A Satellite View of a Battlefield

Brothers and sisters, we are in a battle. It is the same battle that the saints of Christ have been in since the beginning and it is the same battle the original readers were fighting when Peter wrote this letter to them. What I would like to do, this morning, is to draw your attention to some of the things we easily forget in our historical and geographical context. I would also like to point out some solutions that Peter presented to his original readers and things we can put into practice just as they did.

“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1–2)

Peter had three goals in writing to the saints in Asia Minor: first, he wanted to encourage his readers to suffer in a way that brought others to faith in Christ. Second, he wanted to give them some very practical direction in how to go about suffering so that those who caused the suffering would come to Christ. And third, over all of this Peter wanted all of this to give glory to God.

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Hard Providence and Trusting God



We live in a world where rough things happen. Despite all our advances in technology, everyone in this room will still die. We still get sick. We still have financial challenges. We have the heartbreak of wayward children. We still have to deal with the perversity of sin that we can still find stirring under our own breastbone. In other words, as it says in Job, man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. How are we to respond? If we want to avoid platitudes, tough times demand tough thinking.

The Text

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Eph. 5:20).

Summary of the Text

The context of the Thessalonians exhortation is this. Paul is delivering a rapid-fire series of exhortations to them, including esteeming your leaders, being at peace with one another, warning the unruly, comforting the feeble, and so on. He then tells them to pray without ceasing, and comes to deliver our text. Right afterward, he says not to quench the Spirit. Now this cluster of exhortations shows that Paul is not assuming that the Thessalonians are somehow living in a la-la land, where it is quite easy to “give thanks in everything.” There are tough challenges in the same breath. This is not an exhortation only for those who live under marshmallow clouds and glittery rainbows, and who cavort in the meadow with sparkly unicorns.

In Ephesians, we find something similar. Right after a warning that the “days are evil” (Eph. 5:16), leading on to a caution about drunkenness (v. 18), Paul tells them to fill up on psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and tells them to “give thanks for all things.” This is what it means to be filled with the Spirit.

Reasoning Within the Constraints of Scripture

We are Christians, and so we should want to do as we are told. We should not want, under pressure, to reinterpret what God must have “meant.” We were not told to be “realistic.” We were told to give thanks in and for everything. This means that it is time for us to put on our big boy pants. “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (1 Cor. 14:20).

We have to learn how to argue our case with God, as the psalmist frequently does. We must avoid, at all costs, murmuring in our tents, the way the children of Israel did in their tents in the wilderness. We may press our case with God, but we may never forget that His infinite and holy character is the only possible foundation for any sane argument. If that foundation is missing, then we have no argument, we have no complaint, and nothing is wrong with what is happening to us. You may appeal to God, and you may do so with loud cries. Jesus did that (Heb. 5:7). You may argue with God. Many holy men and women did that. You may not accuse God. You may not try to become a devil to God. You may not adopt into the premises of your argument anything other than the promises of God, grounded as they are in the character and attributes of the immutable and holy One. In short, whenever you argue with God, both of your feet must be firmly placed on the covenant of grace.

One Premise You Must Have

If God is up in Heaven, wringing His hands, and saying “oh dear” along with the rest of us, there is no possible way for us to do this. Since God wants us to do this, requiring it as He has, He wants us to get this premise down into our bones. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We live our lives “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:11). And God saved us by grace through faith because we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

So we are not being asked to thank God in and for an isolated anything. Everything that happens is part of a purpose, plan, plot, stratagem, and so on. God is running a play. God is telling a story, and so you thank God for this verb’s place in the story. God is not telling you to thank Him for that same verb in an infinite, godless vacuum. No—there is no such place.

Of Course Not

Now it is psychologically impossible for us to thank God for the sin when we are in the middle of committing it. But that is a limitation created by the sinning. Such a limitation does not place our disobedience outside the story—others may thank God for how He is using our sin for His glory. Remember that whenever we thank God for the cross of Jesus Christ—which we are to do constantly—we are thanking Him for the worst murder that was ever committed on this planet (Acts 2:23; Acts 4:27-28). We are thanking Him for the murder, and we are thanking Him in it. What we are not doing is joining in with the spirit of murder.

