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The Godly Widow

Friday, October 22, 2021

I’m fond of saying that too often, the Lord’s church in America does a great job of attending to the spiritual needs of married people with kids at home and a not-so-great job of attending to the spiritual needs of everybody else.  This is unfortunate for a couple of reasons.  It’s not particularly helpful for Christians who aren’t part of the favored group, and it ignores what the Bible has to say to those people too.

Among those neglected in this way are widows.  The Scriptures have a lot to say about widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16.  True, much of this text is taken up with a discussion of whether a widow is worthy of church support, but along the way, Paul identifies several characteristics that a widow must possess to be righteous.

This teaching, though often overlooked, is extremely relevant.  We have many widows in this congregation as well as many other single people who are kind of in a widow-ish position.  Even the rest of us will find many things to benefit us here.  With this in mind, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures say about the godly widow.

First, the godly widow HOPES.  According to 1 Timothy 5:5, she puts her hope in God.  Yes, obviously, all of us should put our hope in God, but I think this is particularly important for widows because it defines their purpose.

Let me explain.  Many women, especially in the church, spend their adult lives taking care of others.  They get married, and they take care of their husbands.  They have kids, and they care for them and generally keep the household running smoothly.  Many times, a widow has had to deal with her husband’s prolonged illness, tending to his every need.  Now, though, he’s gone, and there’s nobody left to take care of.  What do you do now?

Paul gives us the answer.  Rather than focusing on caring for your family, you shift your focus to inheriting eternal life.  Just like you used to get up every day and make sure that the food was cooked and the dishes were washed and the laundry was run, now you get up every day with the goal of making sure you receive your reward.

Second, the godly widow PRAYS.  1 Timothy 5:5 describes her as continuing night and day in prayer.  Here too, I think Paul is calling widows to a perspective shift.

Most adult women live busy lives.  In addition to all the household stuff we’ve already discussed, many of them work outside the home too, and they have all sorts of other responsibilities to boot.

For most widows, 90 percent of that stuff isn’t happening anymore.  Indeed, you may be the aging parent that others are tending!  That leaves a whole, whole lot of time, time that often hangs heavy on widows’ hands.  What do you do with it?

Easy.  You pray.  You pray a whole, whole lot.  You pray for every good thing you can think of, God’s blessing on your family, God’s blessing on the church, God’s blessing on each member of the church, and for you yourself to grow up into the image of Christ.  All that time isn’t a burden.  It’s a gift.  Use it well.

The beauty of prayer is that it’s something that every Christian woman of sound mind can do.  I know that some of the sisters here don’t have much physical capability left.  They’re simply not strong enough to carry out the acts of service I’ll be talking about later.  However, everybody who is capable of comprehending this sermon is capable of prayer, and even if we can’t work anymore, God sure can!

Third, the godly widow ENTERTAINS.  As per 1 Timothy 5:10, she shows hospitality.  This is another consequence of widows having more time and fewer people on their hands than they used to.  Lauren and I entertain a lot, but let me tell you, it’s not easy, especially for her!  We have to fit in prep around the rest of our schedules, and we have two lovely children who are determined to make as much mess as possible while cleaning up as little as possible.

For many widows, hospitality is much easier.  You by yourselves don’t make as much mess as your husband and kids used to, and you have more time available to prepare.  I think the widows here easily could be at the forefront of welcoming strangers to our congregation.  I know that some of you are more introverted than others, and that the thought of inviting people you don’t know into your home makes you quail.

However, that’s why there are many members in the Lord’s body.  If you’re not up to the task of making dinner conversation by yourself, there are extroverted Christians in this congregation who will happily do it for you.  Invite them over along with the visitor, and sit back and watch them do their thing!

Basically, the point is this:  if widows in the first century were known for hospitality, widows in the twenty-first century can be too.

Similarly, the godly widow SERVES.  1 Timothy 5:10 describes her as having washed the saints’ feet.  As we know from our study of John 13, this was not a mere ritual.  Rather, foot-washing was a humble, gracious response to the problem of filthy first-century streets making others’ feet filthy.  Worldly people in that time considered foot-washing demeaning; godly widows considered it an opportunity to serve.

