Tag Archives: suffering

“In the Sight of God”: Divine Perspective from 1 Peter

I enjoyed a slow read through 1 Peter this afternoon, sitting quietly in my backyard and giving myself time to meditate as I read. 1 Peter was a letter written to “elect exiles” (1:1), and it definitely offers a counter-cultural way of seeing life. I think its message is timely for today.

Three times in this letter Peter specifically describes how things look “in the sight of God” or “in God’s sight.” Do you see things as God sees them? Let’s find out. Here’s a quiz for you:

  1. Who is “chosen and precious” in God’s sight?
  2. What is “a gracious thing” in God’s sight?
  3. What is “very precious” in God’s sight?

These questions, obviously, have multiple correct answers. But the answers that Peter provides suggest a pattern–a pattern that can be summarized by the proverb Peter quotes near the end of his letter: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:6).

The Rejected Jesus

Who is “chosen and precious” in God’s sight?

The Lord Jesus Christ, Peter says, is “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (2:4). He is “the stone that the builders rejected” which “has become the cornerstone” (2:7).

In this letter Peter emphasizes how Jesus shed his blood (1:2); how the prophets predicted his sufferings (1:11); and how he suffered unjustly and patiently on the cross both as our substitute and our example (2:21-24; 3:18; 4:1, 13; 5:1).

God saw “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1:19), and God chose Christ. Of course, Christ was already “foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20). But there is a sense in which Christ was chosen all over again by God after the cross. The cross had displayed his true identity as a humble, suffering Lamb who had shed his blood to “sprinkle” (1:2) and “ransom” (1:18) a people for God.

In the sight of God, this rejected Christ is “chosen and precious.” Therefore, the God who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble raised Jesus from the dead (1:3) and exalted him to share in his own glory (1:11; 3:21-22; 5:1).

A Servant Who Endures Unjust Suffering

What is “a gracious thing” in God’s sight?

Peter knew that it was a gracious gift to be “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus; persecution was reason for “rejoicing” (Acts 5:41). In this letter, Peter extends that reality to other suffering besides persecution. Any unjust suffering endured patiently in imitation of Christ has meaning or “credit,” Peter insists; “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly” (2:19, 20).

Peter applied this truth especially to servants whose masters were unjust (2:18): “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God” (2:20). Why is this true? Peter continues:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet. 2:21-23)

This is incredibly counter-cultural. Peter says that when a servant is “beaten” (2:20) by his or her master, this is a chance for them to fulfill their calling. I don’t think Peter is saying that suffering itself is the calling of Christians, but he is saying something very close to this: he is saying that patient endurance of suffering in the imitation of Christ is at the heart of the Christian’s calling.

On the one hand this is a hard saying. No reviling of unjust masters, Peter insists. No threatening. How unlike the methods of many today who seek social justice!

But it is also an incredibly empowering teaching. Any unjust suffering, Peter says, can have eternal meaning and purpose. Patient, Christ-like endurance of any injustice earns the credit of God’s favor, pleasure, or commendation. (See how the CSB, NLT, and NIV  translate the ESV phrase “a gracious thing in the sight of God.”)

Following in the steps of Jesus through unjust suffering leads to sharing in Christ’s glory, for the God who is watching opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

A Wife With a Gentle and Quiet Spirit

What is “very precious” in God’s sight?

After addressing servants whose masters were not “good” or “gentle” (2:18), Peter addresses wives whose husbands “do not obey the word” of the gospel (3:1). Such men were likely distant not only from the gospel, but also from their wives who had converted to Christ. By doing so, they had abandoned their husband’s religion, potentially damaging his social standing.

Peter advises such women not to try to entice their husbands by adding appealing hairstyles, jewelry, or attractive clothing (3:3). Instead, they should win their husbands (to the gospel and also to themselves) by the adornment of “respectful and pure conduct” (3:2) that was the overflow of “the hidden person of the heart” (3:4). In particular, Peter praised “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (3:4).

Peter tells wives to follow the example of “the holy women” of old “who hoped in God” and submitted to their husbands–even to husbands whose choices were sometimes frightening, as Abraham’s choices were at times for Sarah (3:6). This teaching does not forbid women from escaping from domestic violence, but it does mean Christian wives will choose to “subject themselves even to unjust treatment because of their faith in Christ.”1

Again, this is counter-cultural teaching. Who today praises the imperishable beauty of a wife’s gentle (humble) and quiet (peaceable) spirit? How much less when a wife is saddled with a husband who has withdrawn his heart from her, or who leaves her with cause for fear?

Who praises such a spirit? God does–the God who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Hope in me, he says; “do not fear” (3:5-6). Your beauty is very precious to me. I will give you grace.

Where Is Your Focus?

“Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” Peter urges his readers (1:13). This Jesus, the stone rejected by men but chosen by God, is the example for all of us–servants, wives, and everyone else. And his pattern of suffering followed by glory is the bedrock of our hope.

Don’t be a typical resident of a Western democracy, focused on demanding your own rights. Don’t focus on securing full justice here and now. Don’t focus on threatening others with justice until you get yours.

Don’t belittle the value of quietly living a peaceable life. Don’t miss the eternal credit of enduring suffering without reviling or threatening. Don’t miss the promise of God’s favor.

Do live as an “elect exile” (1:1), focused on the promises of your heavenly citizenship. Do focus on the grace that will be brought to you when Jesus appears. Do patiently endure suffering. And do entrust yourself to God.

What ultimately matters, remember, is how things truly stand “in the sight of God.” He opposes the proud, and he will indeed give grace to the humble.

“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.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7)


How do you think we need to improve our perspective to better see things as God sees them? Please share your insights in the comments below.


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  1. Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 206. More from Jobes: “Christian women married to unbelieving men are not to despise and reject their husbands, making the household climate one of hostility, but to subject themselves even to unjust treatment because of their faith in Christ, and in so doing accomplish God’s better way… The exhortation… immediately raises the question of whether women should stay in marriages where there is physical abuse. There is nothing in this passage of Scripture that would either sanction the abuse of wives or suggest that women should continue to submit themselves to that kind of treatment. The nature of the suffering that Peter is addressing here is primarily verbal abuse and loss of social standing.”

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A Heart that Bears Fruit for God (4 of 4)

This is the final part of the sermon I shared this past Sunday at Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta. Here is my outline for the blog version of the sermon:

Part 1: What Is “Fruit”?
Part 2: Two Kinds of Hearers
Part 3: Isaiah 6 and Hardness of Heart
Part 4: Four Kinds of Hearers and One Goal


FOUR KINDS OF HEARERS AND ONE GOAL

With the interpretation of his Parable of the Sower/Soils (Matt. 13:18-23), Jesus expands the picture from two kinds of hearers to four kinds. We do not have time to unpack each kind of soil (hearer) in detail, but will observe several key points.

Only the first soil mentions “heart” (Matt. 13:18). Only first and last soil mention “understanding” (Matt. 13:18, 23). But it is clear that all soils represent hearts in various conditions of understanding or not understanding. The four soils suggest a range of receptivity to the message of the kingdom and a range of levels of understanding.

This is a more nuanced picture than the “insiders” and “outsiders” division of the earlier verses, but the parable interpretation still ends up with only two groups: those who bear fruit and those who don’t. Life prior to the final judgment is messy, so it’s not always clear who is “inside” and who is “outside.” And it takes time even for healthy plants to bear fruit. Yet only when there is good fruit do we have assurance that God has granted true understanding.

This point must be underscored: What counts before God on the day of judgment, according to this parable and the next in this chapter, is that we bear fruit. Merely experiencing some initial joyful growth of the word in our hearts is not enough. Fruitfulness is utterly essential! “You will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father…” (Matt 7:20-21).

How much fruit? Perhaps a hundredfold, perhaps sixty, perhaps thirty. The amount may depend on how much you seek to understand, and it may also depend on what God has entrusted to you. But bear fruit you must, and bear fruit you “indeed” will, if your heart truly understands the word of the kingdom of heaven.

The first soil most closely matches how Jesus has described the unbelieving crowds. They hear the word but don’t understand it. One new idea is added: Here God’s judgment is carried out by him permitting Satan to remove the word from their hearts. Humans and angelic forces each possess agency, yet God is sovereign over all.

The second and third soils invite the most personal reflection, for they fall between the extremes of full unbelief and fruitful understanding. These soils depict things that may prevent those with false or inadequate understanding from achieving fruitfulness. Consider the rocky soil: If we don’t truly understand (grasp on a heart level, fully believe) Jesus’ kingdom teachings about the blessings of suffering for him (Matt. 5:10-12), then our growth will be short-lived and our lives will prove fruitless. And consider the thorny soil: If we don’t understand Jesus’ kingdom teachings about our caring heavenly Father and the superlative value of eternal rewards (Matt. 6:19-34), then we will be choked by the “anxiety of the age” and the “deceitfulness of riches.”

Brothers and sisters: Are there ways that we might be rocky or thorny soil? Are we quickly shaken by tribulation or suffering for Jesus? Are there days when we are consumed by cares and anxiety? Have we bought into the never-ending lie that we will be a little happier, a little more secure, if only we achieve a little more earthly wealth? How might these blindnesses, these false kingdoms, be ruling our lives? What do you think?