Now for the Hard Part

When the pain is sharp, when the burden is heavy, when the event is uncertain . . . the wait is long. We don’t mind waiting when we have something to divert us, but if the pain, or the burden, or the anxiety prevent us from being diverted, all we have is a long and interminable wait. “Wait on the Lord: Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: Wait, I say, on the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).

“But why do we have to wait?” we complain. We are happy to have patience, so long as we can have it now. But God does not want you in a day-at-the-beach story. He wants you in an adventure story. And have you ever noticed that your worst experiences are frequently the best stories later?

Walk it Through

Take “lousy experience x,” the thing that just happened to you this last week, and which still has you reeling. How do you process it? What precisely are you to do? You pray a prayer, something like this: “God in Heaven, I understand and believe that You govern all things for Your glory and our good. I believe that You are my Father, and that You do all things well. Therefore, I want to thank You in my trial and for my trial. Specifically, I want to thank You for lousy experience x, and ask You to receive my praise, as I sing the Doxology. ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’”

Say to Them of Fearful Heart…

So it is not enough to speak the truths of God. We must speak the truths of God, supported by thereasons of God. “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: Behold, your God will come with vengeance, Even God with a recompence; He will come and save you” (Is. 35:4).

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Romans 5:1-11

The Text

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-11

Peace with God

When Jesus first appeared to the gathered disciples after his resurrection, he focused his message on this one word – peace (John 20:19, 21, and 26). Jesus had just brought about the reconciliation of God and sinners, and the result was peace. Jesus couldn’t get over it. We’re at peace now. We don’t understand the full significance of the word because we probably don’t fully appreciate the severity of the sentence that was against us. But Jesus knew what that sentence was. He knew the wrath that we were under. And he returned to his disciples, bursting with the news that he was at peace with us.

The glory of God was once death for us (Exodus 33:18-23, Ez. 1:27-28). When a sinful man stood before the glory of a perfect God, the result was an all-consuming terror. But now the apostle Paul says that we rejoice in it Rom. 5:2, that is we rejoice in what we were once terrified of, and we are now at peace with God’s holiness. This change in our relationship to God’s holiness, from terror and fear to peace and joy, is what it means to be justified.

And Not Only That

Paul is describing a surprise reversal. Now that we are standing in this grace – “We also glory in tribulations . . .” Tribulation really ought to lead us to despair. But Jesus saw it as an opportunity for God’s glory to be revealed. Outside of Christ, tribulation on earth is merely a foretaste of the eternal condemnation that is waiting for us. But when we are in the grace of God, these tribulations produce something altogether different in us.

Holy Spirit

This is why we are given the Holy Spirit now. The Holy Spirit is regularly described as a guarantee (Eph. 1:13- 14), a deposit, a promise. The reason that this deposit is so important is that it is going to look, at times, like you aren’t headed towards eternal life. When you suffer it is going to feel at times like you are headed towards death and destruction. But the Holy Spirit is poured into your heart as a confirmation that God is actually moving you towards eternal life. It is a supernatural peace and confidence in the face of suffering.

The world describes people who endure suffering as “fighters.” It is a hollow boast. Because we all know that any victory that they might experience is a temporary victory, a remission from suffering. But Paul promises us that in Christ “we are more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37-39). Because through Christ we have conquered death itself, our hope will not be disappointed.

For When We Were Without Strength

Paul is about to explain the reason why we can have this confidence, this peace. The answer is – while you were still an absolute jerk, Jesus died for you. And if he was willing to die for you in that condition, then how much more is he going to give his life to you, now that you have been forgiven? We have peace in suffering because we have Jesus’ eternal life promised to us.

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Psalm 64: Poetic Justice



The child’s retort about “sticks and stones” is entirely misguided. Words really can hurt; words can be cruel, and words can be savage. One of the things we must do is learn how to guard our own tongues (in the first instance), and learn how to deal with the slanderous accusations of others. This is equally true, incidentally, in the world of children. Words are weapons which children have, and which children know how to use. Their father Adam taught them where the trigger is—you must teach them where the safety is.

The Text

“Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: Preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; From the insurrection of the workers of iniquity . . .” (Psalm 64:1-10).

