Thirty Pieces of Silver

Easter devotions: The difference between Peter and Judas.

By Rosie Moore.

Both Judas and Peter were handpicked as disciples by Jesus. Both watched Jesus heal the sick, deliver demoniacs, feed the crowds and raise the dead. Both listened to his teachings on God’s Kingdom and heard him foretell his impending death. Both were part of Jesus’s trusted circle who proclaimed the gospel and did miracles in his name (Mark 6:12-13). Both men struggled with sin and temptation. Both misunderstood Christ’s mission. Both betrayed Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Yet, there were crucial differences between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot which led them along different trajectories, to vastly different outcomes.

Join us for the next two weeks to look at why the lives of Peter and Judas Iscariot ended so differently, and what lessons we can learn from them. Thereafter, we’ll resume our devotions in Peter’s letters.

Thirty pieces of silver

Many have speculated on what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. Was it greed? Was it resentment that Jesus was not the political leader he had hoped for? Was Judas a pawn of Satan or God, with no choice in the matter (Luke 22:3)? Did he try to force Jesus’ hand to rebel against Rome and set up a new political government?

What we do know is that the gospel writers highlight Judas’s greed and dishonesty. Greed was Judas Iscariot’s besetting sin. He handed Jesus over to the Jewish leaders for just 30 pieces of silver, the average price to buy a slave in the first century.

Essentially, Judas sold the Son of God in exchange for four month’s salary. Loyalty, friendship, integrity, justice, truth, innocence—None of this mattered to Judas as much as his financial interests. He used the mission of Christ for personal advancement, and he was shrewd and deliberate in his plotting:

“He (Judas) went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.”
(Luke 22:4-6)

“Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.”
(Matthew 26:14-16).

Judas, who was trusted to take care of the moneybag and give money to the poor (John 13:29-30), was a pretender right up to the moment when he came up to Jesus and kissed him (Matt 26:48-50). He wore the mask of a friend, but treated Jesus as an enemy.

Twin embryos of betrayal.

But Judas’s betrayal didn’t come out of nowhere. It was conceived from the twin embryos of greed and hypocrisy that he’d incubated in his heart for some time. The apostle John, who knew Judas as a brother, gives us insight into this progression of sin in chapter 12 and 13:

It was at a dinner in Lazarus’s home in Bethany shortly before Jesus’s arrest. Mary, motivated by pure devotion, anointed Jesus with an entire bottle of expensive nard. When Mary poured the perfume lavishly over Christ’s feet and wiped his feet with her hair, Judas was highly offended, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He was indignant at the waste of money (John 12:5).

Perhaps he valued money more than Jesus. Perhaps he was jealous of Mary. Perhaps he failed to see his own theft and lies as sin, because he was enslaved to the evil desire of greed and self promotion (James 1:142 Peter 2:19).

Judas’s pretense to care for the poor was sheer hypocrisy, as John exposes his true motives, “He did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” C.H Spurgeon makes an interesting comment about Judas’s hypocrisy:

“The kisses of an enemy are deceitful…Whenever a man is about to stab religion, he usually professes very great reverence of it. Let us beware of sleek-faced hypocrisy, which is assistant to heresy and infidelity.”

Judas’s progression into sin is a shocking warning for each of us. It is a remarkable real life illustration of James’s metaphor describing how sin grows from conception to a stillborn baby:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15).

Judas’s despair and death is horrible to imagine (Acts 1:18Matt 27:5). That’s why James warns us to take our heart desires seriously and not to deceive ourselves (James 1:16). They are potentially lethal.

“Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).

Judas’s greed and love of ill-gotten gain was fertile ground for Satan’s seeds of betrayal. The Bible is clear that the devil prompted Judas’s betrayal (John 13:227), which was all part of God’s sovereign plan (Ps 41:9Matt 20:1826:20-25Acts 1:1620).

However, the Bible is equally clear that Judas was not just a pawn of Satan or God. None of us can blame others or make excuses for our evil thoughts and wrong actions, because they are ours alone (James 1:13-14). Judas’s unchecked desires left him like putty in the devil’s hands.

Jesus himself confronted Judas with his ‘sleek-faced hypocrisy’ on the night of his arrest:

“Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:48). There’s almost a pleading in Jesus’s question, and no doubt that Judas was an active agent in his betrayal. But by the time Judas realized he didn’t like the way things were turning out, it was too late. The wheels of God’s sovereign plan had begun to turn (John 13:210-11).

