Building bridges… or driving wedges?

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor 13:1-8a).

A jacuzzi or a sword?

I wonder how many times you’ve heard the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians at a wedding? Familiar words of Scripture tend to comfort and massage us after many years of hearing them, like the warm water jets of a Jacuzzi! But this chapter of the Bible is a two-edged sword if ever there was one. It was never intended as a vague, sweet lullaby on the virtues of love, but as a stinging rebuke to the Corinthian Christians, who were full of spiritual pride and arrogance, but short on love. In the previous chapters, Paul says he has no praise for them at all, “for your meetings do more harm than good” (1 Cor 11:1722). Some Christians who thought they were more spiritual and useful than others, misused their spiritual gifts as symbols of power, causing rifts and rivalries (1 Cor 12). Chapter 11 and 12 are like an evidence room full of unloving behaviours. Instead of building bridges between other believers, they were driving wedges. It was a great discredit to the gospel.

Are we bridge builders or wedge drivers in our own church, Bible study and family? Can we replace the word “love” in these verses with our own name?

The only way we can answer these questions is to get past vague generalities and assess ourselves against the Bible’s detailed rubric of what love is…and what it is not. There are at least fifteen things about what love does and does not do in this passage. Let’s look at this familiar chapter with fresh eyes and ask the Lord to hold up a mirror to our own hearts.

Love is longsuffering

The very first thing Paul says about love is that it is patient and kind. We often think of patience as the pause button that stops us flying off the handle. Or we may imagine kindness as a soft emotion that translates into endless tolerance and no judgment. But in this passage, it means ‘longsuffering’, the same word to describe the persevering, unfailing love of God in Christ, which leads sinners to repentance (Rom 2:41 Tim 1:16).

It was the patient, kind love of God which culminated in His Son dying on the cross as our Saviour.

For Paul, we never graduate from treating people with kindness and patience. If we want to be more than just a big noise, everything we do should build up the body of Christ, not tear it apart (1 Cor 14:26). The starting point is to know that we are sinners saved by God’s grace. Spiritual pride is incongruous with our “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). Just as the Lord has been longsuffering with us in our rebellion and compulsive sins against Him, God’s will is that his people reflect his compassionate heart in our dealings with one another (Col 3:12-13Eph 4:21 Thess 5:14). Love is not an elective, but part of the main curriculum of Christian living!

Kind, patient love is not an enabling, permissive love, which overlooks abuse, sin or falsehood, and resembles a doormat. Nor is it a fickle emotion that depends on the other person’s response. Kindness and patience are evidence that God’s Spirit is alive and active in our lives (Gal 5:22). Kind, patient love is determined to act in a certain way, often in spite of our instincts or feelings. It is an intentional decision to give and take less offense: To always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. Love never fails (1 Cor 13:7).

It is seen in the redeeming love of Hosea for Gomer. It is the picture of Jesus setting his face towards Jerusalem, sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and willingly dying in our place to make us right with God. There is nothing weak or mushy about love that is patient and kind.

Love is not proud

The enemy of love is not hate. It’s pride.

Pride causes us to be puffed up and wise in our own eyes—a sin so instinctive and lethal that the Bible talks of it often (Rom 12:3,16Prov 26:12Prov 3:7Isa 5:21). Love and haughtiness are incompatible.

In an insightful article titled, “Never be wise in your own eyes”, Marshall Segal explains how pride is the cunning enemy of a group of believers and how it can be defeated:

“Pride slowly, subtly, and quite surely endears us to ourselves. Often, the longer those close to us know us, the less remarkable or impressive we seem. Ironically, the opposite often arises in our own eyes…Pride selfishly sets itself—its wisdom, its gifts, its experience, its potential—above everyone else…

One act of war against pride is to marvel at the army of grace at our side, all the other grace-filled, grace-empowered members of the body of Christ…True humility does not quietly despise graces that are not its own, but loves them just as much, and even more…God makes us humbly, even uncomfortably dependent on one another. And as we mature in humility, we not only acknowledge that dependence, but relish God’s wisdom in weaving us together by grace…Whatever the infinite mind and imagination of heaven has shown you, remember how painfully little you still know….

