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15. The Christian’s Response To Suffering For Christ (1 Peter 4:12–19)

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Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
1 Peter 4:12–19

How should the believer respond to suffering?

The word suffering and its derivatives are used twenty-one times in this epistle.1 Peter has a lot to say about suffering. Nero was having Christians covered with tar and burned at the stake to light up his garden. These Christians needed to hear that suffering was part of the will of God and that they should not be shocked by it. They also needed to understand how to respond it.

How should we respond to being mocked by friends for our belief system? How should we respond when sometimes even our families don’t understand us? Peter talks about this in this passage.

It is good to remember that it was Peter who at the possibility of suffering for Christ, denied him in his greatest hour. Yet now the chief Apostle is not only willing to suffer but is now preparing other believers to suffer as well. Christ told him after he had returned from his denial that he must strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:32). He is now doing that in this epistle.

How should we respond to suffering?

Big Question: How should the believer respond to suffering for Christ (v. 12–19)?

Christians Should Not Be Surprised at Suffering for Christ

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.
1 Peter 4:12

Interpretation Question: Why should the believer not be surprised at painful trials?

It seems that many of the Christians in this context were shocked by the suffering they were enduring. However, Peter says they should not be shocked or surprised at all by this painful trial. The word painful can also be translated “fiery.” He may specifically be referring to the common practice of burning Christians at the stake.

During Christ’s ministry, he spent a large amount of time not only telling his disciples that he would suffer but also preparing them to suffer as well.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.
John 15:18–19

Christ said if you belonged to the world, it would love you, but since you do not belong to the world that is why it hates you. This takes us back to the very beginning of Peter’s epistle. He calls these believers “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1:1). We are different; we are not of this world, and that is why we are hated.

Listen again to what Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (emphasis mine). Everyone who is walking for Christ and seeking to live a godly life will be persecuted. We should expect it, and therefore, not be surprised when it comes. Your holy life pricks and exposes the sin of the world, and it excites anger and animosity in them. Let us be prepared for suffering as it reminds us that we are truly aliens and pilgrims in this world.

Application Question: What ways have you experienced suffering for righteousness? How did you respond to it?

Christians Should Rejoice in Our Sufferings for Christ

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:13-14

Believers must also respond to suffering by rejoicing in it. This seems to be a paradox. How can we rejoice when we are going through a difficulty or being persecuted for Christ? We get a picture of this with Paul and Silas in jail. Look at what Acts says:

Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
Acts 16:24–25

While in prison and in stocks, they are praying and singing hymns. The fact that we often see prisons on TV with meals, nice beds, and playtime in the yard, it actually might hinder our understanding of the gravity of their predicament. Imagine the smell of urine and excrement all over the place; imagine being so degraded that when you have to go to the bathroom you have to do it on yourself; imagine sweating from the heat because there is no air condition; imagine the ants, maggots and rats running around. I think it would be hard to not be mad at God in that situation, especially if we had done nothing wrong. However, Paul and Silas respond with worship to God. How do you rejoice in that situation?

Observation Question: What reasons does Peter give for rejoicing in sufferings for Christ and what do these reasons mean practically?

1. The believer can rejoice because it is a privilege to suffer for Christ.

“But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet 4:13).

The first reason we can rejoice is because Scripture teaches it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. Look at what Paul taught in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (emphasis mine).

He says in the same way we have been granted grace to believe in Christ and be saved, we have been granted grace to suffer for his name. Look at the Apostles in Acts 5:41: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” The Apostles, after being abused and told to no longer speak in the name of Christ, leave rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name. Scripture teaches it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. Look at what else Paul says:

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead (emphasis mine).
Philippians 3:10–11

The word he uses for fellowship is the word koinonia; it means “to have in common with.” Paul said, “I want to know Christ, but I also want to have in common with him his sufferings.” For the disciples to participate in the sufferings of Christ, it essentially meant to be like him and to look like him, which should be the hope of every true disciple.

Many Christians have no suffering because they don’t look like Christ. For a disciple, the ultimate desire is to be like the master. Our master suffered for righteousness, and Scripture teaches it is a privilege to suffer for Christ and be treated as he was.

2. The believer can rejoice because he will be rewarded at Christ’s second coming.

1 Peter 4:13: “So that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (emphasis mine).

What’s the second reason to rejoice? Peter says we will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed, which essentially means at his second coming. Why will we be overjoyed at his second coming?

Scripture constantly proclaims that at Christ’s second coming, it will not only be a time of judgment for the lost but it will be a time of reward for the faithful. Look at what Christ said in Revelation 22:12: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (emphasis mine).

One of the reasons the believer will be overjoyed at the coming of Christ is because Christ will reward them. In fact, it seems that one of the major reasons Christians will be rewarded is based on their sufferings for Christ. Look at what Christ said to James and John when they asked to sit at his right and left hand in the kingdom:

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with (emphasis mine)?
Mark 10:35–38

When Christ asked if they can “drink the cup” and have his “baptism,” he was talking about the cup of suffering. Jesus said to God, “Take this cup from me, but nevertheless, thy will be done.” He also talked about his baptism of death. It seems that by referring to the cup of suffering after the disciples ask for exultation, that exultation is the proper reward for suffering. We see this in other passages as well.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (emphasis mine).
Matthew 5:11–12

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 4:16–18

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life (emphasis mine).
Revelation 2:10

Christians should rejoice in suffering because it will be rewarded by Christ as his coming.

3. The believer can rejoice because Spirit of God rests on us during trials.

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

Interpretation Question: What does “the spirit of glory and of God resting on us” mean?

a) “The Spirit of glory rests on us” means intimacy in the presence of God.

The next reason we rejoice is because the Spirit of glory rests on us when we suffer for Christ. Peter seems to be giving a Hebrew picture of the glory cloud that resided over the tabernacle and met the Jews on Mt. Sinai in the Old Testament. Look at some of the pictures of it in the Old Testament:

And the glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from within the cloud. To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
Exodus 24:16–18

Moses would enter the glory cloud and speak to God face-to-face. God’s glory cloud would also cover the tabernacle while Moses was in there, to speak with him in other Old Testament texts.

To suffer for Christ means to have intimacy with him in a special way. We see this with Stephen as he dies a martyr. Look at what Acts 7:55-59 says:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (emphasis mine).

Here, as Stephen is being stoned, he sees the glory of God in the heavens and Christ sitting at the right hand of God immediately before he is stoned. Stephen experiences intimacy with Christ and God in the midst of his suffering. Similarly, we see this happen with the three Hebrews in Daniel 3. While they were put into the fire, a person who looked like the Son of God shows up and protects them (v. 25). In suffering, the Spirit of glory rests on us in such a way that we experience intimacy with God.

b) “The Spirit of glory rests on us” means to be changed into his image.

Not only does the Spirit of glory resting on us mean intimacy, but it meant to be changed in such a way that the people reflected the glory of God. After leaving the glory cloud, Moses face shined so much that the people had to cover his face because it was so bright. Also, Stephen looked like an angel in the face of his accusers. “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

It was for this reason that James taught believers to consider it joy when going through trials. In the midst of trials, God develops us into his image and make us mature. The glory of God starts to shine more on our lives as we persevere through trials.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (emphasis mine).
James 1:2–4

The glory of God rests on us in the midst of suffering as Christ changes us into his image. We become more mature and look more like him. We rejoice in this.

c) “The Spirit of glory rests on us” means we become empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Certainly, we see this truth in Paul being tormented by a demon in 2 Corinthians 12:9. God promised that his grace was made perfect in his weakness. It made him strong while he was weak. Listen to the text:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 12:9–10

In weakness, Paul says, “Christ’s power” rested on him (1 Cor 12:9). In fact, this imagery was used throughout the Old Testament as the Spirit came upon people to do great feats for God (1 Sam 16:13). In suffering, there is a special way where God empowers us to not only persevere but to serve him. We should rejoice because of this.

d) “The Spirit of glory rests on us” may also mean to give us relief or refreshment.

Look at what John Macarthur says about the word rests:

Rests (from the present tense of anapauō) means “to give relief, refreshment, intermission from toil” (cf. Matt. 11:28–29; Mark 6:31), and describes one of His ministries. “Refreshment” comes on those believers who suffer for the sake of the Savior and the gospel. The Spirit gives them grace by imparting endurance, understanding, and all the fruit that comes in the panoply of His goodness: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).

That kind of refreshment and divine power came upon Stephen, a leader in the Jerusalem church and its first recorded martyr. As he began to defend his faith before the Jewish leaders, they “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). His demeanor signified serenity, tranquility, and joy—all the fruit of the Spirit—undiminished and even expanded by his suffering and the Holy Comforter’s grace to him. The Sanhedrin became enraged as Stephen rehearsed redemptive history to them from the Old Testament, an account that culminated in the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah. Stephen’s Spirit–controlled rest was evident as “he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ “(Acts 7:55–56).2

Application Question: What ways have you experienced the Spirit of glory in the midst of a trial? Please explain.

Christians Should Properly Evaluate Their Sufferings for Christ

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
1 Peter 4:15-18

Peter also says that when suffering come into a believer’s life, it must be properly evaluated. In order to evaluate trials the Christian should ask at least three questions:

Question 1: Are these sufferings because of my sin or is it because of righteousness?

“If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Pet 4:15).

The believer should not suffer because he is a complainer, causing division or for any other sin. Often Christians will claim to be suffering for Christ when they are actually suffering because they will not submit to God’s ordained authority under their bosses or because they are stirring up problems. Christians should not suffer for being a meddler in other people’s business. For this reason, the Christian must evaluate his suffering. Is this suffering because of my sin? Listen to what one author said about being a meddler.

The surprising inclusion of the term rendered troublesome meddler (allotriepiskopos), used only here in the New Testament, and at first seemingly minor in comparison to Peter’s previous terms, shows that all sins, not just crimes, forfeit the Holy Spirit’s comfort and rest. The word literally means, “one who meddles in things alien to his calling,” “an agitator,” or “troublemaker.” Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians illustrate the word’s meaning:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you. (1 Thess. 4:11)

For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (2 Thess. 3:11–12)

Christians are never to be troublemakers or agitators in society or in their places of work (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1–3; Titus 3:1–5).3

It is important to properly evaluate our suffering. To suffer for sin forfeits God’s blessing and comfort. Is this suffering happening because of my sin or because of my righteousness?

Question 2: How can I glorify the name of Christ in the trial?

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pet 4:16).

The “name” is the name Christian, which was at first a derogatory term used by unbelievers in the book of Acts (11:26). It means to be a “little Christ.” Because we bear that name, we must ask ourselves how can I glorify the name of Christ in the trial? How can I respond in the way he would? The Apostles responded by givning praises to God after they were abused (Acts 5:41).

Question 3: How can I have an eternal perspective in looking at my trial?

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner (emphasis mine)?
1 Peter 4:17–18

Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God” (1 Pet 4:17–18)?

Here Peter sees the hardship Christians experience as part of God’s way of judging the earth and ridding it of sin. He connects the judgment on Christians with the judgment on those “who do not obey the gospel of God.” This is a little shocking, but Paul said the same thing in 1 Corinthians 11 when God judged Christians for abusing the Lord’s Supper. Look at what he said:

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world (emphasis mine).
1 Corinthians 11:30–32

Paul says when believers are judged by the Lord, they are being disciplined so that they will not be condemned with the world. Discipline and suffering in the life of the believer are instruments that God uses to get rid of sin in our life. However, in the final judgment, God will ultimately rid the world of sin through judging the world.

Therefore, Peter makes an argument from the lesser to the greater. If God allows intense hardship to happen to Christians to rid them of sin and to make them holy, how much more harsh shall Gods final judgment on the lost be?

Often, Christians are too shortsighted and do not see things from God’s perspective. God hates sin, and he even allows horrible trials to remove it from saints. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says about the suffering of the Hebrew Christians. He says, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb 12:7)

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (emphasis mine).
Hebrews 12:10–11

If the discipline is hard on believers as God makes them holy and righteous, how much harder will it be on the world in the final judgment as he rids the earth from sin?

Peter says we should evaluate our trials in view of God’s eternal judgment on the world for sin. He allows the believer to go through hardship in order to make them holy and pure. But one day, judgment will happen to the lost. This final punishment will not be discipline though, it will be punitive.

Application Question: How do you practice evaluating your suffering in order to have a proper perspective of it? Have you found this a helpful discipline?

Christians Must Entrust Themselves to God while Suffering for Christ

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 4:19

The final thing a believer must do in response to a trial is commit himself to God. The word commit, or it can be translated “entrust,” is actually a banking term. It means “to deposit for safe keeping.”4

Paul uses this in 2 Timothy 1:12. Listen to what he says: “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Paul says in the midst of his suffering he was not ashamed because he knew God was faithful. He could trust God with his life.

Not only did Paul entrust himself to God in suffering, but so did Christ. Look at what Christ said in Luke 23:46: “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’” (emphasis mine). When he had said this, he breathed his last. Christ entrusted himself in God’s hand during his suffering, his death and throughout his life. He said, “Take this cup from me, but nevertheless, your will be done.” We must do the same.

Have you invested your life in Christ? I think a lot of people invest only a part of themselves in Christ. God is the safest bank in the world; in fact, it is the only bank that is not going under. Anywhere else that you invest your life will prove to be a failure. Listen to what John said: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:17). When the world system passes away, those who do God’s will remain. Putting one’s life in God’s hands is never a bad investment. We can always trust that not only will he keep us safe but that he will give us a life that makes the most “interest.”

It should be noted that Peter uses the title Creator to refer to God. Peter seems to use this title in order to encourage these saints. God created you and he only has the best for you, even if you are going through trials.

Have you invested your life in God? Are you entrusting him with your suffering? “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Your Creator only has the best for you. He will make you mature through suffering. He will make you more like Christ and bring glory to his name through it.

Application Question: Are there any areas that you are struggling with “entrusting” your life to God in? Please explain.

Conclusion:

How should Christians respond to suffering for Christ?

  1. Christians should not be surprised at suffering for Christ.
  2. Christians should rejoice in suffering for Christ.
  3. Christians should properly evaluate suffering for Christ.
  4. Christian must entrust themselves to God while suffering for Christ.

Application Question: What would you say to someone who looks at the world or difficult trials and says, “How can you trust a God who allows such things?” How would you respond?

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.


1 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.) (1 Pe 4:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (253–254). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (254–255). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (258). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

16. Characteristics Of Healthy Churches (1 Peter 5:1–5)

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To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:1–5

What are characteristics of a healthy church?

Here at the end of Peter’s epistle, he concludes this letter on suffering and being a pilgrim in an ungodly world with some exhortations and encouragements for the church. Even though the opening of the letter is written to the elect scattered throughout Asia Minor, we know he is writing to congregations because he starts off chapter 5 writing to the elders, the leaders of these congregations. He gives them and the congregants exhortations about how they should live as a community, especially in the backdrop of suffering.

I believe, as we look at this chapter, we find characteristics of a healthy congregation. In chapter 5, he challenges and encourages the leaders (v. 1-3). He encourages the congregations to submit to the leaders, to practice humility and servanthood amongst one another, and to practice faithful prayer (v. 5-7). He also cautions the congregations to be alert and prepared for attacks from the evil one (v. 8, 9). Finally, he encourages them to continue to persevere in their trials (v. 10, 11).

These exhortations endure today and are signs of a healthy congregation. These characteristics are important for you to know as you seek a godly congregation to join in the future. It helps you know what to look for, but it also helps you discern how you can make your current church better and healthier as you serve her.

In the same way that many today do not understand what a healthy family or home looks like because of bad experiences or models, many also don’t know what a healthy church looks like. We have so many unhealthy churches these days—churches that don’t preach the Word of God, churches that have no unity or the members aren’t serving. In today’s text, we will look at four characteristics of a healthy church.

Big Question: What are characteristics of healthy churches or church members in 1 Peter 5:1–7?

Healthy Churches Have a Plurality of Elders

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:1

This may not jump out to most people who are reading this text, but this is a very important truth. When Peter writes to the leaders of these churches, he doesn’t write to one elder or pastor. He writes to the elders of these congregations. Obviously, there are many elders because he is writing to many congregations that are scattered, but there is probably a plurality of elders in each local congregation as well. In the New Testament, when talking about the leadership of the church, it always refers to a plurality of elders instead of a single elder led local church.

We see this throughout Scripture. When Paul went to Ephesus in Acts 20, he contacted the “elders” of the church to have a meeting. “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). When Paul tells Titus to set up an eldership in Crete, he again uses the word “elders.” Listen to what he said in Titus 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” He was not to appoint an elder in every town but elders. Healthy churches follow the biblical model of a plurality of eldership.

Application Question: Why is a plurality of leadership in the church important?

This is significant for many reasons.

1. A plurality of elders creates balance among the leadership.

No single pastor has all the spiritual gifts needed to lead the church. One of the reasons that pastoral burnout is so common is because our spiritual leaders are doing too much. They are often working outside of their spiritual giftings, as they are expected to do everything. In a plurality of elders, you may find one elder that has a special gifting with finances, one elder has particular gifts in counseling, one excels in hospitality, one in teaching. They all may have some measure of ability in each of these areas but typically each will have certain strengths. This creates a balance.

2. A plurality of elders helps prevent hazards, like burnout or pride.

We saw this with Moses who was judging all the cases for Israel, big and small. His older, wise father-in-law said, “This is not good” (Exod 18:17). “You will burn out.” He recommended the ordaining of judges, a plurality of leadership, to share the load.

Moses’ father–in–law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
Exodus 18: 17–18

Around 1,700 pastors leave the ministry in the U.S. each month.1 Certainly, one of the primary reasons is burnout. Pastors are doing too much, and a great deal of this can be eliminated through shared leadership.

Also, a plurality may help with protecting the pastor from pride. Leadership is a ministry that can quickly lead to pride and then destruction. Having other godly leaders around helps those in leadership stay humble. Listen to what Paul said about hiring a pastor in 1 Timothy 3:6: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (emphasis mine). This pride can lead to lust, greed, being power hungry, or many other hazards. A plurality of shared leadership helps protect from these hazards.

3. A plurality of elders allows more people to be cared for.

Obviously when there are more people serving in leadership, this allows for more people to be ministered to and cared for. As a church continues to grow, they should add more elders for prayer, service, and teaching opportunities.

4. A plurality of elders gives accountability in the teaching of doctrine.

A pastor cannot just teach whatever he wants; there is accountability among other godly men of the church. Look at what Paul says about this in referring to prophecy in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (emphasis mine). When a prophet would speak, the other prophets had to “weigh,” or judge, what was being said.

In the same way, the elders help judge and protect the church from error. When one of the elders teaches, the other elders should be testing what is taught. They must make sure it is biblical and healthy for the congregation.

In another sense, this is true for all believers in the church. The Bereans were called noble because they tested the teachings of Paul (Acts 17:11). Therefore, each church member must participate in this judging, especially the elders.

One of the specific jobs of an elder is to encourage sound doctrine and refute false doctrine. Listen to what Paul says in Titus 1:9: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (emphasis mine).

5. A plurality of elders brings victory and safety through their wisdom in decision making.

“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory [or it can be translated “safety”] sure” (Prov 11:14).

Solomon said a nation will fall without having many wise advisers to make victory sure. A nation might have a president, but that president has a cabinet, a secretary of defense for war, a committee for budgeting, etc. They need a multitude of wise counselors. How much more does a church that deals with eternity and not just temporal matters need a multitude of counselors in leadership? There is victory, or safety, in the multitude of counselors.

6. A plurality of elders brings continuity to a church.

Often when a pastor leaves a congregation, there is a tremendous amount of instability. In the process of finding a new pastor, the church often loses many of its members. This doesn’t happen as much when there is a strong elder core that shares in the leadership of the church.

Often when a pastor leaves a church, they must hire someone they don’t know and who doesn’t know the church. This can often be very difficult. The most ideal setup is raising leadership up from within the church among the elders in order to have a stable congregation.

Application Question: What are your thoughts about the need to have a plurality of elders? Do you think Scripture supports this model over the solo-pastor model? Why or why not?

