I recently heard a talk by Peter Hitchens. You may know of him: he's a journalist, an atheist-become-Christian, and was for many years a correspondent in Moscow. And he said in this talk that Britain is now disturbingly like the Soviet Union, because a state atheism and atheist morality is being imposed on us through the Equality Act. As he put it,
"The Equality Act marked the official end of Christianity as the guiding principle of our civilisation."
And that Act is driving the forced acceptance of the homosexual and transgender movement into every area public life. Christians will fall foul of it if they don't conform. So we're now facing a new State hostility, as well as popular hostility. That's exactly the situation 1 Peter was written to help us in, and tonight we take a last look at what God has to say to us through it. So would you turn in the Bible to 1 Peter 5, where Peter ends this letter with four things Christians need in a hostile world. And the first is:
1. Leaders who Care for them like Jesus (v.1-4)
Peter has already said that church needs to be a place of real support and encouragement to Christians facing hostility – because otherwise, we'll feel let down and disillusioned, and all the more tempted to wonder if being a Christian is worth the cost. After all, why not just throw your lot in with the world if the church isn't anything better? And now Peter says it's church leaders who lead the way in church, either being that support and encouragement, or being the cause of that let-down and disillusionment. So look down to 1 Peter 5.1:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder"
The New Testament says: local churches should be led by groups of elders – senior men with spiritual maturity who are to teach and care for and lead the congregation. So here, that's office holders like the senior staff and church wardens. But this applies more widely to those with whom we share our eldership – like Home Group leaders and other small group leaders. And in fact it applies to all Christian ministry – from running a Christian Union in your school, to being a Christian parent. So back to verse 1:
"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:"
So Peter lays down there the two things which should motivate all Christian living – but especially Christian ministry. And they are: "the sufferings of Christ" – which lie behind us; and "the glory that is going to be revealed" – in other words, heaven – which lies ahead of us. Verses 2 and 3 say what Christian ministry looks like when it's motivated by Christ's sufferings – in other words, done according to the pattern of the cross. So onto verses 2-3:
"shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
So Peter heard the Lord Jesus say (John 10.11):
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
And he saw Jesus do that. And he had also heard him say (Mark 8.34):
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
In other words, 'Let him or her accept the cross as their pattern for living.' That means having the same attitude that took Jesus to the cross – the attitude which says to God, 'Not my will but yours be done,' and which says to others, 'Not my interests first, but yours.' So what does that look like in Christian ministry? Well, look at verse 2 again:
"shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you"
So as we plan the leadership of the ministries here for next September, maybe we'll ask you to step into something or step up in something – like Home Group leading. And the pattern of the cross means: God doesn't want us saying, 'Yes' just because we feel we ought to – because we've been asked, or because there seems to be a lack of leaders. He only wants us to do it willingly – saying, 'Yes, Lord, I'll do this for you. Not for Jon Teasdale (or whoever's asking) – but for you.' And if you're already a leader, the challenge is to keep yourself spiritually healthy, so that you don't just keep preaching or Bible study leading or turning up to Globe because you have to, because you're down to – but because, before God, you're willing to: you're straining at the lead to. Then, next in verse 2, it says we're to minister…
"not for shameful gain [as in for money], but eagerly"
That always makes me smile, because if I wanted to make money, I wouldn't be in full-time Christian ministry. One of you from Nigeria was telling me about some Nigerian pastors who have private jets to visit their flock. But that kind of ministry materialism is unlikely to be a pitfall for me. So, when I led a ministers' conference recently in Northern Ireland, it was just EasyJet to Belfast.
So what is this saying? It's saying that money – or more generally, getting anything for ourselves – should play no part in our motivation in ministry. So the Lord may want you in full time ministry in future. And that will almost certainly mean financial sacrifice, a drop in income and standard of living. But that should play no part in your decision about whether or not to go into full time ministry.
For the likes of me, the pitfall isn't going to be the private jet. But it may be saying to myself, 'I better do my work well so that they keep thinking I'm worth paying for.' But any motivation involving money is not a worthy one in ministry. And nor is any motivation which involves getting anything for ourselves – whether it's wanting a reputation for the size or success of our church; or wanting to be praised for our Home Group leading or speaking at CYFA; or whatever. Because the pattern of the cross means you don't think, 'What's in it for me?', but, 'How can I serve them?' And, on into verse 3, it also means:
"not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock."