“Surely not I, Rabbi?”

Judas’s story should leave us feeling sad and troubled, as Jesus was (John 13:21). I can hardly imagine a sadder meal than the Last Supper, when Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (John 13:22Matt 26:21).

An inside job always leaves us feeling perplexed. How could a member of this loyal band of brothers betray Jesus? But in Matthew’s gospel, we see that Judas’s response is different to the response of Peter and the other disciples:

Each of Jesus’s disciples was deeply worried that he might be the traitor. Their consciences were tender and concerned. Matthew recalls that night: “They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22). But there is a stark contrast in the tone of Judas’s question: “Surely not I, Rabbi?” he asks, formally (Matt 26:25).

The other disciples addressed Jesus as “Lord,” but for Judas, he was just “Rabbi”. Of course, Rabbi is a Jewish title of honour that conveys respect for a wise teacher, but it belied a deeper issue in Judas’s heart. Judas acknowledged Jesus as a man, but never as his Lord, the Son of God, with the right to rule his thoughts, desires and actions. He’d never accepted responsibility for his sins, confessed them and bowed the knee to Christ as his Saviour, as Peter had (Luke 5:8). Judas had no personal relationship with Jesus.

A tragic trajectory

Judas was a real man who, in real space, time and history, betrayed Jesus for thirty sheckels of silver. It’s a shocking and tragic story. But Judas is also a picture of anyone who ultimately rejects Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Although he was closely associated with Jesus and looked just like the other disciples, he failed to follow Christ as Lord of his life. Tragically, he committed suicide without faith and without hope.

But, no matter how great Judas’s sin was, betrayal is not the unforgivable sin. Nor is greed, theft, lying or suicide. No sin is an obstacle to Christ’s forgiveness. As Thomas Brookes explained many centuries ago:

“The least sin should humble the soul, but certainly the greatest sin should never discourage the soul, much less should it work the soul to despair. Despairing Judas perished, whereas the murderers of Christ, believing on him, were saved.”

But Judas had worn the mask of hypocrisy too long. When he realized what he had done and wanted to recant and return the money, he couldn’t humble himself to repent or even say Jesus’s name. He could only admit to the chief priests that he had betrayed “innocent blood” (Matt 27:3-10).

But Jesus’s verdict on Judas is even more tragic than his suicide: “Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matt 26:24). Judas is called “doomed to destruction,” because he was never saved (John 17:12).

Our own trajectory

Judas’s story is not some remote cautionary tale, for we are all by nature traitors and rebels, ‘doomed to destruction’ unless we’re made right with God through Jesus. No matter what our church association or Christian pedigree, we’re either true followers of Christ or pretenders. It’s not enough to feel guilty and remorseful for sin and the havoc it causes in our lives. Even Judas did that. We need to surrender, turn back to Jesus, ask forgiveness and put our trust in him. And then we need to act on the truth that we are no longer enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6John 8:34).

Judas shows us that Christ is more than a wise teacher who teaches us to love our neighbour and live good lives. He is Lord of all, or not Lord at all.

And, as Christians, we’re also tempted to sell out Jesus’s unpopular teachings; to use the church and the gospel for our personal advancement; to try to force Jesus’s hand to suit our own agenda. Like Judas, we’re tempted to lie, steal, covet, envy and worship money and the things it buys.

Judas’s life is a big red flag to those ‘small’ invisible sins of the heart, like greed, resentment, pride and hypocrisy, which grow into dangerous habits and always end in terrible tragedy—now and/or in eternity. “The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them” (1 Tim 5:24).

But, thanks to the gospel, we do not need to follow Judas’s tragic trajectory. We can choose to follow Christ, for “Stronger than darkness, New every morn, Our sins they are many, But his mercy is more”  (Keith and Kirstyn Getty).

This is the difference between the two disciples who betrayed Jesus—Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter.

Join us on Easter Friday, as we contrast Peter’s trajectory. The devotion is titled, “It is the Lord!”


Lord, Judas’s shocking story reminds us that the human heart is deceitful above all things. Show us our invisible sins before they take root. Above all, do not let us become pretenders. Rule over every aspect of our lives and help us to be like Mary, who valued you more than anything else. Do not let us sell out the truth of your word for the sake of popularity, personal promotion or security. And though our sins are many and great, help us to remember that your mercy is more.  Amen.