Healthy Churches Have Faithful Pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
1 Peter 5:1-4

Interpretation Question: What do the titles elder, overseer and shepherd refer to in this passage?

In verse 1 and 2, we see that Peter uses three different terms for the leaders of the church. He calls them elders in verse 1 (to the elders), but in verse 2, he calls them both shepherds (pastors) and overseers (bishops). In some churches, these are three separate positions (elders, pastors, bishops), but in the Scripture, they are not. They are used interchangeably for the same office, just as Peter uses them in this passage.

We see Paul use these terms interchangeably in Acts 20. Look at Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (emphasis mine). He calls them both overseers (bishops) and shepherds (pastors) in the same text. We see that he also calls them elders in Acts 20:17, where he initially calls to meet with them: “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (emphasis mine).

These three titles simply reflect different aspects of the office. The title “elder” represents the maturity of these men serving in leadership; they should not be spiritual novices, but mature. The word bishop refers to the role of oversight over the congregation, and finally shepherd, or pastor, is a term that reflects care.

Who are these people that serve in the role of elder/pastor?

From 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we see that these were men in the congregation. We see this by the masculine terms used.

He must be husband of but one wife and a man (emphasis mine) whose children believe (Titus 1:6). These men must have impeccable character; their homes must to be in order; they must not be given to wine or arguing and fighting. The primary skill set they must have is teaching (1 Tim 3:3). Therefore, they must know the Word of God in order to teach the church and also refute false doctrine. “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

These men are called to care for the congregation, which includes all the roles of a shepherd. They should feed the congregation by faithful exposition of the Word. They must give the members of the church guidance. They must at times correct or discipline the church. They must also protect the church from all the works of the devil.

It is a very comprehensive and difficult position. What also stands out in the text is that they are shepherds of Gods flock (v. 2). It is not the pastor’s church or the pastor’s congregation. It is the Lord’s, but God has made these men to be undershepherds over God’s flock. Christ is the Chief Shepherd. This again says that these men must be abiding in God’s presence, knowing his Word, so they can best direct the flock according to God’s will.

Peter next gives us vices or bad tendencies that are common in the leadership of our churches, as well as virtues that should be encouraged in elders. Because godly elders are to be examples to the flock, these are also challenges for each member of the church to take to heart.

Observation Question: What are the vices our pastors (and members of the congregation) must be warned of and the virtues to be pursued?

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:2-4

1. Faithful pastors must beware of laziness.

“Not because you must, but because you are willing.”

Peter speaks to them as a fellow elder (v. 1) who knows the difficulties of the office. One of the difficulties of the office is laziness. We know what laziness is, right? Laziness is when we know what we should be doing but we don’t want to, so we keep putting it off. Leadership in any organization can often be a place to hide and be lazy. There are others serving under them doing the work.

This is a tendency among pastors as well. There are many who hide behind the office of an elder. There are those called to be elders who are very inactive. Peter says a healthy congregation has elders who are willing, meaning they want to serve. They are not lazy or serving out of compulsion.

Statistics say that over 50 percent of pastors would find another job or profession if they could. When a pastor no longer feels a compulsion to serve, then they are on dangerous ground. They must serve because they are willing.

Let us again hear this is not only a common vice among those in the pulpit but also among the congregation. Often, it is very hard to get people to serve in children’s ministry, youth ministry, ushers or to lead a small group. Most churches have about 20 percent of the members doing all the work and 80 percent doing nothing. Each member should not be lazy but must be willing to serve. God has made them part of the body. This is one of the reasons many churches promote small groups. This allows each member to be serving one another in a small community, doing their part in the church.

2. Faithful pastors must not be motivated by gain.

“Not greedy for money, but eager to serve.”

One of the potential vices of the position is a desire for gain or to make lot of money. Now should pastors be paid? Yes, Paul clearly makes that argument in 1 Timothy 5:16, 17. He says those who excel in teaching the Word of God should be counted worthy of double honor, which can be translated “price” as in 1 Corinthians 6:20 (“for you were bought with a price”). It’s where we get the word honorarium from. He then says a “laborer is worthy of his wages.”

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages” (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 5:17–18

Elders who give themselves to studying and preaching the Word of God often do not have time to have another vocation because it is such a consuming task. The word work actually means “to work to the point of fatigue or exhaustion.”2 This is why other versions translate it “work hard.” They work hard in studying the Word of God to feed the flock, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a shepherd. These men should have double honor, not just respect, but pay. Yes, elders should be compensated and provided for.

However, there is a tendency for pastors to become consumed with the motivation of making money. Christ in calling himself the Chief Shepherd said he was not a hireling in John 10:12. He said the hired shepherd does not care for the flock. When the wolf comes, the hireling flees, but the good shepherd gives his life for the flock.

The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
John 10:12–13

Let us hear that the church is full of hired hands, those who serve primarily for pay and not to care for the sheep. When trouble happens at the church, they bounce to a new church and take a new position. The first church I served at as a youth pastor split a year after I had been there. I was tempted to leave the church with the rest of the congregation, but God kept repeating the words from John 10 in my ears, The hireling cares nothing for the sheep. When the wolf comes, he runs away.

This must not be the motivation of a pastor; he must primarily serve because he cares for the sheep. Certainly, we often see this motivation for money in the prosperity gospels: “Send us one hundred dollars, and you will receive a tenfold blessing in your bank account.” In fact, Paul warned Timothy about this growing trend to use faith or ministry in order to feed one’s love for money. Look at what Paul told Timothy:

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 6:9–11

He says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, flee this growing trend in the church to pursue money and instead of pursuing righteousness and godliness. One of the trends I love seeing in the church is how many of the pastors are putting their books out for free. John Piper’s books can be found for free and many others. It shows it is not about money but about serving others.

Instead of the motivation of the pastor being to make money, the elder must be eager to serve. Why does a person become a pastor? He wants to serve more. That’s what makes this office awesome. I get to be devoted to studying and teaching God’s Word. I get the opportunity to serve all day long. The money is not great, but we’re not here for the money. It’s for the privilege to serve. That is why one should desire to be an elder for the opportunity to serve more (1 Tim 3:1).

Again, let us hear this is not only a temptation for the elder but for the members as well. The New Living Translation, instead of saying “not greedy for money,” says “not for what you can get out of it.” Most people who come to church are consumer minded. They look at the church as they do any other business. What can they do for me? How is the youth ministry? How is the preaching and the worship? Certainly, all these things are important, but the problem is, this is most people’s primary motivation for joining the church. People look at churches for what they can get, instead of saying, “Where are the needs of this church? How can I make it better? How has God called me to serve?”

Consequently, most members of the church are just like the hireling pastor. When trouble happens in the church, when there is conflict with a member, when it feels like the sermons are no longer meeting their needs, what do they do? They move away. They are hirelings, just being at the church for what they can get. The church is full of members who are just seeking what they can get, instead of being committed to the body of believers God has called them to.

I’ll be honest, this is something I’ve struggled with. I am an MK, a military kid, meaning as a child, we moved every three to four years. Therefore, when I got on my own, I knew nothing about committing to a church and serving her. When I was in college, I bounced from church to church. When I became a pastor, I started getting an itch around my second year serving. It’s time to move. God had to train me to stay at my first church for seven years, especially as it was going through conflict. God is still training me. My upbringing gives me an itch, even if there are no problems; I have a problem called discontentment.

3. Faithful pastors must be careful of the desire for power.

“Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

Another vice Peter warns about was the potential desire of the pastor to lord over people and abuse their power. This, no doubt, was something found in the disciples in their early ministry. You often found them arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God. Because of this very conversation Christ rebuked them with this truth:

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (emphasis mine).
Luke 22:24–27

In the world system, leadership is an opportunity to have others serve you, but not in the ministry. The focus of a pastors leadership is not the exercise of his power but the power of his service. Peter said the primary way the pastor must lead is not by exercising his power over people but by the power of his example. The pastor is called to be an example in his faith, his purity, his conversation, even in his family life; he is called to be an example to the flock.

In fact, it should be added that because the elder does have authority in the church, sometimes people are prone to seek the position just for that reason. There is honor with that title. This seemed to be the case with the churches in the book of James. In James 3:1, he says, “Not many of you should seek to be teachers for you will receive a stricter judgment.” We see in chapter 4 that they were warring and fighting with one another, some had even died. Worldliness had entered the church, and therefore, people were seeking power and position to lord over people. Look at what James says:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
James 4:1–2

They were seeking positions of authority, and it led to fighting and discord among the congregation. This is not healthy.

Are there not times for the elder to use his authority? Certainly, there is, especially when there is false teaching, etc., but his primary leadership should be seen in his example. Peter says elders should not lord over people but instead should be examples to the flock (v. 3).

Faithful elders show us how to love the Word of God, and they push us in our desire to read the Scripture. They should push us in the desire to see the nations know Christ. They should challenge us with their faithful service and care for others.

Let us hear that these are not only marks of faithful elders in a healthy church, but they are also marks of faithful congregants, who are called to imitate the elders. Healthy church members are not lazy but willingly serve as ushers, small-group leaders, mentors, or any other needs the church has. You don’t have to twist their arms because they are willing. The church members are not consumed with what they can get from the church but what they can give. They are not consumer-focused people, but they are eager to serve. That’s why they do what they do. Instead of seeking to lord over people, they are examples of godliness.

4. Faithful pastors have an eternal perspective and motivation.

“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

I often meet men who don’t want to consider the role of an elder; they see the discord in the church, the extra work, and the lack of money. They say, “No way, not me.” But here we see that even though it is hard, difficult, and sometimes thankless, these faithful shepherds shall be abundantly compensated in heaven. They will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In fact, we probably get a literal picture of this in Revelations 4:4: “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads” (emphasis mine).

Here we see twenty-four elders crowned in glory. These cannot be angels, for angels don’t age. They seem to represent the redeemed of the church; these are elders who have been crowned and rewarded for faithfully shepherding the flock. They represent the people of God before the throne of God.

We may not understand fully what crowns and rewards in heaven represent, but we do know some things. Look at the reward given in the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:16-17.

The first one came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” “Well done, my good servant!” his master replied. “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities (emphasis mine).

Here the faithful are rewarded with overseeing ten cities in the coming kingdom. What is one of the things that reward and crowns represent in the coming kingdom? It represents the ability to serve God more. Those who are faithful with little will be graced with more in the coming kingdom, more ability to serve and honor God. Though this is promised only to elders, it is certainly true of all the redeemed. Those who are faithful in serving God now in his church, shall be rewarded with further opportunities to honor God in his kingdom. This is a characteristic of healthy church members.

I often meet congregants who have no comprehension of heavenly reward; however, this was a chief motivation used by Christ. Look at what he says to the disciples in Matthew 6. He talks about three things that should be in the life of all his disciples: (1) when you fast, (2) when you pray, and (3) when you give, don’t be like the Pharisees so you will not lose you reward. He motivated them by reward. Then in Matthew 6:19, he says to not store up riches on this earth but to store them up in heaven. Christians must have the motivation of eternal reward.

Application Question: Which vice are you prone to in your service to your local church? How is God calling you to grow in being a faithful servant?

Healthy Churches Submit to the Elders

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.
1 Peter 5:5

After talking to the elders, Peter talks to the members of the church. When it says be submissive to those who are older, it should probably be translated “elders” instead of “older.” This is how it is translated in the ESV and other versions. We can see this specifically from the phrase “in the same way,” or it can be translated “likewise.” Peter is saying that he is dealing with the same topic, and therefore, it refers to the young men submitting to the elders.

Interpretation Question: Why does Peter refer to “young men” instead of the whole church submitting to the elders?

There is a good amount of discussion over this. Some have said maybe there is a faction of young men rebelling in the church. This would be the group most prone to struggle with submission.

Often when there is trial or conflict, it is those in leadership who are commonly blamed or criticized. If you remember, while Israel was in the wilderness, the people turned against Moses and Aaron. We saw a faction of over 250 people, led by Korah, rise up against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16. They complained against the leadership, and they complained against God.

We also saw this in the New Testament with Paul. In the Corinthian church, false teachers stirred up the congregation against Paul. In 2 Corinthians, one of the primary purposes of the letter was making an argument for his apostleship.

This is common in any organization where there is change or conflict. The employees point their fingers at and complain about the bosses. It is the same in the church. We must be very careful of this tendency to rebel against the leadership, especially when there is conflict or trials.

When congregations go through difficulty, we should not fall into the same sin as Israel or the church of Corinth. We must be careful of factions that rise up in the church against the leadership. Unless the leadership is leading us in contradiction with the clear teaching of Scripture, we should submit to them.

Application Question: How do we combat this desire to rebel against the leaders?

1. It is good for us to remember that the elders are God’s ordained leadership for the church. Listen to what Paul says to the elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20:28:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (emphasis mine).

We see that every elder is handpicked by the Holy Spirit to oversee the flock. This even included bad elders. In Acts 20, Paul said that false teachers would arise even from among those elders (v. 30) and yet they were still selected by the Holy Spirit (even as Christ selected Judas). The only time we should not submit to the leadership in the sphere of church ministry is when they are disobeying Scripture. Scripture says that they will be held accountable by God for their care of the congregation.

Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account (Hebrews 13:17a)

2. We should submit to the elders not only because they are accountable for us but because God will hold us accountable for our submission or lack of to them.

“Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17b).

Healthy churches obey and submit to God’s ordained leadership. The Holy Spirit has made them elders, and therefore, we should submit to their authority.

Application Question: Have you experienced factions and rebellion against the leadership of the church? How can we be salt and light in situations like this?

Healthy Churches Humbly Serve One Another

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5

Not only do healthy churches submit to their elders instead of complaining about them or disobeying them, they also serve one another. Peter uses a very interesting word when he says “clothe yourselves.” It literally means “to tie something on oneself.”3 It is a word used of a cloth a servant would put on right before serving. No doubt, Peter was thinking of Christ right before he serves and washes the disciple’s feet in John 13. Look at the narrative:

So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (emphasis mine).
John 13:4–5

The servant apron that believers must put on is that of “humility.” What is humility? The word can also be translated “lowliness of mind.” Scripturally, it means to think of one’s self as lowly in view of God and others. Paul says something similar to the Philippians. Listen to what he says:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (emphasis mine).
Philippians 2:3–4

He says, “In humility, consider others better than yourselves.” In the rest of the chapter, he describes Christ who left heaven and took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7) and how the church must have this mind as well.

When the church is clothed with the apron of humility, they will go about seeking how they may serve others and help them know Christ. It means to think about meeting others needs over our own. People clothed with humility say, “What are the needs of others and how can I help them?”

One of the reasons most churches struggle with finding people to serve in children’s ministry, youth ministry, usher ministry or driving ministry is because most people are not clothed in the servant’s garment of humility. They are not saying, “How can I help the church?” Listen to what Paul said about Timothy:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (emphasis mine).
Philippians 2:19–21

Timothy was clothed with the garment of humility; he was consumed with the interests of others and of Christ. Paul said that even in the church, he had no one else like him. They are all consumed with their own interest. Churches that have this servant mind-set have to turn people away from ministries. “Sorry, we have too many workers in children’s ministry. We have too many people volunteering for the driving ministry.”

As mentioned, the ultimate picture of a humble servant is Christ. Even though he was God, he came to earth as a man taking the form of a servant. He served those who he was higher than. He humbled himself not only before God but before men. This attitude must be in us as well (Phil 2:5–11).

Observation Question: Why should we humble ourselves before others in the church as seen in the context of 1 Peter 5:5?

Peter quotes one of the proverbs: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The reason is twofold:

1. We should serve one another because God fights against the proud.

In a church where people are not serving one another but instead consumed with their own interests, there you will find a church that is prideful. Pride is essentially being independent of God and others. “God, I don’t need you, and I don’t need the members of your church.” It is the sin of independence. God fights against these kinds of Christians.

People who are fighting for their own way, their own rights, instead of being servants will find that they are actually fighting against God. Solomon talks about this further. He says in Proverbs 6:16 in the KJV: “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood” (emphasis mine).

God even hates the proud look. Why does he hate pride so much? The proud do not acknowledge God. They say, “I have done this by my own strength, my own knowledge and will,” and they steal the glory from God. However, Jesus said even the food we eat and the clothing we wear God provides (Matt 6:25-31). Paul said he gives us life, breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).

The proud say, “We don’t need to serve God or his people.” Even if they do not say it with their mouths, they say it by their lives. They go each day not seeking his face, not recognizing their dependence upon him. Many churches are under God’s judgment. Why? It’s because the community is not a serving community, not a humble community.

Listen to what Paul told Titus in Titus 2:14: “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (emphasis mine). God redeemed us from slavery to sin to be slaves of righteousness—a people eager or zealous to do what is good. When his church does not act this way because of their selfish pride, he fights against them.

Many churches are going through discord and problems because of pride that makes them independent. It is not only the consequence of their pride that they are suffering but the judgment of God. People refuse to put on the servant’s cloth and humbly serve one another. “I’m too busy to get involved, too busy to serve others.” This brings God displeasure and ultimately brings his judgment.

2. We should serve one another because God gives grace to the humble.

What does it mean that God gives grace to the humble?

Grace means “unmerited favor.” God gives favor to their prayers. God gives strength when they are weak. He meets their needs. He is intimate with them. In fact, we see this with Moses. The Scripture says Moses was the humblest man on the earth and that God spoke to him face-to-face (Num 12:3–8). Moses had intimacy with God that others did not.

We also see that with Paul, grace meant to be empowered in his weakness. We see this in 2 Corinthians 12. In that section, God actually allows Paul to have a demonic thorn in the flesh, in order to keep him from pride so his power could be made perfect in him. Look at what it says:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 12:7–9

Those who humble themselves before God shall find unmerited favor. This includes intimacy, strength, and empowerment to do Gods work.

A healthy church is a humble, serving church. They put on the garment of humility. However, a prideful church is not consumed with the interest of God or others. They are prideful and independent, and therefore, God fights against them. We are either a humble, serving church that God blesses or an independent, prideful church that God fights against.

Which will we choose? What way is God calling you to humbly serve the church?

Application Question: What way is God calling you to put the garment of humility on and serve his people?

Conclusion

What are characteristics of a healthy church?

  1. Healthy churches have a plurality of leaders. One man cannot lead God’s house.
  2. Healthy churches have faithful leaders. They are not lazy; they are not greedy or power hungry, but eager to serve. This should be true of the congregants as well.
  3. Healthy churches have members who submit to their leadership.
  4. Healthy churches humbly serve one another and receive God’s blessing.

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.


1 Statistics in the Ministry. http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/ (accessed July 15, 2014).

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (219). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (277). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry

17. How Healthy Churches Go through Trials (1 Peter 5:6-7)

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Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7

How does a healthy church go through trials?

The conclusion is often the most important part of a book or movie. It is there you make your closing arguments and declare what you most want your reader to leave with. Here at the end of Peter’s epistle, it is no different. He leaves this letter on suffering and being a pilgrim in a foreign and ungodly world with some exhortations and encouragements for the church.

In 1 Peter 5:1-5, we started looking at what a healthy church looks like. In the beginning of the chapter, Peter spoke “to the Elders among” them (5:1). This tells us the letter was not just written to scattered Christians but to local congregations that had scattered. He challenges them to be healthy. He called the elders to lead properly in the church; he called the young men, who possibly were being antagonistic to the leadership, to submit. He spoke to the whole church commanding them to put on the cloth of humility in order to serve one another (v. 5).

Healthy churches have godly leadership who are eager to serve and care for the flock, but they also have members who submit to the vision of the leadership and serve the church. They don’t typically have many unfulfilled roles in the children’s ministry or the youth ministry. Why? It’s because everybody has humbly put on the servant’s garment, and they are seeking to serve one another.

But now, as he concludes, he returns to the primary theme of the letter and speaks about suffering. How should church communities suffer together? Suffering can be a great thing. We see this individually, as trials can make us more patient, peaceful, loving and caring, or it can do the opposite. Suffering can cripple us and leave us with many emotional scars. We can become more fearful, anxious, depressed, angry and even violent. It can either help us or hurt us, and it’s no different with the church.

