May 21, 2020 Ashley Steelman

Free At Last

Free At Last

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 people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2:16-17 (NASB) 

5 Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him. Ephesians 6:5-9 ESV

I think starting off, it is important for us to understand that Peter and Paul are not writing just to the man or woman on the streets, but that they are writing to believers. 

I point this out mainly because it is very possible to come to any portion of the Bible in such a way as to miss the fact that the purpose of the Bible is ultimately to introduce us to Jesus.

 It is only in our awareness of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done that we are then able to come to the places of application and recognize that this is not just a form of moralism —“Do this and do that and don’t do this and don’t do that”

It ain’t just behavioral modification. It is the dynamic work of the Spirit of God, quickening us and enabling us to become what God intends for us to be. 

All that to say this- Pastor’s sermon “Free At Last” made me a little mad. I was so happy to be at church for in-person service and then he starts preaching and I start feeling like sour grapes. It’s not that he didn’t preach truth, it’s that he did -and sometimes the truth hurts. 

An excerpt from this week’s sermon notes said: 

“I have the right to disagree with political leaders, but I do not have the right before God to treat them with dishonor. Like the counsel that Peter gives to wives in chapter three, even if they have an unbelieving husband let their lives be such an example that they win their husband, without speaking a word. I must tread carefully when I start denouncing people, calling others names, even political leaders. I am not saying there is no room for political dissent, certainly, there is. But the attitude that is displayed in that dissent must be one of honor. “

Ugh! I wanna be mad and ugly in response to what our current leaders are doing. I wanna get on Facebook and rant and rave and share posts that reflect what I feel is right and true. I wanna protest! 

But am I called to? 

That’s the question that popped into my head during Pastor Neal’s message and it burned me down.  So I’ve really had to sit with this and process through what Peter is saying. What is hilarious, is that normally I would much rather read Peter than Paul. They both have basically the same message here, but for whatever reason I have always been able to swallow it better coming from the words of Peter. I think Paul always seemed so bluntly honest in his delivery that any conviction I felt from his words felt harsher. (lol! Oh mercy, the way my brain works!)  But in this case, I have found myself looking to Paul. So for this blog I’m gonna hang out with Paul as a means to process what we are learning in 1 Peter. Bear with me folks!

Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 The Message (MSG)

When the Holy Spirit comes to live in the life of an individual, it changes everything. And it changes particularly the way a person thinks—That is the point. 

The gospel changes our view of things wonderfully but radically. We often quote C.S. Lewis. He said,  “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the rising of the sun, not simply because I can see it but because by it, I can see everything else.”

 The gospel changes our view of marriage, changes our understanding of what it means to be a wife or a child or an employer or an employee. It changes how we operate and function in our community and the world. It changes how we think about everything. 

The reason Paul says what he says  is because he is thinking properly. And the way we need to approach challenging issues like those we are facing now is by also thinking properly.  We have to think in terms of what the Bible teaches. 

 Paul is not driven by pragmatism here. He’s not guided by practical experience or observation. He’s steered by his theological convictions. 

What is a foundational conviction for Paul? It is this: that God has entrusted to him and to those who serve with him the message of reconciliation. So, for example, when he writes to the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 5, he says, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself …. We are ambassadors for Christ …. [And so] we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Paul is concerned first and foremost with man’s relationship to God. That is the great issue, always! That the condition of man before God in light of eternity is and always will be the driving force of proclaiming the gospel.

That’s why Peter, in 1 Peter 2, says, “I appeal to you as pilgrims and as strangers.” The great issue is not what is going on politically around me. It’s not this wretched virus. The issue is: God is holy, man is sinful, man is separated from God. The message that we’re given to share is that God reconciles men and women to himself through Jesus. 

Time is short. We’re not here forever. We are pilgrims and strangers. That means the issues of this world, as significant as they are, are not the great issues. 

The great issues of the world relate to the reality of our separation from God, of the provision that God has made for us in that need, and of the fact that we are here for just a short time.  

I have so lost focus… I have gotten so hung up in politics and social injustice,  fear of communism, and of what’s to come- that I lost sight of what is really important. 

Paul recognized that. That’s why in 1 Corinthians 9 he says, “My great concern is to win as many as possible.”

 To win as many as possible. So if he had taken on the social injustices of the time, and under Nero there were many,  he would never have won hardly anybody at all! Because all he would have been talking about all the time was, “You know, this shouldn’t be happening.” Of course it shouldn’t be happening! But that wasn’t the message he had been given to preach. 

Why is the church in the world today? We’re not in the world to reform the world. Our mandate in the world is not political, it’s not social, and it’s not economic. The fact is that we are living in a period of time in the United States where the social, political, and economic concerns have increasingly encroached upon the minds of those who should know better and have begun to take on virtually a life of their own. Where we have begun to be seduced by the idea that these really are the issues—that if we could just fix A, B, and C... then we would be fine. 


