The Glory of Suffering--Studies in 1 Peter

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The Glory of Suffering: Preface

When I read about Peter in the Gospels, I find an entirely different “Peter” than the apostle who penned the first epistle of Peter. In the Gospels, Peter wanted the kingdom of God to come now, and without human suffering. He wanted Jesus to quickly overthrow human government and establish His own. He bristled when Jesus spoke of His imminent suffering and death on the cross of Calvary. In his first epistle, Peter writes about our heavenly hope—the kingdom of God which will come after the suffering of the saints for their faith. He urges the saints to submit to divinely ordained human institutions, even when abused and corrupted by sinful leaders. Suffering is not represented as an exception, but as the rule for true believers.

The suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary becomes the pattern for Christian living and service in this life. As we read 1 Peter, we see a transformed man, and the theology which turned his thinking and lifestyle upside-down. It can do the same for all who read his epistle with an open heart and mind, searching for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Most of all, Peter changed because he came to know and trust Jesus Christ. It is my hope that Peter’s words will help you know Him as well. The material in these sermons is available without charge for your personal study and to assist you in living, teaching and preaching God’s Word.

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1. The Preparation of Peter

Introduction

A number of years ago we celebrated Thanksgiving with my wife’s aunt and uncle. At the dinner table, Aunt Doris, a very creative woman, confessed to having added a mystery ingredient to the dressing and offered five dollars to the first person who could identify it. After a number of incorrect attempts, my wife’s father solved the mystery. To her delight, Aunt Doris had disposed of some stale potato chips by adding them to the dressing.

The saints of Jesus Christ likewise find a “mystery” ingredient in living the Christian life—the ingredient of suffering. To some, suffering comes as a complete surprise. While others may not be surprised, they surely find suffering a mystery. The Scriptures inform us that the God who loves us and sent His Son to die for our sins has ordained that we suffer as saints. This truth is neither easy to understand nor to accept. Because of this, false teachers easily convince their audiences they can escape from suffering, and in its place, experience “success” in life. Peter addresses this error in his second epistle, warning that those who indulge the flesh and urge others to do likewise, with no fear of divine judgment, are false teachers who, along with their doctrine, must be avoided.

But here in his first epistle, Peter addresses suffering head-on. Peter writes that suffering is much more than just a necessary evil; suffering actually paves the way to glory. He even asserts that certain forms of suffering are glory, when that innocent suffering results from living righteously in an unrighteous world. Though suffering will never be a popular subject or an experience one seeks, Paul’s first epistle explains the necessity of suffering and the joy and peace of heart and soul possible in the midst of suffering.

Our introductory lesson concentrates on Peter, the author of this great epistle. After surveying briefly the Old Testament saint’s struggle with innocent suffering, we will turn to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels concerning suffering and glory, especially considering this teaching in relationship to Peter. The “old Peter’s” actions and reactions to suffering and glory provide a dramatic contrast to the attitudes, actions, and inspired writings of the “new Peter” of Acts and 1 and 2 Peter. We shall see the process by which God brought Peter from being a disciple who strongly resisted suffering to an apostle who defends suffering, one who encourages the saints not only to endure, but to consider their trials a blessing in the integral plan and purpose of God for His people.

The Mystery of
Suffering in the Old Testament

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Suffering for Sin

The Old Testament saint had little difficulty with suffering as a consequence of sin. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, suffering has been the result of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). God promised the nation Israel He would bless them if they kept His commandments (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but He also warned of severe consequences for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Suffering for sin may not have been a delightful thought, but it was no surprise. Indeed, the saints even prayed that God would bring suffering upon their enemies because of their sin (see Psalms 58, 69, 94, 109).

Innocent Suffering

But the Old Testament saint had great difficulty with the innocent suffering of the righteous. Passages like Deuteronomy 28:1-15 and Psalm 91 could be understood as an assurance that those who live righteously will never suffer. The Book of Job dramatically illustrates that this simply is not the case. Joseph was one of the few Old Testament saints who understood that God could use his suffering at the hands of his brothers’ evil deeds to bring about good:

And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:20).

Though his brothers intended to kill Joseph, God used their actions to bring about the salvation of many.

Job’s wife had a very different response to innocent suffering. She urged her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Satan could not understand innocent suffering either. He believed that if he could persuade God to take away the blessings Job had received and replace them with suffering, Job would indeed curse God and give up his faith (see Job 1 and 2, especially 1:9).

The psalmists struggled greatly over innocent suffering. David urges his fellow-Israelites in Psalm 37 not to agonize over the momentary prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous, for in the long run God will bless the righteous and punish the wicked. Asaph confesses in Psalm 73 his own personal struggle with the prosperity of the wicked and suffering of the righteous, before realizing that his suffering brought him nearer to God while the prosperity of the wicked caused them to turn from God. In the end, Asaph confesses that being near to God through suffering is far better than being far from Him through prosperity.

