Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Casting all our Care on God (1 Peter 5:7)

Peter instructs his readers that they have to cast their cares on God. Here we have a picture of prayer. He does not mean that we cast them in the way that a fisherman casts his line, keeping hold of it. Instead we cast them in the way that a child will give an item to his parent for safe-keeping. The item may not seem much to an onlooker, but both the parent and the child have a shared interest that makes the item important to both of them. 

In prayer, we have to ask God to deal with our thinking processes. The fact is that most of our wrong concerns arise from wrong thinking. We are to ask the Lord to teach us how to think in each difficult situation. No doubt we can imagine one of Peter’s readers worrying about what would happen on a particular day. He would ask God to help him to think in that circumstance as a Christian should. 

Sometimes, we should ask God to enable us to think about something else whenever we find ourselves having worried thoughts. Paul deals with anxious thoughts in Philippians 4:6-7. He tells his readers to pray about them, and assures them that God’s peace can be known. Then he urges them to meditate on things that are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report and praise worthy. Frequently, worried thoughts will disappear once we start thinking about spiritual matters, when we set our minds on the things that belong to the heavenly world. Such a response has other benefits in addition to dealing with our anxiety. Becoming increasingly spiritually-minded leaves its influence in every area of one’s life. 

In prayer, we also have to ask God to enable us to deal with the devil’s attacks. There is a connection between our concerns and the devil’s temptations because Peter will move next to tell his readers how to respond to what Satan is doing to them. Such a request is not for information about what the devil is doing, but for God to preserve us from being led into temptation and of deducing wrong ideas from what is happening to us. 

It is also the case that we should pray specifically about illegitimate worries that we have. We should take each one of them to God and ask him to help us with them. This involves time, but it is time well-spent. 

Further in prayer, we have to ask God to teach us how we can apply his promises to ourselves continually. No doubt we would all accept the general principle that God cares for his people. Often what we need is the assurance that he cares for me. One of the ways in which we can help ourselves is be praying the psalms. In many of them, the psalmists have fears and we can use their words to help us come through similar experiences. 

Friday, 30 May 2014

God Cares About Us (1 Peter 5:7)

Peter reminds his readers that God cares for them. No doubt he recalled the teaching of Jesus on anxiety as recorded in his Sermon the Mount. He would have remembered how Jesus used birds and flowers to illustrate God’s care, and since he cared for them he would certainly care for his people. We should learn from Jesus and deduce spiritual truths from everyday events. The sun rose this morning, a reminder that God cares about his creatures. His providence is everywhere.

In addition to God’s providences, we have his many promises. He has promised to be with us all the time, to work everything for our good, to lead us safely through this world to heaven, to provide for our daily needs, to strengthen us when we need it, and to protect us from our spiritual opponents. Of course, in order to have the comfort of the promises, we must know what they are. I suspect that one cause of anxiety among Christians is that we do not know our Bibles as well as we should. Therefore we are ignorant of its promises and of the stories of individuals whom God helped in remarkable ways. These details have to be in our memories and the best way to ensure that they will be there is by frequent meditation on them. 

It is also important to keep reminding ourselves of who God is. He is the faithful God, the wise God, the loving God, the forgiving God, the prayer-hearing God, the present God, the God who has planned our days with great skill, the tender God. Think of what he has done for us in Christ: chosen us, adopted us, and promised us glory. At present he is sanctifying us, making us like his Son. Jesus remains our Shepherd, our Teacher, our Intercessor, and our Defender. And the Holy Spirit indwells us and wants to comfort us. Jesus gave instruction about the ministry of the heavenly Comforter when he was also aware that his disciples were going to face troubles and tribulations. 

Peter stresses here that God cares for his people. He cares for them as a good father cares for his children, as a good doctor cares for his sick patient, as a good guide cares for those he is leading, as a good commander cares for his soldiers, as a good teacher cares for his pupils, as a good employer cares for his workers. 

How can we know that God cares for us? Make a visit to the cross and see the suffering Saviour, and you will know that God cares for us. Go and take a look into the records of the heavenly councils and see the triune God deciding to save you from your sins, a reminder that God cares for us. Look ahead to the eternal world of glory that is to come, with a particular place assigned for us, and we will see that God cares for us. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Humility is voluntary (1 Peter 5:5-6)

Peter tells his readers to ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you’. There is a difference between being humbled and being humble. We are humbled by another person: for example, one tennis player can be humbled by another tennis player who is a better player than him, yet the defeated player may still be a proud person and attempt to exalt his own abilities. Many people have been humbled by God in providence and remained without humility in their lives. How can we become humble? 

Humility will lead us to be like our Master. Sanctification is another word for Christlikeness, which means that he is the role model for humility. Therefore we will study his character as revealed in the Gospels. We will note how he bore insults, how he was prepared to be a nobody, and how he was content to leave his future exaltation in his Father’s hands. Jesus made himself of no reputation and the Father gave him the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:5-11). His humility was all-embracing and his exaltation is all-embracing. 