When we refuse to be wise in our own eyes, celebrating the grace we see in others, admitting how little we still know, and boasting all the more in our weaknesses, God gets his glory— and we see someone far more satisfying than what we loved in the mirror.”

So what happens when we declare war on our pride? Wonderful things! Humility opens the door to love. When love is invited in and allowed to flourish, we are not jealous of other Christians’ ministries or gifts. We don’t need to boast or become defensive of our own. We are not arrogant about what we know or who we are. We are not rude, even if we disagree. We don’t insist on getting our own way or enforcing our rights. We are not irritable or easily provoked. We don’t nurse grievances or feed the bitter root of resentment, but learn instead to speak frankly and generously, giving people the benefit of the doubt. We don’t coddle habits like slander or gossip, but enjoy honest, face-to-face conversations with one another. Our dealings with other Christians are laced with grace, even when we feel aggrieved. Love’s goal is to build up and be helpful to the body of Christ, not to divide or weaken it. These are the implications of love described in 1 Cor 13:4-7.

Where the rubber hits the road

Of course, you’re probably shaking your head and secretly mumbling, “What planet is she on? No group of people behaves like this all the time, not even Christians. Always this…Never that….Paul’s expecting utopia on earth and it’s never going to happen! Surely our job is to guard the truth and get the gospel out? Christians must learn not to be such fragile snowflakes!”

The problem is that the New Testament gives us no loophole to escape the clearly revealed will of God in 1 Cor 13! Love is foundational, and without it our goals and gifts are null and void (1 Cor 13:114:26). In fact, love is our greatest asset in discipleship and evangelism.

Love between Christians is both the litmus test and visible proof to the watching world that the gospel is true (John 13:351 John 4:101112). Love is so vastly different from the rude, brash and boastful world in which we live. A marriage, a family, a church or a life group marked by this kind of love is an astonishing and winsome sight to behold. On the other extreme, as a child I was part of a church that split apart, and in my twenties I was a lawyer in bitter divorces and lawsuits between Christians. It was a shock to witness worse cruelty, rudeness and narcissism than I’d ever seen even in non-Christian circles. There is no greater disgrace to the gospel than professing Christians who refuse to crucify pride and are forever finding loopholes to dodge the clear mandate of love which is given to each and every one of God’s children.

Our patient love for each other communicates how our Father loves and redeems sinners. The way we build bridges through confessing our sin and forgiving one another demonstrates how Christ reconciles broken people to himself and to each other. Our kindness and gentleness is living proof that the Spirit transforms selfish sinners into the image of Christ. When we  encourage one another, we are proclaiming that Jesus is indeed the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace! Our theology is believable when we love one another.

If love is a bridge and pride is a wedge, which one are we building in our short time on earth?

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).


Lord, I realise that I don’t even begin to resemble the picture of love painted in this passage. Please forgive me for the impatient and unkind ways I’ve treated people this week. Hold up a mirror to my life and show me where love is absent and pride is dancing on the stage. Infuse me with your strong, determined, relentless love. Fill me with reminders of your great grace in dying on the cross for me while I was still your enemy. Only a picture of your face will free me from my self-seeking pride. I look so forward to seeing you face-to-face when I will experience pure and perfect love for all eternity. Only your love will keep me loving others in the meantime. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Why Christ’s calling matters more than our occupation

Around 2600 years ago, the prophet Jeremiah wrote:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. (Jer 9:23-24 ESV)

This is surely one of the most counter-cultural messages ever recorded! It’s hard to resist our culture’s creed that says we should be doing something bigger, better, somewhere else. Or the self help ideologies that reveal the secret to unleash our inner greatness. The promise is that if we change our mindset, we will change our circumstances. And if we change our circumstances, all our problems will dissolve. After all, what can stand against the power of wealth, intelligence and physical strength?

Cultural gurus continue to feed the pride, discontent and restlessness that has marked humanity since the Fall. An Amazon bestseller has the sub-title, How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.  The implication is clearly that your current life isn’t too great! Another by a self-made musical superstar is titled, It’s all in your own head— “a reminder that it starts with YOU, to believe in yourself, and to get out of your own way”. Eckart Tolle’s latest book promises Awakening to our Life’s Purpose and Anthony Ferris gives us the secrets to working a 4-hour workweek in Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Even in the so-called ‘Christian’ category, we are faced with Soar (TD Jakes); The Power of FavourI declare and Ten Powerful thoughts for a successful, abundant life”(Joel Osteen).

