Behavior and Belief

1 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
    and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.” Isaiah 56:1-8 ESV

Belief and behavior. Confession and conduct. However you choose to describe them, there are two unseperable parts to man’s relationship with God. The vast majority of the content of the book of Isaiah has been a stinging indictment against the people of Judah for their failure to live as who they claimed to be: The children of God. They were proud of their heritage and quick to brag about their status as the descendants of Abraham. They knew they were God’s chosen people and never tired of letting others know about their preferred status with the Almighty. But the problem was that they didn’t live like it. Their conduct didn’t reflect their confession. And God has already condemned them for their contradictory lifestyle.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah put it in even more stark terms:

Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts. – Jeremiah 12:2 NLT

Now, in chapter 56, God calls on the people of Judah to dramatically alter the way they behave.

Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.– Isaiah 56:1 ESV

This sounds very similar to the words written by the prophet Micah.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8 ESV

But how were they supposed to pull this off? They had a lousy track record of keeping justice and doing righteousness and God has made that fact painfully clear. So, what was going to be different? What had changed? Notice what God tells them: “for soon my salvation will come.” He has spent several chapters telling His people that He would one day redeem and restore them. Yes, they were going to suffer because of their sin and rebellion.  They would end up in captivity in Babylon, but God would eventually return them to the land of promise. And, beyond that, God would one day send His servant, the Messiah, to restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

The prophet Ezekiel recorded the promise of God concerning that day:

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” – Ezekiel 36:24-28 ESV

So, what was to motivate their change in behavior? God’s promise of future redemption. Having been told that God had incredible plans in store for them, they were expected to live out their lives in such a way that it reflected their gratitude  for His grace and mercy. The apostle Peter spoke of this very same thing when he wrote:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:1-16 NLT

The people of God, while waiting on the final fulfillment of the promises of God, are to live their lives in keeping with the commands of God. And they are guaranteed to receive a blessing from God when they do so.

“Blessed are those who honor my Sabbath days of rest
    and keep themselves from doing wrong.” – Isaiah 56:2NLT

Obedience brings blessing. But notice that obedience does not bring salvation. God is not telling the people of Judah that He will redeem and restore them if they they “keep justice and do righteousness.” Their efforts at producing holy behavior are not what will bring God’s salvation. In fact, God will end up saving them in spite of them. But with His promise of their future salvation made known to them, they were to respond in grateful appreciation by willingly pursuing those things that bring glory and honor to God. They were to return the promise of His unmerited favor and their undeserved salvation with an unwavering commitment to do what pleases Him.

And God provides His people with some practical examples of what keeping justice and doing righteousness should look like in their everyday lives. He uses two distinct groups of individuals to drive home His point: Foreigners and eunuchs. In both cases, God seems to be referring to those within these two groups who have aligned themselves with the people of God and become worshipers of Yahweh. But, while these individuals could become followers of Yahweh, they were never really treated as genuine members of the family of God. They were still considered outsiders. A eunuch was not allowed to enter the Temple because He had violated God’s laws as outlined in Deuteronomy 23:1-8. But the Jews had taken things too far and were guilty of treating these two groups of people harshly and unjustly. They ostracized them and looked down on them. Rather than treating them as fellow worshipers of Yahweh, they looked own on them as damaged goods. But God wants His people to see things from His perspective. These foreigners or Gentiles, who sought to worship and honor Him, by obeying His laws and keeping His Sabbath, were to be made welcome in His family.

The day is coming, God reminds His people, when both Jews and Gentiles will worship Him in spirit and truth. The faithful and obedient Gentile will enjoy the same eternal blessings as the faithful and obedient Jew.

“I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem
    and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. ” – Isaiah 56:7 NLT

But again, it will not be their faithfulness and obedience that brings about God’s favor and future blessings. It will be the result of God’s gracious favor. Paul makes it clear that the future salvation to which God is referring in these verses will be based on the saving grace of God, as made possible through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son.

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes–the Jew first and also the Gentile. – Romans 1:16 NLT

God’s redemptive plan is all-inclusive. It will include His chosen people, the Jews, but also the Gentiles. It will include eunuchs, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, farmers, governors, and former Pharisees.

For the Sovereign Lord,
    who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says:
I will bring others, too,
    besides my people Israel. – Isaiah 56:8 NLT

So, if God is going to graciously include all in His plan of redemption and future restoration, how much more so should we embrace all those He brings into our lives as our spiritual brothers and sisters? Based on  God’s promise of future salvation, we are to live our lives in such a way that our conduct reflects our convictions. Our behavior should let the world know that we believe all that God has promised to do for us. So, as a result, we willingly and gladly obey His call to “Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Bless Like It.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV

Peter continues his address about attitudes and relationships. Keep in mind, he is still talking to those who are in Christ and attempting to get them to see that their new relationship with God as their Father should produce a change in their behavior. He started by addressing one of the most difficult relationships, the one between a slave and his master. Then, Peter turned his attention to husbands and wives, and, more specifically, the relationship between a believing and non-believing spouse. These kinds of relationship are going to make it difficult to live out your faith consistently and without falling back into your old sinful habits. Peter made this quite clear in the opening section of his letter.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

And Peter has already provided them with more than enough motivation for their new actions and attitudes.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. – 1 Peter 1:22 NLT

So, now he addresses the larger pool of relationships to which his readers must turn their attention and apply his admonitions. But he focuses on the relationships they have with one another as believers. His interest at this point is on the way each Christian should treat his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. – 1 Peter 3:8 NLT

First, he tells them to be of one mind. The Greek word he uses is homophrōn, and it means “harmonious” or “like-minded”. It comes from two other words that mean “together” and “understanding”. They are to share a mutual understanding of one another as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. They share an inheritance as God’s children. They are brothers and sisters. And Peter gives them concrete examples of what this one-mindedness should look like. They should sympathize with one another. This carries the idea of compassion and understanding that shows up in the form of care and concern for those around you. Paul puts it this way:

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! – Romans 12:15-16 NLT

There is no place for individualism in the body of Christ. As Paul states in Galatians 6:2, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” True sympathy requires empathy, an ability to vicariously relate to the feelings of another – their pain, sorrow, hurts and heartaches. The apostle Paul, using the example of the human body to illustrate the unique union of believers within the body of Christ, states, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NLT). We are in this together. We are, as Peter put it earlier, sojourners and exiles, but we are not alone. We are joined together by God to all our other fellow exiles, and living our lives together in this inhospitable land. And Peter describes us as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT) – all stacked together by the Master Builder, in order to create a home for His Spirit.

