  Putting the dishes in the dishwasher before turning the dishwasher on is one example of a mundane task that can work only if your priorities are correct.  The principle holds when dealing with much more important matters as well.  Up to this point, Peter has instructed, exhorted and admonished us to walk in a manner which is worthy of the calling we have in Christ.  But lest we fail to prioritize correctly, he tells us what to place at the top of the list.  In verse 6, Peter tells us that for all of God's people in this time before the end of all things, whether alive or dead, whether suffering the judgment of sinners or taken from this world to their heavenly home, His purposes are being fulfilled in them.  As a result, they ought not be discouraged or distracted.  Nor should we succumb to the temptation to compromise in doctrine or life.  Rather, we ought to "…earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."  (Jude 3)

In verse 7, Peter shifts focus from the time before the end of all things toward the end.  As Peter has focused our attention on the pilgrim in this world, he has not forgotten to remind you that things will not always be as they are; the pilgrim life is just that, a pilgrimage.  This means that the end is always in our view.  Whether the end of life, the end of sinning or the end of everything, an end is always in view.  Therefore, the Christian's priorities are, and ought to be, different than the world's priorities.  The Christian's priorities reflect the fact of the conflict with sin in this world, and also reflect the spiritual nature of the conflict in this world.  (II Cor. 10:3-5)  To this end, Peter exhorts us to a sober (not somber) manner of life and thought.  The sober-minded Christian sees the world correctly because the world is perceived through the lenses of God's revelation, and the sober-minded Christian, rather than lashing out, prays in the confidence that God is sovereign.  So don't panic; don't neglect the needful things, but organize your life and priorities around the absolute and unshakable truth that, while the end is in sight, for the follower of Christ it is not meaningless and purposeless, but the execution of the eternal plan.

Lastly, in verse 8, the inspired apostle lays before you the most important thing:  to have fervent charity.  Throughout his letter, Peter has labored greatly to lay before you a system of doctrine which shows the glories of your life in Christ, but here as he begins to sum it all up, his concern is not to make a minor or inaccessible doctrinal point.  His concern reveals a true weakness; a weakness revealed in the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2:2-4  That is, the purity of the doctrine of that church was not matched by a zealous love and they had forgotten first principles. As fervently as we seek to be true to the doctrine of Scripture we must not neglect to fervently seek and practice the ethics of Scripture.  The charity (undeserved love) which we have experienced in the Savior, ought to be shown to others.  The Savior shed His blood as an atonement for the sins of His people, and thus, provided a covering for us to cover our nakedness.  It was the supreme act of charity.  Likewise, in following Christ who shed His blood for us, we are to "cover" the offenses made against us.  Not that we excuse sin, but as the Savior taught us, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  That is, follow in the footsteps of the Savior.  We know that offences will come and we all need the forgiveness, that is, the charity, of others.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Wednesday
Apr102013

Arm Yourselves! - I Peter 4:1-5

In I Peter 4, the apostle returns to the subject of preparing us for life in this fallen world.  This issue was a great burden on the heart of the apostle and that is reflected in the amount of time and ink he devotes to it.  But even though he returns to this topic, the nature of his instruction to us has changed.  Before, he instructed us to patiently bear up under various persecutions.  His focus now is more on the conflict and how we ought to arm ourselves for it.

The first preparation which the apostle provides is the exhortation to arm yourself with the "mind of Christ".  All through this long discourse the apostle has pointed to Christ and said, do as He did; behave as He behaved; bear up as He bore up under the unjust persecutions He endured.  He has walked the steps you walk in and He has experienced the trials you experience.  Therefore, arm yourself with His way of thinking and perceiving.  That is, he would have you have the same confidence in the justice of the Father and the same wisdom which the Savior had.  (I Cor. 2)  But remember, if you strive in your own strength, you will fail.  If you seek to know by your own wisdom, you will fall.

The second preparation is the exhortation to arm yourself for the fight against sin.  When we are in Christ by faith, this means more than just the forgiveness of sins.  It means that we have a unity with Christ in His death and resurrection.  (Romans 6)  Christ conquered sin and death; in Him, we are conquerors of sin and death – at least in principle.  Since you are in Christ and identify with Him in death, your life ought to reflect that conquest of sin and death.  To reinforce his point, Peter reminds us that the sinful life and lusts we pursued apart from Christ were enough.  We do not need to add to those sins now; they were sufficient.