As a Christian, it can be hard to remain rooted in God’s priorities for our lives, to be content wherever He has placed us and to serve Christ faithfully in the small, mundane things which make up our current circumstances. That’s why Paul’s words to the first century Christians in Corinth are so apt and freeing for believers today. Today’s text hushes the restless sirens and reminds us that our calling in Christ matters infinitely more than our external status:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God…

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor 7:17-2429-31 ESV).

Outward circumstances versus inner calling

Like us, the Corinthian Christians needed to grasp that their identity and significance was securely anchored in their Christian calling— not in cultural and religious symbols or social status. “Don’t be fooled by your rank!” says Paul, “You are free to serve Christ as Lord in and through every season and station of life—even if you are a slave, the least esteemed of all.” (1 Cor 7:192122).

This is a truly liberating message for Christians in a FOMO culture that assumes we are always stuck in the wrong place, with the wrong people, on the wrong side of the track! Christ’s calling re-sets our priorities and revolutionises our lives from the inside out. When the purpose of our lives is to honour, serve and speak for Christ, every job, no matter how menial, is significant Christian work. If God has placed you where you are, there will be opportunities to serve him there.

Paul applies this general principle to the two extreme social and religious distinctions of his time: Circumcision and Slavery. His answer to these two cultural boulders was radical in first century Corinth: Paul dismisses them as irrelevant! (1 Cor 7:1921) All that matters is serving Christ and being obedient to Him wherever God has placed them. They are first and foremost Christians.

What a shock to the Jewish believer’s mindset, which regarded circumcision as everything! It was the difference between being an insider and an outsider. The other half of the congregants were Gentile Greeks, who looked down on the circumcised. Similarly, a slave had the lowliest status of all. Slaves were the epitome of insignificance, yet Paul says their work and identity are also shaped by their calling in Christ, not by their status or job.

To change or not to change

Paul’s general rule to remain in the condition in which we are called does not mean that change is always wrong (1 Cor 7:172024). In fact, in verse 21b, Paul expressly tells slaves to use whatever opportunities they have to buy their freedom and improve their lot in life.

We also know that Christ’s call demands that we completely shed an illegal or immoral life, which may mean a career change or a big move for some Christians (1 Cor 6:11Luke 19:8).

Paul himself encourages us to change our style and methods of ministry to reach diverse people for the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-24).

Good stewardship of our gifts and opportunities leaves no space for an attitude of complacency or fatalism as Christians. We are always called to make choices with wisdom and prayer. But Paul’s message is clear: When Christ calls us, He is our new Master and we belong to Him wherever we find ourselves. We are freed from sin’s bondage and from cultural practices that have been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 15; Rom 4:9-11Gal 5:2-4Col 2:11). The only obstacle to serving and obeying Christ is sin—Not our external circumstances.

Swimming against the tide

I consider this passage as one of my favourites because it has often reminded me that the Christian life is simple and liberating. We are bondservants of Christ, not of men! Bought at a price and responsible to Him alone! (1 Cor 7:2223-24 NIV) When we serve Christ, God leads us with cords of kindness and ties of love, like a loving parent leads his child (Hos 11:4). His fetters always lead to true freedom and flourishing.

I turned 50 this year and have spent most of my married life as a stay-at-home mom. I’m now in my twentieth year of school lifts, lunch boxes, homework and exams! It’s impossible to quantify the tears I’ve dried, conversations, trips made to the ER and desperate prayers I’ve prayed for our kids. Yet sometimes in my insecure moments, I’ve felt that I don’t measure up to our culture’s yardstick of success and have wished for a career, title and income to prove my significance. Our third child is now in matric and in her last week before finals, the entire grade dressed up for their future vocation. Many doctors, lawyers and accountants arrived at school, but my daughter and her friends were dressed in an array of outfits, from ultra casual, to baggy tracksuits and slinky gym pants! They didn’t represent any recognisable career category, so I asked them who they were: “Oh, can’t you see that we’re the ‘coffee shop moms’!? You know, the ones who don’t go to work and spend their day at pilates, drinking skinny lattes and things like that!” They thought they were hilarious, but I sincerely hoped they didn’t tar all stay-at-home moms with the same brush!

