Monday, 29 April 2013

Excellence in behaviour - reflections on 1 Peter 2

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle." - Brennan Manning

 "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatama Gandhi

"Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." - 1 Peter 2:11-12

After the most recent sermon at City on a Hill, I've been pondering these two verses as I think about leading two different study groups.

Scott McKnight in his commentary points out that they readers of this book may have been people who lacked Roman citizenship, and hence really were aliens and strangers in their context, lacking the rights the citizens did. But what is more, their identification with the Messiah marginalized them even more.

Now there was much in the ancient world that was considered normal that was ungodly. Imagine if you had to offer incense to the emperor as divine before going into the market, or worship him as divine in allegiance to serve in the army or as a public official, or worship some patron deity to be part of some artisan's guild? What if not worshiping these other gods got you labelled as an atheist? Or calling fellow Christians brother and sister made you guilty of incest? If taking part in the Lord's Supper made you a cannibal, eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood? Perhaps being faithful to your wife and not taking a male or female sexual partner outside of marriage made you a prude?

In other words, there were things that Christians did that saw them as being evil in the sight of broader culture, yet were in the end good things. Of course the New Testament is replete with examples where the church was involved in fleshly lusts; 1 Corinthians is full of them.

But I want to focus on modern examples of where we might go against the grain, and how to make sure the accusations we suffer as evildoers are for making well based judgment calls on moral issues without making 'tools' of ourselves in the process.

Take ANZAC Day for example. The day we honour those who died in war. What do we make of it? In one corner we have the popularist, militarist, modern civic religion that it forms part of with the Mecca of ANZAC cove. In the other extreme with have the howls of patriarchy, hierarchy, etc. In the middle we need the recognition of bravery, mourning of loss and attitude of never again. We need to proclaim the Prince of Peace even when pragmatism tells us and on occasion demands the lesser of evils [as a side note I'm not a full-blown pacifist, but killing is killing is not an ultimate good]. Perhaps one of the hardest roles in this context is military chaplain, one who tends the spiritual and emotional needs of those damaged by the horrors of armed conflict, and upholds the ultimate peace through death on a cross.

A second example is the rampant sexualisation of culture. From looks that are too long and too searching, to porn, to endorsing sexism - there are plenty of ways in which Christian men can satisfy or deny fleshly lusts, and in the end be seen as an evil doer, a prude. Yet hopefully too seen as upright, embracing the physical and sexual (just our wives) in positive ways, and speaking out more broadly when needed. I once posted against the Lingerie Football League online. Not sure how I was perceived by some, but deep down such a 'sport' deeply objectifies women, and you'd hope such a stance stands out as a good deed.

Finally, there is work. Men are expected to hold down good jobs, be good at them and work hard and long. Yet what of family, wife and kids? What of the fact that money and success are idols? That global capitalism (and yes Marxism too, but we live in Australia so...) is responsible for slavery, environmental degradation and the destruction of community as we work longer, harder, faster, etc. Jobs are good, making things people need is good, being warm and fed is good. But clearly things in the West have moved beyond that. If you have a nanny, a gardener, a cleaner and often eat out - things are broken. Try leaving early or taking time off for sick kids in some work places. Try working part time - it will affect which projects you get given. Maybe what you have your Super invested in or what sort of work your company does needs scrutiny? Or how people get ahead needs comment (nepotism, sleeping to the top, etc)?

So Mars, Aphrodite and Mammon are alive and well in 21st c. Australia. Our 'flesh' craves to worship them, but in resisting so and risking being called evildoers - unAustralian, unblokey, wowsers - so long as we are pursuing them in the right way, the hopefully our good characters (as opposed to self-righteousness) will shine. The goal of course is not merely personal satisfaction but witness in deed so that God might be glorified when Christ returns at his visitation - the resurrection of the dead and the renewing of all things.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Reflections in 1 Peter 1

Ok, so dropping the ball on this blog is bad since it is meant to help me read the bible. I picked John's gospel because a) I love it and b) we did it at church and c) doing it now doesn't look like trying to argue with what was preached. But I've been slack, and so since I am involved in leading two community groups at church, I thought I'd reflect here on a few things we looked at this week. The text was 1 Peter 1:1-12.

One of the major themes of 1 Peter is suffering for the faith (1:6-7), copping flack for being a Christian. In the first century, being an artisan or part of a trade guild, involving a patron god. Becoming a Christian basically meant becoming an atheist in this context, and social isolation. If we give up worshiping mammon (money) in our workplaces, or success, fame, office politics, and so on, we should expect to 'be persecuted' at our work, not to advance as far as others in our careers and so on. But given we have an imperishable inheritance, then this shouldn't be an issue (v7).

Two further things of note. Firstly, our persecutions are nothing compared to countries where unemployment, imprisonment and death are on offer. Secondly, while we can't 'take it with us' and we should be building networks and a legacy of faithful witness and loving relationships, there is nothing wrong with excelling at a job or earning money to support family and church.

One of the other things to stand out to me is when Peter says that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls (v9). Now in the Hebrew mind this is not some ghostly part of us, but the whole of us as humans. My aging body, my inner being, all of it. When Peter speaks of 'revelation of Jesus Christ' (v7), he means the resurrection of the dead, so it isn't some Platonic idea of heaven but the marrying of heaven and earth. Our inheritance is kept in heaven, but just like kids don't go into the cupboard to play with their Christmas present, but have it brought out for them on Christmas day, so our inheritance will be brought to Earth to play with for eternity.

When you look in the mirror, who do you see? Do you see someone who is basically ok or someone whose soul needs saving? It may very well come through a period of suffering - but be careful to distinguish between being persecuted for the faith and suffering because of your sin and that of others. We all make out beds and lie in them, and when we wake up in the morning and see that face in the mirror, see someone who needs saving and who is being saved, and who will be saved.