7th April 2024

A Call to Christian Conduct in Trying Times

Passage: 1 Peter 2:11-12, 2:18, 3:1-22
Service Type:

Automatically Generated Transcript

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I want to speak from one Peter, Peter wrote his Gospel, not this Gospel, he wrote his epistle his letter to people living in, what we would call, now Turkey and they were suffering quite a lot of persecution as was happening in that latter part of the first century and he wanted to encourage them in the face of what they were facing and I think there's many lessons that we can gain from it for ourselves today too. So I want to read what I see as privital lessons versus here, about where he is telling us and how he is telling us we should be living. I'm reading from 1 Peter chapter 2 and verses 11 and 12. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,

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so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation — they may see your good deeds." Now as Christians who are saved by grace, we know that from Ephesians chapter 2 it's by grace, we are saved, we enter into that by faith. But I always love Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 10 which talks about entering then into the good deeds, the good works, the ways that God wants us to live as a result of that grace that we enter into by faith. And so Peter is telling these exiles, he calls them sojourners, they don't really belong in this society, they are different, they are counter-cultural, he's telling them how to live and this is what he tells them in particular. You are to keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers they'll see your good deeds and glorify God and

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and be ready for when Jesus comes back again. I've lived in a number of countries and ministered in a number of countries where there is actually real persecution today. We know that in that first century and going on to the second and third centuries, the Christians were hard done by. They were persecuted. Probably in the first century, it wasn't like when Nero came

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and put the Christians in the Coliseum, but it was a kind of ridicule of them as a way of life. The Romans thought the best thing was to have power and to live a life demonstrating power as somebody of status. And here is these Christians, they're worshipping and following Jesus who went to the Cross. And the Cross was meant as a punishment for the lowest in society, the poor.

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those who were rebellion against the Roman Empire and these Christians were actually worshiping somebody who went to the cross. They were weak, poor. Somebody has written a book, putting all the things that were said and particularly written about the Christians at the time together and one of the words that comes through quite often is that they were called stupid.

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If you needed to live well and you needed power and to manage your life. You wouldn't be like a Christian, they said. The interesting thing is that, at that time, and in many societies, Christians are still persecuted like that because they're seen as a threat to the order of society. The two places that I've seen persecution most,

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of that kind, is, first of all, in South Sudan. I've been teaching a couple of times in South Sudan. And one time got really caught up in, what was a civil war, and that civil war, actually, is still going on 10 years later. And I had to escape through a rather hazardous series of road blocks, couldn't get out on the United Nations plane that had been arranged,

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and had to wait for another plane to get me out. But what really impacted me at the time was that the local Christians were having, every night a prayer meeting, praying for God to deliver them because they were the ones who were actually suffering the persecution. I got a plane out. I was a Westerner. I was safe in that situation

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but they were holding on to God in that place and some of those women with their families were still living out under thorn trees years later because the rest were in refugee camps and they're still doing that And that is being Christians and in a situation where Christians in particular were targeted as well as part of tribal violence as well. The other place that I have ministered in is in Pakistan where twice I've been there teaching

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as being the speaker at a pastors conference. In Pakistan, most of the people who've become Christian from the lowest order of society. And they, many of the churches that we've been part of, were brickmakers. And they are targets for those who want to say, you've been desecrating the Quran, we will punish you. We don't like you people. And they live a very precarious life.

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Because at any point, somebody could accuse them of not doing the right thing, which in Pakistan would mean persecution, could mean stoning. It was a situation very like that first century and I know that some of us and in my church and people talk about being persecuted as Christians in our society today and it's quite true that the value systems we have, what we think is important is not being taken much notice of today. And I think many of us find it difficult

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in our workplaces to be a Christian. And I know many people worry about the world that their children are coming into and their grandchildren are growing up in. What is Australia becoming? Now I think, to call it persecution, is a bit strong because it's not like our lives are threatened. Nevertheless, what Peter has to say, his advice here, is helpful to us. And I want to talk some more about that.

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The interesting thing is that when historians look at this period of history, and particularly up to the fourth century, what they say is that the Christians, though persecuted, though small a number, though criticized as being stupid and weak, actually the numbers of Christians grew and grew and grew. And so the historians look at that and say, what is it that grew the Church at that time of oppression? And this is a statement by one of them who has written the book that is most influential about this. He says, this obscure marginalised Jesus movement became the dominant religious force in the western world in a few centuries. They became a dominant religious force. From being weak and powerless like that and persecuted how did it happen? And so he and other historians

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have looked at what the Christians did in those centuries. This is what they did. The Romans thought that any girl child was not worth much so if you didn't need any more girls, so you got rid of them, you exposed them, you put them outside. Any child that had a disability was kind of not be worthwhile in a Roman society. So what the Christians used to do is go to the areas where Romans were leaving their children to be exposed and die, and they took them home and they cared for them. Not in an orphanage, but they absorbed them into their family and cared for them. People noticed what the Christians were doing.

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It made no sense to them, but they saw the love and compassion that came through. Other areas where they saw was that women were not treated as property or just something to be exploited, And so they saw that the Christian marriages, the women were given understanding from their husbands. They were given a right to speak up about how the children were raised. And so the quality of the Christian marriages also spoke about the difference that Jesus made.

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They also supported the widows and people in that society who were considered no use anymore and there was no social security. So the only way they could be supported, if they didn't have a family, was that the church looked after them, and we have some references in the Timothy epistles to the women who were widows and being cared for and how the church go about doing that.