The truth is that whatever our occupation or status, most of us feel restless from time to time, wondering if we’re in the right place and doing the right thing. We sometimes confuse our occupation with our calling as Christ’s bondservant. At 18 we worry that we are choosing the wrong career path, and from midlife onwards we wake up in a cold sweat worrying that the grains of sand have finally slipped through the hourglass! Like our culture, Christians also long for significance and fear not being useful or wasting our lives.

Christians are also tempted to blame our circumstances for not living for Christ in the here and now: My family, my employer, my unemployment, my financial situation, my depression, my sickness, my spouse, my education, my career choice, my singleness, my failure, my local church, my emotional baggage…

All of these and many others are possible excuses for not serving Christ and being discontent with our lot in life.

But if Jesus is our master, His yoke is easy. All He asks is that we remain faithful in the small things he has entrusted to us, wherever we are. He calls us to know and love Him, to exercise kindness and justice, and to walk obediently in whatever life He has assigned to us. We are free to ‘use’ the things of this world, but not to become ‘engrossed’ in them, “for this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31 NIV). Perhaps that’s why Paul reminded Timothy:

“Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6).


Listen to one of my favourite songs by Casting Crowns, The Very Next Thing.

Lord, help me to trust your rule in the life you have assigned to me, and to live for you wherever I am and whatever I do. Forgive me for my grumbling and restlessness, and fill me instead with your Spirit, so that I am content and joyful in any and every circumstance. Fix my eyes on Jesus so that I will seize every opportunity to show others who He is. In Jesus’ name.

Ready to answer

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:13-16).

Not a private faith

The New Testament leaves no doubt that a private faith in Christ is not an option (Mark 16:15Matt 24:14Matt 28:19-20). If Christ is our Saviour, He is also our Lord. Christians are Jesus’ ambassadors, through whom God makes his appeal to the world (2 Cor 5:20). It’s why Paul says, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” Even Timothy, a naturally shy and unconfident type, was expected to do the work of an evangelist as part of his job as pastor of a church (2 Tim 4:5).

I must confess before I write another word that I’m naturally timid and unsure in the arena of evangelism. But I also long to be a more faithful ambassador for Christ. I want my hope to show, so that unbelievers may wonder and perhaps ask me about its source. I want to share the true message of Christ with joy and love and boldness. If my confident hope as a Christian is rooted in the grace of God, I want it to show in my manner of evangelism. Were it not for His grace, I would still be hoping for the best and trying to make the most of this brief and uncertain life on earth. So, while I know that evangelism doesn’t earn my place in God’s family, I long to be an active and enthusiastic witness to Jesus as Lord and Saviour, because I’m convinced He’s the only one who can give life and purpose to dying people. I believe that evangelism is part and parcel of being God’s salt and light in the world— His handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

Peter’s instruction is to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope that is in us. That’s pretty unequivocal and comprehensive! But it can also be frightening.

Don’t fear—Revere Christ as Lord! (1 Peter 3:14-15)

Rebecca Pippert identifies fear as a major obstacle to sharing our faith: “Fear, not ignorance, is the real enemy of evangelism. We fear that our friends will reject or marginalize us if we speak about our faith; we fear that what we don’t know will be exposed; we fear that our beliefs will be challenged.”

If we read the whole of verse 15 instead of just focusing on the second half, we see that Peter gives us the antidote to fear: “Revere Christ as Lord in your hearts”. This is the basis for being a bold and fearless witness for Christ. Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts is a hinge statement with massive implications, not just for evangelism, but for all of life as a Christian.

Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts is much more than praying the sinner’s prayer and coming to a decision that Jesus is our Saviour. It is a continuous invitation to the Lord Jesus to rule our hearts—- to excite, teach, shape, guide and motivate our lives every day. We need to first look to Jesus to show us the kind of life to which he calls us and his model for reaching out to others. We need awe of Jesus the Saviour and King, which includes his grace and coming judgment. Only this reverence for Christ as Lord will overcome our fears of causing offence and being a nuisance to people.