Peter also tells his readers to love like brothers. He uses the Greek word, philadelphos, which refers to the love shared between two blood brothers. There is to be a closer connection between two siblings than between two strangers. There is a common bond between two brothers that is not present in any other relationship. And Peter is calling the believers to whom he is writing into a deeper relationship with the ones with whom they share a spiritual kinship with Christ. Because they have been cleansed from their sins by placing their faith in Christ, they were to “show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters”, and Peter had told them to  “Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22 NLT).

They were to have tender hearts. The Greek word Peter uses is a strange one. It literally means “good bowels.” Before you let your mind run to the races, keep in mind that the readers of Peter’s letter would have understood this word to refer to the seat of the emotions. It is a word that expresses compassion, sympathy, and tenderheartedness. Paul uses the same word in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

Too often, we have no feelings for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a coldness toward them, treating them more like strangers than as our spiritual relatives. James paints a vivid picture of what a lack of tenderheartedness looks like in the body of believers.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. – James 4:1-2 The Message

Finally, Peter tells his readers to have humble minds. This is a call to humility that shows up in a willingness to esteem others as more important than ourselves. Paul put it well.

Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

There is no place for pride within the body of Christ. There is no reason to think of ourselves as better than anyone else, because we were all sinners who were saved by the grace of God. None of us were chosen for our goodness or inherent righteousness. We are each recipients of God’s undeserved, unearned grace. So, there is no reason for us to see ourselves as somehow better or of greater worth than anyone else in the family of God.

The next thing Peter writes is even more difficult to accept.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

Our natural tendency is to seek revenge, to demand justice, and to get even. We are wired to lash out and to defend ourselves at all costs, whether the threat is to our physical well-being or to our reputation. But Peter tells us to bless instead of retaliate. We are to bless as we have been blessed. And Peter isn’t making this stuff up. He got it from a reliable source: Jesus Himself.

28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Luke 6:29-31 NLT

And Paul would also echo the words of Jesus, when he wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them” (Romans 12:14 NLT). And Paul wasn’t saying this in terms of our relationships with unbelievers. He was writing to Christians. Just a few verses earlier he wrote, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:9-10 NLT). That is exactly the message Peter is trying to convey. And to drive home his point, Peter follows up his words with a quote that comes from Psalm 34.

“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12 NLT

Notice the emphasis on the tongue. To bless literally means to speak well of someone. But they must be words that come from the heart. They are not to be hypocritical or fake. They are not to come out as some form of false flattery. It is one thing to keep your tongue from speaking evil, but it is another thing altogether to speak well and have it come from your heart. That is why Jesus said, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). And in His list of defiling actions and attitudes that flow from the heart, He included evil thoughts, lying and slander. And He placed them right alongside murder, adultery, sexual immorality and theft. Our words are an expression of our heart. And to speak falsehood – kind-sounding words that are actually backed by hate-filled thoughts – is to do evil and not good. Yet, Peter calls us to bless because we have been blessed. We are to be a blessing to others, because we have received the blessing of God, His undeserved, unmerited grace and favor in the form of salvation made possible through the death of His Son. And Peter would have us continually reflect on the example provided to us by Christ.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Relate Like It.

1 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. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

As Christians, our relationships are to be primary opportunities to live out our new relationship with Christ and to exhibit externally, the inner transformation that is taking place in our hearts because of the work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no more intimate and important relationship than the one between a husband and a wife. Peter was dealing with a situation where there were a growing number of individuals coming to faith in Christ who found themselves married to unbelieving spouses. Keep in mind the locations of those to whom he was writing: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were living in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern western Turkey. Not all of his audience would have been Gentiles, because there were literally millions of Jews who had relocated and settled in these very same provinces. But whether Gentiles or Jews, the recipients of his letter were believers who, in many cases, had become followers of Christ without their spouses. This important point will factor into what Peter has to say, because our behavior, as Christians, can have a significant impact on our lost relationships, especially with our unbelieving spouses.

Peter begins with the women. and his words continue to leave many modern-day women shaking their heads and labeling Peter as a male chauvinist. His counsel comes across as archaic and a product of some ancient cultural paradigm that has long lost its relativity. Peter begins his address to wives, saying, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). He would not be the only apostle to communicate this information. Paul would write virtually the same thing: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). He would repeat this statement to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Then, in his letter to Titus, Paul provides even more detail, when he challenges the older women in the church:

…train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. – Titus 2:4-5 NLT

Whether we like what these men have to say, we have to take their words seriously, because they speak for God – that is, if you believe they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which I do. These are not two 1st-Century Jewish males sharing their personal opinions about women. They are not misogynists. They don’t hate women and are not attempting to place them in a subservient position to their more superior male counterparts. And yet, this is how many modern-day Christians interpret these passages.

