Sunday, August 09, 2009

Prepare the mind; control the self. 1 Peter 1:13

Whenever there's a 'therefore' ask yourself what it's there for. A silly little ditty, but Peter begins verse 13 of his letter with a 'therefore' which refers back to the 'living hope' referred to in verses 3-12. In order to set our hope fully on the grace you when Christ is revealed we are told of two preparations: to prepare our minds for action and to be self controlled.

In the past 40 years the evangelical church has retreated from thinking. No doubt this was a reaction to some of the thinking coming out of Seminaries, which had become contaminated by the 'higher criticism' from the nineteenth century. We despaired to see some of out brightest young men emerge from Bible Schools and Universities with their faith in tatters and preaching another gospel. Instead the church has become filled with those who prioritize their feelings. Even when Scripture clearly forbids something believers will trust their feelings rather than the clear teaching of the Bible.

I heard of a young man who wanted to divorce his 23-year old wife of two years to marry a 16-year old girl he had 'fallen in love with'. "It seems so right," he said. We can be overwhelmed by feelings so that what is clearly wrong seems right. We have all been there. Young people are a mess of hormones; old people are awash with self-righteousness. They forget that they were once young and subject to different temptations. If we trust to our natural feelings we will be led astray.

Yet we were never so well provided for with orthodox Christian knowledge. We have so many translations of the Bible in English. To be sure you can pick up discrepancies and quibble about what an individual verse means, but these are trivial problems and thinking about them will often advance our knowledge of Scripture. But instead of reading the Bible we are content with Bible Reading Notes, where we are instructed to read a single verse and then a page of tortured exposition that reveals the writer's view, often on something totally out of context. We have many orthodox Christian books - an in this context may I recommend Tim Keller's "The reason for God" which I have just started, but which both my son and our Church Evangelist, Michael Otts enthuse about. Instead millions are reading "The Shack" which may be an interesting story, but it is fiction and has many misleading threads in it.

On the Internet you can listen to sermons from many of the greatest preachers in the world. Yet who these days has the attention span to listen for 40 or 60 minutes? Sadly, few are prepared to prepare their minds. You don't have to be a genius or have a mind as big as a planet to appreciate the Word of God. You don't have to read huge passages every day. This exposition is based on just one verse and I doubt that I shall do it justice in this one blog.

Just think about the individual words. "Prepare" your minds. In order to prepare your mind, you must give it time. Scripture reading is not to be shoved into the odd five minutes and then forgotten when something unexpected appears on TV or someone visits unexpectedly. Try to set aside the same time every day. Even 15 minutes can be a joy: think what else you might be doing and consider which is the most value. Alone with the Bible and pencil and notebook is a great discipline and of great value. Try to get inside the mind of the writer. Ask, "Why is he writing this? What is he saying to me personally, into my particular situation." Try to remember similar passages. If you have a commentary, read it. Often we can lean on great men and women of the past, but remember that commentaries are not Holy Writ; you are allowed to disagree with them. It helps to pray a thought in; we used to say, "Water it with prayer." You will find that the more you practise this discipline, the more necessary you will find it and the more joy you will derive from it.

Prepare your minds for "action". What action is this? The rest of the passage tells us that it is something to do with holiness. We art to avoid evil and conform to holiness. Let me tell you there is a war going on out there. You wouldn't send untrained troops out to Afghanistan. They would soon be destroyed by improvised explosive devices. Similarly, we need training as Christians. Throwing young Christians in at the deep end and hoping that they will swim is foolhardy. Spiritual temptations are plentiful and young Christians too easily fall into the traps. We may be appalled by the loss or twos and threes and fours in Afghanistan, but the funerals of Harry Patch and Henry Allingham, the last two British survivors of the first world war, reminds us that inexperienced young men were told to get out of their trenches and march slowly and fearlessly towards the enemy machine guns. Tens of thousands were killed in a single day. We are not confronted by German machine guns, but with the wiles of the Devil who goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We want not inexperienced troops but wise leaders and teachers. In Africa, in Asia, in South America there are millions of enthusiastic converts, who lack not faith but teaching. If the Western Church has anything to contribute to the church abroad it is the wisdom of Scripture knowledge. Prepare for the action of sharing the gospel; how will they hear without a preacher?

Men and women who teach must have as their first attribute, not a honeyed voice, not a well-tuned phrase, not even an encyclopedic knowledge, but personal holiness. How many times have we seen a ministry destroyed or saints wounded by a pastor who couldn't keep his trousers buttoned or his bank balance from swelling, who thought more about celebrity than service? Holiness is a constant battle against the world, the flesh and the Devil: the worlds because the world hates non-conformists - they would have everyone following the fashion; the flesh because our bodies make us slaves to sin; and the Devil because he knows that that is the way he can win. Weakened and sickly Christians are no match for him because they forget that their strength is in the LORD; without our daily meal of Scripture, we forget too soon.

Secondly, we should be self-controlled. No, say some, we should be Spirit-controlled. But if we look in Galatians 5 at the fruits of the Spirit, we see that one of them is self-control. The Greek here refers to sobriety. My daughter was shopping in the center of Bournemouth at 9pm on Saturday night. Already, young people were gathering outside nightclubs is various states of drunkenness. Bournemouth is Mecca for young people wanting a 'good time'. Since licensing hours for alcohol became extended under Tony Blair they seems no limit on bad behavior. Booze is cheap and Ecstasy available. Bands blare out there thumping beat and young boys and girls mesmerized by the rhythm and chemicals lose all self control and are thus bamboozled into sin. Some Christian young people are sucked into it by their friends for fear of seeming different. Some churches mimic the effects by producing ecstatic excitement. Let yourself go into God, they say. No, says the Scripture. be self-controlled.

Self-control should never be confused with selfishness or self-centeredness. Self must always be under the control of Scripture. That is why the first demand is to prepare our minds. The discipline of Bible study and prayer allows us to control our selves. Neither should it be confused with self-righteousness - Oh! What a temptation for the older Christian. We think we have seen it all and we have all the answers, but how often we are pulled up short by a remark from the young and innocent. This is a battle we never complete until our days in glory. Beware he that standeth lest he fall!

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