"Sticking Together"

Sticking Together Jamie Maciejewski

1 Peter 4:1-11, 5:1-14 July 7, 2019

Okay, I am going to put it to you straight.  No warm up.  The life of faith involves suffering.  It always has and always will.  I'm not talking about the kind of suffering that goes with being human, things like cancer and car accidents and earthquakes.  Those are suffering for sure, but it isn't what I'm talking about.  The kind of suffering I'm talking about is suffering that comes with being people of faith.  God's people, in every time and place, including today, suffer because they are God's people.  

Abraham willingly left a comfortable life and became homeless to follow God's call.  Mary faced shame and scorn when God asked her to become the mother of Jesus.  The brothers James and John gave up their livelihood and their dad's fondest hopes for them so that they could follow Jesus.  Christians throughout every age have risked friends and family and earthly security, even faced prison and death, because they trusted Jesus.  The Apostle Peter would say that suffering is one of the defining marks of the people of God.

But Peter would say something else, as well.  He'd say that suffering isn't what's important.  It's not the end game.  Doing God's will is the end game!  Suffering is just a byproduct.  What Peter wants us to focus on is setting aside our own desires and living every single day to do the will of God.

So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.  You won't spend the rest of your lives chasing your own desires, but you will be anxious to do the will of God.  (1 Pet. 4:1-2)

Over and over, Jesus told his disciples that his work was to do the will of God, that he lived to do God's will (John 4:34).  Not my will, but yours be done (Mark 14:36).  Your kingdom come, your will be done (Matt 6:10).   

So what is God's will?  In John 6, Jesus says, “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.  And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.”  (Jn. 6:38-39 NLT)

What is God's will?  God's will is that every one of us should make it!  He doesn't want to lose a single person who belongs to Jesus.  If it's God's will that everyone makes it, then that should be profoundly important to us, too.  We should want every single sheep in God's flock to make it, to be found faithful all the way at the end of time!  And according to Peter, the end of time isn't all that far away.  “The end of all things is near” (1 Pet 4:7a, NRSV).  That makes it all the more urgent!

So, God's will is that not a single believer is lost.  And we're to set aside our own desires and live the rest of our life doing God's will.  What in the world can we do, anyway, so that everyone makes it, so that no fellow believers get lost along the way?  In his letter, Peter shares several things. 

The first is this: Take prayer seriously!  “Be earnest and disciplined in your prayers.” (1 Pet 4:7b)  Do you ever think about who is missing on Sunday?  Pray for them.  Did someone share with you that they are discouraged?  Pray for God to fortify them with hope.  Are you aware of a conflict between two people?  Or somebody's hurt feelings from something that was said, and now that person is staying away because of it?  Pray for God to intervene.  

About a year ago I started writing things that I was praying for, so that I wouldn't forget and could keep praying for them over time.  Some of you have been doing that for years, I know.  Thank you for your faithfulness!  That is an example of being earnest and disciplined in your prayers.  

If God's will is that everyone makes it, then first of all we need to take prayer seriously.

Two.  Stick together!  If we are going to make it all the way to the end, then we need one another.  We need to encourage one another, to journey together, sometimes even to do battle together.  For all of us to make it, we must love one another deeply and constantly.  Here's one of the most often quoted passages in the Bible: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  Let's face it, where humans gather, even (and maybe especially) in the church, sin has a way of getting in the way!  So, “most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

Here's something else about sticking together:  We need to serve one another.  With whatever gift God has given us.  

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.  Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. (1 Pet. 4:10-11)

Serve one another with whatever gift God has given you.

There's still more that Peter has to say about sticking together, and these words are meant for those who find themselves in a position of leadership.  He calls these leaders “elders.”  In the Bible, the word for elder is used in a number of different ways.  It can refer to those who are older, as in, Young man, listen to your elders!  It can refer to those who are spiritually more mature, who've been walking in faith for a good long time.  It can also refer to those who have been formally put in a position of leadership.  

It's fair to say that if you've been elected or appointed to a position of leadership here at LCR, Peter is talking to you.  I'm thinking of our church council, our Bible study leaders, and the leaders of various ministries.  But it's also fair to say that there are a number of you in this congregation who are elders by virtue of your maturity.  You have walked with Christ a long time.  Peter is talking to you, too:

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don't lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  (1 Pet. 5:1-3)

Peter models the very thing he is asking of leaders: He doesn't command people or order them around.  He “appeals” to them.  He calls himself a fellow elder, not their boss.  Peter is first and foremost a servant, and he finds himself in the position of leading others.  He wants other church leaders to have the same attitude.  Servant-leaders are critical for getting everyone to the finish line.  Servant-leaders go after those of us who get separated from the flock.  Servant-leaders work hard and love deeply, even sacrificially.  Their lives model their master, Jesus the Good Shepherd.

If you find yourself in the position of leader, whether by appointment, calling, or maturity, I urge you to take your charge seriously.  Did you stand with someone at their baptism?  Do you lead a small group or teach others?  Is there someone God has been putting on your heart regularly, perhaps someone who is missing these days?  Pray for those God has entrusted to your care.  Be present for them.  Listen to them.  Encourage them.  If they are missing, pay attention.  Be an example.  God's will is that everyone makes it to the end.

If you are newer in the faith, I encourage you to put yourself in a place to learn from those who have been walking with Jesus for a while.  I am so grateful for the elders who have invested in me and my walk in Christ.  When I've wanted to give up, they have cheered me on.  When I haven't known how to follow Jesus in a particular life circumstance, they've listened to me and helped me listen to God.  If you want to figure out who is an authentic elder, someone you can trust, you can recognize them by their love, their humility, and their servant attitude.  But if someone wants to control your life or boss you around, you are right to be wary.  That's not the Jesus way.  All of us must wear humility with one another.  

We've been talking about doing the will of God, about helping each other make it, all the way to the end.  To do that, Peter says to take prayer seriously and stick together.  He has one more important thing to tell us: Watch out!  “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8 NLT)

We need to be vigilant all the time, because our adversary is out prowling, looking for stragglers.  That's the way the enemy works.  Out on the savannah, lions don't confront whole herds of anything.  It's way too much work.  Instead they look for the weaker animals, the ones that fall behind, the ones that get distracted.  

Our enemy wants to separate us from the flock, because if he can do that, then maybe he can keep us from reaching the end.  One way he divides and separates us from each other is by trying to get us to see each other as the enemy.  If our real enemy can divide us, then he can pick some of us off.  Sin is a highly effective tool for dividing the flock.  Hurt feelings, misunderstandings, disagreements, arguments, things that fester.  That's why loving each other is so important: love covers a multitude of sins.    

Be serious about prayer.  Stick together.  Watch out for the enemy.  Living to do God's will involves suffering, but it's not for long.  Remember:

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.  All power to him forever! Amen. (1 Pet. 5:10-11)

Do you see that?  In his kindness, God called you.  God.  Called.  You.  

You.  Called, beloved, chosen of God.  As his called, beloved, and chosen people, you are never out of his hand.  It's God's will that you make it, all the way, and he has charged Jesus with bringing you home.  God wills that you be standing on a firm foundation at the end of everything.  What you are experiencing is truly part of God's grace for you, so stand fast in his grace! (1 Pet. 5:12)  Shall we pray?