I Peter 4:10-19
Transforming The Threads Of Personality
Authored by Rev. Mike Furey, Georgetown, IN, USA
This message is about the inside of you. It is about the part of us that stays the same through out our lives. We may have a different face since we were an infant, a toddler, a junior, a youth, a young adult, a middle aged person, a senior, an elderly person, but there is a psychological thread that remains characteristic of us. Is it that part where people say "you are just like your dad," or "your grandpa used to do the same thing?" The subject eludes and amazes all of us. But, one important aspect for Christians struggling to live a clean life is this matter of character development, personality change. After we have been Christians for years we still may find areas that we fall short in. There are some parts of our character that need to be worked on for years and maybe till the grave! The good news is that we cannot save ourselves; we are saved only by God's grace. We cannot "deskunk" ourselves, but we are responsible to offer our lives a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God and as moral examples to the watching world. Our text from First Peter tells us to expect challenges as part of the faith life. I suggest that one of the greatest challenges of the believer is to understand the battle within.
The disciple and apostle Peter had a thread going through his personality that lasted through the recorded history of his life. The one thread that ran through the heart of Peter was fear or cowardice. In particular, he feared what others thought about him. If you follow the line of reasoning I offer in this sermon, I believe it will strengthen your heart and give you peace as you progress toward the prize of becoming like Christ from one level of glory to another. If the apostle Peter went through a life time of transformation of his basic core personality, so will we...
Peter In Mark
Mark 1:35-37 "All men seek for thee." A crowd of curious seekers came to press for Jesus' attention. Peter among others was concerned about what other persons thought. It was his major fault. It plagued him all his days. It was the thread that ran through his personality.
Mark 9:6 At the mount of the Transfiguration, Peter was scared and didn't know what else to say. In his nervous talk he said, "Let's erect three tents."
Mark 14 is critically important:
Verse 29 "Although all shall be offended, yet will not I."
Verse 30 Jesus says, "Peter, before the rooster crows twice you will deny me three times, even this very night."
Verse 31 Peter all the more vehemently says I will not deny you even if I should die! Here Peter tries to overcompensate for his fear by overreaction.
Verse 37 The next scene in the Word of God is Peter fast asleep. He doesn't have enough energy to pray one hour with the Lord. He seeks the comfort of sleep away from the world of fearful realities.
Verse 47 Peter displays some courage. But it seems to me he is acting out of proportion. He is acting like a person proving he isn't scared and as a result he shows how scared he really is. The traitor Judas comes up the hill with the parade of ruff necks and Roman soldiers sent by the chief priests, scribes, and elders. As the crowd stops in front of Jesus, Peter must be thinking, "I don't want Jesus to think ill of me after all I said last night. I'll prove Jesus wrong about his rooster story. I don't like what he thinks of me." Peter whips out a sword and cuts off the ear of the guard. Peter is not named in this text, but we know from another Gospel account who it was who drew the sword and even the name of the man whose ear was sliced. Peter's adrenaline got off to a dashing start, but the Lord had to calm him down and say if you live by the sword you will die by it (Matthew 26:52). I could call a legion of angels but I have to fulfill the prophecies of scripture.
Verse 54 Peter still demos some courage by following from afar off and up to the palace. He warmed himself outside the council building as Jesus stood before the kangaroo court of the Jewish judges.
Verses 66-72 Peter denies Jesus three times. Peter weeps bitterly over his cowardice. I find a lot of comfort in Peter's tears. Tears alone are not indicative of repentance. Judas went out and cried after he betrayed Jesus. Peter denied Christ because he always feared what humanity might do to him. Judas did more than deny Christ, he betrayed Christ because he did not believe that Jesus was the true Messiah. Judas did not have added to his core personality structure the new thread of righteousness that comes by faith.
Perhaps Peter best represents the majority of us. I am more like the chamelion Peter than the champion of the faith Paul. I believe we all intend to serve the Lord and sometimes we get side-tracked by things like fear of what others may think, say, or do. When I first turned to Jesus, I was in the Marines and did not drive a car yet. I would ride the bus or simply walk fifteen miles one way. I would run ten miles without a second thought. One day I remember walking to a Bible study. I had a large sized 8x11 Bible I was carrying. I thought it looked kind of kooky and cultish to be carrying a big Bible on the military base so I put it in a brown paper bag. But I became more embarrassed by my Bible in the bag. Was I hiding something? After walking two miles I decided to throw the bag away. I asked the Lord to forgive me for being ashamed of his Word--and for littering the grounds. Have you ever been ashamed of what others thought of you as a believer in religion, as a Christian?
At the end of Mark, Peter is hiding in the upper room. The three women go to the grave to anoint the body of Jesus and they discover he has risen. Jesus gives a message for the women to take back to the disciples and a special message just for Peter (Mark 16:7).
Peter In Acts
In the Acts of the Apostles, it looks like Peter is completely transformed. It looks like the Holy Spirit of God has descended upon his life and completely changed him from a coward to a courageous man. But it is not that story book simple. He did not get saved and "live happily ever after," as children stories usually end.
Acts 1:15 Peter stands up among the
audience of one hundred and twenty disciples. That took guts.
2:13,14 Though mockers are near, Peter rises to defend the gospel.
3:13 Peter publicly heals a man at the gateway.
4:1,13 Peter tangles with temple leaders.