The psalmist is perplexed by Israel’s suffering in Psalm 44. Had the people of God sinned, their suffering would not be a dilemma, but the psalmist is convinced their innocent suffering has come from the hand of God, and he does not know how to handle it:

8 In God we have boasted all day long, And we will give thanks to Thy name forever. Selah. 9 Yet Thou hast rejected us and brought us to dishonor, And dost not go out with our armies. 10 Thou dost cause us to turn back from the adversary; And those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves. 11 Thou dost give us as sheep to be eaten, And hast scattered us among the nations. 12 Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply, And hast not profited by their sale. 13 Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbors, A scoffing and a derision to those around us. 14 Thou dost make us a byword among the nations, A laughingstock among the peoples. 15 All day long my dishonor is before me, And my humiliation has overwhelmed me, 16 Because of the voice of him who reproaches and reviles, Because of the presence of the enemy and the avenger. 17 All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, And we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant. 18 Our heart has not turned back, And our steps have not deviated from Thy way, 19 Yet Thou hast crushed us in a place of jackals, And covered us with the shadow of death. 20 If we had forgotten the name of our God, Or extended our hands to a strange god; 21 Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart. 22 But for Thy sake we are killed all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.1 23 Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. 24 Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression? 25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust; Our body cleaves to the earth. 26 Rise up, be our help, And redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness (Psalm 44:8-26).

In 1 Peter 1:10-12, Peter writes of the Old Testament prophets’ struggles with innocent suffering. They simply could not comprehend how the Messiah could be described as both the glorious and victorious Ruler of Israel and as the suffering Savior:

7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, ‘Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee. 8 Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, Thou shalt shatter them like earthenware” (Psalm 2:7-9).

1 The LORD says to my Lord; “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” 2 The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies” (Psalm 110:1-2).

4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6, see verses 7-12).

Peter’s Reaction to Suffering in the Gospels

Peter’s Calling: John 1:35-42

Peter’s brother Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist (John 1:40), who had heard John speak of sin and the need for repentance. He had also heard John announce that the Messiah was soon to appear. Andrew must have shared much with Peter about the ministry and message of John the Baptist. Surely this intensified Peter’s interest and anticipation of Messiah’s coming. Who would not be eager for Messiah to come? Who would not give thought to what His arrival would mean?

When Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, the Savior did something He did for no other disciple—He changed Peter’s name:

He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which translated means Peter) (John 1:42).

Like Abram (Abraham) and Jacob (Israel) of old, Jesus was indicating to Peter that this meeting would lead to a relationship which would forever change Peter.

The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:1-12

1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:1-12).

We should begin by observing that while Jesus taught the multitudes, His words were particularly addressed to His disciples, “who came to Him” (verse 1). These words, recorded by Matthew, seem to be some of the first of our Lord’s public teaching given at the outset of His ministry. How radically Jesus’ teaching contrasted with that of the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 5:17, 21-22, 27-28, etc.; 7:28-29).

The disciples, like the rest, must have been amazed by Jesus’ words spoken on that mountain. Those things Judaism viewed as blessed were not those Jesus called a blessing. Jesus taught that those who suffered would be blessed in the kingdom of God. He taught that the righteous who suffered innocently were blessed, (verses 10-12), and assured those who lived righteously and suffered persecution that they would come to glory. Incredibly, Jesus’ ministry and His kingdom were for sufferers. Certainly we would not expect to hear teaching such as this from someone who has just presented Himself to Israel as her Messiah. Nor would we expect His message to attract a crowd. How many would you expect to come were we to advertise this 1 Peter series on suffering?

The Disciples are Chosen and Sent Out: Matthew 10

Sometime later, Jesus summoned twelve men to be His disciples. Peter was the first disciple named (Matthew 12:2). With the other eleven, Peter was given authority over unclean spirits and the power to heal every kind of disease (10:1). Jesus then gave Peter and the others instructions as He sent them out (10:5-15). Immediately after this, Jesus foretold the suffering which would come as a result of identifying with Him:

16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you shall even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour what you are to speak. 20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 But whenever they persecute you in this city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you shall not finish going through the cities of Israel, until the Son of Man comes. 24 A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. 34 Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it (Matthew 10:16-39).

In this text, we find no response on the part of Peter or any of the other disciples. In the euphoria of the moment, Jesus’ words simply went in one ear and out the other. They were His disciples! They were given authority over demons and power to heal every disease! How could suffering and rejection possibly come their way? Time would make this all too clear, and Jesus would not allow them to think otherwise. He would continue to speak of His suffering, and theirs, even though they did not understand at the time.

