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Living Between Two Marshmallows

Sermon passage: (1 Peter 1:3-5) Spoken on: July 27, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2 Peter & Jude

Tags: 1 Peter, 彼 得 前 书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-5

Some of you might have heard of the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment in the late 1960s and early 1970s led by psychologist Walter Mischel, then a professor at Stanford University[1]. “The original experiment took place at the Bing Nursery School located at Stanford University, using children aged four to six as subjects. The children were led into a room, empty of distractions, where a treat of their choice (Oreo cookie, marshmallow, or pretzel stick) was placed on a table, by a chair. The children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited for fifteen minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Some would "cover their eyes with their hands or turn around so that they can't see the tray, others start kicking the desk, or tug on their pigtails, or stroke the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal", while others would simply eat the marshmallow as soon as the researchers left. In over 600 children who took part in the experiment, a minority ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.”

In the original experiment, Mischel wanted to study delayed gratification, or deferred gratification: the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. He originally just wanted to examine the processes and mental mechanisms that enable a young child to forego immediate gratification and to wait instead for a larger desired but delayed reward. However, the more interesting and unexpected results came from the follow-up studies, 10 years later, 20 years later or even up till recently 40 years later, the researchers found that those children, who grew up into teenagers and then adults, those who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards have a strong correlation with better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI) and other life measures. As it turns out, “a person's ability to delay gratification relates to other similar skills such as patience, impulse control, self-control and willpower, all of which are involved in self-regulation.”[2] Good things come to those who wait, and I guess those who could wait better are also the ones who turn out better later in life.

The value of delayed gratification is especially pronounced in our Christian faith. If you are looking for instant gratification or even self-gratification[3], then allow me to burst your bubble of false expectations. The Christian story is quite similar to a several volume epic, or at the very least a trilogy, you don’t get your “happily ever after” until the very very end. You might wonder, what about the blessings and gifts from the Lord, and the providence and protection from the Good Shepherd, and I do not deny many are already experiencing these good things. Along the way, you have your moments of joy and laughter, glimpses of promises and hope, key events of salvation and relief. By his grace, your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). But even for Christians, and in some cases especially for them, trials and tribulations will persist; for it ain’t over till it’s over, and it’s the final and eternal gratification that we truly seek.

As we embark on this sermon series on the epistles of Peter, it is important that we first capture this basic framework. In the later sermons, as well as in the cell groups discussions, we will look at many different areas of application for Christian living. But these applications all need to be built upon the foundation of this fundamental framework. You may have come to realize that a Christian has a radically different perspective towards life. We believe our future has been secured by what God has confirmed through the life of Jesus Christ. This assurance towards our future determines who we are and how we should live. To clearly explain this framework on the pulpit, we have divided it into 2 portions. Next week, Rev. ChangAnn will share the gist of the gospel: how the past Christ event transforms us into the people of God, and why we have a new birth. As for today, I will share the other portion of the framework, focusing more on the future about a promise for the people of God.

The usual notions of heaven or paradise[4] are often tainted with much speculations from the medieval times and Hollywood. But Peter steered away from any of such specifics by stating that all will only be “revealed in the last time”. Instead, Peter used a very Jewish concept to describe this future, the notion of inheritance. From the land promised to the descendents of Abraham, to the promised restoration of the kingdom by the Prophets during the exile, there is a consistent narrative that the people of God will one day live in a land ruled by God's sovereignty, a kingdom abiding in his word and will. An inheritance is very much different from a reward, as if you have to gain it or win it by your efforts. An inheritance instead speaks of a sanctioned and settled posession. It already and shall belong to you simply because you are part of the family. In this case, the inheritance is the deserved lot of the righteous, those who are chosen and have chosen to be with God. But you only get your inheritance when the time is right. Lest you become like the prodigal son who asked to have his inheritance early (See Luke 15:12). The righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17).[5]

Therefore, christian living is like a child experiencing the moment between the two marshmallows. The first marshmallow has been given. We have a new birth because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But we are told to wait for the second marshmallow. That's when we will finally get our eternal inheritance, in whichever form you might imagine it to be. However, it's not very easy living between the two marshmallows. Especially when the second marshmallow is still not coming, and there are so many voices telling us to give up. What are you doing? There's a marshmallow there. Eat it already. Some of these voices come in the form of licentiousness, as we have heard in Jude. They take the grace of God for granted. You can do anything. God will forgive. You can always have your second marshmallow even if you eat your first. Some of these voices come in the form of faithlessness, as we will see in 2 Peter. They don't think there will be a second marshmallow since it is seemingly delayed. You may as well do whatever you like. The first marshmallow is all you will likely be getting. Living between the two marshmallows is tough because the second marshmallow is unseen, and the first marshmallow looks so tempting and ravishing. Many in Peter's time, as it is today, abused the grace of God to their own peril.

But even without the voices, it often seems counter intuitive to live by hope. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Is it not true for marshmallows too? We prefer what is immediately tangible, rather than something from the future which leaves too much to the unknown. As I was sharing 1 Peter in the cell groups, some commented about the similarity between this inheritance and our CPF money. Yes, it belongs to you. But for many Singaporeans, you can only get your hands on it in the distant future. This causes all kinds of anxiety in the human psyche. I want my money now. Why are you delaying its return? What happening to it? The Government recently had to respond to the mounting demand for answers.