And 'domineering' means telling people what to do – while not necessarily doing it yourself (maybe even feeling you're 'above doing it'). Whereas 'being examples' means showing people what to do – by actually doing it yourself. So, for example, it's easy for Christian leaders to say, 'You should be sharing the gospel with others' – but not actually getting stuck into that themselves. That will disillusion the people they lead, because they'll think, 'He's asking me to go somewhere potentially costly, where he doesn't seem prepared to go himself.' Which, again, isn't the pattern of the cross. Because think of Jesus dying on the cross, and you realise: he never asks us to do anything more costly than he has already done himself. So that's the pattern of the cross – which lies behind us. And then in verse 4 comes the motivation of what lies ahead of us:
"And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory."
So like I just said, we're sinfully capable of chasing all sorts of unworthy rewards in ministry – like a reputation for our church, or praise from the people we minister to, or popularity or whatever. Whereas the only rewards we should want are those that will come when Jesus comes again. So above all, there's the reward of the Lord Jesus saying, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' And that will be the greatest reward for anything you've done in this life. But there's also the reward Paul wrote about to the Thessalonians. He said to them (1 Thessalonians 2.19):
"For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting [in other words, our reward] before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?"
And that'll be the second greatest reward: to look around heaven and see people whom God brought to faith or built up in faith partly through us. That will be fantastic.
So that's the first thing tonight. Church has to be a place of real support and encouragement, not let-down and disillusionment. And leaders need to lead the way in making it that, by caring for their flock like Jesus. The second thing Peter says we need in a hostile world is:
2. A Church United by Submission to Leadership, and by Humility (v.5)
So Peter is still giving his recipe for making church the spiritual base we need it to be, to help us stand as Christians in a hostile world. And the next ingredient is: submission to leadership. Look on to verse 5:
"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders [in other words, the leaders he's just been talking to in verses 1-4]"
And being 'subject' or submissive is about recognising a leadership structure as God-given, and so accepting it and encouraging it and co-operating with it. So this isn't asking us to be submissive to particular elders because we think they're worthy of it. Instead, this is asking us to be submissive to the role of the elders, whatever we think about the particular people occupying that role. The point being that we won't then just be submissive when we think they're doing well, or when they're doing what we'd personally prefer them to be doing. Instead, we'll be submissive and helpful to them even when we don't think they're doing well, or don't agree with everything they're doing – which of course is when they most need us to be helpful, rather than difficult or even divisive. That's not to say that we can't ask questions and give constructive criticism and say appropriate hard things. But all of that needs doing with submissiveness – in other words, recognising the leadership structure as God-given, and so accepting it and encouraging it and co-operating with it.
So that's the ingredient of submission to leadership. Then in the rest of verse 5 you have the ingredient of humility towards everyone:
"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.""
And let me say: that applies, first of all, to the elders. Because elders and other leaders should clothe themselves with humility towards those they lead. Above all, by listening to them. Because leaders who don't listen are in fact showing their pride. Perhaps because they think they alone know best, or because they think they already know the people they're leading, or because they think they know how the ministry is going without needing anyone else's perspective.
But the humble leader will listen – and not just listen, but ask. So he'll ask people how helpful they're finding church. He or she will ask members of their small group what they think of it and what could be better.
But having applied it to leaders, this is a call for everyone here to show humility towards everyone else. So whereas pride thinks 'I know better than everyone else', humility values and weighs everyone's opinion. Whereas pride talks a lot, humility listens a lot. And whereas pride thinks my problems are more important than yours, humility tries to put yours first.
A church united by submission to leadership, and by humility, is going to be a good spiritual base to belong to in a hostile world.
Then the third thing Peter says we need in a hostile world is:
3. To Recognise God's Sovereignty and Satan's Activity behind what we Suffer for Being Christians (v.6-9)
Look on to verses 6-7:
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you."
So remember: 1 Peter was written to help us when we suffer for being Christians. And along the way Peter has mentioned: suffering at the hands of government and in the workplace; the possible suffering – at least, difficulty – for a Christian married to a non-Christian; and the more general suffering of the pressure from the non-Christian standards around us, and of being mocked or criticised or marginalised for our own. And Peter says here: if you're suffering in some way for being Christians, that's happening "under the mighty hand of God" – in other words, in his sovereignty God is allowing it. It doesn't mean he's lost control or doesn't care for you anymore. And where verse 6 says…
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God"
…it means, 'Humbly accept whatever you're suffering for being Christians as something God is allowing for his purposes.' And we saw last time that one of those purposes is to test the genuineness of our faith, and to refine and strengthen us spiritually. So for example, we did have a Christian brother here from Iraq. He'd escaped from Mosul, where he saw some of the Islamic persecution of Christians. And I won't forget him saying to me, 'You know, if the church in your country began to experience real persecution, I wonder how much of it would stand.' And as we enter a time where State and popular hostility to Christianity is on the rise, we may wish we lived in a different time or place – but we need to accept that as being from God's sovereign hand: this is where he wants us to live and witness for him. And we need to trust, like verse 6 says, that…
"at the proper time he [will] exalt [us]"
…which I take it means he'll ultimately raise us to be with him in heaven. So, even if for the rest of our lifetime, and our children's lifetimes, things get far darker in this country, we'll pin our hope on heaven and not on Britain necessarily turning round. And, verse 7, if it does get much harder, and Christians lose positions in public life and lose jobs and livelihoods, we'll need to be…
"casting all [our] anxieties on him, because he cares for [us]."
