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War and Peace

April 12, 2015

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12 ESV)

PEACE

The stakes are high for our personal lives. Our spiritual lives. Our happiness. But that is not Peter primary concern here. He is concerned about the local church’s witness and testimony in the community. Remember, the secular world is hostile to Christian truth. We live as exiles here. What should we do? “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12)

Verse 11 flows into verse 12. They are one thought in Peter’s mind. Something not to do: abstain from the illicit desires. Something to do: live honorably before a watching world. We tend to think of morality and virtue as a private matter, as something we do behind closed doors so as not to seem holier than thou. Peter has the opposite perspective for the church. See it in the first phrase, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Why does he use the term Gentiles here? It’s not to make an ethnic distinction. He means Gentiles in the spiritual sense. Unbelievers. The unbelieving world and people around us. Peter says that your conduct, your lives, should have a certain quality to them. The ESV translates it “honorable.” It is the Greek word for good in the sense of inherently good or beautiful; not in the artistic sense, but in the moral and spiritual sense.

When real and authentic Christianity shows up, the secular culture can’t help but notice. Real Christianity shows itself in kindness, generosity, justice, sacrificial love—virtues that are rare in the world. This is not a call to perfection. The gospel reminds us that we need grace every day. But it is a call to a holy life marked by love.

As I was doing a final edit on this at a restaurant, the loud table next to me was telling stories of Christians going to Sunday lunch after church and leaving loose change and tracts. They weren’t impressed. Peter assumes Christians will live faithfully as Christians and that lifestyle will create a holy curiosity.

“So that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (Verse 12) This sounds like double-speak. Live righteous lives and they will accuse you of doing evil? In honor of the Masters golf tournament, here’s a quick golf illustration. There is a true story from years ago involving a Pro-Am tournament. Billy Graham was playing as an amateur in the event. It just so happened that one of the more notorious bad-boy golfers on tour was matched to play with Billy Graham. A friend of the golfer thought this humorous and kidded with the PGA golfer about it. After the round, the friend saw the PGA player on the practice tee hitting balls in a furious anger. So he rushed out and asked him, “What did Billy Graham say that made you so mad?” The golfer replied, “He didn’t say anything!” (R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God)

How many of us deal with negativity from family or coworkers simply because we are Christians? A few weeks ago we looked at verse 9 that Jesus is the stumbling stone for those who do not believe. I had a family come up to me after that sermon in tears. They are just about to leave for the mission field to minister in a community that does not like Christians at all. With tears they said, we have to remember that it is not us they are rejecting; it’s the stone that is being rejected.

The only perfect human being who has ever lived was accused of being born illegitimately, of plotting to overthrow Rome and be king, of demon possession, blasphemy, and mental derangement. The early Christians were viewed with suspicion and hostility because they didn’t conform to the lifestyle of the people around them (See Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Vol. 37, p. 122).

If I may pull a thought from recent headlines, to believe marriage is between a man and a woman is increasingly portrayed as pure hatred and bigotry. The world accuses us of evil in their eyes. But in all this, we have a spiritual ace in the hole. What is it? Go back to verse 12, “so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” The church in exile should exhibit a kind of life that is so different morally and so different socially (love for others), that the world becomes like that PGA golfer—exasperated and perplexed, but silenced because of our example of love.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The effect of “light” (Jesus) and “good deeds” (Peter) is evangelistic. Both verses culminate in the unbeliever worshiping God. Peter adds the wrinkle “on the day of visitation.” I think that refers to the return of Christ or final judgment. In the end, the PGA golfer who has a close-up view of Billy Graham may rethink his prejudice and hopefully believe in the saving message of Jesus which Billy Graham represents.

Let’s let Peter challenge us here. Does my life make the case for Jesus and the gospel? Would an unbeliever be drawn to consider becoming a Christian himself?