Humility will cause us to use our memories. We will not forget where we were when Jesus found us. When we see pride in a Christian, we can be sure that he has a bad memory or else he has forgotten what God knows about him. A humble person cannot forget where his sin brought him. 

Humility will cause us to test our motives. It is a lowly person who examines himself. The proud Christian assumes that nothing is wrong, and therefore sees no need for checking up on himself. But as long as we have sin within us, we will need to check our motives. 

Humility will lead us to admire progressing Christians. We will love to see signs of God’s grace at work in the lives of our fellow Christians. Indeed we should be looking for this when we meet together. 

Humility will take note of the mighty hand of God. At the moment, it is the mighty hand of providence, arranging the circumstances of our lives. If they are difficult, we know that only his hand can protect us and only his hand can replace that kind of providence with another. Yet they will also note that the same mighty hand will exalt them eventually to great heights and there is no power that can prevent it from taking place. The realisation of God’s sovereign power enables humility. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Wearing the garment of humility in public (1 Peter 5:5-6)

What are the benefits of wearing the garment of humility? We wear spiritual clothes in two different places: in private and in public. Peter is more concerned with the public space here because he urges his readers to wear humility whenever they meet one another. Yet I am sure that Peter would say that we cannot put it on in public unless we have it on in private. So the first benefit that the garment of humility brings is that it delivers us from hypocrisy, from contradiction, from trying to be in public what we are not in private.  

Humility also delivers us from the obvious danger of pretending. One of the things that we learn in life is that there is always someone better than us in everything. There is always someone who knows more than we do, who paints better than we do, who drives better than we do, who is more cultured than we are. Often, when we meet such people, we are tempted to give the impression that we are more accomplished than we are. Humility delivers us from such shallowness and liberates us from the chains of pointless competitiveness.  

Humility also rescues us from the pitfalls of pride, of which there are many. Pride always comes before a fall. We may want to blame the devil and his temptations for our falling, but while they may have contributed, they are not the reason for the fall. Often, we fall because of a lack of humility. 

Humility is a means of obtaining more grace. Peter stresses this when he says that ‘God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble’. We often find ourselves facing a situation when we have to choose between two correct options and find we cannot tell which one is better, even after making careful investigations about them. If we are humble in that situation and confess our ignorance to God, we can expect him to give grace about it and lead us in the best option for us. Surely the fact that God gives grace to the humble should lead us to trust in him increasingly in all situations. 

Humility will lead us to respond to the Bible correctly. An example of this is stated in Isaiah 66:1-2: ‘Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”’  Spurgeon, in a sermon on verse 2, mentions several reasons why the humble tremble at God’s Word: (a) they tremble at its majesty; (b) they tremble at its searching power; (c) they tremble at its threatening power; (d) they trembles at the thought of offending the Most High; (e) they tremble at the prospect of missing out on its promises. 

Humility will make us teachable by one another. Apollos was a teachable individual who did not resist or resent the fact that Priscilla and Aquila wanted to help him understand more accurately the meaning of certain Bible doctrines (Acts 18:24-26). His humility led him to become even more useful in the church. 

Humility will cause us to honour one another. One of the sad aspects of contemporary life is the way character assassination can take place. Usually it involves admittance of a person’s good deeds, but then a statement is added that is designed to lower his or her reputation in the esteem of others. Such should never be part of Christian speech and it will not be part of the speech of a humble Christian who honours other believers. Thomas Watson comments that a ‘humble Christian studies his own infirmities and another’s excellences and that makes him put a higher value upon others than himself.’ 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Humility in all church members (1 Peter 5:5-6)

We all have different types of clothes: there are the clothes we wear for working and there are clothes that we wear for relaxing. If invited to a wedding, we would not wear clothes we put on for work. We recognise the necessity of wearing appropriate clothes on every occasion. 

Peter also knew that there were appropriate clothes to wear on each occasion. Unlike our daily lives in which we change clothes according to the event, Peter insisted that we must wear the same outfit wherever we go, and the garb he requires us to wear is the suit or dress of humility.  

I suspect that he has in mind humility as the outer garment that others will see. Usually undergarments were worn and each would have had different reasons for being put on. For example, in cold weather a person would put on other clothes below the outer garment, but these other clothes would be hidden. I think we can see how this works on the spiritual level. Each of us has gifts and abilities, and we might be tempted to put them on as the outer garment that others will see. We have to wear them, but they should be covered by humility. 

Similarly, an outer garment would often hide defects in other items of clothing from the eyes of others. Every Christian has defects, but how will they be hidden? They will not be noticed in a humble person, although they will be seen in a person who is proud. It is a strange fact that when a proud person tries to hide his defects others will see them, but if that person is humble others would not see them. 

