BALANCE: WALKING THE TIGHT ROPE OF FAITH!
Stephen M. Crotts
Our text today was written by “The Big Fisherman,” Peter. He was a waterman, a boater, used to casting the net. Since we, too, live by the water’s edge, can’t we relate?
Now, a fisherman learns early not to stand up in the boat. A canoe or tiny sail craft is easily tipped, so we learn quickly to balance the boat.
Peter, no doubt, learned boatmanship and a sense of equilibrium. It not only was expressed in his vocation, it also came out in his Christian walk. And it is written in his theological writings.
Let’s look and see how.
It is a fact it is easier for us to grasp a part of God’s truth than it is to grasp the whole. For instance, the last book I read can become the peak of my theology. So one day I’m stoutly proclaiming fasting to be the elegant solution to every Christian ill. That’s because I just read the book! Next day I’m absolutely convinced prosperity theology is the gospel’s crowning achievement. That’s because I just hear an inspiring television sermon on the subject. And before the year is out I’m moved to believe the second coming is so absolutely central to the faith all else pales. That’s because I just got back from a prophecy conference! Get the point?
There is so much lopsided theology in church these days, so many unbalanced Christians standing up in the boat. So today, as we mingle our souls with the epistle of 1 Peter, let this insightful apostle bring this equilibrium into your things and doing of Jesus.
In 1 Peter 1:23 and 2:2 Peter reminds us of our individualism. We are
“newborn babies.” We are “born anew.” Peter is using a biological illustration, he is writing to us as individuals. For certainly a baby is self-aware, bent on meeting his personal needs.
This is not an isolated idea. In Romans 14:22 Paul wrote, “The faith that you have keep between you and God alone.” And in Philippians 2:12 he warns. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Of a truth, the gospel is a very private, individual experience. No one can be converted for me. It is a personal experience. My daily devotional life is private. It is a personal experience. My daily devotional life is private. It is between me
and Jesus. So is my choice to obey. This I’ll have to do myself. Just as I won’t ask you to kiss my wife for me, so I won’t be asking you to have faith for me.
But mark you well 1 Peter 2:5 where the apostle brings our individualism into balance with a sense of community. There the Big Fisherman calls us “living stones.” He seizes upon an architectural illustration explaining how though we are individuals we like stones are cemented together to form a wall.
This is not an isolated thought. Acts 2:44 explains, “All who believed were together.” And again in Acts 15:28 the elders demonstrated corporate decision making saying, “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us…”
Clearly Peter is touting the equilibrium that must exist between the Christian individual and the Christian churchman.
Yet look about and you’ll see myriads of Christians out of balance. There is the rugged individualist, the go-it-aloner, “Just me and my Jesus” spiritually grazing across the land, no church home, no sense of belonging.
Then there is the other extreme. The Christian communalist who has no ability to think or do for himself. His denomination does his thinking for him. The only worship he does is at the church.
Peter holds individualism and community in balance. He gives equal poise between two contrasting elements, me and us.
You’ve seen that Burlington Industry symbol of the woven threads? That’s the picture here. We are each a unique thread in Christ. But we are also woven together into the fabric of the Church.
Is there a healthy individualism in your Christian life? Have you personally believed in Jesus? Are you taking responsibility to grow like a “new born baby?” But on the other hand, like a “living stone” are you being built into community? Are you a part of a small group? Are you making friends? Are you finding your way onto some ministry team?
Careful, now! Balance! Don’t stand up in the boat!
Next Peter explains the balance between our function to God and man,
between our worship and our service.
In 1 Peter 2:5 Peter calls us “A holy priesthood.” This reminds us of our
ministry in the temple praising God. Then in Chapter 2:9 the Big Fisherman writes about how we “declare His deeds.” This is our witness, our ministry to people outside of church—leading a scout troop, teaching in public schools, evangelizing, serving on a committee.
Have you ever watched football? If so, you notice the team huddling to hear the signal then breaking for the line of scrimmage to push the ball forward.
Likewise we huddle in church to learn Jesus, to be refreshed. But we dismiss to our homes, our neighborhoods, our labor to do the work of ministry.
Just look about and you’ll see the imbalance in and around us. There is the bless me bunch who tramples the church carpets to sit and soak in worship, to try to achieve again that fine feeling. But don’t ask them to do anything! You’ll disturb their reverie.
On the other hand there are those who’ve forgotten how to receive. Driven more by pride than the Spirit, they minister like they were indispensable. and fatigue is their lot.
Imagine you own a business and it becomes necessary for you to travel for six months. You call together your 200 employees, give them careful written instructions, put them in charge of the plant, and drive off. Periodically you mail them further instructions on what to do in your absence. Then after six months you return.
