Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Importance of Reminders - Part 2

In Part 1 of our examination of 2 Peter 1:12-15, we saw how the apostle Peter considered reminding his readers of the truths of the Word with which they were already familiar to be of crucial importance. We examined verses 12-13 in the first post, and so we continue now with the rest of the passage.

Notice verse 14: “knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.” Peter knows the end is near. In John 21:18, Jesus had told Peter in the presence of other disciples, Peter, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” And right after that in verse 19 it says that by those words Jesus was saying that Peter was going to die an unpleasant death as a martyr, most likely by crucifixion.

At the point in time that Peter is writing this letter, more than 30 years have passed since Jesus spoke those words. Peter is not a young man any more. He senses and knows that the end is near. He sees what is taking place around him, and he realizes the animosity and opposition to the gospel is going to catch him in its snare and result in his execution. So it is all the more important that he devote himself to reminding these people who will be left to stand firm in the face of deceitful teachers, false doctrine, and corrupt lifestyles. They must defend the truth and be faithful.

Peter is like a parent who is dying while his children are still young. What do parents in that situation want to do? They want to call their children around them and talk to them and exhort them. They say things like, “Remember to do this. Promise me you will do that.”

And it’s important that they do such because they won’t be here for them to fall back on. They won’t be here to remind them. So they have to do it right away. Sometimes it’s hard for the children to appreciate how important it is that they hear it again, but it is important. So Peter says, “My life is near its end. I have to keep reminding you.”

I sometimes wonder how I would have reacted if I knew how I was going to die, like Peter did. How would you have reacted if you knew about your life what Peter knew about his? I think it would probably have been downhill from John 21 for many of us. All we would have been able to think of is, “Oh, boy, I don’t have much to look forward to. They’re going to martyr me. I’m going to die a painful and unpleasant death.”

If it was one of us, we would say, “Oh my, how can I serve the Lord? I’ve got this awful prediction by the Lord about my death hanging over me and I don’t like pain. I know what they can do to people. And with the passing of years, it is gotten harder because every knock at the door makes me jump. I am afraid to share the Word of God because I think that could be the event that triggers it.”

But you don’t see that attitude in Peter. And the apostle Paul doesn’t take that approach either in his last letter, 2 Timothy. They had a much more biblical view of death.

I’ve often thought that all I want to do is to be faithful in my ministry until I die. And sometimes I’ll start thinking, “Oh man, even if the Lord grants me long life, I only have 20 or 30 years left on this earth. I need to get ready to retire and start enjoying life. I have to get to the point in my life where I don’t do anything but relax and do nothing.” And we here in America have people retiring at 50 or 55, idling the rest of their time away. But we somehow justify becoming idle and pleasing ourselves because life is short.

It is short, but do you know the difference between believers and unbelievers? Believers are strangers and pilgrims here. We are servants of the living God, going diligently about his business until He calls us to glory.

Yet when we know we are going to die, or when we get near the end of life, what do we think? “I have got to take advantage of all the remaining time I have. I just got to go and see all the scenery and enjoy life, and do all the things I didn’t get to do when I was younger.” So the question I have to ask is, “Where are you going?”

The world says, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Well, they ought to live like that because it’s all they have. But if you have been living in a ratty, torn, ragged tent and you are about to move into a $50 million palace, you don’t say, “I have just got to spend as many years as I can looking over this tent and the weeds around it. I don’t want to miss anything here. This is just so wonderful!”

If that is the case, I don’t think you have the right perspective. Is it any wonder the world doesn’t see us as being any different? We’ve adopted its lifestyle. We might not say it, but we often think, “I’ve got to go for the gusto! I have got to get all I can here because, you know, life is short.” Praise God that it is short because then we can finally get on to glory!

I’m not saying we should be anxious to die. But I am saying we ought to view death differently than the way that it is viewed by the world. If you ever read some of the old writers like John Calvin you will find that they drew a line between believers and unbelievers on the basis of how they viewed death. We ought to learn something from them and from the apostle Peter.

