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The Writings of Peter - Part IV

The Writings of Peter

Part 4

We continue to be in a series of messages on the New Testament writings of Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. The writings of I and II Peter.

As discussed in earlier messages, in the first parts of Peter’s first letter, he instructed those Christians to get rid of certain bad behaviors, such as malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander, and to replace those bad behaviors with good conduct, such as honoring national leaders, honoring all other people, loving fellow Christians, and fearing God.

In last week’s message, based on the last part of chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3 of I Peter, the Christians to whom Peter wrote were given some specific instructions. Christian workers were - and are - to be submissive to and respectful of their bosses. Christian wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Christian husbands are to live considerately with their wives.

In this message, we continue for a bit in chapter 3 of I Peter before moving into part of chapter 4.

Remember that workers, wives, and husbands have just been instructed how to live in those roles. In verses 8 through 12 of I Peter 3, the teaching is a bit more broad, applying to every Christian, no matter his or her work or marital status.

Verse 8. “Finally…” That word does not refer to the end of his letter, but rather the closing of Peter’s thought about how to live the life of a Christian. “Finally, all of you…” All the Christians to whom he wrote. Christians today as well. “All of you, have” the following things. 

“Unity of spirit.”

This is not the only time in the Bible unity is taught. 

Jesus prayed for unity among His disciples. Following Jesus’ resurrection and return to Heaven, the early Christian church was known for being of one heart and soul. The apostle Paul taught the need for Christians to be unified. He challenged Christian to have unity, doing so in Romans, I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, and Philippians.

We are to have unity of spirit. We must be able to get along with each other. That does not mean we will always agree about how things should be done, but never are we to disagree about the goal, which is and must always be to serve the Lord. 

And there is this. It would seem that for a church to have a positive witness to the world, there must be unity rather than arguing. If Christians in a congregation cannot get along, why would anyone else want to join?

It is so good to know we have unity of spirit in this congregation. 

Actually, I remember a time many, many years ago when there was a problem. I have no recollection what the problem was. I am not sure I knew what the problem was back then either. But one Sunday, we met in a park for worship. One side of whatever the issue was sat on one row of picnic tables, another side of the issue sat on another row, with a row of empty tables in between. 

It was awkward to preach that day. I think my neck was sore from having to look so far in two directions to see everyone. Fortunately, that lasted just a short time. That is fortunate because such division had to have been a bad witness to any who happened to pass by where we were in the park and happened to notice the separation.

Before that time and since, there was and now is unity of spirit. We get along fine. How wonderful that is. 

Peter wrote that we, as Christians, are to have unity of spirit. We are also to have “sympathy.”

Sympathy is also taught elsewhere in the Bible, including important examples of what sympathy is to look like. 

For instance, in Romans is the wording, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” That requires understanding and compassion. How good it is to have people with whom we can celebrate good times. How important it is to have people help us during troubled times.

In I Corinthians, this is recorded. “When one member of the Christian body [this applies to Christians in general, but it can apply specifically to those in a congregation] suffers, all suffer. We feel that, do we not, when any of us loses a loved one? The rest of us suffer, too. “And when one member is honored, all rejoice.” When something good happens to any of us, we should all feel good and rejoice.

To have sympathy, we must not be selfish. We are to forget self and identify with the pains, sorrows, and joys of others. As Peter wrote it, we are to have, not only unity of spirit, but also sympathy.

And “love of [love for] the brethren.”

That, too, is taught elsewhere in the Bible. 

Jesus taught His followers to love one another. That is critical because, Jesus added, “By this [by love for one another] will all people know you are My disciples.” Remember the service in the park described a moment ago? I am not sure at that time we displayed to others that we were Jesus’ disciples. Since then and now, I am confident people outside our congregation, when they see us, do know we belong to Jesus. Our love for one another shows it.

In I John are the words, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and a liar.” Wow. What an indictment that is. We do not want to even be mistaken for being murderers or liars, so let’s continue to love one another.

Having “tender hearts” is also taught by Peter.

A description of having a tender heart is having compassion, which is defined as having the desire, when seeing people suffering, to do something to help. And of course putting that desire into action, as much as is possible.

I think we do that as a congregation. 

One example is serving lunch once a month at the People’s City Mission. The people who stay and eat there are down and out. I will admit that each time I serve there, I am so thankful I am not in the situation of the residents. That is not a proud, arrogant feeling, but rather thankfulness to God for what He has made possible, at least at this point of my life. I hope I serve because of a tender heart, providing not only food, but hopefully a smile or some encouragement.

