Friday, January 30, 2015

A Better Man ...

Can you tell a Christian by looking at them?  How about after spending some time in conversation, does a Christian begin to be revealed clearly?  Perhaps after getting to know someone, after they are a friend, after you have shared common experience – is it plain to you whether they are a Christian?  Christians bleed, get old or sick, and they die.  Christians make mistakes.  So if the difference between a Christian and just a regular “good guy” does not present a clear difference – why be a Christian?  Some would argue that the key difference is that the Christian is forgiven for his mistakes, the regular “good guy” does not believe he needs forgiveness (or perhaps he lives in a state of perpetual forgiveness).  The past of a Christian is wiped clean.  No matter what a Christian may have done he is accepted by God.
Some would argue that the Christian has hope that in the next life, he will no longer get old or sick, no longer die.  His life then will be eternal – this is all the hope of some Christians.  Christians like the idea that in the next life, sickness will be a thing of the past.  They will walk on golden streets, play with formerly fierce beasts, make music on harps, and generally enjoy a “cushy” life where joy is all there is.  But in their hearts, the Christian believes he will be the same person in heaven, he was here on earth.  The only real difference is the perfections enacted in his body.  The bad vision will be gone.  The overweight condition will be a thing of the past.  He will be strong, and physically perfect from head to toe, a full head of hair without the need for coloring it from age.  He will be perpetually in his perfect state, and perfect age.  And in this he will perfectly mimic the condition of Lucifer before the fall, and if this line of thinking is all there is – history would repeat itself.
The problem with most Christians is that they understand well the beginning of their story founded in forgiveness.  They also understand well the end of their story that results in a life eternal.  What they completely miss is the transition that occurs between the beginning and the end.  The change in who you are that occurs is something they understand all too little.  Christians understand they need to obey, and that they “should” be doing good deeds, but their carnal nature has never been fully understood, let alone removed from them.  So they continue to war against their own selfishness, and predictably lose the battle again and again.  Oh sure, it is easy to fall back on forgiveness to cover what I just did wrong.  But it is infinitely harder not to “want” to do wrong again.  Just give me a little time to get past my guilt, and I will be right back here committing the same sin over and over again.  It is an addiction to selfishness from which Christians are every bit as afflicted as the regular “good guy” is, with nearly no distinction.
It is that lack of distinction that kills the gospel.  If how we live is no different from those around us, no less filled with the anguish of self-inflicted pain – what is point of the gospel?  The gospel was intended to free us from that pain, not give us a license to wallow in it.  The gospel was intended to make us members of the kingdom of God in the here and now, not in some distant future that only occurs after we die and are resurrected in perfection.  The gospel breaks our chains of slavery right here, right now, and makes us free from sin, not free to sin.  Through submission of our will to Christ we become someone new right now.  The process begins here in this world.  And the changes that become evident cannot be hidden.  When we love like He loves, our persona begins to scream that we are Christians.  We become a peculiar people, because we no longer suffer from the same pain that the regular “good guy” inflicts on himself every day.  The freedom from sin and self-love makes our lives better right here and right now.  We become free to want something else, something better.
This is the lure of the gospel.  This is the power of the gospel.  This is something Peter well understood and wanted to insure the early church did not lose sight of in the corrupt world in which they lived.  The point of Christ offering us life was not about extending the number of years we live on this earth, but exploding the joy of every minute we live right here and now.  Christ was not offering us the trappings of this world in which people believe there is happiness.  We are not to be free because of wealth, or power, or even perfect health.  We may still carry the burden of poverty, oppression, and disease brought on by our own choices, or those of others.  But no matter our earthly conditions, our internal conditions can be radically different.  It is not a Mercedes Benz, Armani suit and Rolex watch that screams Christian, it is a heart that loves so deeply it cannot turn away from any need.  It is a heart that is compelled to act because it simply cannot just “pass by”. 
Peter was keen that the early church understood the gospel frees them to be something else, something better.  In chapter 4 of his first letter he begins in verse 1 writing … “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin;”  We may suffer from the evil actions of those that war against love in this world.  Christ did.  Christ took the abuse we heaped upon Him, because He had an eye for our redemption.  Those who have experienced redemption should be like minded.  For it was through the suffering of Christ, that He was given the power to see us redeemed from our former selves.  It is through the sacrifice of Christ, His willingness to take on our punishment, that He is now able to offer us the gift of freedom from our sins.
Peter continues in verse 2 … “That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. [verse 3] For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:”  Herein is the hope of our gospel, herein is its power.  Because of the sacrifice of Christ – “we” – are no longer to live the “rest of our time in the flesh” according to the lusts of men.  The transformation Christ offers us is real.  It is permanent.  It is life altering.  What we used to crave, we no longer have to crave.  What we used to want, we no longer have to want.  What we used to be unable to cease from doing, we no longer have to do.  All addictions broken.  All patterns of negative behavior changed, such that we stop hurting ourselves and others.  This happens IN THE FLESH, meaning in the here and now.  This is not a distant promise that only sees fulfillment in heaven, it is an immediate here and now beginning that makes THIS LIFE a better one.
Instead of living in slavery to self, we are blessed to live according to the “will of God”.  Obedience is not possible without harmony with God.  We can fake it, but we cannot achieve it.  But when we abandon our ideas for His, when we submit our decisions and desires to Him in order to be remade – He transforms how we think and how we love and brings us into harmony with Him.  After transformation, obedience is not only possible, it becomes natural, a part of who we are.  After transformation our slavery to self is ended, as we are made free from sin by Him.  What we used to do, how we used to live, becomes truly a part of our past – NOT our present.  Peter is clear, and pulls no punches, as he describes our past lives prior to transformation with Christ.  He calls himself, and each of us out for having lived in a condition of lust, partying, and abominable acts of self-love.  Sex, drugs, and rock and roll anyone?  Living according to the will of men, and steeped in a culture of sexual exploration where self-gratification rules all is a part of our FORMER lives, not our present ones.
Our transformation changes the perversion of self-love, into an unselfish love of others.  Our focus becomes how to improve the lives of others, not how to make our own a little better.  Sex becomes something intimate shared in the confines of a marriage where we give everything we have to serve the needs of the most precious gift of spouse we have been given.  Drugs, or anything that would reduce our ability to truly feel, and think, becomes a distraction and detriment we no longer want getting in the way of the joy He brings.  Rock and roll that glorifies the things of this world is discarded.  The music we value becomes music that will only uplift the cause of God, we have no time for music that would deter from His glory.  It is not the genre of music we concern ourselves with, it is the utility of the music to bring one closer to Christ.
