Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Your Grace is Showing

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1Peter 2:19 ESV)

And there’s the rub – Christians who are not “mindful of God.” Having been saved by grace, we resort to living by our wits, trying to figure out how not to get beat by the system. We’ve got our ticket to heaven. Now we must find our way in the world.

But there is such a thing as a Christian calling, and that is to be a Christ-follower. When Jesus submitted to suffering, he introduced to the world a scent from heaven – grace, that must be dispersed again and again by scattered people.

So here you are, caught in a system that you did not create, a slave to a master you did not choose. So long as it works well for you, it is tolerable. But when it pinches, then we are trained (by the world, not God) to cry and complain. “This is not right. It is not fair. I don’t deserve this.”

That’s what Jesus did, right? When he was reviled, he whined. When he suffered, he protested. When he was nailed to the cross, he vowed to retaliate. No, he submitted, in order that the grace of God could do it’s powerful work in a sinful world, in sinful people who in no way deserve God’s grace.

I think of Naaman’s servant in 1 Kings, an Israelite captured in a Syrian raid and now working in a foreign captain’s home. When he contracted leprosy, she could have wished that he would rot in hell. Have you ever wished that on a boss? But what showed was not her resentment, but her grace. “There is a prophet in Israel. He can help.” Why stick out her neck? Why bother? Because grace was a powerful force in her life, and she was “mindful” not merely of her self and her own situation, but “of God.”

Don’t Fear What They Fear: Fear Christ

There is more than meets the eye in Peter’s famous evangelism text: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1Peter 3:15 ESV). The verse begins with the tail end of a quotation from Isaiah 8:12,13 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.” “The last part of the verse (underlined) has been recast by Peter as “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

If we begin to circle out from this quotation, we find materials to form a chiasm, a literary structure that may have been in Peter’s mind, and not just in my own imagination. Even so, I find it helpful in relating ideas to one another. Here is my outline.

A. Evildoers are Active (13)

B. Good Cause (13)

C. Zealous (13)

D. Suffer for righteousness sake (14)

E. Blessed (14)

Don’t fear what they fear: Fear Christ! (14,15)

E’ Prepared (15)

D’ Speak concerning hope (15)

C’ Gentleness and Respect (15)

B’ Good Conscience and Conduct (16)

A’ Evildoers are Ashamed (16)

Let me give you just a few thoughts on the matching points:

Concerning “A. and A’”, sure, evildoers are active. But in the end, they will be reduced to humiliation. See many of the Psalms with regard to this theme.

Concerning “C. and C’”, I think you can find the materials for “How to be a Zealot, but not a Terrorist,” or, “How to Share the Gospel Graciously.”

Concerning “E. and E’”, the Greek words actually match up better (visually) than the English (and also, word order in Greek supports this outline better than the English word order). To be “blessed” means that we don’t have to worry about securing our place in the world, or getting the “stuff” of the world. But the other word, “prepared, ready,” shows that we are not to be at ease, apathetic. We are filled with sense of urgency and expectation, even as we are marked by a sense of blessed security.

I wouldn’t die for this outline. But I am thankful for the cross-germination of thoughts that it fosters.