Hospitality as a way of life

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, By Rosie Moore.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.”  Peter 4:9-11.

Practise hospitality… without grumbling!

Generous, cheerful hospitality. This is a vital way that God works through his church family to bring refreshment and love to others. But there is a deeper significance to hospitality than providing food, drink and a place to sleep. Hospitality is one of the ways that we welcome Christ into our everyday lives and homes. And it is the way that we mirror his gospel invitation to others.

What’s more, like all God’s commands, hospitality enables us to live well in God’s world. According to a seventy-five year old Harvard study of well-being, the happiest and healthiest people prioritize relationships with family, friends and community (Click here). God’s ways always work.

Hospitality reflects God’s heart

But hospitality has always been more about God than us. Among God’s Old Testament people, welcoming a stranger was a cultural expectation, as was hospitality among friends (Ruth 2:91 Sam 25:6Job 31:31-32). And likewise, in the New testament, hospitality is a pillar of Christian living: “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom 12:13Heb 13:2).

Amazingly, Rahab the prostitute demonstrated true faith in Yahweh by welcoming the spies into her home in Jericho (Heb 11:31). And the Bible remembers the Shunammite woman and the widow of Zarephath, (both Gentiles), for their willingness to show hospitality to the prophets Elisha and Elijah (2 Kings 4:9-101 Kings 17:9).

Likewise, hospitality is listed as an attribute of a godly leader in the Church (Titus 1:81 Tim 3:2). And specific mentions are made of first century lay Christians like Aquila and Priscilla who, through their willingness to show hospitality, opened the doorway of the gospel to many people in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus (Rom 16:3-41 Cor 16:192 Tim 4:19). We read about this hospitable couple in Acts 18.

Hospitality and the gospel invitation

But the Greek word for hospitality in the Bible (philoxenia) has a much wider definition than just having our friends around for a meal. It means “love of the stranger”. It has always been a fruitful vehicle for gospel ministry. As Stacy Reaoch explains,

“We want to serve others well so they will see Jesus and desire to follow him, bearing kingdom fruit. We want them to be drawn to the love of the church, not because of our elegant china, but because of the kindness shown them”.

Hospitality is important to Christianity, because it mirrors God’s gospel invitation. And so, when Jesus told his parable of the Great Banquet, he was inviting sinners into God’s spiritual family. But then he concluded his parable by instructing his followers to offer hospitality to those who couldn’t repay them, just as God has done with us (Luke 14:13-14). And so, hospitality is an everyday, tangible way to mirror God’s gracious offer in salvation. That’s why it’s just a way of life for a Christian.

Looking from this gospel viewpoint, it would seem that when we show hospitality to someone, we welcome and serve Christ himself (Matt 25:34-3540.)

A joy… or a duty?

Yet, despite knowing all these things, I’ve often found myself viewing hospitality as just another guilt-inducing chore, a heavy burden to bear. Why are we prone to be more like Martha, “troubled by many things” (Luke 10:41), rather than like Lydia, who begged to host Paul in her home in Thyatira (Acts 16:15)? It’s easy to see hospitality as a duty rather than a joy:

Especially if you’ve got young children and can barely make it to the 5pm finish line;

Especially when your living space is tiny (and your bank balance is even tinier);

Especially if you’re an introvert and find people draining;

Especially if you’re in the habit of burning supper!

But Peter must have anticipated this response, since he adds the condition– ‘without grumbling!’ Perhaps we’ve been brainwashed by too many episodes of ‘Come Dine with Me’ or ‘Downton Abbey!” We’ve bought into the idea that hospitality is about cooking skills, an impressive menu, a decorated home and table settings.

Hospitality is not entertaining

But Jen Wilkin stresses that hospitality is nothing like entertaining, for

“Entertaining seeks to impress, Hospitality seeks to bless.’

Unpretentious hospitality is accessible to every Christian, married or unmarried… if our focus is directed away from ourselves and towards Christ and the person he has led us to serve.

The goal of Christian hospitality is not what we offer, but the heart behind it. There are many ways to show hospitality, including inviting a friend for coffee; hosting a Bible study; spontaneously inviting someone for lunch after Church; having children over for a play date; cooking and childminding for a sick friend; offering a meal or basket of eggs as a gift; baking a loaf of fresh bread. Hospitality is simply using whatever God has given us to refresh others.