Peter continues in verse 4 … “Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: [verse 5] Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. [verse 6] For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”  Peter reminds the church that once they begin to experience transformation and no longer wish to do the things that once were so important to them, the world takes notice.  We will be criticized by our “friends” who continue to party without us.  Misery loves company.  Those who still engage in hurtful practices of the world, and know we used to be with them in these things, are not happy when we make another choice.  They do not understand why we would no longer to do all those “fun” things with them anymore.  They judge us harshly, it is natural to do so.
But Peter continues, that the preaching of the gospel is targeted at those who are dead to God, and alive only in their sins.  The point of the gospel is to resurrect people who have known only pain and death into a real and vibrant life with Christ.  The power of the gospel is that it can stop the pain we inflict upon ourselves and others, and replace that with the will of God, which is to make the lives of others better through His love.  It is the Spirit of God that works within us to reflect Him, and His love through us to others.  We become tools in the work of redemption.  Less broken than we were before.  Less hurting than our former choices put upon us.  Less dead to life than we have ever been.  The process of transformation leads us to a good accounting of His love reflected through us to others.
Peter continues in verse 7 … “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”  When we consider the enormity of decisions people will make for or against a life with Christ, we begin to sense the urgency of the gospel we preach.  Every day, circumstances and things beyond our control will claim the life of someone near to us, for that person, the end of all things has come.  Peter is not advocating that we abandon all joy in order to be sober.  But he is making a statement that our highest joy is shared with God in the redemption of just one more soul.  We should be ever praying for that experience to be one in which we share.  Having experienced the freedom from a former sin, having known the joy that comes from becoming a better version of who we were, our prayer should ever be how to successfully witness for the cause of Christ.  Our goal is for others to come to know what we have come to know ourselves.
Peter continues in verse 8 … “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. [verse 9] Use hospitality one to another without grudging. [verse 10] As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  The key witness to the world, the key observation they will see, when they look at you to determine if you are a Christian is whether you have a “fervent charity” for others.  Those who deeply care about others show this characteristic in everything about them.  Strangely it comes out in how they dress, how they speak, what kind of friend they are, and how they interact with total strangers.  The transformation is self-evident, unmistakable, and transparently clear. 
The fervent love of others leads us to behave differently.  We stop thinking about what we can take from someone, and start thinking about what we can offer without being asked.  This change in how we love as Peter says “covers” a multitude of sins.  We no longer think to lie to someone because they deserve the truth.  We no longer think to steal from them, take their wife or property, or worse hurt or kill them.  All the commandments that deal with how we treat people are covered automatically when we love them and not ourselves.  The commandments to love God also become self-evident when through our submission to Him, we find ourselves loving Him more for what He does in our lives.  Peter says that love for others is reflected even in the slightest things like how we offer hospitality to others.  We share our gifts with others, not with a grudging heart that longs to retain its wealth, but with a heart that understands our wealth is defined in what we share, not what we hold.  The wealth of God is not defined in the mass of gold He created, but in the joy He takes in sharing His wealth with all His creations.  God does not hoard gold in a pristine vault deep underground in heaven.  Instead He sprinkles it everywhere, and puts in into the concrete of His city, to give us something nice to look at.  His joy is found as we appreciate how He makes our lives just a little better. 
And our gifts are not just confined by what we “have” in material wealth, they are also defined by what God has given to us to share.  Peter continues in verse 11 … “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”  When we speak, we should be speaking as if we are His prophets, and have clarity into His will.  This is no small thing.  It changes the tenor of most of our conversations.  When we speak about religious topics, often it is with reservation based on how little we know.  But the more we love others, the deeper that love becomes as He works to transform us, the more insight we begin to have regarding the intentions of our God.  A revelation of how deep His love is for us, is ALWAYS a welcome revelation.  Using the gifts God has given us to minister, whether compassion, caring, clarity of speech, articulation, discernment … all are to be steeped in the deep and abiding love of God for ALL mankind.  When our speech is consistent in this manner, we do become oracles of God, a window into which God can be seen reflected through us.
A Christian who has not been transformed by Christ may not be self-evident to the world around them.  But one who is undergoing the transformation to love like Christ loves becomes a beacon of light to the world which cannot be hidden from it.  Living a life free from the pain sin causes, living free to love others without precondition, hesitation or limit – this is the “life” Christ offers us in the here and now.  Living this way transforms those who are familiar with the stories in scripture, to those who have one of their own, a living one …

Friday, January 23, 2015

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished? ...

Intent is difficult to define.  What we perceive about any given event is then influenced by our own mind-set at the time.  If we witness someone crossing the street, and at the time we are coming from a joyful place, where things are going well for us, our world seems full of potential, and our dreams are right around the corner – we tend to associate good or at least neutral “motives” or intentions with the scene of someone crossing the street.  However, if we have just been burglarized, our security shattered, our wealth threatened – the person crossing the street may well be in the midst of a get-away.  It is the same person performing the same action, but how we “judge” or evaluate that identical action is not influenced by the person, but influenced by where our own mind is at the time. 
It is not that dissimilar when someone does something nice for us.  We may think the gesture comes from a place of love in the heart of the giver.  This is particularly true if our own heart longs to show love to others.  But we may also think the gesture is done for an ulterior motive, we become suspicious of what we will be obligated to do if we accept it.  We begin to resent the person for placing us in an uncomfortable situation – looking ungrateful if we refuse, or being obligated if we accept.  The negative evaluation of the identical gesture can lead us so far, as to begin to avoid the giver, or worse begin to take pre-emptive or retributive actions against them.  It is sad to say, but a heart that loves only itself, or itself above all others, tends to see “good deeds” through the lens of selfish motives.  We accuse others of the behaviors we are familiar with … because we see them in ourselves.  We come to believe that others are incapable of “good deeds” because we too are largely incapable.  But in typical fashion, we deny the transference, and convince ourselves, this is just being “practical” in our world.
How a “gift” is received is a reflection of the heart of the recipient – it is not a statement about the motives of the giver.  To offer something freely, regardless of how it is received, perhaps in spite of how it is received, is a reflection of the heart of the giver.  Christ offers us the “gift” of freedom from sin.  But in our sin, we judge that He is just trying to take away from us, something that we hold dear.  He may be trying to take away our “fun”, and leave us with the “drudgery” of obeying the law.  Yet Christ continues to offer us this “gift”.  When we begin to realize, that there is no more precious a “gift” that He could have offered us, the realization is a reflection of change in our own hearts.  His “gift” has not changed, our responses have.  We may have at first rejected what He offered, and even been resentful that He would put us in the uncomfortable situation of – looking ungrateful if we refuse, or being obligated if we accept.  We may have gone so far as to avoid Him as the giver, or worse to take pre-emptive or retributive actions against Him.  But He loves and offers just the same.  And when once we accept, He transforms how we think about the same “gift”, forgiving us completely for what we might have done against Him and His “gift” in the past.
