This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from our campus pastors’ sermons on I Peter 5:6-11 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday December 17-18, 2011.
Peter is writing to Christians who have chosen to leave their homes and homeland over renouncing their faith. Living in another country as foreigners has resulted in many forms of suffering: persecution from authority figures (2:13-25), marriages in shambles (3:1-7), doubt about whether the sacrifice was worth it (3:8-22), and many temptations to sin as form of self-medicating / mentally escaping their suffering (4:1-5).
As Peter concludes his letter, he knows these dear friends must be afraid and multiplying their fear would be a creeping, growing doubt of God’s love (5:7). Whenever we face fear and doubt rooted in suffering, one of our most basic instincts is to turn to self-reliance. We think (sometimes not out loud), “Life isn’t playing by the rules. Bad things are happening to me for reasons I have not caused. God must have failed. I’m going to have to figure this out on my own.”
Peter sees this subtle, desperate pride that suffering causes to seem so “logical.” He has just encouraged these Christian to entrust themselves to God even when they suffer unjustly (4:12-19) and he knows what it will take fulfill this instruction – humility (5:6).
Notice how Peter speaks to the suffering-based anxiety of his readers (we should remember that both the message and tone of Scripture is divinely inspired). Peter calls them to humility with a promise of God’s blessing (“so at the proper time he may exalt you”), a timely application (“casting all your anxieties upon him”), and reminder of God’s love (“because he cares for you”).
Peter’s tone with suffering-based anxiety is different than Paul’s tone with sin-based anxiety (Phil. 4:1-9). In this context Paul is rebuking two ladies (Euodia and Syntyche) who are feuding. Based upon the flow of the passage their feud is causing a disgruntled fear and a persistent focus on what is wrong, bad, incomplete, unjust, or not according to their preference.
Paul is more direct (“do not be anxious”) and emphatic (“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”). Yet even in confronting this sin-based anxiety, Paul still holds out the promises of God (“the peace of God… will guard your hearts and your minds”) and affirms God’s love (“the God of peace will be with you”).
We see in this that the solution for anxiety is the same – trust in the faithful promises of God accompanied by a belief that God truly cares for you – but that the tone of conversation that leads into these conversations changes based upon whether the anxiety emanates from a source of sin or suffering. For sin-based anxiety, the call is to repent and believe. For suffering-based anxiety the call is to trust and believe.
I think Paul would agree with this distinction and even wrote about this difference in tone in I Thessalonians 5:14, “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle [disorderly or undisciplined], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Different heart-dispositions call for different pastoral/counseling tones—if we only ask, “What does the Bible say about [blank]?” we miss, or at least forget to look for, this.
I think Peter would say that whether anxiety is suffering-based or sin-based that Satan intends to use it for the same purpose—namely to devour our lives. Satan does not care what he uses to destroy our lives: the selfishness of sin or the despair of suffering. As long as he gets our eyes off of Christ and causes a doubt in God that causes us to turn in on ourselves, Satan is delighted.
What is the point? Why does this matter? When we see the situation-specific ways that God spoke to similar life struggles it allows us to see Him as more wise and more caring. The call to trust God as compassionate, which is at the core for both Paul and Peter, becomes more believable.
When we see God this way, it changes the way that we speak to one another on God’s behalf. We ask more questions and learn how to speak the gospel to the same issue (in this case anxiety) in different circumstances (both sin and suffering). We become more complete and accurate ambassadors of God’s heart for His children and the world.