What we tend to miss is the definition of the word Peter and Paul use for submission. It is the Greek word, hypotassō, which means “to subject one’s self.” There is a willingness involved, a self-determination or personal decision to submit to another out of love and, in this case, obedience to the will of God. Remember what Paul said? Women are to do it “as to the Lord.”  He says, it is “fitting for those who belong to the Lord.” It is what those who belong to God should do. And Peter makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if the woman’s husband is a believer or not. There is a witness involved in all of this. He states that when wives willingly subject themselves to the leadership of their husbands, “Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). What Peter (and by extension, God) is interested in is godly living. This isn’t about rights and privileges, status and personal authority. It is about the cause of Christ, the name of God, and the witness of our lives in a lost and dying world.

But as if this wasn’t enough and Peter had not stepped on enough toes, he wades into even more deadly waters, giving advice on women’s clothing, hair and makeup. Was he just a glutton for punishment or was there a method to his madness? He gives his female readers the following Spirit-inspired counsel:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

The first thing we gravitate towards is the fashion advice. It seems that he is telling them how to dress. But what is his real point? “Clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within.” Peter is contrasting our natural obsession with the exterior aspects of our lives with that of the interior, spiritual dimension that reflects the nature of our heart. He talks of inner beauty and the spirit within. How we look is to be far less significant to us than how we behave. And our behavior is a product of our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23 NLT). 

Peter is simply reminding the women in his audience that dressing up the exterior of their lives means nothing if they give no importance to the interior condition of their hearts. They become little more than hypocrites, what Jesus called white-washed tombs. They look great on the outside, but their interiors are filled with death and decay. And that can be true of both women and men.

Peter gives additional insight into what he is saying by comparing the behavior of the “modern-day” women to whom he is writing with the “the holy women of old” (1 Peter 3:5 NLT). There are several points of interest in what he writes and they all relate to the subject of submission. First of all, he says these women of old made themselves beautiful by placing their hope in God. They trusted God for their lives, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lives. He uses Sarah as an example. She submitted to her husband, Abraham. But how? Remember, it was he who received the call of God to leave Ur and travel to a land yet to be named. And Sarah willingly followed her husband’s lead, even though it meant leaving her family behind. She was inherently trusting God, because her husband was not quite sure how all of this was going to work out. Even later on, when they found themselves moving to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, she went along with her husband’s counsel to pawn herself off as his sister. She trusted Abraham, because she was really trusting God.

Secondly, Peter points out that Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him “master.” Why? Because she believed he was following the leadership of Yahweh, God Almighty. So, she listened and obeyed. She showed him respect. She didn’t ridicule or belittle him, even when what he said didn’t work out for the best or seem to make any sense. She was trusting God. Third, Sarah was being transformed on the inside. She had her own set of issues. She struggled with doubt and disbelief. And by following her husband’s leadership, she was having her heart changed by God. Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example of someone who did what was right, according to the will of God. And he tells his female readers that they will be daughters of Sarah if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6 NLT). Submitting to a Christian husband is scary enough. Submitting to a lost one can be petrifying. But both situations require trust in God. There will be fearful days and moments of doubt. There will be situations that come up where the husband seems to lack any leadership skills or is devoid of common sense. But at the end of the day, believing women are to put their trust in God. They are to see themselves as those who “belong to the Lord” as Paul said. They are to submit, not because their husband deserves it or has earned it, but because it is fitting to the Lord. It reveals a heart that is submissive to God. And He finds that far more attractive than the outward beauty that comes from clothes, cosmetics or jewelry.

These are not easy words for women to hear. They are counter-cultural and seem to go against the grain. But Peter is speaking of deep-seated heart issues. He is addressing matters of character and Christ-likeness. Because when all is said and done, Peter is concerned about our witness in the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and our lives are to be a testimony to His life-transforming, counter-cultural calling on our lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Therefore…

13 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. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV

Based on all that God has done for them, Peter now gives his readers some specific actions they are to take in response. God has elected them. He has caused them “to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:2 ESV). He has prepared for them “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4 NLT), that is being kept in heaven for them. On top of that, while they live on this earth, God is protecting them by His power, preserving them until the day of salvation, the final glorification of their bodies. Yes, in the meantime, they are having to endure various trials and troubles that come with life. They are experiencing the persecutions and difficulties that accompany living as a follower of Christ in a fallen world. But even those seemingly negative circumstances have positive consequences, because they test the genuineness of their faith, revealing the increasingly purified nature of that faith. The trials don’t destroy them, they perfect and strengthen them.

So, with all that in mind, Peter starts the next section of this letter with the word, “therefore” – a term on transition. It is the Greek word, dio, which means “consequently” or “with all that in mind.” Everything Peter has said thus far was meant by why of preparation and to provide a foundation on which his readers were to build their lives. All that God has done for them was meant to be a point of comfort and confidence. That’s why Peter says, “prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). I love the way the King James Version translates this verse: “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind.” The words Peter used would have been very familiar to his audience and carried a strong visual image to which they would have easily related. To “gird up the loins” was something they would have done every day of their lives, a normal part of their daily activities, especially anything that required work or quick action. The long outer garments they wore, while comfortable and perfect for the intense heat common to that part of the world, could prove cumbersome when hard labor or quick movements were required. So, they would “gird up their loins” by pulling the lower part between their legs and tucking it into their girdle or belt. This would free their legs and provide them with more mobility and less restriction, making work easier to accomplish. In essence, Peter is telling them to roll up the sleeves of their mind. They were to get ready for action – mentally. They were to be sober-minded. The Greek word Peter uses is nēphō, which conveys the idea of not only remaining free from drunkenness, but maintaining a control over your mental capacities at all times. Paul provides a great explanation of this in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

15 Therefore be very careful how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit… – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