If our Savior must endure this rejection, this improper judgment of His motives, this devaluation of the most precious “gift” in all of history as He works to redeem you and me – can we seriously think our minor good deeds will not undergo the same phenomenon as we attempt to reach out to those around us?  Peter understood this phenomenon.  He had witnessed it first hand as Christ healed the lame man, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised Lazarus from the dead.  The beautiful gifts of Christ, were judged by the religious leadership of His day, to be the acts of Satan, because those actions did not conform to the authority of the church.  Having seen this, Peter is keen to share the foreknowledge with the early Christian church, not only about what to expect, but about continuing to return good for evil in spite of how it is received.
Peter continues in chapter 3 of his first letter to the church beginning in verse 14 … “But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; [verse 15] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”  Offending an oppressive authority carries a substantial risk.  A citizen of North Korea who openly insults the “precious leader” is likely to see his life forfeit as a result.  The same is true in religiously based totalitarian states; offer offense to the dominant religious thinking or ideology and lives are lost as a result.  It was no different under Roman rule, perhaps only that it might have been worse.  Insulting Kim in Korea is a rule everyone can understand.  In Rome, that could apply to a host of people.  Insulting Islam in a predominantly Muslim country is a rule everyone can understand.  In Rome, there were a myriad of religions that came in and out of favor, each particular “god” having its own set of rules and regulations.
Peter has just given wise counsel in our last study about the secret to living a long and happy life.  In a nutshell, he offers that it may be as simple as keeping your tongue in check.  When you speak, avoid malice, mischief, and speak with the love that comes from the inherited blessing of working in conjunction with Christ for the redemption of the lost.  He states in the above verses, that even after following that advice, there may be those who continue to judge you harshly, and threaten your very existence.  But the consistent response of returning good for evil, will drive your oppressor to wonder “how” you are able to respond this way.  Peter then offers, that this event, is what we longed to see.  Stand ready to give an answer of the reason for hope within you, in both meekness and respect, to the one who asks.  It is not in returning equal violence and equal evil for what is done to us, that our oppressor begins to cease his actions.  His heart remains untouched.  But when he is offered love for evil, his heart must understand this, and in so doing can become changed.
Peter continues in verse 16 … “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. [verse 17] For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.”  Keeping a positive consistent, Christ-like love in our speech, has the added benefit of freeing our hearts and minds from the guilt that comes in speaking or doing evil to others.  Those who are consistent in loving others, sleep better.  And “if” we are to suffer because of the wickedness of other men, then let us suffer for our good deeds and good speech – than to suffer for the gossip we spread, and the lies we tell, and the jealousy and judgmental-ism that so often cross the “Christian’s” lips.  To suffer for our misdeeds is only justice; there is no nobility in it.  But to suffer for our good deeds, is to walk the path of patient love that our Savior tread before us.
Peter continues in verse 18 … “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”  Peter reminds us that Christ suffered and died, not only for those who would accept His gift, but for those who would choose to reject it.  He died for everyone, not just for His followers.  He longed to have all the world experience the freedom from sin He offers.  But how an individual responds to Christ is the choice of that person.  Christ died for him.  How he responds is left to him. 
Peter continues in verse 19 … “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;”  The New Testament does not talk much about the prison ministry of Jesus.  There are some interactions between the disciples of John the Baptist when he is imprisoned that are recorded.  There is also the parable Jesus tells of the separation of sheep and goats based in part on how they visited those in prison.  John’s gospel states that many more things Jesus did while he was here, so many that no volume of books could contain the whole of them.  So perhaps Peter here alludes to a personal knowledge that Jesus did indeed visit those in prison to offer them hope.  Or perhaps Peter here is talking about how Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is able to free us from the prison of sin and self-slavery we have embraced.  In either case, our Lord is highly concerned about our freedom from sin, and often is misjudged by us, throughout the process of salvation.
Peter continues in verse 20 … “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”  Notice that even when the world was judged to be so continually evil that it must be destroyed, the sentence was delayed for 120 years, so that perhaps some of mankind might reconsider and be saved.  Entry into the ark was not forbidden by Noah, it was encouraged.  He preached for 120 years about what was coming, and how mankind might be saved.  It takes very little risk to enter the ark “just in case” Noah is right.  It takes tremendous arrogance to ignore the first-hand accounts of Adam and Eve who lived nearly half the time between the garden of Eden and the flood.  It takes tremendous arrogance to ignore the angel with the flaming sword who stood at the entrance to the garden of evil to insure mankind no longer ate from the tree of life.  There was first hand and physical proof of the existence of a creator God.  Yet not a single soul took the precaution of entering the ark “just in case”.  Only Noah and his family were saved.  The disobedient were set in their course, despite the mercy God continued to extend to them.  And as it was in the days of Noah …
Peter continues in verse 21 … “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: [verse 22] Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”  Peter compares the flood where evil men died, to the symbolism of baptism, where the evil in our hearts is drowned by our choice to submit and follow Jesus Christ.  Peter qualifies that it is not our actions that save us, but our willingness to be transformed by God, brought into harmony with how God thinks, and loves others.  As we emerge from the baptismal waters, so Christ emerged from the grave.  As Christ is ascended into heaven, and has been given all power and authority sitting on the right hand of God, so He is able to save us from the slavery of sin that would have cost us our lives and existence, and bring us home to Him.
The process of our salvation is founded on the patient love of God.  God allowed time for the people in Noah’s day to hear the message, and have the chance to see redemption.  It was the people of that day that refused to be saved.  The actions of the life of Christ did not return hate speech for hate speech, instead constantly trying to guide the Pharisees and unbelievers to the knowledge of the love of God for man.  It was the Pharisees who refused to ever embrace that love, with only few exceptions.  Peter reminds us that our consistent positive love-centered speech is not always going to be received well.  We will be judged harshly, often by those most in need, and most steeped in evil.  But that should not diminish our showing love to them; instead it should serve to increase it.