But we were never invited to fix these things. The calling of the church is to proclaim the gospel. 


In researching, I came across this statement from Martin Lloyd-Jones who makes this amazing observation. He’s speaking to a congregation, probably in the 1940s, or  ’50s, “We hear so much today about defending Western civilization [from] attack. That is all wrong! As a Christian I am not primarily [concerned about] Western civilization, I am interested in the Kingdom of God; and I am as anxious that men [and women] behind the Iron Curtain should be saved as that men on this side of the Iron Curtain should be saved. We must not take up a position of antagonism towards those whom we want to win for Christ. If we spend [our whole] time talking against them we [will] never win them.”


This is at the height of the Cold War. What is Lloyd-Jones saying? He’s saying, “The whole  world is preoccupied by the threat of Communism. Many of you want me to stand up and keep talking about Communism. Communism is a real problem, and the Communists are doing this and the Communists are doing that. But I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I want Communists to hear about Jesus.” 


Now, you can apply it in any way you want. The movement towards socialism, the woke left, the liberal extremists, whatever. 


If I write  “You know, what’s wrong with the world today is fake news, and the woke left are shredding our constitution, the gender issue is upside down, and marriage has gone to pot, and abortion is promoted by our governors.” So on and so on.  People may get fired up and get excited? I might get a few likes on Facebook, but to what end? What has happened in terms of people being converted or lives transformed? Very little! 

 Because it’s not the issue.


You see, the great concern—the great concern—is that the gospel might frame our thinking. And it is the gospel which frames Paul’s thinking. Because Paul recognizes that the gospel works everywhere. The gospel works in jails. The gospel works in politics. The gospel works in science. The gospel works in the children’s ministry. The gospel works in the nursing homes. The gospel works! 


And so Paul, as he is addressing these Ephesian believers, is speaking to them in the social context in which they find themselves. And his responsibility is not to disrupt that environment, but instead to show them the difference that the gospel makes.

He’s talking to slaves and masters. The gospel is the answer to slavery. The gospel is the only answer to anything. The gospel is the answer to human trafficking, to government corruption, to social injustice.

The gospel is the only answer to the morally upside-down world we find ourselves living in. 


The reason we are dealing with all the problems in this world is man is sinful, man is selfish, man is self-centered, and man needs a Savior. So how will man get a Savior? Only if people share the gospel. 


The Gospel.


I want you to know that I care passionately about abortion. I care passionately about racism. I am exercised beyond measure regarding what is happening politically. I am livid at the thought of forced vaccinations. I want everyone to be safe and healthy. Fake news and big tech censorship drives me to distraction.


 But this sermon series, these scriptures, framing things within God’s word, has brought me full circle. Because at the end of the day, the real transformative work in a nation is the transformative work of the gospel. 


Why is America as ungodly as it is? ’Cause there ain’t enough Christians! We need more Christians. How do you get more Christians? By preaching about the issues of the day? No. By preaching the gospel.


The more Christians, the more Christian thinking. The more Christian thinking, the more Christian action— in science, in politics, in media, in education, and in medicine. But if I get sidetracked into thinking that these issues are the main thing, I risk neglecting the message of God’s Word which really is the main thing.

If you read history, and alongside it church history, you’ll find out all kinds of fascinating things—and with this, I’ll close. 

All through history It’s those that just simply, day by day, share Jesus with those they encounter, It’s the apparently insignificant work that goes on in a little church in Lebanon where the pastor proclaims to his people the unsearchable riches of Christ,  It's the woman who used to be an addict that shares her testimony with someone she met in the grocery line, It’s actions like these that are what yielded and what yields today, righteousness and transformation. 


Think about all the work that is going on unseen in small congregations with faithful pastors just sticking with the gospel.


We believe that the greatest need of man is not a vaccine, or an economic bailout, or one more social program. We know the greatest need is to be reconciled to God. When God reconciles us  to himself and changes our way of thinking, then that man, that woman, will engage in the privileges and opportunities that are there for them to effect real change— That’s how we change the world.


Because the gospel works everywhere, and works through individuals whose lives have been embraced by it and who in turn are embracing others.

Father, thank you that we can trust that you are present and working in our lives. As we are confronted by these complex and uncomfortable times, we ask that you will help us to do as Paul has done, as Peter has done, as our Pastor has done, and to frame things in light of your Word. We ask that we receive the enabling of the Holy Spirit to speak and to hear, to understand, to believe, to figure things out, to obey and accomplish your purposes, In Jesus’ name -Amen.