Similarly, it is God’s desire to use trials corporately in the life of congregations to help them mature. It may come in persecutions like here with the congregations in Asia Minor. It may come in the form of conflict between church members as seen in the Philippian church (Phil 4:2). It can be through false teachers as in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) or a member in the church who needs discipline as with Corinth (1 Cor 5).

God forbid that it be his will for any of us to go through these difficulties at our home church, but even if it is his will, we must have a proper view of trials as Scripture teaches, and we must know how to respond to the trials as a community.

As we look at this text, we must ask ourselves, “How do healthy churches & church members go through trials?” Many congregations split or members move when things aren’t good because they have never learned how to go through trials as a community. Scripture often compares the church to a family. In 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Paul calls Timothy to treat the older men in the church as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters with absolute purity.  Do healthy families break up when they go through problems? No! They should get closer and more intimate. It should be the same with healthy churches.

How do healthy churches go through hardship together? In this passage we will see three characteristics of how healthy churches respond to trials.

Big Question: How does Peter command the scattered congregations to respond to their trials in 1 Peter 5:6-7? What characteristics can we learn about healthy churches through this text?

Healthy Churches Recognize, Trust, and Submit to God in Trials

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
1 Peter 5:6

Not only are healthy churches humble before one another by taking on the servant’s apron and serving others (1 Peter 5:5), healthy churches are also humble before God. Peter says “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand.”

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand?

1. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to recognize that God is in control of the trial.

How do we know this is referring to submitting to God while in trials? We see that from the context which has been suffering throughout the letter (1 Peter 4:12). But we also see this from Peter’s next comment that he may lift you up in due time (v. 6). These believers who were suffering must recognize God’s hand in the midst of their trials and humbly submit to it. They must persevere so God could lift them up in his time.

This is something that many Christians struggle with. How can God be in control of the hardships in my life? How can he be in control of what happened in my past or what’s happening in my church right now?

Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign and in control of all things. Listen to what Paul said in Ephesians 1:11:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (emphasis mine)

There is not one thing that happens on this world that does not conform to the counsel of God’s will (v. 11). If I took some water and poured it into a plastic bottle, the water would conform to the shape of the bottle. In the same way, Paul teaches that everything, even the worst things in life, somehow conform to God’s sovereign plan. This is a mystery; however, it is an important mystery we must accept if we are going to faithfully go through the trials of life.

Many times people cannot persevere or make it through trials because all they see is the enemy, or all they see is people that have hurt them. They spend all their time mad at people, mad at events and never humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God.

Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
Hebrews 12:7

The writer of Hebrews calls them to endure their trials as discipline from God. This writer gives a general term “hardship” to cover every difficulty that we will go through. There are some Christians that say God never allows a Christian to be sick, he never allows them to go through a hard time and that it is always from the enemy. But Scripture doesn’t teach that; it shows God being in control of the enemy. In fact, let’s look at the kind of hardship the writer of Hebrews is talking about specifically in Hebrews 10:32-34.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

It seems these Christians were suffering a similar trial as those Peter was writing to in Asia Minor. They were going through insults and persecutions; they had their properties confiscated because of their faith. In fact, Hebrews 12 begins by telling them to not grow weary and lose heart in their trials by fixing their eyes on Christ (v. 2-4).  Later in the chapter, he comforts them in the same way Peter does. Endure hardship as discipline from God (v. 7). The writer of Hebrews is saying, God is in control of your trial. Humble yourself under his mighty hand of God.

One of the things we must do as a church if we are going to faithfully endure suffering is recognize God’s hand in it. Yes, Satan may be working, yes it may be a difficult member in the church, but we must realize God is in control of all that and he will use it for the good (Rom 8:28).

Remember Job? Job under trial said this:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
Job 1:21-22

Even if the Lord slays me I will still trust him.
Job 13:15

Some might say, “But Brother Job you have got it all wrong, that was Satan.” Yes, it was. But God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). Satan could have no power unless God had given it to him. What Job was doing in these passages, was humbling himself under God’s mighty hand. He was recognizing God’s sovereignty in the midst of his difficulty and praising him for it. In fact, Scripture says in everything, Job did not charge God with wrongdoing (1:22).

Similar to Job, Joseph said to his brothers who had thrown him into slavery, “what you meant for bad God meant for good (Gen 50:20).” Joseph, like Job and like Christ (Luke 22:42), humbled himself under God’s mighty hand.

It is important for churches to recognize God’s mighty hand even in a trial.

2. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to trust God.

Listen to what Solomon said in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

To humble ourselves means to say, “God, you know best. I trust you, even though it doesn’t make sense. I trust your sovereignty over this situation. You are God.”

3. To humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand means to submit to God.

Jesus said, take this cup from me but nevertheless your will be done (Lk 22:42). He submitted to God’s will for his life even when it meant the cross. Many Christians only want to submit when God’s will fits their plans, but if it includes sickness, a difficult job or a difficult relationship--they rebel. Abraham when asked to sacrifice his child said, “OK.” He submitted to God in his trial. We must do the same.

Interpretation Question: What is the opposite of humbly submitting to God in a trial and what does that look like?

The opposite is pride and becoming angry at God and others in the trial. Many Christians have gone through trials in their life and ran away from God. They have shaken their fist at God in anger.

See pride says to God, “I know better than you.” But humility recognizes that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  Listen to what Isaiah says:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

The prideful church members often get angry at God and angry at other people. They imply by their attitude that they know best and that if God was good he would have never allowed the trial to happen. But the humble church member says, “God, I trust you. I may not understand but I humble myself before you.”

Christ humbled himself and went to a cross because he understood God knew best. Christ prayed, take this cup from me, but nevertheless your will be done (Lk 22:42).  Are you humbling yourself before God? Are you trusting him?

What else does a healthy church do in a trial?

Application Question: Why is it so hard sometimes to trust God in the trials of life? How do we learn to trust him better?

Healthy Churches Persevere through Trials

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:6

We see that Peter is not only talking about humbling one’s self before God in a trial but also perseverance by his next comment. Peter says, we humble ourselves so that he may lift us up in due time.  The phrase “due time” was telling the believers, they would have to wait on God and persevere to receive his blessing.

The normal response for a church going through a trial is for many of the members to start bailing ship. The pastor has a moral failure, there is a fight amongst the congregants and people just start leaving.

No. Listen, “In due time if you persevere God will lift you up.” He will make you stronger. He will bless you if you just persevere. There is a time period we must stay under the trial so that God can do the work he wants to do in us. The potter must put the clay in the fire for a certain amount of time to make it strong so it can be useful. This is very similar to what Paul said in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Trials are like weights. You must put your body under distress so the muscle can grow. After it has gone through proper distress, the muscle responds by getting stronger, developing more endurance and growing. In due time God will lift us up; we must persevere. Listen to what James says about trials in James 1:4, “But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (KJV).

The believer must let patience or better translated perseverance do the work it’s supposed to, so we can become mature in the faith.  We must let God do his work through the trial. Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, for in due time he will lift you up. Listen, there is no better place for you to be at, than in God’s hand even if his hand is in the fire. He will protect you there and he will heal you there.

Let me tell you what perseverance is not. It is not grumbling. It is not complaining. It is not becoming angry at God. It is not fighting with others. To persevere through a trial, means to trust God and be faithful and righteous through the process.  To not persevere is to run away from God and run towards sin. Abraham saw a famine in the promised land, so he went to Egypt and lied about his wife (Genesis 12). There was a blessing even in the famine, but he had to persevere to receive it instead of bailing ship.

Interpretation Question: What does Peter mean by God “lifting” us up in due in time? How should this affect us?

  1. To be lifted up in the trial means to develop our character. Perseverance creates character and character hope (Romans 5:3-4). That is the most important “lifting up” we can receive.
  2. To be lifted up in trial may at times mean the removal of the trial. The potter only keeps the pot in the oven until it has created the strength or glory it is looking for. To keep it in too long would actually destroy the pot (1 Cor. 10:13). No doubt our God is like that as well. At times, it is his will to remove the sickness, the persecution, or the conflict after it has completed its ordained purpose.
  3. To be lifted up may at times mean taking the believer home to Glory.

Listen to what Isaiah says about righteous men being taken away: “The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil (emphasis mine)” (Isaiah 57:1). Isaiah said people don’t think about this enough. Why is God taking away all our godly leaders? Isaiah says, it’s a work of grace. He does that to keep them from the coming evil. God probably took Enoch away because of how sinful the world was right before the flood and the coming judgment (Gen 5).

For some, the Creator lifts them up by taking them to heaven through death. This no doubt would have comforted many who had lost relatives or friends to this persecution or those whose physical sufferings were unbearable. For some in a hospital bed with a debilitating, terminal disease, their greatest desire is for God to lift them up soon. It is the greatest form of grace to be taken to heaven.

God’s plan for lifting a believer up in trial may be different for each believer. We can be sure that he is always seeking to develop character qualities in us through trials (James 1:2-4), but whether he removes the trial or the believer is at times different. With Noah, it says he walked with God just as Enoch did (Gen 6:9), but God took Noah through the trial instead of taking him straight to heaven. God’s plan for each believer is different, but if we persevere he will lift us up.

How should the church respond in trial? We must persevere in the trial for in due time God will lift us up.

Application Question: What are some of the negative responses you have seen to church conflict? Why is it so difficult for members to persevere in trials?

Healthy Churches Practice Corporate Prayer in Trials

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to “cast all your anxiety” on the Lord? Why is this important?

One of the things we must notice about this verse is that the “your” is actually plural in the original language. Peter is speaking to the local congregations and saying to cast their cares upon the Lord corporately in the midst of their trials. Certainly, Christians should pray individually but there is something powerful about corporate prayer. Look at Matthew 18:19-20,

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Christ says when two or more agree in prayer, he is in the midst of them and he answers their prayers. We often use this saying for the church gathering in general, but the context is specifically corporate prayer (and the larger context church discipline). Certainly, there are more factors than these such as praying God’s will and etc… as the rest of Scripture teaches. However, we must see that there is something special and powerful about praying with the church.

Peter says the church should cast their anxieties on the Lord. The word to cast means, means throwing something fully on something else or someone else.1  The church takes difficulties such as the sick people at the church, the church debt, the church conflict, persecution and they come together and pray about it.

We get a great picture of this in Acts 4. In this chapter Peter and the apostles have just been threatened by the Pharisees and told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore. They were going through persecution. Guess what Peter leads them into doing? That’s right, corporate prayer. Look at what Acts 4:23-24 says:

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them (emphasis mine).

As the text goes on, it says that the building they were in was shaken. God responded by filling each person with the Holy Spirit and they left the building proclaiming the Word of God with boldness.

What should the church do when they have anxieties? They should call up the saints and pray. They should bring it all before the Lord--throw the worries, fears and troubles on the Lord together.

In fact, I think we get a great picture of this individually with Christ before he goes to the cross. He is bearing this tremendous anxiety on him about the cross and bearing the sins of the world and what does he do? He calls a prayer meeting. “Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). He calls Peter, James and John and asks them to watch and pray with him for an hour which eventually turns into three. Healthy churches pray together during a trial. They throw their anxieties on the Lord because he cares for them.

Application Question: What are some other ways we can apply this need to pray corporately?

a) This text reminds us of our need to share our anxieties and worries with the church community.

I think one of the things Satan has done is make people so ashamed, they no longer share their problems with the church. They never say, “I am having financial difficulty. My brother is sick; my wife has cancer.” Satan works through shame and it often cripples the church community from ever being the channel of blessing it is supposed to be. Listen to what James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” We must be willing to open up and share with one another so that we can have the healing that comes through corporate prayer.

b) The text reminds us to persevere in prayer and not give up.

Prayer is encouraged in the context of a call to persevere until God lifts them up in due time. This means we must persevere in prayer during trials. We saw this taught in a parable of Jesus in Luke 18:1: “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (emphasis mine).

Jesus gives a parable of a widow who consistently bothered a judge until he granted her request. He gives this parable to teach the disciples the need for praying and not giving up. He says this at the end of the parable, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Christ essentially says at his second coming this type of faith will be in short supply. Very few will pray till God lifts them up, till he removes the burden, till he changes the government, till he changes the ungodly laws. This type of faith is needed when a church is being persecuted and Christian values are being attacked in society.

Some of these difficulties in the church may last a long time, but we must faithfully pray through them. We must cast all our weight, all our concerns on the Lord as a corporate body. As we do this, he will lift us up in due time.

Conclusion

How do healthy churches go through trials?

  1. Healthy churches recognize, trust, and submit to God in trials. They focus on God’s sovereignty in the trial. It is not about this person or that person but primarily God. He is sovereign, and we must trust and submit to his hand while in the fire.
  2. Healthy churches persevere in trials. There is a specific amount of time that we must endure the fire so God can complete his work in us. In due time God will lift us up if we do not faint.
  3. Healthy churches practice corporate prayer in trials. When persecution came, Peter called a prayer meeting. When Jesus was weary unto death, he called a prayer meeting. We must both rely on God and one another in trials as we seek his face through prayer.

Application Question: What is your typical response to trials? How is God calling you to improve your response?

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.


1 John MacArthur, 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 240.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Spiritual Life, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

18. How Healthy Churches Resist The Devil (1 Peter 5:6-11)

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Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 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. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 5:6-11

How do healthy churches resist the devil?

It should be remembered that these congregations throughout the Roman Empire were being persecuted. There was probably division in the church, as the young men were not submitting to the elders (1 Peter 5:5). Peter in the last chapter of the letter essentially encourages them to be healthy. He speaks to the leadership and the congregations. He calls them to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand during their trials.

He ends the letter with a final warning. He calls them to be alert and to resist the devil. This was very important. It should be noted that it is often in the midst of a trial that Satan attacks the hardest. It was while Jesus was at his weakest physically that Satan attacked him in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that Israel was tempted to complain and turn away from God. It was when there was famine in the land that Abraham left the promise land and went to Egypt.

These scattered churches needed to be very aware of Satan and his attacks in the midst of their trials and their persecutions. No doubt, the enemy would seek to bring discord amongst the believers: try to draw many away from the faith and make many give up. It has been said God uses trials to strengthen our faith and Satan uses trials to weaken our faith. We always must be aware of his attacks, but especially during trials.

Another, aspect of a healthy church is their vigilant fight against the devil. C. S. Lewis talked about how there were two extremes in our understanding of the devil. There is the extreme of seeing Satan behind everything. He brings every sickness; he is the cause behind every sin. Satan, often, gets way too much credit in the church.

However, the other extreme, which is far more common, is that most Christians don’t recognize Satan at all. They blame their roommates, they blame the government, they blame their wives, they blame themselves and sometimes blame God, but Satan gets none of the blame. Paul said this:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12

It is possible for Christians to see and blame everybody else and not recognize the spiritual war we are in. This would be particularly important for these Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. They needed to realize that Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31) and he is working behind the government and all aspects of society, to come against the plans of God. They needed to be alert for the devil. This would keep them from blaming God or blaming others.

Because of this sober reality, healthy churches and church members need a strong awareness of the enemy. Look at Pauls awareness of the enemy:

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan stopped us (emphasis mine).
1 Thessalonians 2:18

He saw Satan hindering the work of ministry, as Paul was trying to visit Thessalonica. Similarly, look at what Paul said to married couples in 1 Corinthians 7:5,

Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (emphasis mine).

Paul saw Satan active in seeking to destroy marriages. In fact, Paul was so aware of Satan that he studied his schemes in order to not be tricked by them. He said this, “In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11).

Paul saw an awareness of the devil as very important for a healthy church and thus a healthy Christian life. He calls for these Christians, who are scattered throughout Asia Minor, to be self-controlled and alert because Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

As we go through this lesson, I want you to ask yourself, “Do you have a healthy awareness of the devil? and How do we properly resist the devil, as a congregation? These questions are, especially, important as we go through trials.

Big Question: How do healthy churches resist the devil according to 1 Peter 5:8-9?

Healthy Churches Resist the Devil by Recognizing Him and His Tactics

Be self–controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:8

Peter calls for this church to be alert. This means they must recognize the devil and be aware of his works. He begins to explain a little bit more about the devil in the rest of the verse. This text doesn’t give us a full systematic theology on Satan and his works, but if we look closely, there is a lot we can learn from these few verses.

Observation Question: What does 1 Peter 5:8–9 teach us about the devil, so we can recognize him and be more aware of his works?

1. He is an enemy of the church. Peter said, “Your enemy the devil.”

The word your is plural. It means that not only do we have a personal enemy who hates us but one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, seek to bring division, seek to bring persecution, seek to hinder the preaching of God’s Word. This enemy works against the church of God.

We must be aware that every step that makes us closer to God or enables us to do more for the kingdom of God, will be met with opposition. The Christian must beware that when he became a follower of Christ, he also received an enemy. Jesus said that in the kingdom the devil plants false believers, tares, to choke the harvest (Matt 13:24-30). Satan is working not only from outside the church but inside the church. We must be aware that we have an enemy.

2. He is a dangerous foe.

We see this from the fact that Peter uses the metaphor of a lion in describing Satan. He is dangerous and needs to be taken seriously.

Now sometimes in certain sects of Christianity, they have lost a proper reverence for the enemy. They tend to overemphasize the fact that we have authority in Christ, and therefore, demean the enemy. Ask any person in a sporting event how a very talented team loses against a less talented team. This often happens because people don’t respect their opponent. Listen to what Jude says about this:

In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings. But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by instinct, like unreasoning animals—these are the very things that destroy them (emphasis mine).
Jude 1:8–10

In talking about false prophets, he calls them dreamers and describes how they slander celestial beings including the devil. Jude says even the archangel Michael, an angel more powerful than us, respected the devil and called upon God to rebuke him using the authority in the Lord’s name.

Sometimes, people have forgotten that Satan is a foe who knows us better than we know ourselves. He has been studying humans for thousands of years; he understands their tendencies. He also is very powerful and ferocious, as alluded to by the metaphor of a lion.

Though some may not verbally underestimate him, they live lives that do not recognize the danger he poses. They allow their kids total freedom in what they watch, what they wear, where they go. Would you do this if a lion was outside? Satan is more dangerous than any lion.

I do believe there is an authority that comes with our relationship with Christ (Ephesians 2:6), but we also must properly evaluate our enemy. He is a dangerous foe and the person who understands this will be self-controlled and alert.

How would you react if there was a lion prowling outside your apartment building? Now, how would you react if he was in your apartment building? You probably would be alert and in full control of your faculties.

3. He is an accuser.

Peter calls him the devil; the name means “accuser” or “slanderer.” This means that one of his primary assaults is accusation.

He accuses us before God. We saw this in the book of Job as Satan accused Job. Satan said to God, “Job only loves you because you bless him.” Satan also accuses God to us. We saw this with Eve. He said to Eve, “God is a liar; he doesn’t want what’s best for you. He is keeping you from being like God.” But he also attacks us. He says to us we cannot be godly, we cannot be holy—he attacks our body image, our failures, and our relationships. He is an accuser.

Listen to what Paul said: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1); “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31)

We must know that in Christ, the enemy’s accusations have lost their power. Have you recognized his accusing thoughts? He accuses to bring discord with other believers. He accuses to bring depression. We must be aware of his accusations.

4. He often uses stealth in order to catch Christians (prowl).

Look at the definition of prowl. It means “to roam through stealthily, as in search of prey or plunder.”1

We have an enemy who is trying to catch people, but he is often sly and stealthy in the process, like any good hunter. He doesn’t show up in a red costume saying “I want to kill you.” He prowls in a stealthy manner to destroy someone who is unaware. Look what Paul said about our enemy:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 11:13—15

Paul said Satan shows himself as an angel of light in order to deceive people and devour them. His ministers show up as apostles of Christ, those sent to preach the Word. Jesus called them wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15); they come with intentions to deceive. Many are devoured by the enemy because they are not aware of his tactics. He comes into the house by stealth through the TV, through the books one reads, through certain relationships. He comes through many ministers of the faith. He is a very cunning enemy.

Are you aware that you have an enemy who is prowling around waiting for an opportunity, a door, to snare you?

