July 20, 2014

The Temporary and The Eternal - July 20, 2014

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Pain has a way of stretching out time. Perhaps you’ve experienced a night lengthened by pain. A night in which your mind wrestled with some problem, and refused to let your body sink into slumber. Or maybe it was a night lengthened by bodily pain. Perhaps it was the pain of contractions, a sore back, or a persistent fever that kept waking you through the night. And each time you looked you found that only minutes had passed since the last time you glanced at the clock.

Pain has a way of stretching out time and making it feel like nothing is ever going to get better.

Today we continue our study of Peter’s first letter. As we’ve mentioned previously, the apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage Christians who were facing persecution.

Perhaps the Christians Peter wrote to were experiencing the time stretching and perspective shrinking power of pain. In our reading Peter enlarges their perspective to show them the greater picture. Peter wanted them to see that some things are temporary, and others eternal.

1 Peter 1:18b-25 (NASB)

18…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
22Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
25But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you.
Peter never says, “I’m writing this letter because you guys are being persecuted.” We gather that this was the case because Peter mentions persecution so many times.

For example, in chapter 4 Peter writes…

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV).

In other places Peter encourages his fellow Christians not to repay evil with evil, and to refrain from threatening those who were persecuting them. Instead Peter encourages them to rejoice that they have been given the opportunity to suffer for the name of Christ, who saved them.

In our verses for today, Peter directs his fellow Christians to back up and get some perspective. This time of trial is temporary, but the salvation of God is eternal. And by eternal, I don’t just mean un-ending. God’s plan of salvation is eternal in both directions! Before the foundation of the world, God the Father had chosen his Son to be the Savior of sinners.

Peter directs his fellow Christians to think about how far back God was preparing good things for them. All the way back in eternity. And now the Savior had come, and they had heard about how he died in their place, for their sins. They had come to trust in him for forgiveness. They had come to know the God who created them, and that he was a God of love and compassion. A God who really cared about them and was preparing a future for them greater than any they could possibly imagine.

The persecutions they were facing because of their faith would end one day, but their relationship with God would not. Man’s persecution is temporary, but God’s salvation in Christ is eternal.
Now, I don’t think that human beings have ever really enjoyed waiting for things. But it seems that today the human race is less patient than ever. We want everything NOW. On demand. Right here, right now, on my phone, downloaded to my computer, delivered to my door.

But God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t order his agenda according to our desires. He orders his agenda according to his divine wisdom. He knows what we need now. And sometimes what we need is to simply WAIT for his plan to unfold. In Psalm 27 it says…

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

Waiting for the Lord is an exercise in faith. When we wait prayerfully and patiently on the Lord we are saying, “Okay God, you’ve got this covered. I know your promises. I’ll hang tight here and depend on you.”

And when we do this, remarkable things happen. Like it says in Isaiah 40…

“…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV).

Which is better? To try and walk to your destination, or to wait for the plane to take you there? It’s not hard to figure out why waiting on the Lord is a better plan.
From Peter’s letter, we learn that Christians in Asia Minor were enduring all sorts of different trials. And some of these trials included accusations and ridicule from non-Christians.

In chapter 2, Peter writes…

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV).

Their pagan neighbors thought it bizarre that these Christians wouldn’t do all the same things that they used to. And this led to ridicule. In chapter 4, Peter writes…

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:4 NIV).

It’s been said “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But anyone who has ever been the butt of a joke knows different. The things people say about us can hurt a lot. Perhaps unending ridicule was taking it’s toll on the faith of the Christians in Asia Minor. So, Peter reminds them that the words of man are temporary, but the Word of God is eternal. In verse 23 Peter writes…

“…you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
All flesh is like grass,
And all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
And the flower falls off,
25But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25 NASB).
Insult and ridicule from people who don’t trust in Jesus can hurt. But those words only have so much power. And that power will not last.