Peter’s Great Confession and Correction: Matthew 16:13-28

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:13-28).

Over the time they had followed Jesus, Peter and the other disciples came to recognize that Jesus was far more than an ordinary man. When, at Jesus’ instructions, Peter and his friends caught a great harvest of fish, he declared, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8). From that time on, Peter ceased fishing for fish and followed Jesus constantly (5:11). When Jesus stilled the storm, the disciples were amazed and said to one another, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him? (Luke 8:25). Peter and the others heard the demons declare that Jesus was the “Son of God” (see Matthew 8:29). First we read of 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21) and then 4,000 (Matthew 15:29-39) being fed.

Now was the time for the disciples to declare their faith, and Peter, in his usual fashion, was their spokesman. Jesus began by asking His disciples who men thought He was. They responded with the views most commonly held by the people: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (Matthew 16:14). Pressing further, Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15).

Jesus had not specifically asked Peter, but typically, Peter was the one who blurted out the conviction of his heart and that of his peers: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). There it was, out in the open. Jesus was the promised Messiah, just as the Old Testament prophets had foretold and just as John the Baptist had indicated. All evidence pointed in the same direction.

Jesus commended Peter for his decision, not because of his human wisdom, but because God Himself had revealed this truth to him (16:17). Then He reaffirmed the name He had given Peter the first time they met and promised him a prominent place in the kingdom of heaven. He also instructed the disciples not to reveal this truth to others. They were to arrive at their conclusions as Peter had done, based upon the testimony of the Scriptures, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ words and deeds.

The disciples were not prepared to hear Jesus’ next words. It was not that He had not told them of His suffering and death. It was just that suffering and death seemed totally incompatible with the confession He had just made—that this same Jesus really was the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews.

Indeed, Jesus was very specific about His suffering and death on this occasion. He informed them not only of His rejection and suffering in general, but that His rejection would come from none other than Israel’s leaders. He also told them He would be killed and raised from the dead on the third day (16:21). Matthew tells us Jesus not only revealed His coming death and resurrection, but that from this time on Jesus continually spoke to His disciples about it. His rejection, crucifixion and resurrection were the natural outcome of His identity as Messiah. It was His calling, His destiny, as had been foretold by the prophets.

Peter saw things in a very different light; Jesus told Peter he saw things from a merely human point of view rather than from a divine perspective (16:23). Peter had ceased to think of Jesus as his Messiah, taking Him aside and speaking to Him as though He were misguided and incompetent. He would straighten Jesus out, no doubt even looking to his fellow disciples for support. But Jesus strongly rebuked Peter (Mark 8:33), even telling him he was serving as Satan’s spokesman by his response.

At this point, Jesus pressed the matter of suffering beyond Himself to all who would faithfully follow Him (16:24-27). Soon He would “take up His cross,” and every true disciple must follow Him by taking up his own cross. Just as Messiah must suffer, so must those who trust in Him and become His followers.

The principle Jesus laid down transformed the thinking of His followers, including Peter, when it was finally understood and acted upon. In effect, He told them that one must follow Him by faith. If one tries to save His life and avoid suffering and death, he will lose it. One’s life could only be saved by giving up his life. The taking up of one’s cross is the way to one’s crown. Both for Messiah, and His followers, suffering is the way to glory.

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS (Matthew 16:27).

The Transfiguration of Jesus: Luke 9:28-36

28 And some eight days after these sayings, it came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. 33 And it came about, as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying. 34 And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen (Luke 9:28-36).

At Peter’s reaction to His suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus responded with a promise of His transfiguration. He promised that some of those with Him would soon behold His glory and witness a foretaste of the kingdom which Jesus was yet to establish on the earth:

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28).

Eight days after Peter’s great confession, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him to the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, He was transformed before them. The word “glory” best describes what they saw (see Luke 9:31, 32). Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all appeared in a glorious radiance, a foretaste of the glory yet to come.

This glory was not inconsistent with the suffering of which the Lord Jesus had spoken earlier. Indeed, this glory was intertwined with His suffering. Notice the subject of the conversation which took place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah:

Who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).

They were speaking of Jesus’ exodus, of Jesus’ glorious death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. The suffering of which Jesus spoke not only led to glory, it was glorious. In Jesus Christ, suffering and glory meet.

Peter’s Declaration and Denial: Luke 22:31-34, 35-38, 47-53, 54-62

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 And he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the cock will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” And they said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. 37 “For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

47 While He was still speaking, behold, a multitude came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss Him. 48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 And when those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And a certain one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. 52 And Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as against a robber? 53 While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours.”