5. He often uses the tactic of fear in order to intimidate the believer (roaring lion).

It has often been said that the lion roars to paralyze his prey. In the same way, one of the tactics that Satan uses to hinder the effectiveness of believers is fear. Look at what Paul says to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (emphasis mine), but a spirit of power, of love and of self–discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). Timothy is probably struggling with fear about doing ministry, and Paul alerts him to the fact that, that spirit is not from God.

It will commonly be fear that Satan uses to keep you from doing God’s will as well. Look at the Parable of the Talents.

Then the man who had received the one talent came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (emphasis mine).
Matthew 25:24–25

The man whom God had given one talent to serve, did not because he was afraid. He was afraid to lead a small group, afraid to witness, afraid to go on missions, afraid about the future and this kept him from doing God’s will.

Satan, as a roaring lion, works through fear. He paralyzes his prey with worries and anxieties about the present, the past and the future. He roars to keep people from progressing in the things of God.

Are you under the constant barrage of fears and worries? This is how Satan paralyzes people and keeps them from growing in the faith and doing God’s will. Let us remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline.

6. He ultimately wants to destroy the believer (seeking whom he may devour).

Look at what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:44: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him” (emphasis mine). In this context, Jesus is accusing the Pharisees of wanting to kill him. He said they were doing the will of their father, the devil. This is the reality of every believer, especially a believer who is living passionately for God.

The devil will use even, what some would call, harmless sins to ultimately destroy the believer. He is a murderer, and we must be aware of that with every temptation. We often see the male drinking on TV and laughing while surrounded by a bunch of females, but we don’t see the drunk, drowning in his vomit, who has lost job and career. Satan wants to destroy, and if he can’t kill you, he wants to destroy your witness and to shame you in such a way that you will be too scared to allow God to use you. He is a destroyer.

When you really understand this concept, you cease to give Satan any doors. You don’t listen to him through the music or TV shows because you know his ultimate plan. He is a murderer. He wants to devour not only individuals, but families and churches. His pathway is full of destruction.

We must flee from all appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22) for our enemy desires to devour, not just tempt.

The believer, however, can take confidence that God holds the temperature gauge on every trial that he allows the enemy to bring against us and that he always provides a way of escape (1 Cor 10:13).

7. He attacks in a widespread manner (your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings).

“Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Pet 5:9).

Because Satan is the god of this age and the prince of this world, he has created a system that works against God and those who follow him. We should not be surprised when we are passed over for promotion because of a lifestyle that is righteous. We should not be surprised when we are mocked for our values and belief systems.

In this context, Christians were being burned in the gardens of Nero just to give light to his plants and flowers. We should not be surprised at this, for Satan is at work behind the world system. He works in the hearts of those who are disobedient (Eph 2:2), leading them even into ridiculous atrocities. The enemy’s attacks are widespread.

8. He is a liar (brothers undergoing same kind of sufferings).

Probably an implication of Peter telling this church that the brothers throughout the world were enduring the same suffering is that Satan is a liar.

Believers are often tempted to believe that they are the only one’s going through their situation. They are tempted to think no one else understands them. Satan often isolates the believer from the church or other healthy relationships with this lie. He does this by making them feel like nobody else is going through this or nobody understands. The person struggling with pornography, the woman with an eating disorder, or the man with homosexual thoughts hide in shame, thinking no one else has the same struggles. Satan condemns and shames them in order to isolate and destroy them. We see this truth throughout the Scripture; Jesus calls Satan the father of lies (John 8:44).

Peter assures them that their temptations are common to the brothers. The believer must be aware of this lie often used by the devil. “No one else understands, no one else has been through what I have been through.” This keeps the believer from sharing with others and often keeps them bound in sin. Listen to what Paul said:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (emphasis mine).
1 Corinthians 10:13

Are you alert and aware of your enemy the devil?

He opposes everything good you seek to do for God. He seeks to encourage fear in you. He seeks to encourage you to isolate yourself. He feeds you lies. He accuses you; he accuses God; he accuses your friends. Are you alert to the works of the devil? He ultimately wants to destroy every believer. He wants to destroy their testimony and ultimately kill them.

Are you aware of your enemy the devil?

Healthy Churches Resist the Devil by Being Sober and Self-Controlled

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:8

Peter says believers must protect themselves from the devil by being self-controlled. What does it mean to be self-controlled?

Interpretation Question: In 1 Peter 5:8, Peter calls believers to be self-controlled in resisting the devil. It can also be translated “sober.” What does it mean to be self-controlled and sober in resisting the devil? Why is this important?

The word that Peter uses for self-controlled here has several meanings. It also can be translated to “be sober.”

1. To be sober means to be free of intoxicants both spiritual and physical. We will look at both separately.

a.) Spiritual Intoxication

A spiritual intoxicant is anything that creates apathy in your spiritual life and draws you away from God. It includes loving the things of this world and pursuing them, it includes addictions to sin that keep you from properly viewing people and the things of God.

We get a good picture of spiritual intoxication in the prodigal son (Luke 15). He leaves his father’s house in order to pursue wasteful living. He pursued the things of this world, the prostitutes and drunkenness. This ultimately led to his poverty. The prodigal son could not properly evaluate the beauty of the father’s love. Finally, Scripture says he came to “his senses” (v. 17). He sobered up and went home.

How many Christians has Satan destroyed because of spiritual drunkenness? They enjoy an ungodly relationship more than obedience to God. They enjoy the pursuit of materialism more than the joy of seeing the nations come to Christ. They are intoxicated and cannot properly steer the wheel of their lives.

Another good example of spiritual intoxication is the story of Esau and Jacob. Esau is the eldest son of Isaac. The inheritance of his father is his. However, one day he comes back from hunting in the field and has caught nothing. Therefore, he is starving. When he enters the house, Jacob has just made a wonderful dinner. Esau was so hungry that he bartered away his father’s inheritance, all the livestock, and wealth that had been stored up for generations, for one meal.

This may seem ridiculous, but it is not ridiculous in comparison to how many Christians live. They often choose to live their short 70 years on this earth enjoying the pleasures of this world, instead of enjoying their father’s love and preparing for their inheritance in heaven. Instead of living for God and storing their wealth in heaven, they store it on this earth, only to leave it behind at death. This is spiritual intoxication with the things of this world. They cannot properly evaluate the father’s love and blessing, in comparison to the fleeting pleasures of sin and the temporary things of this world. They are like Esau, spiritually intoxicated. Look at what John says:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (emphasis mine).
1 John 2:15-17

Satan works hard to deceive Christians and draw them away from the things of God. He seeks to intoxicate them. This is why Paul says: Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world (emphasis mine), but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

We must change our thinking. We must have a sober mind so we will not be tricked by the evil one.

b.) Physical Intoxication

But being sober does not just refer to spiritual intoxication, it also refers to physical intoxication. This is a call to be free of addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc. Scripture consistently calls Christians to live a sober life. Look at what Paul says in Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Satan is content to control your life through a physical intoxicant, as long as you are not controlled by God. You can only have one master. You cannot have two or three. You will love one and hate the other (Matt 6:24). The person who is addicted to a drug, essentially gives the worship and dependence that only God is worthy of, to that drug. This is something that Satan is happy about, and will use to draw a person farther and farther away from God and his plans for their lives.

Also, I think the original audience would have read this command a little different than the contemporary audience. Certainly, it referred to being free from drugs. But drugs in that society were an essential part of pagan worship and witchcraft. It should be noted that the word magic or sorcery in the Bible (Rev. 18:23) comes from the word pharmakea, where we get the word pharmacy.

Typically, people who were worshiping other gods or demons would use drugs in order to enhance their worship. Witches, specifically, would use drugs in order to open themselves up to the spirit world or demon spirits. No doubt, this was in Peter’s mind when he called the Christians to be sober. The use of these drugs opened the door for Satan and Peter probably commanded them to be sober in order to protect them from demonic influence.

Does this still happen today? Is it any surprise that in the majority of heinous crimes drugs or alcohol is involved? One statistic said for sexual assaults, 75% of the time, the offender, the victim, or both had been drinking.2 I have no doubt that the enemy commonly uses people who cannot control themselves because of submission to a drug, in order to rule over them and commit many heinous acts. Ephesians 2:2 describes Satan as “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” It is no doubt easier for Satan to “work in” someone who has relinquished their self-control to some drug.

2. To be sober also means to be disciplined, as it can be translated “self-controlled.”

One of the ways a Christian lives a sober life and protects themselves from the enemy is by being self-controlled. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV),

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (emphasis mine).

He compares the Christian to an athlete and says the Christian must be disciplined in all things. This includes their eating, their drinking, their sleeping, and their media. The Olympic athlete does this for an Olympic crown, but we do it for an imperishable one in heaven. How much more should a Christian be disciplined in all things when we will be rewarded by God, not an Olympic committee?

Listen, many Christians fail in this aspect of Paul’s command just by the time they go to bed at night. They don’t get good sleep, which affects their ability to get up and spend time with God. They are not living self-controlled lives. They live career-controlled lives, socially controlled lives, or media-controlled lives and this opens the door for the enemy to draw them away from God.

Satan has won in many Christians’ lives just because they are not disciplined. He won the battle in church the night before when the student chose to stay out all night hanging with his friends. In church, he is “bobbing and weaving.” He wins in the battle of the mind because the Christian lets any thought come into their mind—discouraging thoughts, depressing thoughts, lustful thoughts. In Hebrew, the word for simple has the connotation of an “open door” (Psalm 19:7). Many Christians just let their mind think anything. There is no self-control which is a fruit of the Spirit. This is the Christian who is not living a sober life, a self-controlled life, and therefore, is losing to the devil.

Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.
Proverbs 25:28

Are you living a self-controlled life? Are you living a sober life?

How do we apply this call to be self-controlled to the church? For many churches, the world is in the church and Satan has drugged it. In 1 Corinthians 5, when the man was having sex with his father’s wife, the church was boasting in their liberality (v. 6). They were a “tolerant” church. Many churches are like that today. They accept sexual immorality and homosexuality. The church is seeking to be accepted by the world and is becoming drugged by its philosophies and worldviews. Many churches are no longer sober but are already drinking the alcohol of this world, and they have opened the door for the evil one in the church.

Many churches have accepted the wisdom of this world, instead of the foolishness of God (1 Cor 1:25). They no longer accept a Biblical creation story; they no longer accept a God who does miracles. They no longer accept the inerrant and holy Word of God. Much of the church has lost its soberness, and therefore, opened the door for Satan.

Are you a sober Christian? Are you a self-controlled Christian? Or are you a Christian that has opened the door for the devil? Christians must resist by living sober and self-controlled lifestyles.

Application Question: What ways do you see a lack of soberness in the church today, which has opened the door for the evil one? What ways is God calling you to be more sober and self-controlled so you can better resist the devil?

Healthy Churches Resist the Devil by Standing Firm in the Faith

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:8–9

Peter says healthy churches resist the devil by standing firm in the faith. Resist the devil is a defensive posture. It is what we do when the enemy attacks. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Interpretation Question: According to 1 Peter 5:9, how do we resist the devil by standing firm in the faith? What does it mean to “stand firm in the faith?”

In order to resist the devil, the Christian must put his entire trust in God. That is why Peter says “stand firm in the faith.” The only ground we can stand on when attacked by the devil is our faith—it’s not medicine, it’s not worldly philosophy.

This is one of the reasons biblical counseling is so important because the secular world does not accept the reality of Satan and his demons. Satan is too great of a foe for us to defeat on our own or in our own power.

Paul says the weapons of our warfare are not carnal or secular but mighty in God for casting down strongholds (2 Cor 10:4). It must be done by putting our trust totally in God and his resources. Listen to what Paul said in the context of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (emphasis mine). If we are to resist the devil, it must be through the Lord’s power and resources.

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to stand firm in the faith? How can we stand firm in order to resist the devil?

1. Standing firm in the faith means to resist the devil through Scripture.

When Christ resisted the devil in the wilderness, he used the Word of God. He quotes Scripture with every attack that Satan brings. Look at what Christ said:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only’” (emphasis mine).
Matthew 4:8–10

Christ always replies to the devil, “It is written.” If a Christian doesn’t know the Word of God, he will be open to many attacks from the devil. When Satan attacks a person’s body image and that person is tempted to feel discouraged, the believer must have Scripture to reply with. When the believer is attacked with lust or anxieties, he must have Scripture to reply with.

2. Standing firm in the faith means to practice a holy life.

We see this in looking at the armor of God. The majority of the armor of God is simply a holy life. By living a holy life, a Christian puts on the armor of God and protects him or herself against attacks from the enemy. To put on the breastplate of righteousness means to live a righteous life. A righteous life protects you from much of the enemy’s advances. To put on the belt of truth means to believe the truth and not accept any lies. “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Eph 6:14)

When a believer instead chooses to rebel against God’s will in areas of sex, unforgiveness, cheating, etc., he opens the door for Satan. The believer must stand firm in the faith by practicing a holy life.

3. Standing firm in the faith means to live in an atmosphere of prayer

Jesus told the disciples to “pray lest they enter into temptation.” Prayer would have protected them from temptation to sin, and therefore, the devil. He called them to pray for an hour and they all failed. Consequently, they all denied him, in his time of need.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38).

Similarly, after Paul commands believers to put on the armor of God, he commands them to pray. Prayer is one of the ways we resist the devil. Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

Also, Jesus taught that praying for protection from the evil one should be a regular part of the believer’s prayer life. Listen to the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:13: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (emphasis mine). We should pray for this for ourselves, for our families but especially for our church, whom the enemy is always attacking.

Another aspect of prayer probably includes rebuking the devil or commanding him to leave at times when it is clear that he is at work. We see this in many different parts of Scripture. In the book of Zechariah, Satan is accusing the high priest, Joshua, before God, and the Angel of the Lord rebukes Satan. Look at what he says:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire” (emphasis mine)?
Zechariah 3:1–2

We see the Angel of the Lord, whom most scholars believe is a reference to Christ, rebuking Satan by using the name of the Lord. Essentially, God rebukes the devil by using his own name. We also see this with Michael, the archangel, in Jude 1:9. He rebukes Satan by using the Lord’s name. We, similarly, see the Apostles commanding demons to leave in the name of the Lord (Acts 16:18). There may be times where you stand firm in the faith by commanding demonic anxieties, lies of the devil, or other demonic works to cease in Jesus name.

James, like Peter, commands believers to resist the devil. He says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Sometimes, we resist the devil by rebuking him in Christ’s name. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas 4:7).

4. Standing firm in the faith means living a life of worship.

We see that David ministered to Saul, who had a tormenting spirit, through worship (1 Sam 16:23). When David, the psalmist of Israel, would play the harp, the demon would flee. Worship is a powerful weapon in resisting the devil. However, the person who lives in complaining and worry often opens the door for the enemy in their lives. It is through worship and thanksgiving that many of Satan’s arrows are extinguished.

We choose to “give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for our lives” (1 Thess 5:18). When Job gave God thanks in the midst of his trial, he essentially thwarted the attack of the devil, who was trying to make him curse God. Worrying or complaining is not far from cursing God. It says, “God, you are not all wise” or “God, you do not care.”

Are you a thankful, worshipful Christian? Or are you a worrier and a complainer? Complaining brought the judgment of God on Israel while in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:10). Complaining is also contagious, as it tends to open the door for Satan to work in other people’s lives. Paul said, “Do all things without complaining and arguing” (Phil 2:14). Stand firm in your trust for God by worshiping him and giving him thanks.

5. Standing firm in the faith means to live a life of fellowship.

Finally, a believer resists the devil by walking in right relationship with the church. They pray for one another, encourage one another, and pick one another up. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:12).

The Christian who walks alone is the Christian who will come under great attack. In fact, it is discord, specifically unforgiveness, that seems to open the door for Satan into many believers’ lives. Listen to what Christ said to the disciples about unforgiveness:

Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart (emphasis mine).
Matthew 18:32–35

Christ says the person who does not forgive will be handed over to the torturers. Who are the torturers in this passage? It is the devil and his demons. Saul was handed over to a demon that tormented him (1 Sam 16). The Christian living in immorality in 1 Corinthians 5 was handed over to Satan for discipline.

God promises that when we don’t forgive others, we are handed over to the torturers. I believe there are many Christians who are going through trials simply because they have unforgivness in their hearts and are out of fellowship with the church or other Christians. The enemy torments them by bringing sickness; he torments them by bringing discord; he torments them by financial lack. If we are going to resist the devil, we must be walking in fellowship with the church, the body of Christ.

Are you standing firm in the faith?

It is the only way to resist the devil. Many Christians have begun to fall away from their firm stance in the faith. They fall away from reading and studying the Bible; they fall away from a consistent prayer life; they fall away from faithful attendance and fellowship with the church, and therefore, open the door for the enemy to attack them.

We see this all the time. When we have started to slip in practicing our faith: anxieties show up, anger shows up, and discord shows up. When we are not filled with God and living in faith, we find the enemies work everywhere in our lives.

This is particularly important for churches that have turned away from the firm stance in the faith. They do not preach the Word; they do not worship God in spirit and truth; they do not practice righteous living; they do not live in unity. It is in those contexts, you can be sure that you will find disorder and every work of the devil (Jas 3:14–16). The church must stand firm in the faith, or it will fall to the attacks of the evil one.

Application Question: How do you practice a lifestyle of standing firm in the faith in order to resist the devil? What ways does he commonly attack you?

Healthy Churches Resist the Devil by Persevering through Hope in God’s Grace

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. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:10-11

What is the final way we should resist the devil?

Christians should resist the devil by persevering through hope in Gods grace. We should not bail or quit in the midst of Satan’s attack because the one who is with us, is the God of all grace. He is the God who gives unmerited favor and blessing to those who persevere. Look at how Peter encourages these saints in their suffering. He says, “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” (1 Peter 5:10).

There is a measure of grace available to suffering saints. However, this grace only comes to those who persevere. Peter says “after you have suffered a little while.” A lot of Christians bail on the church when Satan attacks. They get mad at God. They get mad at the pastor and members. Many Christians are virtually “church hoppers.” They leave the church every time the enemy comes. Some pastors are like that.

Look at what Jesus said to his disciples:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it (emphasis mine).
John 10:11-12

Sadly, many of our leaders won’t stand, won’t persevere when Satan attacks. Like the hireling, the one who is only there for pay, they flee the church. However, the good shepherd stands when the wolf comes. This is how all Christians should respond to Satan’s attacks. These attacks may come through the moral failure of a leader, it may come through a spirit of division, it may come through false teaching or a cult. Either way, we must together resist and persevere.

We should persevere because God gives grace to those who do so. He blesses congregants who persevere together against the roaring lion.

Observation Question: Why should believers persevere through trials that the devil brings and what are the benefits of this perseverance according to 1 Peter 5:10-11?

1. The trial will only last a little while.

Peter says the trial will only last a little while. Trials are temporary. They are probably temporary in time, but they are certainly temporary in comparison to eternity. Soon the King is coming, or we will leave this earth to go to the King shortly. Therefore, we should not lose our confidence. Peter comforts these Christians with the brevity of trials.

2. The trial will develop our character and mature us.

Peter says through the trial we will be restored. The word translated restore can also be translated “mending nets” or “preparing their nets” in Matthew 4:21: “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them.”

In the context, James and John are preparing their nets to cast into the lake to catch fish. They are fixing holes and tears in order to be more effective fisherman. Similarly, God uses trials to mend us and make us more effective. The trial exposes sin or character flaws so he can fix them. The trial is used to strengthen existing virtues in his ministers such as patience, joy and peace. Through the trial, he prepares his ministers. He mends us as a fisherman does his nets, so we can better serve him and others.

Don’t quit in the trial because God’s plan is to mend you through it so you can be more useful in ministry (2 Cor 1:3–6).

3. The trial will make you strong to stand in other trials but also in order to help others.

Peter said that after we had persevered, God would make us strong. Trials are like lifting weights. They build strength so we can persevere through other difficulties in life. God, also, makes people strong through trials so they can, in the future, carry others. “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak (emphasis mine) and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Rom 15:1–2).

The strong are given a ministry of caring for those who are weak. Where weaker Christians in the faith often isolate themselves during trials and become very self–focused, the strong serve others even amidst their own difficulties. This is a grace that God gives; he not only gives strength but makes strength a characteristic of this person.