But all is not lost if we see in ourselves some of these tendencies! Jesus’ parable invites all who have ears, to hear! Indeed, the other parables in this same chapter can help us understand the needed kingdom truths. The parables about the weeds (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43) and about the nets (Matt. 13:47-50) fortify us against the dangers of the rocky soil by reminding us that good and evil people need to coexist until the end of time, and that the true tribulation we must fear is the final judgment. The parables about the mustard seed and the leaven (Matt. 13:31-33) similarly encourage patient endurance. The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matt. 13:44-46) remind us of the joy and inestimable value of the kingdom, far greater than any earthly anxieties or riches that could turn us into thorny soil.

Thus, the rest of the parables are designed not only to hide kingdom knowledge from unbelievers, but also to give true disciples increasing understanding, so we can avoid proving to be either rocky or thorny soil. Our response to the parables reveals what kind of soil we are. Will we take up the challenge to have ears and hear?

Brothers and sisters: Our goal must be to be “good soil.” We must pray for deep understanding of kingdom realities—the sort of understanding and faith that grips our hearts, produces profound repentance, opens the door for deep healing, and results in plentiful fruit!

Nabeel Qureshi was a Muslim who became a Christian after years of difficult searching that stretched his mind, will, and emotions. I listened to his story by audio book this week. I was challenged by his example of seeking after God:[1]

  • How his dad heard some of the same apologetic arguments that Nabeel heard, but how he, unlike Nabeel, was unable to see his own deceptive thinking.
  • How Nabeel realized multiple times that he needed to count the cost and decide if he was truly willing to conform to whatever truth God may show him.
  • How Nabeel realized only after the fact that sometimes he was subconsciously not allowing himself to believe some things because of the costs that would come with true belief.
  • How it took diligent searching over many years with several stages of increasing belief and repentance before Qureshi came to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
  • How even after Nabeel acknowledged Jesus’s true identity in prayer to God, more diligent search was required to come to secure healing and fruitfulness for God.

We should not confuse gaining a heart that understands with simply becoming a Christian. No, the call to understand is not simply about becoming a Christian, but about being one. It takes continued growth in understanding for continued fruitfulness. We need to grow in knowledge, in faith, in having our hearts seized and transformed by the King of the kingdom of heaven. This will lead to ongoing repentance, healing, and fruitfulness.

So let me end as Jesus ended, with a question: “Have you understood all these things?” (Matt. 13:51). That is: Have you followed with your ears and your minds? Did the words I shared ring true in your heart? Are you allowing them to grasp you deep inside and stir up a new vision of reality? Do you believe what you have heard? Have you been moved to repentance? Have you already begun to ask God for deeper healing and more fruitfulness?

If yes, then I give you Jesus’ words: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). Treasure the truths you have heard today, both the old ones and anything that may have been new for you. Thank God for the gift of spiritual understanding! Bring out your treasures frequently, admiring them and sharing them with others. If you do, you have God’s promise: You will indeed bear fruit and yield “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Do you have any feedback on this exposition of Matthew 13:1-23? Your responses are welcome in the comments below!


[1] See Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, book by Nabeel Qureshi.


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What Does a True Follower of Jesus Look Like?

How can you identify a real Christian? What are the marks of a genuine Christian?

Mark Dever is famous for his list of “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.” Others, including the Protestant reformers, produced lists of marks of the “true church.” (A church can be unhealthy but still true, so the latter lists are shorter.)

But I am asking primarily about the individual, not the group: How can you identify who truly belongs to Jesus?

There are many good, biblical ways to ask and answer this question. What does Christian mean, anyway? The term was first used in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, and it appears that unbelievers were the ones who coined it. According to commentator Ben Witherington III, the term Christians (Χριστιανοι) in its original historical context meant “those belonging to, identified with, or adherents or followers of Christ.” (Pardon his poor grammar!) So in this post I’ll frame it this way: What does a true follower of Jesus look like?

I was motivated to ask this question because our little church gathering here in West Lake, Atlanta goes by the name of Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta (FJCA). Since we chose to bear that name, I decided I should examine the New Testament more closely to see whom we are supposed to be!

I shared my findings with our church and we discussed them together. Now I’ll share them with you.

First, some clarifications.

What follows is not a summary of the gospel. If it was, I’d need to be clearer on the work of Jesus.

Nor is it a description of the church. If it was, I’d need to discuss things like leadership and decision-making.

Some might fault this list because it focuses strongly on behavior. But this is a natural result of simply reading how the Bible, Jesus in particular, describes followers of Jesus. They are certainly people who believe certain things—and my list begins with belief, even if it doesn’t use the traditional language of faith. But they are also people who act, or at least ought to act, in certain ways. Again, this focus on behavior is because I am aiming to describe not the gospel itself, but a primary fruit of the gospel—people who are changed to follow Jesus.

This list is not intended to be comprehensive. It began with a simple concordance search for “follow.” Immediately several central themes (suffering for Jesus, selfless love, etc.) became clear. Though I expanded my search, there are too many related concepts to have found all the relevant biblical data. I did try to throw a wide net—sometimes perhaps too wide—but I realize now that even some basic concepts like repentance and faith could be strengthened. I expect I’ll update this list from time to time.