You discover no production work got done, no shipments sent. Instead, your employees met daily to read your letters, to exegete every sentence, to delve into the Latin derivations and shades of meaning in each of the words in your epistles. It’s just that they never acted upon your letters.
Sounds preposterous, eh? And such unbusinesslike behavior would lead to some reprimands!
Likewise, God’s Word to us in Scripture is not merely meant to be heard. It is meant to be done. James 1:22 warns us, “And be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” So, Peter reminds us we are both priests of God and declarers of HIs mighty deeds. We must balance between worship and witness, between piety and service.
Now, be careful here! Don’t stand up in the boat!
I can just see Peter crouching mid-ship, his knees bent, careful to keep his
tiny skiff from tipping. There’s a big shock of white hair waving in the breeze. And with eyes twinkle with the blue of Galilee’s sea he teaches young disciples to live the Christian life with balance between individualism and community, and between worship and service.
Now, third, the Big Fisherman touts the equilibrium that exists between holiness and worldliness. In 1 Peter 2:11 he reminds us we are “aliens” and “exiles.” In the Greek this means literally to be without civic rights, to be geographically separate. In Christ this world is not my home. I am a pilgrim passing through on my way to another place.
Yet Peter pulls this extreme into tension with the opposite. For in 1 Peter 2:12, 13-16 he warns us to, “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, to be
subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” We are to be in the world but not of it. We are to be incarnate like Jesus. Son of God yet strangely Son of Man. We are to identify with the world without becoming identical to it.
This means we vote, obey speed limits, honor our mayor, work in the secular world, hold political offices.
One doesn’t have to stare about Christendom to find the imbalance here these days. On the one hand there are the pietistic, holiness Christians who have become so heavenly minded they are of no earthy good. On the other hand there are those Christians who have become so world they are lost in it.
Did you hear about the boy whose favorite color is yellow? He had a yellow bedroom, yellow sheets, yellow pajamas. And he got sick with (you guessed it) yellow fever! The doctor went up to his bedroom to check on him. Five minutes later he came downstairs and said to the mother, “I went up and looked for him, but I couldn’t find him anywhere!” And likewise it is so easy for Christians to become so like the world as to become indistinguishable was Christians.
No, my young sailor! Don’t stand up int he boat!
There is a balance in the mature Christian life, an equilibrium between
individualism and community between worship and service, and between holiness and worldliness.
Now Peter hastens to point out the tension between law and grace. In 1 Peter 1:14 he calls us “obedient children.” Then in verse 15 he commands us to “be holy.” We are called to live God’s law, to shape up to His divine standards.
But notice the opposite pull of balance? In Chapter 2:16 we are told to “live as free men…,” to not be shackled by legalism or religiosity.
I know Christians for whom life is a moral straight jacket. They wallow in guilt. They’ve got to measure up.
Yet on the other hand I know Christians who lie, cheat, steal, fornicate and praise Jesus they’re saved by grace and free to do as they please.
And the balance is in-between. We are set free by grace to serve the King of
No, don’t go standing up in the boat!
Well, I could go on and on! Peter points up the balance between living in the
past (1:2, “chosen”), the future (1:4, “inheritance”), and the present (1:2, “for obedience”). We are neither to live in the past, escape to the future, or be trapped in the now. But knowing history, longing, in hope for the future, we are to seize the day.
I could also point out Peter’s balance between “rejoicing” (1:6) and “suffering” (2:18-24). The Christian life includes peaks and valleys, rainbows and dark nights of the soul, tragedy and triumph.
There is in Peter the unrelieved tension between confidence (1:21) and fear
Then, too, don’t miss the delicate balance between a wife graciously
submitting to her husband and his servant leadership (3:1-7).
And there is more to be discovered on balance! So much more. But I will
leave it for you to study for yourself.
Now let me say this plainly in light of what Peter has written to us. If Satan
cannot get you to detest Christ, then he will try to get you to distort Christ.
John Wesley said that a Christian trying to understand God’s truth is like a drunk trying to get on a horse. First he falls off one side and next he falls off the
other side. And our sin nature makes drunks of us all! So it is hard to ride tall and balance in truth.
In closing, here’s to George H. Kaufman who when he was an eleven year old boy found a five dollar bill on the sidewalk. Fortune had so smiled upon I’m little George detrained never gain to look up, but to always look down. And over his lifetime he found 25, 613 buttons, 21 umbrellas, 2, 361 pins, $1,113.52 and a bent back. But he missed his wife’s face, sunsets, birds, trees, and the stars. All for the lack of balance…All for the lack of balance…
Don’t go standing up in the boat, son. Stay low. Find the balance!
Lord, God, push and tug at me until my lopsidedness is rounded in your
excellent work. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
(Rev. Stephen M. Crotts, October 4, 1998)