The obvious antonym to soberness is drunkenness. It is a lack of self-control and an altered state of consciousness that is negatively impacted by an outside influence. When one is drunk, they are out of control. They lack discernment and clear decision-making capabilities. Their reasoning capacities are clouded. Their ability to think clearly is diminished. So, Peter calls for an attitude of sober-mindedness, and he tells them exactly how to do it: “Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world” (1 Peter 1:13 NLT). In other words, they were to keep their minds focused on the incredible reality of their future glorification. Staying sober-minded in this life requires keeping our minds focused on the life to come. This has everything to do with identity. Peter wants them to know that they are citizens of a different kingdom. This world is not their home. Their lives on this planet are not intended to be the end-all, but the means to an end. They are to see themselves as on a journey to somewhere greater and better. That is why they are to “gird up the loins of their mind.” In this life, they have work to do. This is a time for sober-minded effort and focused attention on the job to be done. Remember what Peter has already said: God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). He has an inheritance prepared and preserved for us. This world is NOT our inheritance. This life is not the end of the road, it is a pathway to the life to come. So, we are not to get distracted by the cares of this life or detoured by the troubles that come with life. Peter tells us we “must live as God’s obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). Our allegiance is to Him, not to this world. He is the one we should want to please, because He is the one who has chosen us and prepared an incredible future for us. And, as far as Peter sees it, the worst thing a child of God could do would be to “slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). And yet, that is a daily temptation for each and every one of us. When we take our eyes off the prize, we lose our focus. It becomes all about us again. Which is why Paul said, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT). In essence, Paul is saying that he girds up the loins of his mind so that he can run the face of life unhindered and freed up to get to the finish line unhampered by the cares of this life.

And Peter gives us a powerful admonition that can either leave us feeling debilitated or exhilarated.

15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” – 1 Peter 1:15-16 NLT

These verses have long intimated believers. They sound so impossible. How in the world am I to be holy like God is holy? What was Peter thinking? The answer is really quite simple. He was letting his readers know that, having been chosen by God, they were to live lives that reflected their new relationship with God. They were His children, so they should act like it. They had been “set apart” by God, which is what holiness means, so they lives should reflect a change in behavior. In fact, the word Peter uses is anastrophē, which means “manner of life.” Their set-apartness by God was to be all-encompassing. It was not just spiritual, but physical as well. It was to influence their entire life – from their actions to their attitudes. They belonged to God, so they were to act like it. But the key was keeping their focus on the reality of that calling. It has a future-orientation. It is our life-to-come that should influence our life in the here-and-now. As Paul said, he kept his mind focused on the finish line, not the particular part of the race course on which he currently found himself. Mile ten of a marathon is NOT the finish line. Being in first place at the halfway point of a race does not make you a winner. Standing at the halfway point of a race, admiring how far you have come, will only keep you from getting where it is you need to go. That’s why Paul said, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.”

We are on our way to somewhere else. We are passing through this place, with our eyes focused on our true destination. That is why, in the very next chapter of this letter, Peter will remind his readers of this very fact, using very stark terms to explain their new status in this world.

I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. – 1 Peter 2:11 NLT

The danger we all face is the tendency to become comfortable in this world. When we find ourselves wanting to make this world our home, we stop running the race set before us. We start taking in the sights along the way, and forget that the finish line is the goal. We start making success in this life our destination. We end up making comfort our goal. We turn the various “mile markers” of life into the finish life of our life, convincing ourselves of having “arrived” and contenting ourselves with all that we have accomplished. But there is no prize for getting halfway to the goal. There are no true blessings that come with only partially running the race.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Saved Us.

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:1-11 ESV

Having emphasized the grace of God, as revealed in His Son’s incarnation and substitutionary death on the cross, Paul now tells Titus to demand godly, grace-empowered living among the believers on Crete. He is to remind them that their behavior is exhibit Christ-like characteristics at all times. They are to be submissive to rulers and authorities. And that submission should include obedience and a willing to do the right thing at all times. Their speech should be devoid of all slander. Their words were to be used for good and not evil. They were to avoid quarreling, because it produces nothing of value. Instead, they were to exhibit a gentle or patient temperament, showing kindness or meekness to all people. And Paul seems to realize that Titus is going to get push-back from his parishioners, arguing that some people don’t deserve this kind of treatment. So, Paul tells Titus to simply remind the believers on Crete that they were once the same way.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. – Titus 3:3 NLT

Paul was a big proponent of reflection. He saw value in looking back and recalling his pre-salvation status. And he encouraged other believers to do the same. He wrote to the believers in Corinth and reminded them of their condition before coming to faith in Christ.

Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 NLT

The grace of God made possible not only their salvation, but their ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ. And it was important that they remember just exactly what is was their were saved from. Their ability to love others and see the lost as sinners in need of a Savior would be tied to their understanding of their own undeserving status when they were saved. Paul makes it quite clear.

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:4-7 NLT

It was all the work of God. The believers on Crete had not earned their salvation. Their works of righteousness had not put them in a right standing with God. Notice how Paul drives home his point. He emphasizes God’s role in their salvation.

“He saved us…”

“He washed away our sins…”

“He gave us new life and new birth…”

“He generously poured out His Spirit…”

“He made us right…”

“He made us confident that we will inherit eternal life…”

It was all God’s doing. And they were never to forget that fact. As soon as we start believing that we somehow deserved or earned God’ salvation, we begin to believe that we are somehow better than those who are lost and remain unsaved. We see the sins of others as somehow greater than our own. We can become self-righteously superior in our thinking and highly selective when it comes to those whom we show respect, honor, mercy and love. But Paul would have us remember our undeserving status and how God showed us mercy and grace – totally undeserved mercy and grace. He sent His Son to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him” (1 John 4:9 NLT). God loved us while we were at our worst. He didn’t demand that we get our proverbial act together or stop sinning. He saved us while we were mired and enslaved to our sin.

And Paul is telling Titus to demand that the believers on Crete show their gratitude to God for all that He has done by showing mercy, kindness, and respect to all those they encounter. He tells Titus:

I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. – Titus 3:8 ESV

They were to devote themselves, literally, to give attention to, good works. They were to be the protectors or guardians of good works, taking seriously their God-given responsibility to live Christ-like lives on this earth. They were to be the hands and feet of Christ, exhibiting the same attitude that He had.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

Jesus modeled humility and selfless service to others. He was the Son of God, and yet He did not think it beneath Himself to die on behalf of undeserving sinners. So, why is it so hard for us to die to ourselves and to live our lives in humble submission to God, serving those who are undeserving of our love?

