Alert But Not Alarmed
1 Peter 5
Alert But Not Alarmed
Be alert but not alarmed
Hands up if you like playing board games?
My favourite board game is called The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Game!
Has anyone ever played it?
My wife Kathy thinks I’m a pessimist, that I’m always thinking about the worst possible thing that could happen, I call that just .. you know, being prepared, But I guess that’s why a game about every disaster that could possibly happen appeals to me!
But see, I think of it as more than a game, it’s a survival tool!
And me, being the guy who gets on a plane and counts the rows of seats to the nearest exit, and tests the seatbelt to make sure it’s going to undo when it has to, I think this is just terrific.
The game, or .. let’s call it “the tool”, will teach you how to cross a piranha-infested river,
How to escape from a gorilla ,
How to leap from a motorcycle to a car,
How to perform an emergency tracheotomy. Although I must say one of the people playing the game when I got that question was a professor of paediatrics, and he disputed the game’s answer, so I’m still not really sure what to do in that situation!
But you can learn how to defuse a bomb,
What to do if your menu catches fire at a candle-lit restaurant,
And of course, my personal favourite, how to land a plane, if the pilot is unconscious!
It is, the ideal game for the person who thinks life is dangerous, that you need to be, alert, but not alarmed!
We have an enemy
And you know, as we’ve, skimmed across this letter of 1 Peter in these last few weeks, I think that’s exactly the message Peter wants his readers to take to heart:
Be alert, but not alarmed.
Of course, the real danger for Christian people , isn’t piranha-infested rivers , but what we’re warned about in the middle of this section, let’s start there and then go back to the beginning of the chapter, 1 Peter 5 verse 8, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour ,
I wonder if that’s what you think.
That when you’re walking down the street minding your own business, you have an enemy, waiting to eat you!
You might have seen the footage in the last couple of weeks of a little girl in the Wellington Zoo, face pressed right up to the glass as a huge male lion stands just centimetres away on the other side.
She’s perfectly safe of course, because that’s not the kind of lion pictured here is it?
The devil is like the kind of lion who’s ready, and able, to eat.
Think of the lions you see in the TV documentaries.
They’ve got all these hidden cameras, dung cam, elephant cam, to get us right in close as the lion prowls around looking for someone to devour.
You see the zebra, happily chewing away on the grass, but it’s completely unaware that just metres away, the lion is looking for some dinner!
Peter’s saying “We’re the zebra!”
Don’t be .. unaware.
Don’t be ignorant!
Don’t be a zebra, Peter says. Actually, be a meerkat! They’re always on the lookout for danger aren’t they?!
In the 1940s the British author C S Lewis wrote a series of fictional, satirical letters, between a young demon and a senior demon, they were eventually published as a book called “The Screwtape Letters.”
And in the preface to the book, Lewis wrote this:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to .. disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.
Sometimes you’ll find people obsessed, with demons and the devil. Anything that goes wrong, from sickness to, a car that won’t start must be the work of one devil or another.
But other people, don’t think that there’s any .. sort of spiritual realm, and maybe that’s you. In fact maybe you’re not a Christian, and the whole evil spirits thing just sounds a little too weird.
But as C S Lewis says, those are two equally bad errors, It’s like trying to avoid crashing your car into a light pole on this side of the road, and so you plough into a tree on that side of the road.
But make no mistake, Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith,
He’s looking for someone to devour
Now the devil’s not going to literally eat someone is he?
But he will seek to destroy a Christian person ,
He will seek to destroy the Christian church ,
And it seems to me that from everything Peter has said about persecution,
And unjust suffering,
And the cost of living the Christian life, the way that the devil will seek to devour a Christian person, is by trying to draw them back into the ways of the world.
He will stir up suffering ,
Stir up persecution ,
Anything that will make a Christian person think “No. I’m going back to my old life, to make it all go away.”
“Be alert,” Peter says, not necessarily for some spectacular attack, but for the undermining of faith.
In fact in The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, the senior devil says of the young Christian man who they call The Patient, “the safest path to hell is the gradual one.”
We’re called to resist
See the danger for Christian people, is not that we’re helpless before the devil ,
The danger is that a Christian person might fail to resist.
See the battle between Christ and Satan isn’t like some boxing match you might see on TV, and you don’t really know ‘til the knockout who’s going to win.
Christ has triumphed over Satan, and so if you’re a Christian person, you’re able to resist Satan and his attacks.
The resistance word there is the word that’s used to describe the Egyptian magicians opposing Moses before Pharaoh.