In his wonderful little book titled Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper gives a very powerful illustration of what I’m talking about. He writes the following words:

I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda,, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.

In contrast to that story, he also tells the story of two great women of God. He writes:

In April 2000, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards were killed in Cameroon, West Africa. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. The brakes failed, the car went over a cliff, and they were both killed instantly. I asked my congregation, Was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great passion, namely, to be spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ—even two decades after most of their American counterparts had retired to throw away their lives on trifles. No, that is not a tragedy. That is a glory. These lives were not wasted. And these lives were not lost. “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark. 8:35).

You ask, “Bruce, are you saying it’s wrong to retire?” That’s exactly what I’m saying. I don’t mean that it’s wrong to retire from your job. In fact, I plan to do just that in a few years, Lord willing. I just mean that it’s wrong to retire and do nothing for the Lord. The concept of retirement is never found in the Scriptures.

I like what missionary and mission organization founder Ralph Winter has to say about this issue. He writes: “Where in the Bible do they see that? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”

You see, man was intended to work until the day the Lord calls him home. It may not be in the secular business world, but every one of us needs to be working for the Lord to the best of our physical ability until the day we die.

Every mission organization and every church I know has ministry needs that need people who have available time to fill them. We certainly do at my church, and I’m sure the same is true at yours. So plan now to work for the Lord throughout whatever years He chooses to give you.

Finally we come to verse 15. Peter writes: “And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you will be able to call these things to mind.” That word “departure” is literally the word “exodus.” It is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, concerning the exodus out of Egypt by the people of Israel. It is also used in Luke 9:31 when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration about His “departure,” that is, His impending death at Jerusalem.

They used the word “exodus,” because that is what death is. The body without the spirit is dead, and at physical death the spirit exits. The real person moves out, and the physical “tent” collapses. But one day God will raise that tent, it will be remade with indescribable glory, and the spirit will move back in.

I hope you have noticed that there is a lot of repetition in these verses. Peter says, “I want to remind you. I want to remind you. I want you to remember.” Because of that emphasis on reminding and remembering, the importance of the truth that God has given has been strongly emphasized in these verses. Acts 2:42 says the people in the early church “were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” That was not to change after the apostles passed off the scene. We don’t need something new. These are not different days. We do not even need new methods.

I want to conclude with something that I know will get me in trouble with some people. I believe the method and the message are inseparable. Many in the American evangelical community have created an environment where they no longer give sermons; they tell “stories.” And they provide entertainment and act it out.

And all that does is move believers away from apostolic doctrine and create a superficial knowledge of biblical things that does not prepare or equip them to face false doctrine and false teaching. The only way you prepare yourself for those assaults is by laboring in the Word and doctrine, not with skits and drama.

Skits and drama can illustrate a point and they can communicate a truth, but they do not teach the meat of the Word upon which you build the foundation that will withstand false teaching. Entertainment can never take the place of biblical instruction.

As many churches get larger and more popular and people are more excited about them, we often see true, sound, apostolic doctrine being removed from their services. So when people say, “We’re changing some of the methods, but we are not altering the message,” my response is, “Yes, you are. You are no longer focused on grappling with the Scripture and seriously wrestling with the text. You are giving a presentation of truth in a general sense. That is not preaching apostolic doctrine.”

Now, I’m not saying you can’t use new technology to help communicate truth. Being able to use PowerPoint and computers to show things on a screen helps people know what you are talking about. But replacing the expositional teaching of the Word with sound-bite sermons and a comedic skit is a recipe for spiritual disaster later on when the false teachers show up—and believe me, they will show up.

We must stand steadfast in the truth. And we need to be continually reminded of these things, and we need to continually remind those who are following in our footsteps so that after we are gone, they will still remember the truths of God’s Word and cling without compromise to it.

Don’t cheapen the ministry with methods which leave men and women unprepared for the dangers they face from false teachers.

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