Has God made you strong?

4. The trial will make you firm.

Young Christians are often up and down in their spiritual life; they go from spiritual high to spiritual low. In fact, Paul describes spiritual infants as those tossed to and fro like a wave by false teaching and other evils.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
Ephesians 4:14

But the Christian who has persevered through suffering becomes firm. They start to have a steady consistent walk with the Lord. God makes us firm through our trials if we persevere through them. The mature are no longer tossed to and fro; they have become firm.

5. The trial will make you steadfast.

The word steadfast actually means to “lay a foundation.” When you lay a foundation, you are preparing not only to stand in storms but to build more. Your trial is just the platform in your life for God to build you up more into the image of Christ and a vessel that is useful for him. This trial is a necessary component of that process. A house without a foundation will not stand (Matt 7:24–27).

There are some specific trials that have happened in my life that are foundational for my current ministry. My struggle with depression for a year and half during college and the military was foundational for my current ministry. I minister daily from that reservoir. It was there God gave me a love for his Word; it was there I studied the Word the hardest I have in my life (including seminary). It was there he removed much of the dross (excess) from my life and left him alone. It was there God gave me a heart for others who were hurting and the empathy to really minister to them. My sufferings are the foundations of my ministry.

In our trials, we must persevere individually and as a community because it is in the trial that God mends us and prepare us for further ministry. He makes us strong to bear others up. He makes us steady instead of up and down. He makes us steadfast, laying a foundation for future growth and ministry.

Let us resist the devil by persevering through our trials. God has promised us his abundant grace.

Conclusion

How do healthy churches and church members resist the Devil?

  1. Healthy churches resist the devil by recognizing him and his tactics
  2. Healthy churches resist the devil by being sober and self-controlled
  3. Healthy churches resist the devil by standing firm in the faith
  4. Healthy churches resist the devil by persevering through hope in God’s grace

Chapter Notes

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Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.


1 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/on+the+prowl

2 Fisher, Bonnie S., Cullen, Franscis T., and Turner, Michael T (2000). The sexual victimization of college women. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Ecclesiology (The Church), Satanology

Appendix 1: Study Group Tips

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In leading a small group using the Bible Teacher’s Guide it can be done in various ways. One format for leading a small group is the “study group” model where each member prepares and shares in the teaching. This appendix will cover tips for facilitating a weekly study group.

  1. Each week the members of the study group will read through a select chapter of the guide, answer the reflection questions (see Appendix 2), and come prepared to share in the group.
  2. Prior to each meeting, a different member can be selected to lead the group, and share question 1 of the reflection questions, which is to give a short summary of the chapter read. This section of the gathering could last anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. This way, each member can develop their gift of teaching. It also will make them study harder during the week. Or the other option is that each week the same person could share the summary.
  3. After the summary has been given, the leader for that week will facilitate discussions through the rest of the reflection questions and also ask select application questions from the chapter.
  4. After discussion, the group will share prayer requests and pray for one another.

The strength of the study group is the fact that the members will be required to prepare their responses before the meeting, which will allow for easier discussion. In addition, each member will be given the opportunity to teach which will further equip their ministry skills. The study group model has distinct advantages.

Appendix 2: Reflection Questions

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Writing is one of the best ways to learn. In class, we take notes and write papers and all these methods are used to help us learn and retain the material. It’s the same thing with the Word of God. Obviously, all of the authors of Scripture were writers. This helped them better learn the Scriptures and also enabled them to more effectively teach it. In studying God’s word with the Bible Teachers Guide, take time to write so you can similarly grow both in your learning and teaching.

  1. How would you summarize the main points of the text/chapter? Write a brief summary.
  2. What stood out to you most in the reading? Did any of the contents trigger any memories or experiences? If so, please share them.
  3. What follow-up questions did you have about the reading? What parts did you not fully agree with?
  4. What applications did you take from the reading and how do you plan to implement them into your life?
  5. Write several commitment statements: As a result of my time studying Gods Word, I will…
  6. What are some practical ways you can pray as a result of studying the text? Spend some time ministering to the Lord through prayer.

Lesson 62: The Teacher’s Tears (John 11:28-37)

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July 20, 2014

Several years ago a young couple that visited our church wanted to talk with me after the service. They had moved here from out of state because the wife had landed a good job. But after a short time on the job, she was terminated, from her perspective, without cause. She was angry and bitter towards God because they thought that they had followed Him in moving here. Now they were without work and without funds to move back home.

I shared with them that the Lord was in control of their difficult situation and that He had many lessons to teach them if they would trust Him. The husband had a good attitude and seemed teachable, but the wife wouldn’t listen. She kept insisting that God had let them down. Later the husband came for further counsel because she angrily left him to return to their former location.

That woman was a sad example of how we as Christians should not respond when sudden trials come into our lives. The Bible gives us another option: Rather than growing angry and withdrawing from the Lord, we can draw near to Him in submission to His sovereign hand, knowing that He cares for us. It’s okay to draw near to Him with tears of grief and confusion. The main thing is to draw near with a submissive heart, trusting in His sovereign love and care for you.

Mary, the sister of Martha, did that when Jesus came to Bethany after the death of their brother, Lazarus. Martha first went to the Lord as He came into their village, but Mary stayed in the house. Then after her interview with Jesus, Martha came and whispered to Mary (11:28), “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” Mary did not say, “I’m too angry right now even to talk to Him!” Rather, she did what we should do in our times of trouble: She got up quickly and went to Jesus (11:29). She fell at His feet weeping and repeated what Martha had said (11:32), “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

The significant thing is that Jesus did not rebuke her for her tears or her lack of faith. Rather, we read in the shortest verse in the English Bible (11:35), “Jesus wept.” While commentators differ in interpreting Jesus’ emotions here, as I’ll explain, I believe that John wants us to see Christ’s compassion for these sisters in their loss. This story pictures what Hebrews 4:15-16 declares,

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Our text teaches us that …

The call and compassion of the Teacher should cause us to draw near to Him in our trials.

In difficult times, John wants us personally to apply Martha’s words (11:28), “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

1. Christ is the Teacher and He calls you to come to Him and learn from Him in your trials.

A. We learn the most in the school of Christ when we draw near to Him in our trials.

Martha did not say, as she easily could have, “Jesus is here and is calling for you.” Rather, she calls Him, “The Teacher.” Jesus is the Teacher par excellence and His most effective lessons are often when we’re hurting the most. We all tend to be rather self-sufficient. Many years ago there was a TV commercial (I can’t remember what it was advertising) where mother was trying to give advice to her young adult daughter and the daughter would reply in frustration, “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself!” We’re often like that with the Lord—we think that we can do it by ourselves, without His help.

But then trials hit and we realize the truth of Jesus’ words (John 15:5), “apart from Me you can do nothing.” It’s at these overwhelming times that we can learn the most about Christ’s all-sufficiency, if we draw near to Him.

Dr. William Coltman, the pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Michigan from 1914-1956, wrote (source unknown):

Until I learned to trust, I never learned to pray;
And I did not learn to fully trust ’til sorrows came my way.

Until I felt my weakness, His strength I never knew;
Nor dreamed ’til I was stricken that He could see me through.

Who deepest drinks of sorrow, drinks deepest, too, of grace;
He sends the storm so He Himself can be our hiding place.

His heart that seeks our highest good, knows well when things annoy;
We would not long for heaven if earth held only joy.

And so, in a time of trials or grief, realize that you’re enrolled in the school of Christ and He has just given you a great opportunity to learn more about His all-sufficiency.

B. Christ tailors His lessons for each student according to the student’s needs.

Martha was the take-charge, get things done, sister. She was the one (Luke 10:38-42) who was busy getting the meal prepared when Jesus visited their home, while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach. She scolded the Lord on that occasion because He didn’t tell Mary to get up and help her. But the Lord gently rebuked Martha for being worried and bothered about so many things, while Mary had chosen the better part.

In John 11, when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she got up and went to Him. Jesus dealt with her on a doctrinal level, claiming to be the resurrection and the life, and then challenging her (11:26), “Do you believe this?” He knew that she needed this doctrinal foundation so that she would glorify Him in this trial.

But when Mary fell at Jesus’ feet in tears, He sympathized with her and wept, without any discussion of biblical truth. He knew that she needed to feel His compassion and that she later would glorify Him because He entered into her sorrow.

Two applications: First, recognize that the Lord always deals with you according to your personality to teach you what you need to grow in every trial. All parents who have more than one child know that each child is different. You can’t deal with them in exactly the same way because they are wired differently and they learn differently. The Teacher does that with His children. He tutors you individually, in a way that you can best learn the lessons. But you need to try to understand, through prayer and the Word, “What does the Teacher want me to learn through this trial?”

Second, we should be sensitive to the unique personalities of others when we try to comfort or help them in difficult situations. Some may need a word of encouragement, whereas others don’t need any words, but just for you to be with them and cry with them. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to helping others in their time of need. So pray for sensitivity and wisdom as you try to help.

But for us to trust Jesus as our Teacher in times of trial, we have to know Him. The more we know who He is, the easier it is to trust Him. Thus John shows us that…

2. The Teacher who calls us to Himself is fully God and fully man; thus He can help us in our trials.

This chapter shows us both Jesus’ humanity and His deity. We see His humanity very plainly in 11:34-35, where Jesus asks the location of the tomb and then He weeps. But we see His deity earlier in the chapter, when He knows that Lazarus is dead and that He is going to raise him from the dead (11:11, 14); and when He tells Martha that He is the resurrection and the life and that whoever believes in Him will live even if he dies and will never die (11:25-26). Many years ago, I read this paragraph by Alfred Edersheim, (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Eerdmans] 1:198), and I’ve always remembered it as I read the gospels:

It has been observed, that by the side of every humiliation connected with the Humanity of the Messiah, the glory of His Divinity was also made to shine forth. The coincidences are manifestly undesigned on the part of the Evangelic writers, and hence all the more striking. Thus, if he was born of the humble Maiden of Nazareth, an Angel announced His birth; if the Infant-Saviour was cradled in a manger, the shining host of heaven hymned His Advent. And so afterwards—if He hungered and was tempted in the wilderness, Angels ministered to Him, even as an Angel strengthened Him in the agony of the garden. If He submitted to baptism, the Voice and vision from heaven attested His Sonship; if enemies threatened, He could miraculously pass through them; if the Jews assailed, there was the Voice of God to glorify Him; if He was nailed to the cross, the sun craped his brightness, and earth quaked; if He was laid in the tomb, Angels kept its watches, and heralded His rising.

The fact that Jesus is fully man means that He can identify and sympathize with our problems. The fact that He is fully God means that He is sovereign over and can help with them. (Of course, the God who made us completely understands us and is full of compassion towards us; Ps. 103:13-14. But Jesus’ humanity especially qualifies Him to sympathize with us; Heb. 4:15.) Three aspects of Jesus’ humanity shine from our text (I’m drawing these headings from James Boice, John [Zondervan], one-vol. ed., pp. 749-753, who seems to be following C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 35:338-346):

A. Jesus experienced grief and deep feelings, just as we do.

Isaiah (53:3) prophesied that Jesus would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The fact that Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus shows that whatever our grief may be, Jesus knows it and He enters into it with us.

But at this point, we encounter some difficult interpretive matters. The world translated “deeply moved” (11:33 & 38, NASB, ESV, NIV; “groaned, NJKV) is difficult to understand. It’s only used three other times in the New Testament and in those places it has a meaning that does not seem to fit here. In Matthew 9:30 & Mark 1:43, it means, “strictly charged” or “sternly warned.” In Mark 14:5, it refers to the scolding of the woman (Mary) who anointed Christ with expensive ointment. The parallel (Matt. 26:8) uses a different word to say that they were indignant with her. In the LXX, the word refers to anger or being indignant (Dan. 11:30; noun in Lam. 2:6). Thus many commentators think that in John 11:33 & 38, Jesus was angry or indignant (The New Living Translation). Some think that He was indignant with the unbelief expressed by Mary and the others (11:32, 37); or He was angry with the death that God decreed because of man’s fall into sin.

But S. Lewis Johnson (sermon on this text, online at sljinstitute.net) mentions a Professor Black from the University of St. Andrews who studied this word thoroughly and concluded that it does not have the nuance of anger. And since anger does not seem to fit the context here, some argue that the word can refer to being deeply moved (as the NASB, ESV, & NIV translate it). The word was used in extra-biblical Greek to refer to the snorting of a horse preparing for battle. Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 442) views it as Jesus gearing up for the conflict as our champion in the battle against sin and death.

One other suggestion is worth considering. F. Godet (Commentary on the Gospel of John [Zondervan], 2:184) questions why Jesus didn’t feel the same emotion towards death at the other two resurrections that He performed. He says that here Jesus realizes that raising Lazarus will precipitate the hostility of His enemies that will lead to His own death on the cross. The accompanying verb (11:33, “troubled Himself”) is also used as Jesus contemplates His impending death in John 12:27 & 13:21. Thus perhaps Jesus is deeply moved both by the sisters’ grief and by what He knows will happen after He raises Lazarus. R. H. Lightfoot (cited by Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 557, n. 69) commented, “The expression used here implies that He now voluntarily and deliberately accepts and makes His own the emotion and the experience from which it is His purpose to deliver men.”

So while we cannot be certain of the exact meaning of John’s word, we can know that our Savior was not a Stoic. Even though He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus, it didn’t prevent Him from entering into the sisters’ grief. He experienced deep feelings and grief, just as we do. And even though He knows that one day He will wipe away all of our tears (Rev. 21:4) He still sympathizes with us in all of our sorrows.

B. Jesus was not ashamed to display human emotions.

Jesus could have restrained His tears. After all, He knew that He would soon raise Lazarus. Besides, His tears could be misinterpreted as weakness or frustration on His part, as some of the Jews surmised (11:37). But Jesus did not worry about that. He was completely human (without a sin nature) and His tears show that it’s not wrong to express our feelings as long as our hearts are submissive to God. The NT states three times that Jesus wept (here; Luke 19:41, over Jerusalem’s unbelief; and Heb. 5:7, in the Garden of Gethsemane), but never that He laughed (but, see Luke 10:21).

It’s worth noting that John uses a different word (11:33) for weeping to describe the loud wailing of Mary and the mourners than the word in 11:35, which could be translated, “Jesus burst into tears.” Jesus wept, but He was not wailing in despair. In the words of Paul (1 Thess. 4:13), believers are to grieve, but not as those who have no hope. It’s interesting, also, that while the shortest verse in the English Bible is John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” the shortest verse in the Greek NT is 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always!” Those verses are not contradictory! As Paul put it (Rom. 12:15), “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus entered into the sorrow of these sisters. As we become more like our Savior, we should not become more stoical, but rather people who express godly emotions.

C. Jesus’ love underlies all His actions.

In 11:36 we read in response to Jesus’ weeping, “So the Jews were saying, ‘See how He loved him!” And they were right, because John has previously underscored Jesus’ love for Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (11:3, 5). In fact, Jesus’ love for these dear friends was the reason He stayed two days longer where He was, allowing Lazarus to die (11:6). Love always seeks the highest good for the one loved, and the highest good for anyone is that he or she gets a greater vision of God’s glory and thus grows in faith. Both of these aims were behind Jesus’ delay in going to Bethany (11:4, 15, 40).

But some of the Jews questioned both Jesus’ love and His power when they said (11:37), “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” They couldn’t reconcile Jesus’ love and power with Lazarus’ death. And in a time of severe trials, the enemy may whisper to you, “God must not love you or He isn’t able to prevent trials like you’re going through. You shouldn’t trust Him!”

But at such times, never interpret God’s love by your difficult circumstances, but rather interpret your circumstances by His love (modified from, C. H. Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Writings [Loizeaux Brothers], vol. 6, “Bethany,” pp. 17-18). He could have prevented your trial. But as H. E. Hayhoe wrote (“Sentence Sermons,” exact source unknown), “He will never allow a trial in your life without a needs be on your part and a purpose of love on His part.”

Thus, Christ is the Teacher and He calls you to come to Him and learn from Him in your trials. And, the Teacher who calls us to Himself is fully God and fully man; thus He can help us in our trials. Finally,

3. In your trials, come to the Teacher just as you are, quickly and submissively.

Martha’s words to Mary (11:28) are the Lord’s words for us when we’re hurting: “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

A. Jesus is always present and is waiting for you to come to Him in your trials.

Jesus was there, but Mary had to get up and go to Him. And even though you may not feel His presence, He is always present and available to give grace if you go to Him in your trials.

B. Come to Jesus just as you are and share your feelings with Him.

Mary went immediately when she heard that the Teacher was there and calling for her. She didn’t say, “I’ve been crying for four days. My mascara is streaked, my eyes are red and swollen. I can’t go to Jesus like this! I need to go and make myself presentable!”

But we often do that with the Lord. We’re in the midst of a trial or problem and we think, “I can’t go to the Lord until I get myself more together. I’ll wait until I’m calmer and more in control of my emotions.” But grace is for the undeserving, not for the deserving. Go to Jesus with your tears and He will weep with you.

If you’ve never come to Christ for salvation, the only way that you can come is just as you are. If you try to clean up your life or make yourself more presentable to Him, you don’t understand His grace. As the old hymn (by Charlotte Elliott) goes,

Just as I am, without one plea,

But that Thy blood was shed for me,

And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come! I come.!

C. Come to Jesus quickly.

Mary “got up quickly and was coming to Him” (11:29). She had friends at her side who were consoling her. She could have thought, “What will they think if I leave them and go to Jesus?” Or, she could have thought that their consolations were enough. But as comforting as our friends may be, they are no substitute for the Teacher who calls us to Himself. Don’t delay: Go to Jesus quickly! The sooner you go, the sooner you’ll experience His comfort and compassion.

D. Come to Jesus’ feet.

Mary went and fell at Jesus’ feet (11:32). Every time we encounter Mary in the Gospels, she is at Jesus’ feet. In Luke 10:39, she was “seated at The Lord’s feet, listening to His word.” In our text, she pours out her grief at Jesus’ feet. In John 12:3, she anointed Jesus’ feet with the expensive ointment and dried them with her hair, as she prepared Him for His burial. In this, she is an example for us: First, learn God’s word about Jesus. Then you’ll know Him so that you can take your sorrows to Him in a time of grief. That will lead you to worship Him as the one who died for your sins.

Conclusion

A mission executive from the United States was visiting a school in Kenya where he was listening as teenage girls shared how they had been blessed by hearing the Bible in their own language. One girl testified that the verse that had the greatest impact on her was Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Another said that the verse that had the greatest impact on her was John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” She said that when she wept in the night, she knew that Jesus was weeping with her.

The mission executive wondered why these two girls were mourning and weeping. He thought that maybe they had chosen these verses to share because they were short and easy to remember. But the school’s teacher leaned over and whispered to him that both of these girls had lost their parents to AIDS. Jesus’ compassion comforted them in their losses. In the same way, the Teacher calls you to come to Him with your tears. He cares for you and He will cry with you. Come to Him!

Application Questions

  1. Which trials has God used to teach you the most? What lessons have you learned through them?
  2. Most men find it difficult to cry. How can we grow in tenderness and godly sympathy?
  3. The Psalms show us that there is a right way to complain to the Lord. What is it? Was Mary sinning here with her complaint (in 11:32)? Why/why not?
  4. Are emotions neutral or are they sometimes sinful? Support your answer with Scripture.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Character of God, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

Preface

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And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
2 Timothy 2:15

Paul’s words to Timothy still apply to us today. There is a need to raise up teachers who clearly and fearlessly teach the Word of God. It is with this hope in mind that the Bible Teacher’s Guide (BTG) series has been created. The series includes both expositional book studies and topical studies. This guide will be useful for teachers who are preparing to lead small groups, give sermons or simply for an individual’s devotional study.

Each lesson is based around the hermeneutical principle that the original authors wrote in a similar manner as we do today—with the intention of being understood. Each paragraph and chapter of Scripture is centered around one main thought often called the Big Idea. After finding the Big Idea for each passage studied, the Big Question was created which will lead the small group through the entire gamut of the text. Alongside the Big Question, hermeneutical questions such as Observation Questions, Interpretation Questions, and Application Questions have been added. Observation questions point out pivotal aspects of the text. Interpretation questions lead us into understanding what the text means through looking at the context or other Scripture. Application questions lead us to life principles coming out of the text. It was never the intent for all these questions to be used, but they have been given to help guide the teacher in the preparation of his own lesson.

