On Winston Churchill’s first day as Prime Minister of Great Britain Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler and his air force commander Hermann Göring, would wage a relentless bombing campaign killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to the 66-year-old Winston Churchill to hold the country together, while doing everything in his power to convince President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was an ally worth fighting for.
Eric Larson, in his new book, The Splendid and the Vile chronicles Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister, May 10, 1940 to May 10, 1941. It’s a fascinating read, not only because of the detail Larson provides on Churchill and his family, but the way in which Churchill went about teaching the British people to be fearless in the face of unimaginable carnage and suffering.
The fact that Churchill would regularly survey the bombing of London from a rooftop as the bombs were falling is a well-known fact. What isn’t so well known is how he’d traveled throughout the British Isles to the other cities and towns where German bombs had struck. When he’d arrive, he’d jump out of his vehicle and wade into the bloody misery with tears streaming down his face. Seeing it, the people would quickly gather around him saying, “He’s one of us! He feels it the same way we do!” Often the crowd would be so large that he’d place his signature “Hamburg” hat on the top of his walking stick and hold it high in the air so that his security detail would know that he was still alive.
Near the end of the book (page 483) Larson summarizes that first year this way:
Against all odds, Britain stood firm, its citizens more emboldened than cowed. Somehow, through it all, Churchill (who Hitler was convinced would fold) had managed to teach them the art of being fearless.
“It is possible that the people would have risen to the occasion no matter who had been there to lead them, but that is speculation”, wrote Ian Jacob, military assistant secretary to the war cabinet under Churchill and later a lieutenant general. “What we know is that the Prime Minister provided leadership of such an outstanding quality that people almost reveled in the dangers of the situation and gloried in standing alone!”
On one of Churchill’s full-moon weekends at Ditchley (when the German bombers rained down hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives) Diana Cooper, wife of Information Minister, Duff Cooper, told Churchill that the best thing he had done was to give people courage. He did not agree. “I never gave them courage”, he said, “I was able to focus theirs.”
I believe Peter would have had the same retort for any reader of this letter. Unlike a religious legalist who seeks to modify the behavior of others by declaring necessary behavioral imperatives, Peter takes a different approach. Like the Apostle Paul he emphasizes the power of the finished work of Christ on the Cross to change the totality of one’s life. It isn’t a matter of calling out Christians. It’s a matter of calling forth from them what the Holy Spirit has already placed within them.
That’s what we see Peter doing through this letter, particularly in Sunday’s text – 1 Peter 4:1-11. He begins, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh…” As you know a “therefore” is a critically important word in the New Testament. Here Peter employs it in a most Churchillian manner. In a message entitled, “The Power of Love”, we will seek to uncover the three amazing results of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross. Each one of them is highlighted in this text.
In preparation for worship you may wish to consider the following:
1. Why is the “therefore” there in verse 1?
2. The word translated “arm” is only used one place in the New Testament and that’s right here. What’s it mean?
3. How does verse 1 and 2 relate to what Paul says in Philippians 2:5?
4. What does Peter mean when he says that everyone who has suffered in the flesh has ceased to sin?
5. How does Jesus’ suffering change the way we think?
6. What does “living in the Spirit the way God does” mean? In verse 6.
7. What change is Peter referring to here?
8. What does being self-controlled and sober-minded have to do with our prayers? (See verse 7.)
9. In verses 8 through 11 Peter is talking about a third change the sufferings of Christ bring to a Christian. What change is it?
10. How does a change in mind, will, and heart bring glory to Jesus Christ?
Until we worship anew this week!