I am taken by Peter’s logic at this point in the letter, He says “… you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do.” (1 Peter 4:3) Some of their “old” ways were linked to what Peter calls detestable idolatry. This involved them in drunkenness and immorality. God says, enough! “Enough with the old ways” makes sense as we turn from them to follow Jesus, but this is hard to put into practice. When I put a new set of strings on my guitar, to bring them into tune they need to be stretched. When God is tuning our lives, we are stretched. As human beings we feel pulled in two directions; to the ease of our old way of life or to the new virtues we find in Jesus.
I wonder if any of the verses in our reading resonated with you? Pray with a clear mind v7, Love each other deeply v8, Be hospitable to each other v9, Use your gifts to serve one another v10 or Speak to each other as if speaking the very words of God v11. Here Peter highlights the new way of living for God, prayer, love, hospitality, service, godly speech. It echoes the words of Paul who wrote, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31) and then wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind … Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8) The most excellent way, the path set before us in the person of Jesus Christ, is the way of love. Peter wrote, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Where on earth, other than in the person of Jesus and the scriptures do you find such a calling to love? There is a beautiful image of redeeming love in the story of Ruth. She was a Moabite widow, who was dependent on the charity of others. As the story unfolds, we find a tentative link to Boaz, a relative of her late husband. In a respectful, yet daring way, Ruth asks Boaz to live up to his responsibility to protect her, and as a sign of this asks, Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.’” (Ruth 3:9) This is a picture of the tender love of the redeemer, to spread the corner of his garment over us, because the redeeming love of Jesus covers a multitude of sin. This is an image of Jesus, our redeemer, covering our sin with his righteousness.
Some people ask the big question, what is the meaning of life, while overlooking the obvious answer found in the words of Jesus, “… love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) This is the true meaning of life – the love of God generously poured into our lives so we can pour love into the lives of others. It would be unjust to suffer or be persecuted for living a life of love, and yet that is what happened to Jesus. Peter again turns in verse 12 to the hardships, the fiery trials they were facing, and addresses the question of suffering. “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:14) Peter tried to give them perspective, as Christ suffered, you also may suffer.
I heard a very uplifting podcast this week looking at the life of Hormoz Shariat (you may find this encouraging to listen to: From “Death to America!” to Awakening in Iran.) He is Iranian and in his youth went on the protests in Tehran shouting “Death to America”. He gave his testimony of becoming a Christian and starting a radio programme broadcast into Iran which has helped many people come to faith. Some of these have travelled to the USA where Hormoz now lives and he trains them in evangelism. As one group was about to travel back to Iran he became worried for them, knowing they might be executed for their faith. But they replied to him, don’t worry about us. When we followed Islam we were willing to die for Allah. How much more, now we are Christians, are we willing to die for Christ. By contrast, what little is asked of us who are privileged to live for God in New Zealand.
What difference does this make to us? We are to live for God. That is the joyful privilege given us by the God who loves us. We all know we easily get out of tune, fall short of what God desires and once again need forgiveness. Yet Lamentations 3:22–23 reminds us of the fresh start we can have as God’s mercy is renewed every morning. We may tire of asking for forgiveness, but God’s love is so great, he never tires of forgiving us. King David knew this as he prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23–24)
What could you do for yourself today to be more in tune with God?
What could you do for others that would resound as a clear note of the loving kindness of God?
Rev John Malcolm