Monday, April 03, 2006

David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)

The "Rough Guide" to 1 Peter
As we think about getting the big picture clear, we are also trying, when we are looking at a book like this, to get the flow of the book clear.

We have seen that it is about eternal glory after you have suffered a little while. Are we God's elect or strangers and aliens in this world? We are God's elect and though we suffer for a little while, there is a world to come.

Now we must put ourselves in the shoes of the reader. It's not an exercise in empathetic imagination. Not "I wonder what it would have been like...". We put ourselves in the shoes of the reader by picking up clues from the text: there are trials and suffering. Some of them are slaves. In chapter 3 they are suffering for doing what is right and for doing good. In chapter 4, there is painful trial when suffering for being Christians. So there are trials, grief, opposition, pain.

If this is what is happening, then what is the encouragement? The glories of the gospel, redemption from futility, new birth, eternal inheritance. The word of God given to them in the word of the gospel. Jesus as example. Another great encouragement in chapter 3: access through the cross.

All these blessings are blessing for us too.

What, what and so what? Clearly there are obligations. We must tackle problems in the right way. As we tackle them, this is how we should be living.

[See the "Rough Guide to 1 Peter Outline"]
  1. Find the Theme Tune. Help to encapsulate in your mind how the whole letter fits together.
  2. Now go to the text and plot the flow from the text
I'm not saying that there is only one way to plot the flow of the passage. John Chapman likes to say that there is more than one way of skinning a cat. (Of course this is not quite the same thing as skinning a cat.) There's more than one way for dividing up the material. But this way works well.

The more we do this sort of work, the more able we get at it. When you look at this, you think you would never do this. But it's true in every area of life isn't it? Usually? But it is definitely true of bible study because the Holy Spirit loves to help those who try. Sometimes we want to be really good at something but we just aren't born with the ability to do it, no matter how hard we try. But in reading the Bible, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. Through his Spirit, God will be revealing himself to us more and more.

Let's look at 1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV). If we had lots of time, if this was the Cornhill Training Course, I'd get you to split into groups to do this passage. Since time is short, I'll take you through the passage.

It starts with an affectionate comment: "dear friends". He wants them to know that he is on their side. There are hard things in this passage: negatives, "do not"s. Writer usually puts negatives in because they are doing or about to do what they are not supposed to do. The warning is tied in to where they are. If a baby is not about to throw its food, we don't say to it,"Don't throw your food!".

What are they not to do?

Do not be surprised at painful trials (we are doing exegesis and exhortion at same time). Why would they have been surprised? Perhaps because they thought they wouldn't suffer if they came to Jesus. Peter is saying don't be surprised, it's quite normal to suffer but rejoice. Rejoice because those sufferings are Jesus' sufferings. They are his body. They are being persecuted because Jesus is persecuted. Rejoice you are suffering with him, (always go for the connecting words) because...because you know you are on the road to glory. When his glory is revealed as king of kings, and lord of lords, if you were suffering for him now, wouldn't you be pleased when he comes? Trials are supposed to improve our faith.

Peter then develops the same thing in different way. First, he said on't be surprised and then in verses 15-16: don't be ashamed. Why not be ashamed? Because you bear the name of Jesus which is the most glorious name in all the world and because you share his Spirit (the Spirt rests on you). Of course some people suffer for having done evil. But that's not why you're suffering. You're suffering because of Jesus, but you bear his name, so don't be ashamed.

There is a third negative: vv17-18 - what is happening in suffering is that there is a sifting between those who put up with suffering and those who deny Jesus and so do not suffer (remember this is what Peter did. He denied Jesus 3 times because he was afraid. We would have done the same thing in his situation). Suffering is a time of sifting time and a time of judgement. Not judgement for condemnation but a judgement to sift to see if we will still be standing firm in the gospel. For those who don't then God's judgement is condemnation.

"...hard for righteous to be saved" does not mean that it is difficult for God to save because nothing is hard for God. It means that it is hard for the righteous to suffer to the end. What you suffer now is nothing like what the ungodly will suffer if they don't turn to God in the end.

Instead of worrying about the sifting, and "will I last to the end?", commit to God, focus on God who secures our salvation. And don't stop doing the good things you are doing that got you in trouble in the first place. Don't go low profile.

So:
(a) don't be surprised
(b) don't be ashamed
(c) don't be diverted.