So too, godly widows today can be women who do what needs doing.  In a congregation this size, there’s always something to do!  There are meals to be prepared.  There are welcome cards to visitors to be written.  For that matter, there are cards to everybody to be written.  There are children’s Bible classes to be taught.  There are outsiders to invite to services.  The list goes on and on.  If you’re out of ideas for something else to do, ask the elders, and they will be delighted to make suggestions!

In short, opportunities to serve abound.  I don’t think every widow should be doing all of these things, but I do believe that every widow should be doing as much as she can physically handle.  There’s nothing sadder than a sister in Christ who complains that her life is meaningless but is choosing not to do any of the things that would make her life meaningful.

Finally, the godly widow HELPS.  As per 1 Timothy 5:10, she helps the afflicted.  There are a lot of different ways I could take this, but in particular, I want to consider the Titus 2:4 responsibility of older women to teach the younger women.

I’ve heard a lot about this one from both sides.  Lots of younger women in the church insist that they can’t find older women to teach them, while older women in the church insist that they can’t find younger women who want to be taught.  I wonder if the problem here is a misconception about what teaching should look like.  If the older women try to “teach” by going up to the sister wrestling her screaming child in the lobby and telling her how she kept every one of her 27 children under perfect control back in 1975, that’s not going to go over very well!

Instead, we should note that the first thing older women are supposed to be teaching is love, and I don’t know of any way to teach love other than showing love.  Widows, if you want a younger woman to listen to you, be her friend first.  Listen to her.  Spend time with her.  Help her make it through life.  Soon enough, you won’t have to bring up the things you want to talk about because she’ll be asking you about them first.

Submission to Elders

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

In our Bible reading this week, we will come to 1 Timothy 3, the text along with Titus 1 that paints the Biblical portrait of the elder.  The eldership is so important that Clay and I decided that we needed to devote both sermons today to the subject.  However, neither one of us is going to preach on what are commonly called the qualifications of the elder.  If you want to know my thoughts on the topic, you’ll have to read the bulletin article!

Instead, we’re going to focus on the day-to-day interaction between the congregation and the eldership.  Though understanding what makes a man fit to be an elder is vital when appointing elders, it doesn’t come up a whole lot otherwise.  However, we continually need to know how we should treat them, and they continually need to know how they should treat us.

The former is my responsibility this morning, and our responsibility toward elders can be summed up in one word:  submission.    Americans tend to believe in what we might call “contingent submission”.  They will submit to an authority so long as they agree with it, but not otherwise.  Is that really what God expects of His people, though?  Let’s explore this as we consider the Biblical witness about submitting to elders.

There are three passages that speak to this topic, and the first tells us to RECOGNIZE AND REGARD our elders.  Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.  This passage doesn’t use the word “elder”, of course, but when it talks about those who lead us in the Lord, it’s very clearly talking about elders, and it describes two kinds of appropriate treatment.

The first is to give them recognition.  This isn’t about greeting them when we pass them in the hallway before services, though that’s a good thing to do!  It’s about recognizing them for having taken on the work and burdens of the eldership.  I know lots of current and former elders, but I’ve never heard any of them say that being an elder is easy. 

Indeed, the opposite is true.  I suspect that most members of this congregation never will know even 10 percent of what the elders go through for us.  We’re not supposed to know it, and if we knew it, we wouldn’t want to know it.  However, because that other 90 percent is there, we should show them honor for dealing with it.

Second, we are to regard them highly in love.  Sometimes, this can be very difficult.  How can we respect the elders when we believe they’re making a mistake?  How can we respect them when they’ve hurt or offended us? 

The key, I think, is to recognize that if we only had to respect elders when we naturally wanted to respect them, God wouldn’t have had to command us to do it.  Even when we don’t want to, we still are responsible for respecting the office if not the man.  They took on significant burdens on our behalf, and even when they fail, as anyone would sooner or later, we should show them honor and grace. 

