RPM, Volume 16, Number 22, May 25 to May 31, 2014

An Alert Life

1 Peter 5:8-14

By D. Marion Clark

Introduction

We have come to the end. Before we start with this final text, let's review what we have learned up to this time.

Peter's letter is written to several Christian churches scattered about in northern Asia Minor, which today is found in the country of Turkey. These are young churches and the Christians are struggling through trials. The trials are mostly the pressure and persecution placed against them by their nonChristian neighbors. Remember, the early Christians are the radicals of their day. Christianity is an upstart religion viewed with suspicion precisely because its tenets and practices challenge the conventional religious traditions. The believers want to know how they should respond. How should they respond to neighbors who act wickedly against them? How should they respond to ungodly and oppressive authorities? How should Christian slaves respond to ungodly masters, and Christian wives to unbelieving husbands?

Peter's answer is respond to God, not to the world. View yourselves and your status, not according to how the world regards you, but according to how God regards you. You may be strangers in the world, regarded with hostility, but you are in truth the chosen people of God called to declare his praises. You may seem to be in a precarious position under the hostility of the world, but understand that you are under God's watchful care and protection. Your guaranteed inheritance is everlasting glory. Therefore live in response to the way God would have you live, and not in reaction to, or under the influence of, the world. Bless those who would curse you. Live in submission to authority knowing that you are under the authority and care of your Lord and Shepherd.

We as believers in Christ Jesus are to, as verse 7 says, cast all our anxiety on him because he cares for us. Now, let's go through Peter's closing words.

8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

This is the third time that Peter gives instruction specifically to be self-controlled, as well as to be mentally alert. In 1:13 he says, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled. The context is a call to holy living and warning not to conform to the evil desires the believers had in their old lives. In 4:7 he writes, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. The context then was to consider how they were living in the end times, i.e. the time period in which Christ may appear at any time. They needed to keep alert, especially in prayer, that they might be living in the will of God when Christ appeared. For the last time he calls the believers to be self-controlled and alert, this time in the context of defending themselves against the great enemy, the devil.

What then do they need to know about their enemy? First, that they have such an enemy. There are two dangers for Christians — one is to see Satan, the devil, as the reason for every struggle or failure (the devil made me do it); the other is to be ignorant of him altogether. We think that if only visible circumstance were to change, then things would be better. If only the world would be a nicer place in which to live, and if only we could improve ourselves, life would be better. But, as Paul says in Ephesians 6:12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In verse 11, he refers to the devil's schemes. So again, Peter is saying, you have an enemy, the devil.

The second thing to know is that the devil is prowling around. He is alert and on the move. He is actively looking for prey. Indeed, he is looking for someone to devour.

The third thing to understand is that he is powerful. The devil is like a roaring lion. My cat also prowls around looking for someone to devour, but the best he can do is mice and an occasional squirrel. He has yet to bring a human to my doorstep. I have not needed to put out a sign, "Beware of prowling cat." No, the devil is a powerful lion and an angry one at that. And just as a lion captures his victim by sneaking up on the unsuspecting prey, so Satan captures his victims through their failing to be spiritually alert.

How does the capture happen, or, rather, how is it that we are not self-controlled and alert? The ways are many and the attack may be sudden or like the slow, quiet pulling in of the prey. In most cases the trap has been long in the preparing and our ability to resist quietly weakened. Who among us is ripe for an attack now? Maybe it's someone like one college student I know who had all his presuppositions attacked in college. Maybe it's someone like the woman I know desperate for marriage who ran off with a nonChristian man. Or maybe it's someone like the many who over time gradually lose their passion for Christ and for the gospel. Very often it is sin that Satan uses. Many a Christian leader has been dragged down by sexual temptation. Many have let greed or pride or bitterness trap them in the devil's snare.

