Summary: Humility helps when we're fallible human beings. Peter knew this form bitter experience.
By Rev Bill Stewart
I hope all of us can think of times when someone has done something to encourage and support us when we were doing it tough. Perhaps it was a phone call? or an invite out for coffee and a chat? or perhaps it was a letter? or an email? or even just a text message? I don't think I’d be wrong in saying that sometimes it was a more mature Christian who took the time to support and encourage us. What comes to mind for you as you think about this? Who was it? What was it that they did to encourage you? (Take a few moments silence to think about a time when this happened to you).
I am thinking of one of the most difficult times in my life about 10 years ago. To be honest most of that time I would rather forget. But one thing I remember with great appreciation was a letter I received from my boss at the time. I didn’t even know that he knew what was happening in my life. After all, he was actually away in England for six months on study leave. But when I opened the letter in just a few words he made it clear that even though he was half way around the world he was concerned for me. In fact, he could easily have said it wasn’t his responsibility at the time because it really wasn't! And you know his letter didn’t say much. He began by quoting Scott Peck: “Life is hard.” And he said that he was praying for me. And he thanked me for the work I was doing and said that it was important to God and valued by my colleagues and students. Just a few words but they meant the world to me at the time. Is there someone that we could be giving that sort of encouragement to this week?
I don’t know about you, but I think that’s the kind of letter Peter was writing here – even though he was writing to a group of churches rather than just one individual. Notice how he finishes his letter:
v. 12: “I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”
It seems to me that Peter has written a very personal letter. It is easy to miss this in the earlier chapters, but in chapter 5 it really stands out. Peter knows that the churches in exile are not finding it easy. And we feel, don’t we, that he is really speaking to them from his heart: “I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.”
Around Easter John Altmann lead us in a series of sermons on the life of Peter. I’m sure you remember John speaking about the extraordinary way in which Jesus restored Peter to leadership among God’s people after Peter had publicly denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion (see John 21:15-17).
Three times Jesus asked him: “Simon (Peter’s birth name), do you love me?”
Three times Peter replied: “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
Three times Jesus told him: “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my lambs.”
I’m sure Peter never forgot that experience. (Would you?) That’s the Peter who is writing here, isn’t it? The same Peter who learned humility and hope from Jesus through the experience of persecution, failure and restoration to a position of responsibility.
One of the amazing this about Peter's personal letter to the churches in exile is that there’s no evidence Peter was ever involved in ministry among the churches he is writing this letter to. Another remarkable thing about this letter is that the medium is the message. It’s not just what Peter says but how he says it that is important. In his letter Peter has actually given the churches an example of how to do the things he is writing about. His letter has humility and hope written all over it – no joke intended. What has Peter been talking about again and again in this letter? – suffering and glory! Notice the way he introduces himself in verse 1:
v. 1-2: “Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge …”
What does Peter tell them about himself? Two things: First, that he was a witness to the suffering Jesus experienced for him and for them. Second, that he shares with them in the glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns. Peter can speak to their situation because he has been there. But even more importantly Peter can speak to their situation because he can personally witness to the fact that Jesus has been there. And, as we have seen again and again over the past few weeks, as a witness to the resurrection of Christ Peter can witness with confidence to the future return of Jesus. If Jesus came back from the dead (and Peter saw him!), he will come back for the churches in exile and he will come back for the churches in Burwood!