Live beautiful lives in this hostile world. Even those who hate you will in their hearts wonder if maybe there is something to it. That wondering may open their hearts to think, If Jesus did it in his life or her life, maybe he will do it mine.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

What Really Happened on Easter?

April 5, 2015

“Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’” (Matthew 28:1-10 ESV)

What the Resurrection Doesn’t Mean

Jesus was a fraud

If Jesus was a fraud and all his miracles were magic tricks and his claims to be the Son of God delusional, where would we find Jesus today? Right where all the other liars, frauds, and charlatans are—dead in their graves with the rest of humanity. Many people claim many things; even claim to be God. Which one do you listen to? My money’s on the one that says he will rise from the dead, is crucified and certified dead by the best of the Roman army, and then three days later rises from the dead.

If Jesus really was risen from the dead, it separates him from every other religious figure in history. You can visit all their graves. There might be a Carnival cruise or vacation packages that include visiting the graves of the founders of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. All of them are still there.

Jesus stands uniquely in history with a birth announced by prophecy and angels. He was a man whose life was marked by power and miracles who also claimed to be the single and only Savior of men. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) How could we possibly know if that statement is true? How do we know Jesus isn’t a fraud? It is a claim so radical and exclusive. God validated the life and teachings of Jesus by raising him back to life. That’s how we know.

God hates sinners

I have learned some things about love. I got married about three years ago. I have an almost 2-year-old daughter and another one on the way. In God’s plan I became a parent a little later in life. I wondered in my single days about the whole parental love thing. It’s a huge commitment to be a parent. It takes time. Energy. Money. Lots of money. Why would any rational person make such a commitment?

Now I know. The love that I have for my daughter is different but as intense a love as I have for anybody or anything. That love is put to the test all the time because parental love has to be put into action. Caring for her in this or that. We’ve had a scary run to the hospital emergency room. We’re saving for college. It boggles the mind all the ways parents put love into action.

Can a child miss that a parent is making these sacrifices because of love? It happens all the time, especially with teenagers. “No, you’re not allowed to tattoo the name of your boyfriend of two weeks because we love you.” “You hate me!” Can we mistake love for hate? Can a sinner hear that God judges sin and assume that means God hates them? Can a sinner hear that God sent his son to die and assume God to be a hate mongerer? Can this whole thing be misunderstood?

The cross and the resurrection are God putting divine love for sinners into action. The extraordinary lengths, which to us are miraculous, show the extent of God’s love for us. He loves us in our sin and our guilt. He loves us when we hate him. He loves us in our rebellion against him.

Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He is just like a parent who goes on loving while a son or daughter screams accusations. God loves us in our sin and Jesus died for our sin. The resurrection doesn’t say God hates us. It stands in history as the defining moment of divine love for you.

We all go to hell

Here is the wonderful reality and offer of God. Hell is where God’s justice and holiness requires sinners to spend eternity. Hell is absence from God and love and beauty and everything else good. Hell is real. So is eternity. We are made for eternity and all humans will either be with God or be without God. One is heaven. The other is hell.

The resurrection doesn’t mean we all go to hell. Instead it means there is real forgiveness of our sins made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross. There is real eternal life granted to all who believe. It means God has provided a path to heaven, glory, beauty, and eternity with this God who loves us and will for all eternity. Which will it be for you?

This is a joke! Not if Jesus was resurrected. God doesn’t love me! Not if Jesus was resurrected. I’m destined for hell! Not if you believe in Jesus as the risen Savior of the world. Eternal life is offered to all who believe. That’s what the angel said. That’s why the stone was rolled away. That’s why Jesus appeared to Mary and the other Mary and the disciples. That’s why he held out his hands and scars –to convince and assure them and us of what the angel said, “He is not here, for he has risen!” (Matthew 28:6)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

His People. His Possession. His Proclamation.

