God's Great Grace
Seeing a crowd of condemned criminals being led up to execution, John Bradford (c.1510–1555), the English reformer, is said to have remarked: ‘There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.’
In 1807, John Newton, best known as composer of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, encapsulated the amazing grace of God in some of his last words as he lay dying. He declared: ‘I am a great sinner but Christ is a great Saviour.’
In today’s New Testament passage, Peter speaks of ‘the God of all grace’ (1 Peter 5:10). How should you respond to God’s great grace?
A song of ascents.
1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.
Thank and praise the God of all grace
Grace is a gift, and the appropriate response to a gift is thanksgiving. Praise is the supreme form of thanksgiving, and therefore praise and worship is the appropriate response to the God of all grace.
The psalmist writes, ‘Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord’ (vv.1–2).
1 Peter 5:1-14
To the Elders and the Flock
5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
5 In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
12 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.
13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Humble yourselves before the God of all grace
Leaders are called to be ‘examples to the flock’ (v.3). Humility should be the mark of the Christian leader. Don’t boss others around, telling them what to do: ‘not lording it over those entrusted to you’ (v.3); ‘Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way’ (v.3, MSG).
Leaders in the church are called to be shepherds. Shepherds love their sheep, look after them and stay close to them. Pope Francis says that pastors should smell of the sheep. A leader watches over the pastoral work of others, encouraging them to use their gifts.
Peter says this is not something that should be regarded as a duty, but something that we really want to do (v.2). It should not be done out of a desire for personal gain – ‘not greedy for money’ (v.2) – but out of a desire to serve others – being ‘eager to serve’ (v.2).
Peter then says, ‘you who are younger must follow your leaders’ (v.5, MSG). Leaders should lead with grace and followers should follow with grace.
He closes his letter with three instructions for ‘all of you’ (v.5). They are a response to the ‘God of all grace’ (v.10). Grace permeates the New Testament and it permeates this passage: ‘This is the true grace’ (v.12).
Peter writes, ‘Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another’ (v.5). Whereas ‘God opposes the proud’, he ‘gives grace to the humble’ (v.5b). Humility is a choice. It is something you are required to do to yourself: ‘Humble yourselves’ (v.6). Humility is an act of the will.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. There is a strong link between humility and grace. Because grace is free, the only appropriate response to grace is humility.
Live carefree before God
Peter writes, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (v.7). He ends with the words, ‘Peace to all of you who are in Christ’ (v.14). God loves you. He is the God of all grace. You can cast all your cares on him. There is nothing too big or too small to hand over to him. Thomas à Kempis wrote, ‘They travel lightly whom God’s grace carries.’
Staying peaceful is evidence that you have humbled yourself before God, and that you trust him to do what needs to be done.
‘Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up’ (v.8, MSG). Peter reminds his readers that they are ‘not the only ones’ suffering and that it ‘won’t last forever’, saying, God ‘gets the last word’ (vv.9–11, MSG).
The qualities commended in this passage are very different from the values of our culture. The cult of youth and beauty is replaced with an emphasis on valuing and submitting to the elderly and wise. Self-aggrandisement is replaced by humility. You are promised God’s help in dealing with the struggles of stress and worry. Instead of pursuing instant gratification, you are called on to be ‘self-controlled and alert’. These are not easy things to do – but if you do them, you will stand firm and resist the devil.
Daniel’s Training in Babylon
1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god.
3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility — 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5 The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.
6 Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9 Now God had caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel, 10 but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”
11 Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
18 At the end of the time set by the king to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19 The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
21 And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
2 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep. 2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king, 3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”
4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
5 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. 6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honour. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”
7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided: 9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”
10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. 11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”
12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon. 13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.
14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact. 15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel. 16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.
17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king. ”
Put your trust in the God of all grace
Do you live or work in a secular environment where those around you have very different standards to your own?
The book of Daniel charts the lives and careers of Daniel and three other young men, who were able to flourish in the Babylonian Civil Service. Their example gives you a great model for how to work in a godly way, in a context where God is not acknowledged or followed. This mirrors the situation in most ‘secular’ workplaces. These chapters are therefore a goldmine of practical examples and help.
We see the four friends co-operating with their employers, but without compromise. They refuse to conform, but they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their new situation and career. They undergo three years of leadership training and preparation. They allow their names to be changed to reflect that they are now part of the Babylonian administration, and subsequently they all seem to pursue successful careers.
At the same time, they resolved not to compromise their beliefs or defile themselves. You can defile yourself today by the kind of films and TV you watch, the internet sites you visit, or the things you listen to. ‘Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine’ (1:8). (This was perhaps because the royal food had been a sacrificial offering to the Babylonian gods.) They never allowed their commitment to their new careers to trump their higher allegiance to God.
However, Daniel was wise enough not just to disobey – he tried to work with those in authority over him. He asked for permission and then God, in his grace, caused the official to show favour and sympathy to Daniel (v.9).
‘God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds’ (v.17). Although these young men had outstanding natural ability – they were ‘handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning… well informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve’ (v.4) – Daniel’s real power came from God’s supernatural wisdom.
Like Daniel you are called to live a life of purity and be totally at peace. Follow Daniel’s example and be comfortable in your own skin and walk in a close relationship with God.
On the other hand, Nebuchadnezzar had enormous power and wealth. He was popular, respected and feared. There was no real threat to his security and yet he was very insecure and fearful. Be aware that beneath the façade of self-sufficiency can hide a deep-rooted insecurity.
He was so haunted by his dreams that he couldn’t sleep. In this crisis, he knew in his heart that the magicians did not have the power they claimed but were just playing games. They virtually admitted they had no supernatural wisdom (2:9–11).
Daniel recognised that God alone is the source of all power and wisdom (v.20). In a wonderful way, God, in his grace, will not only reveal things to you, but also give you the wisdom and power to understand and deal with your situation. You can learn from Daniel’s example:
Have faith in God
He believed that God would speak to him (v.16). God will speak to you as well.
Know the power of prayer
He requested a little time and then he asked his friends to ‘pray to the God of heaven for mercy in solving this mystery’ (v.18, MSG).
Combine prayer with action
He went to see Nebuchadnezzar and ‘spoke to him with wisdom and tact’ (v.14).
Learn to recognise God’s voice
When God spoke to him in a vision, he was so completely certain he was able to thank and praise him in advance of sharing it with the king: ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his… I thank and praise you, O God’ (vv.20,23).
Daniel 1:12-15 says:
‘Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with the young men who ate the royal food... At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.’
There is definitely something in eating healthily. Bear Grylls stresses healthy eating and look at him! I’m just off to buy some vegetables!
Verse of the Day
1 Peter 5:7
‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’
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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.