Paul ends by providing Titus with a list of things for believers to avoid: “Do not get involved in foolish discussions about spiritual pedigrees or in quarrels and fights about obedience to Jewish laws” (Titus 3:9 NLT). These kinds of things are worthless and a waste of time. They produce nothing of value. They stir up anger and division. The produce pride and dissension. It was these kinds of distractions that the false teachers were bringing into the church. They weren’t unifying the church. They were dividing it. They weren’t encouraging humility and selflessness. They were promoting pride and a sense of spiritual superiority.

But Paul wants Titus and his fellow believers on Crete to remember one thing: God saved them. They had nothing to do with it. And their response should be one of gratitude and a willing submission to love others as they had been loved by God. They were to show grace to others because God had shown grace to them. They were to extend mercy to others, because had showered them with mercy. Our treatment of others should be a direct response to God’s treatment of us. He did not give us what we deserved. He gave us His Son and a means by which we could be made right with Him. He saved us. He washed and renewed us. He poured out His Spirit on us. And He has assured us of our future life with Him. All in spite of us, not because of us.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Practical Holiness.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. – Titus 2:1-10 ESV

They say the best defense is a good offense. So, in order to assist Titus in his battle against false teachers and their heretical teaching, Paul has told the young pastor to surround himself with qualified men who can help him lead the church. But Paul didn’t stop there. He also told Titus to be willing to rebuke his flock for their laziness and gluttony, so that they might be “sound in their faith” (Titus 1:14 ESV). Now Paul gets specific. He gives Titus detailed and practical descriptions of how various groups within the body of Christ are to conduct their lives. First of all, Titus is to teach only that which “accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Sound doctrine was essential to Paul. It was the glue that held the body of Christ together. That is why he spent so much time writing letters to churches he had helped to establish. He knew that the most difficult days for any believing congregation were those that lay ahead, after they had initially come to faith in Christ. Salvation was to be followed by sanctification, and that was going to require sound doctrine, teaching that was in accord with the words of Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminded him that the law “is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:9-10 ESV).

He went on to tell Timothy, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4 ESV). In his second letter to Timothy, he warned him that people would prove to be fickle and drawn to falsehood, desiring to hear teaching that condoned their behavior and excused their love of the world. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV).

But Paul is not just telling Titus to teach solid, reliable doctrine. He is wanting him to get specific and show how that doctrine should show up in real life. The New Living Translation puts verse one this way: “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching” (Titus 2:1 NLT). Good doctrine should produce good behavior. The teachings of Jesus, expounded and expanded upon by the apostles, were to have a dramatic impact on the lives of those who placed their faith in Jesus as their Savior. Christ followers were to be Christ-like. So, Paul begins with the older men in the church. He tells Titus that they are to be characterized by sober-mindedness, an ability to think clearly, unhampered by alcohol or anything else that would confuse their capacity to judge wisely. They are to be dignified or worthy of respect, not acting in childish or immature ways. Their lives are to be marked by self-control, able to manage their natural desires and passions. They are to have a healthy faith that shows up in how they live their lives. And their are to be characterized by a love for others and a willingness to patiently endure with those who are difficult to love.

Paul next moves his attention to older women in the church. Their lives were to be marked by behavior that reflected their holiness. On other words, their godliness should show up in tangible, visible ways. They were not to be addicted to gossip and slander or, for that matter, wine. And they were to teach the younger women by modeling for them what godliness looked like in the life of a believing woman. And while Paul provides a list of good behaviors that the older women were to teach to the younger women in the church, I don’t think he had a class in mind. This was to be modeled teaching. Their lives were to be the primary lesson the younger women studied and from which they learned the expectations of God for holiness.

The younger women were to love their husbands and children well. While this sounds like a no-brainer, we know how difficult this can be in a normal relationship between a husband and wife. Marriage can be difficult. Raising children can be extremely challenging. And older women were to model for the younger women what loving your husband and children looked like over the long haul. Their lives were to be a tangible example of what living self-controlled and selfless lives looked like. Purity or wholesomeness was to be a powerful motivation for these young wives and mothers. They were to be diligent workers, ordering their home well. This does not mean that wives are not to work outside of the home. But in Paul’s day, that was a rare option for women. He was simply calling for an attitude of diligence and order in their responsibilities, that would apply in every area of their lives – either at home or at work. And again, these older women were to have modeled what submission to their husbands looked like. It was not an issue of worth or value, power or weakness. It had to do with a willing submission to God’s intended order of things. Paul was not saying that the husbands were better, smarter or more deserving of the leadership role in the home. He was simply saying that God had a prescribed order of responsibility. He had placed the man as the head of the home and expected him to lead well. Many men don’t. That is an all-too-proven fact. But God intended for the wife to be an asset to her husband, encouraging and assisting him in his God-given role, seeing themselves as partners in this thing called marriage. In fact, Jesus would say that they are not really partners, but a single unit, joined together as one by God Himself in the marriage ceremony. The two of them are to act as one, in loving unison, as they raise their family and conduct their lives on this earth.

And younger men, which would include younger fathers and husbands, as well as single men, were to be self-controlled as well. They were not to be driven by their passions or controlled by their lusts. And Titus, as a young man himself, was to be a model of godly behavior, using his own life as a teaching tool that revealed integrity, dignity and godly speech. Young men were to not to use their youth as an excuse to act like fools or shirk their responsibilities as Christ-followers. They were to take their faith seriously and live their lives in such a way that the outside world could not point a finger at them and call them hypocrites.