Humility is a garment that no one else can put on us; instead we have to put it on ourselves. This does not mean that we provide it ourselves, but we do have to put it on each day. We obtain humility from the heavenly store, the same place where we obtain all other spiritual blessings. As we enter the heavenly shop, we note that the owner is very humble as he delights to serve us. He is very attentive and insists on showing us how we can wear this particular garment. Then he measures us and provides us with a garment that fits us perfectly. He assures us that his garments will last, and that there will be no need to discard it because it will become frayed. He does say that if we stain it, we should take it back to his shop because he is the only one who knows how to clean it. I think we can all see the points in the illustration. 

Each of us obtains humility from God’s storehouse of grace. We have to go there and ask him for it. He has provided a model for us in how it should be worn, and that model is Jesus. We have examples of his humility in the Gospels. He had a humble birth, lived in a humble home, worshipped in a humble synagogue, adopted a humble lifestyle, and died a humble death. 

This particular attire covers every part of our body. It covers our eyes (there is nothing uglier than haughty eyes), it covers our tongues (there is nothing as disruptive as proud speech), and it covers our hands and feet (we use them to serve).  

Humility fits us perfectly. When Adam was created, he was created humble and such an attitude was very appropriate for him. He sinned because he attempted to rise, which was an expression of pride. When a person is converted, he or she humbles himself or herself and begins to function the way a human should. Humility becomes us and makes us attractive. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Humility and elders (1 Peter 5:5)

Having urged the elders of the congregations to fulfil their responsibilities in times of spiritual difficulties, Peter now addresses the congregational members in general and mentions several important responses that should mark each of them. Given the situation they were facing, which included the likelihood of ongoing persecution, we might be surprised at his first suggestion, which is the necessity of humility. 

Initially, he speaks to the younger members in the congregations (5a) before addressing all Christians about this important topic. As far as his words are concerned, he could be instructing the younger to obey all the older members or he could be telling them to obey their official elders. The context must help us decide which option is more likely. ‘Likewise’ indicates that Peter is still referring to church rulers in this sentence. It looks to me that the apostle wants the younger members to obey the elders that governed the churches on Christ’s behalf. 

Why did the apostle mention this detail? I don’t think he did so because the younger were already ignoring the opinions of the elders. He is not rebuking them here. Instead he is looking ahead and telling them the best way of proceeding through the potential pitfalls that they may encounter.  

The question that then arises for us is whether or not Peter’s requirement was a temporary one because of the particular situations his readers were facing or is it a biblical principle that applies in all situations? There is no suggestion that his requirement is temporary. Of course, he is assuming circumstances in which elders are fulfilling their responsibilities, so he is not suggesting that elders should be obeyed no matter what they are doing. They should only be obeyed if their decisions are biblical. So why should we submit to functioning elders? Here are three reasons: 

The basic reason is because God requires it, which obviously places it within the overall area of obedience to him. So a failure to obey scripturally-functioning elders is an expression of rebellion against God, a repudiation of his requirements. Obedience to such church rulers is an expression of submission to God. 

A second reason is that the church has already chosen them as elders. Usually such selections would be made because they were identified by other church members as suitable leaders of the congregation. The church recognised two details about them – their God-given gifts and their Christlike characters. So it would be an expression of pride for some, not just younger people, to reject their spiritual authority. Such rejection would cause disharmony in a congregation. 

A third reason is two benefits that such elders will inevitably have – wisdom and experience. What is wisdom? Wisdom is knowing what to do with your knowledge, and such wisdom only comes from experience. Anyone can have knowledge if they are willing to learn, but the possession of intellectual knowledge is not the same as knowing what to do in difficult situations. The elders will have been through difficult situations before and will therefore know what to do in order to guide the church. 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

What will an elder get (1 Peter 5:4)?

Peter reminds his fellow-elders that if they serve Christ well they will receive from him ‘the unfading crown of glory’. This is obviously a form of reward, but it will not be a reward given by an appreciative church (that can happen in this world and it is a good thing to do for all faithful elders); instead it will be given by a pleased Master. 

What will the reward include? One aspect will be for an elder to see in glory those he helped when he was an elder. He may not have realised the way that the Lord was blessing such involvement, but he will see that the Lord did use him. He will discover that the hours he thought were fruitless, the many prayers he offered and thought were not heard, were actually the opposite and he now sees those individuals reflecting the glory of Jesus.  

Another aspect is that the enjoyment of the reward never diminishes. The reward will be an eternal reminder that Jesus, who never forgets, is always pleased with what his dedicated elders did for his flock that he left in their care during their time on earth.  

The other aspects? We can wait until we get there to find out! Meanwhile we have a call as a congregation to pray for our elders and submit to them, and for our elders to continue to tend the flock of God.