Happy New Year!
At the start of each year, whether we intend to keep them or not, I think for a moment we all silently reflect and ask ourselves if there are any resolutions we should make. Sometimes we indulge the tradition and set out to exercise more or make more time for family moments—good things—but this year I found myself asking, What kind of resolutions do I find in the Bible? My mind quickly shot to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (NIV) I also found 1 Peter 4:1-2, “Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, equip yourselves also with the same resolve—because the one who suffered in the flesh has finished with sin—in order to live the remaining time in the flesh, no longer for human desires, but for God’s will.” (HCSB) The more I pondered these statements, the better I saw their connection and the more I was challenged to make a real resolution, one with eternal stakes.
Sometimes, I admit, I think New Year’s resolutions exist simply to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s easy to feel like I am already on the road to fitness, healthier eating, quality time, or less frivolous spending just by declaring that I am resolved to do it! And how proud I might feel at declaring my impressive resolutions among friends. Not surprisingly, the kind of resolve the Apostles speak of conjures up a different feeling.
According to one googled source, the top 5 resolutions for 2016 are:
1. Enjoy life to the fullest
2. Live a healthier lifestyle
3. Lose weight
4. Spend more time with family and friends
5. Save more, spend less
I can’t help but notice the self-focused and trendy nature of these resolutions. Now, hang on, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be healthy or spend more time with family, but do you see the recurring theme in each of these resolutions? Self-preservation. Strategic ways to improve one’s life. Quite the opposite of Peter’s instruction.
Wayne Grudem, in his commentary on 1 Peter, summarizes 4:1-6 this way: Decide that you are willing to suffer for righteousness. The HCSB translates verse one as “since Christ suffered in the flesh, equip yourselves also with the same resolve,” while other translations read “arm yourselves with the same thought.” Grudem explains that this “means to think as Christ did about obedience and suffering: to be convinced that it is better to do right and suffer for it than to do wrong” (p 166). Interestingly, Peter connects the willingness to suffer physically with making “a clear break with sin” (Grudem, 167) Grudem explains the connection: “following through with a decision to obey God even when it will mean physical suffering has a morally strengthening effect on our lives: it commits us more firmly than ever before to a pattern of action where obedience is even more important than our desire to avoid pain.” By way of application, he continues, “For Christians living under hostile governments the suffering endured may be great indeed; for those living elsewhere something related to such suffering ‘in the flesh’ may be seen in less intense form in physical weariness or other discomfort which one endures in order to be obedient to God’s will” (167-167).
So, let me get this straight, Peter. Since Christ suffered, I should aim to do the same? Resolve to disregard my flesh/desires and plan to be uncomfortable for the sake of obedience to God? Peter, don’t you know a resolution is supposed to be inspiring? No one’s going to get on board the suffering train. Except maybe Paul. Paul and you seem to have a lot in common.
Paul’s resolution while with the Corinthian church (and really, always) was “to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Although a man of intellect, he says in 2:1 that he left behind “eloquence” and “human wisdom.” Leon Morris, in his commentary, describes Paul’s time with the Corinthians as “a plain, unvarnished setting forth of the simple gospel…Paul excluded not only from his preaching, but even from his knowledge, everything but that great central truth” (p 50).
So, if we are to follow Paul as he follows Christ, we should make disciples by simply testifying to what God has done for us through the Son, for our salvation?
Morris confirms, “Preaching the gospel is not delivering edifying discourses, beautifully put together,” but as with Paul in Corinth, “precisely because it was so simple and unpretentious its results convincingly demonstrated the power of God” (50).
That seems a little undependable. It might leave me vulnerable to rejection and insult, like that suffering thing Peter was talking about.
So much for self-preservation.
The challenge of the resolutions in these verses far surpasses that of any resolution I’ve ever made or heard. A resolve to 1.) be willing to suffer for the sake of obedience to God and 2.) to humbly— without effort to impress— share the simple gospel message to bring others to Christ. It becomes painfully apparent through the Apostles’ words that God’s agenda couldn’t be further from the #1 polled resolution of the new year. “Enjoying life to the fullest” frankly, isn’t what we have been called to—at least, not in the way that phrase is usually understood. We can only fully enjoy life when we begin fully living in the upside-down kingdom of God the King. In His kingdom, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
These two resolutions are weighty. I may stop exercising in Febraury, and start eating unhealthy again in March, but these things do not affect my soul. The resolutions of the Apostles are resolutions of the soul. They require the power of the Holy Spirit to be carried out from January to December, year after year. It is because of that great need, which is so glaring in the face of my natural self-love, that I end with this prayer:
“There is none all good as thou art:
With thee I can live without other things,
for thou art God all-sufficient,
and the glory, peace, rest, joy of the world
is a creaturely, perishing thing
in comparison with thee.
Help me to know that he who hopes for nothing
and for all things only for thee, hopes truly,
and that I must place all my happiness in holiness,
if I hope to be filled with all grace.
Convince me that I can have no peace at death,
nor hope that I should go to Christ,
unless I intend to do his will
and have his fullness while I live.”
Valley of Vision, Fullness