Paul closes his list of individuals within the church by addressing bond-servants or slaves. In that day and age, there were many who found themselves operating as household slaves or servants because of unpaid debts. There were others that were outright slaves, captured as a result of wars and sold into slavery as servants. But many of these individuals had come to faith in Christ there on Crete. And they had become members of the local fellowships. So, Paul doesn’t want to leave them out. It is interesting to note that Paul does not address the institution of slavery. He neither condemns nor condones it. He was not out to change the unjust institutions set up by men that took advantage of the weak or helpless. He was out to change hearts. Which is why he tells Titus that these individuals were to remain submission to their masters in everything. He didn’t tell them to rebel or run away. In fact, he told them to use their slavery as a platform on which to exhibit their faith in Christ. They were obey and not argue. They were to refrain from stealing and show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. And their overall behavior, even as slaves, was to bring glory and honor to God.

Good doctrine should result in good conduct. Belief that doesn’t impact behavior is to be questioned. An individual who claims to know Christ and declares themselves to be a follower of Christ, but whose life exhibits no qualifying characteristics, is to be doubted. Paul would even say there are to be rebuked. The way we live our lives is one of the greatest testimonies to the life-transforming power of the gospel. It is to be practical proof of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power within us. All of these characteristics and behaviors that Paul has listed are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They come about as a result of a reliance upon the Spirit and an adherence to good, solid teaching of sound doctrine.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Radical and Revolutionary.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them… Matthew 5:1 ESV

It was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, who first referred to this text as the Sermon on the Mount. But that title is somewhat of a misnomer, in that the content and the context appears to make it much more of a teaching, than what we would know as a sermon. Obviously, the setting is outdoors, on a hillside in Galilee, at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It is early on in Jesus’ ministry and yet, we know from chapter four, that Jesus has already begun attracting huge crowds.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

Those who made up the audience sitting on the hillside that day to listen to Jesus speak, were made up of all kinds of people from all over the area. And within the crowd would have been disciples or followers of Jesus. This term was not exclusively used of the 12, but was commonly used to refer to any and all who followed Jesus and were attracted to His message and miracles. As John will make clear in his gospel, many of these individuals would later choose to abandon Jesus when His message became increasingly more convicting and the price of discipleship, more costly (John 6:66). Also in the crowd that day were the first four men whom Jesus called to be His official students. Chapter four also tells us how Jesus had called two brothers: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, as well as another two siblings: James and John. All four of them were common fishermen. But when Jesus extended the invitation to join His ranks as His disciples, they all willingly followed. The final group that listened to Jesus teach that day were the merely curious. They probably made up the largest contingent within the crowd. These were the people who were enamored with Jesus’ miracles and intrigued by what He taught, but were attracted by the novelty of it all. So, as Jesus sat down to teach, He found an audience made up of the called, the semi-committed and the curious. And it is important to keep these three groups in mind as we listen to Jesus’s words, because each of them will have a slightly different take on what He has to say.

The danger we face in reading a passage like this one is to do so from our modern point of view and with our unique perspective as modern believers who know how the story ends. In other words, we have insights the people in Jesus’ audience would not have had. We know about His death, burial and resurrection. We are well aware of the Holy Spirit and the role He plays in helping us live out the Christian life. We know that our salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone, and not on words or human effort. We also know that our ongoing sanctification is based on faith as well. We can’t make ourselves more holy. We must depend upon the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God. So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount, we hear it with redeemed ears. We are privy to insider information that the original hearers would not have had. They were not yet sure who Jesus really was. Some would have thought Him to be the Messiah, but they would have been few in number. Even the four men whom Jesus called, probably only saw Him as a rabbi or teacher at this point in their relationship with Him. It would be some time later, after He had called all 12 of His disciples, that Jesus would ask them who the people believed Him to be. And they would respond, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead” (Luke 9:19 NLT). So, at this point, early on in His ministry, there would have been much debate about just who Jesus was. And that point will make what He has to say that much more important. How would they have heard His message? What kind of impact would His words have had on them? The challenge we face when reading this all-too-familiar passage, is to not allow our status as modern, 21st-Century Christians to taint or influence the message. Because we know how the story ends, we can have the unfortunate tendency to remove from Jesus’ words all their power and revolutionary nature. What Jesus had to say that day in that bucolic setting was radical and unheard of. Like fingers on a blackboard, His teachings would have grated on the ears of his listeners, causing them great confusion and raising all kinds of questions in their minds. For too many of us, because of over-familiarity, His words have long ago lost their power. The radical, counter-cultural calling found in the words of Jesus no longer have the same impact as they did the day He spoke them. It is almost as if we know too much. Our privileged insights into the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry, His death and resurrection, have robbed what He had to say that day of their intended impact and shocking significance.

My challenge to you is to read the Sermon on the Mount with fresh eyes. To the best of your ability, get into the mindset of someone hearing His words for the very first time. In fact, try to hear them like a 1st-Century Jew. It is important to remember that even the four disciples of Jesus: Simon, Andrew, James and John, were not yet technically believers. They had not heard all of His teachings. They knew nothing about His impending death. They had heard nothing about His coming resurrection. He had not yet told them about the future coming of the Holy Spirit. No one in the audience would have known what we know. So, listen to His words from their perspective. Hear what they would have heard. Allow yourself to be shocked by the radical nature of what He was saying and how it would have dramatically altered your concepts of life, religion, relationships, and God. Everything you knew to be true was about to be turned on its head. All you had been taught and had learned to lean on as reliable, right and non-negotiable, was about to get rocked.