March 29, 2015

A People for His Possession

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

One thing true of every human being is that we need an identity. We need to know who we are and who we belong to. This is where our family, or hometown, or school we attended provides a certain level of belonging. I think this is part of the appeal of sports teams. Watch a Manchester United soccer game or an Alabama football game or a NASCAR race. We sometimes laugh at people’s devotion to a sports team but it’s real. People are in search of belonging to something or somebody.

All of this is about relationship. Human beings must have relationship and we crave relationship with someone or something greater than ourselves. In a sense, we are all that 7th grade boy in the cafeteria looking for a table to sit at. We want to belong. We want to be accepted.

Where do you belong? What would those who know you say is your identity group? Perhaps an easy way to find out is to ask your family what they would write in your obituary. He was all about this. It can be almost anything. I see this at funerals where they adorn the casket with the things the individual cared about—a picture of their dog; a Harley hat. Our identities are the things that we look to that make us feel our lives matter.

The curse for humans is that all the identities we come up with are temporary and so disappointing. Right Cubs fans? In the end, even the most meaningful—family and marriage—we don’t get to keep. Death separates us from our identities and our belongings.

If only there was something to belong to that time and death won’t take away from us. Something to rejoice in more than your favorite team winning the championship every year. Better than the joy of your child being successful or the contentment of a satisfying marriage. Peter essentially quotes Exodus 19 and lists four blessed and enduring identities that every Christian enjoys.

A Chosen Race

“But you are a chosen race.” We hear chosen and we think that says something about our worth. God chose us. This was part of Israel’s stumbling. They thought God chose Abraham and them because of them. They thought it said something about them. “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.” (Deuteronomy 7:7–8) God’s choosing of Israel didn’t say anything about Israel, it said everything about God. He loved them because he loved them. God set his love upon them because it is God’s nature to love.

Peter says to us in the New Covenant, we are God’s chosen people, elected before the foundation of the world. This doesn’t say anything more about our worth or lovability than it did Israel’s. It says everything about God’s amazing love that chose to love sinners and save us. He created a new people group. The result is that we are a chosen people.

A Royal Priesthood

Priests in Israel were allowed to draw near to God. They ministered in the holy place. They had access to God. We are a royal priesthood. We are not royalty, but like priests who are allowed near to the King. We are allowed near to God, to offer spiritual sacrifices “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” We are the King’s priests and he bids us near.

Holy Nation

“Just as believers are a new spiritual race and a new spiritual priesthood, so they are a new spiritual nation which is based now neither on ethnic identity nor geographical boundaries but rather on allegiance to their heavenly King, Jesus Christ, who is truly King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16).” (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 111.)

Don’t miss the radical nature of this. This nation of God has no ethnic distinction. Jew. Gentile. Asian. Caucasian. Latino. Black. All are welcome into this new nation. We don’t immigrate. We don’t need to apply to get in. Citizenship is completely by faith and allegiance to Jesus as Savior and Lord. We are faith citizens of a holy nation.

God’s Possession

“A people for his own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)

This word “possession” refers to a practice of the ancient Kings of the East. They would keep a special treasure box or chest of gold that was separate from the official funds of state or the royal treasury. This gold was not for roads or swords or ships but for their own use. This was their personal treasure. Their personal possession.

Peter says we are to God a people of personal possession; a personal treasure to God. We belong to him. He loves us.

  • “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
  • “(Jesus)…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:14)

We were bought with a price. God paid it. Jesus’ blood paid the ransom. Now we belong to him legally and spiritually.

Take these as a whole: Chosen and holy nation. Priests of the King. Prized by God himself. Think of what this would have meant for these exiles. They felt like men without a country. They didn’t belong anywhere. They had lost all their worldly identities. They had lost their geographical identity. Family identities. They are far from everything familiar.

Peter encourages them to realize their true and exalted status; and us as well. We are not who our feelings say we are. We are not who our circumstances say we are. We are not who our pain and trials say we are. Who are we? We are God’s chosen and prized possession. A people of his own. We belong to Almighty God and he has made us citizens of the only nation that will endure time, the chosen nation of God.