The heartbeat of hospitality is to echo God’s welcoming heart, regardless of how much money we have or what our living arrangements are. I’m sure Peter’s original readers– scattered Christians in the first century—did not have fancy homes or special food. In fact, many of them were homeless, but I imagine that Aquila and Priscilla’s tents came in handy as a shelter from the cold.

To make hospitality a sustainable way of life, we must avoid the fuss-trap! Here are some principles to help us:

  1. Hospitality starts at home.

During Covid, the Lord has shown us that hospitality begins in our own household: Make a regular dinner-time, arrange a special night of the week to read Scripture and speak words of blessing over your household. Invite one or two guests at a time to share a meal, especially the vulnerable and lonely. Ask them to share what the Lord is doing in their lives. Pray that guests will find Christ in your heart and home.

  1. Focus on people, not preparation!

You’re much more likely to practice hospitality if you keep things simple from the word go! Collect simple recipes for one-pot meals and cook double quantities so that there’s always a spare meal in the freezer for unexpected guests. Use up whatever you have in the house to avoid a special trip to the shops. Remember that the goal of hospitality is to make your guest/s feel loved and cared for, rather than to impress them with a fancy menu and spotless home. So don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

  1. Hospitality is a team effort

Hospitality is often misrepresented as a one-sided gesture—the host must wait hand-and-foot on the guest, who sits on the sofa! But the Bible speaks of mutual sharing and reciprocal serving among his people. In fact, the phrase “each other” occurs 100 times in the New Testament. So, if your guest offers to contribute something or to help with the meal, accept their offer gladly. Great conversations happen over the chopping board and braai! And if you have children, train them to help. Make your meal a team effort, so you won’t say, “Once, but never again!” Likewise, if you are the guest, think of how you can refresh your host.

  1. Be you!

Remember that there’s no rubric for hospitality!

My mom’s love language is food and her meals are pure heaven! Even at 80, when she invites people over, her table groans with a feast that the best chefs would envy.  She loves poring over recipes, planning menus, and her greatest joy is watching her grandchildren relish five roast potatoes for Sunday lunch! In contrast, my sister and I are in the habit of serving ‘recycléés’ to our guests– a fancy French term for recycled leftovers! Our greatest joy is seeing an empty fridge by the end of the week!

But I remember being a child and living for six years in a tiny caravan. Even with four children in that tiny caravan, far from the nearest town, I watched my parents offer generous hospitality to friends and strangers alike. We had a steady stream of guests staying with us, eating and laughing around our wobbly green table! If I were to sum up what I saw in our home, it would be this:

People mattered, not perfection. My parents were genuinely interested in other people, and so they created a home where the elderly were cherished, young people were welcomed and children were loved. Relationships were nurtured and nourished as a way of life.

In obeying Peter’s instruction to practise hospitality, we do not have to meet some unattainable standard. We don’t have to pretend that our homes and families are perfect. We just need to be ourselves. Peter reminds us that God has gifted us differently to serve one another in the church family, “as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). And God’s name is glorified when we open our hearts and our homes to those around us, whether that’s over a three course meal, Uber Eats or a can of baked beans on toast.

Loving each other in times of testing

(Painting by Aaron Spong)

Series: 1 & 2 Peter, by Rosie Moore.

Knowing God in a personal relationship should naturally lead to a grace-based life. This is how Peter instructs first century believers to go about their everyday lives, as homeless exiles scattered all over the Greco-Roman world:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:8-11)

Peter affirms the ethic we see throughout Scripture—that love is our top priority as God’s special community (Luke 10:27Lev 19:9-18): “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This distinctly Judeo-Christian idea, which is given flesh and bones in 1 Corinthians 13, used to be known as Christian charity. Charity is the natural response of a believer who grasps the mercy and grace of Jesus poured out in their own life. What’s more, God is praised when we use our abilities as he directs, to help others (Matt 5:161 Peter 4:11).

What’s striking about Peter’s instructions is that the first century church’s base was broad—it crossed cultural, social, ethnic, gender and economic lines. Mutual love across these lines wasn’t natural or socially acceptable in the Greco-Roman world. Yet, Peter urged this diversely-gifted, mixed bag of Christians to love one another, as ‘good stewards of God’s varied grace.’

