JUDGMENT . . . Applied to all humanity and for all time

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. “ (Reference: 1 Peter 4:4-6 )

This is sort of a hard verse to parse out, The writer of 1 Peter is taking great care to emphasis that both the living and the dead will be judged. There are several possible reasons that the writer is so carefully noting this. And since the faith communities that he is writing to were anticipating Christ’s return soon, and the judgment that would come, the theology expressed in this verse might be different than the one or ones we are more familiar with. So I am taking “tiny steps” in examining the theology. The Easy-to-Read Version puts verse six like this, “Some were told the Good News before they died. They were criticized by others in their life here on earth. But it was God’s plan that they hear the Good News so that they could have a new life through the Spirit.” So this makes it clear that, according to the writer of 1 Peter, those who have already died will be judged just like those who are, or more precisely, were then alive.

But still, I was not satisfied that I had seen this passage from all the possible angles. So I consulted Barnes. And his answer satisfied me. I am excerpting him at length. If you do not want to read through all of it, meet me at the end.

“Many, as Doddridge, Whitby, and others, understand this of those who are spiritually dead, that is, the Gentiles, and suppose that the object for which this was done was that “they might be brought to such a state of life as their carnal neighbors would look upon as a kind of condemnation and death” – Doddridge. Others have supposed that it refers to those who had suffered martyrdom in the cause of Christianity; others, that it refers to the sinners of the old world (Saurin), expressing a hope that some of them might be saved; and others, that it means that the Saviour went down and preached to those who are dead, in accordance with one of the interpretations given of 1 Peter 3:19. It seems to me that the most natural and obvious interpretation is to refer it to those who were then dead, to whom the gospel had been preached when living, and who had become true Christians. This is the interpretation proposed by Wetstein, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, and others. In support of this it may be said:

(1) that this is the natural and obvious meaning of the word dead, which should be understood literally, unless there is some good reason in the connection for departing from the common meaning of the word.

(2) the apostle had just used the word in that sense in the previous verse.

(3) this will suit the connection, and accord with the design of the apostle. He was addressing those who were suffering persecution. It was natural, in such a connection, to refer to those who had died in the faith, and to show, for their encouragement, that though they had been put to death, yet they still lived to God. He therefore says, that the design in publishing the gospel to them was, that though they might be judged by people in the usual manner, and put to death, yet that in respect to their higher and nobler nature, the spirit, they might live unto God. It was not uncommon nor unnatural for the apostles, in writing to those who were suffering persecution, to refer to those who had been removed by death, and to make their condition and example an argument for fidelity and perseverance.”

I had thought perhaps that the writer of 1 Peter did mean “spiritually dead” but Barnes makes a good case for just plan having passed away. Or perhaps those who had passed away long ago, in the “before the gospel” time. And adjacent to that interpretation is that Christ went “down” to preach to those who died. But again, that did not seem right. No, I think Barnes has the best explanation and solid proof.

What then of us? It seems, beloved, living or dead we do not escape judgment. And more importantly what we believe alive will have great consequences when we have died. And as the Easy-to-Red Version points out, criticism that is received when one is alive pales in comparison to criticism by the God who judges after we have died!

We have heard/read several theories and versions of judgment – from “light judgment” that is tempered by mercy to heavy judgment that is unavoidable and comes with great consequences. It may be hard to know what type of judgment we should anticipate and prepare for. The solution, beloved, is easy. Live your life according to God’s agenda and direction, not any other. Then the judgment that comes will be merely a portal to what is beyond. Selah!

FEAR OF GOD . . . When God’s Eyes & Ears are upon you

“Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. 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.” (Reference: 1 Peter 3:10-12 )

The historic Anabaptists examined their lives closely and sought to more closely emulate God. One reason that the Anabaptist movement started was that the bible became more readily available to the common person. Those who first started the movement read scripture and found out directly what God wanted instead of it being channeled to them through church leadership whose agenda and motivations were not always to extol their congregation but to control them. But the more they read for themselves, the less controllable they were.