Revering Christ as Lord in our hearts will also spill over into the goodness Peter speaks of in verse 13 and 16. We will communicate our message with gentleness and respect, because our manner will reflect how Jesus valued people from the least to the greatest (1 Peter 3:15). Our evangelism will be energized by our belief that the Kingdom of God is at hand and the living Christ is still stirring and breathing life into people’s hearts—perhaps even the person right next to us. If Jesus taught his friends and enemies alike how extravagant and unfailing God’s love is for people, so should our message and manner reflect this truth.

A flesh-and-blood example.

We see this in the story of Stephen, a man whose wisdom, faith, godly character, power and grace were evident for all to see (Acts 6:3810). Stephen continued to speak the truth about Christ boldly, even while being stoned to death. His message of Christ crucified was especially offensive to the hostile Jews in his audience, but Stephen saw the glory of God and Jesus sitting at His right hand (Acts 7:55-56). His reverence for the living Christ moved him to keep speaking, even though he knew his words were his own death sentence. Truth mingled with grace as Stephen forgave his murderers and prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I cannot think of a more graphic picture of both the love of God and the truth of the gospel…except in the life and death of the Lord Jesus.

We can thank the Lord that we will probably never face the same degree of suffering, harm and threats as Stephen or Peter’s original readers experienced (1 Peter 3:13-14). However, unless our hearts are captivated by the real Jesus of history, who personifies love, grace and compassion; justice, holiness and majesty in equal measure, our attempts to share our faith will lack conviction and ring hollow.

Always be prepared!

How do we prepare ourselves to give an answer to everyone who asks about our hope?

There are two engaging books that have challenged and inspired me to get out of my holy huddles and reach out to non-believers. They are Becky Pippert’s updated classic, Out of the Saltshaker and into the World: Evangelism as a way of life, and the biography of the late Nabeel Qureshi titled, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. With Christmas around the corner, I’d encourage you to buy these books for family members and friends, and request a copy for yourself! They will make you more intentional about discipleship and aware of your opportunities. From these two books, I’ve distilled seven practical ways to live out 1 Peter 3:15-16:

  1. We do not need more programmes, agendas or evangelism techniques, but more of Christ in our hearts! Spend time with the Lord Jesus and delight yourself in Him.
  2. You will cause most offence if you treat someone as your evangelistic project instead of a person! Care for the people God has placed around you and don’t feel guilty for not spewing out the whole gospel to every non-believer you meet.
  3. Ask questions and then listen! Find out who the person is and what their life is like before you give them a gospel presentation.
  4. Love people enough to answer their questions and overcome road blocks which prevent them from believing there is a God, trusting the Bible or seeing who Jesus is. If you don’t have the answers, invite them to a course like Christianity Explored or investigate the question together using a credible resource (eg, Ravi Zacharias Ministries, Lee Strobel or Josh Macdowell). Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is a brilliant apologetics resource, couched in an engaging story.
  5. Be yourself! We are called to be witnesses of what we have seen and know, not to pretend what we don’t know! There is no more powerful witness than an ordinary Christian telling people what Christ means to them and His work in their lives. Click here for an example of one such Christian called Anita, a young single mom, who wrote this sincere testimony on her blog.
  6. Don’t be wishy-washy or apologetic about your faith. Ironically, people ultimately respect a person who communicates reasonable and definite ideas, rather than someone who cowers and dilutes the truth for fear of being labeled a religious bigot.
  7. Pray! Unless the Spirit opens doors and hearts, our ‘seeds’ will fall on the path and be snatched away before they take root. Yet, even our most feeble scattering of seed can prove fruitful if God’s Spirit is on the move.

Grace to fail

The best thing about 1 Peter 3:13-16 is its author! Writing these instructions must have triggered painful memories of that night in the high priest’s courtyard when Peter warmed his hands at a fire while Jesus faced the cross. Peter was the one who had identified Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. But when it mattered most, he had answered, “Woman, I do not know him,”  “Man, I am not one of them,” “I do not know what you are talking about.” Peter would’ve winced to remember his repeated denials, the cries of the rooster and the sight of the Lord’s face (Luke 22:54-62). Yet, despite his failure and cowardice, Peter was the one asked to feed Christ’s lambs and tend his sheep (John 21:17). After spending 40 days with the risen Jesus, Peter delivered the most fearless testimony to thousands of Jews at Pentecost and never stopped witnessing for Christ until his own crucifixion (Acts 2:23-41).