The third preparation which the apostle provides is the exhortation to anticipate the trials of standing for righteousness.  If you are armed with the mind of Christ and you live it in the world, you are going to have to be ready to stand for uprightness and for the opposition it will generate.  Peter informs you that the world will be surprised and confused by your stand.  This should not surprise us.  He also tells you that the world will speak evil of you.  This also should not surprise us.  The world cries, "live and let live."  Yet, in practice that is not what happens, nor can happen.  Simply living the Christian life is a testimony against the darkness and those in it.  You don't have to try – it just is.  When you are confronted with this, "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also."  (John 15:20)  That is, arm yourself with the mind of Christ.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Wednesday
Apr032013

How To Appraise The Resurrection - Philippians 3:7-11

For those who believe that the Bible means what it says, the truth of the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is a given.  There is no debate on that point.  But this does not mean that the truth and fact of the resurrection merely hangs suspended in the air without application.  The Apostle Paul provides inspired applications in Philippians 3.  The first application is directed toward the attitude regarding what was previously considered valuable.  For Paul, and by extension every Christian, to come to Christ is to renounce all of those things that we thought would commend us to God.  Paul says that he gave away "all things" and he truly did.  He realized that he could bring nothing into the relationship with Christ except his need.  He could bring nothing except the confession that he was a poor miserable sinner and that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior.  The reason he could give away everything was  because he had come to value union with the risen Savior more than the pile of dung that his self-righteousness truly was.  So even though he sacrificed every material benefit, he considered it no loss at all because he has been offered a deal he cannot refuse:  give away nothing in order to gain everything.

The second application is found in what Paul says in verse 9.  When Paul says that he loses everything, he does not mean that he is now left impoverished.  On the contrary, he finds himself "in Christ".  That is, he has been "…blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ…"  (Eph. 1:3)  Paul indicates that he has actually gained greatly by giving away everything he formerly valued because he gained Christ:  His righteousness, His priesthood, His sacrifice, His intercession, His love and watch-care.  He gained what was not, and could not, be his by any other means.  But to gain it, he had to abandon all pretense of self-righteousness and self-worth.  But lest we misunderstand, Paul is not saying that righteousness is not required in order to be acceptable to a holy God.  The issue is what kind of righteousness is acceptable.  And the answer to what kind of righteousness is acceptable is that only the righteousness which is of divine origin is acceptable – it is a righteousness which is acquired by the means of faith. It is not your faith itself, but faith in Christ as your only Lord and Savior which gives you the righteousness which is necessary.

Thirdly, Paul expresses that the relative value of his previous self-righteousness and the blessings of union with Christ are not comparable.  Indeed, he declares that he so greatly desires union with Christ that he would do so "by any means".  He is even willing to "share in the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death."  The reality of resurrection necessarily implies death – for the Savior and for us.  The apostle is not deceiving us.  Resurrection has an antecedent:  that antecedent is death.  The Lord Jesus Christ had to die in order to be raised victorious. If you want to experience the resurrection power of Christ – yes, you too must die.  All your self-will, self-law, spiritual self-sufficiency, self-promotion, and self-salvation must be renounced.  But if you follow the apostle's instruction, you will see that giving up all of that is not a loss at all.  Wouldn't you want to gain what you cannot lose in exchange for what you cannot keep?  When you understand the significance of the offered exchange, death for eternal life, sins for righteousness, filthy rags for clean garments of white, the choice is clear:  you exchange what is nothing for everything.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel

Thursday
Mar282013

Dateline: Jerusalem, c. AD 30 - Mark 15:29-38

In Mark's account of the crucifixion, the crowds surrounding the cross express the world's view of the events of that day.  And as we might expect, those who reject the Savior and hate His message do not perceive the crucifixion correctly nor understand it's significance.  First of all, they misunderstand the doctrine which the Savior preached, they mock His words, and they challenge His power.  Yet, even as the crowd denied Him, they confessed that He did save and heal during His ministry.  So it is with the world today.  The Lordship of Christ and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit are undeniable, so the world devises false tests in order to attempt to refute the truth.  ("Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe."  15:32).

Secondly, the world misunderstands the nature of the suffering of the Savior.  The Lord cried out from the cross in His agony and even then the crowd thought that He was delirious.  At best, the world sees the suffering Savior and sees only a tragic story.  But the Savior was not a helpless victim, He was actively and willingly giving His life as a ransom for many.  The sacrifice was not a tragedy, a mishap, nor a mistake, it was both the greatest sin ever committed by mankind, and it was the payment for sins and blessing for mankind.  They cannot understand this apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thirdly, the true nature of the events of that day are shown in the event on the temple mount.  All through the Law, the people have been separated from the Holy God.  The visible expression of the presence of God in the chosen nation, the tabernacle and the temple, were obscured by rings of barriers.  The closest you could get would be the altar of sacrifice and the ministering priest.  There could be no close communion due to sin and the need for a mediator.  But on that day the veil was torn from top to bottom.  In a moment – in one glorious moment – the veil that kept even the priests away from close communion was split in half.  This indicated the nature of salvation and restoration to fellowship with God.  God is the initiator.  He comes with the gentle message of come – come close and enjoy that restored peace and fellowship.  So draw close to Him acknowledging your sins and faith in the sacrifice provided.  The way is open.

All For Him,

Pastor Schlegel