The historic Anabaptist struggled to out from under the control of the church/state leadership and place themselves under God’s leadership. The discovering that they could have their own connection and relationship to God was a beginning of a new kind of faith, and the historic Anabaptists reveled in it. In the scriptures, such as I Peter, were instructions and admonitions that filled and ordered their lives. Contemporary Anabaptists and Mennonites have this in common with their spiritual ancestors – or at least that is what we strive for. I do not want to make you think historic Anabaptists were perfect. But they felt scripture did have the instructions for living perfectly.

Different religions, and the denominations within those religions view God and the bible differently. Historic Anabaptist and contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites stand solidly in their faith beliefs, but also respect and accept what other Christians believe. It is my hope that you will learn more about Anabaptists and Mennonites, and be drawn into deeper relationship with God. Shalom beloved!

My Discipleship and the Christian Life – Revealing myself in small pieces

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you . . . ”

I don’t mean to be maudlin or sappy, but I have not had an easy life. That’s not to say I have suffered more than anyone else. But where some children and adolescents flow through life, I feel like I have hit every obstacle and bump along. Things did not get a lot easier as I moved through adulthood, and now turning from middle age to old age, I still struggle. But each obstacle and bump along the way has taught me something – sometimes it has been a reminder to turn to God, and other times it has been important life lessons. And just as I suspected when I was moving into my late 30’s, what I have learned I have been able to pass on to others – life lessons that they needed.

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

Some of the most rewarding lessons to teach have been lessons about living a Christian life. Some of my happiest times of counseling have been when I have been doing Christian counseling – spiritual direction. And most times doing these commentaries for this blog have been such joyful times. Yes gentle reader, you read me correctly. Sometimes I have to force and drag myself to write. But it is good for me to keep with this discipline.

The times, however, when the writing goes smoothly I feel like the Spirit is at my shoulder whispering to me what would be good to write. And there are times when I read what I have written, and wish I could be as wise and inspiring as the person who wrote it – then I realize and remember it was me, and I thank God for helping me write ti.

If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4: 12-14 )

I am not sure if I have ever been insulted because of what I write (or have written) or how I have lived my life – the choices I have made. But then, I am not sure I would have paid attention to any of the insults anyway. You can’t life your life as a Christian without someone saying you’re not doing it right; and often times that person is another Christian. Oh, I am sure that someone somewhere along the way has flung an insult at me. And while my skin and ego might not be tough enough to withstand it, my determination to not return an insult with an insult has withstood the challenge – Lord forgive me though if I have forgotten that I did think some “nasty” things to the person who insulted me.

The point of the matter, gentle reader, is that living an accountable authentic Christian life is bound to be tough going at times. But we can’t give up. And as the writer of 1 Peter says, if we struggle, we are in good company.

May you gentle reader hold firm to God’s promise of being with us, and keep in clear focus Christ’s example in living. Selah!

Government and Society – Submitting to the over-us-people

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1 Peter 2: 13-14 )

I can always count on Barnes; he says about this verse, “Of course, what is here said must be understood with the limitation everywhere implied, that what is ordained by those in authority is not contrary to the law of God.” And with that understanding, it would be safe to trust in one’s government and the society that one lives in.

But . . . can the society and government that holds sway over us be trusted? That is the question that I am sure many voters had on their mind the beginning of last month – the vast array of voters who supported every signal candidate for every single political race. Can the government who have or we hope to have be trusted to reflect our interests and opinions, and the to align themselves to the law of God? But then the follow up question comes – whose interpretation of God’s law? And from there gentle reader we descend into discussion and dissension.

Maybe it was simple back in the time of the writer of 1 Peter. Maybe the options and choices for government and society were simpler; one government that you better obey or else, and one society to live in accepting your social position and role. And if that was the case (and I expect it was so) then submitting peacefully and willingly was probably better than being forced to. Especially if you were the new “religious faith on the block”.

But does mean then that we have the luxury of protesting and critiquing the government and society we are under and surrounded by? Or the obligation – since we have the freedom to protest and critique? And if our government and society – according to our interpretation – is NOT aligning itself with God’s law, does that make it more or less imperative to protest and critique?

