Peter wrote his first letter to Christians who were suffering. He was reminding them that their first importance was to live every day as if it were their last, living to please the Lord. His reminder to not repay evil for evil led into his plea to suffer for righteousness’ sake. If we should suffer, he argued, don’t suffer because you deserve it. Rather, suffer for the sake of being righteous.
Then Peter quotes from Psalm 34, saying, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-12 ESV).
Loving life and prayer. According to Peter, these are the bedrock of staying pure and maintaining righteousness. Peter is clear: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (vs. 14). This sets an example for the unrighteous, and they will notice the goodness. That’s also why Peter says to always be prepared to give an answer for the reason for the hope that we have. Loving life and praying are essential ingredients for the successful propulsion of Christianity in this world!
Hannah is one of my favorite Bible characters. Her faith in God was unwavering, even when she was mistreated and was barren. Hannah never gave up believing that God would do something incredible in her life. This is extremely challenging to do when our world is being torn apart. When things (and especially when people) are against us, it shifts our world view and makes us feel like the whole world is against us. This is where people can begin to lose hope, believing that nothing will ever change and that their destiny is to have mayhem in their lives.
This would have been an easy conclusion for Hannah to come to, but she remained faithful. One day she was at the temple, deeply distressed and weeping bitterly to the Lord. Hannah made a vow that day: “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV).
Hannah became pregnant and named her son Samuel, which means “God has heard.” She was true to her promise and dedicated Samuel to the Lord, dropping him off at the temple after he was weaned. Samuel was trained by Eli the priest and became one of the greatest leaders of Israel. It was only because of Hannah’s prayers that all of this happened this way. She had the faith that God would hear, and God was faithful in answering.
I love the book of Acts! It chronicles the genesis of the church all the way through Paul’s missionary journeys and final arrest. If ever there is a potent book on churchology, Acts is it. Acts 2 gives, in my opinion, the “sweet spot” of productivity. All the ingredients are present for productivity, and we see the church quickly flourish and thrive.
Certainly conditions were right for this kind of initial growth, but it’s the sustained growth that is also impressive. In Acts, the common theme among Christians is commonality–everyone had all things in common. This is incredibly rare in divisive environments. But in Acts, the Christians didn’t lay claim to their own possessions and their foundation was built upon sharing. They shared meals together. They shared possessions and gave to the needy. They shared their time together. They were the polar opposite of possessive.
Luke records it this way: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42, 44 ESV). They were glad, thanking and praising God! They were genuinely thankful to be in one another’s company. This really is the perfect combination of factors that lead to productive growth and sincerity in faith.
While it’s very important to equip people for works of ministry, it’s just as critical to equip people to be selfless and to devote themselves to fellowship, instruction, and prayer.
If we actually go through the gospels and look at the glaring consistency of Jesus, we see that he was far more interested in healing than following traditions. Each gospel writer arranged their books with a specific purpose in mind. The stories aren’t necessarily chronological as much as they are thematic. In Matthew’s gospel, he arranges his stories to fit mathematical equations (he was a tax collector, after all), the discourses of Jesus to mimic the first five books of the Old Testament, and demonstrates how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
Within that structure, Matthew focuses heavily on Jesus’ ministry to heal and preach. As the stories unfold, he sprinkles in stories that interrupt the flow of Jesus’ ministry. These stories are about religious leaders. For example, right after the healing of all who were sick in Gennesaret, The Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat” (Matthew 15:2 ESV).
Rather than get into a full on argument or debate (which in churches can last for long periods of time), Jesus rebukes them and goes back to healing people. He had no interest in winning arguments. That was a waste of time and kept him from ministering to people in need. The very next things Jesus did were healing a woman’s daughter from a demon, healing many along the Sea of Galilee, and feeding a hungry crowd of 4,000. To say Jesus was busy serving was an understatement.
Enter the Pharisees and Sadducees. “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1). Testing Jesus. Let that sink in. He was exercising the greatest form of compassion on mankind. He was healing, feeding, and redeeming people–setting the captives free and treating them with dignity and respect. And the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test him. They couldn’t help themselves. They were deconstructing what Jesus was accomplishing.
Jesus was clear that followers of him must do all that he commanded. We all are essential workers in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ clear example to us demonstrates that serving others in need takes priority over everything else. This is the fulfillment of the Law. Loving our neighbors requires service to others.
God is a God of revival. Joseph’s brothers hated him. They let jealousy take root and became very corrupt-to the point of throwing him in a well, selling him into slavery, and telling their father Jacob that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. This lie was perpetuated for decades.
Meanwhile, Joseph rose to power in Egypt. He was made second in command to the Pharaoh himself. Joseph interpreted a dream where there would be 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. During the 7 years, storehouses were build and grain was piled up throughout Egypt. When the famine was at its worst, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food for their starving family. They didn’t know that the man they were speaking to was Joseph. Later Joseph revealed himself to them and they all wept bitterly.
Joseph forgave his brothers and they brought Jacob and all his siblings into Egypt to live. When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared that Joseph would retaliate and kill them. So they lied one more time to say that Jacob left this command: “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you (Genesis 50:17 ESV). Joseph’s response reflects his integrity: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-21).
Joseph spoke kindly to them. This story is powerful on so many levels. Joseph’s brothers repented. They not only begged for forgiveness, but they laid themselves down at Joseph’s feet and said, “Behold, we are your servants” (Genesis 50:18). God redeems horrific patterns of deception and sin when there is repentance. The story of Joseph is our story. Even when we sin, God is working His purpose. When we repent, revival can take place. Joseph’s family became well established in Egypt. They were fruitful and multiplied. Through God’s mercy they were spared.
Photo by Amaury Gutierrez on Unsplash