The purpose of this guide is to make the preparation of the teacher easier, as many commentaries and sermons have been used in the development of each lesson. At the end of each lesson, there will be a notes page for the reader to place his or her own ideas, thoughts, revelations, or questions. This will help in one’s meditation and preparation to teach.

After meditation and preparation is completed, the small group leader can follow the suggested teaching outline, if preferred. (1) The leader would introduce the text and present the big question in the beginning of the study. (2) He would allow several minutes for the members to search out answers from within the text, questions, or ways God spoke to them. (3) Then the leader would facilitate the discussion of the findings and lead the group along through observation, interpretation, and application questions provided in the guide. The leader may find teaching part or the entire lesson preferred and then giving application questions. The leader can also choose to use a “Study Group” method of facilitation, where each member prepares beforehand and shares teaching responsibility (see Appendix 1 and 2). Some leaders may find that corporately reading each main point in a study followed by a brief discussion as the most effective method.

Again, the Bible Teachers Guide can be used as a manual to follow in teaching, a resource to use in preparation for teaching or simply as an expositional devotional to enrich one’s own study. I pray that the Lord may bless your study, preparation, and teaching and that in all of it, you will find the fruit of the Holy Spirit abounding in your own life and the lives of those you instruct.

Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.

八福(马太福音5:1-12)

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「八福」是福音书中最为人喜爱的篇章之一,它记录在马太福音5-7,这是「登山宝训」的开始部份。这篇章可能是耶稣较后期才宣讲的道,但马太却将它放在耶稣世上事工的开端,使它成了天国的隆重宣告。它是马太福音所包含的五个主要宣讲的第一个。

在耶稣受试探和八福之间,马太记述因天国近了,耶稣呼唤人悔改(4:12-17)。为了要接触更多的听众,耶稣从拿撒勒前往加利利海沿岸的城市迦百农,到这里来更重要的原因是这里是交通要道。祂在呼唤悔改后,才宣告八福将要来临。

在耶稣受试探和登山宝训之间,马太记述了耶稣呼召渔夫西门彼得和他的弟兄安得烈作门徒(4:18-20),因祂开始建立祂的国度,祂承诺他们要得人如得鱼。接着祂呼召那正在船上补网,同样是渔夫的雅各和约翰(4:21-22)。这些事件充份描绘了那呼召人跟随祂的,有君王的权柄。

马太接着报告了耶稣初期事工的成功和祂的名声传扬(4:23-25)。祂走遍了那地区,宣讲天国的信息,并透过医治人来证明祂的宣告。响应祂的事工的人远至耶路撒冷。

这将我们带到登山宝训的课题。耶稣看到许多的人,祂就上了山坐下来,那是拉比惯常的姿势。传统认为这「山」是迦百农和近岸渔村一带的小丘。门徒到祂跟前来,祂就开始教导他们。接着的经文就是耶稣的教导。1

这是福音书里最早有关耶稣教导的信息、也是最长的一篇。耶稣宣告天国已来临,祂呼召人悔改。耶稣在祂的天国宣言中,揭示了天国子民的基础和特质。在这里,祂教导在祂国度里的伦理指引,也有关于天国的公义素质的指引;现时这些只是局部实践, 但将来要完全对现。2

这段说话的对象是以色列,就是那来到耶稣那里的群众,但耶稣的门徒一听,便明白耶稣以祂的门徒是「真以色列」(属灵的以色列),他们已在祂的国度里,并且已开始了生命。祂也以那在祂面前的群众是将来的「以色列」,期待他们悔改并追随他们的君王。换句话说,耶稣的对象是那按神旨意成为神子民的人,告诉他们,假如他们悔改进入祂的国度,他们需要展示的义,那也是门徒们已经开始实践的。故此,整篇登山宝训,也是给所有人。登山宝训的主题是义,这也是天国的标准。

故此这宣讲中述说了进入天国的人当有的义、也述说了天国子民过着义的生活时,那生命会是怎样的;但却没有怎样达到这义的细节。

登山宝训以八福来开始。这些品格描绘了神真正子民的特质,也提供了在天国有份的人可以期盼的福份。将它们合起来,可以得出一幅承继应许完美基督徒的图画。耶稣在这里并不是告诉人怎样达到这情况,那是祂接下来的教导。

有关八福的描述中,众多为人接纳的其中一项是八福是以赛亚书61:1-3的回响,一篇以末世论3为重点的经文。马太恒常地指出耶稣就是那旧约预言的应验,在这里也是。所以读八福,我们也会看看以赛亚关于弥赛亚和弥赛亚国度的预言。

研读八福和一般经文的研读方法并不相同,每一个福都像箴言智慧语般那么晦涩难懂、精确和意义丰富。每一福都包含一个主题,组成圣经的重要教导。故此,若你愿意,每一福都值得花上许许多多的时间。但在这里,我们只作简洁略述,稍后再作进深研读。

經文

5:1 当耶稣看见这许多的人,就上了山1,既已坐下,门徒到他跟前来。 2 他就开口教训他们说:

5:3 「灵里贫穷2的人有福3了,因为天国是属于4他们的。

5:4哀恸的人有福了,因为他们必得安慰5

5:5温柔的人有福了,因为他们必承受地土。

5:6饥渴慕义6的人有福了,因为他们必得饱足。

5:7怜恤人的人有福了,因为他们必蒙怜恤。

5:8清心的人有福了,因为他们必得见 神。

5:9使人和睦的人有福了,因为他们必称为 神的儿子7

5:10为义受逼迫的人有福了,因为天国是属于他们的。

5:11人若因我侮辱你们、逼迫你们、揑造各样坏话毁谤你们,你们就有福了,5:12应当欢喜快乐,因为你们在天上的赏赐是大的。在你们以前的先知,人也是这样逼迫他们。

经文观察

在这里我们没有叙事,只有一系列的宣告。至于5:1-2的叙事只是这讲章的引子,讲章从宣告开始。八福中的每一个福都是宣言,但却是含蓄的、勉励性的,呼召人作出响应。

研读八福和别的经文有少许分别。然而我们仍需要注意上下文和第一世纪犹太人的文化和信仰背景,也须留意八福所处的登山宝训所宣告的天国性质。这里会处理在这样背景下的字义,特别是文化背景,因为从文化背景更能了解这些希伯来文和亚兰文。好的工具书、经文汇编或圣经字典对处理字义,例如:「温柔」、「贫穷」等字,都有帮助。4

当我们掌握字义后,我们便要处理句子之间的关系,「福」和应许之间的关联。要明白耶稣的这些话,我们必须从新旧约和天国相关的教导入手。在这里,我们看到耶稣第一次降临标志着国度已经开始,信徒在这国度里;但我们在基督再来时将会看到这国度的完全实现。故此,这些经文都必须符合天国度的这两方面的观念。

大部份有关这段经文的注释都说是八福,但如果你加以留意,其实「福」出现了九次。最后一次「福」的出现,所用的格式和前面并不相同,它并不是以「有福了」的形式出现,却好像是为前面的第八个「福」加以解释和向门徒展示可以怎样作具体应用。

也许在开始部份我们先简略地介绍「福」这个字,这对我们理解这段经文会有帮助。现代偏向将原文的这个字译作「快乐」,但这却未能完全捕捉文本所包含的所有含意。主要原因是现代「快乐」这词的用法低贬了它的价值;这词在这经文中含有因与神有正确合宜的关系,而有的内在喜乐与和平。故此,「快乐」可以是其中的一部份,但它是超乎在我们身边发生的事情。这「快乐」因蒙神悦纳而来到我们的心灵,因此就是面对严峻的逼迫,仍呼召人要喜乐。主那些「福」的宣告,是给有内在属灵品格的人奖赏承诺;从另一个角度来说,是主对与神有合宜关系的人的属灵品格和状况的描述。

与耶稣在马太福音第五章所述的「福」相对的,是马太福音第23章对文士和法利赛人宣告的「有祸了」。那是神审判那些背道、拒绝承认和遵行神的全部旨意的人。这些「祸」中,也描述了那些人邪恶和假冒为善的品格。这些祸是神誓言给那些继续行恶的人的审判。

所以当耶稣说「有福了」的时候,并不是单单指那些在神看为正的人充满了内在的喜乐与平安,而是因他们的品格给予赞赏,并承诺赏赐他们。

一篇有趣又和这经文相关的旧约经文是箴言6:16-19,那里列出神所憎厌的七件事。那被认为和那些因行义而从神得福的人对立。第一样是「高傲的眼」或高傲,这绝对和灵里贫穷相反;最后一样是「在弟兄中布散分争的人」却和使人和睦相背。在这两者之间还包括了撒谎的舌,流无辜人血的手,图谋恶计的心,飞跑行恶的脚,吐谎言的假见证,这些都和神所喜爱的属灵品格有着显著的差异。

八福的进一步分析

也许研读八福的最佳方法是逐一从基础开始 – 定义、背景、关连与应用。假如你要在课堂中教授八福,你如果在逐一探讨它们时便讨论它们的应用,比在最后才尝试逐一提出应用,会有较理想的效果。

1. 「灵里贫穷2的人有福3了,因为天国是属于4他们的。

背景 :要理解八福的其中一个方法是从旧约背景入手,查考有关弥赛亚国度和进入这国度的人。这些经文中,我曾提及以赛亚书61:1-3,在那篇经文中,弥赛亚被膏「传福音给贫穷的人」(在路加福音第四章,耶稣读这经文并说这已经应验在他们耳中了。)那篇经文对我们理解「贫穷」有少许帮助。我们会倾向将「贫穷」朝财务和财产的方向来理解,这可以是其中的一部份,但还可以从属灵方面去看。以赛亚用它来描述那些被掳的人,他们的土地和财产被剥夺,固然贫穷,但他们也受折磨和压迫,无力对抗、也没有希望,他们是绝望的,他们灵里的贫穷,使他们的困境加剧。

文的意 :圣经对贫穷人的描述包括几方面:在耶稣时代的穷人,只有很少财产、常常受压迫,没有什么力量和希望。他们没有甚么资源可依赖,他们不得不依靠他人生存。以赛亚为他那时代的人带来好信息 – 他们将从捆绑中得释放。耶稣是透过传从神而来的好信息 – 福音,应验了这好信息的应许。祂并没有使他们在地上权力和财物上富裕,但他却满足了他们最大的需要。

「灵里贫穷」的人在神前谦卑下来。他们明白到他们此生没有甚么贡献可以拿来换取天国。他们在灵里痛心疾首,意即他们虚己,并深深地悔悟;他们以无助无望的罪人身份来到王前,没有骄傲、没有自义、也不自满。他们从伪装得释放,故此他们有空间让神进入他们的生命。每一个希望进天国的人都必须「灵里贫穷」,因从神而来的救恩是一份礼物。

这就是给这世上真正被压迫的和穷人的好信息。穷人并不因为他们贫穷而被排拒,富人亦不会因他们的财富被接纳。不论富或贫,都必须在主面前谦卑下来,才可成为天国的成员。低下阶层往往比有财势的人更容易进天国。

耶稣宣告的福是「天国是他们的」,这当然并不表示所有贫穷的人都是天国的一员,就如「浪子」的贫穷是自己弄成的。因为重点不在于物质上的贫穷,而是灵里的质量,那些灵里贫穷而谦卑自己,倚靠神的人,他们拥有天国。事实上,每一个在天国里的人,都必须灵里贫穷。他们都以一颗破碎的心和痛悔的灵去寻找救主。

应用 :这里有一个清晰的教导:如果要进天国,就必须灵里贫穷。天国的信息是呼唤人悔改,人必须在神前谦卑下来,并承认他们的权势、财富或面子不能替他赢得进入天国。那些真正谦卑下来的和表达需要主的,他们于天国有份,并且得到天国的恩泽。

人怎样成为灵里贫穷呢?按接下来的经文,当人听到天国的信息,并且明白天国是怎么样的和怎样进天国 – 透过悔改回转、降服于神的旨意。第一步是承认自己不能作甚么,接着是寻求神满有恩慈的供应。

第二个应用,是将这态度建立成天国成员的品格。他们并不是虚己进入天国,跟着成为自足(虽然有些人尝试这样做),而是完完全全倚靠神供应他们所需。这开展了其他研读的主题,例如:谦逊、信心、祷告和顺服。

2. 哀恸的人有福了,因为他们必得安慰5。」

现在我们有一个略为不同的福。上一个福给灵里贫穷的人应许天国是他们的,原文用的是现在式;而这一个给哀恸的人必得安慰的应许,原文用的是未来式,是一个在将来才会成就的应许。

约背景 :以赛亚亦说弥赛亚医治心碎的人,并宣告在何时哀恸的人得安慰、华冠代替灰尘、喜乐油代替悲哀(以赛亚书61:1-3)。哀恸显示哀痛、优伤和因失去至爱而灵里焦虑,也可以是失去有价值的生命而哀恸,就如被掳的以色列人;也可以因失去财物、身份地位或健康而引发哀恸。人也会为天灾人祸而哀恸,当哀恸时,他们寻找希望,但大多数情况,世上只有极微的希望。

:这里的焦点是神的子民哀恸时,他们将会得安慰。每个人都会在人生不同阶段经历哀伤和悲惨的损失,但那在天国得安慰的哀恸是那为以色列蒙羞与及蒙羞的原因而哀恸 – 因他们的罪,国家被强横和无情的统治者掌控。耶稣降临并宣告天国近了,祂期待人的反应是痛哭悔悟(另参以赛亚书40:1)。弥赛亚会安慰那些哀恸的人,但得安慰是因为弥赛亚将他们从那使他们哀恸的罪中拯救出来。

故此这里所指的是「因着信」的哀恸,这哀恸并不单纯为生命中的苦楚与伤痛,而是为了那引致这境况的罪而哀伤。他们明白他们的忧伤愁叹是为了那失落败坏的世界,那里看不见神和祂的旨意。在哀恸中,耶稣的门徒向主打开他们沉重的心,因他们知道他们虽在哀伤中,但并非没有盼望!他们知道他们的哭泣和哀痛只会维持一段时间,他们知道死亡不会得到终极的胜利,因为在基督里死亡的,必会复活成不朽坏的,他们知道弥赛亚终有一日会把这些挪除,给他们带来安慰。

故此这应许是他们必得安慰。当神擦去他们的眼泪时,他们就得安慰;不再有死亡、不再忧伤或苦难(以赛亚书25:8,启示录21:4)。这是天国子民所能期待的。

应用 :这里的指引是关于哀恸的焦点,而不是哀恸本身。那得安慰的哀恸是门徒的哀恸,他们明确知道哀恸的原因,有正确的信心看透事件。当人面对生命的伤痛时刻,如他们为罪而哀伤,同样可以有盼望 – 这是信靠主的一个清晰的记号。

3. 「溫柔的人有福了,因为他们必承受地土。」

约背景 :这「福」和诗篇37:11「受困苦的人必拥有地土」十分相似。5 假如你研读那段经文,你将会发现那也是有关弥赛亚的诗篇,那地亦必是应许之地。

:在圣经里,温柔的人是指那些有温柔的心和自制力的人,他们的心灵没有恶念,也不高傲。温柔的人也许和贫穷的人一样没有自己的资源,但其后可能有,就如摩西被称为最谦和的人。6 温柔的人不剥削和压迫他人,他们不复仇或仇杀,不使用暴力,不试图为自己的目的夺取政权。概括而言,他们学效基督,在生活上模仿祂。但这并不表示他们软弱或他们的生活不济,他们可以是柔和谦卑,但他们也可成为弱者和受压迫者的斗士。

这里的应许是他们拥有地土。是甚么地土呢?很可能是指应许之地。整本圣经都提及神给以色列人应许,赐他们应许之地。拥有土地,并非单指财物,而是含有更大的意义,那不单是一块地,而是从神而来的产业,包含保障。但那地却常受到袭击,而人民被掳和被分散,在新约仍应许重新招聚到那地,那些应许现在看来要等到弥赛亚第二次降临,出现新天新地时才会实现。这应许是给所有在新约之下的人,而应许的应验会比任何人所能想象到的更荣美。新的创造不会被暴君或充满阴谋的团体所操纵,而是属于那温柔的人。

应用 :人怎能成为温柔的人呢?如果一个人的本性并不温柔又怎么样呢?答案可以在描述属灵生活怎样运作的经文找到。温柔和良善都是圣灵的果子,是圣灵在信徒中所结的果子。要培养在灵里的温柔,便是在圣灵的指引下而活,或将生命交给神的灵管辖,以致基督的特质能在信徒中长成。单是这指引便需要好些研习,但它是圣经对温柔的发展所作的描绘。

4. 「饥渴慕义6的人有福了,因为他们必得饱足。」

约背景 :饥与渴被比拟为追求公义的动力,追求公义是我们深层和恒常之需要(参诗篇42:3和63:1)。饥与渴是人类的基本动力,恒常要求被满足。这比喻用来描绘渴慕行神旨意是那么恒常与强烈。

:这福要说的比我们大多数人所想的更多,它并非单单描述那些正义的人或尝试行善的人,而是他们生命中的热诚 – 他们为此饥与渴。就如贫穷和温柔的人,他们将生命交在神的手中,希望祂帮助。

我们在这系列前面的文章已经思考过在圣经里义的意义,那就是行神的旨意。在这里,义这个字可能有两个意思:其一肯定是在个人生活中,强烈地渴望蒙神喜悦,按神的旨意去行,将神的旨意在生活中行出来;这生出希望在地上有公义,在一个不公义、欠缺公平的世界渴望社会公义出现。个人公义的渴望与所处的世界的公义是不能分割的。

正因这是一个合理的渴望,它是会成就的;或许不是即时成就,但肯定在将来当王以公义管治时应验。但王的应许是渴望公义的必得饱足。从神学角度来说,它分为几个阶段:最基本的渴望是与神有合宜的关系,这要透过神的恩典,那公义的礼物使我们因信称义,在天堂的法庭被宣告为义。接着,作为主的门徒,我们渴望作正义的事,并由圣灵加给能力来完成,我们称这阶段为生活的成圣,我们会愈来愈像基督。将来,当主再来时,祂会建立宇宙性的公义,我们将被改变,我们称这为得荣耀,我们会脱变成荣美的状态。

应用 :在这里我们同样会问这渴望是怎样形成的。大部份的信徒都追求公义,但这渴望是怎样变得那么热切的呢?这也是从属灵生命的成长而来。保罗教导一个属灵的人会将身体各部份交出来作义的工具。故此,这从委身遵行神的旨意开始,接着是由圣灵带领走属灵的路,祂带领信徒走义路。当一个人愈亲近主,他或她对不义和世界不公平的事就愈敏锐,一个真正属灵的人就会开始渴慕公义。

5. 「怜恤人的人有福了,因为他们必蒙怜恤。」

:和灵里贫穷、温柔和饥渴慕义的人的共同点是他们的生命都不是自足的,都需要外来的帮助。因他们自知有所缺乏、需倚靠别人、软弱和不完全,他们明白甚么是怜恤。当他们从主得到满有恩慈的礼物,他们亦知道应仁慈地对待他人。对别人表达仁慈包括宽恕有罪的人和怜悯那些受苦和需要帮助的人。

他们被称为有福的,因为他们会以仁慈对待他人,优先于自己的权益;对有需要的人,他们不会含敌意,却会和蔼亲切地对待他们,并医治他们。仁慈并非他们的本性,只因他们被仁慈地对待,他们并且恒常地倚靠主而活。

因为他们懂得怜悯和怜恤他人,故此神说他们必蒙怜恤。最终这要等待王的到来和审判的日子,他们会得到王的怜悯、通过审判和进入天国。他们得到怜恤并非因为他们做了足够的善行,而是因为他们知道走天路时怜恤的重要性,他们进入恩典中,并渴望与他人分享。他们学会了原谅别人,因为他们不断地被原谅;他们学会怜恤别人,因为他们每天都在蒙怜恤。