How important it is that we refuse to make our earthly identities our ultimate identities. Why? All of them disappear.

  • Make your identity husband or wife, then death or divorce comes.
  • Make your identity your children, then their rebellion shatters you.
  • Make your money your identity, then a recession destroys you.
  • Make your health or looks your identity, and the creeping signs of age will depress you.

All our earthly identities are fleeting and we are always that 7th grade boy in the cafeteria. Where can I sit? Where can I belong? Who cares for me? God shouts to his people, I do! Come near as priest. Sit at my table as citizen. Sit near me as beloved son or daughter. Know you are my treasure and you will be forever.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Jesus: A Crushing Rock or a Saving Stone?

March 22, 2015

Jesus = The Cornerstone; Us = We are a Spiritual House/Priests

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:  

‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ (1 Peter 2:5-6)

Peter is quoting from Isaiah 28. Isaiah prophesied that a Messiah would come whose life and ministry would be like a cornerstone, chosen and precious. The living stone is also the cornerstone of a great house and we, the living stones, make up the house. Peter mixes the metaphors here, but I think we can understand this. He is using building material imagery (stones, cornerstone) to describe a spiritual reality.

If you enjoy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, this will be easy for you. Why? They often refer to people groups as the house of somebody. So you have the house of Rohan which refers both to the name of the royal family and all the people in that kingdom. The house of Gondor is another kingdom in Middle Earth. The house of Gondor is a house but it’s not made of brick and stone; the house is people who make up the kingdom and serve in the kingdom.

Those are fictional houses; this passage describes a real house. The house of Jesus Christ is not made with brick and mortar. It is made up of all who put their faith in Jesus as the cornerstone of their faith and hope.

“William Barclay recounts a story…about a Spartan king boasting to a visiting monarch about the walls of Sparta. As the visiting king looked around, he could see no walled city and asked, ‘Where are the renowned walls of Sparta?’ The Spartan king pointed to his army and replied, ‘These are the walls of Sparta, every man a brick.’” (Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, p. 149.)

“To be a holy priesthood…” (Verse 5) We are priests in this house. How so? In the Old Testament, a priest would offer sacrifices in the temple. He represented the people to God. But in the New Covenant, we don’t go through any man to have access to God. We are the priests. We have direct access to God which Jesus provides for us. Perhaps you have heard the theological phrase, the priesthood of all believers. Here is one of its best proof-texts.

“To offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 5) What sacrifices do we offer? Not bulls or goats. Here are some passages that describe our sacrifices (Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, p. 101):

  • Offering of our bodies to God for his service (Romans 12:1)
  • The giving of gifts to enable the spread of the gospel (Philippians 4:18)
  • The singing of praise (Hebrews 13:15)
  • Doing of good and sharing our possessions (Hebrews 13:16)

Grudem adds that this varied list indicates that anything we do in service to God can be thought of as a “spiritual sacrifice.”

This is an exciting truth for us. Everything good and holy can be offered as worship. All of it part of our priestly service to God “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verse 5) Our vocations, our giving, our time, our words, all of it like lambs on the Old Testament altar, offerings to God.

If you are a Christian, you are a priest. The issue is whether or not you are a good one. What are you offering to him? How are you serving him? How might the quality of your service improve if you saw each category of your life as a daily offering to God?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Craving Spiritual Milk and Spiritual Growth

March 15, 2015

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:1-3 ESV)

Toxins in the Body

Malice

“So put away all malice.” (Verse 1) The word is “evil” in general but the context is interpersonal relationships, so translators go with evil toward others. Malice describes that well. Malice is any evil intent toward others. If love gives of itself for the good and joy of others, malice is self-obsession that plots the ruin or damage of others. In this list it is a summary word for the other toxins. Put away ALL malice.