Second, we must BE RECIPROCALLY HUMBLE.  Consider 1 Peter 5:5.  There’s a lot in this text about how elders should behave, and Clay is going to tackle that for us this evening.  However, the responsibility of everyone else in this text is twofold:  be subject and be humble.

“Be subject” is where we find the core idea of this sermon:  to be in submission.  No one puts elders over us.  Instead, we put ourselves under them.  In spiritual matters, we follow their example and judgment. 

I fear that in the American church these days, “submit” has taken on the meaning of “coincidentally go along with until I disagree”.  However, if all we really are doing is submitting to an eldership until they ask us to do something we don’t want to, who really is our authority?  Is it them, or is it us?  Now, elders don’t have the right to add new sections to the Bible or to demand that we follow their think-so’s, but we should hold ourselves responsible for doing what they ask.

It helps when we approach our relationship with the elders from the perspective of humility.  As the subject heading for this section implies, everybody, sheep and shepherds alike, has the responsibility to deal with others in a humble way. 

However, shepherds can’t make sheep be humble, and sheep can’t make shepherds be humble.  All we can do is make sure that we have a humble spirit within our own hearts. 

Humility means a number of things.  It means listening patiently to others to show them that they are heard and understood.  It means not immediately insisting on our own way.  It means not dogmatically assuming that we are right and the other is wrong.  All of these things are part of the humility that we owe our elders.  When we don’t lose our cool, insist, or assume, we too glorify God!

Finally, we must BEHAVE PROFITABLY.  Here, let’s read from Hebrews 13:17.  There are some things here that are familiar.  We once again see the instruction to submit to, this time combined with a command to obey.  Both of these amount to the same thing in practice.

However, there are some new elements here, and the first is the Hebrew writer’s justification for being submissive and obedient.  We are to do this because they watch over us as those who will have to give an account.  I tell you, brethren, that the latter part of that weighs heavily on the conscience of every elder I’ve ever worked with!  They make their decisions about the flock with the knowledge that someday, they’re going to have to explain themselves to the King of kings.

This motivates them to keep careful watch over the flock because they know their souls are on the line.  As a result, our elders are a precious spiritual resource to us.  They are as interested in our lives as we are, but they have something we don’t—an outside perspective on our lives, viewed with the judgment and experience of an elder.

That matters a lot!  Have you ever noticed how blind people are to their spiritual problems?  It’s as plain as day what the issue is and what they ought to do about it, but they just won’t! 

Well, I’ve got some news for you, brethren.  It’s not just other people who have trouble seeing their lives clearly.  It’s every one of us.  All of us need a trusted outside perspective—like elders—to see ourselves clearly.

This explains the last part too.  They watch over us, they help us make good spiritual decisions, and they beat themselves up over it when we don’t.  Sure, we can make them suffer, but we do so at the cost of our own souls.  That isn’t exactly profitable!

It’s profitable for us, then, to do our best to make our elders’ lives as joyful as possible and as grief-free as possible.  When we’re making some spiritual decision, we should ask, “How would the elders feel about this?”  I feel this way not only about the commandments of Scripture, but about the personal requests that our elders make of us.  If they ask us to do something, and it’s an area in which we have liberty, why not make the choice that makes their lives easier?  This too finds favor with God.

Approaching a Christian in Sin

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

As the elders here have requested, every year Clay and I preach at least one sermon on the process for withdrawing from a Christian who is living an ungodly life.  Obviously, neither one of us has any problem with doing so.  It’s part of the whole counsel of God, and our job as preachers is to declare it along with the rest.

However, I worry that across the brotherhood, sound teaching on withdrawal can lead us to unsound conclusions.  We can infer first that God’s solution to the problem of unrighteousness in the church is withdrawal, and second that going to such Christians is the elders’ business and not ours.

Both of these conclusions are wrong.  God does not want to see those brethren withdrawn from; He wants to see them repent and be restored.  Second, He wants to see every single one of us involved in that restorative work.