The end-game for God is about our redemption.  He was willing to endure tremendous pain and suffering and insult, even death, in order to see us redeemed.  He is willing to forgive everything we have done to Him, just hoping so fervently to see us accept His love, and be with Him forever.  There was no price He was not willing to pay to see the job done.  Nothing He would not endure.  That kind of love is limitless, infinite, and beyond our comprehension.  The best we will ever do is accept it.  We may never come to fully understand it.  Our carnal nature can simply not make sense of it.  Yet it exists.  If evil is to be eliminated, it must be by a choice for something else.  His love provides a reason to seek that choice.  His love provides a method of seeing that choice become a reality.  His love abides with us before, during and after this process takes place.  His love is everything …

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Does It Mean To Love? ...

There are those who say “Love is cheap.”  To this I ask, “then how could God be love?”  What love motivated God to do for us on Calvary was anything but cheap.  On the contrary, it was everything He had.  The massive power and ability of God to control everything, escape everything, was held in check through the torture, through the pain, all the way into the grave.  He did nothing to save Himself from our punishment, but instead He bore it so we would never have to.  He endured a separation from His Father, the source of all love, that broke His heart and cost Him His life.  All for you.  Everything He had, He would lay down, only for you.  What does it mean to love?  What does it mean to love like God loves?  When Christ gives His disciples the commandment to love one another, how should we translate that into practical terms?  This direction to us was not about warm fuzzy feelings, or empty words spoken in passing without any thought behind them.  To love each other carries far more meaning than that.
Peter carried a passion in his ministry and counsel to the church of his day.  He knew that above all things, the success of early church would be defined by how it loved.  It is no different today.  The success of the gospel message will be defined by how those who proclaim it - love (not with their words, but with their lives).  In our study of Peter’s first letter to the church, we have reviewed the importance Peter placed on a humble submissive approach to the world around us, no matter how evil it might be.  After offering counsel to men and then women about how to reach the un-reached heart, melting it with humility and love, he now refocuses back to those who claim the name of Christ.  His counsel focuses back on what it means to love.
He begins in chapter 3 in verse 8 saying … “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: [verse 9] Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”  To be of one mind, one must be willing to become part of a collective, part of a family.  We need not lose our identity or sacrifice what makes us unique and adds value to the body of Christ.  But needs be, that we sacrifice the ego that would hold our uniqueness above the value of others.  If we are to be one, we must accept the uniqueness of others as having equal weight with our own contributions.  “Smart” is not the only virtue to value.  “Caring” means more, far more often.  “Approachable” will enable connections where its opposite prevents the sharing of love.  Every attribute, every gift, every unique contribution to the body of Christ carries equal weight, and is equally needed in the cause of Christ.  To be of one mind, we must see that all parts of the body are as critical to the cause of Christ, as is our own particular piece.
In our quest for unity of spirit, of goals to love the unloved, we must not lose sight of the opportunity and blessing of showing Compassion to each other.  To feel deeply for those in pain, to so care about someone else, that what happens to them, happens to you – is to love your neighbor as yourself.  To find pity for your spouse, or children, or parents might be easier, but to find it for your fellow parishioner might be quite a bit harder.  To find pity for an enemy, or for the “man on the street”, to so value his life and experiences that they carry equal weight with your own, is to begin to love like Christ loved.  This kind of love for one another is not natural.  It can only come through submission to Christ that Peter has already given significant attention to. 
Peter then adds the idea of practicing common courtesy to each other.  Imagine how often courtesy, allows the simple basic needs of another to be prioritized ahead of your own.  You are driving down the road, and someone needs to get into your lane – do you let them in front of you to be courteous?  You may find yourself delayed as a result.  If you do it for everyone who has a need it may take you a long time to get anywhere.  Those behind you are sure to be critical.  But those who you permit access ahead of your own need to get somewhere could be grateful.  Courtesy is only a simple practice of putting the needs of someone else ahead of your own.  It is being thoughtful.  A parent takes a small child out to eat at a crowded restaurant.  The child becomes agitated and disruptive, does the parent allow the child to run amok?  Or are they proactively addressing the needs of the child, while minimizing the disruption of the dining experience of others who have paid to eat out as well?  Courtesy, would see the parent take proactive and preventative action, even if it means their own food grows cold.  The experience of others outweighs their own.  That is courtesy seldom seen in the world today.
Then Peter gets back to his theme of what it means to love.  When evil is shown to you, when someone rails against your (whether deserved or not), your response is the choice you are faced with.  You cannot prevent someone else from taking evil against you.  You cannot prevent the hurtful words another may speak about you.  But your response defines your love – even for those who prefer to remain your enemy.  The blessing the Christian inherits in returning love for evil is no small thing.  It is the basis of conversion.  It is the reason to ask “why”?  Think about how your respond to Christ.  You spit in His face, and yet He loves you.  You hurt Him with what you do, yet He forgives you, and holds no memory of your slights.  You begin to wonder, “why” would God love you so much?  What is it about you that is “worth” loving?  You can’t see it.  But somehow He does.  And love begins the work of transformation within you away from the evil you once embraced, and into the unfailing love you have been shown.
Imagine for a minute though, what would have happened if when you spit at God, He happened to spit back.  That would have only been justice.  You throw rocks at Him, so He throws rocks at you.  After all you threw first.  He does not have to use His powers, He could exactly return to you what you have done to Him.  But He does not.  If He did, you would not see love, you would see justice.  People turn from the justice they are due.  No one likes to admit what their actions have earned them.  No one likes to suffer the consequences of the evil seeds they have planted.  Instead, they want to do evil, and see none in return.  Justice does nothing to inspire loyalty, it is only a factual response.  Love however is a mystery.  Why someone would return love for your evil, begins to gnaw at your mind.  It is aggravating not to be able to understand why someone responds to your evil, with good.  That response warrants investigation.  That response must be understood, and so the path of love begins.  The blessing we inherit, may be a small role in the redemption of another soul.  For us to even begin to point an erring soul back to the source of all love, is not inconsequential.  It is us, allowing God, to use us, for the benefit of mankind.
Peter continues in verse 10 … “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: [verse 11] Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.”  Peter wants those who read his words to have a life worth living, a good life.  He is not just deferring a good life until we meet in heaven.  He is establishing how to have one here on earth despite being under unjust rule, and perhaps even the control of slavery and oppression.  To be happy and love life, keep your tongue in check.  Speak no mischief of others, speak no lies, speak no malice.  Instead of seeking evil, seek to escape evil and find something good to say or do instead.  Instead of allowing ego to foster conflict, seek peace.  Be humble enough to embrace peace no matter if you are “right” or not.  Seek peace and unity, speaking truth without malice, or harming others.  Mind how your words are heard, how they might be interpreted, take care so that love is ALWAYS heard in what you speak.  This is the recipe for a happy life in the here and now.  Evil seeds yield only an evil harvest.