Summary of the Text

David usually mentions his enemies in his prayers, but this prayer is entirely about them. This is made apparent in the first petition, where he asks God to hear him and preserve his life from fear of the enemy (v. 1). He asks to be hidden from the “secret counsel of the wicked” (v. 2). These are the people who sharpen their tongues on the grindstone (v. 3), dipping the arrows of their words into the poison of bitterness (v. 3). They take counsel in secret, and they shoot from secret places (v. 4). Their target is the righteous man. The wicked get discouraged from time to time, and so they take care to encourage one another (v. 5). They look for dirt like they were on a treasure hunt (v. 6). Theirs is not a superficial malice (v. 6). But vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He is not absent. God will shoot at them (v. 7). The work of their tongues will recoil upon them (v. 8). When this happens, men will see and declare that God was at work in this (v. 9). Poetic justice is therefore the hand of God (v. 9), and so the righteous are glad in how the story ends (v. 10).

Secret Counsel

The first lesson to learn is that slander of the righteous is not something that happens by accident. It is the result of “secret counsel” (v. 2). The words are sharpened beforehand, with malice aforethought (v. 3). They give one another pep talks if they start to lag in the work of tearing a righteous man down (v. 5). They lay traps beforehand (v. 5). They do “opposition research,” looking for something that will stick. And if they heap on enough calumny, something from it is sure to stick. Jesus says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). The psalmist here says that this malevolent abundance runs very deep (v. 6). This kind of thing is not the result of a half-thought-through throwaway line.

The fact that such things come from a secret place does not mean that you know where it came from. Remember the laws of justice, which apply to us as much as to anybody.

Vengeance Belongs to God

Scripture teaches that vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19). We are not to seek out personal

vengeance, not because it is wrong, but because it belongs to the Lord. It is fully appropriate to ask the Lord to take up your cause (as David does here). It is fully appropriate to plead with Him to do so—we see this in both the Old and the New Testaments (Rev. 6:10). In some instances, it is appropriate to take action yourself when you have been invested with the office that is responsible to do so (Rom. 13:1-7). And when God intervenes, it is important that your satisfaction in this not be a form of ungodly gloating.

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, And he turn away his wrath from him” (Prov. 24:17-18).

Poetic Justice

You have often been urged to “read the story you are in.” This means at least two things. In the first place, it means being steeped in the stories of Scripture. Tell them over and over—get them down into your bones. The serpent is crushed by the seed of the woman that he led astray (Gen. 3:15). He was crushed because he stirred up a crowd to cry “crucify Him.” If the rulers of this age had known . . . Haman built a gallows for Mordecai, and wound up being hanged on it himself, just as the inventor of the guillotine died by his own device.

In the second place, it means honoring and obeying direct instructions like this one. When the wicked cut themselves with their own tongues, when they fall into their own pits, when their plots collapse, all men are supposed to “declare the work of God.” A man reaps what he sows. We are supposed to look at the story and see what is happening in it. “They shall wisely consider of his doing . . .” This means you have to be able to tell the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist, and you have to be able to tell which one you are.

Having read the story, you must know how to glory in the wisdom of the storyteller (v. 10). There is sin in gloating over His endings, and there is sin in just sitting there as though He hadn’t told His story at all.

Faith Embraces the Suspense

A small child, playing hide n’ seek, will often give himself away, running out of hiding. Why? The answer is because they can’t handle the suspense. You have heard before that God loves cliffhangers. That means we need to adjust our thinking so that we come to love them too. Count it all joy . . . On the mount of the Lord it will be provided . . . This is true when it comes to physical threats and circumstantial trials. But it also true when it comes to slander. God will vindicate you, sure enough, but He will do it in the right chapter.

Thomas Sowell once wisely said that charges of racism are like ketchup—they go on anything. I have been accused of misogyny and racism so many times I have lost track of them all. But Jesus says that we should rejoice when this sort of thing happens (Matt. 5:11-12). No, wait . . . He actually said that when this kind of thing happens, we should be exceedingly glad. But don’t you want to get in there and explain to them one more time that it just isn’t true? Look at the first part of this psalm again. They know that.

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