So Peter says we need to recognise God's sovereignty behind what we suffer for being Christians. But we also need to recognise Satan's activity, as well. Look on to verse 8:
"Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."
So God is sovereign over everything and everyone. One reality he's sovereign over is Satan, the devil. And the Bible says: the devil is a spiritual being who rebelled against God, and who successfully tempted the human race into the same rebellion, and who now stands behind all human hostility to the gospel and to Christians. And the reason it's vital to recognise that is so that we'll do what verse 8 says:
"Be sober-minded; be watchful"
In other words, be alert to the fact that behind the friendly voices that try to seduce us to conform, and behind the frightening voices that try to threaten us to conform (even with legal threats) – behind all that, stands the devil. Which means we need to resist those voices. So verse 9 says:
"Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world."
And that's a bit like Peter's reassurance back in 1 Peter 4.12:
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you."
And here he says: look, if Britain gets more hostile to you – maybe much more – it's only what believers across the world and down the ages have universally experienced.
So then the last thing Peter says we need in a hostile world is:
4. To Look Forward to Our Future in Glory (v.10-14)
So look on to verses 10-11:
"And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
Some people think the "little while" in verse 10 means a particular period of suffering in this life. I think it's more likely that Peter is talking about a Christian's whole lifetime – because if we're faithful to Jesus, then to some degree we're going to experience the world's hostility throughout our lives. And Peter is saying: the perspective to have is that compared to eternal glory, even a lifetime is only "a little while"; and that eternal glory will more than compensate for the difficulties we face now for being Christians.
And maybe recent generations of Christians here haven't had to lean that heavily on that perspective – because Britain has been so Christian-influenced and has, up till now, been a relatively comfortable place for Christians to be. But that's changing rapidly, and Britain is becoming an increasingly intolerant, uncomfortable place for Christians to be. And if the tide keeps running that way, that'll only become worse. And we will need to lean very heavily on this eternal perspective. We will need to be very convinced that Jesus rose again, and that there is therefore life in glory beyond this life, and that we will be part of it if we're trusting in his death for our forgiveness, and that all hostility to God and his people will finally be excluded from there – so that it will, in the end, be worth it. So look how Peter signs off in verse 12:
"By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you [which probably means Silvanus delivered this letter], exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it."
Now back in chapter 1, Peter wrote about…
"the grace that will be brought to you [future tense] at the revelation of Jesus Christ [in other words, when Jesus comes again]"
Which shows that, for Peter, the grace of God is largely future – the blessings of being a Christian lie largely beyond this life in heaven. And he says here: that's what I've been reminding you throughout this letter. Now, stand fast in it – because nothing but the eternal perspective will keep you standing as a Christian.
And if you're not yet a Christian, but still just listening in and weighing this all up, can I say that nothing but the eternal perspective will make it seem worth becoming one. Because although following Jesus in this life is ultimately better, it's certainly not easier, it doesn't solve all your problems, and it adds the extra problem of facing the world's hostility. And you'll only see that as worth it if you're convinced not that 'this might work for me' but that it's actually true: that's it's true that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that there really is life beyond this life, so that anyone wise has got to take that into account when making their mind up about Jesus. Well, let's just read verses 13 and 14:
"She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. [I'll leave you to work out how to apply that over tea and coffee afterwards in a culturally appropriate way…] Peace to all of you who are in Christ."
And the 'she' in verse 13 is the church. And 'Babylon' is Peter's coded way of referring to the city of Rome, where he currently was. Because as Peter saw it, life for Christians in Rome was becoming like life had been for the exiles in Babylon – where the State was prepared to throw people into furnaces or lions' dens if they wouldn't affirm Babylonian Values (does that sound like anything they've just invented here?) – and where other people would expose you if you didn't conform.
And actually, 'Babylon' is the Bible's code word for non-Christian and anti-Christian culture across the world and down the ages. And the truth is that although we live in the geographical postcode of NE for Newcastle, our spiritual postcode is BA for Babylon. And as we face the increasing 'Babylon-ising' of Britain, we're going to need everything that 1 Peter has taught us.