Peter continues in verse 12 … “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.  [verse 13] And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?”  First, it is important to understand that the problems in our prayer-life are not because is listening or ignoring us.  It is instead what we ask for.  Too often we ask for what “we” need, or what “we” want, and what we want is intended solely for our benefit.  The righteous asks for others, the righteous are like Christ seeking how to make the lives of others better in the world.  Those prayers are heard, as it gives God permission to intercede in the life of someone who might not have chosen it, in order that He answer our prayers on their behalf.  Those are the prayers God longs to hear, and answer.  The gimme, gimme, gimme, prayers are all too common, and have only one target to benefit – namely me.  God knows the needs of His people, and loves them.  He spoils His children in showering them what they truly need, even if sometimes it is hard to see that is what is occurring.
The things intended for our harm, will be turned into something that is for our good – because of the love of God for each of us.  It is OK to express our needs to God in our prayers, but remembering He already knows them, He is deeply concerned about them, and He has already made provision for addressing them.  Given that, do you really need to keep kicking the dead horse?  If instead, we focused the energy of our prayers on the deep needs of others, we might find a more productive use of prayer.  It may be that the one in need refuses to bow before our God, and his only hope is that you will do it on his behalf.  It may be that the one trapped in a sin you know they commit, has no desire to be made free from that sin.  Should you silently pray to God for that person, you might find it is both theirs and your own heart melted by love.  The prayers of the righteous carry a faith that already knows their own needs have been addressed before they begin.  They are free to pray for others, and take care to notice what God might wish to do for others, through them.
What does it mean to love?  For Peter, it means you put the eternal life of another so ahead of your own temporary needs and desires, that you become an instrument for their salvation.  It is not about finding warm fuzzy feelings and “chemistry” that would draw you to the homeless and those who reek from life in the gutter.  It is about seeing that mentally challenged chemically imbalanced soul, and seeing the face of God, and the love of God trying so hard to break through and reach that soul.  You may be His only instrument.  You may be His last tool, His last opportunity.  What a tragedy to waste that opportunity because we are so “busy”.  What a tragedy to deny love because those mentally imbalanced homeless souls are “incapable” of understanding what we might have offered.  They may have their problems.  But the love of Christ reaches deep, and heals a multitude of illness.  To pray for that person, to take action to show love to that person, may result in the miracle of healing that might have otherwise never been seen.  For all eternity, what gratitude might you be showing to those who helped bring you to the love of Christ?
What does it mean to love?  For Peter it means that we value unity in the church above the needs of our ego.  It means we value the life of an enemy so highly that we would seek their happiness despite how they treat us before, during, and after what we do for them.  It means we treat our enemies like our God treated us when we were His enemy.  It means we treat our spouse like the infinite unique treasure they have always been.  It means we treat those in authority over us, with respect, kindness, humility and love, even when how they treat us is nothing short of oppression.  It means winning the end game.  Sin will only be defeated when mankind chooses to seek freedom from it through the power of Christ.  Love draws mankind to that point.  Criticism drives man away from it.
Have you been so drawn by the love of Christ, to the point where you are willing to reflect it to others?  Have you asked yourself … what does it mean to love?

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thou Shalt Submit [part two] ...

Because of the separation of the second chapter from the third chapter in Peter’s first letter to the church, often verse one of chapter three is read as if it is the start of a new conversation, or a new admonition from Peter’s counsel.  It is not.  It is the continuation of our study on the strategy of submission to conquer evil.  In our previous examination of chapter two, we begin to see how Peter progressively raises the stakes in asking the church to show love, even in the face of evil.  Despite the absolute corruption, malice, and pagan indoctrination of the Roman system of government; Peter offers zero counsel to rebel, and instead asks us to submit to every ordinance of man, for the sake of the gospel.  When we are cheated, we are to be honest and loving in return.  When others speak lies, and accuse us falsely, we are to remain steadfast, upright, and speak no words of reprisal.  In this sense Peter is only reinforcing the teachings of Jesus when He asked us to love our enemies.
But the level of submission Peter asks is more than just our submission to Christ of our will in order to be transformed by the power of His love.  It is to allow that transformation to effect “how” we love others.  As we adopt the love of Christ into us, as it becomes part of us; we begin to lose the distinctions between friends and enemies.  People are only people.  They are to be loved, no matter how they respond to that love.  Those who have responded to the love of Christ might make an effort to return love when it is extended to them.  But the goal is not to see love extended only so that we see love returned.  It is to see love extended no matter what the outcome.  Sinners, after all, are the ones MOST in need of the love of Christ reflected through you.  It is not through violence, that evil can be extinguished from the hearts of man; it is only through a choice to love.  Peter sets a very clear mirror for us from which to examine our progress in our spiritual transformation … how humble can we be in the face of injustice, and how loving can we be in the face of undeserved evil. 
These are not popular words today.  They were no more popular in Peter’s own day.  The natural human condition rebels against oppression and injustice.  Our sentiment today is to resort to violence to achieve “justice”.  It was so in days of old as well.  It is the clarion call of Satan to demand “justice”.  For equality would see an eye taken for an eye, and a life taken for a life – that is justice.  But it is not the way of our God, for our God prefers mercy over justice.  He offers forgiveness rather than the rewards we have truly earned.  He loves us despite what we have done, and offers to free us from the chains that would bind us to repeating the failures of the past.  He pays our penalties Himself so that justice need not be visited upon us.  But to be free, we must be made free.  We must submit ourselves to Christ to be transformed by His love, submitting our decisions, our desires, and thus our actions.  In the last study, we come to realize, that the preferred state of one who loves, is submissive, not aggressive.  To see love win, we must be willing to obey, even when obedience is not what we believe is “fair”.  Instead of rebellion against the corruption of Rome, Peter asks that we honor Roman rule.  Instead of meeting violence with violence, we are to meet it with patience and love.
It is ONLY after men understand what has been asked of them with regards to submission that we can continue with the admonitions found in chapter three.  They are not isolated from each other, with wives asked to submit, and husbands to be made free from submission in general.  No, the prerequisites of submission have had a long prolog in chapter two, and now we continue with this these beginning in verse one of chapter three as Peter writes … “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;”  The word “likewise” is a reference to how the unbelievers come to know the love of Christ as discussed in the previous examples.  As Christians maintain a spirit of love and charity, and humble obedience even to the unjust edicts of men, they bare witness of a strength outside of themselves.  The transforming power of the love of Christ is made evident in our ability to remain humble and loving in the face of injustice. 
