1 Peter 5: A lesson in humility

1 Peter reminds us of the need for humility. He directs this both to the leaders and to the flock. The leaders are to be humble shepherds, gently guiding them. They are not to lord it over them, and they are to serve eagerly, because God has entrusted this job to them. This is a really beautiful picture of leadership: one where the leaders are compassionate, joyful, wise and understanding.

The humility, however, is not just for the leaders. The younger people in the church are to submit to their elders. The motivation for this humility is interesting: because it is what God wants and God delights in the humble.

Often, we equate humility with modesty: a playing down of our achievements. But there is more to it than that, I think. There is an inherent knowledge that God is King and that we are sinful and fallen. Where Paul writes that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of who I am the worst” in 1 Timothy 1:15, that is an expression of humility. When we recognise our dire need to God, we will be eager to find leaders to guide us; we will refrain from think ourselves better than those we lead.

Therefore, when Peter tells us to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, it is this. It is us recognising that God is in control, he is mighty, his purposes prevail; whereas we are weak, poor and not in control of our surroundings. But, in this comes blessing. God will lift us up. Also, when we recognise that our situations are beyond us, it becomes easy to cast our anxieties on God. He cares and he is capable to help us. I know that the act of letting God take control of my life and my problems requires a great act of will-power. I arrogantly assume I can handle it but it is obvious I can’t.

The next few verses perhaps then give us cause for anxiety: the devil is on the prowl. I don’t know, but my list of worries often excludes this one (it’s usually where I put my passport or about some plan). Are we, then, called to think about this more often. We are meant to be in a state of readiness, prepared to go into battle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often feel that way.

Another interesting thought, is that we are to stand firm in the faith but with humility and grace. We are to have absolute confidence in the faith we have. But this is not born out of our intellectual capabilities or knowing the right answers. In fact it’s the opposite. We know we can’t fathom the acts and purposes of God. They are far beyond our reason. But because of that, we can be confident in something greater than ourselves.

We are, therefore, called to fight knowing that we have the victor on our side.

Philemon 1

Philemon 1 is an interesting letter in many ways. First, it’s short but actually it’s the length of the average letter during the Roman times. Second, the subject matter is fascinating, and answers some of the difficulties we have with other passages written by Paul. In Titus, for example, Paul writes that slaves should obey their masters. However, here we see the same issue but from a different standpoint.

It seems that Philemon is a slave owner (which was exceptionally common in the Roman period), and Paul is writing on the behalf of one of his slaves. Onesimus appears to be Philemon’s slave, that has probably escaped and sought Paul out. Paul, from his imprisonment, has written to Philemon petitioning him to show clemency towards Onesimus and even to secure his release from slavery.

Philemon is a church leader, his wife is probably Apphia and Archippus is possibly a fellow leader in the church. Here we have a short insight into a house church set-up in the Roman Empire.

I think that this letter is particularly helpful in looking at relationships between believers and how to address issues effectively. I think it’s also interesting in how it treats the issue of slavery. He calls a slave his brother. Furthermore, it’s how Paul asks for obedience, which is definitely against our culture, despite the fact that Philemon was probably of a higher social status than Paul. So, it really makes me consider how well we respond to requests from leaders in church today.

1 Timothy 3

This chapter is quite daunting. It goes through the qualifications for serving in the church. It probably doesn’t look like the job advert you’d see in any newspapers or any employment website. This is about character, not achievements or success. So, no degree needed here, no flashy statistics about church growth, no dazzling 10-year plan.

Instead you need to be

  • well-thought-of
  • committed spouse
  • calm
  • patient
  • hospitable
  • sober
  • gentle
  • good parent with obedient children
  • not materialistic
  • long-time believer
  • sincere
  • honest

It’s quite a list! I wonder how many of those I’d feel comfortable saying I embodied.

This chapter also tells us that the Christian faith is mysterious (I’m starting to believe this) but these things are true:

He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.

(verse 16)

This is what we believe about Jesus and continue to proclaim and live out.

1 Timothy 2

Well, it was bound to happen at some point. I’ve reached a controversial part of the Bible. This is probably a good time to address some things. First, I’d like to point out that this blog is really just for myself. I enjoy blogging and if you stumble across this blog then great. If you stumble across this blog, disagree, then you can walk away quietly. It wasn’t meant for you anyway. Why blog, then? I think I need a sense that there is an audience, whether fictive or not, to help me articulate my thoughts.

