April is L-Plate month, where I’ve turned over this website to my students. They are studying an introductory preaching subject this semester, and writing for this website is part of their assessment, as well as a learning exercise for them. I’m hoping you’ll interact with them a bit via the comments function at the bottom of each post, offering some feedback. (Particularly, feedback that’s constructive or affirming – they’ve got me to deliver the negative stuff! Remember, some of them will never have preached before, and some have English as their second language.) They will then incorporate this feedback in a sermon they present in class at the end of semester.
We continue today in 1 Peter.
1 Peter 5:8-14 | Hew Nunn
8-14 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
My only encounter with a wild lion was in Kruger Park, South Africa. I was on safari with a friend, in a game park the size of Palestine, when we noticed a group of cars pulled over. We knew they had found the group of lions we had spent hours looking for. They were resting in the long grass so we could only catch a glimpse of their backs. I hadn’t come all this way to see the back of a lion, so we waited for the others to leave.
I got out of the car (much to my friend’s dismay), picked up a rock and hurled it near the resting lions. They immediately got up. One fixed its gaze directly on me and began pacing ever closer. I was only one meter away from my car, but the fear that gripped me made it feel like one kilometer as I ran back. Why, because Lions are truly terrifying creatures and fear grips any person (especially one as foolish as I) faced with one.
Peter announces; ‘our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’. Let’s not gloss over that phrase and lose the impact of what is being announced. Peter is letting us know our enemy is a highly dangerous, vicious predator who is proactively seeking out its prey, i.e. you and I! Having faced one, I know how scary a prospect that is.
So that’s the problem statement, but what’s the solution? Well, upon an initial reading, the solution is not that comforting; ‘resist him standing firm’ (v9). The founder of Kruger Park is famous for resisting. He killed his first lion at the age of 11. But I, for one, didn’t feel that heroic, I just ran away! So is this passage saying you can resist if you try really hard; that you have the strength to save yourself? I don’t think so.
The key is in verse 9 – ‘standing firm in the faith’. We don’t resist by standing firm on our own, but by standing in faith. Faith must always have an object, and in the context of Christianity, the object of faith is Christ. Our salvation comes through his death and resurrection, not by our own works but by his gracious gift. This is affirmed at the end of this passage, ‘this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it’ (v14). This verse sheds light on what we need to stand firm in; it is in the grace of God.
The first recipients of this letter were facing extreme persecution and Peter draws back the curtain by for the first time stating the one behind their suffering is the devil himself. The term used here to describe the devil means ‘accuser’. The accuser looks to undermine faith. Extreme suffering would very naturally cause one to question their faith; ‘Who is God?’ ‘Where is God?’ ‘Why am I suffering in this way?’
Peter encourages them to resist accusations by standing firm in the truth of the gospel; that God is with them; that He is all powerful and totally in control. Hence, the doxology in verse 11 which affirms God’s sovereign rule and authority; ‘To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.’
Today, we may not be facing such an obvious enemy, but the same principle still applies. In fact, the need to ‘be alert and of sober mind’ is even more vital since the attacks are so subtle we may not even be aware we are under attack. We don’t see the lion.
However our faith in God is challenged on a regular basis. Have you ever asked yourself questions like these: ‘If God is in control of my life why I am finding it so hard to get a job?’, ‘If God loves me, how come I have not found a partner?’, ‘Why is God allowing me to endure this illness?’ These questions undermine our faith in God and so we need respond to them but standing firm in the truth, in our belief that He is in total control, and He has a plan, though we may not see it. So we don’t need to battle the lion, Christ has done that for us. We resist the enemy by standing firm in the victory of Christ.
There are two ways in which the writer motives us to stand firm. Firstly, he shows us the finish line. I have done some long distance running and I can tell you, even at the end of a long race when I’ve felt exhausted, seeing the finish line gave me a huge burst of energy and enormous hope. Peter does exactly that for his readers, he shows them the finish line and the result. Verse 10 reminds them that suffering is short and full restoration awaits. Christ has already won the battle and victory is guaranteed. There may be real trials ahead, but they are only ‘for a little while’ in comparison to what is to come. This hope is for all; we may need to battle hard to stand firm, but eternity awaits.
The second encouragement is in the need for real Christian community. In verse 9 Peter remarks on the others suffering around the world. He is not saying ‘others are in a worse place than you, so stop complaining’. Rather, he is letting them know they are not alone. Verses 12-14 demonstrate the strength of connection between the churches and the individuals involved. Peter even tells them to greet each other with a ‘holy kiss.’ The intent behind this verse is to be affectionate with each other, show the other person you are pleased to see them. This greeting will of course vary across different cultures, but the heart is clear – greet each other lovingly because unity is key.
It is impossible to underestimate the value of wholesome Christian relationships. We need to know we are not alone and we need those around us who will encourage us when we are down and challenge us when needed. Good Christian community makes standing firm a whole lot easier.