It is ironic that husband’s, and men in general, miss the subtlety of Peters inference.  Peter has just been describing how unjust oppressors discover Christ through the loving response of humble Christians.  Here Peter offers to wives the word “likewise” – perhaps meaning that he understands that husbands too are often unjust in how they treat their wives.  Peter continues that the direct influence of a wife upon her husband is profound.  Loving words spoken in humility by a wife who has discovered the treasure of serving her husband are nearly impossible to ignore.  The hardest man can be melted by the softest woman.  No matter what the husband is compelled to face and deal with in his quest to provide for his family, he cannot ignore the simple, uplifting conversations that love can inspire in a wife who prizes service.  It does not take Biblical brow-beating, or forced exposure to the word of God, to reach the still unconverted heart of the husband.  It only takes consistent love reflected in the consistent conversations of the wife.  The living witness is more powerful than the written word.  For if the word is not alive in you, of what value is it?
Peter continues in verse 2 … “While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. [verse 3] Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; [verse 4] But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”  In this Peter has destroyed the entire fashion industry.  For as with all things, the inside will matter more than the surface.  To be clear, Peter is not advocating that women become nudists, refrain from cleanliness and good hygene practices, let the hair run wild, abandon make-up – but – wear only a meek and mild spirit.  While these ideas might appeal to some men, it would be unwise to attempt to use this scripture to achieve these goals.  However, Peter is making a clear statement about the priorities of “how” a woman reaches the heart of a man.  Bad news ladies … it is not in the new hair-do, or the myriad of jewelry you wear, or in that “to die for” new outfit on the manikins in the department store window.  It is captured in the counsel already given – it is in respect, upright conversations, humility, and consistency of love shown.  It is in our humility that God is able to reach us, it is why he prizes the meek and quiet spirit so highly, and why it is of such value in a wife.
Keep in mind, Peter is not just looking to impart general marital advice, he is talking specifically here about how a Christian woman reaches the heart of an unconverted husband, that she might introduce her husband to the Christ she serves.  The bond of matrimony is not strong enough to overcome the freewill choice of a spouse.  They cannot be saved because you are righteous.  They are not transformed by the love of Christ, just because you are.  These are individual choices, that each one of us must make.  If only one partner in a marriage makes the choice to be transformed, only one will be ready to live eternally in the city and existence He is currently preparing for us.  There will be no greater sadness than to face that eternity in solitude, because the partner we shared a life with here on earth, was never reached by the love we “could” have shown, and for selfish reasons, simply didn’t.  Peter offers the heart of woman, a method for insuring she is not alone on that great day, but is able to stand with the man she has chosen to love.
Peter continues in verse 5 … “For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: [verse 6] Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”  Here is where it gets interesting.  Peter writes that this method has worked before.  Holy women in days past have trusted in God to transform their hearts, and make them able to consistently serve and love their own husbands.  Through their influence men were brought to God.  More interesting is the example of Sara who is said to have obeyed Abraham and called him lord.  Could it be, that Abraham was prompted to begin his search to find God, because of the influence of his wife Sara?  Could it be, that the much touted faith of Abraham was strengthened and supported by the largely invisible wife Sara?  There were no sayings regarding the matriarch of the Jewish faith.  Sons of Abraham was a popular designation, daughters of Sara much less so.  Yet does Peter here offer us some insight, that perhaps the mighty man of faith, owed much of this reputation to the consistent humility of his wife whose influence was a powerful one?
Peter continues in verse 7 … “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.”  Peter again uses the word “likewise”.  Perhaps here he refers to the Abraham reference cited above, a recognition that the influence of our wife on our faith is profound – whether for better or worse.  He counsels husbands to dwell with them according to knowledge.  Do not forget that it is God you serve, and He who you love first, in order that you may then find immeasurable love for your wife through Him.  Husbands are to care for their wives as unto the weaker vessel.  Peter is not demeaning the strength of a Christian woman.  He is instead asking husbands to care for their wives as if handling precious china, something that is tender, can break, can be damaged by inattention or a lack of care.  Things that are irreplaceable must be handled with great care so that they are always valued, and never thrown carelessly aside.
Then Peter raises the stakes again.  He tells us that we are … “being heirs together” of the grace of life.  When once the bonds of matrimony are made, when two choose to become one, they are indeed seen as one.  Yes, each of us must choose to submit to Christ, and be transformed by the power of His love.  But having made that choice, as well as the one to be bound in marriage, we are “heirs” together.  We inherit the life and home in our heavenly destination as one.  When in Eden God determined it was not good for man to be alone, His wisdom was not colored by sin, or its effects.  Man was created and pronounced good.  But the addition of a wife makes him better.  The two individuals who form a family unit are made stronger in the joining than they were by themselves.  Men must understand this.  The knowledge of the eternal implications of our choices cannot be understated.  When God says the word forever, he is not thinking in terms of a 70 year life span.  He is thinking about forever, an existence that extends well beyond this corruptible one.  When we bind ourselves till death do us part, we recognize human frailty, but in so doing deny ourselves the potential of what might still be to come.
The advice Peter offers comes with a warning … “that your prayers be not hindered”.  Service, care and love for our wives, cannot be omitted while we think ourselves as having achieved spiritual enlightenment.  We have chosen to serve and love them, and how we do this, is a reflection of the transformation our Lord has wrought in our hearts.  To pray to God for things we “want”, while ignoring the needs of our wives, is to have our prayers hindered.  It is a reflection of our selfishness in how we pray.  The needs of others should top our prayer list; of those our wives should be first in line.  To ignore the needs of our wife, is to ignore the half of our one-ness.  It is literally to work against our own best interest.  The unity institutionalized in marriage is no trivial or temporary thing.  And as Peter states here we face our next life as joint heirs in the grace our Lord offers us.
Peter’s counsel to submit flies in the face of the untransformed heart.  It does go against our human nature and natural inclinations.  But it stands as the strategy employed by our God to see us saved.  While in this world, Jesus obeyed the laws of the Romans, and made no effort to dethrone them.  He submitted to Roman rule, even when it cost him torture and death.  To remain consistent in meeting evil with love is not something the normal human can expect to maintain.  It can only come through the transforming power of Jesus in our lives.  It can only come as we let Christ remake how we thing, what we value, what we want.  It takes a literal overhaul of our human nature to see the wisdom of Peter’s words.  Those obsessed with justice, cannot understand this approach.  And in the end, those obsessed with justice will never find it.  For “justice” is a very subjective standard, and the true equality it would demand is a price few are willing to pay.