Lastly, perhaps this list would be better titled “marks of healthy followers of Jesus,” since no one follower exhibits all these qualities perfectly.

Read my summary paragraphs after each heading. Compare my summary statements with the Scriptures that follow. Perhaps you’ll find Jesus’ call to follow as challenging as I did!


Marks of True Followers of Jesus

Suffering witness: Jesus’s followers bear confident witness to his true identity as fully God and fully man—the Son of God, the promised Messiah-Christ-King, the Lamb of God who saves us from our sin, and the risen, ruling Son of Man. These followers are so devoted to Jesus that they willingly suffer for his sake, leaving all—possessions, family, and honor—for the sake of Jesus and the eternal rewards of his kingdom.

They bear witness of Jesus and his kingdom to each other, to the watching world, and to all of creation. They bear witness by word and action, by their gathered worship and their daily lives, and ultimately by their deaths.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his greatest commandment—to love God with all our being.

Matt. 4:19; 16:15-17; 28:18-20; John 1:35-49; 6:66-69; 10:4-5, 27; 15:26-27;  1 Cor. 11:23-26; Col. 3:16-17; Rev 14:1-5; Matt 4:18-22; 8:19-22; 9:9; 10:37-39; 16:24-26; 19:21-23; Mark 8:34-37; 10:28-30; Luke 5:11, 28; 9:23-24, 57-62; John 12:23-26.

Loving service: Jesus’ followers imitate his way of loving others. They gladly suffer injustices without retaliating. They offer generous forgiveness to all who offend them, without holding grudges. They pray for their enemies and look for ways to creatively bless them, refusing to take up the sword. They are faithful in their marriages and all other relationship commitments.

Their whole lives are characterized by selfless service, for they imitate the One who came not to be served but to serve—who gave up his divine rights, washed his disciples’ feet, and laid down his life for the world.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his second great commandment—to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Mark 15:41; John 12:26; Matt. 20:25-28; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 6:27-36; 22:25-27;  1 Pet. 2:20-24; 3:9-18; 5:1-3; Eph. 4:32; 5:1-2, 25; Col 3:13; John 13:14-16; Phil 2:4-7; Rom 15:1-3, 7.

Christian unity: Jesus’ followers know there is one Flock and one Shepherd. They affirm that all who belong to Christ, the Head, also belong to the Church, his Body. They rejoice that people of every culture, color, and class find oneness in Christ alone. They know Jesus has promised to build his own Church which he purchased with his own blood.

They don’t divide over human leaders, but they do honor the teaching and imitate the example of Jesus’ apostles, whom he appointed as a foundation for his true Church. They welcome all whom Christ has welcomed while disciplining those who falsely claim to belong to him.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor his final recorded prayer for them—that we may all be one in him.

Matt. 12:30; 16:18-19; 18:15-20; Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50; John 10:16; 17:20-23; Acts 2:42-47; 20:28;  1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:3-9; 11:1; 12:12-13; Eph. 4:4-6; Rom. 15:5-7;  2 Tim 1:13-14; 3:14-17; Rev. 7:9-10, 17.

Spirit-powered obedience: Jesus’ followers honor his words by doing them. They do this by the Holy Spirit, their Helper sent by Jesus. They know they—like Jesus during his earthly life—will bear good fruit only by the power of the Spirit within them.

They expect the Spirit will bear witness to Jesus by miraculous signs and special graces given as he wishes. They also expect the Spirit will empower them to live clearly counter-cultural lives of moral purity, relational integrity, and neighbor- and enemy-love—lives of humility, contentment, and trust in their heavenly Father.

In this way Jesus’ followers honor the great commission he gave them—to make disciples who are taught to do all that he commanded.

Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 6:46-49; John 14:15, 21-24;  1 John 2:4-6; Matt. 5-7; 22:37-40; Acts 10:38; Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-2, 14-15, 18; Luke 3:16; 11:13; 12:11-12; 24:49; John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7-15; Acts 1:4-5, 8; 2:1-4, 32-33, 38-39; Gal. 5:16-25.


Here is a PDF version of the same list:

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Marks of True Followers of Jesus

Where are North American Christians most falling short of these marks? How would you summarize the biblical picture of a true Christian? Share your insights in the comments below.


Endnote: As I did my research, I ended up with about seven main points. I wanted to be more concise, in case we end up using some version of this list as a church values statement someday. So I combined points until I had only four somewhat memorable headings. Many other combinations could have been equally possible, however. For example, combining “suffering” with “love” rather than with “witness” would also have expressed something that is clearly biblical: “Suffering love.” “Spirit-powered unity” also sounds good! The richness of Scripture cannot be summarized in any four, seven, or nine marks.


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