Like Peter, you and I might not always be prepared to give an answer for the hope within us. We may tremble, fumble with words and leave out crucial bits. We may regret lost opportunities and incongruities between our walk and our talk. But our hope is rooted in the grace of God, not our evangelism prowess. That’s why we need to keep revering Christ as Lord in our hearts and trusting in his grace to make us faithful ambassadors of the King.

“For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9a).

Casting every care

“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:7 is a favourite verse often quoted as an antidote to stress and worry. It is a timeless reminder to Christians to pray with utter dependence on our loving Father, no matter what our circumstances. The idea of casting is to literally throw our cares on the Lord, and to leave them with him, instead of trying to carry, control or retrieve them ourselves. But if we return this text to its rightful place in Peter’s letter, we see that this chapter is about shepherding God’s people through intense persecution. Peter’s main instruction to these suffering believers is to humble themselves under God’s mighty hand. It was only with this attitude of childlike trust that they could genuinely cast all their cares upon the Lord, knowing that he cared for them.

Let’s read this passage with humility and ask the Lord to show us what to do with our own anxious thoughts:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:5-11).

A common condition and a timeless remedy

Peter’s original readers faced a set of uncontrollables that we can hardly imagine. They feared losing their homes, livelihoods, communities and lives at the whim of those who opposed their faith. Scattered as foreigners, they lived under constant threat for themselves and their loved ones. The threats were real, not imagined. In contrast, we worry about things that may never happen, past regrets that we cannot change, perceptions that aren’t true, and health and material issues that are, ironically, made worse by our worrying. Only a fraction of our concerns are in fact real and serious problems. But, Christians in every context have this in common with Peter’s original readers: All our daily cares can quickly morph into anxieties that choke us. The only antidote is a constant, childlike trust in God’s loving providence.

“Do not be anxious” was the timeless and unequivocal command of Jesus too (Matt 6:25-34). Peter’s instruction in 1 Peter 5:6-7 is like entrusting a loved one to a skilled surgeon, allowing a pilot to fly your plane or handing over your precious backpack to a sherpa to carry it safely to the top of a mountain. But of course, all these analogies break down because no human being is sovereign over every detail of the universe. No person is perfectly good, strong or wise, and there is no one on earth who cares for us as our Father does. Only the Lord Jesus could die in our place to become the Rock on whom we rest all our burdens. The cross is the ultimate proof that our lives matter to God.

In this text, Peter not only alludes to the common condition and the timeless remedy of anxiety, but also to a common source.

Wiser than God?

Our culture would be horrified to draw a connection between anxiety and pride, but Peter isn’t. He contrasts God’s attitude towards the proud and humble in the same breath as his instruction to cast our cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:5-7). Before we dismiss this as overly simplistic or harsh, let’s think through some of the outcomes of humility and pride in our own lives. I can personally vouch for the ones on pride:

Pride tells us we must depend on ourselves and meet our own needs. Pride believes the lie that we can control our lives and convince God to give us what we want. Pride thinks we know what’s best. Pride is entitled, and insists on our comfort, certainty and reputation. In pride, we boast of tomorrow’s gains (James 4:13-15).

In contrast, when we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, we willingly place ourselves under His providence. We remember that hardship is a normal part of Christ’s call to die to self, shared by all His followers in every generation (1 Peter 5:9Luke 14:2733Luke 9:23-24). We trust that our ultimate exaltation will come when the Lord Jesus, our Chief Shepherd returns (1 Peter 5:4;10). We know we can’t help ourselves, so we welcome God’s mighty hand as the helping hand of a parent or shepherd, not an oppressor. We believe that God will keep his promises in His good time, not ours (1 Peter 5:6).

A little while

Trusting God’s promises requires humility. History tells us that some of Peter’s readers would be strengthened and delivered by God’s grace in their lifetimes, but many would only be released from suffering in their deaths. The promise that God would exalt them in due time was not a guarantee of rescue from their troubles. Yet, Peter dares to say that in comparison with eternity, their suffering would last only “a little while” (1 Peter 5:10).