应用 :这里的怜恤行为来自真正灵命历程。那些得到神愈多恩典的,愈是怜恤他人。因此,在自己的生命中能好好地体会神的恩典是十分重要的。这体会是从经历认罪和感谢神的赦免而来。但这两方面却常常被信徒忽视,甚而有些基督徒竟然认为那恩典是他们应得的,以致他们变得那么不宽容别人,甚至论断他人。我们自己的属灵状况和神的供应是绝不能忘记的。

6. 「清心的人有福了,因为他们必得见 神。」

:这福从旧约取材加以运用,在天国应验。它同时描述了内在纯净和意念专一。「心」在圣经里表达人的志向与选择。故此清心指一个人所作的决定、心中的渴望、思想和意图都没有被罪沾染,所作的意愿,以讨神喜悦为依据。出自纯净清洁的心只有好东西,从纯净清洁的心而出的行为是爱与仁慈、渴慕公义与公平;从纯净清洁的心所作出的决定蒙神喜悦。

在信以外对人「心」的描述则截然不同 – 最恶劣的是时常因自私自利的行为带来痛苦(创世记6:5)。耶稣说从心里发出来的才污秽人,恶念、不纯正的欲望、毁谤等等(马太福音15:18-19)。人不可能在没有改变的情况下带来一颗纯净清洁的心,耶稣在这段经文并没有作解释,不过祂曾谈论重生,那是在改变之初所必须的。追随基督可以将一颗充满肉欲的心,转化成一颗纯净清洁的心。这并不容易,也不会迅速地改变,但进天国的人必须要有这颗新心。

圣经说从来没有人见过神(出埃及记33:18-23;提摩太前书6:16)。给他们的应许是他们必得见神,这是何等令人惊讶的声明!虽然有人曾见过主以不同的形态显现:摩西在西乃山见到神的背影(出埃及记33章),以色列的长老与神一起吃喝,看到神以某种形态显现(出埃及记24章)、以赛亚见过一次(以赛亚书6章)、约翰也曾见过基督显现(启示录1章)。

这是一个凭着信在现在的、就在这里的应许 – 他们在生活的各种场合和各事件看见神,但圣经的应许比这更多。在世上看见神被我们否定了,但有一天,天堂的门被打开,祂能被我们转化了的眼睛看见。如约伯说:「我知道我的救赎主活着,末了必站立在地上。我这皮肉灭绝之后,我的肉体仍必见 神。我自己要见他,亲眼要看他,并不像外人。我的心肠在我里面消灭了。」(约伯记19:25-27)

:一个人如何能得到一颗纯净清洁的心呢?当神给我们一颗「新心」的时候,它就开始转化,当我们追随基督,透过属灵成长,它会继续转化。行在光明中,意指学习按神的话语而活,这会改变我们的心思意念,我们的心就会愈来愈纯净。但同时神话语的亮光会将人内心的污秽显露出来,我们必须要处理和作出改变。

7. 「使人和睦的人有福了,因为他们必称为 神的儿子7。」

:神是和平之君,祂整个拯救计划是使那些以前和祂分隔的人与祂和平共处,最终给全地带来和平(以赛亚书9:6-7)。这是弥赛亚的工作目标。

不过人类当中充满纷争和冲突,和平与团结的希望极其渺茫。神带来的和平并不是消除敌意、容忍或退让;世上真正的和平需要性质上完完全全的改变,而只有神才能赐下这和平,这和平是世人所不明白的(约翰福音14:27)。它的起始点是与神和好,然后延伸至与人和好。

使人和睦的人是那些首先明白什么是真正和平的人。他们努力建立的和平是一个拥抱从神而来的和平,因他们与神和好,以至人与人之间能和谐共处。换句话说,真正缔造和睦的人传扬神的国度,他们的生命是为了宣扬神的国、与仇敌和好、平息仇恨、使分隔的人重新联系、促进真正的了解和属灵的爱。他们这样做是因为他们知道什么是真正的和平。因此,这里所描述的品格不是纯粹政治性追求和平,而是属灵的和平。

给他们的应许是他们必称为神的儿子。这意味着他们是神真正的儿子。在天国的生活除了拥有土地、仍然饥渴、看见神,而现在更有儿子的名分。当人们因信进入天国,这一切就开始了,当神的国最终临到时,就会完全应验。

在旧约,「神的儿子」是用来描述天使,而不是用于救恩。但在新约里,儿子的名份是救恩大有能力的表达,它的意思是指信徒从圣灵而生,成为神家的成员,透过神的儿子耶稣基督同为后嗣,和父神有了个人关系。这并未完全落实,但却是确实的、肯定的承诺,所以信徒可以说:「我们被称为神的儿女」。(参约翰福音1:12,13和约翰壹书3:1)

应用 :因此,耶稣的门徒应该促进和平。他们透过传和平的福音给全世界,并促进属灵的家和好。简而言之,他们应该做的就如弥赛亚的工作。

8. 「为义受逼迫的人有福了,因为天国是属于他们的。」

:在这堕落的世界,当人企图推广和平、拥护公义或过一个柔和谦卑的生活时,他们会被敌挡。或许有人想,这样的生活能吸引人归向主;但事实上,它不会自然地发生。这便告诉我们这世界不单与神隔绝,并且叛逆神。他们或许希望按自己的方式去寻求公义,他们宁可得到权力、尊荣和财富。就如施洗约翰呼召人悔改归向义,他因而早死;耶稣传扬正确的美德,因祂呼召人进入祂的国度,祂的信息却被敌挡。如果连他们都遇到逼迫,世人岂不也会逼迫门徒呢?

这福并不是给那单纯受逼迫的人。神是地上的公义审判官,祂也会处理这些。这福是给基督的追随者,那因义而受逼迫的人;接着的那节经文,澄清了受逼迫的人,指的是那为基督的原故而受苦的门徒。凭着信,他们被确定与王同在,他们披戴祂的名,他们传扬福音,传扬那属灵的、永恒的国度,一个公义的、和平的国度;然而他们会遇到阻拦。尽管如此,他们应该欢呼,他们在天国要得到大大的赏赐,神给他们的补偿会更多。

这福是给那些在这世上忍受这样逼迫的人,他们的终局和他们现在所受的侮辱却刚好相反 – 天国是属于他们的。门徒知道甚么值得他们殉道。但这并不单是将来的实况,他们现在已经拥有这国度(这福与第一个福平衡)。

应用 :这教导十分简单,人活在这世上应为主而活,如天国的成员过活,拥护公义与公平,彰显仁慈、保持温柔和灵里的贫穷 – 即使有受赞许的品格,但他们应该知道真正的公义会冒犯很多的人,故此,他们要预备好遇到拦阻。

最后的两节暗暗地宣告耶稣的神性。旧约的先知都因为他们忠于神而受逼迫。现在,耶稣说门徒因为他们忠于祂,也会受到迫害。祂是神。

Translated by: Jenny Pao 鲍婉玲译


1如果你读大量有关这经文的书,你会发现当中的观点与诠释可以有很大差异。持怀疑态度非常激进的观点,我们不必花太多的时间在这里讨论,这可以等待更适合的时间才讨论。但你应该知道一群混淆视听的教师和作家,他们教导福音中没有什么是真实的,耶稣丝毫没有做这些事情,并说只有极少部份是耶稣说的。对于他们来说,马太并没有写马太福音,这书是在较后的时期按教会教导而成的作品,其中大部分内容若非凭空捏造,便是修饰的产物,这观点指不管你如何看待它,这几章的经文是经过编辑。这并不是一个新的立场,只因现代有的媒体发达,就在现代出版。

一个还在几个层次上有些问题但不太反感的看法,是登山宝训是耶稣的教导,但不是从一篇讲章而来;而是将耶稣在不同地方的讲道搬到这里结合成这讲章。这观点最少承认记载在马太福音5-7章的经文是耶稣自己的教导。简单来说,马太将这些材料集合在这里,从而组成了有关天国的一个主要讲话。在理论上,如果能证明马太确实曾经这样做,可以接受这观点的一部份,但要证明却极为困难。

传统的观点是这信息是耶稣亲自宣告的,只要平实地阅读文本便能得到支持。这经文的开始说耶稣教训他们说......接着的教导,主题也和天国相关,然后马太说祂说完了。对于那些相信圣经历史真实性的人,他们肯定马太或别的圣经作者的著作,如果经文明言教导的地点或时间,那里就是宣讲信息的地方;若没有着明,那材料就可能是编辑而成。若说耶稣在山上宣讲这信息,这并不代表耶稣宣讲时就是用这些字,马太将耶稣的讲章翻译成希腊文,他极可能将部份内容浓缩,并用自己的措词写出来,又或许为部份内容加上一些澄清性的数据。若和路加福音或福音书中的其他教导相比较,这情况是会出现的。但我们也可以肯定耶稣很可能在加利利传道时,很频繁地宣讲这些主题,所以他们的记忆会反映这些再三重复的主题。总括来说,要研读耶稣的宣讲和教导,是相当复杂和难以确定的。我们将在这系列的末端,当总结读这卷书的各种问题时,再返回这话题(历史评鉴)。现在,我会说我相信读者应该有信心这些确实是耶稣的教导,当出现「耶稣说」,不论是一模一样或是一个总结(如马太福音4:17的处理),马太记录登山宝训,是在圣灵的引导下写成。故此,这几章经文所写的是真实的,也确实是耶稣宣讲时的教导。

2有大量关于登山宝训的文献,你可按你的时间开始阅读,但必须留意不要过度简化了登山宝训的意义和性质。这篇文章只是简略的诠释。

3 「末世论」是关于末后的事,这部份教义会处理那将要来的事,例如基督的再来、审判和永恒状态。它主要和弥赛亚的事情相关,那就是耶稣将要承就的所有事情。

4你可以从你手上的资源开始,或许是一本好的字典或注释书。假如你希望研经,投资小许金钱购买神学辞典,帮助明白字词和神学思想的意义,定能大有裨益。以下两套书:Colin Brown’s (editor) set for the New Testament, 和 Willem van Gemeren’s (editor) for the Old Testament.各都有数册,可在新约和旧约字义上提供帮助。在这系列的末端还有一些工具书的介绍。

5 译者注:马太福音5:5 温柔的人和诗篇37:11 受困苦的人,英文同样是 the meek

6 译者注:民数记12:3和马太福音 5:5温柔的人和谦和英文同样是 meek

八 福 (馬太福音 5:1-12)

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「八福」是福音書中最為人喜愛的篇章之一,它記錄在馬太福音5-7,這是「登山寶訓」的開始部份。這篇章可能是耶穌較後期才宣講的道,但馬太卻將它放在耶穌世上事工的開端,使它成了天國的隆重宣告。它是馬太福音所包含的五個主要宣講的第一個。

在耶穌受試探和八福之間,馬太記述因天國近了,耶穌呼喚人悔改(4:12-17)。為了要接觸更多的聽眾,耶穌從拿撒勒前往加利利海沿岸的城市迦百農,到這裡來更重要的原因是這裡是交通要道。祂在呼喚悔改後,才宣告八福將要來臨。

在耶穌受試探和登山寶訓之間,馬太記述了耶穌呼召漁夫西門彼得和他的弟兄安得烈作門徒(4:18-20),因祂開始建立祂的國度,祂承諾他們要得人如得魚。接著祂呼召那正在船上補網,同樣是漁夫的雅各和約翰(4:21-22)。這些事件充份描繪了那呼召人跟隨祂的,有君王的權柄。

馬太接著報告了耶穌初期事工的成功和祂的名聲傳揚(4:23-25)。祂走遍了那地區,宣講天國的信息,並透過醫治人來證明祂的宣告。回應祂的事工的人遠至耶路撒冷。

這將我們帶到登山寶訓的課題。耶穌看到許多的人,祂就上了山坐下來,那是拉比慣常的姿勢。傳統認為這「山」是迦百農和近岸漁村一帶的小丘。門徒到祂跟前來,祂就開始教導他們。接著的經文就是耶穌的教導。1

這是福音書裡最早有關耶穌教導的信息、也是最長的一篇。耶穌宣告天國已來臨,祂呼召人悔改。耶穌在祂的天國宣言中,揭示了天國子民的基礎和特質。在這裡,祂教導在祂國度裡的倫理指引,也有關於天國的公義素質的指引;現時這些只是局部實踐, 但將來要完全對現2

這段說話的對象是以色列,就是那來到耶穌那裡的群眾,但耶穌的門徒一聽,便明白耶穌以祂的門徒是「真以色列」(屬靈的以色列),他們已在祂的國度裡,並且已開始了生命。祂也以那在祂面前的群眾是將來的「以色列」,期待他們悔改並追隨他們的君王。換句話說,耶穌的對象是那按神旨意成為神子民的人,告訴他們,假如他們悔改進入祂的國度,他們需要展示的義,那也是門徒們已經開始實踐的。故此,整篇登山寶訓,也是給所有人的。登山寶訓的主題是義,這也是天國的標準。

故此這宣講中述說了進入天國的人當有的義、也述說了天國子民過著義的生活時,那生命會是怎樣的;但卻沒有怎樣達到這義的細節。

登山寶訓以八福來開始。這些品格描繪了神真正子民的特質,也提供了在天國有份的人可以期盼的福份。將它們合起來,可以得出一幅承繼應許完美基督徒的圖畫。耶穌在這裡並不是告訴人怎樣達到這情況,那是祂接下來的教導。

有關八福的描述中,眾多為人接納的其中一項是八福是以賽亞書61:1-3的回響,一篇以末世論 3 為重點的經文。馬太恆常地指出耶穌就是那舊約預言的應驗,在這裡也是。所以讀八福,我們也會看看以賽亞關於彌賽亞和彌賽亞國度的預言。

研讀八福和一般經文的研讀方法並不相同,每一個福都像箴言智慧語般那麼晦澀難懂、精確和意義豐富。每一福都包含一個主題,組成聖經的重要教導。故此,若你願意,每一福都值得花上許許多多的時間。但在這裡,我們只作簡潔略述,稍後再作進深研讀。

經文

5:1 當耶穌看見這許多的人,就上了山1,既已坐下,門徒到他跟前來。5:2 他就開口教訓他們說:

5:3 「靈裏貧窮2的人有福3了,因為天國是屬於4他們的。

5:4 哀慟的人有福了,因為他們必得安慰5

5:5 溫柔的人有福了,因為他們必承受地土。

5:6 飢渴慕義6的人有福了,因為他們必得飽足。

5:7 憐恤人的人有福了,因為他們必蒙憐恤。

5:8 清心的人有福了,因為他們必得見 神。

5:9 使人和睦的人有福了,因為他們必稱為 神的兒子7

5:10 為義受逼迫的人有福了,因為天國是屬於他們的。

5:11 人若因我侮辱你們、逼迫你們、揑造各樣壞話毀謗你們,你們就有福了,5:12 應當歡喜快樂,因為你們在天上的賞賜是大的。在你們以前的先知,人也是這樣逼迫他們。

經文觀察

在這裡我們沒有敘事,只有一系列的宣告。至於5:1-2的敘事只是這講章的引子,講章從宣告開始。八福中的每一個福都是宣言,但卻是含蓄的、勉勵性的,呼召人作出回應。

研讀八福和別的經文有少許分別。然而我們仍需要注意上下文和第一世紀猶太人的文化和信仰背景,也須留意八福所處的登山寶訓所宣告的天國性質。這裡會處理在這樣背景下的字義,特別是文化背景,因為從文化背景更能瞭解這些希伯來文和亞蘭文。好的工具書、經文彙編或聖經字典對處理字義,例如:「溫柔」、「貧窮」等字,都有幫助。4

當我們掌握字義後,我們便要處理句子之間的關系,「福」和應許之間的關聯。要明白耶穌的這些話,我們必須從新舊約和天國相關的教導入手。在這裡,我們看到耶穌第一次降臨標誌著國度已經開始,信徒在這國度裡;但我們在基督再來時將會看到這國度的完全實現。故此,這些經文都必須符合天國的這兩方面的觀念。

大部份有關這段經文的註釋都說是八福,但如果你加以留意,其實「福」出現了九次。最後一次「福」的出現,所用的格式和前面並不相同,它並不是以「有福了」的形式出現,卻好像是為前面的第八個「福」加以解釋和向門徒展示可以怎樣作具體應用。

也許在開始部份我們先簡略地介紹「福」這個字,這對我們理解這段經文會有幫助。現代偏向將原文的這個字譯作「快樂」,但這卻未能完全捕捉文本所包含的所有含意。主要原因是現代「快樂」這詞的用法低貶了它的價值;這詞在這經文中含有因與神有正確合宜的關係,而有的內在喜樂與和平。故此,「快樂」可以是其中的一部份,但它是超乎在我們身邊發生的事情。這「快樂」因蒙神悅納而來到我們的心靈,因此就是面對嚴峻的逼迫,仍呼召人要喜樂。主那些「福」的宣告,是給有內在屬靈品格的人獎賞承諾;從另一個角度來說,是主對與神有合宜關係的人的屬靈品格和狀況的描述。

與耶穌在馬太福音第五章所述的「福」相對的,是馬太福音第23章對文士和法利賽人宣告的「有禍了」。那是神審判那些背道、拒絕承認和遵行神的全部旨意的人。這些「禍」中,也描述了那些人邪惡和假冒為善的品格。這些禍是神誓言給那些繼續行惡的人的審判。

所以當耶穌說「有福了」的時候,並不是單單指那些在神看為正的人充滿了內在的喜樂與平安,而是因他們的品格給予讚賞,並承諾賞賜他們。

一篇有趣又和這經文相關的舊約經文是箴言6:16-19,那裡列出神所憎厭的七件事。那被認為和那些因行義而從神得福的人對立。第一樣是「高傲的眼」或高傲,這絕對和靈裏貧窮相反;最後一樣是「在弟兄中布散分爭的人」卻和使人和睦相背。在這兩者之間還包括了撒謊的舌,流無辜人血的手,圖謀惡計的心,飛跑行惡的腳,吐謊言的假見證,這些都和神所喜愛的屬靈品格有著顯著的差異。

八福的進一步分析

也許研讀八福的最佳方法是逐一從基礎開始 – 定義、背景、關連與應用。假如你要在課堂中教授八福,你如果在逐一探討它們時便討論它們的應用,比在最後才嘗試逐一提出應用,會有較理想的效果。

1. 「靈裏貧窮2的人有福3了,因為天國是屬於4他們的。」

舊約背景:要理解八福的其中一個方法是從舊約背景入手,查考有關彌賽亞國度和進入這國度的人。這些經文中,我曾提及以賽亞書61:1-3,在那篇經文中,彌賽亞被膏「傳福音給貧窮的人」(在路加福音第四章,耶穌讀這經文並說這已經應驗在他們耳中了。)那篇經文對我們理解「貧窮」有少許幫助。我們會傾向將「貧窮」朝財務和財產的方向來理解,這可以是其中的一部份,但還可以從屬靈方面去看。以賽亞用它來描述那些被擄的人,他們的土地和財產被剝奪,固然貧窮,但他們也受折磨和壓迫,無力對抗、也沒有希望,他們是絕望的,他們靈裡的貧窮,使他們的困境加劇。

經文的意義:聖經對貧窮人的描述包括幾方面:在耶穌時代的窮人,只有很少財產、常常受壓迫,沒有什麼力量和希望。他們沒有甚麼資源可依賴,他們不得不依靠他人生存。以賽亞為他那時代的人帶來好信息 – 他們將從綑綁中得釋放。耶穌是透過傳從神而來的好信息 – 福音,應驗了這好信息的應許。祂並沒有使他們在地上權力和財物上富裕,但他卻滿足了他們最大的需要。

「靈裡貧窮」的人在神前謙卑下來。他們明白到他們此生沒有甚麼貢獻可以拿來換取天國。他們在靈裡痛心疾首,意即他們虛己,並深深地悔悟;他們以無助無望的罪人身份來到王前,沒有傲氣、沒有自義、也不自滿。他們從偽裝得釋放,故此他們有空間讓神進入他們的生命。每一個希望進天國的人都必須「靈裡貧窮」,因從神而來的救恩是一份禮物。