5:1 Peter strikes Ananias and Sapphira down dead for lying. Peter lied and denied the Lord before, but this is a case of lying for personal glory.
5:18 Peter is in prison for his boldness. An angel releases him and he is back at the preaching factory; he is at the temple of all places winging and zinging!
5:40 He gets beaten for preaching, but he goes right back to it. His boldness is wonderful. When he is in the Spirit, he is a different man with new threads.
8:20 In Samaria Peter is ready to slay a man for simony, that is, to purchase with money the gift of the Holy Spirit.
9:32 Peter does more miracles, healing a man sick for eight solid years and raising a dead woman Dorcas.
*10:1ff This chapter is very important for understanding the lesson. Peter receives a vision of the clean and unclean animals. God tells Peter that Gentiles can be saved according to the gospel. This truth is revolutionary for him. In the next chapter 11:1,2 Peter is back at Jerusalem getting into an argument in defense of Gentiles getting God.
12:1ff Peter is imprisoned by Herod, but escapes.
The book of Acts does not tell us anything else of Peter's progress in the faith. In the book of Acts Peter is a real champion. He is bold. It doesn't seem like he fears what man might do to him. But he still does have the chicken spirit that denies the Lord even though the cockadoodledo confirmation is not evident. For we find him in the book of Galatians in an unbelievable situation. We find a repeating Pete.
Peter In Galatians
1:15ff First we need to understand that a score of years has passed. The Peter described in the epistle to the Galatians by the apostle Paul appears to be placing a paper bag over his Bible. Peter has some loose threads that have been part of his basic character and which still need to be surrendered to the Lord. He is still walking around with his Bible in the bag. Based on Galatians 1:15 through 2:14, it appears that twenty to twenty-five years have elapsed since the resurrection of Jesus. Peter has had a lot of time to grow. How much has he changed?
2:11 Paul blames Peter for hypocrisy.
Paul blames Peter publicly, which means Peter's level of sin was so great
that it was apparent to all around him, therefore he needed a public-wide
reproach. Just as when Moses lost his temper and struck the rock in front
of all the people, so God had to punish him in front of all the people
and disallow him from entering the Promised Land.
2:12 Peter fears the Jewish Christians who still keep the law of Moses. Peter wants to blend in and not cause trouble with his fellow Jews. Peter is afraid to stand up for the rights of Gentile Christians who are not required to maintain the attending traditions of the law as the Jews feel by conscience of habit and social obligation is still necessary.
2:13 Peter is showing the behavior of a hypocrite (sunupekriqhswn autw) joining in with the hypocritical piety club at Galatia.
2:14 Peter is denying the gospel by the way he walks and lives. What a charge! Paul asks Peter a question. The New International Version says, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
In the next verses, Paul records the gospel message in brief. Paul tells about justification by faith. Surely Peter understood this; but he, always feared what others thought about him. Peter was not the type of person who understood the deep things of God, he was still an unlearned fisherman at heart and even said himself he could barely understand Paul's letters in Second Peter 3:15,16. How much has Peter changed is an interesting question. The fact is we can draw comfort from Peter's vacillation because we find ourselves taking so long to get perfect.
The challenge is that we need to surrender our character to Christ and realize there is a thread that always ties us back to our fundamental nature. Our inclination towards the way of the flesh still lives but ought not to reign. The Christian life is full of challenge and change. We get tired of Pentecost and just want the Sabbath rest. We get tired of Acts with its bold Petrine spirit and want Galatians with its blending in with the grains of society and going with the flow. Sometimes we get to a point where we are tired of personal growth, change and challenge, and we just want to cruise in our Christian walk like Peter did in Galatia. We just want to get along with every body and not work against sin. We get tired of being a dynamic witness. We get tired of the boldness of Jerusalem. And want to go somewhere where we can take it easy and talk about what we used to do. We get tired of sacrificing time for prayer, for taking a committed stand in public against the culture. But there comes that time when we must forge ahead and break out of our comfortable version of Christianity and get back in the battle mode. Rededicate. Revive. Renew. Repent. Rethread. Don't repeat. Don't stay in the repeating Pete mode.
In other words, the Christian life is like farming. You break up the soil and get rid of the hard life of sin. You plant the seed and study the word. You wait for rain and God's blessing. You grow. You have to keep weeding out the weeds by confessing sin regularly. You wait on the Lord for the increase. Trials come. Weather, fire, mold, blight, insects, crow, racoon, deer, thieves try to remove the harvest. We wait, we work, we worship. Then comes harvest and blessing. You feel like it was worth it all. Then you get ready for the next season. Winter is the time for working on the equipment. In the Christian life winter is the time when our spiritual life slows down and seems to get cold or inactive. In this season of less devotion to the Lord we need to pray for a new springtime in our souls. Ask God to renew us and transform us. As we wait, sometimes we may see Peter the bold apostle or Peter the cowardly hypocrite. To the end of our days we may struggle with our old and new selves, our old threads and the new person in Christ that we are. Hopefully, we won't get disgusted and disappointed with ourselves but will look to the Lord even when the rooster crows in the distance. Hopefully, we won't need a Paul to come to us in our supposed maturity to scold us publicly for our fear of what humans might do to us. Sometimes we are wear the bold threads of Jerusalem; sometimes we wear the cowardly hypocrisy of Galatia; but, always we need the Lord to weave and re-weave his Spirit into our lives.