Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.
Sermon for Jubilate Sunday 5/08/22
How Free Men Act
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of my favorite scenes from the Narnian Tales, a series of books by C.S. Lewis that tries to tell the story of Christ and the Church in a fable, is the scene near the end of Narnia. Some evil dwarves are captured and imprisoned in an old barn. Then the bad guys show up and capture the heroes of the story and throw them into this dark barn as well. When they are tossed in, however, they find themselves in a sunny, field, a wide, green, pleasant pasture with abundant fruit all around. It is a delightful place. I think it is C.S. Lewis' image for death, especially of Christians, all dark and gloomy on the outside and filled with light and joy and every good thing on the inside.
Anyhow, while the heroes of the story are all amazed at this place which is larger on the inside than on the outside and all bright and wonderful inside when it looked so foreboding from the outside, the evil dwarves are all huddled together in a circle, cursing the darkness and complaining of hunger. So, one of the heroes gives them an apple. A dwarf takes a bite of the apple and spits it out cursing and says it is a horse dropping that he has been given as food. The heroes all try to show the dwarves that they are outdoors, in the light and it is wonderful, but the dwarves refuse to see it and bitterly accuse the good guys of mocking them in their horror and despair.
The picture painted by C.S. Lewis' words might well be a picture of earthly life. For the unbeliever it is darkness and pointless, ultimately, and cramped, death and trouble, and for many it is filled with nothing but sorrow and pain. For a Christian, however, it is filled with blessings and hope, and not bounded by death, for we await also the resurrection to everlasting life. We walk in the sunshine, so to speak, while the unbelieving dwarves huddle in the darkness and curse those who try to show them the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. While they are really free, unbelievers choose to act as captives and slaves. Unfortunately, many who call themselves Christian also think and live as slaves of sin and death and meaninglessness. With that in mind, our theme, this morning, is "How Free Men Act."
The dwarves acted as captives when they were free because they refused to see the truth of their situation. When Christians choose to live in sin, or choose to live as those enslaved by rules and commandments, they are also acting as captives while they are perfectly free.
You are free. Jesus Christ set you free from sin and death and hell – and the coercion of the law – by His suffering and His death on the cross. Your sins have been atoned for, the power of sin in your life has been broken, the sentence of death has been lifted, and the power of the Law to coerce and threaten has been destroyed by Jesus. Only those who sit in the darkness, like those dwarves, and refuse to see or accept the grace of God in Jesus Christ are lost. "He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that does not believe shall be condemned."
You are the beloved of God and free from sin and death and hell by what Jesus has accomplished. That is the Gospel truth. Peter is describing how free men act.
"Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God." The immediate temptations we face as those who have heard the Gospel are to either limit Christ's atonement so that we have to be worthy or become worthy, or remain worthy – or to dismiss any claim of God's will on us, covering our sins in forgiveness, and wrapping ourselves in a blanket of license to do whatever our flesh may desire, as though sin doesn't matter anymore. The devil takes us to either extreme and some people to both, alternately. The Gospel guides us right down the middle - where we do not deny the Word of God either as to the Gospel, or the Law.
The truth is that in this world, we are never absolutely free. Romans 6:16-23 describes for us how we are either free from righteousness, and therefore slaves of sin and evil, or we are free from sin and evil, and therefore slaves to God and to righteousness. Paul ends that section with the thought that "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." That is the reality of our existence before God. You, who believe the Gospel and hope in Jesus Christ, have been set free from the Law and sin and evil, so God tells us through Peter to "act as free men." Using your freedom as a covering, an excuse, or a license to sin and evil is to live as slaves of evil, but free from God and salvation. Acting on your freedom from sin means that you use your freedom as the slave of God, bound to be holy and to do what is God-pleasing.
One of the "Lutheran Questions" is, "How is this done?" That is the substance of our text. Peter is telling us how free men act. For example, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul." The lusts of the flesh are the desires of the sinful nature. They might include sexual desires, the lust to be in control, the desire for victory or apparent justice (rather than waiting on God and His will and His justice), the lust for comfort, the desire to be wealthy, or any desire which focuses on you without any regard for others.
When we dream, we dream of what we can be or what we can do. We may include others along in our good fortune, but our dream is almost always about ourselves, first. That "fleshly lust" wages war against your soul. It accustoms one to the idea of "Me first!", rather than the will of God which is compassion and concern for one another, and humility which places each of our neighbors as more important to us than ourselves in our estimation.
The other general rule about how free men act is, "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation."
The world around us is hostile to Christianity. They don't mind the sort of Christian that builds free housing for others, or builds a hospital, or gives money to any charity designed to redistribute wealth to others. Good deeds are always welcome. It's that good theology that is irritating. It is morality that is obnoxious. It is making sinful men even marginally aware of the coming judgment, or reminding them of the reality of God and who He really is, that makes them crazy with anger. That anger involves the abandonment of reason, often the irrational sloganeering, and hatred that is surreal. The hostility of the world is the anger of the world when faced with even a gentle hint of morality, and even a whisper of the voice of Christ.
But we don't need to go to the secular world to experience that anger. We can see it in the strenuous rejection of Lutheranism by others who call themselves Christian. You can see it in the irrational and noisy hostility of those who no longer want to remain Lutheran, but don't want to change churches. Jesus First, Daystar, and the ELCA are angry and aggressive and hostile toward the historic truth and those who cling to it, while demanding patience and tolerance for themselves and their theology.
The hostile world is looking for excuses to point the finger at God's children, and is even willing to make stuff up. Peter tells us to keep our behavior excellent among them, so that they will be revealed as slanderers, on the day of Jesus' return in glory, and will be forced to give God the glory of acknowledging the truth of our good conduct before all of mankind. In other words, we are to make their criticism and accusations slander by living holy lives and behaving rightly. For example, "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right." Government is not always right, or always friendly to us, but since God establishes human authority among us, we submit.
Every nation that has persecuted Christianity has tried to assuage their conscience by saying that Christianity is subversive - but we are not. We are to be faithful citizens, submitting to the law in every respect, except when doing so sets us against God's clearly expressed will. A true Christian cannot be a revolutionary. We trust, rather, in God. "For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men."
Free men, free in regards to sin and death, also do things like, Honoring all men, and obeying and respecting those in office in our government. We will love the brotherhood - the Church, and our fellowship first, naturally. We will love one another with the love of compassion and action, not just of words and feelings. And we will do what is right and holy, no matter what.
Peter uses the example of the slave, but if it is true for slaves, how much more for us. He instructs slaves to be "submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle but also to those who are unreasonable". The principle is that we don't just do what is right and holy and good when it is easy or popular or acceptable to others. We do it in all circumstances. Peter even highlights the situation where you do what is right and suffer for it.
So, we are to speak the truth and bear that backlash patiently. We are to take the risk of reaching out to help someone or to tell them about your faith, or invite them to your church, and if they turn on you, bear it with patience and grace.
It involves forgiveness. You need it, and Jesus forgives you. Others need it from you, and you can act like a free man and give it to them, even when they don't deserve it. We are called to do what is right and follow Jesus, no matter how it feels or what others may say. Their hearts and behavior are not to shape ours. "For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly."
"For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God" This is how we live out our forgiveness and our freedom. We do what is right, and we endure whatever doing what is right imposes on us. Peter tells us that this finds favor with God - and it is how free men act.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)