Deceit

Any fisherman here? This word is used to describe a fisherman who dangles a bait in the water. Hiding within the worm or the jig or the surface lure is a painful surprise. Deceit is like fish bait—it says one thing, but it is hiding something sinister. Its purpose is deception or treachery. Deceit is when we are anything less than honest and authentic with others. It’s easy to tell others what they want to hear or shade the truth a little for my benefit.

Why is this toxic? Relationships are built on trust. Nothing undermines trust quicker than discovering intentional deceit. Deceit is not making an honest mistake or honestly thinking one thing and discovering another to be true. Deceit is malice with words. The intentional use of deceitful words either lifts me up or tears others down.

Hypocrisy

We have some metaphors for hypocrisy. To be two-faced. To speak with a forked tongue. This is so common as to not need much explanation. Hypocrisy is play-acting. It is to act one way but to secretly be another.

Jesus often described the Pharisees as hypocrites. Famously in Matthew 23:15 he repeats over and over, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Then he points out how they say one thing but secretly live inconsistently with their public persona.

Hypocrisy is especially a problem in Christianity because we claim to be followers of the most moral person who has ever lived. A recent poll of 20-somethings revealed that 86% of non-Christians perceived Christians as being hypocritical; that is, lacking the love of Jesus in their attitudes and actions. Apparently 20-somethings feel they are in a good place to judge the moral lives of others.

This is the challenge we face. From one perspective, every Christian is a hypocrite because we all fail the name. Christian. Christ-one. I don’t think that’s the hypocrisy Peter has in mind. It’s not sinners-saved-by-grace type hypocrisy, but Christians who claim one thing and live another. This is being sanctimonious. Duplicitous. Acting high and holy, but secretly living another way.

Envy

Envy and jealousy are evil sisters. They look a lot alike. Envy says, I crave what you have. Jealousy says, I crave what you have and I don’t want you to have it. Envy leads to jealousy because the more convinced I am that I will not get what I want, the more I resent the person in my life that has it.

“Envy may be defined to be a spirit of dissatisfaction with, and opposition to, the prosperity and happiness of others as compared with our own. The thing that the envious person is opposed to, and dislikes, is the comparative superiority of the state of honor, or prosperity or happiness that another may enjoy, over that which he possesses.” (Jonathan Edwards, Charity, p. 112)

Love is the opposite of envy in that love doesn’t crave what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t obsess over what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t find its significance in what it doesn’t have. Christian love finds its satisfaction in what it does have in Christ. This is why envy is a kind of apostasy in the church. It denies the value of knowing and having Christ. When Christians are envious, they are saying, Jesus isn’t enough for me. I need something you have. That resentment of what others have quickly leads to in-fighting and division and disunity. Get rid of it!

Slander

Slander is not speaking to people but about people. Slander can be in front of people or behind their back. If the intent of my words is to tear down the reputation or testimony or standing of my brother, that’s slander. Here’s the thing: slander can be true. People say, Well it’s true, isn’t it? The test of slander is not truthfulness, but intent. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25)

What is my motivation for what I am saying? Here is a test: if the person I am talking about would hear what I am saying, would it feel like love to them? If not, shut up!

Here’s another test: do I feel the need to whisper this? Proverbs talks about those who whisper—“A whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)

Slander and all these others are toxins in any relationship and church. They are the opposite of love. They ruin relationships. They are part of the old way of life and thinking. Christ has saved us out of this and from this, and in order to grow, we must get rid of them.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Joy of Opposition

March 8, 2015

Note: This message in its entirely covers much of Nehemiah 4. Due to the length of that passage, it is not included here, but reading it is recommended. 

Four Ways to Turn Opposition into Joy

1. Expect it

Anyone who steps into a position of responsibility in any organization and on any level, must be prepared to pay the price of opposition. “No leader is exempt from criticism, and his humility will nowhere be seen more clearly than in the manner in which he accepts and reacts to it.” (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, p. 110) Do you think that Nehemiah expected to show up, say a few words, build the wall, and get back to Susa without so much as a hitch?