Sad to say, it is all too rare for Christians to go to a brother who needs help.  We don’t want to get involved in a messy situation, and we’re afraid of having a difficult conversation.  Nonetheless, these things are part of our responsibility before God.  To help us carry out this responsibility, let’s consider the example of the apostle Paul in approaching a Christian in sin.

As we analyze this issue, we’re going to be looking at 2 Corinthians 13:1-10.  We almost never study this text, but it shows us clearly what Paul’s strategy is for dealing with sin in the Corinthian church.  The first thing we learn from him here is to ADDRESS THE PROBLEM DIRECTLY.  This appears in 2 Corinthians 13:1-4. 

The first thing that we see Paul doing is seeking a face-to-face conversation.  Letters haven’t gotten the job done, so he is going to go to Corinth in person to resolve things.   I think that modern-day American Christians struggle with doing this for two main reasons:  our society is averse to direct conflict, and we prefer electronic communication to in-person communication.

Consequently, we are much more likely to talk about a straying Christian (which is gossip) than we are to talk to them.  If we do talk to them, we’re much more likely to use a text or a Facebook message than we are to have a sit-down conversation.

The first is obviously evil, but the second is a mistake.  I’m here to tell you:  I spend more time on social media than almost anybody, and writing is the thing that I do best in all the wide world, but trying to persuade somebody in writing on social media is a waste of time.  No matter how good a writer you are, writing can’t contain the non-verbal cues that are a vital expression of love and goodwill.  There is no substitute for looking somebody in the eye and telling them lovingly that they need to repent!

Second, we must be willing to speak with authority.  Notice that Paul warns the Corinthians that he is going to be coming to them in the power of God.  When he shows up, nobody is going to be able to disregard him!

Obviously, none of us are apostles, but we still can speak with the authority of God.  We do that when we use the word to convict the sinner.  Again, this is not our natural tendency.  Even if we’re having that face-to-face conversation, we’re inclined to dance around the problem and not say the hard truths that need to be said.  This might seem kind, but in reality it is deadly because it allows the straying Christian to continue in the delusion that they are not in danger.  If somebody is in sin, we need to show them their sin, citing book, chapter, and verse if necessary.  Our speech must be gracious and loving, but it also must be clear and plain.

The second part of Paul’s strategy is to ENCOURAGE SELF-EXAMINATION.  This is exactly what we see going on in 2 Corinthians 13:5-6.  Frankly, I think this highlights a way in which brotherhood culture is much too debate-centric.  In a debate, there’s a winner and a loser as judged by a third party.  If you win, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve convinced your opponent or not.  You’ve still won.

I believe that there’s still a place for debate today.  My brother and friend Bruce Reeves is a skilled debater, and he does valuable work for the kingdom.  However, I think that place is much narrower than we often think it is.  In our preaching and teaching, it’s awfully tempting to get up and own the denominations or get up and own the liberals, and at the end we congratulate ourselves because we won the debate against somebody who wasn’t even in attendance.

So too, I’ve seen Christians try to correct those in error by winning the debate against them.  “I’ve proven A, B, and C, so you’re a sinner.  Boom!  Done!”  To be honest, I’ve been that Christian.  However, that behavior reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the restoration process. 

We don’t win by winning the debate, at least according to us.  We only win when we convict the sinner.  We win when they listen to what we’re saying, internalize it, use it to indict themselves, and say, “You know, you’re right.  I need to change.”  That’s what a win looks like.

In striving for this goal, we should use the lightest touch possible.  Much of the time, the straying brother or sister has 99 percent indicted themselves already, and they just need a little nudge to get them back on the right track.  On multiple occasions, I’ve persuaded a Christian who hasn’t been assembling to come back simply by asking them via Facebook message what they’ve been up to recently.  They know.  They have a good heart.  They just need a little help.

Third, we must SEEK THE OTHER’S GOOD.  Paul exemplifies this in 2 Corinthians 13:7-10.  He makes clear that his concern isn’t his position or his reputation.  It’s the souls of the people he loves.

