There are times when I look at a text and find pieces that are not easy to understand, that in some ways can never stand on their own. One of my professors at seminary reminded us that as we look at the scriptures no matter how easy it is understand, none of it stands on its own. There is always a context, and always the need to rely on the Holy Spirit for wisdom in interpretation. When we get to tough texts we need to allow the rest of scripture, the teachings of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to guide us. None of these things come with guarantees that we won’t get it wrong, so my sermon today is the product of my understanding of what is going on in the text combined with some insights from scripture and the Wednesday night bible study’s discussion. God has not only given us scripture, but he has given us the Holy Spirit and a family of faith to help us understand and apply what we read. So thank you members of the Wednesday night bible study for being God’s instruments inspiring this sermon. Turn with me to 1 Peter 4:1-11
4 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:1-11
Before we go into the text I want to first discuss the translation issues around the word “sin” that appears here and throughout the New Testament. Up until this point in history sin has been a fairly self-explanatory concept and taking the mental shortcut of translating the Greek word hamartia in that manner was helpful. Unfortunately we no longer have the same cultural reference points so digging deeper and pulling out the fullness of what the word hamartia can mean could actually serve our outreach much better. The word hamartia is actually very rich in meaning and can be used to cover everything from accidental error to deliberate acts of evil. In the ancient world this concept was most used in reference to the fatal flaws in character that led to tragic outcomes in Greek Plays and poetry. The scripture that best explains what I think is being communicated is when Paul talks about the ways he self-sabotages in Romans 7:14-25. An excerpt to give you the gist is “19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but (the hamartia tragic flaw of self-sabotage or) sin that dwells within me.” If we speak of the tragic flaw lurking within that leads to self-sabotage in all of our relationships, including our relationship with God, we may find it easier for people outside the faith to understand exactly why they may need a savior.
To remind us of the train of thought Peter is on he just finished speaking of how Jesus suffered for the sake of others’ tragic flaws and calls on us to take on the same attitude. Peter goes as far as saying the way we are brought out of bondage to our own tragic flaws is by suffering for the flaws of others. When we suffer for others as Jesus did for us, we are no longer focused on our own pleasure and desires, but instead are at work to alleviate the suffering we see all around us. The source of my tragic flaws is keeping my focus on me and what I want, and the same goes for each human being. Chasing after my desires and fleeing from suffering has been the motto of humanity for thousands of years and we see the same cycles repeated of fleeing from perceived suffering in things that give us pleasure in the short-term which has long-term negative consequences on our health and relationships. Self-serving behavior is ultimately self-sabotaging behavior.
We can talk about how this affects the people who don’t know God, and it does, but Peter is addressing the church here. The church was under a huge amount of pressure to join in the Roman culture around them. One of the main reasons that Christians were persecuted was because of their refusal to work for the Roman bureaucracy at or above the level in which you made life and death decisions, they refused to participate in the worship of the emperor, and they would not acknowledge the “divine” nature of the governing structures of the empire, even though they obeyed the law with fewer exceptions than many of their neighbors. They didn’t behave in ways that promoted themselves at others’ expense and the empire had no way to get a hold on them because of it. Power structures don’t like what they can’t co-opt, and if you are not focused on getting the most for you, you can’t be co-opted.
The early Christians were being taught that humble service was more important than renown and political connections, and this situation is completely unlike anything we are experiencing, right… well, if we are honest we have the same pressures on us to conform to the go for the gusto, might makes right, social Darwinism that rules much of the world systems of relation. Just like those early Christians that Peter wrote this reminder to I need to hear this. I need to hear the call to turn towards suffering rather than away from it. I need to hear that by welcoming suffering for the sake of others I can break the cycle of self-sabotage that drags me down. We all need this reminder, and frankly will probably need to hear it over and over again until the end of the brokenness finally comes.
So now that we know what not to do, Peter gives us a window into the way of Jesus. When we don’t fog up our minds with our attempts to flee pain we are able to see clearly and speak to God. The God whose love covers a multitude of fatal flaws asks us to have that same motivation and that same desire. Rather than deride people for the way they choose to flee their pain, maybe we can face that pain with them. Maybe our love can help cover others’ fatal flaws and our service can bring God’s love to bear in a life that has fled that love because the pain of change is too much to face alone. There is even more here, as a community of people with our own fatal flaws we need the love of others to keep on going in the face of the flaws that so easily entangle us.
We need to welcome each other, not just when things are going well, but when everything seems to be blowing up and our flaws are so obviously visible. When we give the gift of hospitality without grumbling, without judging whether someone deserves it, we are imitating Jesus who loves us enough to draw us in as we are, flaws and all. That welcome is not something we have the ability to offer if we are focused on maintaining pursuit of our own desires. True hospitality requires us to acknowledge the grace we have received for our flaws and extending that gift to others. I have to take stock on a regular and ask God to help me be a better steward of his grace, distributing it as freely to others as He has given it to me. All of the gifts God has given to me must be given as freely and passionately to others as God gave them to me, that is the basis of Christian stewardship right there. DO you want to be a good steward of God’s gifts? Then do not keep them for yourself! Give them away with the same joy God gave them to you. Has God given you wisdom? Give it away. Mercy? Give it away. Love? Give it away. Knowledge? Give it away. Everything God gives us is given so that we can bless the world and draw others to see God’s glory.
The goal in our service is to glorify God, and when others may remark on how kind, humble, forgiving, or compassionate we are we can boldly say “I have these gifts only by the grace of God. It is his grace working through me that enables me to look beyond myself. Would you like to be free of the fatal flaws that sabotage your life?” We are a community of people committed to loving each other even when the pain of our fatal flaws becomes all too obvious. The mercy and grace of God propel us forward, out of the mires we get stuck in and through the love of the people in this room we catch glimpses of the great love that has filled us all with the grace of God.
As we prepare to enter Open Worship I invite you to join me in asking God to fill us with his grace and to direct us in giving that grace away. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide us in how God would most like us to use our gifts to serve others. After I sing a gospel prayer there will be 5 minutes of silence for us to listen for the voice of God, quell the distractions that rise within us and receive from the Holy Spirit the life, love and word of God together.
I Give Myself Away
I give myself away
I give myself away
So You can use me(repeat)
Here I am
Here I stand
Lord my life is in Your hands
Lord I’m longing to see
Your desires revealed in me (chorus)
Take my heart
Take my life
As a living sacrifice
All my dreams
All my plans
Lord I place them in Your hands(chorus)
My life is not my own
To You I belong
I give myself
I give myself to You
CCLI Song # 5873382
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