Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries



Humility And Hope           audio (4MB)

1 Peter 5:1-11

I hope all of us can think of times when someone has done something to encourage and support us when we were doing it tough. Perhaps it was a phone call? or an invite out for coffee and a chat? or perhaps it was a letter? or an email? or even just a text message? I don't think I’d be wrong in saying that sometimes it was a more mature Christian who took the time to support and encourage us. What comes to mind for you as you think about this? Who was it? What was it that they did to encourage you? (Take a few moments silence to think about a time when this happened to you).

I am thinking of one of the most difficult times in my life about 10 years ago. To be honest most of that time I would rather forget. But one thing I remember with great appreciation was a letter I received from my boss at the time. I didn’t even know that he knew what was happening in my life. After all, he was actually away in England for six months on study leave. But when I opened the letter in just a few words he made it clear that even though he was half way around the world he was concerned for me. In fact, he could easily have said it wasn’t his responsibility at the time because it really wasn't! And you know his letter didn’t say much. He began by quoting Scott Peck: “Life is hard.” And he said that he was praying for me. And he thanked me for the work I was doing and said that it was important to God and valued by my colleagues and students. Just a few words but they meant the world to me at the time. Is there someone that we could be giving that sort of encouragement to this week?

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the kind of letter Peter was writing here – even though he was writing to a group of churches rather than just one individual. Notice how he finishes his letter:

v. 12: “I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

It seems to me that Peter has written a very personal letter. It is easy to miss this in the earlier chapters, but in chapter 5 it really stands out. Peter knows that the churches in exile are not finding it easy. And we feel, don’t we, that he is really speaking to them from his heart: “I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”

Around Easter John Altmann lead us in a series of sermons on the life of Peter. I’m sure you remember John speaking about the extraordinary way in which Jesus restored Peter to leadership among God’s people after Peter had publicly denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion (see John 21:15-17).

Three times Jesus asked him: “Simon (Peter’s birth name), do you love me?”
Three times Peter replied: “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
Three times Jesus told him: “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.”

I’m sure Peter never forgot that experience. (Would you?) That’s the Peter who is writing here, isn’t it? The same Peter who learned humility and hope from Jesus through the experience of persecution, failure and restoration to a position of responsibility.

One of the amazing this about Peter's personal letter to the churches in exile is that there’s no evidence Peter was ever involved in ministry among the churches he is writing this letter to. Another remarkable thing about this letter is that the medium is the message. It’s not just what Peter says but how he says it that is important. In his letter Peter has actually given the churches an example of how to do the things he is writing about. His letter has humility and hope written all over it – no joke intended. What has Peter been talking about again and again in this letter? – suffering and glory! Notice the way he introduces himself in verse 1:

v. 1-2: “Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge …”

What does Peter tell them about himself? Two things: First, that he was a witness to the suffering Jesus experienced for him and for them. Second, that he shares with them in the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns. Peter can speak to their situation because he has been there. But even more importantly Peter can speak to their situation because he can personally witness to the fact that Jesus has been there. And, as we have seen again and again over the past few weeks, as a witness to the resurrection of Christ Peter can witness with confidence to the future return of Jesus. If Jesus came back from the dead (and Peter saw him!), he will come back for the churches in exile and he will come back for the churches in Burwood!

How did you choose clothes to wear this morning? Did you try on half a dozen different outfits or did you just pick something off the floor that wasn’t too crumpled? At the 6pm service at Station Street last week we were talking about this idea of clothing ourselves which Peter uses in verse 5:

“And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’.”

Jan and Kevin and I were trying to explain to the group who all speak English as a second language what this idea means when used as a picture of something else. We were reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, chapter 3, verse 12:

“As God’s chosen one’s, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive.”

What Peter taught to the churches in Turkey, Paul taught to the churches in Greece! Anyway, as we discussed this idea of “clothing ourselves with humility” it was pointed out that our clothes are often the first thing people see about us. Many people on the fashion industry would like it to be the only thing people see about us. And a lot of people form an impression of us because of what we wear. Peter wants people's first impression of the churches to be one of humility, and the second impression, and the third impression, of course.

But how are we to “clothing ourselves with humility” as Peter says in verse 5? How are we to “humble ourselves”, as in verse 6? Actually verse 6 is better translated, “Allow yourselves to be humbled” [Gk. epeinōthēte, aor. pass. imp., “to make low”]. Peter has actually already begun explaining this to the “elders” in verses 1-4. Then in verse 5 he speaks to “you who are younger.” And finally in vv. 5-9 his words are to “all of you.” What Peter says to the elders is what Jesus said to him:

Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, said to Peter: “Tend my sheep”.
Peter says to the elders: “Tend the flock of God”.

The same words! Then Peter makes three contrasts between caring for people “as God would have you do it” (v. 2) and the alternative – letting the Devil “devour” the churches by using other people for their own ends (v. 2-3):

1) “Not under compulsion BUT willingly” (as the NRSV translation puts it), or.
“Not because you have to, but because you want to please God” (as it says in The Message);
2) “Not for sordid gain BUT eagerly”;
“Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously”.
3) “Do not lord it over those in you charge BUT be examples to the flock”.
“Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.”

Who are the “elders” here? Is Peter just talking to Chris as the Vicar and the rest of us can ignore this bit? Are the elders just the ordained people like Chris and Roy and myself? Or are they just the people with formal roles, so we can include the Wardens and Vestry? I think Peter clearly had in mind those people with the greatest responsibility and authority. But I suspect Peter would have said that these are principles for every level of responsibility and authority. So this is not just for the Vicar and the Vestry but for everyone who has any leadership role in the life of our church. To give just one example (without intending to pick on anyone), those of us who are leaders in Tom’s Crew set an example don’t you? So if we think verses 1-4 of this letter are not speaking to us then many of us are probably wrong.

And even if verses 1-4 are not for us right now then Peter has still has a message for us. In verse 5: “you who are younger must accept the authority of elders.” What does this mean? I don’t think Peter means you must blindly accept every word they say, especially if it contradicts God’s Word. But Peter is saying that just because someone doesn’t have a page on Facebook doesn’t mean they haven’t got something to teach you. It means accepting that they have been walking with God a lot longer than you and have learned a thing or two along the way that you could learn. And not just accepting it but wanting to learn those things. (I’m afraid it even means God wants you stay awake during my sermon).

Finally, Peter encourages “all of you”, all of us, to “clothe ourselves with humility in our dealings with one another.”

v. 6-9: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.”

Persecution from the outside can never really destroy the churches because, as Peter has said time and time again, our future in God is certain. But churches can eat each other up from the inside. Some of us who have been around the churches for a while may have seen it happen: churches being “devoured” by people serving unwillingly, people seeking personal gain, people who lord it over others (v. 2-3).

Peter is a person who knows about failure in the face of persecution. He publicly denied Jesus three times because of the accusations of a slave. But he promises in verses 9-11 that,

v. 9-11: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.”

In Christ God will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” Isn’t that exactly what had happened to Peter himself?!

Peter wants us to take his letter personally. Peter wants us to see ourselves as people who like him will be restored, supported, strengthened, and established by God. And Peter wants us to put on the clothes that fit people who have this hope.

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