Let’s put ourselves into this passage for a moment.  Imagine that you are driving by a liquor store in town, and you happen to notice a sister’s minivan parked there.  The next time you drive by, you see the minivan again.  Third time, you see the same thing.

You decide you need to talk to Sister Irma.  After services one Sunday, you ask her, “I’ve been seeing your car parked at Buzz’s Liquors an awful lot.  What’s going on?”  In response, Sister Irma explains that she’s been baking a lot of bread recently, and the kind of yeast that she prefers is only available in the brewing-supplies section at Buzz’s Liquors.

How do you feel?  Embarrassed that you brought it up?  Angry that you look like a fool?  Disbelieving that yeast is all that Sister Irma is buying?  Or, instead, are you relieved that she hasn’t become an alcoholic?

 Paul’s perspective is clear.  He tells the Corinthians that he would rather show up and prove to be wrong about them than show up and be right about their sins.  He doesn’t care about being right himself.  Instead, he cares about the Corinthians being right with God.  He prefers to be wrong because then the Corinthians don’t have to repent!  The soul of the other Christian should be our priority, and if it is, that will be evident in everything we say.

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

The other day, I was talking on the phone with a dear friend of mine who is writing a book about the fear of God.  She’s doing this in part because of her concern that the Lord’s people aren’t discussing the fear of God as much as they should be.  We like to hear about grace and mercy, but we’re not so fond of teaching about the fear due our Creator.

I found this particularly striking because like sin and grace go together, fear and mercy go together.  If it is not a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, then God’s mercy to us doesn’t matter much either.  None of us are deeply appreciative when the doctor fixes our hangnail!

It’s obviously true that God’s fear leads us to appreciate His mercy.  Though it’s less obvious, it’s also true that His mercy leads us to fear Him.  Indeed, if our appreciation of the forgiveness of God doesn’t produce the fear of God, we’ve missed something.  This morning, then, let’s see how this idea emerges, along with many others, when we cry to God out of the depths.

Naturally, we’re going to be studying Psalm 130, and the first portion of this psalm concerns A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  Even in this introductory section, there are two valuable lessons for us to consider, and the first is that even God’s people can find themselves in the depths.

Even in English, the idea of crying out to God from the depths is powerful, but in Hebrew, it is even more so.  To the Israelites, the depths were a place of primordial chaos, and if you were in them, it was a sign that you had been cast out from the presence of God.  This is why Jonah is swallowed by a great fish that goes down into the depths.  We can end up there too, whether because of sin or tragedy.  Things can get so bad in our lives that we feel isolated from every source of goodness.

This certainly is where the psalmist believes himself to be, but even though he is there, even though we might be there, calling on God is always possible.  This one seems like a sin problem.  The psalmist has sinned so egregiously that he has ruined himself, but even there, he cries out to God in the hope that God will listen.

So too for us.  It’s possible for Christians to wreck their lives utterly, and some do.  Nonetheless, as long as we are alive, it’s never too late to seek the Lord.  Everything else may be gone, but if we humble ourselves and come to God, we are sure to find Him.

The second part of the psalm is about FORGIVENESS AND FEAR.  Let’s keep going in Psalm 130:3-4.  This is not the way that any of us would have written it.  We might have said, “If You marked iniquities, we would be afraid of You, but since You offer forgiveness, we rejoice in You.” 

That’s not where the psalmist goes, though.  Instead, he asks rhetorically who could stand before a God who remembered sin.  We know the answer to that one.  Not I.  Not any of us.  Imagine if that were what existence was like.  There is a God, He knows everything we do, and one day He will condemn us, fairly but unmercifully, according to His perfect standard.  I haven’t found many depictions of the afterlife that make nihilism look attractive, but that one does.  If all we had to look forward to were eternal torment, we would long not to exist, and there would be no point to anything.

However, that is not who God is!  He will execute justice if we force Him to it, but He longs to forgive, and His forgiveness makes fearing Him make sense.  Who would worship a God who is just going to squish them no matter what?  On the other hand, because mercy is on the table, we have a reason to honor Him, to revere Him, and to follow His commandments.  Mercy and fear aren’t opposites.  Instead, they work together.

