1 Peter 2:11-17
As we look at the church and society, today, we discover that there are Christians, and there are "Christians."
In many of the books of the Old Testament, we find that there were Jews and there were "Jews."
In other words, there are the true believers, who do the will of God, and then there are the hypocrites, who only claim to be believers.
In our Scripture reading for this morning, Isaiah 10:1-4, we hear the summation of God's warning to the hypocritical Jews of Isaiah's day.
Listen carefully to what he says, and consider how similar it is to the way things are today.
1. Woe to those who enact evil statutes,
And to those who constantly record unjust decisions,
2. So as to deprive the needy of justice,
And rob the poor of My people of their rights,
In order that widows may be their spoil,
And that they may plunder the orphans.
Think of how big government is, today, and about how many of our laws are selective in the way they are enacted and administered.
Think about how special interests, in essence, buy the votes of legislators.
Well, that's the same way it was in Isaiah's day, only it was done by the kings and by many of the Temple leaders.
So what does God say will happen to them?
3. Now what will you do in the day of punishment [or the day of judgment],
And in the devastation which will come from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
And where will you leave your wealth?
4. Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives
Or fall among the slain. In spite of all this
His anger does not turn away,
And His hand is still stretched out.
If we are not with God, we are against Him.
There is no middle ground.
Shortly after Isaiah wrote this prophecy, the northern tribes were taken captive.
And about 100 years after Isaiah, Jeremiah wrote the same things to the remnant in Judah and Jerusalem.
Listen to what he said in the first nine verses of chapter 9:
1. Oh, that my head were waters,
And my eyes a fountain of tears,
That I might weep day and night
For the slain of the daughter of my people!
Jeremiah is a true believer, and his heart is filled with love and compassion. He is crying because of all the destruction he sees.
He is crying for the people, who even though they are sinners, had to die.
He is crying for the people, because of their hardness of heart; that even when they saw the arm of the Lord stretched out against them, they still refused to repent and be saved.
He is crying for the people, because he wanted all of them to be as he is, loving the Lord. But they refused.
And because of this, he wishes he had some place to hide, where he wouldn't have to see any more of what is going on around him.
2. O that I had in the desert
A wayfarers' lodging place;
That I might leave my people,
And go from them!
For all of them are adulterers,
An assembly of treacherous men.
Then he lists their way of life, their sins against each other, and against God.
3. "And they bend their tongue like their bow;
Lies and not truth prevail in the land;
For they proceed from evil to evil,
And they do not know Me," declares the Lord.
Couldn't we say the same thing about many people around us today?
Mary's and my heart aches over what we see, and we are just as frustrated as Jeremiah, because so few people want to hear the truth and change their ways.
Only a very small percentage understand that unconditional love and compassion have no limits, and must be extended to every human, and to every animal, and to the environment.
Most people think it's all a big joke.
Listen to Jeremiah's and God's warning:
4. "Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
Because every brother deals craftily,
And every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
5. "And everyone deceives his neighbor,
And does not speak the truth,
They have taught their tongue to speak lies;
They weary themselves committing iniquity.
This was part of the reason that the Lord allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed and captured by the Babylonians.
And every day, I run into people just like those in Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah.
Listen to what he says to the few who would still listen:
6. "Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit;
Through deceit they refuse to know Me," declares the Lord.
7. Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, "Behold, I will refine them and assay them;
For what else can I do, because of the daughter of My people?
8. "Their tongue is a deadly arrow; It speaks deceit;
With his mouth one speaks peace to his neighbor,
But inwardly he sets an ambush for him.
9. "Shall I not punish them for these things?" declares the Lord.
"On a nation such as this
Shall I not avenge Myself?
I get a chill up and down my spine when I wonder what He's thinking about our nation.
We say that we are under God, but our lifestyle speaks otherwise.
The warnings of these prophets of old are still true today.
But those of us who want to help bring our nation back to God can do so, not by ranting and raving over some special issue, but by loving our neighbors and living the truth.
But how do we do this?
Listen to part of Jesus' prayer, as recorded in John 17:13-17, for in His words is the answer.
13. "But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves.
The first part of our answer, or solution to the problems in the world, is for us, as true Christians, to have the joy of the Lord in us, no matter what is going on around us.
At least for us, we are to have this joy because we know we are His.
14. "I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
The second and third parts of our answer are given here.
We have been given God's word by which to live, and if we live it, we can overcome the world, even if the rest of the world doesn't change.
And, we must remember who we are, and that it no longer matters what non-believers think about us; we who believe are the children of God, and thus citizens of heaven.
We are not of this world, but of heaven.
The fourth part of our answer, and why we are here is given next:
15. "I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.
16. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17. "Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.
Jesus wants us here as witnesses of the truth, true witnesses of the truth, witnesses that are seen day in and day out living the truth.
And I am afraid that we, as the Church, are not doing a very good job of this.
If we now turn to 1 Peter 2:11-17 we get some practical help in accomplishing our God-given task.
11. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
If we indulge in the ways of life and do the things the non-followers of the Lord do, we become like them.
These things include such commonly accepted practices as living together before marriage, having children out of wedlock, using the Lord's Name as an exclamation, and ignoring the pain and suffering of others, whether human or non-human.
12. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Even if others think we're nuts for doing what God wants us to do, and not going along with the things they do, we are to hold fast. We are indeed witnesses of the truth.
13. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
14. or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
15. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
This does not mean that we are to follow their evil practices. It means:
Stop playing politics.
Stop bashing the President, and our other elected officials, as individuals, but continue to speak out about what is wrong.
Work to help them do the right things.
And if someone better comes along, vote for them, but don't bash those in office in the process.
We aren't slaves to the world, that we have to go along with what they are doing.
16. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.
17. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
We can still honor someone we disagree with.
We can honor them, but we don't have to go along with any of their evil acts.
And remember our first allegiance is to the Lord our God.
If we just start with these simple things, we can and will make a difference; but we have to want to make this difference.
I pray we do!