Character Over Comfort

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Good evening! In our sermon tonight, we’re going to be considering the verse we’ve chosen as our text for the year. 1 Peter 5.6-7:

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.

It’s clearly very appropriate for us as a church and for us individually as the world journeys through this pandemic. And even without that, who can say their life is without any burdens, concerns, or worries? And in that context we want to listen carefully to what this part of God’s word has to say – so let me pray for us all now as we begin.

One of the reasons this verse is so pertinent is that it is a clear reminder to us that God cares. But it also tells us what God’s purposes and plans are and we need to understand all it says because we all have a tendency to want God’s care, but only on our own terms and according to our agendas. The letter of 1 Peter is all about how to be like Jesus in a difficult situation. For them that included persecution simply for being Christians. And throughout his letter Peter holds up the example of how Jesus faced the storms of life and encourages us to be like Jesus. That’s because one of the great purposes of God for you and me is that we might be transformed into the image and character of His Son, the Lord Jesus.

God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. [Rick Warren]

Let’s look at 1 Peter 5.6-7, taking the four clauses one at a time:

1. The Instruction: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God
2. The Result: so that at the proper time he may exalt you
3. The Method: casting all your anxieties on him
4. The Motivation: because he cares for you

1. The Instruction: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God

The word, therefore, points back to 1 Peter 5.5 which says:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

That is a quote from Proverbs 3.34. Here Peter helps us to zoom out of our situation and see what matters most to God about it. He’s not primarily concerned about our comfort. God’s concern is dealing with our arrogant determination to live life independently of him. He shows us how deep our tendency is to trust in our own resources, to handle all that life throws at us and to meet our needs and wants. That’s what causes us to get so angry when something threatens to stand in the way of our plans to achieve happiness, significance, security, satisfaction.

God opposes the proud – an attitude that says I will do my own thing, in my own way, using my own resources. But he gives grace to the humble – those who trust in God and depend total on him. To be humble is to realise that you are not – in fact – God. To think otherwise is to hold an inflated view of your own powers, resources, and abilities and fails to give credit to God for giving us those things in the first place. It destroys our relationships with one another because at the end of the day pride leave you thinking you are better than those around you. That’s the context for the instruction in these verses, where we are instructed Humble yourselves. In other words, realise what God is doing – transforming us from arrogant independence to humble dependence. Peter’s letter talks a lot of suffering and trials – they’re a given reality of life and God uses them for his purposes. So, allow yourself to be humbled by them, submit yourself to the humbling process of God.

The key to that is to realise that this verse describes life as it really is. We are under the mighty hand of God. We are the creatures and servants. He is the sovereign creator. We live life under his mighty hand. So, when you find yourself battered and bruised by the storms of life this year, realise that is an opportunity to let God humble us. He is at work, dealing with our proud self-reliance, lovingly guiding us to a better place than we were before – to humble dependence on Him and greater faith in Him. That’s what he desires for us as a church and as individuals. That’s what we can confidently ask that he would do this year at JPC.

Most of the time we live as if we control our destiny. Perhaps it takes a global pandemic to reveal that we are not and never have been ‘in charge’. We do not control our own destiny because all is under the sovereign rule of God. His is the one who rules over all the universe and his hand are mighty and powerful to save and deliver - to lead and direct our lives and meet our needs – sufficient for whatever life may bring. We are under the mighty hand of God.This then, is a command to submit and allow God to be God and do what He deems necessary regardless of how things may appear to us or how difficult. All things are not good, but because God’s hand is mighty and because He is faithful and full of wisdom, He is able to work things together for good, the good of conforming us into the character of Christ.

As a loving Father, God uses suffering or the experience of the tests and trials of life as tools to get our attention and to cause us to grow. Suffering is designed to turn us from depending on our human strategies to living by faith in Him. It forces our faith to the surface, puts it to work, and purifies it from a life of dependence on ourselves and our solutions. Suffering helps us to see our weakness and the insufficiency of our strategies so we will respond to God’s greatness! So that’s the Instruction: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God

2. The Result: so that at the proper time he may exalt you

This is where it is helpful to remember the truth of Rick Warren’s quote:

God is more interested in your character than your comfort. God is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy.