In the third part of this psalm, we see a truly beautiful description of WAITING FOR THE LORD.  It appears in Psalm 130:5-6.  The first part of this section, though, explains why waiting for the Lord makes sense at all.  We wait because we hope in His word.  The better we know the Bible and its promises, the more motivation we have to trust God.  Conversely, if we don’t know the Scriptures, we will find waiting on the Lord to be very hard.

This tells us, then, that Bible study is one of the most important tools we have for preparing for disaster.  My crystal ball is broken these days, but this I know:  the day will come for every one of us when we have no other hope but God.  The time we spend with the word now will give us the assurance we need then to persevere through trial.

This is necessary because in the midst of disaster, waiting for the Lord isn’t easy.  In one of the loveliest figures of speech in the whole Bible, the psalmist says he waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for morning.  I’ve never been a night watchman, but I can imagine what it’s like, especially back in the day when every little village needed one.  It’s boring, it’s frightening, it’s miserable, and it’s dangerous.  How grateful the watchman would have been to see the sun rising and realize that he had made it through the night without being eaten by a lion or slaughtered by a Philistine!

Waiting for the Lord is like that, only more so.  There have been times in my life when the seconds dragged by, when the minutes felt like hours because of the depth of my despair.  And oh!  How eagerly I waited for deliverance from God.  In times like that we long for Him because nothing and no one else can help.

The final portion of the psalm explores further the value of HOPING IN THE LORD.  Let’s conclude our reading with Psalm 130:7-8.  Hoping in God isn’t only for the psalmist.  It’s for all of His people.

This is because of God’s faithful love.  As always, when we see “faithful love” or “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness” in our Old Testaments, we should think chesed, that untranslatable word that is probably the best single-word description of the whole Bible.  Chesed is the great covenant love of God, the love expressed in action that continues despite everything.

Right now, God regards every single one of His people with chesed.  He feels this faithful love for me and for every Christian in this room, right now.  Because it is faithful love, we can be sure that God will make His goodness known in our lives again.  However massive the mess, however deep our grief, sooner or later God will make it right.

His chesed for us also leads him to offer redemption that is not minimal or grudging but instead abundant.  Because of God’s faithful love for His people, He eagerly overflows with grace for all of our transgressions.  We don’t have to worry that the greatness of our sins has exhausted His mercy.  As long as we return, He always has more to give.

Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The older you get, the better able you are to see the changes around you.  I find that this is increasingly true for me, even though I’m only middle-aged.  I remember what it was like to be alive in the 1980s and 1990s, and when I look around now, I see that things are very different.

These differences are perhaps most striking when it comes to the moral decline of our society.  Sins that I didn’t even know existed when I still was in high school now are openly promoted and celebrated.  For the first time in many years, most Americans are not associated with some house of worship, whether church, synagogue, or mosque.

Though this new world may be unfamiliar territory for us, it is not foreign to the experience of the people of God.  In fact, the climate of the first century was much like the climate of our time.  Most people back then were ungodly and immoral too.  As a result, Scriptures that may not have mattered much before now are increasingly relevant.  This morning, let’s look at one such context from 1 Peter to see how we can live godly in an ungodly world.

In this context, Peter gives three basic commands to Christians.  The first of these is to ABSTAIN.  Let’s read from 1 Peter 2:11-12.  Here, we see Peter’s famous admonition to abstain from fleshly lusts.  It’s tempting to read this as being about sexual desire only, but I think we need to read it more broadly than that.  We need to watch out not only for thoughts that are impure, but also for thoughts that are bitter, contemptuous, greedy, and self-righteous.  If it wasn’t in the Lord’s heart, it doesn’t belong in our heart either.

Next, we need to consider Peter’s call to excellent behavior.  Notice, though, that he has a particular kind of excellent behavior in mind.  It’s excellent behavior in the areas where the people of the world slander us.  In other words, in order to apply this passage, we must listen to our enemies.

