Imperatives for Living
The Lighthouse Principle
Two battleships had been at sea for several days on training maneuvers. They had endured heavy weather and as night fell a patchy fog limited their visibility. The captain decided to remain on watch to keep an eye on the evening activities. After a few hours of battling the darkness and the fog, a lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light bearing on the starboard bow.”
The captain responded, “Is it steady or is it moving astern?”
“Steady, captain.” replied the lookout, indicating that the ship was on a collision course with the other ship.
The captain issued an order, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, and advise you change course 20 degrees.”
Back came another signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.”
The captain said, “Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees.”
To which came the reply, “I'm a seaman second class, you had better change your course 20 degrees.”
Furiously the captain barked, “Send, I'm a battleship. Change your course 20 degrees.”
Back came the flashing light, “I'm a lighthouse.”
I do not need to tell what the battleship did.1
The story of the battleship and the lighthouse has become a modern parable. Life contains many principles that serve as lighthouses to warn us of the dangers of a rocky shoreline. We may choose to ignore them. We may insist that they are obsolete. We may condemn them for limiting are freedom or stifling are creativity. However, if we choose to neglect their warnings, we must be prepared to suffer the consequence of a shipwrecked life. A famous Hollywood movie producer once said, “It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.”2
Throughout Scripture there are many principles that God has given to his people of faith. The Ten Commandments are the most well-known. The wisdom that Jesus preached on the mountain contains principles that apply to human behavior in any society, at anytime, in any circumstance. Steven Covey explains that principles “...are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value.” They are so fundamental that they cannot be altered.3
In this morning's Scripture Lesson, the author of First Peter issued to his readers certain principles that they need to negotiate through the hostility of a pagan culture. His readers were facing circumstances far more dire than rising interest rates, elevated gas prices and a slowdown in the economy. Their very lives were in great peril simple because they dared to confess Jesus, as the Messiah and the Lord of their life. Peter writes to them in hope of providing guidance in how to confront these difficulties. His grammatical style is very revealing.
Grammar was never my favorite subject nor did I ever gain more than an elementary knowledge. However, my Greek classes did teach me that verbs are found in four moods to indicate the relation of the action to the speaker. The indicative mood is the most frequent. It affirms that what is real, actual or certain. It is descriptive. The subjunctive mood affirms the possibility that the action will come to pass. The optative is mood of wishing. At the end of the service my benediction is spoken in the optative mood. “May the blessings of God Father, Son and Spirit be with you.” I do not know that God will in fact bless you. It is my hope and prayer that God will bless you. In his instruction to the early believers, Peter moves beyond wishful thinking. His intent is more focused than simply outlining possibilities or merely being descriptive so he uses the imperative mood. It is the mood of command, instruction. It conveys the seriousness of the occasion. Peter is not suggesting. He is telling. He is not offering suggestions but delineating requirements. He is offering imperatives for living faithful lives in the presence of evil.
The author of First Peter states that the first imperative of the Christian life is humility. He is not thinking about human relationships, but in our relationship with God, by indicating we are to humble ourselves to “God's mighty hand.” The Old Testament contains twenty-five references to the term.
These and other passages refer to God delivering Israel from their slavery in Egypt. Peter uses them to remind his readers that because God has a destiny for his people, his hand will be upon them protecting them during every crisis. Believers need not live in fear when a crisis threatens. Neither should they allow resentment or bitterness to take root in their heart when situations collapse and they must endure severe hardship, for they know that the mighty hand of God is on the tiller of their lives.4
Peter suggests that believers demonstrate their humility by casting all their anxiety upon him. Once again, he reiterates the theme that we have control of our emotions. The loss of a job, the news that a friend has cancer or the severity of family problems should not produce overwhelming fear and anxiety. During a session with my spiritual director, we were discussing situations that were weighing me down. I told him that they were like a heavy backpack. He replied, “Why don't you take off the pack?” In the family room of a spiritual friend, it seems so simple. Why should I carry around the weight of worry? The truth of the matter is that it can be that simple. God asks us to cast all our cares upon him; to release our control of the situation to let go and allow him to work out his sovereign plan. Humility is displayed when we allow God to be God and surrender to him the circumstances that are creating worry and anxiety.
The second imperative that Peter issues is for his readers to be self-controlled. Before we consider what the author means in his advice, we should first consider what he is not saying. Notice what this imperative lacks. The requirement of accomplishment is noticeably absent. Peter does not admonish his readers to be overachievers. He is not asking them to become driven people, obsessed with great accomplishments. Rather he is advising them to take charge of their own personal lives. If the author of First Peter is the apostle, himself, then his words bring on even deeper meaning for Peter was once a man who struggled with self control.