Do you think they just strolled up , “We’ll give it a shot and if it doesn’t work, we’ll just go home”?
The Scriptures don’t give us the detail, but you can imagine can’t you ,
They’d get their heads together,
“We’ve got to find a way to stand up against this guy ,
If he beats one of us, the rest of us will all rush in to help.”
And did you see, how we resist? By standing firm in the faith.
We don’t resist the devil through cleverness or super-human effort, but by standing firm in our faith, that is, firm in our trust in God.
We hold on to the promises that God has made,
We cling to God’s Word ,
We trust in God as he has made himself known.
Peter goes on, you can resist Satan, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
How does someone else’s suffering help you?
If you trip over and break your arm, it doesn’t really help you to see someone else trip over and break their arm, does it?
Except, when you know someone else is suffering in exactly the same way, you know it’s not just you.
If I’m suffering for being a Christian, and other Christians I know are just going along fine, I might begin to wonder if I’m doing something wrong,
But if I know others are suffering, that says, “this is normal” ,
It’s not just me.
Christ shepherds his flock through the elders
Be alert, Peter says, resist your enemy, but one of the reasons we don’t need to be alarmed, is because Christ has raised up shepherds for his flock .. his people.
Read with me back from verse 1 if you will, 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, serving as overseers.
I’m probably the only one in the room who’s got the word “pastor” on their business card, shall I just preach to myself for a few minutes , . and then wake you all up when we get to something a bit more relevant?
In the New Testament, the elders were those who exercised leadership,
Those who pastorally cared for the members of the church,
Those who taught from God’s Word.
Sometimes it was within a recognised role, other times it’s just the people who tended to do these things who are called the elders.
And generally speaking those people tended to be the older members of the congregations, hence the term “elders.”
But don’t think this is only about a particular office.
And don’t think this is only about older people.
In our church, all sorts of people exercise leadership ,
And serve in pastoral care ,
And teach us the Bible.
Anyone who’s a Bible Study Group leader ,
Or a crèche, Minis or Kids Church leader,
Or a GiG leader, or a CIA helper ,
All sorts of people have this responsibility,
And if you’re not in one of those roles, this is still important for you to hear, for a few reasons,
What if I’m not an elder?
Firstly, this actually the kind of ministry we all should be seeking to exercise to those around us:
Leading by example, speaking God’s word into people’s lives, caring for members of the community,
Nothing about any of those that’s limited to people with a job description is it?
Secondly, you might be thinking, well, perhaps I should be looking to serve in a more formal way here at Trinity.
Perhaps it’s appropriate for you to step up, especially as we look to growing to 2 Sunday morning gatherings this year, and there’ll be all sorts of opportunities to serve in more formal roles.
If that’s you, these verses will explain for you, how you ought to exercise leadership, what it means to be a shepherd of God’s flock.
And even if you don’t exercise this kind of ministry role at all, this will help you understand what kind of people we want our leaders to be, from Bible Study leaders, to Kids Church teachers, to pastoral staff. I want you to know the kind of people we’re praying God will raise up for our church.
And fourthly, even if you can’t ever imagine yourself being recognised as an elder in our church, this will tell you how to pray, for those who are.
And please do pray, that that our leaders here will exercise their ministry in this way.
How do I shepherd God’s flock?
So, Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care , serving as overseers—
not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;
not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Martin Luther, the German pastor who started the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, said that the way we shepherd God’s flock, is by preaching the gospel of Jesus.
If you asked a real shepherd, what his role was, he’d probably say stuff like, caring, training, guiding, protecting, and those are the very things that the gospel message does to us and for us, aren’t they?
And remember that Peter says he’s one of these, he’s a fellow elder, and in verse 1 there, his fellowship with them is not just as a fellow elder, and a fellow-sharer in the glory to be revealed.
It’s not very obvious in the NIV, but Peter actually says he and the elders, are fellow witnesses of Christ’s sufferings. Of course Peter was a witness in a unique way, he was an eyewitness, but the elders are also called upon to witness to Christ’s sufferings
And throughout the letter we get a glimpse of how Peter shepherds; by speaking the gospel of Jesus and witnessing to the sufferings of Christ.
He reminds God’s flock, and it is God’s flock, it’s not the elders’ flock, it’s not Peter’s flock, it’s not .. Clayton’s flock,
He reminds God’s flock of the gospel, what God has done for them, through Jesus Christ. Chapter 1 verse 3 he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
3 verse 18, Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
He reminds them of their identity Chapter 2 verse 9 you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.