“There will always, always be opposition from those who are, by nature, negative and critical. But the work must go on. Progress should not stop because a few were critical of the plan.” (Charles Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick) It is a falsely idealistic view of ministry and life to think that it will be without conflict. Nehemiah faced it, Jeremiah faced it, Paul faced it, Jesus faced it, and the early church faced it. We are naive to think that a church or any organization that involves people will be free from it. In fact, there is a key truth here, God’s will didn’t allow the wall to be built without opposition!

Could God have built that wall without any Sanballats? Sure he could. But within his will for Nehemiah and the people building the wall was Sanballat and Tobiah and the conflict, slander, and threats they made.

Might you have a Sanballat in your life right now? Are you living with the consequences of a Tobiah? Might God have placed Sanballat there for your good and even for your joy? This is 1 Peter’s point with all trials. While painful, they are good because of their effect. The pain isn’t good, but what the pain reveals and refines in us is good. Therefore, embrace the trial.

Too often when criticism comes, we think we must be out of God’s will because Mrs. So and So doesn’t seem to be on board. So and so said such and such about our this or that; we must be displeasing God! Joe Stowell once said, “In every church I have pastored, God has placed difficult people around me to keep me dependent on him.” Opposition is not out of God’s will, it’s a part of God’s will. Look at the life and death of Jesus and ask, is opposition part of God’s will? The greater the potential for God to be glorified, the greater the expectation we can have for opposition to it.

If I might make a small tangent at this point, you may be here and in an honest evaluation, you’re not Nehemiah in the story, you tend to be Sanballat. You find yourself regularly at the center of controversy or you thrive on conflict. While it is God’s will for there to be Sanballats, it is never God’s will for us to be a Sanballat. Why was Sanballat so concerned about the wall? Was it the wall or because Nehemiah represented a threat to him? Was it the wall or his finances? His power? Conflict unveils the idols and real motives of the heart. Sanballats are on full display. Don’t be a Sanballat.

2. Pray for it

Look at what Nehemiah does. “Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives.” (Nehemiah 4:4) What’s Nehemiah’s strategy? He prays! He prays a strong prayer here asking God to turn their evil back on them. The point is that Nehemiah took the matter to God. And he didn’t just do it in verse 4. In verses 6-8 comes the troublemaking and scheming. What does Nehemiah do? “And we prayed to our God.” (Verse 9) When we face opposition that has been sovereignly brought to us by God, we must believe that God has the power to overcome it. Ask him to do so.

Trouble comes and Nehemiah’s on his knees in prayer. We see the same thing with our Lord Jesus. In fact, what was the last thing he did before facing the scourging and the beating, the betrayal and false accusations; what did he do on the cross itself? He prayed at Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross. His last words were prayers.

Do you do that? Do you lay that critical person before God and say, Okay God, here it is. I believe that I am doing your work and here is opposition, please help! I find that when I do that, it makes me more charitable even toward my perceived enemy. It makes me a little more open to even loving my enemy as Scripture and Jesus’ example calls me to do. I see them as God’s tool in my life rather than my enemy. With that, comes a glimmer of joy.

3. Prepare for it

Notice that Nehemiah didn’t simply pray, he took actions to meet the opposition:

  • “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them.” (Verse 9)
  • Verse 13 describes how Nehemiah armed the workers so they could respond to an attack.
  • He put armed guards at the low spots in the wall (Verses 12-15)
  • He had the workers work with a chisel in one hand and a sword in the other. (Verses 16-18)
  • He brought a trumpeter with him so that if an attack came, people could rush to the spot of attack. (Verses 18-20)
  • He had the people stay inside the city until the wall was done (Verse 22).

We certainly should expect opposition and pray for those who oppose us. This also tells us to be prudent and wise in preparing and responding to it.

After we have prayed, and after we have prepared, joy comes because of this fourth and final point.