But the Word of God is different. When God spoke in the beginning he said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And as you can see, that light is still around today. When God speaks his promises to us in the pages of Scripture, his voice bears the same creative power that it did in the beginning. The fact that God’s own Son suffered and died to erase our sins forever, that message has the power to create faith in the hearts of sinners. And because that faith is based on God’s Word and not on man’s word, that faith has he power to endure forever.

Man falls apart. Man’s ideas get updated. But God? He’s eternal. And God’s Word, that which has endured through the centuries by the power of the Holy Spirit, that Word of promise will endure into eternity. And Peter tells his suffering friends in Christ, “…this is the word with was preached to you”! The words of man are temporary, but the Word of God is eternal.
I don’t know what kind of discouraging words have been directed your way lately. Words that suggest that God isn’t real. Words that suggest that the Bible can’t be trusted. Words meant to make you doubt God’s love. I don’t know what you’ve been facing recently. But what I do know is that in the end we will stand before God, and the truth will be known. Cling to the God who made you. Cling to the God who authored your salvation. Cling to the God who promises you forgiveness of sins and life eternal as his gift to you. His promises have never failed, and they never will. As the Bible says,

“Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35 ESV).
Okay, so far we’ve been reminded that persecution is temporary, salvation is eternal. We’ve been reminded that man’s word is temporary, God’s Word is powerful and eternal. Peter’s final words for us today draw a distinction between man’s love and God’s love. Man’s idea of love is temporary, but true love, God’s love, is eternal. Look finally at verse 22. There Peter writes….

22Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,” (1 Peter 1:22 NASB).

First of all, we have to understand that phrase, “obedience to the truth.” It’s not too hard to comprehend. If you DO A COMMAND, that’s called OBEDIENCE. If you OBEY A TRUTH that’s called FAITH. Do you get it? Peter is basically saying, “You have believed Christ’s promise of forgiveness, and so your souls stand purified in Christ.” And one of the effects of your faith in Christ is love for your fellow Christians.

Now, Jesus also directs us to love our enemies, to love everyone like God loves them. But that’s not what Peter is talking about here. Peter is directing these words to Christians who were undergoing persecution for their faith. So he directs them to ramp up their love and support of one another. FERVENTLY love one another from the heart, Peter says. And in this way you will carry one another through the trials you are enduring.

Man’s idea of love is often tainted by selfishness. The world describes romantic love as a strong desire to have someone for yourself. The world’s idea of love is frequently all about ME getting what I want. But God’s love is different. The love that God teaches is all about ME putting myself in the backseat for someone else. God describes love as a desire to improve the condition of someone else.

The apostle John put it like this…

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NIV).

Self gratification is temporary. Man’s idea of love is temporary. But God’s definition of love is lasting, and powerful. God’s idea of love has eternity in mind, not just the here and now. This is the love Peter encourages us to have for one another. A love that supports and nurtures the faith of our fellow Christians.

The Bible says “God is love” (1 John 4:8 ESV). And so I’ve got to bring us back to that concept that Peter brings up here. The concept that through faith in Christ, Christians are BORN AGAIN. We are born into God’s family, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we begin to take on the family resemblance. We begin to love one another fervently, from the heart.

When we do this we create a little shelter in the storm of this world for our fellow Christians. A little shelter where the storm can be weathered. A little shelter where we can both look to God in faith, and rest secure in his promises—not matter what trials are weighing on us.
Pain has a way of stretching out time. Making us dread each second. But the pain of this world, pain of mind, heart, or body, that’s all temporary. God has mapped out our path, and it takes us to his side. Jesus Christ has pioneered the way by his selfless cross which erases the record of our sins. And God has placed us together here, with Christians who know God’s eternal Word, and God’s everlasting love in Christ. May our great God teach us how to love one another fervently, from the heart, that out time here may not only be bearable, but full of support, and joyful worship, as we wait for our Savior’s return, and the end of all trials.

Dear Christians, cling to the Spirit’s words: the here and now is temporary. The promises of God, those are eternal.


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