Peter seems to be worried that suffering will weaken his people's defenses. They might grow resentful of God who promises them glory, yet gives them humiliation. They might grow bitter towards their neighbors who are slandering them. Perhaps they will be goaded to respond to the slander and abuse with their own abuse, bringing shame to the gospel, and then leaving them filled with shame over their failure. The traps are many, and the devil is actively looking for someone to catch.

Therefore, Peter goes on to write, 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith. How do we resist the devil? Again, understand that he is attacking us. He wants us. He is a ravenous lion always hungry. He never has his fill. How do we resist such a lion? By standing firm in the faith. Waver in the faith and we are in trouble. Step outside faith and we are easy prey. What we must do is be faithful. That's what matters. That is the real issue. What have we determined to be the theme of the book? Respond to God, not to the world. That's just another way of saying, "be faithful."

Commentators differ on what Peter means by "the" faith. Some say he means one's personal faith in Christ, and others interpret faith to the Christian gospel. It doesn't matter. To stand firm in the Christian gospel is to be faithful. To be faithful means to trust in the Christian gospel. Peter is not calling Christians to have faith in themselves. As he said in 1:8, speaking of Christ, even though you do not see him now, you believe (have faith) in him.

Our faith is the critical element. If our faith is weakened; if it wavers, then Satan has the opening he needs to pounce. If it is strong, he has to leave. As James 4:7 says, Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

I want to pause for a moment before we go on and speak directly to the children. I've been talking a lot about the devil and his desire to harm us. The devil is real and he does want to harm us, but let me make clear what the devil is not and what he cannot do. The devil is not a monster who captures little children. He is not the boogey man. Maybe he would like to be, but God controls what Satan can do. We should be concerned about the devil, but not that he is going to jump out and catch us. What we need to be concerned about is that he encourages us to sin and not to trust God.

I think the importance of faith is further underlined by Peter's comment about other Christians: because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. One intent of Peter is to encourage his readers by letting them know they are not alone in their sufferings. Oftentimes our sufferings seem greater merely out of the idea that we alone go through them, and we are encouraged to hear that others face the same trials. But I think Peter intends more. I think he is encouraging them by letting them understand the significance of their role in standing firm in the faith.

"You," he is telling them, "are part of a world-wide stand for the kingdom of God. Your brothers and sisters everywhere are also having their faith tested by undergoing the same kind of sufferings. Your faithfulness matters to them. If you fall, they might also. Your resistance matters."

This helps answer the question you might have - why does the devil care about me? I'm just one little individual. He cares about you and me for the opposite reason God cares. Whereas God loves us, the devil hates us. He really hates us. He hates us because we are made in the image of God whom he hates the most. He hates Christians in particular because we are God's people redeemed by Jesus Christ whom he hates. We have been snatched out of his clutches and he is furious.

In verse 10 Peter further encourages the believers, this time with what they can expect of God. 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. God is there for them. Let's break the sentence down.

And the God of all grace. He is the God of grace in all its forms and manifestations: the grace of the gospel proclaimed by the prophets (1:10); the grace of the complete salvation to come at Christ's return (1:13); the spiritual gifts which manifest his grace (4:10); and the grace of his strength that he gives to the humble (5:5). All grace is from God and God acts out of all grace towards his people.

Who called you to his eternal glory in Christ. This takes us back to the opening section of praise in Peter's epistle. Remember what he was lifting their vision to? It was the glorious inheritance that awaits them. It was then that he first mentioned their sufferings in the context of this hope. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith�"of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire�"may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1:6,7).

