There is an old saying that applies to us every time we read the Bible! A TEXT taken out of CONTEXT is nothing but a PRETEXT! In other words, a passage of Scripture not understood by the greater framework around it can unfortunately be made to mean whatever the reader wants it to mean!
The famous example of this, in the event you have never heard it, has to do with a very well-meaning individual who knew he should read the Bible daily, but never found the time (which really means he never really made the time).
So he took his Bible and went out-of-doors to enjoy the setting as he finally was going to read his Bible. Noting the breeze, he thought to himself, “I will let God select the passages I am supposed to read!” So he opened the Bible on his lap and proceeded to let the wind flip through the pages. Closing his eyes he randomly put the tip of his finger down and read the verse “from God.” It read, Judas went out and hanged himself!
Not sure what to make of this, he tried again – this time praying as the wind glided through the pages, “Lord, guide me to a better verse.” When he put down his finger this time he quickly looked to see God’s word for him. It read, Go and do thou likewise.
“This is not good,” he thought to himself! So he tried it one last time. “Please tell me Your will, he prayed as the wind flipped through the pages. When he put his finger down, he reluctantly read the verse it was pointing to... It read, Whatsoever thou doest, doest thou quickly!
The Word of God is not to be so read. It is to be read systematically and in context... for A TEXT taken out of CONTEXT is nothing but a PRETEXT!
If we are not spending at least a few minutes each day during the Trinity Season methodically reading God’s Word to us, we are – I am sorry to say – dysfunctional Christians! Man shall not live by bread alone, Jesus taught us, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The text before us this morning is an important and helpful communication from our Heavenly Father regarding His purposes for local church families! It is often misunderstood in our day, however, because the underlying presupposition of modern man which too many Christians and church leaders have absorbed as their framework is non-Christian... indeed, downright anti-Christian.
We can call it “rugged individualism” in the church... or by its more descriptive moniker... silo-Christianity! There are people who enter churches – usually larger churches – without anyone noticing their entrance. The same people leave without anyone noticing their departure. And in-between they participate in the service as silo-Christians... with their individual tubes running up to Heaven. It is so sanitary -- and so sterile – no contact with anyone else. Just me and God! And that is the way they like it!
The only problem is that this is Christianity shaped in their image. It is certainly not Christianity formed in God’s image. The Christian life is not to be lived in isolation. It is to be lived in contact with God’s other adopted children and Christ’s other servants. It is to be lived in the context of the bigger Body of Christ! His Body has many members – and they need each other! To live in isolation from other Christians is unhealthy and self-destructive!
Ecclesiastes chapter 5 tells us that two are better than one... and that a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
It has been pointed out that a barbecue with dozens of hot coals can burn for hours. But if you isolate one of those coals, it soon cools down and stops burning! It turns cold and black. Christianity is not to be practiced in isolation!
Notice what the Apostle Peter begins by saying! All of you be subject one to another. How, pray tell, can this be done if we are silo-Christians? And in verse six when he commands,Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, he employs a plural verb – humble yourselves (plural)!
And when in verse eight he refers to the devil saying your adversary, he employs once more the plural pronoun! “Your” plural.
If we look long enough and hard enough at the verses before us this morning, we see a beautiful pattern inspired by the Holy Spirit. This community of life which the Almighty has entrusted to us is not an end in itself. On the contrary it is an incredible means, under His providence, by which we are to help each other. This morning, please note the following three objectives...
First, Keeping the Premise of Life. Verses 5-7.
What is this premise of life? That our Heavenly Father is the Foundation of all things. Heresisteth the proud, we are told. And stated positively, He gives grace to the humble.
Dear St. Peter is here quoting Proverbs 3:34 (Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly). We are to model the meaning of this for each other so we can see just how this is to be done!
The story is told of a young man who faithfully attended church services – but he was deaf and could not hear a single spoken word. Other parishioners wondered why he came – until it dawned upon them that God sent him to show the rest of them how to be humble... to have no guile... to display a special grace given him by the Almighty in place of his hearing.
Second, Following the Promise of Life! Verses 8-9.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
The promise of life reminds us that though we are constantly in spiritual danger, yet we are never alone! The other brethren St. Peter referenced were still around. They had not yet met their end! We need each other’s example and pattern of faith to encourage us. A dear Canterbury teacher is currently undergoing cancer treatment (level three... soon to begin level four). Her brief email summary to those praying for her included a “lighter side” observation – she is saving a lot of money by not purchasing food because she has no appetite. And the famous observation comes to mind concerning the man who felt sorry for himself because he had no shoes... until he saw the man who had no feet! We are to walk in a vigilant manner. And to do so requires the best examples all of us can offer!
Third, Following the Purpose of Life! Verses 10-11.
But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
We need each other to remind us of the bigger purpose of life – the glorious outcome designed for us as a community. One of Christians’ most glaring shortcomings is missing the forest for the trees. Myopia (short-sightedness) halts our understanding of the bigger purposes of the Almighty. Character development. The glory of God and the development of His Kingdom. We all need a bigger Christian perspective!
I am often reminded of the ignominious, inglorious outcome of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) – the incredibly gifted and talented philosopher who lost sight of God’s greater purposes for our lives.
Trapped by his own human-bound thinking with none to help him, he descended into Nihilism – the worldview that life is meaningless... life is senseless... life is useless. We should not be surprised that at his end (56-years of age) he went insane. There remains a sad photograph of his haunting blank look into the distance from the confines of his insanity.
We can certainly be thankful that we have the Blessed Trinity... but also that we have each other (and the collective wisdom, collective knowledge, collective experience, and collective goodwillHe has lavished upon us). May these spur us on to mutual encouragement remembering God’s overarching purposes in life, including His glory and dominion for ever and ever.
The Trinity Season reminds us that God is one and that God is many... and so are we to be as a congregation! Continue to save us from silo-Christianity, O Heavenly Father!
World without end. Amen.