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And then later on, the main witness of the Christians at that time, was doing the plagues. There was a bad plague in the second century and a very bad one in the fourth century. and when the Romans, and particularly those who had some wealth, then we're able to do it. When a plague came, they ran for the hills. They got out of there, got out of the cities so they didn't get contaminated. The Christians stayed, and the Christians ministered

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to those who had plague. And some of them lost their lives during that time. But again, it was obvious there was something different about this people because they had Jesus, we understand. that may not always be understood by other people, they were different because they cared for people. They cared for those who were needy. So Christian numbers grew mainly through networks of families and neighbors watching how

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the Christians lived. And I say that's what I think is the message of 1 Peter for us today, how do we live in our neighborhoods, in our families, as we care for one another, how do we show the compassion of Christ when it's not a very fashionable thing to do. Because in Australia, the values that people hold are about money and sex and power, but they're primarily about the value of self.

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I can do whatever I want to do because I'm developing my own identity, I'm doing the life I want to do. You do you is an expression that's used sometimes these days. But the opposite of that is what Christ calls us to do, which is to have compassion and care for other people as we live lives as he asks us to do. Let me read those verses again from verses 11 and 12. Be subject for the Lord's sake and sorry beloved I urge you as sojourners and and exiles, people who don't really belong, to abstain from the passions of the flesh

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which war against your own soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. writer has examined all the times that in the New Testament Gospels it says that Jesus had compassion, and he says the word compassion is always used in the Gospels as compassion and or compassion plus. Jesus had compassion on a blind man and he healed him. Jesus had compassion on a woman taken adultery and and he released her as, compassion never exists on its own, because if you just say I've got compassion

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for my neighbor down the street who needs some help, then all you're doing is talking about a feeling inside your heart. Compassion should always be with something else, some kind of behavior, some kind of helping action. And so Peter goes on in the second chapter of First Peter to say how you would work out in your life and he chooses just three issues where the Christians are going to be different.

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And some of these will be a bit of a shock to you because the first one, he says, the way that Christians are to be different is from verse 13. And he says, be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God

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that by doing good, you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. So one way that we live well in our society is in most cases, we are law-abiding, we are supportive of those who, under God, are bringing order to our society. Now, of course, we know that sometimes there is a point at which you are called, as these Christians were, they were called to worship the emperor.

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Well, they were not going to do that. And that's why they got sent to the lions. But there is a limit to how much as a general rule, Peter is saying the way you live well among people is that you live as law abiding citizens and you support the operation of justice and what in our case would also be a police action. There is still Christians who are called to call out power when it's doing wrong, but as a general rule the way we live

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is to be following those who God has put in control. So verse 13 says, be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution. Then he goes on to talk about servants. Servants, this is verse 18, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the unjust. Oh dear. For this is a gracious thing when, mindful of God,

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one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Servants. You are to be good employees, as we would say. You are to be good employees in your workplace, diligent, doing what's expected of you. Now again, there will be some situations where somebody- particularly those who I have a daughter-in-law or I say she has a justice nerve. God has called her to call out injustice. Sometimes we need to challenge work practices

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because they're not just, or they're hurting people. But there's a general rule, we are to be in our employment, in our work, in our community, we are to be honouring God by the way we live. I said this was difficult, and some of these ways in which Peter says, these are to work out in your life. We are not out rescuing abandoned children and taking them into our home, though some people do take children into their home. We have a couple of families in our church

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who foster children who do that equivalent to what the early Christians did, some of us are called to challenge what happens in our workplace or what happens in our community. But Paul is giving, Peter is giving examples of how we are to live out these instructions, to live well as Jesus did. And then, the third one he says, at the beginning of chapter three,

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likewise wives be subject to your own husbands so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Now we see that and we read that and we wrestle with how it works out in our modern marriages, but this is a completely radical statement that Peeta is making here.

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Because in those days, the women had no rights. They were considered chattels of their husband. And they could not even enter into discussions of how the family should live. They had no agency. They had no voice. And he is saying marriage is a partnership because he goes on a little bit later in chapter three. Says likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman

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as the weaker vessel, since they are not, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life." Heirs with you of the grace of life. It was a radical statement in those Roman days that a wife was a joint heir with her husband in that family and had responsibility. When we read the verse, particularly verse 12 chapter 2 and says let people see your good works because they will want to know about this Jesus that you worship because they will then understand about Christian life. He doesn't choose nice things like saying taking a meal to

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somebody has just had a baby yet it's a good thing to do he actually tackles three different and three very difficult things about honoring the government about servants in the workplace and about wives and husbands in marriage very difficult and yet he's saying this is how we live in a life in a society which doesn't look very Christian. I'm the older sister of Jim and so I'm an older still and I grew up up in a time when we thought of ourselves as Christians as a remnant in society. But we certainly expected our society would have Christian values because we'd inherited them from Britain. We inherited the Queen as leading our society, and we expected that our values would be held in our society.

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But they don't anymore. and yet this brings us to a situation where closest to what Peter is addressing in their society at the time so how do we go about this honoring God by how we live how is it we bring to this our compassion let me challenge you as God brings somebody to mind for you or some situation to mind that you you see that you are in a unique situation here to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus. Be open to what the Holy Spirit will say to you you are to do. Remember it's compassion and it's an action that follows the feeling of compassion. We can't answer every need we see around us. We would be worn out but we need to listen to the kind of situation that the Holy Spirit is

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drawing our attention to and not spend too much time about wondering whether we liked in our society or whether people honour Christians. Let's just get on with doing what Jesus wants us to do. So I want to pray a prayer for you and for me as we live this life. Father, help us live our lives to the full, being true to you in every way. Jesus, help us give ourselves away to others, being kind to everyone we meet. Spirit, help us love the lost, proclaiming Christ in all we do and say, Amen.

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