Pope Francis paused for a moment after one of his general audiences to pray, embrace and lay hands on a man with neurofibromatosis, a severely disfiguring disease. The man’s face was covered in tumours. The image of the Pope’s embrace in St Peter’s Square went viral on social media, inspiring millions by his poignant example of the love of Christ.
There is great power in example. It is hard to improve if we have no other model than ourselves to follow. A good example is not only inspirational, it also gives us a pattern to copy and learn from.
Not only do you benefit most from following the example of others, but your example is vital if you are to have any influence on other people. Albert Schweitzer, the French theologian, philosopher and physician said, ‘Example is not the main thing in influencing others – it is the only thing.’ More depends on your walk than on your talk, what you practice than what you preach, what you do than what you say.
What people see is far more important than what they hear. People do what people see. As John Maxwell writes, ‘Eighty-nine per cent of what people learn comes through visual stimulation; ten per cent through audible stimulation and one per cent through other senses... What they hear they understand. What they see they believe!’
As we read yesterday, you are called to follow Jesus’ example in your life (1 Peter 2:21). Today we see some of the implications of this.
Walk in wisdomProverbs 28:18–28
Knowledge is horizontal. Wisdom is vertical – it comes down from above. To follow the example of Jesus means to walk in wisdom. Jesus walked in wisdom from his earliest days: ‘He was filled with wisdom’ (Luke 2:40). ‘People remarked, ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him...?’ (Mark 6:2).
What does it mean to walk in wisdom? The writer of Proverbs says, ‘Walk straight – live well and be saved; a devious life is a doomed life’ (Proverbs 28:18, MSG). He goes on to say, ‘If you think you know it all, you’re a fool for sure; real survivors learn wisdom from others’ (v.26, MSG).
It is wise to work hard rather than to ‘chase fantasies’ (v.19): ‘Work your garden – you’ll end up with plenty of food; play and party – you’ll end up with an empty plate’ (v.19, MSG).
Faithfulness is better than the ‘get rich quick’ attitude (v.20). It is wise to be generous: ‘The stingy are eager to get rich and are unaware that poverty awaits them… Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses’ (vv.22,27).
Sometimes confrontation is necessary. ‘Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain more favour than one who has a flattering tongue’ (v.23). Jesus was never afraid of confrontation. ‘In the end, serious reprimand is appreciated far more than bootlicking flattery’ (v.23, MSG).
Keep trusting in the Lord. The person who trusts in the Lord will prosper (v.25b) and ‘those who walk in wisdom are kept safe’ (v.26b).
Lord, help me to walk in wisdom, trusting in you.
Win over, with or without words1 Peter 3:1–22
Living out the Christian life is the most appropriate way of passing on the good news to those who live in very close proximity to you. This certainly applies to your family, work colleagues and those you live with. Often you can preach a better sermon with your life than with your lips.
This is of great importance if your husband or wife is not a Christian. Peter encourages Christian wives that if any of them have husbands who do not believe the word, they may be won over without words, when they see the purity and reverence of their lives (v.2).
They may be indifferent to any words about God but they will be ‘captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance… but your inner disposition’ (vv.3–4, MSG). There is a beauty greater than outer beauty, ‘that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’ (v.4).
The teaching of Jesus, and of the apostles, about the way in which husbands should behave is revolutionary. In a society where only wives had duties and only husbands had rights, Peter says here that both have duties towards each other.
Just as he tells the wives to be ‘good wives’ (v.1, MSG), he tells the husbands to be ‘good husbands’ (v.7, MSG). ‘Honour them, delight in them… treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground’ (v.7, MSG). He says husbands should be considerate and show respect. Unless you get this relationship right your prayers will not be effective (v.7).
What is the lifestyle that will win people over without words? It is one of living in harmony with one another, of sympathetic love, compassion and humility; where evil is not repaid with evil, nor insult with insult, but with blessing (vv.8–9): ‘No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless – that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing’ (v.9, MSG).
This involves controlling your tongue, ‘Say nothing evil or hurtful’ (v.10, MSG). Train yourself always to speak positively and truthfully. You are to ‘snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth’ (v.11, MSG). This will lead to a life without fear (v.14), where Jesus is set apart in your heart as Lord (v.15).
‘Without words’ may be the best initial way to win over those in close proximity to you. However, words are also very important. Do not be ashamed to speak: ‘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’ (v.15).
Arrogance and rudeness will seldom win people over. As well as a verbal defence, you need a moral defence – a clear conscience, so that people can say what they like about you and it does not matter because God knows the truth: ‘Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick’ (v.16, MSG).
As Rick Warren says, ‘You cannot control the lies that people may speak about you, but you can control the truth... Live so that people have to make up stuff in order to accuse you.’ It is the cross and resurrection that makes a clear conscience possible. Jesus died for sins, once for all… to bring you to God (v.18).
This is what baptism symbolises: ‘not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God.’ (v.21).
Lord, help me to live with a clear conscience.
Worship in the way of the LordEzekiel 45:1–46:24
In his vision, Ezekiel sees a ‘sacred space for God’ (45:1, MSG). The entire area was holy (v.1), and included a sanctuary where priests minister before the Lord (vv.2–4), and property for the Levites, princes and all the people. It is a vision of a people at peace with itself, in which all the different sections and levels of society live harmoniously and fairly with one another.
But it is not just about people living well together – it is a place for ‘the people of the land… to worship in the presence of the Lord’ (46:3). The harmony between people stems from God, and at the heart of everything is worship.
Two things are required to worship in the way of the Lord. The first is repentance. God’s message to the leaders (the ‘princes of Israel’) is, ‘Quit bullying and taking advantage of my people. Do what’s just and right for a change. Use honest scales – honest weights and honest measures’ (45:9–10, MSG).
The second is atonement (vv.15,17). The ‘Passover’ symbolises that God passes over your sin because of the sacrifice of Jesus. Blood had to be put on the doorposts prefiguring the blood of Christ.
The number seven is the perfect number: ‘The seventh day... A feast lasting seven days... during the seven days of the Feast he is to provide seven bulls and seven rams without defect... during the seven days... which begins in the seventh month...’ (vv.20,21,23,25).
It points to the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice and atonement made by Jesus for you, which enables you to come into the presence of the Lord and live a life of worship.
Walk in the way of the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Live a life that will win people over. Keep a clear conscience and live without fear. Follow Jesus’ perfect example and your life will be an example to others.
Lord, thank you that you died, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring me to God. Help me to live a life of worship, following your perfect example.
1 Peter 3:6 (RSV)
‘Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.’
I have, on a couple of occasions, called Nicky ‘lord’ – but only by mistake. I have also called him ‘Daddy’, possibly ‘Mummy’ and quite a few other things besides!
Verse of the Day
‘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…’ (1 Peter 3:15).
John C Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You (Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2012), p.38.
Pope Francis photo licensed by and © 1985–2015 epa european pressphoto agency.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.