Because, the second part of this passage assumes that government and society will punish and reward properly and appropriately. So again, can we trust in that? Will they do as God would do?

Weighty thoughts gentle reader. May you consider this questions with due consideration and preponderance. And may the Holy Spirit guide you in your thoughts as we hope and pray the Spirit guides our government and society. Selah!

Government and Society: Being free to be

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”  (1 Peter 2: 15-16)

I needed a jump start. So I looked back at what was said in 2007. And to my chagrin, I discovered some grammatical and syntax errors. Boy did I feel foolish having posted those errors for all the world to see!! But I am hoping it did not negatively impact the message my fellow contributors and I were trying to communicate. This passage from 1 Peter commends his/her reader to put a stop to accusations made by others (non-Christians). The implication is that non-Christians will look at what the Christians were doing and then accuse them of crimes etc, especially crimes against the state which would be severely punished. And as I have said before, in the context these were writing this was a legitimate fear.

But times have changed. And we, as Christians, have read it is alright to be foolish and be seen as foolish by others for Christ’s sake. It saddens me that the early Christians had to live with such fears. We in this modern society, and governed by our democratic leaders, can practice our religion as we want – as long as we stay within the laws. And really, the laws are not so bad. Well, maybe for some they are bad. And maybe the laws are confining for some . . . denying them rights. And not fairly applied. And harsh. Okay, so many of us might know what it is like to live under the government that the early Christians. But that is not a reason to refrain from speaking out. Or to fear what “the ignorant talk of foolish men [and women]” might do. We should live free, and work to assure the freedom of others, not using our freedom – because we are privileged and the laws work for us and not against us – to be weak and shy when we see others suffer and be oppressed. We are to live as servants of God, working towards fulfilling God’s mission in the world.

Not bad – for needing a jump start to get going, May you gentle reader be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live freely and to ensure freedom for others in the face of a government and society that may not function based on Christian principles. Selah!

Disciples and Those Living the Christian Life – Above all things, do this

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers [and sisters], be compassionate and humble.” ( I Peter 3:8 [Emphasis mind] )

 

The book of 1 Peter (which is actually a letter that was circulated between the early churches) is fairly simple and basic in its layout, addressing all the various groups and issues in the church. It is not the glib rhetorical language that one can expect from Paul, where he addressed individual groups and geographic areas according to what their specific issues were and the struggles they had. The writer of 1 Peter is talking to everyone and laying out plain simple “home truths.” So when the writer of 1 Peter says “Finally, all of you” he/she means all those he has addressed previously – the scattered strangers, the holy, those who are living stones and chosen people, those who submit to rulers and masters, and all wives and husbands in the churches.

 

In other words to all of you, whoever are and wherever you are, do this one thing; live in peace with one another. Be understanding of what the other person may be going through. Love each other as if you were family to one another. And care about each other, not making more of yourself than you should. Yes, if the writer of 1 Peter is indeed the disciple Simon Peter, he would tell you plain and simple – act like the Christians you claim to be! Selah!

 

 

Peace, Justice and Non-resistance; Turning aside from the dark to the light

“Do not repay evil with evil” . . . . You destroyed my block tower, so I am going to wreck your Lego castle!

“or insult with insult” . . . . Wah! You called be a big sissy baby but you’re a big butted baboon!

“but with blessing” . . . . I like playing with you; you are fun to play with and I like sharing my toys with you.

“because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” . . . . Since you have all been so good, you each get an extra sticker for the day!

“For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:9-11 )

Gentle reader, we all know how cruel children can be. And unfortunately cruel children can grow to be cruel adults. Their cruelty however can be more devastating and long lasting. But children can also be sweet and gentle; and as adults we need to model that behavior and affirm it appropriately when we see it. We should also affirm that behavior in adults when we see it. If we can give a blessing, let us give it. And we will be blessed in return. Let us strive to live as loving children of God so that our Creator and Parent will affirm us through Divine blessings. We can change insult and evil into praise and righteousness. We may have to endure some insult and evil because there is always insult and evil in our world. But through God’s inspiration and support we can return insult and evil with words and actions that support peace and shalom.