God has a process and an endgame. We see that in the life of Jesus. The process involved suffering and humble service. Think of God himself born as a tiny human baby and laid in a manger and then most of his years on earth working as a humble carpenter. Think of Jesus on the night before he was betrayed, kneeling before his disciples and washing their filthy feet. Of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the cross. Suffering. Humble service. Then at the proper time exalted. Raised from the dead, ascended to reign at the right hand of the father in heaven. Suffering then glory for Jesus. And suffering then glory for us, when we are transformed into his likeness. God is at work in us and one day we will look back and see how he used our present sufferings and persecution, every pain and heartache we face in this life to do it. Glance down to 1 Peter 5.10. Incredible words – promise, sure and certain hope! This is what God will do in due course:

And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

A huge theme in 1 Peter is how our present day sufferings are, in the light of eternity, relatively brief. And they will be followed by future glory. That is our hope. I love how he piles on the verbs here - we will be completely restored, confirmed, strengthened and established. That word restore is the same one used to describe what Peter was doing when Jesus first met him as a fisherman. He was mending, restoring his ripped nets such that they were whole again. And now Peter speaks of what God will do for each one of his children. He will mend us, attend to us, make us whole. He will confirm us – stand us up on own two feet.

But that is to come. Suffering first. Glory later. The lifting up process is first of all a humbling process; the way up is always the way down; the way of death, dying to self-control, is the way of life, the way of becoming a humble servant who gives his life for others as the Saviour did for us. And so we are to live life in this world with eyes and heart fully fixed on the glory that is to come.

3. The Method: casting all your anxieties on him

It may seem like there are two commands in these verses – the first being humble yourselves and the second being cast all your anxieties on him. But there isn’t two, just one. We are told to humble ourselves then shown what it means to do that. Shown the method:

Humble yourselves…[by] casting all your anxieties on him

Casting again brings to mind Peter’s fishing background – throwing out his net onto the sea. Similarly, we are to cast the whole of our life’s worries on Him—not just some areas while we seek to run the others ourselves. We deliberately, consciously move from the sphere of trusting in our own resources and trusting in our strategies for life to resting in God and His resources. We realise our saviour’s complete sufficiency and our insufficiency. We realize that we can’t really handle any part of life apart from the Lord, so we then cast the whole of life on Him.

That will effect what we do. But it is certainly be expressed in our prayer life – where we come and say simply I’m worried about this, help me. You are God, I am not. I need you. The Psalms are really helpful pattern, they teach us the language of faith. Teach us to cry out to him, to cast our anxieties on Him, confident that he is our mighty God. As we read in the Psalm earlier in the service. Psalm 55.22:

Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;

And then finally we’re reminded that he’s not only our powerful Lord, he is also our loving heavenly Father. What better motivation for what we have been instructed to do.

4. The Motivation: because he cares for you

Here’s a truth about God to hold onto and treasure this year - God always and constantly cares about us. Life in uncertain but he is unchanging in his faithfulness. He is steadfast and unfailing. He cares for us as His children – cares about the anxieties he wants us to cast on to him. He is more concerned about our ultimate welfare than we could possibly be and what is more he is infinitely more capable of caring for us than we are for ourselves.Ultimately, it is that care for us that leads him to seek to conform us into the image and character of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. And he will use any means necessary this year to humble us in order to move us from trust in ourselves to trusting in him.

We can’t always know the reasons for suffering and trials in life, but we can be confident that through them God is seeking to show us areas where we need to trust Him more; areas where we are in reality living by faith in our circumstances and in our own schemes for handling life. It may be that we are trying to find our primary satisfaction in something other than the Lord.

Conclusion

So at the start of this new year, let’s continue to reflect on these words. Let them shape our prayers for one another and for our church. Let them drive us in to humble service of others as we consider their needs over our own. Let’s pray for a humble acceptance of God’s will. But most of all let’s pray that this year we would be transformed, changed by His sovereign work into the character of His Son. God seeks to move us into greater and greater levels of dependence on Him and out of self-dependent living wherein we seek our joy and happiness or our security, significance, and satisfaction from the details of life rather than from Him.

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