The former fisherman is often identified as a man who lived by impulse. When others hesitated with doubt, Peter stepped out on faith. He abandoned his family business when Jesus invited him to follow. He was the first to step out of the boat and try to walk on the waves of a storm. He was asleep with all the other disciples when the soldiers came into the garden to arrest Jesus. In an impulsive moment of fear and anger, he was the only one to raise a sword and draw innocent blood.
When others would think before speaking, Peter spoke before thinking. He may have been the first to confess the faith but a moment later he attempted to convince Jesus to change his plans and not go to Jerusalem to avoid suffering. He may have preached the first sermon at Pentecost but he also was the only disciple to deny knowing Jesus to a little girl. Peter was a man whose life was often out of control until the Spirit took control of the man.
Self-help gurus reap fortunes by offering advice to people who long to live a disciplined life. Deadlines, unexpected surprises, temptations all seem to work against us. Our desires are greater than the available time slots. We long for 28 hour days so that we can fit everything into our overloaded schedule. But the secret of a successful life is not working faster or harder. It is not simplifying our lives with modern electronically conveniences. Dallas Willard writes that “…the mark of disciplined persons is that they are able to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.”5
Steven Covey retells a story that has become a classic parable in the world of business management. A consultant placed a gallon jar and a collection of rather large rocks on a table. He asked the seminar participants, “How many rocks will fit into the jar?” After they all made their best guess he placed the rocks, one by one into the jar until it was full. Then he asked is the jar full? Everybody looked at the jar and said yes. Then the consultant pulled out a bucket of gravel, poured it on top of the rocks, shaking it until the gravel filled the smaller spaces left by the rocks. Again the consultant asked, “Is the jar now full?” Wary of answering incorrectly the group members responded, “Probably not!” Delighted to see that the managers were learning the consultant pulled out a bucket of gravel and poured that into the jar. Again the consultant asked if the jar was full. “No” roared the group and again the consultant grabbed a bucket of water and poured nearly a quart of water into the pail.
That pail of rocks, gravel, sand and water is a parable of our lives. If we occupy our time with the trivial things of life, we will never have time for the important. We must be willing to make the hard decisions to concentrate on the activities that matter most. Will you grow in your knowledge of God by reading Scripture or a Dannille Steele novel? Will a half hour of meditation or watching Oprah bring you inner peace? Will learning the latest stats about your Fantasy League team or spending an evening with your wife strengthen your marriage? Are you willing to exercise self-control to accomplish what God would have you accomplish in your life and ministry?
After telling his readers to be humble by casting their cares upon God and then instructing them to take control of their lives by putting the most important things first, Peter then tells them to resist their enemy. He depicts Satan as a roaring lion that seeks to devour its prey. The author undoubtedly was speaking from personal experience, even if it was not the apostle. Our enemy is not a gentleman. He does not obey a set of rules for engagement. He is not bound by a spiritual Geneva Convention. He uses anything and everything to distort our thinking and lead us into error. The lure of a marijuana high snagged one generation of young people but their parents succumb to the glitter of a materialistic dream. Yet both discovered that over the rainbow the pot of gold was just a mirage. The enemy led one generation into destructive anti-war protests but also blinded another by a flag of, and unquestioning patriotism.
When Peter wrote his letter, the early Christian community was suffering severe persecution. Christians were offered a choice either by offering a sacrifice either to Cesar or a local deity, or face punishment. Peter instructed them to resist the pressure to deny their faith. Today our resistance should be expressed through discernment. Secular culture has created the illusion that pleasure can be best found in consumerism, personal fulfillment through sexual gratification and that national security is best safe guarded by military triumphantism, Tragically, the Christian community has incorporated these values into its theological framework. We have been lured by the glittering images that are paraded before us. We have been seduced by the gods of this age; accepting their values, their lifestyles, and their beliefs.
Heeding the Signal
Peter's message is not given as optional suggestions. The apostle knows the consequences for those who choose to ignore his message. They are on a collision course. They will not be able to endure unless they humble themselves before God, develop self-control and resist the powers of the enemy. Peter does not promise that this will ensure them against hardship and problems, but he does promise that God will restore them and make them strong and steadfast.
1Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, (New York: Fireside: Simon and Schuster, 1989) 32, 33 retells a story by Frank Koch, Proceedings.
2Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People quoting Cecil B. deMille, 33
3Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 34
4The Letters of James and Peter. Edited by Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1976.
5Dallas Willard, The Spirit of Discipline, 151
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