My calender tells me that today is when Daylight Saving Time ends; for those of us who live where the light comes late and leaves early in these days of Fall/Winter this is especially had to get used to. But going into the dark does not mean our thoughts, words, and actions will turn dark. It is a psychological fact that it can happen. But our Lord of Light brings light to our lives; we can let that light shine in us and share that light with others. May you gentle reader carry with you peace and shalom that brings light to the world. Selah!

Peace, Justice, and Nonresistance – Keeping silent and still

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats.” (1 Peter 2:21-23 )

When threatened or accused, we defend ourselves. It is a natural human reaction. But Christ was not merely human, but Divine in his spirit and temperament. The Confession says, in agreement with the passage from 1 Peter, “When threatened, he chose not to resist, but gave his life freely.” There are examples of this kind of Spirit-inspired peace and acceptance in Christian history widely, and in Anabaptist history specifically. Our Anabaptist fore-bearers gave up there lives rather than recant their beliefs. Other Christians have also stood firm. But it is unusual for one to at least not defend him/herself verbally from oppression etc.

It is recorded in the gospels that Jesus did have verbal exchange with his accusers but he did not insult them nor threatened them. Before his trial he would have verbal exchange with the Jewish leaders, but at the end when he faced crucifixion he did not “give back” as good as he got. This is nonresistance; we talk about peace which is the lack of violence, conflict, aggression etc, and the working towards eliminating these things. We talk justice which is far and equitable chances for all people without prejudice or favoritism. These are part of the larger definition of shalom, as is to some extent nonresistance. But nonresistance is also different from the other two; nonresistance means in the face of violence or injustice we do not use violence or injustice in return. Instead we return the violence and injustice with peace and shalom. It is not easy though. And there are those who challenge this stance. Christians, and more specifically Anabaptists/Mennonites, try to follow Christ’s example. And that is not easy either.

May you, gentlest of readers, follow Christ’s example also. And may our Lord God who desires shalom for all creation give you strength. Selah!

The Waters of Baptism

“Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21 )

I am not quite connecting all the dots here, so bear with me . . . okay, I checked some other translations/versions and this is what I got. Baptism does not clean us of the dirt and dust that we pick up in a day, or in a lifetime. (I had figured that out on my own.) Baptism cleanses our souls and our spirits. This is accomplished by the resurrection of Christ. What puzzled me was the “appeal” or “asking” for this cleansing.

There seems to be this “confusion” between what we ask for from God, what God gives us when we profess faith, and what is a natural consequence of living a Christian life. Take this issue of conscience. We can ASK good for a clear conscience, and God will forgive us and take away sin etc. When we profess faith IN God and Christ, Christ’s forgiveness and God’s absolution comes with it. When we LIVE a Christian life, doing as we ought, our conscience becomes clear because we are living right. So which perspective is the most accurate?

The Confession notes in the Commentary section, “Scripture also refers to baptism as a pledge to God.” So in this perspective, our baptism is our promise/covenant to God that we will live a Christian life, and/or profess continuing faith in God/Christ. But in that instance, it is an action we take and not an action God takes or an action we are asking God to take. So again, which perspective is the most accurate?

Perhaps these confusions and questions are part of the reason faith systems and denominations have differences. And conflicts, because each group is claiming THEIRS is the accurate one. Or, heaven forbid, their several perspectives are the right ways (plural!) to see things.

I hope gentle reader that Anabaptist/Mennonite faith is not perceived by you as being rigidly authoritarian. If so, then I have committed a grave error in my presenting it. The point is, according to most Mennonites, we don’t know for absolute. We depend on the Spirit so much for understanding; and continuing study and scholarship to discern what is the God would have us understand this.

It is an amusing paradox – and Mennonites claim it as true – that when denominations and faith groups (even within a denomination) argue and create conflict/dissension all sides need to be cleansed of the “dirt” that accumulates as a result of our disagreements. Water baptism may happen once (or maybe twice or more under certain conditions) but we need the cleansing action of the Spirit many times!

May you gentle reader call on the Spirit when the dirt of live has smeared your soul and spirit, and may the Holy Spirit cleanse you whiter than snow. Selah!