Application: this is a great strategy for dealing with suffering if we are Christian. If we are high profile for Jesus, telling people the gospel, known as a Christian, we will face trials and sufferings. Jesus went that way, so don't be surprised, don't be ashamed, don't be diverted. If you don't last through the suffering, you know where you'd be going back to: no salvation, no heaven, no sins forgiven.

Do you see how our applications have come out of our context? Because we have seen the context so we know how to respond. Peter knows if he does not urge them, they will capitulate and there will be no church.

Look at 5:2, "be shepherds of God's flock". Where did he get that from? Feed my sheep, tend my flock under your care, said Jesus. Not because you must but because you want to… not lording over them (see there's the Bible context). Clothe yourself...it's the same word that was in John's Gospel when Jesus clothed himself with a cloth and to wash the feet of the disciples remember? He clothed himself in humility and so must we by submitting to each other in God's church. Context context: Peter's context, Jesus' washing context, the whole Bible context.

Then we can apply this to ourselves. Remember what Mark Twain said: "When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learnt more in seven years". Of course the old man hadn't learnt anything in those 7 years. Young people mostly don't submit to the older because they think they've got it sorted. Old men usually don't clothe themselves in humility. So see how it all applies beautifully.

The book ends with great promise in 5:10 - "strong, firm and steadfast". This is an reference to mending the nets. This is great. Remember in the beginning, it started with Peter mending the nets? At the end, Jesus is mending the net, making us strong and steadfast. That's what the Bible is for.

Question and Answer Time
Q: You have said that we must be objective when we make decisions. What do you think about the subjective view? For example in Charismatic churches, there is something about Jesus touching you, and the presence of Spirit?

I'm not saying that the Christian life is not keeping in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 talks about responding to the Spirit of God in our lives. Everyone has Holy Spirit when they come to faith in Jesus. Christ is in us. He endows our personality and lives. We need to be responsive. But the normal means the Spirit uses is Scripture. And we know from the objectivity of Scripture that it is authoritative. Sometimes we have inklings, nudges. Sometimes in my life, I have felt like calling someone or visiting someone and they greatly needed that.

So the Bible is not that we have a guidebook and God is out there somewhere but God is within us and helps us.

Yet, we must test everything by Scripture. And what if Scripture doesn't say a particular thing. Then make wise decisions within what Scripture does say. Should we tear down the church hall and buy a plot of land over there and construct a new church building? Well, Scripture doesn't tell me (although there is "buy a plot of land" but that would be reading Scripture out of its context). Will this be a huge distraction? Yes? Then no, we are not to do this because we have to get on with the evangelising.

So we must never get to the point when we are cerebal Christians. So we can never go around saying that God hasn't said that to you because that would be presumptious. I can't put God in my box because he will always break out of it. But we must always look to Scripture.

Feelings are a notoriously bad guide. So fact first, then faith in what God has said, and feelings will follow. In that order. Not the other way round. If it is feelings first, in the end, you will only be a person of your own emotion.

Q: Youths find it hard to relate to what bible is saying, eg. suffering for Christ. How do we get them to connect?

All NT letters are preserved for us by the Spirit because the issues we are facing and the church will face for each generation are the same. If the issues are not surfacing in our context at the moment, it is not that we have to go out to make it relevant.

So we may think we are not suffering for Jesus because we are careful that we are not in a situation that we will suffer for it. Don't say that there is something wrong with you that's why you're not suffering but do it gently: "do you think that the reason why you aren't suffering is because you generally try to avoid it?" Not, let me go and look for more suffering! It could be that we get it easy here but it could be that we generally get good at hiding from it.

Teenagers have so many bottomlines: to be cool, successful, popular. They are imprisoned by a bottomline. Which is why Singapore Idol is so popular. What do we live for in the end dictates how we are to live. Do they really have freedom? No, they are imprisoned by the bottomline. We have freedom to live for Christ and to live for him as the bottomline.

Use your imagination. There may be parallels in their lives and we just need to help them to exacavate them.

Q: How do we read the different sorts of genres in the Bible?

Have we got 4 more Mondays? In this series, we have concentrated on the NT epistles because I thought we would relate to them most easily. But in the Bible there are also OT stories, parables, gospel miracles, pronouncements. All sorts of different literature. We are not to squeeze them all through the same mincing machine. We must try to understand these genres in their own right.

Some good books to help you are: "How to Read the Bible for All it's Worth", "According to Plan", "Opening Up the Bible". Read around a bit on that one. Lots of resources are available. There are lots of styles of literature and we must read according to them.

*************
I. The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
II. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning
III. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III: Sharpening the Application
IV. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)
V. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)

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