Mark Fox September 24, 2023

Radical Love

In his first letter, chapter 3, Peter calls all of us to operate five virtues that pack a powerful punch and bring great blessing, not just to those in the church but also to those outside, even to our enemies. Think of these as the five fingers of your hand with the power of grace radiating from the center. It is by the grace of God, freely given to us in Christ, that we can live this way, as Christ has demonstrated in his own life. Let’s look at these.

First, we are to have unity of mind. It is another way of saying that we are to walk together as those who agree, to live in harmony with one another. I remember my early mentor Pastor Thompson who grew up in Oklahoma giving me advice 35 years ago. He said if there are people in the church who just don’t agree with the church, not because it’s unbiblical but because they are not agreeable people, it’s like someone sitting on the back of a wagon that the horse is pulling down the road and letting their feet drag on the ground. It won’t stop the wagon from moving forward but it makes a difference in how efficiently the wagon moves. Peter will cover this point in more depth in chapter 4, but this call to unity in the church was clear apostolic teaching that came from Christ.

Second, we are to have sympathy for one another. Like Jesus does for us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” The word simply means to “feel together.”

Third, we are to have brotherly love. We walk in that to the same degree that we remember and we celebrate the fact that we are family! Again, Hebrews helps us with this: “…he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Remember when Jesus was interrupted by someone in the crowd as he was teaching in a house in Capernaum? That person said, “Hey, Jesus, your mother and your brothers are outside, looking for you.” He said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looked at the people sitting in front of him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Fourth, we are to have a tender heart toward one another. This is a word that speaks of the inner organs because it means compassion, mercy, deep concern for others. Jesus again is our model for us in this. Jesus illustrates this as well: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for they, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His compassion for the spiritually poor, the sick, the weak and the infirmed was extraordinary. Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, (same word) forgiving one another, as Christ forgave you.” Our compassion for others looks a lot like not holding onto a hurt, but forgiving the one who hurt us, just as Christ has forgiven us.

Fifth, we are to have a humble mind. A tender heart and a humble mind is a powerful one-two punch! And if the first point, unity of mind, is to be likeminded, this fifth virtue is to be lowly-minded. Again our example is Jesus, as Paul wrote in that beautiful passage in Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” When I asked our home group, “Which character in the Bible do you like or do you most identify with,” half of the people said Peter. Because he, like many of us, had to learn humility the hard way. But oh what a transformation when Peter completely surrendered his life to Jesus and lived for him.

Lord, we need this radical love for one another!

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Mark Fox September 24, 2023
Mark Fox September 18, 2023

A Word to Husbands

“Likewise, husbands.” This is my instruction for you, Peter says to the husbands who would read his first letter. This is what a godly husband does. He is called to honor his wife. How does he do that?

First, he lives with his wife, he doesn’t just share a house like a roommate might. He lives with a woman who is an heir herself of the grace of life. She is chosen by Jesus and precious to him. He lives with her in an understanding way, or “with knowledge.” I have joked sometimes that the good news is that men do not have to understand women. They just have to understand one. But that is a lifelong pursuit. We men are great at pursuing our wives before marriage but sometimes lousy at pursuing her after marriage. Husbands are automatically enrolled in a 50-60 year course in “Loving Your Wife Like Christ Loves the Church.” I am in year 42 now with a lot still to learn. There will not be a final exam but the blessings and the benefits of doing well in this course cannot be overstated.

Second, the husband recognizes that his wife is the weaker vessel, and he knows what that means. It does not mean she is inferior to her husband. She is a living stone. She is a co-heir with Christ, just as we are. She is filled with the same Holy Spirit, endowed with spiritual gifts, called by Christ to serve the Lord and lay down her life for him. She may be weaker in physical strength, but as Edmund Clowney says, “her role in the gift of physical life (giving birth) is certainly not less!” The wise husband acknowledges and appreciates the emotional and physical differences in his wife, rather than despising them or taking advantage of them in any way.

Third, he gives her the honor that is due. Honor. This is even more powerful than respect. To give honor means to see the preciousness of something or someone. Paul said in Ephesians 5 that husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies, which they nourish and cherish. We are called by God to give honor to our wives, and that means we nourish and cherish them. They are precious and honorable. They must know that other than Christ, there is not one person or thing who is more important than they are. This was radical teaching in that Roman culture to which Peter wrote, where a man had absolute control over his wife. She had virtually no rights in marriage. Christ changed all that. If we fail to live with our wives with understanding, Peter says there are serious consequences. What are they?

Our prayers will be hindered. Peter may have in mind the prayers that we have together with our wives here, but the meaning is simple. They will lack power, they will be blocked or hindered. He quotes Psalm 34, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” The Lord counts disregarding and dishonoring our wives as evil. And our prayers will not make it past the ceiling. Until the prayer of true repentance is spoken from the heart.