After you have suffered a little while. Note the contrast between glory and suffering. Glory is eternal; suffering is temporary. However long it may seem, it is temporary and but a short period compared to the eternal state of glory that will be ours. This is what motivated the apostle Paul whose sufferings lasted a lifetime. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. This God of all grace will do what he has promised. He will give grace to the humble and lift them up in due time. He will not abandon his people. Again, he is not simple looking down upon us with pleasant thoughts. No, he is, as Peter stated back in 1:5, making sure that we are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. All that we are being called to do is stay firm in the faith. Or to put it another way, we are being called to trust in God. God is not looking to us to strengthen him. He is looking to us to depend on him. Look to him to restore us when cracks appear in our armor. Look to him to make us strong when we weaken. Look to him to make us firm and steadfast when our resolve begins to waver. Remember, God the Holy Spirit dwells within us, so that God himself will work within us the power necessary to come through our trials.

Peter then closes the body of his letter with a doxology to God. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. It is a fitting praise. So much as been said of suffering and struggling in the world. The Christian hope is in the power of God. And so he closes his remarks with ascribing to God the eternal power that will lead his people to eternal glory.

Well, we've come to the last section of the epistle. Can you remember the sections of the ancient letter? There are six parts:

  1. Identifying the writer (1:1a): Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ
  2. Identifying the recipient (1:1b,2a): To God's elect, strangers in the world…
  3. Greeting (1:2b): Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
  4. Prayer wish or thanksgiving (1:3-12)
  5. Body (1:13-5:11)
  6. Final greeting and farewell (5:12-14)

Peter is saying good-bye now. 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.

As is common, the writer refers to whoever may have carried the letter. The full name of Silas is Silvanus. This is probably the same Silas who was sent by the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 to carry its letter to Antioch, and who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey.

Peter confirms the purpose of his letter, which was to encourage the believers in the midst of their trials, assuring them of the reality of God's grace and stirring them on to remain faithful to the gospel.

13 She who is in Babylon chosen together with you, sends you her greetings. She is a sister church. Babylon is probably a code name for Rome. Peter is passing on greetings from one church to another.

And so does my son Mark. This is John Mark, whom by tradition we understand to be the writer of the gospel that goes by his name, and which, by the way, we will be studying. Many commentators think Mark wrote his gospel on behalf of Peter. Mark is the reason Silas became Paul's companion on his second journey. Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on the first journey only to desert them. The two apostles then disagreed over whether to take Mark on the second journey — Barnabas said yes and Paul no. They ended up going their separate ways — Paul with Silas and Barnabas with Mark. Apparently God lifted Mark up in due time so that he became a valued and well-loved companion not only to Barnabas and Peter, but even to Paul, who refers to him in 2 Timothy 4:11 as being helpful to his ministry.

14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Using the custom of the day, Peter is encouraging the believers to greet one another with a sincere expression of love.

And then the farewell which is a blessing. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. Peace — shalom — is the standard greeting and farewell for a Jew. Of course, Peter instills in it Christian significance. The peace that he passes on is the lasting peace that is of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Perhaps a good question to ask as we come to the end of the epistle is "do you have peace in Christ?"

Do you have the peace of knowing that you are chosen of God for redemption as Peter first said to his readers? Your faith is not by chance. You were chosen to believe and to be redeemed.

Do you have the peace of knowing that your inheritance is secure? The eternal glory that will be revealed when Christ returns is being kept safe for you. There is not much if anything that is secure in this world; but that which is most important — your eternal salvation — is secure.

Do you have the peace of knowing that you are called of God to belong to him and live for his glory? You have value and purpose because of the calling you have in Christ.

Do you have the peace of knowing that, in a hostile and chaotic world, God is in control of everything? You are free to live in response to him and his good commandments because every authority is under his authority. You do not have to fear the threats of anyone because you are in God's hands.

Do you have the peace of contentment that lets you cast your anxiety on God? You know that he will lift you up in due time.

Brothers and sisters, let us be at peace in the peace of Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed by no less than the precious blood of Jesus, which is sufficient to cleanse us from sin and reconcile us to God. We have been born again into a living hope of eternal glory in Christ. And the risen Christ, who is now at God's right hand, has placed all authorities, including the devil himself, in submission to him. Stay alert, yes. Stay alert in Christ, that you may know peace.

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