He encourages them in their suffering and reminds them to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to see the life of the slave, as the paradigm for the Christian life, chapters 2 & 3.
He teaches them to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, 3:15
He warns them of the trials that will come their way, chapter 4,
He fixes their eyes on the glory that will be theirs,
Points them again, to the God who makes all things new.
Shepherding the flock, means bringing the life, and ministry, and Word of Christ to bear on the lives of God’s precious people, equipping them for this life and the next.
3 traps to avoid
But Peter says there are 3 traps for shepherds to avoid.
First of all, shepherds mustn’t serve grudgingly.
Be shepherds ... Not because you must.
Don’t be reluctant to take on responsibility for others,
Don’t act out of compulsion ,
Don’t put in the bare minimum and nothing more.
A few years ago, the Church Missionary Society was trying to work out whether there should be fixed terms of employment for some staff.
And I know there are reasons for having contracts like that, but I couldn’t help thinking, do we really want these people to stay in these roles, purely because they’re obligated to?!
Peter says that’s no motivation for shepherding God’s sheep.
The question is do we have .. God’s heart for his people, or do we look at God’s precious people with a purely human perspective and think, “what a waste of my time. I’ve got so many better things I could be doing?”
Peter sees the church as the fulfillment of God’s promise in places like Ezekiel 34, that he will seek out the lost and scattered sheep and care for them.
Is that the work that you want to be involved in?
Greedy for gain
Be shepherds, not greedy for money, but eager to serve;
You wouldn’t think it would have to be said, people who shepherd God’s flock mustn’t do it because they’re greedy for gain.
When I started out in my Ministry Apprenticeship back in 1999, the same program that Lauren was a part of, much .. much later, my trainer, Warwick de Jersey worked really hard at drumming this into me, and I must say, I found it a bit odd!
I was a trainee earning 12,000 dollars a year, which I had to raise myself, and I couldn’t see how anyone could possibly get rich out of ministry.
But I’ve since seen why Warwick was so determined to warn me!
One of the people I’ve been praying for here on my Starting Six card, puts a face to this for me.
Almost every time we talk about Christian things, the conversation ends here, because someone my friend cares about, once sat under a shepherd, who was greedy for gain,
And took money that was not rightfully his.
As I talk to my friend, I hear of the hurt ,
I hear of the damage to a local church ,
I hear of the people who were turned away from the gospel and from the Chief Shepherd, because of the actions of a .. false shepherd.
And I stare into the eyes of a friend, who is resistant to a message that he thinks, produced that kind of behaviour.
When I go to church planting conferences, I discover that Trinity is kind of the butt of the church planting jokes in Australia.
There’s a perception that we don’t plant churches until we’ve dotted every I and crossed every T,
Until we’ve got a constitution,
And a leadership structure,
And a process for everything.
But friends, we should be very very thankful, for processes ,
For clear lines of accountability ,
For systems that mean the staff don’t touch money, and can’t write a cheque.
Of course, these kinds of things don’t change the hearts of our leaders, but they can help remove temptation, and they can guard against the suggestion, the slander, that any of our leaders are only doings so, because they’re greedy for gain.
Be shepherds of God’s flock , not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock
This is leader who’s got everything round the wrong way,
The leader who thinks, “My Bible Study Group, is for my benefit”
The musician who thinks the congregation’s role is to sing at a standard worthy of my playing.
Peter uses a really unusual word, that in our Bibles is translated entrusted, it’s the word for making a decision by casting lots, and it implies God’s hand in the decision-making.
You might be familiar with the apostles selecting Matthias to replace Judas, in Acts chapter 1. They cast lots to say, God will decide.
That’s the imagery Peter draws on to say, if you’re a shepherd of God’s people, those entrusted to you, they’re the ones God has .. chosen for you lead.
No matter how you’ve come in to this, Whether you were elected, or appointed, or employed, or none of the above, those sheep are the flock assigned to your care by God.
Do you think that thinking about people in church as those whom God himself has apportioned to your leadership might make you think a little more carefully about how you treat them?!
These are people whom God has placed around you, in order that you can say, follow me as I follow Christ, the Chief Shepherd.
That’s a scary thing to say isn’t, to be held up as an example, “live like me!”
Do ministry the way I do ministry!
Treat your family the way I treat my family ,
Spend your money the way I spend my money,
Think the things that I think, and dwell on the thoughts that I dwell on ...
Care for those around you the way I care for the ones around me!