4. Fear not, God will fight it

“And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’” (Nehemiah 4:19-20, emphasis added)

In both of these cases, Nehemiah turns the peoples’ attention, not to his preparations, or his leadership, or their ability to fight, but to the God of heaven who is “great and awesome” and who is the “God who will fight for us.”

Herein lies the key to turning opposition into joy. When we recognize that the Sanballats and Tobiahs that rise against us are sovereignly placed in our paths by God himself, and that the crisis which they bring will always work out for our good (Romans 8:28), then there is a source of joy to look into their faces (snarls and all) and to realize, My God will fight for me!

Friends, expect it, pray for it, prepare for it, but do not fear the opposition that will come, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) The echo of that truth, is joy. And that is the joy of opposition.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Our Calling: Right Thinking and Right Living

February 15, 2015

Sober Thinking

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16)

The most common use of “being sober-minded” in verse 13 is regarding alcohol and intoxication. 1 Timothy 3 applies it to the qualification for an elder and it is also the mark of a spiritually mature woman. They don’t use alcohol in any controlling way. However, most theologians interpret this more broadly as a whole approach to life.

“For Peter the cares of this life and the pressure of persecution can “intoxicate” the Christian and distract his or her focus just as easily as wine might… The need of the hour is clear judgment and a mind and will prepared to resist anything that would distract them from a hope set on Jesus’ appearing.” (Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter: NICNT, p. 67)

Sober thinking is thinking with clarity and focus; the refusal to allow anything to distract. This isn’t sober in demeanor or personality. It is a focused mind that sees life through a grid of gospel priority. It prioritizes God, the gospel, the church, the mission, and doing these things in light of eternity. Its highest and best thoughts are reserved for kingdom and spiritual matters.

Think about what you think about when you don’t have to think about anything. How often do those thoughts turn toward spiritual realities? Do you think about God or ministry or Scripture or eternity? Do you intentionally direct your mind to think about what you want it to think about? You might say, my mind has a mind of its own. No it doesn’t. We can direct our thoughts intentionally toward anything, but this takes discipline and habit.

I have been thinking about my mind some. It seems to me that I don’t think as much as I used to. I find my mentally free moments increasingly filled by reading my email or social media or passively viewing things. Over time, this feels more and more normal. When it comes time to summon my brain to high and holy thinking, it struggles because it’s too distracted. Distracted by what?

I want to spend a little time right here because I think this is such a problem these days. It’s obviously a problem in the culture around us. It seems normal to see a family of five at the restaurant not talking to each other, not looking at each other, everyone engrossed in their smartphones. I remember coming up to greet a family before church and they all were focused on their phones—probably not reading the Westminster Catechism.

We are awash in trivial thinking about trivial things. Just look at what people post on Facebook as an indication of what they are thinking about. It’s not always this way, but isn’t there a lot of silly nonsense posted? If Facebook is an indication of where our minds are at, are we not a long way from Peter’s admonition to think seriously and soberly about truth?

This is not a rant against media or movies or Twitter. I think Peter would have had a Twitter account. I just don’t think he would tweet about dresses worn at the Grammys or Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance. In fact, what might Peter have shared? Don’t we have it in front of us? What Peter writes about is what Peter was thinking about.

Think about your thinking. You can control your mind by what you put into your mind and what you allow yourself to think about. Satan doesn’t need to convince you of some heresy if only he can distract you from the truth.

You may say, why does this matter? What’s at stake here is hope. Hope in the midst of life. Hope in the midst of troubles and trials. Hope and faith that gets us through the ups and downs of life. Where does it come from? From clear and serious thinking about my life and my relationships and my trials and my everything through the grid of God’s Word and gospel. The more habitually I meditate about these things, the more hope and endurance and joy and peace I will have in the trials of life.

How? What gender is our baby?

Get rid of distractions

Increase truth input – “Whatever things are pure, lovely, commendable, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Recall the grace of God

Love God with your mind

It's a girl!

It’s a girl!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2015 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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