There would be no mind-blowing miracles performed, no demons cast out or lame people healed. That hillside was not going to be some carnival sideshow, but a classroom. And the subject was going to be the kingdom of heaven. For the very first time, Jesus was going to expand on what He and John the Baptist had been preaching. Both of them had been declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Now, Jesus was going to begin explaining what life in the kingdom was to be like. And it was going to be more mind-blowing then any miracle He could have performed. This was going to be radical stuff.
Jesus is going to teach persecution and poverty brings blessing, lust carries the same penalty as adultery, anger is equivalent to murder, enemies are to be loved, and reconciliation trumps revenge or retaliation. He is going to demand a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. And any righteous acts done in order to get noticed don’t count. He’s going to outlaw worrying and judging. He’s going to require that we put the needs of others ahead of our own, even those we hate. And to top it all off, Jesus is going to demand fruitfulness and, as if that was not enough, perfection. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV).
It all sounds impossible. And it is. It all sounds so radical. And it was. So much so, that over the years, there have been many who have decided that Jesus’ words were never intended to be followed. They have concluded that this message was speaking of some future time when sin was eliminated and men were made perfect by God. In other words, Jesus was prophetically speaking of His Millennial Kingdom. But while there is some truth to this notion, I don’t believe Jesus would have said all He did if there was not some expectation on His part that obedience to these commands were not only possible, but non-negotiable. The key to understanding what Jesus was teaching is realizing the impossible nature of it all. Like the Law of Moses, Jesus words were exposing the inability of men to live up to the holy standards of God’s Kingdom. Jesus was not teaching a new set of rules or requirements in order for men to be made right with God. He was teaching a new way of life that would be made possible only by the power of God. The righteousness Jesus was demanding was not to be self-made, but Spirit-produced. The behavior that He was expecting would not be the result of human effort, but divine power.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Talk, No Power.

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness? – 1 Corinthians 4:14-21 ESV

Paul wasn’t out to embarrass or demean the believers in Corinth. But he simply wanted to lovingly expose the error of their way. He refers to himself as their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15b ESV). He calls them “my beloved children” (1 Corinthians 4:14b ESV). He wants to remind them that it was he who had originally brought the good news of Jesus Christ to them and presented to them the life-altering message of reconciliation with God made possible through faith in His Son. At each of their conversions they had received not only the forgiveness of their sins, but the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. Their salvation had been the work of God from beginning to end. It was only by His grace that they could claim to be His children. And so there was no room for boasting, pride or arrogance of any kind.

Over time, since accepting Christ, they had been privileged to have “countless guides.” Paul is referring to men like Cephas and Apollos, whom God had used to instruct and guide them in the faith. Paul uses the Greek word, παιδαγωγός (paidagōgos), which refers to…

a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood. (“G3807 – paidagōgos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible).

But these teachers and tutors were not to be a replacement of the father of the son. He held a special place in the lives of his children. They owed their very existence to him. And it was this thought that Paul seems to have in mind. He is not bragging, but simply stating the fact that had he not come to them with the message of the gospel, they would still be in their sins and separated from God. Paul is not asking for special recognition and, based on everything else he has written, he is not expecting them to idolize him. He only wants them to stop their pointless arguing and prideful posturing. There was a spirit of pride that had begun to permeate the church in Corinth and Paul wanted to put a stop to it.

Interestingly enough, Paul invites them to imitate him. This could easily come across as a prideful statement if we did not know so much about Paul and his life. His was not a life of ease and comfort. He had a reputation for serving Christ in humility and obedience. He was the consummate servant, sacrificing even his health for the sake of the body of Christ. That is why he could say, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16 ESV). And because he could not be with them, he had sent Timothy “to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17b ESV). Paul wasn’t just interested in promoting the teachings of Christ, he wanted to model them. He wanted to show through his very own life what Christ-likeness really looked like. Paul insisted that “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Corinthians 4:20 ESV). Anyone can teach and talk a good game, but if what they teach does not show up in their day-to-day life, their words lack power. The pastor who can craft a good message and wow the audience with his rhetorical skills, but who does not live out the power of the gospel in his life, is all talk, no action. Later on in this letter, Paul challenges the Corinthians to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV). So Paul was not making this stuff up. He wasn’t encouraging them to ”do as I say,” but to “do what I do” because he was following the example of Christ.

How many of us could issue that same challenge with confidence? Are our lives a reflection of the life of Christ? Are we following His example? Or are we all talk, no action. They say talk is cheap. I can know all that Christ taught, but if I don’t put it into action, it means nothing. Paul was fully confident that his life was worthy of emulation because his life was modeled after that of Christ. He was not claiming perfection or sinlessness. He was not putting himself up as an icon of virtue or moral excellence. He was a work in progress. God was continually molding and making him into the likeness of Christ. He told the believers in Philippi, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me” (Philippians 3:12 NLT). At one time, Paul had told Timothy, his young protegé in the faith, “This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ — and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16 NLT). Paul was an example of the patience and mercy of God. He had not deserved salvation, but God had graciously extended it to him. His life was an example of the mercy and grace of God, but also of the presence of the Holy Spirit as His sanctifying power continued to change his life.

Paul was so passionate about this issue, that he threatened to show up like a father ready to discipline his wayward children. He loved them too much to watch them live their lives in arrogant pride rather than in humble submission to God’s divine will for them. The time for talk was over. It was a time for action and for the life-altering power of the Spirit to show up in their daily behavior.

Acting Like Infants.