Love one another earnestly

If Peter is to be believed, fiery trials are never wasted on a Christian if we continue to use whatever gifts God has given us to love one another earnestly.  Some of these diverse gifts are listed in Romans 12:6-81 Cor 12:8-11 and Eph 4:11, but Peter sorts them into two pigeonholes: Serving and speaking.

I love that word “earnestly”! It means seriously, sincerely, eagerly and from the heart. It’s like a pure stream of love for fellow believers that wells up in response to the gospel which has saved us all. “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love each other deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

A few months ago, when a woman joined a Bible study group that I’m part of, her husband was taken aback, “Where did you find all these new friends who love you so much? I’ve never known you to have such caring friends, and you’ve only known them a few months!” Our care for each other is born out of our common bond and precious faith in the Lord Jesus (2 Peter 1:1). It is a natural, but at the same time a supernatural kind of love that makes instant friends out of total strangers. But it’s also a love that mutually serves.

Peter must have recalled the night when Jesus had illustrated earnest love with a bowl of water and a cloth:

“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet…A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 1434-35).

Although none of us will live up to the radical love of Jesus, who gave up his life to save his enemies, we know that loving and serving our neighbour is part of our DNA as Christians. It’s what makes us different from the world.

Peter lays out four identifying marks of love that would distinguish them from their culture:

  1. Steadfast service.
  2. Love that covers over a multitude of sins.
  3. Cheerful hospitality.
  4. Christ-like speech.

We’ll explore the first two marks today.

Steadfast service

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you’ll have discovered that love is easier to talk about than to do over the long haul. It’s hard to keep serving in relationships, when our own selfish hearts rub up against real people with their fears, weaknesses and sins. Virtue signaling is a lot easier than obeying Peter’s instruction to “keep loving each other” in the present continuous tense.

Like a car, relationships require ongoing maintenance, not a once-off visit to the carwash!

Joni Earekson Tada describes this kind of steadfast service as ‘long obedience in the same direction’. Bearing in mind that Joni is now 70 years old and has been a quadriplegic since she was 16, her perspective is pretty amazing:

“Someone once said that the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we balk when patience is required over a long haul. We don’t much like endurance. It’s painful to persevere through a marriage that’s forever struggling. A church that never crest 100 members. Housekeeping routines that never vary from week-to-week. Even caring for an elderly parent or a handicapped child can feel like a long obedience in the same direction.

If only we could open our spiritual eyes to see the fields of grain we’re planting, growing, and reaping along the way. That’s what happens when we endure…

Right now you may be in the middle of a long stretch of the same old routine…. You don’t hear any cheers or applause. The days run together―and so do the weeks. Your commitment to keep putting one foot in front of the other is starting to falter.

Take a moment and look at the fruit. Perseverance. Determination. Fortitude. Patience.

Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

(Joni Eareckson Tada, Holiness in Hidden Places).

But, just in case we think we can serve in our own strength, Peter reminds us to serve “with the strength God provides” (1 Peter 4:11). If we depend on our own abilities, or serve to feel better about ourselves, we’ll be burnt out before we’re around the first bend. Christian charity is fuelled and directed by Christ, and it’s about God’s glory not our own: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Love covers over a multitude of sins

Then, in verse 8, Peter makes the point that it’s not possible to keep loving and serving one another unless we also overlook offenses and extend mercy to each other, for “love covers over a multitude of sins”. Paul describes this charitable love as “bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:2-3).

Charitable love gives people the benefit of the doubt. It extends Christ’s tenderhearted forgiveness (Eph 4:32Col 3:13) even when it’s undeserved. It doesn’t look for hidden faults or motives in what a person says or does, but takes people at face value. Covering over a multitude of sins is only possible when we know how much it cost Jesus to cover over our own sins. How much we need his mercy every day!

Lydia Brownback comments that verse 8 “doesn’t mean that love erases sin or the pain it causes. Peter’s point is that love wants to see the best in others and interprets their circumstances in a favourable light whenever possible. And even when it’s not possible, love takes no pleasure in harping on someone’s sin or discussing it with others.”

The prophet Zechariah adds substance to this charitable attitude: “Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zech 8:16-17). Authentic peace in relationships is never achieved at the expense of truth and charity. Truth and charity go hand in hand.

