Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sermon: 1 Peter 5: 1-14 True Grace

What do you find when you open your postbox or stoop to lift the post from the mat at your front door? You’re likely to find a whole series of different items, each sent with a particular purpose.

You might have some of those glossy leaflets showcasing the special offers at a local supermarket - their purpose is to make you buy your groceries from them. You might find an official looking envelope, with a bill inside it - their purpose is to get you to pay up. There might be a postcard sent by a friend from their exotic holiday (which maybe arrived after they’ve got home again!) - their purpose is to let you know that they’re having a great time. And you might have wedding invitations, or birthday cards, or a little hand written note.

This evening we’re coming to the end of Peter’s first letter. And as we’ve been reading along, week by week, perhaps you’ve been wondering what his purpose has been. Why did he write this letter? Well, you don’t need to wonder any more. You see, he tells us there in verse 12: ‘With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.’

In this brief letter he is writing to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God - and therefore stand fast in it. If you’ve been with us over recent weeks, you’ll hopefully have heard and experienced that encouragement. We’ve seen how Peter reminds us that Christians are God’s elect, strangers in the word. We have been chosen by God, made his children, saved by him through Jesus. But that means that we are strangers in the world. We stand out and are different. It can be hard to live like that; the temptation is to blend in. But Peter wants to encourage us in our Christian life. And he does that by confirming that this really is the true grace of God that we need to stand fast in.

Those twin themes of encouragement and true grace have been seen throughout the letter. But they are particularly clear in this final section as Peter addresses the elders, and then the young men, and then everybody. So let’s dive in as Peter turns to the elders, to the leaders of the churches.

‘To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.’ (1-2).

Peter is speaking to the leaders of the churches, but notice that he doesn’t pull rank here. He doesn’t command them as an apostle speaking down to the elders. No, he appeals to them, on three grounds - 1. ‘as a fellow elder’ - he is also doing the same thing, he is an elder in his local church, so he knows what he’s talking about; 2. ‘a witness of Christ’s sufferings’ - he has seen up close the cost of Christian leadership, seen in Christ’s own sufferings for his people, as he died on the cross; and 3. ‘as... one who will also share in the glory to be revealed’ - he’s encouraging us that hardship now leads to glory then; that the struggle is worth it.

And what are the elders to do? ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.’ It’s the image of a shepherd with sheep, as he watches over them and cares for them. And Peter then goes on to give some conditions of their shepherding, in a series of ‘not this, but that’:

‘serving as overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.’ (2-3)

So the elders are to serve, not under compulsion because they have to; and not greedy for money; and not lording it over the flock. But rather, they’re to be willing to serve; and eager to serve; and examples to the flock. And notice that church leaders are only undershepherds - not the boss, but working for the Lord who is the chief shepherd.

‘And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.’ What an encouragement to pastors to keep going! It’s not always easy, but that imperishable crown awaits, when the Chief Shepherd appears. Please do pray for me, and for other church leaders - for encouragement, and grace to stand firm in the task.

Young men are to be submissive to those who are older. And that’s ‘in the same way’. But the main word is for everyone. ‘All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ (5-7).

As we relate to one another, we’re not to come across as proud, or put ourselves as high and mighty. Rather, we’re to be clothed in humility. It’s to be a conscious decision, something we do. So, earlier, you decided what to put on, what clothes you would wear. And you’re all looking well! But Peter’s urging us, as you button up your shirt or pull on your skirt, to also decide to put on humility, to be clothed in it.

Why? Because God says in his word that he opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (5, quoting Prov 3:34) God only gives grace to the humble, not to the proud. You see, if you’re proud, you think that you have done it all yourself and you can do it all yourself. You don’t need help, don’t need God. You have no call for grace, if you’re proud. But if you’re humble, if you know your need of grace, then God is glad to give it to you.

We’re to humble ourselves, so that God will lift us up in due time. And we have a great illustration of that tonight as we gather at the Lord’s table. We come humbly, hands open, to receive from God. And we can be confident of God’s goodness. As verse 7 tells us, he cares for us. We can cast all our anxiety (or cares, in the older versions) on him, because he cares for us.

As we look to God, we’re also to be aware of the danger that comes from our enemy. Look at verse 8: ‘Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.’

The devil is likened to a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. But we don’t need to be the devil’s devouring. We are to be self-controlled and alert. And we can resist him as we stand firm in the faith. Remind yourself who you are - a child of God; and whose you are - Jesus’ blood bought people.

And Peter reminds us that we’re not alone, not the only ones suffering in this way. The family of God is suffering all over the world. So stand with them. Resist the devil together. That’s why the ending of the New Testament letters are so important. Ofter we might think the last couple of verses have nothing to tell us - they’re just lists of names. But those lists are people sending and receiving greetings; partners in the gospel; sharing together in suffering and encouragement. That reference to Babylon in verse 13 is a codename for Rome, where Peter is, Babylon the name of God’s enemies for a long time.

And the church in Rome, ‘she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you. sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.’ You’re not alone. Christians are in it together, one family, one body, with that one great hope.

And it’s that hope that Peter finishes with. That benediction in verses 10-11 really does summarise the whole letter, as well as Peter’s purpose in writing it. Remember what we’ve seen. Peter is writing to encourage Christians, and to testify to the true grace of God, which we are to stand in. It’s by grace that we are chosen, by grace we are saved, and by grace that we live as strangers in the world. Now listen to the benediction:

‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.’

All grace comes from the God of grace. He has called us to his eternal glory - and so we are his chosen people. but first comes a little while of suffering - because we are strangers. But look at what God will do in the end; how completely we will be transformed; how it will all have been worth it in the end: He will ‘himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’

Stuart Townend sums it up so well in his song ‘There is a hope’. ‘When sufferings cease and sorrows die, and every longing satisfied. Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul, for I am truly home.’

This is the true grace of God. And it’s yours tonight. What an encouragement when life is difficult; when struggles seem unbearable; when you wonder if it would be easier to give up. We have grace now, and grace is our future, because we know the God of all grace.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 21st July 2019.

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