Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 2, 2017
“A Gracious Thing”
Text: 1 Peter 2:18-20
We return today, after lengthy respite, to our sermon series through 1 Peter—and, before we launch into today’s sermon, let’s review a bit of the ground covered so far. The Apostle Peter, led by the Spirit, writes to Christians that he calls strangers, aliens, pilgrims, exiles, and the like—to include the likes of us. This world, for us Christians, never was our final home—but that seems more obvious now than in former years. This letter, to us Christian exiles, teaches us both what we are to know in these times and how we are to conduct ourselves in these times.
We are in a long section about how to conduct ourselves—that is, how to look like living stones. Our last sermon enjoined us to honor those in authority. Today’s sermon continues that thought, but with a twist—and we’ll need the Lord’s strong help to apply what we learn today. Let us, then, give our attention to the public reading of God’s Word in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
We, by God’s grace, must obey those in authority. We learned this during our Ephesians series last year (Ephesians 6:5-9), and we get a timely reminder today. Obeying those in authority, after all, is a chief form of the honor enjoined in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter calls those under authority—both then and now—servants (literally house servants: Greek oiketes [oikethV]). He calls the ones in authority masters (Greek despotes [despothV]—the root of our English word despot, or absolute ruler, with connotation of cruelty, oppression, et al.). We, the servants, must subject ourselves to these masters—for God’s Word, here and elsewhere, commands it.
Moreover, we must obey every type of authority. No matter our degree of reticence or willingness to obey authorities, it helps if the authority be good, gentle, or any other pleasant quality. We may need some help from on high to obey such authority, but certainly we shall need great help to obey another kind of authority—the unjust authority. The translators of the English Standard Version of the Bible give us unjust for the Greek skolios (skolioV)—which is the root of our English word scoliosis, a malady involving undue curvature of the spine. Hence, we may translate skolios (more woodenly, as is my usual bent) with crooked or unscrupulous. This is bad authority, to be sure, and it will be tough to obey such an authority—but the case becomes much worse when that authority treats us in a manner consistent with its nature.
Yet God, in His Word today, calls the endurance of sorrows while suffering unjustly a gracious thing (or a gift: Greek charis [cariV], the usual word for grace). This is virtually impossible naturally. We simply cannot do this without serious supernatural help from the Lord. There are times when those unrighteous masters treat us in unholy manner, and the result to us is both emotional hurt (sadness) and even physical hurt (blows). We want to retaliate eye for eye, tooth for tooth, bruise for bruise, and wound for wound—or, if we be unable or unwilling, we want someone to do it in our stead. We chafe at the hurts that come from enduring just sufferings. How much more does unjust suffering rankle us?
Yet God, by His Spirit, to emphasize His point, repeats it. It is a gracious thing—a gift—in God’s sight to endure suffering for doing good. This runs counter to everything in our culture—and this runs counter to most of our American evangelical culture. Suffering, in our comfortable country, is to be avoided. The suffering ones among us often are shunned; we recoil from them and we avert our eyes. To many Christians, something seems amiss if any Christian suffers. Something is wrong in the world, or something is wrong with the suffering Christian, if the Christian suffers. Yet suffering seems implied, if not in fact endemic, to the human situation—and particularly to the Christian human situation.
This is a hard saying, and we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to bear it well. Suffering at the hand of unjust authority well may come to you, to me, to us—or perhaps it already has come to bear upon your life. Such unjust suffering may come from a governmental individual or entity. Alas, tyrannical impulses are not fully repressed everywhere even in our wonderful representative democracy—and we who are in Christ may suffer as a result. Such suffering also may occur in the workplace. If any part of our Christian being and practice offends an owner, manager, or immediate supervisor—especially if we expose some evil in them—then we may well suffer at their hands unjustly. Alas, this happens all too often at home. Children too often suffer unjustly at the hands of parents or caregivers—themselves often overwrought at the present time or mistreated in an earlier time. Too often a husband, generally of superior physical strength to his wife, will seek to inflict his will on her with physical intimidation and harm. These are sufferings almost unspeakable. How can such suffering be a gift from God to us?
Consider this week’s sermon the first in a two-installment sermon. Next week, God willing, we shall see unjust suffering par excellence—and we then can frame the suffering, to which we are called, in light of His.