The receiving end of charity

As Peter wrote these words, I’m sure he remembered how he had been on the receiving end of truth and charity many times in his own life:

There was that breakfast on the beach when the risen Jesus had forgiven him after his three denials (John 2:15-17). Christ hadn’t harped on Peter’s disloyalty, but had restored Peter with grace and truth.

Then there was the time in Galatia, when Peter had acted like a hypocrite for fear of offending the Judaizers (Gal 2:11-12). Peter had effectively enabled division in the church when he favoured one group (Jews) and would no longer eat with the other group (Gentiles). Yet, after Paul’s truthful confrontation and Peter’s repentance, Paul and Peter remained fast friends, because love covered over a multitude of sins.

How do we find the power to show grace to a person who has hurt us deeply, to cover over a multitude of sins? Certainly not by our own strength or willpower, for ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’ (John 3:6).

It is only possible through Christ’s Spirit in us. It is only Christ’s love that can move us to be peacemakers and ministers of reconciliation (1 Cor 5:14), to forgive as he has forgiven us. As sinners saved by grace, our relationships can only be sustained by Christ’s supernatural grace in us.

But the Holy Spirit will never compel or bully us into extending charitable love–Love that covers over a multitude of sins. Gordon Macdonald and Corrie Ten Boom remind us that forgiveness requires our co-operation:

“Forgiveness, I came to see, is about cleaning up the memory by renouncing and flushing vengeful feelings about other people.” (Gordon Macdonald, A Resilient Life: You can move ahead no matter what.)

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

Lord, with all the brokenness and needs around us every day, help us to be led by your Spirit in how and whom we serve. Make us aware of the gifts you have given us, so that we will be good stewards of your varied grace. Give us your heart of mercy, compassion and unfailing love. Give us your strength and grace to love deeply, to forgive easily, to be charitable and to serve each other faithfully and steadfastly. To the glory of your name, Amen.

Living for Jesus in a season of testing

Series: 1 & 2 Peter. By Rosie moore.

Peter’s own blood, sweat and tears drip onto every page of his letters, which the Lord has miraculously preserved for almost 2000 years for us to read. Peter became the faithful, nourishing shepherd of God’s sheep that Christ commissioned him to be (John 21:17). Today we land on chapter 4, zooming in on Peter’s counsel to Christians in a season of violent and unjust persecution. It was a fiery ordeal that believers in liberal democracies can only imagine, but which is still suffered by many of our brothers and sisters around the world today (read here).

Under Nero’s tyrannical rule, their fiery ordeal was about to get worse. They would soon be targeted and put to death for public amusement (read here).

For Peter’s readers, following Jesus cost them everything.

A credible counsellor.

As for the author, I can only imagine Simon Peter, the burly, ageing fisherman, writing from a cold prison cell, awaiting his horrendous execution, which Christ had foretold thirty years beforehand (John 21:18-19).

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit skeptical when a hear elites issuing instructions from their ivory towers. Or handing out advice that is clearly not costing them anything. But that’s definitely not the case when we read Peter’s letters to exiled believers in the first century. He was crucified in Rome in 64AD, probably upside down. (read here).

One can almost feel Peter’s heart of longing for Christ’s return… his love for his suffering brothers and sisters around the Greco-Roman empire…his memories of his conversations with Jesus. With his own eyes, Peter had seen the perfect lamb of God pay the ultimate cost to redeem him (1 Peter 1:19). He’d seen Christ raised from the dead and glorified (1 Peter 1:21Luke 24:52Acts 1:9-1). He’d heard the angels assure him at the ascension that “this same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). Given the context, I think Peter’s counsel is highly credible. And this is what he wrote about living for Christ in a season of testing:

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11).

Verse 19 is a handy summary of the whole chapter:

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19).

The end of all things is near!

Peter’s tone is urgent, expectant and absolutely certain. There’s even triumph in his perspective of the future.

Without the perspective of Christ’s return at the forefront of our minds, we will live unprepared for that day. Jesus said that those who are not watchful for his return, will be ‘weighed down’ by the excesses and cares of this life (Luke 21:34-36). That’s because the Second Coming crystallises what’s valuable in life. It’s the canvas on which Peter paints the picture of the ‘good life’ described in 1 Peter 4:7-11. Without this future perspective, our life here is just whistling in the wind. It is exhausting and futile.