It makes you stop and think about the way you do these things doesn’t it! ,
The reality is we all are an example, aren’t we, the question is “Are you a good example, or a bad example?”
So that’s something on what it is to be a shepherd, and something of what we long for our leaders and teachers here at Trinity to be like.
We’re called to humility
Peter then broadens his focus, saying all Christian people are called to humility.
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another,
This isn’t just for young blokes.
The word for “young” is where we get the prefix neo-, as in neo-nazi, neo-conservative, and the word for “older” is the same language as in verse 1, the elders.
This is just opposites, everyone who’s not an elder, be submissive to the elders, to those through whom Christ is shepherding you.
And All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Generally people seem to think that God’s on their side,
God is useful to me ,
He can help me with stuff,
Hardly ever do I meet someone who thinks that God is opposed to them, even in my conversations with people who aren’t Christians.
But here we see that God is .. opposed to some people.
Those who are proud,
Those shepherds who think that shepherding would be a lot easier without all those pesky sheep to look after,
Leaders who lord it over the flock ,
Younger people who refuse to submit to their elders because they can’t imagine possibly learning anything from anyone so old and stuck in the mud.
God opposed the proud.
To make sure that’s not us, the solution is to clothe yourselves in humility.
It’s the language that describes putting on a slave’s apron ,
And if the first thought that goes through your head is “I’m nobody’s slave”, maybe you’re one of those people God is opposed to!
That’s a terrifying thought!
If push comes to shove between me and the Lord of the universe, I don’t like my chances!
In the Scriptures, God’s opposition to the proud includes everything from scorn and hostility, to thwarting their plans, even to battling against them.
I said that I rarely meet people who think that God is opposed to them.
I do occasionally, meet someone like that.
Maybe it’s you, perhaps you think “God’s got it in for me.”
What I find really interesting, is that when people tell me that, they’re almost always in the midst of some terrible hardship, the very situation in which Peter’s trying to encourage his readers.
And so Peter would say, if you’re a Christian person,
Those things aren’t a sign that God is opposed to you ,
They’re just part of the Christian life ,
They’re what happens when you live as an alien and a stranger.
That’s what happens now, as we wait to be lifted up in due time, the great hope guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
But the benefits of being God’s flock aren’t all in the future.
Peter says Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you
Jesus said that anxiety can choke out God’s word from your life.
Cast them on God, Peter says, it’s the word for throwing. Actually it’s the word for throwing a javelin.
I looked it up, the world record for a javelin throw is 104.80 metres.
Now it’s not exactly Peter’s point, but maybe it’s a helpful image for you, as you think about what it means to cast your anxiety on God.
Anxiety over loss of status and respect because of your faith
Anxiety about what people will think of us,
Cast them on God.
The devil would have you deal with those anxieties by just drifting back into a life indistinguishable from the world.
“Just stop working hard at living a distinctive Christian life, and you’ve got nothing to be anxious about,” he’ll say.
And you’re devoured.
God says, cast your anxieties on him.
Entrust yourself to God’s goodness.
Remind yourself of his promises and his faithfulness.
Trust in the care of those who shepherd you.
Let me close, by sharing the experience of a group of Christians in Anhui (Anh-way) Province in China.
This is from a letter I received a couple of years ago from someone in an underground house church.
Thanks to God’s guiding hand and help we have set up a Sunday School Up to seventy children attend. This is very important work but we lack teaching materials.
Moreover in China to do Sunday School work is a dangerous enterprise. The law lays down that it is forbidden to lead children under the age of 18 to faith in Jesus.
If they discover us, then the lightest punishment is detention, and a fine. The heaviest punishment is three years in a labour-camp.
For leading kids to Christ.
This spring festival .. that is, in February , we had a sister who was arrested and forced to confess that she had led three little friends to faith in Jesus. She was detained for four days and fined 1,200 Yuan.
More than a year’s wages.
Please pray for us, And then this is my favourite bit, And please send some materials on how to teach Sunday School!
Please pray for us!
Because we need to be alert!
Because Satan is opposed to the growth of the church, and seeks to devour Christians,
But please send us Sunday School materials, so we can shepherd God’s flock that he has placed in our care
They plead, for the very thing that is the immediate cause of their suffering!,
They’ve believed the message of 1 Peter.
They’ve realised their identity as aliens and strangers ,
They’re convinced that shepherds need to care for God’s flock ,
They believe that God will lift up those who humble themselves before him.
They know what it’s like to cast their anxiety on God,
They’re absolutely confident, that the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast., To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.