What kind of things do they say about us?  They say we’re judgmental and vicious.  They say we care more about politics than we do about Jesus.  They say that we hypocritically condemn sin in our political enemies while overlooking it in our political friends.  They say that we covertly support white supremacy and don’t care about the plight of black and brown people.  Make no mistake, brethren!  There are people who used to worship here who never will return because they believe these things about us.

It’s tempting to fire back when we hear things like this, but that’s not what Peter urges us to do.  Christians don’t reply to slander with angry rebuttals.  We reply to slander with good deeds.  We use our lives to show Christ even to our enemies.

This means that today, we must be people who are quick to show mercy because we have received mercy.  We must spend more time with the Bible than we do with cable news.  We must apply the standards of the Bible to everyone without partiality.  We must prove by the way we treat others that we care about everyone with a soul.  On the other hand, if we aren’t willing to do these things, we reveal to others that maybe those slanders aren’t slanders after all.

Second, we must SUBMIT.  Consider Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:13-16.  As always, it’s worth noting that our political system is very different than that of the Roman Empire.  Christians then had zero influence in selecting their political leaders, but today, we can vote and even advocate for the candidates we believe are best.  There’s no sin in doing any of those things.

However, when the election is over, our role is clear.  We are to submit to the government, whether our candidates got in or not.  We don’t have to agree with the decisions the government hands down, but we have to obey them anyway.  The only exception, of course, is when the laws of the government require us to disobey the law of God.

Interestingly, though, Peter’s reasoning here is different than Paul’s in Romans 13.  Rather than being concerned with submission to God, Peter tells us to submit in order to silence the ignorance of the foolish.  Here again, this has a strangely modern ring.  Aren’t people right now slandering Christians because they claim we won’t submit to the government?  Once again, our response is clear.  We silence them by doing right.

Finally in this section, let’s consider Peter’s warning against using freedom as a covering from evil.  For the past year and a half, I’ve shied away from talking about vaccines and masks, but this is a place where I believe I would not be honest with the text if I didn’t discuss those contentious issues.

In recent days, I’ve heard a lot from Christians about their freedom to refuse masks and vaccines.  As long as earthly authorities like governments and employers allow us that liberty too, there’s no Biblical issue with that.  However, when those governments and employers start mandating masks and vaccinations, we must use our freedom to submit.  If we insist on being free from those things instead, that’s not heroism.  It’s ungodliness.

I’ve heard Christians say that their conscience does not allow them to mask or vaccinate, so the obeying-God exception applies.  The problem is, though, that our conscience is not equal to the commandment of God, and there is no divine commandment about masks or vaccines.  Obeying God by submitting is the right thing to do, and if our conscience says otherwise, we have to squash it.

Lastly, we must HONOR.  Look at 1 Peter 2:17.  The first thing for us to notice here is our responsibility for honoring the king. As I said earlier, it’s lawful for Christians to participate in political discourse and advocacy, but when we are participating, we must participate in godly ways. 

Unsurprisingly, the way the world does politics is ungodly.  Commonly, we see political partisans attacking elected officials with sarcasm, slander, and lies.  Every mistake is an occasion for mockery.  Every policy decision is an opportunity for misrepresentation and distortion.

Because this bad behavior is so common, it’s easy for us to conclude that it’s acceptable.  It isn’t.  We are free to express disagreement, even strong disagreement, with our nation’s leaders, but we always must do so in a respectful way that honors them and honors God.  When we adopt worldly words to express our contempt and amuse our friends, we dishonor the name by which we have been called.

Note also that the king isn’t the only one we are supposed to honor.  Indeed, Peter says we are supposed to honor everyone.  We are supposed to speak to everyone and about everyone with courtesy and respect, always. 

This is hard!  As you know, I have a snarky sense of humor, and when somebody irritates me, I want to react by turning that snark on them.  It’s satisfying in the moment, but it also makes me blend right in with the snarky, meanspirited world.  If we want to stand out instead, if we want to shine as lights in the world, we do that by taking the high road.  When we are kind and respectful, even when others would not be, we show others the value that God places on everyone.

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