Another example is our participation in Children of Promise, which helps children in developing nations. The four children we help will never be seen in person by us, but we can help them. I hope that is because our hearts are tender.

It can be so easy to get jaded with all the problems around. 

By the way, I read something that reminded me of a feeling I had a few years ago. We hear almost daily about people being killed in traffic accidents. The reports are so common, it seems the reports turn into just news. 

I remember the time I got a call about someone’s loved one - someone in this congregation at the time - a loved one had just been killed in a horrible accident on the interstate west of town.

I still remember the feeling. The realization that the one killed was a real person who had real family and real friends who really were suffering. I remember thinking that all the other traffic deaths reported are also real people with loved ones who suffer.

I do not know that I have done a very good job of it, but I - we - need to have tender hearts - compassion - when dealing with people around us. That is one of the things Peter wrote.

We are also to each have a “humble mind.” Humility. Knowing we are all dependent on God and His blessings, realizing we all fall short of God’s ideal, so there is no basis for gloating that we are better than someone else.

Back in the Tom Osborne-Barry Switzer years of Big 8 football, one day Woody Hayes, the head coach of Ohio State in the Big Ten, got carried away in a game. 

Toward the end of the game, Ohio State trailed by two points, but the team had driven the ball into field goal range. On third and five, one more play was called before a field goal would be attempted. The play was a short pass.

The Ohio State quarterback was rushed. He threw the ball poorly. It was intercepted by a Clemson University defender.

The defender ran the intercepted pass toward the Ohio State sideline. He was tackled right in front of Woody Hayes who, when the player got up, pulled the back of his jersey, drawing the player toward him. Woody Hayes then swung his right arm, hitting the defender in the throat.

Woody Hayes was fired immediately. A few days later, Osborne and Switzer, who were being interviewed together, were asked their opinion of Woody Hayes. The expectation of the interviewer was condemnation However, the response of the Nebraska and Oklahoma coaches was the same. Getting wrapped up in a game happens to every coach. What Woody Hayes did can happen to any coach. They said, “We just hope and pray we will be able to control ourselves so we do not do the same thing.”

Neither Osborne nor Switzer condemned Woody Hayes. Instead, they were humble.

May we be humble as well. Again, knowing we are all dependent on God and His blessings and realizing that we all fall short of God’s ideal, so there is no basis for gloating that we are better than someone else.

Along with all of what we have talked about so far, we add verse 9. “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” Instead, as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer, forgive. And listen to this comment from Jesus right after the Lord’s Prayer, which explains how important forgiveness is. “If you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Do not take revenge. Instead, bless others. “Bless.” In verses 10 through 12, Peter quotes a portion of Psalm 34. “Bless, keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from spreading guile [or deceit], and turn away from evil.” That calls for action. Turn away - walk away - run away - from evil - “and do right,” which is possible by “seeking peace and pursuing it.” Again that calls for action. We are to go after peace.

Why do that? “The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, but the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous. His ears are open to their prayer.”

Being in tune with the Lord is always important since - for this, let’s move to chapter 4, verse 7, of I Peter - “the end of all things is at hand.”

Some might argue that Peter was wrong. He wrote verse 7 almost 2000 years ago and the end of time has not yet occurred. However, arguing against what Peter wrote is what is wrong. 

Remember the Bible verse that says with the Lord, “One day is as a thousand years.” Peter wrote that in his second letter. According to that wording, which speaks of eternity, it has not been that long a time since he wrote verse 7. The end is still at hand.

Or note that if the end of all things was close 2000 years ago, think how much closer it is now.

Or consider this. Each of us will one day die. For those who die, the end of all earthly things comes. 

Because the end of all things is at hand, there are certain ways we are to live so we can be ready, at least spiritually, for that time. Things in addition to having unity of spirit and sympathy and love and tender hearts and humility.

Still verse 7. “Keep  sane.” See all things in proper perspective. Know what is important and what is not. Do not be swept away by sudden enthusiasms. See everything in the light of eternity.

“Keep sane and sober.” As discussed earlier in this series of messages, being sober means being serious about living a Christian life.

Sanity and being sober are important, Peter wrote, “for your prayers.” Being sane and sober will allow us to pray as we ought to pray, as in seriously.

Verse 8.  Peter repeats himself about love, this time writing, “Hold unfailing love for one another since love covers a multitude of sins.” 