But entrance into heaven, is not based on the justice of what we deserve.  It is instead based on the mercy that would see us transformed from one who earned death repeatedly, to one who would love others and willingly die to see them spared.  This is the example our Lord set for us.  This is the path we are all traveling on.
And Peter had only begun to describe what it is like to love another …

Friday, January 2, 2015

Thou Shalt Submit [part one] ...

No, there isn’t any text in scripture that plainly states “thou shalt submit”; perhaps because submission, like love and forgiveness, should also be a freewill choice.  The entirety of the gospel shows us that as we submit to Christ, He transforms our will, our desires, our thinking, our motives, and our actions into His own likeness.  In this we come to realize that submitting to Christ means letting go of even “who” we are to Him to be remade.  We come to realize that we are putting aside what “we want”, in order for Him to change what “we want” into something else, something better.  We come to realize that death-to-self through Christ, becomes a rebirth into a world we can hardly imagine.  When our self-love is taken from us, and replaced with love for others, our perspectives change.  Instead of constantly thinking about how my next words or actions will benefit me, I begin to think how my next words or actions will benefit someone else. 
It is easier to serve someone else, who I have a special regard for, perhaps my wife, or parents, or children.  A little less easy, but it is still possible to serve my in-laws, cousins, extended family, or closest friends.  In short, we develop a pecking-order of those who we love most, down to those we don’t love so much.  And for nearly all of us, George W. Bush, or Barrack Obama scarcely make the list.  Neither does the policeman who pulls us over to write a well-deserved traffic ticket, or the civil court judge who imposes a penalty we would have all too much wanted to avoid.  Authority figures, scarcely ever make the list, of those who we hold in a special regard, and those we love above all others.  We are sort of forced into submitting to their authority and often we resent it.  We have to pay our taxes which support programs we disagree with, or face the penalty of tax evasion if we refuse.  There are penalties that always come with disobedience to authority figures.  When the penalties get “too high” rebellion looms.  Slaves will revolt to gain their freedom; the oppressed will rise up to break the yoke of oppression.  And we Americans cheer this phenomenon as “natural” and “right”.  We value independence, and “justice” for all, even if it must be earned at the point of a sword.
Sadly, many Christians are first and loudest in the call to end injustice through means of violence.  Recent events regarding potential police over-reactions have incited many to take up the clarion call of “no justice, no peace”.  Violence breaks out in communities that can least afford its damaging effects.  We inflict more pain upon each other completely negating the call for reform, and providing justification for the restraining force used against the violence displayed.  This self-destructive cycle accomplishes nothing.  And the injustice faced in our day while very real, is also very limited in scope compared to ages past.  In the days prior to the civil war in this country, “black lives mattered” only in as much as any piece of property owned by the wealthy.  A few hundred years ago, “white lives mattered” only in as much as they agreed with the religion in power, and served the will of the king.  In the days of Peter, “slave lives mattered” not at all, whether white, black, brown, or otherwise.  Roman authority was still absolute, completely corrupt, and fully unbreakable.  Disobedience in the days of Peter carried more penalties than mere financial fines, in his day, the penalty was often very severe and could spread to family and loved ones with no regard for justice, or equity.
Looking objectively at the political conditions in which Peter lived, through our current lens as Americans, we would have encouraged an organized revolution over the oppressive tyranny of Roman Rule.  We call out conditions in North Korea, or Iran, or Sudan as being so horrible that a “regime” change is needed to restore basic “human rights”.  Peter lived under a regime that was far more ruthless, and far more corrupt, and far more universal.  Decentralized authority figures such as provincial governors had the backing of roman garrisons at their command.  The local “police force” were trained killers who had ZERO rules for violent engagement.  Should a local Roman Soldier kill you, or cut off a limb, simply because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you had no recourse.  Your meaningless death was not given a second thought, and should your family complain or protest your innocence, they could be immediately slaughtered or sold into slavery.  As Americans, we cannot imagine living under such conditions.  For us, this would have required “liberty or death”.  And those of like mind in the Roman age found death 1000 times more often than any liberty.
But what Peter had to say about living under these oppressive and corrupt conditions boggles the mind of American Christians today, because he said things none of “us” want to hear, let alone do.  In his first letter chapter 2, and verse 11 he begins … “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; [verse 12] Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  First, his readers are not just an audience, they are “dearly loved”.  Our God has offered us everything, even His own life, in exchange for ours so that we might live in a world after this one.  Remembering this level of love for us is important in facing a world steeped in evil.  Next Peter again reminds us, that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world of evil.  After our transformation begins in submitting to Christ, what used to be natural to us, becomes foreign to us.  Peter’s advice then, is to avoid “fleshy lusts”.  Whether he refers to extravagant dietary delicacies, or scantily clad places of disrepute, the advice is the same – avoid indulging self and building appetites of self-indulgence.
But beyond avoiding things that would teach us to please self, our conversations, our words, our speech should also be honest.  Even though we deal with perpetual liars, we are not to engage in their practices.  Even though we deal with perpetual gossips, we are not to participate in gossip.  By contrast, while Gentiles (or those who refuse to believe in Christ yet) are speaking constant evil of us, we speak nothing but love in their regard.  While we are cheated, we do not cheat others in return.  It is our display of love even under these completely unfair conditions that mark us as being changed by Christ.  For only God could so change a human heart, that it would be willing to love during conditions of unfair oppression.  The natural response is to rebel.  The Christ centered response is to return love for evil.  Peter does NOT take up the banner of “no justice, no peace”.  Instead Peter advises taking up the banner of “love and honesty in the face of evil”.  True reform cannot be brought about through violence.  For while we might be able to compel the hands and feet, we do not ever change the heart that motivates them through acts of violent suppression.  Love however, can change the heart, which in turn changes the actions of the hands and feet.
Peter continues in verse 13 … “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; [verse 14] Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”  Peter here ups the ante.  Not only are we to submit to Christ to be remade, we are also to submit our own will to those who are in authority.  We are to obey “every ordinance of man” for the Lord’s sake.  Not just the king, but his corrupt governors, and officers sent by the governor – we are to obey them all for the Lord’s sake.  You can imagine these were not popular words in the days of Peter, and they are no more popular now.  The idea that we should have to submit to unfair conditions, in an unjust system, run by worldly loving pagans, who would just as soon kill us as look at us, hardly seems like the course any would “want” to pursue.  Yet Peter outlines exactly this course of action – do not rebel, instead submit and further offer love in response to the evil you face.
