Friday, 28 June 2013

Arming yourself in the Spirit - 1 Peter 4:1-6

1 Peter 4:1-6 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. ESV

Thinking about this passage it looks on the face of it that Christians are an awfully judgmental lot. Peter condemns the life of Gentiles as being debauched (a word not much in use these days). It is a lifestyle of extremes under display. That said, Australia is a culture not ignorant of binge drinking, alcoholism and associated violence. My own city of Melbourne has had big issues with glassings, etc following drinking. Note this isn't a judgment against the consumption of alcohol as such.

But to the point, Peter exhorts us to arm ourselves with the same thinking as Christ; be prepared to suffer for not following the deeds of others. A good look at Jesus shows a man who hung around with prostitutes but did not buy their services (today no doubt he'd surf the net without looking at porn), drunk wine but didn't end up vomiting in the street (I see dried vomit often near my work) or go belt someone up, and eat without pigging out excessively. Purity yes, self-righteousness or hyper spirituality no.

So to suffer for wanting not to do evil and to do good can be to cop flack for being a prude even when you are not, or to suffer your own temptations without giving into them. And how so? We can think strategically about how to avoid all sorts of sins, but if we ignore what Peter says in verse 6 about living in the Spirit, we will fall down. Thinking over the past week, there's much I could be seeking to be armed in the Spirit about instead of trying to muddle on purely by my own will or strategies. A Spirit enlivened will, reason and passions will go a long way to winning the battles we face.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Which empty?

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (NASB)

My reflection on this passage may at first seem a little tangential. It goes back to a conversation I had with someone some time ago. I was arguing that there was value in the crucifix, and not just the standard cross. Being of a Calvinist persuasion, this person wanted to avoid all hint of Catholicism and focus on the empty cross. 

There is of course good reason for this. Jesus said 'It is finished' (Jn 19:30). His atoning work, that act of taking the place of Israel and hence all of humanity on the cross, to atone for sin and 'bring us to God' is all achieved. So the symbolism of an empty cross is a body taken down because in the very act of being crucified Jesus bore the curse of sin (Gal 3:13).

But if this were the sole value of the cross - then there would be no rejoinders by Jesus (e.g. Mark 8:34) or Peter (1 Peter 2:24) to follow his example. I also take the encouragement by the writer to the Hebrews that Jesus was tempted in every way, including to revile his persecutors on the cross, but didn't. The crucifix reminds us of the suffering of Christ and his example. Those of us on the other side of the Reformation divide need to get over it.

Indeed, what about the empty tomb? The resurrection points to our future hope (1 Cor 15) and forgiveness of sins, to say nothing of Jesus as the world's true Lord (Rm 1:1-4). This is where all power and authority has been given to Jesus (Mt 28:18). Jesus doesn't simply rule the church, but the world - though this is not yet manifest and is a sacrificial ruling (unlike a good many pastors & priests in my experience).

So if we are to embrace the biblical symbols to identify the Christian community, both occupied and empty symbols are important in our reflection on Jesus, his work, our identity and mission.