這就是給這世上真正被壓迫的和窮人的好信息。窮人並不因為他們貧窮而被排拒,富人亦不會因他們的財富被接納。不論富或貧,都必須在主面前謙卑下來,才可成為天國的成員。低下階層往往比有財勢的人更容易進天國。

耶穌宣告的福是「天國是他們的」,這當然並不表示所有貧窮的人都是天國的一員,就如「浪子」的貧窮是自己弄成的。因為重點不在於物質上的貧窮,而是靈裡的質量,那些靈裡貧窮而謙卑自己,倚靠神的人,他們擁有天國。事實上,每一個在天國裡的人,都必須靈裡貧窮。他們都以一顆破碎的心和痛悔的靈去尋找救主。

應用:這裡有一個清晰的教導:如果要進天國,就必須靈裡貧窮。天國的信息是呼喚人悔改,人必須在神前謙卑下來,並承認他們的權勢、財富或面子不能替他贏得進入天國。那些真正謙卑下來的和表達需要主的,他們於天國有份,並且得到天國的恩澤。

人怎樣成為靈裡貧窮呢?按接下來的經文,當人聽到天國的信息,並且明白天國是怎麼樣的和怎樣進天國 – 透過悔改回轉、降服於神的旨意。第一步是承認自己不能作甚麼,接著是尋求神滿有恩慈的供應。

第二個應用,是將這態度建立成天國成員的品格。他們並不是虛己進入天國,跟著成為自足(雖然有些人嘗試這樣做),而是完完全全倚靠神供應他們所需。這開展了其他研讀的主題,例如:謙遜、信心、禱告和順服。

2. 「哀慟的人有福了,因為他們必得安慰5。」

現在我們有一個略為不同的福。上一個福給靈裡貧窮的人應許天國是他們的,原文用的是現在式;而這一個給哀慟的人必得安慰的應許,原文用的是未來式,是一個在將來才會成就的應許。

舊約背景:以賽亞亦說彌賽亞醫治心碎的人,並宣告在何時哀慟的人得安慰、華冠代替灰塵、喜樂油代替悲哀(以賽亞書61:1-3)。哀慟顯示哀痛、優傷和因失去至愛而靈裡焦慮,也可以是失去有價值的生命而哀慟,就如被擄的以色列人;也可以因失去財物、身份地位或健康而引發哀慟。人也會為天災人禍而哀慟,當哀慟時,他們尋找希望,但大多數情況,世上只有極微的希望。

意義:這裡的焦點是神的子民哀慟時,他們將會得安慰。每個人都會在人生不同階段經歷哀傷和悲慘的損失,但那在天國得安慰的哀慟是那為以色列蒙羞與及蒙羞的原因而哀慟 – 因他們的罪,國家被強橫和無情的統治者掌控。耶穌降臨並宣告天國近了,祂期待人的反應是痛哭悔悟(另參以賽亞書40:1)。彌賽亞會安慰那些哀慟的人,但得安慰是因為彌賽亞將他們從那使他們哀慟的罪中拯救出來。

故此這裡所指的是「因著信」的哀慟,這哀慟並不單純為生命中的苦楚與傷痛,而是為了那引致這境況的罪而哀傷。他們明白他們的憂傷愁歎是為了那失落敗壞的世界,那裡看不見神和祂的旨意。在哀慟中,耶穌的門徒向主打開他們沉重的心,因他們知道他們雖在哀傷中,但並非沒有盼望!他們知道他們的哭泣和哀痛只會維持一段時間,他們知道死亡不會得到終極的勝利,因為在基督裡死亡的,必會復活成不朽壞的,他們知道彌賽亞終有一日會把這些挪除,給他們帶來安慰。

故此這應許是他們必得安慰。當神擦去他們的眼淚時,他們就得安慰;不再有死亡、不再憂傷或苦難(以賽亞書25:8,啟示錄21:4)。這是天國子民所能期待的。

應用:這裡的指引是關於哀慟的焦點,而不是哀慟本身。那得安慰的哀慟是門徒的哀慟,他們明確知道哀慟的原因,有正確的信心看透事件。當人面對生命的傷痛時刻,如他們為罪而哀傷,同樣可以有盼望 – 這是信靠主的一個清晰的記號。

3. 「溫柔的人有福了,因為他們必承受地土。」

舊約背景:這「福」和詩篇37:11「受困苦的人必擁有地土」十分相似。5 假如你研讀那段經文,你將會發現那也是有關彌賽亞的詩篇,那地亦必是應許之地。

意義:在聖經裡,溫柔的人是指那些有溫柔的心和自制力的人,他們的心靈沒有惡念,也不高傲。溫柔的人也許和貧窮的人一樣沒有自己的資源,但其後可能有,就如摩西被稱為最謙和的人。6 溫柔的人不剝削和壓迫他人,他們不復仇或仇殺,不使用暴力,不試圖為自己的目的奪取政權。概括而言,他們學效基督,在生活上模仿祂。但這並不表示他們軟弱或他們的生活不濟,他們可以是柔和謙卑,但他們也可成為弱者和受壓迫者的鬥士。

這裡的應許是他們擁有地土。是甚麼地土呢?很可能是指應許之地。整本聖經都提及神給以色列人應許,賜他們應許之地。擁有土地,並非單指財物,而是含有更大的意義,那不單是一塊地,而是從神而來的產業,包含保障。但那地卻常受到襲擊,而人民被擄和被分散,在新約仍應許重新招聚到那地,那些應許現在看來要等到彌賽亞第二次降臨,出現新天新地時才會實現。這應許是給所有在新約之下的人,而應許的應驗會比任何人所能想像到的更榮美。新的創造不會被暴君或充滿陰謀的團體所操縱,而是屬於那溫柔的人。

應用:人怎能成為溫柔的人呢?如果一個人的本性並不溫柔又怎麼樣呢?答案可以在描述屬靈生活怎樣運作的經文找到。溫柔和良善都是聖靈的果子,是聖靈在信徒中所結的果子。要培養在靈裡的溫柔,便是在聖靈的指引下而活,或將生命交給神的靈管轄,以致基督的特質能在信徒中長成。單是這指引便需要好些研習,但它是聖經對溫柔的發展所作的描繪。

4. 「飢渴慕義6的人有福了,因為他們必得飽足。」

舊約背景:飢與渴被比擬為追求公義的動力,追求公義是我們深層和恆常之需要(參詩篇42:3和63:1)。飢與渴是人類的基本動力,恆常要求被滿足。這比喻用來描繪渴慕行神旨意是那麼恆常與強烈。

意義:這福要說的比我們大多數人所想的更多,它並非單單描述那些正義的人或嘗試行善的人,而是他們生命中的熱誠 – 他們為此飢與渴。就如貧窮和溫柔的人,他們將生命交在神的手中,希望祂幫助。

我們在這系列前面的文章已經思考過在聖經裡義的意義,那就是行神的旨意。在這裡,義這個字可能有兩個意思:其一肯定是在個人生活中,強烈地渴望蒙神喜悅,按神的旨意去行,將神的旨意在生活中行出來;這生出希望在地上有公義,在一個不公義、欠缺公平的世界渴望社會公義出現。個人公義的渴望與所處的世界的公義是不能分割的。

正因這是一個合理的渴望,它是會成就的;或許不是即時成就,但肯定在將來當王以公義管治時應驗。但王的應許是渴望公義的必得飽足。從神學角度來說,它分為幾個階段:最基本的渴望是與神有合宜的關係,這要透過神的恩典,那公義的禮物使我們因信稱義,在天堂的法庭被宣告為義。接著,作為主的門徒,我們渴望作正義的事,並由聖靈加給能力來完成,我們稱這階段為生活的成聖,我們會愈來愈像基督。將來,當主再來時,祂會建立宇宙性的公義,我們將被改變,我們稱這為得榮耀,我們會脫變成榮美的狀態。

應用:在這裡我們同樣會問這渴望是怎樣形成的。大部份的信徒都追求公義,但這渴望是怎樣變得那麼熱切的呢?這也是從屬靈生命的成長而來。保羅教導一個屬靈的人會將身體各部份交出來作義的工具。故此,這從委身遵行神的旨意開始,接著是由聖靈帶領走屬靈的路,祂帶領信徒走義路。當一個人愈親近主,他或她對不義和世界不公平的事就愈敏銳,一個真正屬靈的人就會開始渴慕公義。

5. 「憐恤人的人有福了,因為他們必蒙憐恤。」

意義:和靈裡貧窮、溫柔和飢渴慕義的人的共同點是他們的生命都不是自足的,都需要外來的幫助。因他們自知有所缺乏、需倚靠別人、軟弱和不完全,他們明白甚麼是憐恤。當他們從主得到滿有恩慈的禮物,他們亦知道應仁慈地對待他人。對別人表達仁慈包括寬恕有罪的人和憐憫那些受苦和需要幫助的人。

他們被稱為有福的,因為他們會以仁慈對待他人,優先於自己的權益;對有需要的人,他們不會含敵意,卻會和藹親切地對待他們,並醫治他們。仁慈並非他們的本性,只因他們被仁慈地對待,他們並且恆常地倚靠主而活。

因為他們懂得憐憫和憐恤他人,故此神說他們必蒙憐恤。最終這要等待王的到來和審判的日子,他們會得到王的憐憫、通過審判和進入天國。他們得到憐恤並非因為他們做了足夠的善行,而是因為他們知道走天路時憐恤的重要性,他們進入恩典中,並渴望與他人分享。他們學會了原諒別人,因為他們不斷地被原諒;他們學會憐恤別人,因為他們每天都在蒙憐恤。

應用:這裡的憐恤行為來自真正靈命歷程。那些得到神愈多恩典的,愈是憐恤他人。因此,在自己的生命中能好好地體會神的恩典是十分重要的。這體會是從經歷認罪和感謝神的赦免而來。但這兩方面卻常常被信徒忽視,甚而有些基督徒竟然認為那恩典是他們應得的,以致他們變得那麼不寬容別人,甚至論斷他人。我們自己的屬靈狀況和神的供應是絕不能忘記的。

6. 「清心的人有福了,因為他們必得見 神。」

意義:這福從舊約取材加以運用,在天國應驗。它同時描述了內在純淨和意念專一。「心」在聖經裡表達人的志向與選擇。故此清心指一個人所作的決定、心中的渴望、思想和意圖都沒有被罪沾染,所作的意願,以討神喜悅為依據。出自純淨清潔的心只有好東西,從純淨清潔的心而出的行為是愛與仁慈、渴慕公義與公平;從純淨清潔的心所作出的決定蒙神喜悅。

在信以外對人「心」的描述則截然不同 – 最惡劣的是時常因自私自利的行為帶來痛苦(創世記6:5)。耶穌說從心裡發出來的才污穢人,惡念、不純正的慾望、毀謗等等(馬太福音15:18-19)。人不可能在沒有改變的情況下帶來一顆純淨清潔的心,耶穌在這段經文並沒有作解釋,不過祂曾談論重生,那是在改變之初所必須的。追隨基督可以將一顆充滿肉慾的心,轉化成一顆純淨清潔的心。這並不容易,也不會迅速地改變,但進天國的人必須要有這顆新心。

聖經說從來沒有人見過神(出埃及記33:18-23;提摩太前書6:16)。給他們的應許是他們必得見神,這是何等令人驚訝的聲明!雖然有人曾見過主以不同的形態顯現:摩西在西乃山見到神的背影(出埃及記33章),以色列的長老與神一起吃喝,看到神以某種形態顯現(出埃及記24章)、以賽亞見過一次(以賽亞書6章)、約翰也曾見過基督顯現(啟示錄1章)。

這是一個憑著信在現在的、就在這裡的應許 – 他們在生活的各種場合和各事件看見神,但聖經的應許比這更多。在世上看見神被我們否定了,但有一天,天堂的門被打開,祂能被我們轉化了的眼睛看見。如約伯說:「我知道我的救贖主活着,末了必站立在地上。我這皮肉滅絕之後,我的肉體仍必見 神。我自己要見他,親眼要看他,並不像外人。我的心腸在我裏面消滅了。」(約伯記19:25-27)

應用:一個人如何能得到一顆純淨清潔的心呢?當神給我們一顆「新心」的時候,它就開始轉化,當我們追隨基督,透過屬靈成長,它會繼續轉化。行在光明中,意指學習按神的話語而活,這會改變我們的心思意念,我們的心就會愈來愈純淨。但同時神話語的亮光會將人內心的污穢顯露出來,我們必須要處理和作出改變。

7. 「使人和睦的人有福了,因為他們必稱為 神的兒子7。」

意義:神是和平之君,祂整個拯救計劃是使那些以前和祂分隔的人與祂和平共處,最終給全地帶來和平(以賽亞書 9:6-7)。這是彌賽亞的工作目標。

不過人類當中充滿紛爭和衝突,和平與團結的希望極其渺茫。神帶來的和平並不是消除敵意、容忍或退讓;世上真正的和平需要性質上完完全全的改變,而只有神才能賜下這和平,這和平是世人所不明白的(約翰福音14:27)。它的起始點是與神和好,然後延伸至與人和好。

使人和睦的人是那些首先明白什麼是真正和平的人。他們努力建立的和平是一個擁抱從神而來的和平,因他們與神和好,以至人與人之間能和諧共處。換句話說,真正締造和睦的人傳揚神的國度,他們的生命是為了宣揚神的國、與仇敵和好、平息仇恨、使分隔的人重新聯繫、促進真正的瞭解和屬靈的愛。他們這樣做是因為他們知道什麼是真正的和平。因此,這裡所描述的品格不是純粹政治性追求和平,而是屬靈的和平。

給他們的應許是他們必稱為神的兒子。這意味著他們是神真正的兒子。在天國的生活除了擁有土地、仍然飢渴、看見神,而現在更有兒子的名分。當人們因信進入天國,這一切就開始了,當神的國最終臨到時,就會完全應驗。

在舊約,「神的兒子」是用來描述天使,而不是用於救恩。但在新約裡,兒子的名份是救恩大有能力的表達,它的意思是指信徒從聖靈而生,成為神家的成員,透過神的兒子耶穌基督同為後嗣,和父神有了個人關係。這並未完全落實,但卻是確實的、肯定的承諾,所以信徒可以說:「我們被稱為神的兒女」。(參約翰福音1:12,13和約翰壹書3:1)

應用:因此,耶穌的門徒應該促進和平。他們透過傳和平的福音給全世界,並促進屬靈的家和好。簡而言之,他們應該做的就如彌賽亞的工作。

8. 「為義受逼迫的人有福了,因為天國是屬於他們的。」

意義:在這墮落的世界,當人企圖推廣和平、擁護公義或過一個柔和謙卑的生活時,他們會被敵擋。或許有人想,這樣的生活能吸引人歸向主;但事實上,它不會自然地發生。這便告訴我們這世界不單與神隔絕,並且叛逆神。他們或許希望按自己的方式去尋求公義,他們寧可得到權力、尊榮和財富。就如施洗約翰呼召人悔改歸向義,他因而早死;耶穌傳揚正確的美德,因祂呼召人進入祂的國度,祂的信息卻被敵擋。如果連他們都遇到逼迫,世人豈不也會逼迫門徒呢?

這福並不是給那單純受逼迫的人。神是地上的公義審判官,祂也會處理這些。這福是給基督的追隨者,那因義而受逼迫的人;接著的那節經文,澄清了受逼迫的人,指的是那為基督的原故而受苦的門徒。憑著信,他們被確定與王同在,他們披戴祂的名,他們傳揚福音,傳揚那屬靈的、永恆的國度,一個公義的、和平的國度;然而他們會遇到阻攔。儘管如此,他們應該歡呼,他們在天國要得到大大的賞賜,神給他們的補償會更多。

這福是給那些在這世上忍受這樣逼迫的人,他們的終局和他們現在所受的侮辱卻剛好相反 – 天國是屬於他們的。門徒知道甚麼值得他們殉道。但這並不單是將來的實況,他們現在已經擁有這國度(這福與第一個福平衡)。

應用:這教導十分簡單,人活在這世上應為主而活,如天國的成員過活,擁護公義與公平,彰顯仁慈、保持溫柔和靈裡的貧窮 – 即使有受讚許的品格,但他們應該知道真正的公義會冒犯很多的人,故此,他們要預備好遇到攔阻。

最後的兩節暗暗地宣告耶穌的神性。舊約的先知都因為他們忠於神而受逼迫。現在,耶穌說門徒因為他們忠於祂,也會受到迫害。祂是神。

Translated by: Jenny Pao 鮑婉玲譯


1如果你讀大量有關這經文的書,你會發現當中的觀點與詮釋可以有很大差異。持懷疑態度非常激進的觀點,我們不必花太多的時間在這裡討論,這可以等待更適合的時間才討論。但你應該知道一群混淆視聽的教師和作家,他們教導福音中沒有什麼是真實的,耶穌絲毫沒有做這些事情,並說只有極少部份是耶穌說的。對於他們來說,馬太並沒有寫馬太福音,這書是在較後的時期按教會教導而成的作品,其中大部分內容若非憑空捏造,便是修飾的產物,這觀點指不管你如何看待它,這幾章的經文是經過編輯。這並不是一個新的立場,只因現代有的媒體發達,就在現代出版。

一個還在幾個層次上有些問題但不太反感的看法,是登山寶訓是耶穌的教導,但不是從一篇講章而來;而是將耶穌在不同地方的講道搬到這裡結合成這講章。這觀點最少承認記載在馬太福音5-7章的經文是耶穌自己的教導。簡單來說,馬太將這些材料集合在這裡,從而組成了有關天國的一個主要講話。在理論上,如果能證明馬太確實曾經這樣做,可以接受這觀點的一部份,但要證明卻極為困難。

傳統的觀點是這信息是耶穌親自宣告的,只要平實地閱讀文本便能得到支持。這經文的開始說耶穌教訓他們說……接著的教導,主題也和天國相關,然後馬太說祂說完了。對於那些相信聖經歷史真實性的人,他們肯定馬太或別的聖經作者的著作,如果經文明言教導的地點或時間,那裡就是宣講信息的地方;若沒有著明,那材料就可能是編輯而成。若說耶穌在山上宣講這信息,這並不代表耶穌宣講時就是用這些字,馬太將耶穌的講章翻譯成希臘文,他極可能將部份內容濃縮,並用自己的措詞寫出來,又或許為部份內容加上一些澄清性的資料。若和路加福音或福音書中的其他教導相比較,這情況是會出現的。但我們也可以肯定耶穌很可能在加利利傳道時,很頻繁地宣講這些主題,所以他們的記憶會反映這些再三重複的主題。總括來說,要研讀耶穌的宣講和教導,是相當複雜和難以確定的。我們將在這系列的末端,當總結讀這卷書的各種問題時,再返回這話題(歷史評鑑)。現在,我會說我相信讀者應該有信心這些確實是耶穌的教導,當出現「耶穌說」,不論是一模一樣或是一個總結(如馬太福音4:17的處理),馬太記錄登山寶訓,是在聖靈的引導下寫成。故此,這幾章經文所寫的是真實的,也確實是耶穌宣講時的教導。

2 有大量關於登山寶訓的文獻,你可按你的時間開始閱讀,但必須留意不要過度簡化了登山寶訓的意義和性質。這篇文章只是簡略的詮釋。

3 「末世論」是關於末後的事,這部份教義會處理那將要來的事,例如基督的再來、審判和永恆狀態。它主要和彌賽亞的事情相關,那就是耶穌將要承就的所有事情。

4你可以從你手上的資源開始,或許是一本好的字典或註釋書。假如你希望研經,投資小許金錢購買神學辭典,幫助明白字詞和神學思想的意義,定能大有裨益。以下兩套書:Colin Brown’s (editor) set for the New Testament, 和 Willem van Gemeren’s (editor) for the Old Testament. 各都有數冊,可在新約和舊約字義上提供幫助。在這系列的末端還有一些工具書的介紹。

5 譯者註:馬太福音5:5 溫柔的人和詩篇37:11 受困苦的人,英文同樣是 the meek

6 譯者註:民數記12:3和馬太福音 5:5溫柔的人和謙和英文同樣是 meek

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