Monday, August 13, 2007

Living for the will of God in joyful service - a sermon preached in Dromore Cathedral on 12th August 2007 - 1 Peter 4:1-11

What is it you live for? If you had to reduce all your actions and motivations down to one thing, what would it be? What is your driving force, the thing that you seek more than anything else?

In our reading tonight, Peter tells us that there are two possible things we can live for – two ways to live. We can either pursue human passions, or we can pursue the will of God. Look at verse 2 – he says that by following in Jesus’ way, we can die to sin, ‘so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God.’

You see, our passage tonight follows straight on from where we left off last week. Do you see the opening words – ‘since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh’ – they indicate that what we’re reading now is based on and follows from what we have just looked at. You have to remember that Peter didn’t have chapters the way they appear in our Bibles now – they came much later, as people tried to make sense of the text. So don’t always go by chapter headings (or even the section headings in your Bible) to see what’s happening – they aren’t really part of it at all.

Last week we thought of how Peter was writing to Christians who were suffering persecution, and he was encouraging them to stick at it, to not give up. The reasons were because they had been called to suffering, because they were following in Jesus’ footsteps and example, because there was a witnessing potential, and there was the example of Noah.

The opening part of our reading follows on from this. Peter has been thinking of how Christ died and was raised to the right hand of the Father – the suffering before the exaltation (cross and crown). Peter than calls his readers to again, follow in Christ’s way of thinking. ‘Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking’ – it reminds me of Paul writing to the Philippians, ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…’ (Phil 2:5).

To follow in Christ’s way of thinking here is to suffer in the flesh to cease from sin. Yes, while it is true that when we are suffering, we are less likely to sin, but that doesn’t seem to be what Peter is saying. Rather, because he has been thinking about Jesus’ death on the cross, he is calling us to reckon ourselves dead to sin. Because Jesus suffered, we also die to our sin when we trust in Christ. In that sense, we have ceased from sin.

We will still sin, from time to time, but we have ceased from sin – no longer will it be the dominating thought in our lives. This is brought out further by verse two – we have ceased from sin (by dying with Christ), and so we no longer live for human passions, but rather for the will of God. Our motivation has completely changed. Our reason for living is no longer ourselves.

So what would it mean to live for human passions? Peter describes some of the possible things that could happen – sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties and lawless idolatry. Do you see that all these things are taking the good things that God has given us, and abusing them?

For the Christian, ‘the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do.’ Yes, those things may have been in our past, but that’s where they should stay. Sometimes you hear young people saying that they want to have a good life of partying and enjoying themselves, then when they’re old they’ll become a Christian. But do you know what? Rather than them enjoying the good life, they’re really wasting their lives on these things – on human passions.

Similarly, those engaged in these things are surprised that we don’t want to join in on them. Sure what’s the harm, everyone else is doing it, why not you? I don’t know, maybe orgies and drinking parties and idolatry are happening all around us in Dromore – but living for human passions can take many forms, and don’t always come with big flashing warning lights.

Are you being distinctive? Are our non-Christian friends and those around us different from us, and surprised that we aren’t comfortable doing what they do? Perhaps we need to be more distinctive – as Peter names it rightly, calling it a ‘flood of debauchery’.

But at the end of the day, even if they malign us – calling us prudes, or uptight people, or whatever, we need to be careful. For their flood of debauchery, ‘they will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.’ Christ, who died for us, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead. As we go about our business, we need to remember this fact, because it has been forgotten or ignored in our society and culture.

When was the last time you thought about judgement? It was probably when your conscience gave a twinge, but we don’t often think about it today. Yet for the early church, judgement was a key issue – both in terms of the closeness of death, as well as the final judgement.

Look at verse 6. Obviously some of the community had died. Death was seen as the judgement, the punishment for sins. Remember right back in Eden, death was the punishment for disobedience of God’s rules when the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was eaten. Or think of Romans 6:23 – ‘the wages of sin is death’. Because of our sin, we call deserve to die. But Romans 6:23 goes on to remind us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The judgement will affect everyone, yet Peter says that this is why the gospel was preached – so that we can live! The members of the community who had died had been ‘judged in the flesh the way people are’. But while, on the outside, they were dead, those who have trusted in Jesus are alive in the spirit! Truly, as Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ (John 11:25-26).

So far we have been looking at how we might live – according to human passions, but Peter has told us to rather live for the will of God. So what will this look like in practice? How can we live for God?

First of all, Peter reminds us that time is short – the end of all things is at hand. Again, with the early church, they expected Jesus to return at any moment. We, on the other hand, with 2000 years of history since then seem to have forgotten that Jesus is coming back at all. Peter urges us to live as if it is our last day, our last moments indeed. How would you live life differently, if you thought it was your last week, or your last day?

For Peter, it would involve being self-controlled and sober-minded. Being aware of the end means that we will live life focused on the goal. Think of an athlete. The next Olympics are in Beijing next summer. Already the training is in progress, their mind is focused on the goal, because the end is in sight. In fact, looking at the website of the 2012 Olympics in London, preparations are already under way to have athletes ready for those games.

We also see the importance of love- loving one another earnestly, ‘since love covers a multitude of sins’ – again, the call of brotherly love and bearing with one another. There’s the call of hospitality, using what we have to take care of others.

But the main focus of living in the will of God is rightly using the things that God has given. Earlier we thought of how human passions were abusing the good things God has given. In contrast, we see that living in God’s will is about using the things God has given:

‘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.’

Notice that it doesn’t say – those of you who have received a gift. Rather, it says ‘as each has received a gift’. It’s clear that is isn’t just the chosen few who are gifted, but rather, everyone is gifted. What’s your gift? How has God’s varied grace blessed you?

Notice also that it refers to God’s varied grace. Peter just mentions two types of gifting and service, but that doesn’t mean that there are only two possible ways of gifts or serving. After all, he has already spoken of hospitality. So think of how you can use the gift God has given you, to the best of your ability.

But further, the gifts aren’t given so that individuals can shine. Gifts aren’t about the individual being noticed and elevated. Rather, the gifts are given by God so that others are served, and so that God is glorified. So as you think of what your gifts might be, think how they can be used to serve others and glorify God.

As we’ve seen tonight, there are two ways to live. We can live for human passions, being self-centred and abusing the good things God has given. Or we can live for the will of God, following the mind of Christ, remembering that we have died to sin through the cross, and seeking to live for God. We do this by recognising the gifts, the graces God has given to us, by using them to serve others, and so, to glorify God.

By living for God, we can then say – ‘To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.’

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