However, in this post, there’s not going to be much to disagree with, bringing me to my second point. I’m not going to engage too much with these sections, mainly because I don’t think I have the authority or the knowledge to do so. You could argue that it’s typical white male privilege or intellectual sloppiness, but it is one of the issues (one of the many topics of the Bible) that I’d like to research a bit more before giving my two cents on. What I have to say isn’t really worth much and it’s probably better to read and listen first.

So, this might be a bit of a post that talks more about how to address these types of issues rather than addressing the issues.

So, this chapter starts with encouraging prayers and petitions – for all people, which is interesting. Then it narrows its focus to those in authority. Luckily, I’m a day ahead on this one. Just as I process the Bible by writing (on this here blog), and have a book where I write out my prayers. I did pray for Donald Trump and for Boris Johnson. Whether you agree with them or voted (or would have voted) for them or not, you should still pray for them. I’m not sure Paul was a fan of the Roman rules (especially as they imprisoned and killed him), but he still said we should pray.

We should especially be praying, in the light of verse 4, for their faith and salvation. Trump says he’s a believer, although others argue his read the wrong book, and I don’t know about Johnson. Hun Sen (the leader of my adopted home) is Buddhist. But I should be praying for them and their salvation. For God is a kind God “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” What a wonderful saviour we have! A lot of politicians wouldn’t be on my priority list, but God still wants them.

I think it’s easy for us to think of them as different and somehow lofty and unreal. But they are humans, and God still sees them as people made in his image that have been corrupted by sin. God still sent his son to die for them, from dictators to incompetent leaders and everyone in between. God humbles rulers and exalts servants, so to him, we are all one and the same. And we should try to see our leaders with the same compassion and love as he does. I know I fail and get angry. But, it’s also worth praying that God softens our hearts too. Verse 8 tells us to pray, with raised arms, without anger or disputing. It’s a somewhat strange and alien concept in the age of twitter witch hunts and petty politic-fuelled squabbles. So, I think I should try to be better at this. So, I shall try (and probably fail quite often) to respond in prayer at the next frustrating twitter or facebook post than ranting and arguing.

1 Thessalonians 2

Yesterday, I did read my Bible but was so exhausted I went to bed at 8pm. So, here’s yesterday’s reading.

Paul faced opposition for the Gospel. I’m very lucky in that I have not faced major opposition in spreading the gospel at any point in my life (so far). And yet, often I’m anxious when I do it. It seems ridiculous. I know those who have faced opposition but are bold and fearless.

Verses 3-6 are interesting in terms of discussing motives, especially as some pastors have been jailed for fraudulent money making schemes. Paul says his aim was not to trick others, or to gain money or praise. He said he didn’t use flattery or hypocrisy or asserted their authority recklessly. This is also interesting in light of stories about controlling church leaders, even to the point of being called abusive. Paul’s method was like parents tending young children. It was done with delight, love and openness. It was also done with encouragement, comfort and appeals the Thessalonians to live in a righteous way. Paul is also so thankful for those God had put in his care.

Reading about how leadership and discipleship can be done does somewhat condemn how others have chosen to do it as well. However, they are as much under grace as we are.

Paul then writes about the opposition the gospel message has received. The Thessalonians received it as God’s Word and have suffered for it. That still happens across the world today. Even in Cambodia, Christians are sometimes rejected by their families.

But the overwhelming tone of this chapter is joyful and full of love, as summed up by the last two verses:

“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Amos 2

Amos 1 warns various countries surrounding Judah and Israel about their future. Moab gets the next warning in Amos 2. God will destroy Moab’s rulers.

Then God’s anger turns on his own people. Judah rejected the law of God; they worshipped idols. Again, Judah too will experience consuming fire.

Israel’s list of sins is quite extensive. They sell vulnerable people for gain; destroy the poor; fail to help the oppressed; they are involved in sexual scandals and the use of prostitutes; they use their power to make themselves rich. Those that should be honouring God the most – the prophets and the Nazirites – have all fallen into sin.

This list is somewhat terrifying. It’s not just because what they have done is wrong; it’s because the list is all too recognisable. There have never been as many slaves as there are today. People work in sweatshops for the profit of multinational business owners. London has become a hotbed of people-trafficking. Desperate refugees are used to make profits. The poor are being made poorer and the oppressed are still hindered through systematic, institutional and cultural prejudice and injustice. So many leaders and celebrities have been reveal to have been sexually immoral. People, even world leaders, abuse their power to get what they want. Churches are involved in such scandals nowadays it makes one weep.

Even “Christian” nations are full of these sins. They are the Israels of Amos’ times.

What does God tell them? He tells them he will crush them. It will be swift and no one will escape.

It’s a terrifying warning, especially as the picture looks so recognisable. It does make me wonder what might happen to the nations and the leaders of today.