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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + February 1, 2017

1 Peter 4:1-11
Mark 12:28-37

I Peter 4:1-11 (NKJV)
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins." Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Mark 12:28-37 (NKJV)
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, "Which is the first commandment of all?" Jesus answered him, "The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." So the scribe said to Him, "Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." But after that no one dared question Him. Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, "How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: 'The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool."' Therefore David himself calls Him 'Lord'; how is He then his Son?" And the common people heard Him gladly.

Commentary 

Throughout his first catholic epistle, St. Peter makes it his purpose to remind us that our time in this world is short. He reminds us not only of the fact that we, like all human beings who have gone before us, will one day die, but also that the day of Christ's return to judge the living and the dead is imminent and real. It is in the light of this imminent reality that he asks us to see the sufferings that we endure in this life, our own sin, and the way in which we ought now live our lives in Christ.

St. Peter acknowledges the fact that our lives in this world include suffering, and that often, that suffering is undeserved. It is one thing when we suffer as a result of our own sins, when we face the consequences of our own actions. But in those times when we suffer not for our own sins, but for the sake of Christ and the life we seek to live in Him, St. Peter points us to the fact that Christ Himself suffered in the flesh, in this world, and He was innocent of all sins, suffering instead as a result of ours. Once He had finished suffering in the flesh, He was raised in glory, and those sufferings at the hands of wicked men were left behind Him.

Again, St. Peter reminds us that our time here is short. Already those who have given themselves over to wickedness are being carried away by the tide of destruction. When the time comes, they will receive the consequences of their choices. With time so short, the amount of our life which we squandered as one of the wicked, following the lusts of our flesh and swept along by the passions is a tragedy. Certainly, as we are reminded in today's epistle reading, we ought not waste a second more in vain pursuits. Moreover, it is that we have gotten free of our former servitude to sin that has led those still in its grasp to harass and persecute us. Rather than repenting and finding life, they have been deceived into trying to justify the very behavior that is destroying them. That said, to them, our existence as those striving to repent and be free of sin's grasp is offensive to them.

The truth is that in Christ that part of our life, however long it may have lasted, months, years, or decades, is dead, and has no more hold over us. Now, in Christ, we are already alive again, so that just as we can now see that whatever momentary sufferings we may face pale in comparison to the life set before us in and with our Lord, so also can we begin to experience that life in this one. We are able, St. Peter tells us, to begin to share in the life of God by living a life like His.

This begins with our life of prayer, our communion with our Lord. Because we know that our time in this life is short, our prayer must be sober and serious, not flippant or halfhearted. We have in the short time left to us to begin the whole work of repentance, of transforming our lives, of coming to know and to draw close to our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. With so much of our lives already past, our call to prayer is immediate and earnest. It is from the experience of God in prayer and repentance that we find God Himself waiting to receive us.

Once we have experienced the Presence and Life of God, we are ready to share that Life with our fellow human beings. While slavery to sin, as described above, leads to judgment of others and disunity in condemnation, if we live lives characterized by love, that love will cover a multitude of sins and errors through charity and forgiveness. Once we have received the hospitality of God by accepting His invitation to participate in His Life, we can open our own lives and hearts and homes to one another. When we have discovered the spiritual gifts that God has given each of us to aid in the building up of His Kingdom, then we are able to use those gifts for the benefit of all, both inside and outside our communities.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, already too much of our lives is behind us. Our time for repentance, our opportunity to seek God, draw short, nearly draws to a close. We can no longer afford to squander another moment of our lives on those things which are unimportant and which will die along with this present world. Nor should we desire to return to that sort of life, with its suffering and its trials. Rather, let us pursue our God in prayer while He may be found. Let us spend as much time as we may have remaining to us in this life worshiping in His holy temple, and receiving His good gifts of love, and peace, and joy, and goodness. Let us then share those gifts far and wide, with all of God's Creation.

As in the days before the Flood of Noah, all too many of our neighbors and friends are unaware of the judgment that is coming, and are content to live lives of quiet desperation, slave to the sins which once also enslaved us. If they are to escape condemnation when the time has come, they too must begin lives of repentance, repentance which is only found through the Love of Christ. And how will they find the Love of Christ if not in practice around us as Christians? Where will they find acceptance into the family of God if not through our welcome? Where will they find the strength to free themselves from the current sweeping them toward destruction if not through our prayers?

Questions to Ponder

  1. St. Peter, in today's epistle, draws a contrast between those who are still be carried along by their passions and those who have found and are awaiting the return of Christ. Those still ensnared by evil attack and criticize those who are not like themselves, in an attempt to justify their own behavior. On the other hand, followers of Christ show love for each other 'which covers a multitude of sins'. Do you find yourself often criticizing others? If someone seems to be more advanced in holiness than you or more serious about their faith, do you admire them, or do you look for flaws to try to drag them down to your level? Does your love for others look past their sins and failings to find what is good and given by God in others, or do you delight in pointing out those sins and failings?
  2. In today's epistle reading, St. Peter reminds us that we've wasted enough of our life in slavery to sin. Looking back at your life, how many days, months, or years do you have in your past that you wish you could get back to live over again in a different way? How much of your time now do you spend on wasteful pursuits? How much of your time do you 'kill' or find ways to idly occupy, which you could devote to prayer or the reading of Scripture or other helpful pursuits?
  3. In today's Gospel reading, Christ sums up all of the hundreds of commandments of the Law in one truth, and two commandments. There is only one God, the Holy Trinity, and to love God and offer all that we are to God and to our neighbor who is His image will lead to us keeping every commandment ever given. Do you keep these central commands in mind as you make decisions, large and small, each day? Do you truly offer everything to God and your neighbor, or are there things, whether it be your time, your material wealth and possessions, your compassion, which you hold in reserve, and do not give of freely? Are you focused on what you need and desire first, and then give only of what is left, or do you put God and others first, and yourself last?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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