“"The Government guarantees these SSGS bonds, so that the CPF Board faces no risk of being unable to meet its obligations to its members. This is a solid guarantee, from a triple-A credit-rated government. The triple-A credit rating reflects Singapore’s very strong financial position, with the Government’s assets comfortably exceeding its liabilities," said Mr Tharman, who is also Minister of Finance.”[6] I don't know about each of you, but I think the triple-A credit rating probably helped to put some minds at ease, and makes the waiting a little easier.

Peter understood the difficulties of living between the two marshmallows. Which is probably why he made a gaurantee even better than triple-A credit rating. “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power.” God's almighty power guards this inheritance. Be faithful in your perserverance. The second marshmallow is well-prepared and you are getting it for sure. It's even better than your CPF. There’s no minimum sum.

In the Marshmallow Experiment, those with better tolerance for delayed gratification performed better. You might have concluded that it is therefore all up to personal willpower. Does it mean that only those with stronger faith will see the inheritance, and those easily tempted are therefore doomed to fall from grace? If that is your conclusion so far, you may have missed the most critical hint from Peter. Thankfully there was a recent twist to the Marshmallow Experiment which revealed that delayed gratification is more than just personal willpower.

“Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York assembled 28 kids ages 3 to 5 years and divided them into two groups, one to be subjected to the “reliability” condition and the other to the “unreliability” condition.
Children in the unreliability group got a raw deal. Presented with a crummy jar of stubby, used crayons to work on a craft project with, they were promised access to a fancy set of art supplies if they could wait until the researcher came back to the room. The crayon jar was deliberately closed tight and placed in the center of the table where it was hard to reach; the researchers wanted the kids not to opt to use them. Then, the researcher came back without new art supplies and said, I’m sorry, I was wrong. You have to use these crayons after all.
When the children were coloring, they were presented with an unappealing little sticker, also for use in their craft project. Again, they had a choice: Use this dumb thing or wait for the researcher to come back with fancy stickers. Again, the researcher came back later without fancy stickers.
So it’s not surprising, given the obvious unreliability of the researcher, that the kids in this group were quick to grab the single marshmallow. All but one of them ate the marshmallow before the researcher returned, and they waited only an average of three minutes before doing so.
Meanwhile, over in the happy land of the “reliable” group, the fancy art supplies and stickers were delivered as promised. When it came the time for marshmallows, nine of the 14 kids waited the full 15 minutes and were rewarded with a second marshmallow. On average, kids in this group waited 12 minutes before succumbing.
The authors explain why this matters: Waiting is only the rational choice if you believe that a second marshmallow is likely to actually appear after a reasonably short delay — and that the marshmallow currently in your possession is not at risk of being taken away. For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you’ve already swallowed. At the other extreme, consider the mindset of an only child in a stable home whose parents reliably promise and deliver small motivational treats for good behavior. From this child’s perspective”[7], waiting is logical because they expect promises to be fulfilled.

The twist of the Marshmallow Experiment is this: how much willpower you have also depends on how much reliability you have experienced in your life. Many of us may lose the willpower for the second marshmallow because of the unreliability of this world. When we look that the kingdoms of this world, it is easy to become cynical about hope and faith. Nations may fall when a prominent leader passes away. A good national system can be undone by corruption. And time is the one slow drug that blurs and numbs and clouds the memories away. Does a picture of bliss still remain as touching to future generations after two thousand years? Would anyone still remember or care for the dreams of a previous era? Where can we find the reliability that instills the faith in us to wait? Where can we find the reliability that challenges us forward as we live between the two marshmallows?

Against what is so temporal and transcient in this world, Peter asserts 4 an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  I like the interpretation of another translator: “The inheritance is untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time.”[8] Many dreams and ideals destruct or corrupt or slowly become irrelevant in human history. But not this inheritance promised and guarded by God. But how can I find this reliability? The inheritance untouched by death, unstained by evil, unimpaired by time is already seen in the resurrected Christ. That is the key in our passage today. This is why our hope is a living hope. Jesus is alive! Looking at the first marshmallow reminds us of the marshmallow to come. In the resurrection of Jesus, God has proven himself reliable. We need not more willpower. We only need to fix our eyes on Jesus. And find the reliability and certainty we need. And that’s how we trust in the promises of God once again. And when the second marshmallow comes along, I hope we are all there enjoying this inheritance together.

[3] Pastor Daniel is so vehement against self-gratification, he spoke against it in two different sermons: See (2012) and (2009)
[4] For a good summary of this topic (common interpretation of heaven), check out this sermon by Pastor Wilson:
[5] This calls to mind the familiar phrase "the meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). One view was that the end of the world would see all the believers brought up to join the Kingdom of Heaven. The other view was that the end times would have God come down to directly rule Earth, and the chosen people would then be given dominion over the entire world. Yet the word "earth" might not mean the physical world. This inheritance may be about inheriting a vindication of justice, a moment in time where God’s truth reigns supreme. Meek often mean gentle or soft. But a more accurate interpretation is “powerless”. How important and revolutionary this elevation of meekness in the Mediterranean's societies of the time that placed enormous stock in honour and status. The Meek are those that are quiet or nullified who will one day proven right. (See This is the people of God who had entrusted their fate into God's hands.
[8] F.W. Beare, 1 Peter, 83-84