Be’s of the Bible, Part 4

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Here we are, up to our fourth of seven “Be’s” of Scripture. The first three “Be’s” we looked at include:

  • Be Holy (because God is holy);
  • Be Perfect (or, “be mature”)
  • Be Still (and let God do the work)

In these three, and in fact in all seven “Be’s,” the Lord is issuing a command to His people. These “Be’s” are not suggestions; they represent something God wants us to become, or a way to behave or a way to think. But these commands are not onerous or burdensome; they are for our own good, and the longer we put off “being” the way God wants us to be, the harder life will be for us. God knows what’s best for us, yet He graciously allows us to decide when to obey any of the particular “Be’s” He gives. What a blessing a free will is! All we need to do is smarten up and learn how to use that free will for God’s glory. With His help through the Holy Spirit, we will as we become the kind of people He wants us to become.

Our fourth “Be” sounds like it was written by a teetotaler, but it wasn’t and it has absolutely nothing to do with abstaining from your favorite adult beverage.

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

There are actually two “Be’s” there, but we’ll concentrate on the first one: “Be sober.” Let’s look at this admonition in the context of Peter’s first letter.

Peter, the man and the writer

We love Peter. Of all the characters in Scripture, most of us feel drawn to Peter because he seems to be so…human. He had such great successes and a few terrible failures. Sounds like a lot of people we know. Maybe even us! Peter was the kind of guy who had an opinion about anything and everything, and he wasn’t afraid to express it whenever he got the chance. Sometimes he was right, often he was wrong, but he never stopped. Some people might think of Peter as being a bit rash. Maybe. But with a guy like Peter, you always knew what was going on in his head and more importantly, in his heart.

But he was courageous, full of energy, overflowing with self-confidence, and he was full of hope. Sometimes he was fickle, weak, cowardly, a little unstable. Yet he became a towering figure in the early church and he’s often linked to another slightly unstable man, Paul. You couldn’t find two men more opposite in their temperaments, but both men were absolutely indispensable in the formation of the early Church.

Peter was a family man – a good son in law! – and fisherman by trade. Apparently he was a very successful fisherman because he owned a home in Capernaum that was large enough to accommodate his family and the Lord and even other disciples.

The religious leaders of his day believed Peter and Jesus’ disciples to have been uneducated and untrained. But really they were highly intuitive laymen who knew their Scriptures.

Andrew was his brother, and we’re not sure if Peter was older or younger. Peter’s full name was Simon Peter and was one of our Lord’s “inner circle,” along with James and John. For some reason, these three man were closer to Jesus than the other disciples and were witnesses to some things the others only heard about.  For example:

Peter, James, and John witnessed the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In fact, the only other people to see this miracle were her parents.

These three men also were the only witnesses to the event that took place of the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

The third event witnessed by this trio of disciples took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was there that Peter saw a side of His Lord nobody save James and John ever saw: the sheer agony of Jesus as He prayed to His Father concerning the trials about to befall Him.

These three events undoubtedly were seared into Peter’s mind and surely affected his ministry and his letters and gave him a perspective and insight into the spirit world we should pay attention to.

Advice to the church

The future of the church hung in the balance. She was being attacked from without by various persecutors and from within there were the constant threats of false teaching and false teachers. In chapter five of his first letter, Peter, just like Paul, gave some advice to certain people, and the first person in his cross-hairs was the Pastor.

To pastors

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. (1 Peter 5:1 – 4 TNIV)

In the original Greek, the word for “elders” is presbuteroi, which seems to set these individuals apart as senior leaders of a congregation. In my opinion, the terms “elder” here, and “overseer” or “shepherd” elsewhere all refer to the same person. All three terms are used by Paul interchangeably in Acts 20:17, 28.

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:17, 28 TNIV)

Peter begins his advice to pastors by making sure they knew that he was one of them, and that he had seen things they hadn’t. As a member of Christ’s inner circle, Peter saw things and heard things they hadn’t, so they should pay attention to him. His advice: “shepherd the flock!” Or we could put it this way: “Do everything for your congregation that a shepherd would do for his flock.” This isn’t new advice, in fact, it’s exactly what Jesus told Peter to do!

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 TNIV)

Not an unimportant word in John 21:15 is “my.” Any congregation is the Lord’s. It’s “the Church of God.” It’s God’s flock that any pastor has been given charge over. And Jesus loves His flock; it is extremely precious in His sight. That’s why nobody should view the pastorate as a career or as merely a job. Nobody should “choose” to become a pastor; it’s not a position to be coveted. If anything, it’s a position to be feared because the pastor has been tasked with looking after the spiritual well-being of people who belong to Jesus Christ.

The job of the pastor, like the shepherd, is full of joy, and peace, but also anxiety and fear. Sometimes a shepherd has to poke and prod his sheep to stay on the safe path. Sometimes the pastor’s job is unpleasant and full of problems and heartbreak.

The pastor isn’t a dictator, although he could be. His life is on constant display for all to see. And contrary to what Bible colleges and seminaries would have you believe, nobody “learns” how to be a pastor. His example is the Great Shepherd Himself.

And unlike any other believer, the pastor will have to stand before the Lord to defend his faithfulness in ministry and give an account for all his actions with the flock under his care. As some might say, “That sucks.” Yeah, maybe it does, but a glorious future awaits the elder who, to the best of his ability, faithfully feeds Christ’s flock under his care.

To the congregation

But it’s not just the pastor who’s on the hook for living right and behaving right. The survival of the Church also depends on the behavior of the congregation.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5 – 7 TNIV)

Just as the “elders” of the Church will have to give an account of all their actions, in fact, all believers will have to stand before God to give an account before God. So all believers need to practice willful subjection and submission toward each other by respecting and honoring each other. This mutual submission, by the way, isn’t normal and is therefore difficult. This kind of lifestyle is ONLY possible when people are full of and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

To help his readers understand the kind of life he’s writing about, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34, showing how much God admires the virtue of humility. Saved or not, if people practiced a little more humility, we’d all be better off. But it’s not easy to live this way; not easy at all! So there’s a promise attached to those who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, manage to pull it off: They will be exalted at the proper time, which is God’s time by the way, not man’s. You should remember something else, most Christians won’t experience this “exaltation” in this this life, but in the life to come.

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27 TNIV)

Far from exaltation, the peaceful lives of most Christians are threatened by anxiety and fear. Yes, life is full of stress and problems. Peter reminds us that true peace comes when we learn to give God our anxieties.

And this brings us to our fourth “Be.”

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

The Christian should never, ever be careless in how they live. Christians need to live deliberately.We need to be self-controlled and alert at all times. Peter uses two incisive aorist imperatives: Be sober! Watch! Peter condemns anxiety or worry, but says Christians need to be watchful and clear-headed. Believers need to be self-controlled; to not be ruled by their feelings or emotions; not to be inconsistent or flighty in their attitudes toward their faith.

Peter knew all about this because he got caught one time –

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:31 – 46, verses 31, 32, 45, 46 cited TNIV)

So while Jesus promised to pray for Peter, Peter had a responsibility too! To stay awake! To keep his eyes open. So he’s just passing along to his friends what Jesus tried to teach him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Believers need to be clear-headed and always on the alert because our enemy, the devil, is relentless. He can’t touch those kept by the power of God, but he’s on the prowl, looking for any lost sheep that may have wandered from the fold. He’s looking for the believer restless in his faith; one who has become spiritually lazy; one for whom the things of God have become boring. Satan looks for the believers flirting with the world, and given the chance at the right time, he’ll destroy them. Hence the call to be wide awake and on guard.

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