If Peter called these persecuted Christians to have an eternal perspective and childlike trust in the God of all grace, is this not our antidote to anxiety too? 

Of course, none of us has perfect faith. Nor did Peter, or his readers. At best, we cry out to Jesus like the bewildered dad of the demon-possessed boy, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The important thing is to cast our cares on Christ anyway. The alternative is to be choked by them little by little.

Choked by cares

Peter implicitly warns us that anxiety is a dangerous state in which to live, as it leaves us in a self-focussed, vulnerable place where we are easy prey for Satan’s attacks (1 Peter 5:8). We cannot be watchful, resist the devil and remain firm and fruitful in our faith while choked by worry (1 Peter 5:9Mark 4:19). That’s why we need to cast off each day’s burdens on the Lord. As George MacDonald puts it, “No man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to today’s burden that the weight is more than a man can bear. Never load yourself so.”

If the stakes are this high, it’s worth asking God each day to unmask our anxious thoughts, so that we can actively cast them on Him in prayer.

This passage is one of my favourites, because I have a tendency to worry about many things. It’s one thing for me to know intellectually that God is sovereign and that he cares for me, but it’s quite another thing to actually get on my knees and lay out my cares, one by one, before the Lord in prayer. “Casting all our cares” is a deliberate, no-holds-barred action that is often difficult and the last thing we feel like doing. It’s easier and more natural to fret than to pray! But the wonderful effect of this kind of casting is the peace that follows it. It’s a peace that transcends rational understanding– a heart assurance that God is in control and cares for us. When we make a daily habit of casting all our cares, big and small, on the Lord, prayer will become more instinctive and our concerns will be stopped in their tracks before they grow into full-fledged worry.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isa 26:3).


Father, you say that we must not be anxious for anything, but rather pray with thanksgiving and offer our requests to you. So, we thank you that you care for us and know each of our concerns. Thank you that you are always good, powerful and faithful– our constant provider, counsellor and refuge. Thank you that your purposes are always good–to make us wiser, deeper and more  Christ-like. Jesus, thank you that you are our Chief Shepherd. We want to trust you utterly, but our faith often wavers through fear and pride. By your Spirit and your Word, unmask our anxious thoughts and false lenses through which we see our lives. Forgive us for doubting you and for thinking we are wiser than you. Today we humble ourselves under your mighty hand and cast our cares on you, because you care for us. To you be the dominion forever and ever, Amen.


Listen to Oceans (Where feet may fail), by Shane and Shane.

God’s poetry

Series: My favourite texts. Eph 2:8-10.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

If I’m honest, every day there’s either a Pharisee buzzing the intercom of my heart, aching to take me hostage to legalism and pride. Or there’s a Hedonist on my stoep, luring me to self-indulgence and laziness! Sometimes I find myself trying to earn God’s free gift of grace, and at other times I take it for granted. But Paul is emphatic that neither will do for God’s redeemed people. Both grace and goodness are the marks of a Christian. If grace is the tree of salvation, then good works are the natural fruit for which the tree was intended. It is never either grace or goodness for a Christian, but both. The Lord’s grace re-moulds us into His workmanship (poema) to reflect His goodness to the world. We are His poetry in motion.

By grace, for good

As Jen Michel writes in Surprised by Paradox, “by grace we die to self-deception and moral self-assuredness; we die to self-reliance and bootstrap religion; we die to self-trust and to the pocked, unreliable hope that we can save ourselves. All our old ways of earning our keep with God have gone. We don’t get grace because we change our lives—but our lives are indelibly changed because we get grace.” Paul says we are new creatures in Christ, re-purposed for good (2 Cor 5:17).

Today’s text describes us as God’s living works of art (poema), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Eph 2:10).

God’s workmanship

Just as the heavens are God’s physical handiwork to declare His glory, so God intends for His people to shine like stars in the dark skies of our own culture. We are God’s spiritual handiwork, designed to express God’s glory and goodness in our everyday lives.

So Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi,

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Phil 2:12-16).

Both God’s grace at work in our lives and our persistence in Christ (the word of life) enable us to shine like stars in our crooked generation.

God’s poetry in motion

Paul lays out who and whose we are, in contrast to who we once were before God’s grace transformed our sin-dead lives (Eph 2:1-3; 2:4-10).