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 ESV

There is nothing particularly wrong with acting like a child – if you are one. But we all know how awkward it is to be around someone who refuses to act their age. Watching a grown man behave like a teenager is painful and extremely disappointing. It’s obvious to all that something is wrong with his behavior. He has refused to grow up and own up to the responsibilities that come with adulthood. And his immature actions usually end up impacting every area of his life. The same can be said for spiritual immaturity. It’s not it’s wrong. Every believer starts out as a spiritual infant in Christ. We begin the journey of faith as metaphorical newborns who require what Paul refers to as the “milk” of God’s Word. This is normal and natural. It is to be expected. It was Peter who wrote, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 ESV). There is a time in every believer’s life when their spiritual diet must be simple and easily digestible. But as they grow, they are to move on to the “meat” of the Word. They are to grow up into salvation, learning to grasp the depth of God’s love, the significance of His grace, their complete dependence upon His strength, and the full weight of His call to holiness. The author of the book of Hebrews had some strong words to say to the recipients of is letter:

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. – Hebrews 5:12-13 NLT

They were stuck on the basics, the elemental principles of God’s Word. They knew that Jesus was the Son of God and that He had died for their sins. They understood that they were completely dependent upon Him for salvation. They had believed that by placing their faith in Him they would be restored to a right relationship with God. But their knowledge of God’s Word had not gone beyond that point. Their grasp of all that God had done and all that He had in store for them remained limited and so their behavior remained so as well. Paul had given the Ephesian believers a goal to “be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). They were to grow in Christ-likeness, becoming increasingly more like Him in their daily conduct. And the result of this spiritual growth would be clearly evident.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:14-15 NLT

The problem with the believers in Corinth was that their behavior was revealing their spiritual immaturity. They were bickering and boasting, fighting and fuming over who was more spiritual and who had the best leader. Paul said, “there is jealousy and strife among you” and that was proof that they were “of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Corinthians 3:3 ESV). They were acting like children, arguing over things that didn’t matter and that only revealed their lack of understanding of the ways of God. They were making much of men rather than much of God. They misunderstood that these men were merely messengers, acting on behalf of God. This led Paul to ask them, “who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us” (1 Corinthians 3:5 ESV). They were nothing more than instruments in the hand of God. Any value they had came from God’s decision to use them to accomplish His will. In a subsequent letter to the Corinthians, Paul would state:

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. – 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NLT

A more mature believer has a growing awareness that God is the source of all that we enjoy regarding our faith. It was He who called us, not a man. It was His Son who died for us. It was His Spirit who opened our eyes so that we could understand the truth of the gospel. It is His Word that provides us with insight into His nature and daily guidance for our journey of faith. And it is God who gave us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 NLT). And Paul reminded the believers in Corinth that he, Cephas and Apollos were nothing more than “God’s fellow workers” and they were “God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9 ESV). Growing believers have a growing understanding of and appreciation for God’s work in their lives. They grow in their appreciation for His love and mercy. They grow in their gratitude for His unfailing forgiveness. They grow in their desire to please Him, not in order to earn His love, but because they are loved. They grow in their dependence upon Him. They grow in their desire for Him. They grow in their hunger for His Word. They grow in their trust in His promises. They grow into their salvation. And all this growth shows up in their behavior.

Transformed.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32 ESV

What does it look like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)? And what would it mean to “no longer walk as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)? Paul doesn’t leave anything up to our imaginations. While at one time, before coming to know Christ, we had futile minds and a darkened understanding, all that has changed. We used to be alienated from God and were ignorant of godly things because we had hardened hearts. We were callous, sensual by nature and greedy for more and more impurity. That was our old self. But when we came to know Christ, we were given a new nature, a new self, with the capacity to renew and redeem our entire way of thinking. And the way we think has a tremendous impact on the way we live. Which is why Paul encouraged his readers to “put on thew new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24 ESV). Then he described what that should look like in real life.

One of the first characteristics of our new life should be truth. Everything about our life outside of Christ was marked by falsehood and based on lies. Our view of God, if we had one, was false. Our perspective on sin and any need for salvation was flawed and influenced by the lies of Satan. We probably didn’t think we were that bad. Our view of our own sinfulness was relative, allowing us to see ourselves as somewhat better than others. But when we came to know Christ, we were suddenly exposed to the truth regarding our sin and the condemnation we deserved. We realized for the first time that any hope we had for restoration to a right relationship with God was possible only through Christ. We became aware that we were sinners in need of a Savior. We came to grips with the reality of God’s unapproachable holiness and our own unrighteousness. The magnitude of God’s incredible love as revealed through the death of His Son on the cross dawned on our darkened minds and opened our blind eyes to the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

As believers we are to put away falsehood and deceit. We have to constantly eliminate the false ideas and faulty precepts on which we formerly based our lives. Instead, we are to “speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 ESV). While lying was a natural part of our former lives, it is uncharacteristic and unacceptable in our new status as members of God’s family. We are to exhibit holiness and righteousness. For us, honesty isn’t just the best policy, it is the only one. While anger was a normal part of our pre-conversion experience, now we should view it as dangerous and destructive. While we can’t completely eliminate anger from our lives, we can learn to control it. Which is why Paul wrote (quoting from Psalm 4:4), “‘don’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). Our old nature will try and justify our anger. It will want to defend it by labeling it as “righteous indignation.” But anger simply provides an entry point for the enemy. As believers, love is to be the primary characteristic of our lives. 

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus told those listening to His message:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:44-48 ESV

Salvation is not just about having our sins forgiven and our eternity secured. It is about life change. It includes our ongoing transformation through God’s divine process of sanctification. God doesn’t just free us from the penalty of sin, He liberates us from the power of sin in our lives, allowing us to live radically different lives right here, right now. As a result, the thief who comes to faith in Christ, is to no longer steal. He is to work. And rather than take from others, he is to share what he earns with those in need. His whole mindset about life is to change. As believers, our speech should reflect our new nature. Paul writes, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Again, notice the change in perspective. It is other-oriented, rather than me-centered. Our words are to build up, not tear down.

As believers, our conduct can grieve the Holy Spirit. When we live like we used to live, according to our old nature, we are not allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, and this brings Him great sorrow. When bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander mark our lives, it is evidence that we are not living in the power of the Holy Spirit. These things are evidences of our old nature. But when we exhibit kindness, tenderness and forgiveness to one another, it is proof that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, producing His fruit through us. We are walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are living in unity. We are being renewed and putting on our new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.