But the imminent return of Jesus is a powerful incentive to live now for the glory of Christ — expectantly, hopefully and joyfully, even in seasons of great testing. Because the end of all things is at hand, we know that even the worst season of testing lasts only ‘a little while.’ Christ himself will renew us and make us strong, firm and steadfast (1 Peter 5:10), until the day of final restoration. And so, we press on from a place of victory.

The return of our Lord is also our motivation to keep urging people to accept salvation in Christ, because “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:8-9).” This is our motivation to proclaim him patiently and persistently.

We base our lives on the promise of the Lord’s return, not just from Peter’s mouth, but from Jesus’s too: “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matt 24:27-31).

I’m no prophet, but I’m certain that we’re getting ever closer to the day when the world will be rolled up like a scroll, and when “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the last trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). Every day we are a day closer to the great reckoning of John’s vision, when “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Rev 6:15-17)

According to Peter, we need to be ready for Jesus’s return, sober-minded, self-controlled and prayerful.

Sober-minded and self-controlled.

Sober-minded and Self-controlled? When last did you hear that advice? Our culture’s mantras are usually along the lines of “Love yourself”, “Accept yourself”, “Live and let live”, “Untamed,” and my personal favourite, “Unleash your inner legend!”

Of course, there are half truths in all this advice, but according to Peter, the character traits that set us apart from the excesses of our culture (1 Peter 4:3-4) are self control and sober-mindedness. This ordered, disciplined attitude is repeated several times in Peter’s letter, so it must be important:

Peter speaks about being mentally alert, disciplined, and focused on meeting Christ when he returns (1 Peter 1:13). In 1 Peter 5:8, he calls on us to be self-controlled and alert to resist our enemy the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” So, if Peter is to be believed, self discipline is not some boring legalism for accountant types, but the foundational mindset for effective prayer (1 Peter 4:7). No matter what our temperament, we need to order our private world.

Has Satan persuaded us that we can multitask while we pray, rendering our prayer life weak and ineffectual for yet another day?

Watch and pray

There’s a clear link between self-control and prayer at the end of verse 7, and Peter knew this firsthand. The elderly apostle probably winced at the memory of himself, thirty years before, in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of Jesus’s great time of testing on the cross. It was an urgent time for Jesus and his little band of disciples, a time that called for prayer and watchfulness, not sleep. It was the evening before Christ’s Kingdom was established on earth, as well as the most terrible ordeal in human history: “See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners”.

Jesus had asked Peter to watch and pray, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me…Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:3841).

But, despite Jesus’s urgent pleas to stay awake and pray, Peter and his friends fell asleep over and over again. And that’s what makes Peter’s advice so poignant. And personal.

For me personally, my flesh is very weak and distractions flow far more fluidly than prayer. I’ve discovered that an alarm clock is an essential piece of gym equipment for training the muscles of prayer! I’ve also found that I need to build boundaries intentionally in my routine to ensure that I actually pray, undistracted. Without self discipline, I either prioritise the most urgent needs of the day or descend into laziness. Soon my prayers become shallow and me-focused. There’s no sense of urgency or deep need for Jesus, just platitudes. How I hate those prayers!

I also need my husband, Christian friends and family to pray with me regularly, because their prayers strengthen me. Likewise, as home groups and local churches, we need to pray together, not as a rushed formality at the start and finish, but as an integral part of our time together.

For, if Peter’s letters are to be believed, there’s an urgency about the the way we live out our Christian lives. Like Peter, we’re living in the end times. And our lives are important, because God uses everything, especially seasons of testing, to burn off the muck of sin and prepare us for heaven (1 Peter 4:17-18).

I’ll end with a word from Joni Eareckson Tada, another credible counsellor who has lived as a quadriplegic for 54 years: “Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a crop at harvest…so don’t give up!” (From Holiness in Hidden Places.)

Come Lord Jesus, and fill me with your Spirit today. Give me oil in my lamp, and keep me burning, burning, burning until the break of day. Amen.

Next week’s devotion: Loving one another in a season of testing.

Join us next week as we flesh out three practical areas that we can show love, asking ourselves how we can live them out in our own Christian communities today (1 Peter 4:8):

By offering hospitality (without grumbling).

By serving (with the strength God provides).

By speaking (the very words of God).