In the literal Greek of verse 10, we are God’s living poetry (poiema)! A poem doesn’t write itself or take credit for its beauty! Likewise, we belong to God, not ourselves. We are just His voice. The only other time the word ‘poiema’ is used is Romans 1:20 to describe the things God made in creation. Nature is not the result of random mutations or mindless evolutionary processes. It is the ordered creative expression of the great Artist of the universe! That is why the Psalmist says, The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Ps 19:1-4).

Just as the heavens are God’s physical poetry, you and I are His spiritual creation, “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

Just as God’s material creation is never aimless, slovenly, ugly, rushed or mass-produced, God doesn’t do a make-over or rehab job on His children either. He gives us a new nature and replaces our stony heart with a responsive one. We become an entirely new creature, re-born, re-created in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:17).

The Artist’s intention

The Bible is down-to-earth about God’s intention for our lives as Christians. Paul tells Timothy, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and generous and willing to share.” We’re warned against living idle, unproductive lives (1 Timothy 6:18Titus 3:14 and Heb 10:24).

If we read on in Ephesians, we see that God intends to show off His great wisdom, grace and character through His church down the ages (Eph 3:102:7). He intends for infant Christians to grow up into Jesus, and do our part in the work of Christ’s church (Eph 4:11-16). We are not just individual works of art created to sit in a gallery and look pretty! The Great Artist’s plan is that we get involved in a body of believers, united in purpose and love for one another and for the Lord (Eph 5:29-30). We are not saved merely for our own benefit and to please ourselves, but to serve Christ and build up God’s people (Eph 4:12). That is how we are pleasing to God.

Is it not an insult to God’s creative work to think of our lives as boring, useless or worthless? If we are God’s poetry, we dare not treat ourselves or others with disrespect or as inferior. God doesn’t produce shoddy works of art.

Just do the next good thing!

It’s wonderful to know that God has a plan for each of his children. It’s also great to be able to trust God’s good purposes to re-shape us into the likeness of Jesus (Rom 8:28-29). This gives us meaning, identity and hope in life.

But when I first read Eph 2:10 as a younger Christian, my over-active imagination swung like a trapeze artist over the impossible scenarios God may have prepared in advance for me! I imagined God composing a long bucket list of good works for me to do during my lifetime. It made me worry how on earth I would know what was on His list and whether it included being sent to a place with frogs and without Woolies (my greatest fears!) Seeing the many ‘good works’ I was neglecting or doing very badly, verse 10 became a burden rather than a blessing to me.

Then I stumbled upon a little book by Elisabeth Elliot titled The Shaping of a Christian family in which she described the overwhelming period shortly after her husband Jim was martyred in Ecuador. Elisabeth was left alone, with a small baby, to manage the jungle mission station. She was faced with a million things to do each day for which she was not trained or prepared. The Lord taught her that she didn’t need to know God’s whole plan, but just needed to stay connected to Christ and do the next good thing. She could trust Him with the big picture. Sometimes the next good thing was just to get the laundry done, call a friend, read her Bible, prepare the next lesson, be friendly to a stranger, or go to bed when she was tired.

I’m grateful for Elisabeth’s common sense wisdom which lifted an unnecessary burden I’d placed on myself. I now see Eph 2:10 as a great blessing. Fuelled by God’s round-the-clock grace, we are called to walk (perpateo) in a life of good works, not to fly! Being a pedestrian is an ordinary, natural part of life, and we too were created to do good in our modest lives, one step at a time. We do not have to seek out a grand calling or find some spectacular, visible form of ministry. We might only see our ‘calling’ in retrospect. As God’s poetry, we can leave Him to write the words.

Since we’ve been talking about God’s poetry, I will end with Elizabeth Elliot’s poem, Do the Next thing. May her ‘good work’ encourage you too:

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

Timothy Keller’s prayer: Before work

Lord, all day may you give me an awareness of your presence, fruitfulness yet patience with your appointments, wisdom and compassion in my dealings, and Fatherly protection against dangers and adversities. Let me accept whatever degree of success or difficulty in my work you give me this day, and especially make me compassionate and ready to be interrupted in order to do good to others. In Jesus’s name.


Listen to Psalm 19, a song by Jess Ray.