MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Sunday, January 02, 2000
1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. 17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 19 Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.
Gold or Dross?
First Peter is a beautifully written letter. Much of the letter concerns how Christians should conduct ourselves during times of trial, temptation, and persecution.
We learn from 1 Peter that our faith is refined or purified by trials, just as gold is refined and purified in a fire:
KJV 1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
KJV James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
KJV Hebrews 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
KJV Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Trial and temptation are the same word in Greek. It is one of the rare occasions when we have two words for one Greek word, instead of four Greek words for one English word. We use this word quite often, whenever we say the Lord’s Prayer.
KJV Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
In Matthew we have the same combination as the passage in Revelation 2:10. The devil will cast people into prison where they will be tried (tempted). In the Lord’s Prayer, it can be argued that the text means “deliver us from The Evil One.” Certainly all temptation comes ultimately from Satan, who never stops trying to pry us away from faith in the promises of God. If poverty and persecution do not accomplish his diabolical will, he uses wealth, prestige, and power to accomplish the same end. Some people despair because of poverty and illness. Others lose faith because their outward success fills them with pride, confidence in themselves instead of God.
Therefore, we should always read this passage concerning fiery trials as God’s way of refining our faith. It’s true that persecutions and various troubles come from Satan, but God always limits what Satan can do and uses evil people to accomplish His will. The very first Christian congregation, First Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, would have stayed put and built a large prep school and college, except the murder of various leaders drove them into the Roman Empire, whose roads and sea routes made possible the spread of the Gospel.
The collapse of Lutheran doctrine after Luther’s death in 1546 made it necessary to create the Book of Concord, the only collection of confessional statements in harmony with each other. (Calvinistic confessions are not in harmony. The Church of Rome has long-standing doctrinal statements wildly opposed to other Roman doctrines, as all scholars admit.) It is worth noting that David Chytraeus, largely forgotten today, was by himself one of the great theologians and Biblical writers of that era. He helped write the Formula of Concord. Martin Chemnitz, somewhat better known, was one of the greatest theologians of all time, second only to Martin Luther. The weakness of Melanchthon and others lead to the need for the Book of Concord. Out of man’s sinfulness and Satan’s assaults, God put together the greatest possible book of doctrinal statements. The world, Satan, man’s sinfulness created the need. God provided the men and the solution.
We tend to look at the trials of others in a romantic way, especially when they are in the distant past. It is difficult to put ourselves in the same position. The hymn writer, Paul Gerhardt, who is featured in our hymn selection for this Sunday, suffered terrible losses all his life. Most of his children died. His wife died. He was ill and forced out of his congregation, forced to survive through the charity of former members. When he was finally given another congregation, it was a constant trial. During this time he wrote 130 hymns expressing his faith in God’s promises. It can be said that he was the most influential hymn writers of all time, given the scope of his hymns and their use throughout all of Christendom. I often use his example, because all Lutherans should know it well. Out of his sorrow, which was profound, God created hymns of the greatest possible comfort. How did this happen? Gerhardt wrote hymns that were faithful to the Word. His experience tutoring children helped him express these truths in the most vivid language. In this way God used the evil in Gerhardt’s life to accomplish His will. Gerhardt might have compromised, as most did in his day, and prospered. Those who prospered – what are their names? So Gerhardt is honored today, not for his income or his parsonage, but for his singular praise of God.
We cannot determine what we will do in serving God faithfully. God provides the opportunities and He brings forth the fruit of the Gospel in our lives. This text emphasizes the truth that the Word and the cross are never separated. If you want to remove the cross from your life, then you must abandon the Gospel. That is the ultimate trial or temptation. If you go along with current trends, you will get along with almost everyone.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I think the worst kind of trial is the reproach that falls upon those who cling to the truth. It can be very depressing to have former friends speak with utter contempt and scorn, to get lengthy vile letters from pastors, or to hear that various falsehoods are floating around, repeated by those who are so quick to say “Eighth Commandment” when false doctrine is criticized.
KJV 1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
Reproach is a worse trial because it is so vague in its origin and unpredictable. However, this is well known to God. Those who reproach believers for clinging to the truth are really reproaching God.
KJV Matthew 5:11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Luther pointed out that people do not say they are opposed to the Word of God. Instead, they oppose the pastor. Often they are not content to attack the pastor. They attack his wife and children. One minister (not a Lutheran) said that his children offered to loan him money from their piggy banks. So then a member said that the minister was stealing money from his children’s piggy banks.
14 If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
My next door neighbor in New Ulm was so upset when I was forced out of the parsonage that he put his home up for sale. He said, “You helped us out. My wife was afraid to leave the house when the school kids were around.” (We had a severe problem with mouthy roughnecks in our yards, smoking behind the tinderbox church, and intimidating our wives by blocking the walk. Photography solved the problem. Boldness dissolved when photos were turned into the police, who burst out laughing in delight with my methods. My favorite shot was caused by the anti-redeye flash, which alerted four secret smokers. The second flash caught them in a moment of terror and realization, just before they ran away crying out loud.) Soon after, the word was passed that my neighbor moved away because he didn’t want to live next to me. That was odd, since he sold his house and moved after I was gone from the parsonage. Slanderers are shameless, but God will give them their reward.
On the other hand, the Scriptures are clear in teaching us that we should not cause the Gospel to be reproached because of our behavior. Even atheists are disgusted when a man is not faithful to his wife. This reflects upon the church, because a man who is unfaithful to his wife is also unfaithful to the Scriptures.
KJV 1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
I am still amazed that church leaders will back someone who would fired from any responsible position (except US president) for their behavior. These sins too are piling up for Judgment Day. Millions of dollars in legal settlements are being handed over to victims, not only in the Church of Rome, but also in the Lutheran Church. The lawsuit against Pastor Fred Adrian came in at $400,000.
It is ironic that the worse the situation is, the more likely it is that the organization will cover it up and deny it ever happened. If someone is opposed to false doctrine, every gossip in the synod is eager to tell stories against him. But if a district president is arrested and convicted, no one seems to know about it, even though their old buddy is in state prison.
However, we should not be dismayed. God brings about his own solutions to problems. When the Black Death hit Europe, perhaps half of the population died. No one knows for sure. One result of the appalling death rate was a huge shower of estate gifts to the Church. At the same time, the clergy most willing to help the sick died. According to one expert, the Church in German went from having a good reputation and less money to having a bad reputation and tons of money. This set up the atmosphere for the Reformation.
We are seeing a repetition of the same change in the visible church. The oldest segment of the population is leaving a bonanza in estate gifts to the denominations, which are shrinking rapidly. Clergy education is worse and worse.
We should always remember that the Gospel will bring the cross. Jesus was not spared, although He was without sin. We should expect to take up the cross daily when we follow Him. Laity suffer reproach as much, if not more, than the clergy. One man gave years to his synod as a volunteer. Once he became critical of false doctrine, he was informed that he had resigned from his evangelism position, even though he had not.
Luther taught me why this reproach comes to people who believe in the Gospel and teach justification by faith alone, apart from works. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You are not saved by your good works, but by My righteousness.” This destroyed their entire concept of their worth. They wanted to look at their worth as coming from themselves and not outside, from God. Anyone who is convinced of his self-worth will hate the message of the righteousness of God received through faith.