Whew! That’s a high calling, brothers. Are any of us equal to the challenge? Not a chance, but the Lord who saved us and the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us is. We can do this in him and for his glory.

Our wives will thank us for learning to love them so well.

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Mark Fox September 18, 2023
Mark Fox September 10, 2023

We Are Called to This

Peter wrote to the elect exiles who were living under the thumb of an oppressive Roman government, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Some believe this verse was an early hymn or creed. The saints would sing or recite it often to remind themselves of this pillar upon which we stand. Notice the three powerful truths presented by Peter to all elect exiles, including you and me.

We are called to this. To what? To endure suffering while suffering unjustly. As we see in the verses that come before this one, we have to know who we are (chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people for his own possession!) and what we have been given in Christ, if we are going to thrive in a world that is not our home. All Christians are called to suffer before they are glorified with him. That is the polar opposite of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, which is no gospel at all, and you can read what Paul said about anyone who preaches another gospel in Galatians 1. But look at this. We are not suffering because of fate. If we think that, we just put our heads down and embrace stoicism. We grit our teeth and endure. No, we have been called to suffer for the sake of Christ, so our heads are up and our mouths are open and we rejoice in Him!  Why?

Christ also suffered for us. That’s why. The example of Christ is one that saves. His suffering is a model for us because it produced our salvation. Notice that he suffered verbal abuse; he was reviled but did not revile in return. He suffered injury that we cannot even begin to understand, and he uttered not one word of threat. His suffering was powered by his complete and utter trust in his Father. This example of Christ’s suffering is not just a north star we look to for guidance. No, Christ’s suffering is the very center of all our motivation to love him and surrender our lives to him completely, just as he surrendered up his life for us. But you may ask, how do we do this?

We follow in his steps. I wonder if when Peter wrote that, his mind and heart went back to that charcoal fire in the courtyard on the night of Jesus’ trial. Remember, it was Peter who told Jesus that even if everybody else fell away, he would not. He would die with Jesus before he would deny him. But he did just what Jesus told him he would do. He denied the Lord three times, once with a curse. He did not follow in Jesus’ steps on that dark night when roosters crowed and strong men ran away. But after Jesus restored him, Peter followed the Lord for the rest of his life, all the way to his own crucifixion at the hands of Nero.

Are you tired and discouraged and feeling like a failure at living for Christ, and wanting to give up? Then you are just the person Jesus is looking for. He found Peter in that condition and we know how that turned out. He does the same for you and me.

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Mark Fox September 10, 2023
Mark Fox September 3, 2023

Don’t Do Random Acts of Kindness

A woman went to her lawyer and said, “I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice.” In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in. The attorney said, “Look, you’re going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don’t criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, for three months. After he thinks he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news, and it will hurt more.” The woman loved the idea and went after it with gusto.  She complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was.

After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon.

You see what happened? Without meaning to, this woman began to practice unconditional love. She began to give without expecting anything in return. She practiced what Jesus taught, “But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.”

I can do good and lend, sometimes. I can even love my enemies. Sometimes. It’s that last part, “expecting nothing in return” that takes the wind out of my sails.

Richard Foster wrote, “Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service, but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition.”

That hurts. But it makes me look deeper into the idea that, by God’s grace, I can give with no strings attached. I can be like Mordecai, who served the king without any hope of reward, or I can live like Haman and do everything with a hidden motive of seeking man’s approval and the king’s favor.

Facing arrest for his faith, Dirk Willems fled for his life across a frozen lake. When his pursuer broke through the ice, Willems gave up his chance to escape by turning to save his persecutor. He was then captured, imprisoned, and burned at the stake in 1569.

Two brothers complained bitterly to their pastor because a man kept coming and stealing water from them. They had worked long and hard to irrigate their fields in order to produce a healthy crop and provide for their families, but it was threatened by this man’s constant theft. The pastor surprised them by suggesting they irrigate the man’s fields for him, and ask for nothing in return. The brothers followed the advice and were amazed at what happened. They began to love the man, and they finally were able to witness to him and lead him to the Lord.

A young boy was forced to carry a German soldier’s pack for one mile during the Nazi regime. He did so, but decided to obey the words of Jesus and go two miles. The German soldier asked why, and he was able to witness to him. Later the boy said, “I believe the best witnessing starts during the second mile.”

What do all of these stories have in common? They are purposeful acts of loving others the way Jesus did, not random acts of kindness.

Surprise your friends and bless your enemies. Practice the love that Jesus demonstrated. Give it away as freely as he did.

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Mark Fox September 3, 2023