That means to love even the unlovely and unlovable. I hope that as Christians, being unlovely and unlovable never describe us, but do we not all run across people with whom we have difficulty? Love them anyway. Let your love cover their rough edges.

Holding unfailing love also means to love in spite of insult and injury. That is very difficult, but it is what Peter wrote.

Love when love is not returned. Love should cover even that.

Verse 9. Because the end of all things is at hand, “practice hospitality.”

This is also taught other places, by Jesus and in Romans, I Timothy, Hebrews, and Titus. It was important for a couple reasons. Back then, inns were expensive, dirty, immoral places. Places traveling missionaries did not want to be. Hospitable Christians provided places for missionaries to stay. And Christians having church buildings was very rare back then, which means congregations often met in people’s houses. It took hospitable people to host services in their homes.

I am intrigued by the word “ungrudgingly.” Those who had nice or at least larger homes were often called upon to be hospitable. Apparently some of them began to resent having to open their homes over and over again. Peter corrected them. He wrote, “Be hospitable ungrudgingly.”

And - verses 10 and 11 - each Christian was - and is - to employ their gifts. Hospitality was just mentioned. Also mentioned is “speaking,” meaning preaching and teaching for God. Also mentioned is “service.” Employ whatever gift or gifts you have, doing so for one purpose - to glorify Jesus Christ.

*       *       *       *       *

Quite a list in today’s passages - have unity of spirit, sympathy, and love for the brethren, have tender hearts and humility, be sane and sober, be loving - practice hospitality, and use your spiritual gifts.

Quite a list. A list of things that are not suggestions, but things we are to know and do and have as Christians, which leads to a devotional I have been waiting to share. This seems like a good time to do so. 

The author of the devotional writes that she owns a treadmill. Some people go to a gym to use such a cardio machine, but, the author writes, she has one in her own home. The decision to buy the machine was made a couple years ago when she and her husband thought it would be good to increase their health in the attempt to decrease their waistlines.

The treadmill is a good one. Speed can be varied by just a press of a button. The base of the treadmill can automatically go up and down to vary the incline.

As an overall package, the treadmill offers everything to assist the writer and her husband in their fitness. However, for the machine to do them any good, they have to actually get on the treadmill and start walking. Just owning a treadmill does not increase fitness. You have to use it and expend some energy on it for it to work. The author adds that while owning a treadmill may be a good start, the journey on the road to fitness does not end once you have paid the bill.

Spiritually, Jesus is available, but to do us any spiritual good, we must accept Him and then obey Him, putting in the effort to obey what the Lord teaches. That includes having unity of spirit, sympathy, and love for the brethren, having a tender heart and humility, being sane and sober and loving, practicing hospitality, and using our spiritual gifts.

The best exercise plan is, after buying a treadmill, to use it every day. The best faith plan, after accepting Jesus as Savior, is to know and obey the teachings in the Bible. To do that every day.

Today’s closing song is a challenge, specifically, to obey Peter’s teaching that we use whatever spiritual gifts we have. That we use our gifts to help others and glorify Jesus. As we sing, let’s expand the challenge to include doing all that is taught in today’s passages, including, one more time - let’s say it together - have unity of spirit, sympathy, and love for the brethren. Have a tender heart and humility. Be sane and sober. Be loving. Practice hospitality. Use your spiritual gifts.

May all those things be our sacrifices to the Lord. A Living Sacrifice, verses 1, 3, and 4. 

I love the Christ, the Son of God,

Who died that I might live;

I would my gratitude express,

A gift unto Him give.

My gift is small it is my all;

Accept it, Lord, I pray:

Let self be slain, let Jesus reign

Within my heart alway.

No gift, however grand or great,

Could pay the debt I owe;

I bring myself, my life, my all,

A living gift bestow.

My gift is small it is my all;

Accept it, Lord, I pray:

Let self be slain, let Jesus reign

Within my heart alway.

My talents all I gladly yield

For service, Lord, to Thee;

To bear the blessed Gospel light,

That others Christ may see.

My gift is small it is my all;

Accept it, Lord, I pray:

Let self be slain, let Jesus reign

Within my heart alway.

Lord, once again, in today’s passages, You teach us how You want us to live. Things we can do - things we should and must do - to show we belong to You. 

You do not pretend that any of what You teach is easy to do, but we know that everything You teach can be done with Your power helping us. So we pray for Your help to accomplish all that is taught in chapters three and four of I Peter. Help us to learn and live by each of Your teachings. Amen.

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