Peter understands the end-game.  Peter gets the strategy outlined by God to be rid of sin and evil once and for all – you have to love it to death.  God had, and has, the power to simply kill all evil everywhere it exists.  But He does not; because evil cannot be killed or eradicated through violence.  To see evil eliminated, those who engage in it must choose to want something else.  They will never make that choice without a reason, and without a better alternative.  Love is that reason.  Love provides that better alternative.  Peter will never conquer the Roman Empire through force of arms.  Those guys were professional killers.  But melt the heart of that killer soldier with love, and he becomes a soldier in the army of God, looking to redeem lives, not take them any longer.  Peter was not advocating that the authorities in power were “right” or fair or just.  Peter knows they are corrupt, he knows they are governed by hate and greed.  This is NOT an endorsement of the evil empire.  It is however a strategy that can succeed against evil as only love can.  Our submission to Christ first, enables us to submit ourselves even when conditions are unfair to earthly authority.  We need not disobey our God to follow the will of men, but where the edicts of men are merely unpalatable and unfair; our love in the face of their evil has the only chance of seeing reform come to pass.
 Peter continues in verse 15 … “For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: [verse 16] As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. [verse 17] Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”  Peter here ups the ante again.  For in his advice to submit to earthly authorities, he now adds that this is the very “will of God”.  So many Adventists are content to proclaim the need to obey the commandments of God, yet nearly zero folks espouse complete submission to corrupt earthly authorities as being the will of God.  Peter accurately records the effects of this behavior, it puts to silence the ignorance of foolish men.  The only stark contrast to evil is love.  When we show love in response to evil, it dumbfounds those who witness it.  It is not natural to see love offered in response to evil.  It is supernatural.  It is Christ powered.  It is Christ based. 
Peter tells us to act this way BECAUSE we are ALREADY free.  Our liberty, is the liberty from sin, and the slavery and chains of self-love.  We have already been made free by Christ from choosing to always act in our own best interest.  We are instead free to act in the interests of others.  We are not to misuse our own freedom to act maliciously against others, knowing we would be forgiven of our misdeeds.  Instead we are to remember we were made free to “serve”.  We are “servants” of God.  We serve others like He serves others.  We love our enemies, like He loved us before we were His own.  Peter goes further, in his admonition, that we should Honor ALL men.  Peter tells us to give respect and honor to ALL men, not just the ones we like, or the ones we agree with, or the ones who are nice to us.  Instead we are honor ALL men, whether they deserve honor or not.  We are to honor the police officer who has just over-reacted and taken the life of someone who may not have deserved this fate.  We are to return love to that officer, despite what pain he may have caused.  It is only love that will ever bring peace.  It is only love that will ever bring repentance.  It is only love that will ever bring reform.
We are to “love” the brotherhood.  We are to respect our God.  And we are to Honor our king, or our governmental authorities.  It is love alone that will change our world.  It is love alone that can once and for all time, see evil eliminated.  Violence only begets violence.  Humility allows us to reflect love instead of demanding justice.  Submission demonstrates that we are willing to place our own needs and desires behind those of another.  Submission is not an act of cowardice, rather it is an act of one fully willing to release control, willing to yield that control - for the benefit of another.  God has all the power in the universe, and chooses NOT to use that power to force us into submission.  Rather he offers us love, and offers us freedom, but only if we choose to accept it.  God does not use power and control to achieve submission, He uses love alone. 
Peter continues in verse 18 … “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. [verse 19] For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. [verse 20] For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”  Peter once again raises the stakes.  Servants are advised to serve their masters with great respect, whether they are good and gentle, or whether they are not.  We are to treat the “deserving” and the non-deserving equally.  Those bound into service, whether by consent, or by the chains of unjust oppression, are to serve in love regardless.  Again, this is NOT an endorsement of the practice of slavery.  It is however, a proscription of how to act when one is forced into the conditions of slavery.  We are to act with love even if we are persecuted for how we act.  It is of little value to be criticized for the truth of our shortcomings, for we rightly earn disdain for actions taken in self-love.  But to suffer wrongfully, for acts of love to others, is to emulate the sufferings of Christ.
Peter now offers the proof of his assertions in the example of our Lord as he writes in verse 21 … “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: [verse 22] Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: [verse 23] Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”  Jesus, who was perfect, and deserved no persecution, was reviled of men.  They railed against Christ, hurling accusation after accusation; but Jesus did not return to them what they deserved.  When they beat Christ, or threw stones at Him, He did not vow to take revenge.  Instead Jesus looked to God the Father to be His judge.  When false accusations were hurled His way, He did not need to prove His own innocence to His accusers, instead He showed them love, and trusted His Father to judge Him in all matters. 
Our path is to follow in His footsteps, we are to live loving others and constantly doing good to all men, even to the unjust who have authority over us.  Christ could have ended the Roman rule in one second.  He could have obliterated their infrastructure, killed their armies universally, wiped out their command structure, and established the Jewish nation as the worldwide power on earth.  The Pharisees would have gladly accepted Him if He would have followed that course.  They simply could not understand why someone who “could” do those things would choose not to.  They simply could not understand why He would actually love those soldiers and wish to see them redeemed as well, instead of dead on a battlefield.  Jesus lived here on earth, never making one single move to right the injustices of the Roman Empire.  He fully submitted Himself to Roman laws, even advocating that we pay taxes that we hate to pay.  He freed no slaves from their physical chains.  Instead He offered to free ALL of us slaves, from the chains of sin. 
Peter continues in verse 24 … “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. [verse 25] For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”  Christ elected to endure torture for our sakes.  He submitted to Roman rule, even when that authority was unjustly beating and killing Him.  Even in the face of death, Christ submitted.  And with His endurance of evil, we are to be made free from evil.  We are made free from the chains of sin, by the love of God.  We sheep are returned to our Shepherd’s fold.  Notice here Peter finally attributes a church hierarchy, but ascribes the position of Bishop not to himself, but ONLY to Christ.  All of us are sheep.  We do not lead each other, though we are to submit to each other.  We do not lead the world, but instead are advised for the sake of Christ, to submit to the world.  We have only one leader, only one shepherd.  Peter remembered the counsel of Christ, when Jesus asked Peter to feed His sheep, not to steal the herd.  Peter was to help the sheep find spiritual meat, not to replace Christ as their shepherd.  Peter was called to serve.  We are called to do the same.
If it runs counter to your nature to submit yourself, then look to submit to Christ first.  And understand it is only through His transformation of your heart, that you can reflect the love of Christ and submit yourself to earthly authorities for the sake of Christ.  In so doing, and in reflecting God’s love to those who clearly do not deserve it, that evil will finally meet its end.
And the counsel of Peter to submit was not over yet …