54 And having arrested Him, they led Him away, and brought Him to the house of the high priest; but Peter was following at a distance. 55 And after they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. 56 And a certain servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight, and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know Him.” 58 And a little later, another saw him and said, “You are one of them too!” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 And after about an hour had passed, another man began to insist, saying, “Certainly this man also was with Him, for he is a Galilean too.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, a cock crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had told him, “Before a cock crows today, you will deny Me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:31-34, 35-38, 47-53, 54-62).

Jesus observed the Passover quietly with His disciples shortly before His death. At the table, He told them many confusing and distressing things, even that He was eager to eat this Passover with them before He suffered (22:15). He instructed them to partake of the bread as His body and to drink the cup as His blood (22:17-20). He spoke of separation from them and of not partaking of the cup again until He came again (22:16-18). Even more troubling, He told them one of them would betray Him (22:21-22). Their discussion of who might betray Jesus degenerated into a debate over who among them was the greatest (22:23-24).

Jesus assured His disciples that their suffering with Him would result in a share in the glory of the kingdom which was to come:

28 “And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:28-30).

With these words, Jesus again linked suffering with glory.

Elation over the promise of the kingdom of God and their prominent role was quickly swept away by our Lord’s strong words of warning to Peter. Satan had demanded to “sift” the disciples2 like wheat, Jesus said. But He also told Peter He had prayed for him, that his faith would not fail. Though he would deny his Lord, he would repent and be restored, and become a source of strength to his brethren.

Peter refused to even consider the possibility of his failure under pressure, insisting he would remain faithful and at the Lord’s side, even though it meant prison or even death. But the Lord knew better and told Peter he would deny Him three times before the cock crowed that very day (22:34).

Now that the kind of kingdom He had come to establish was clear, Jesus contrasts in verses 35-38 the beginning of His earthly ministry with the way things would be. When He first sent out the disciples, they were to take nothing with them as they would be welcomed by some and their physical needs met. Now Jesus was about to be rejected as a criminal, and they too would be viewed with contempt. From now on, they must plan to provide for their own needs and prepare for hostility and opposition. Failing to grasp the full implications of Jesus’ words, the disciples responded as best they could at the time. They produced two swords. They could protect themselves! They could handle opposition!

One of those swords seems to have belonged to Peter, for he will shortly put it to use. In a short time, the disciples were in the Garden of Gethsemene, where Jesus prayed and where Judas betrayed his Lord. After Judas identified the Savior with a kiss, the soldiers moved in to arrest him. Peter would have none of this. While the others were asking if Jesus wished them to put up a fight, Peter drew his sword and put it to use. Peter was a fisherman, not a fighter. All he managed to do was to cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10). Jesus rebuked Peter, telling him it was His will to drink the cup which the Father had given Him (John 18:11). Jesus then healed the servant’s ear (Luke 22:51).

A word must be said in defense of Peter. Peter was no coward. He was not afraid to fight. He surely was willing to die. How could he expect to take on the large, heavily armed crowd which had gathered to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:43)? While the others were asking whether to resist, Peter was already wielding his sword. He was unable to grasp that he was to passively suffer, committing himself to God rather than taking up his own defense. Whatever Peter’s failure on this matter, he seems to have stood head and shoulders above his peers, until his denial.

From that point on, Peter followed Jesus from a distance (Luke 22:54). As Peter stood around waiting to see what would become of Jesus, he warmed himself by the fire kindled by others. Peter was easily recognized as a Galilean by his appearance and his accent. When those who stood about realized Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples, they asked him if this was so. Three times Peter denied knowing his Lord, and then the cock crowed just as Jesus had said. At the moment of his last denial, Jesus looked toward Peter, catching his eye (Luke 22:61). Peter went out and wept bitterly, realizing he had done exactly what Jesus had said—and what he had insisted he would not do.

Peter’s Restoration: Mark 16:7; Luke 24:24-26, 34, 44-49; 1 Cor. 15:3-5; John 21

Jesus took personal interest in Peter’s restoration of which He had spoken earlier (Luke 22:32). When the angel appeared to the women who came to the Lord’s tomb, he specifically instructed them to tell Peter of the Savior’s resurrection. Did Peter wonder if Jesus still considered him a disciple? Let him hear these words spoken by the angel:

“But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He said to you’” (Mark 16:7).

The Scriptures also tell us that Jesus made a personal appearance to Peter:

“… The Lord has really risen, and has appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34).

“… and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:5).

After His resurrection, Jesus explained the relationship of suffering and glory in His ministry:

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27; see also verses 44-48).

Peter is particularly prominent in John 21, where Peter and some of the disciples went fishing, and Jesus virtually repeated the miracle of Luke 5 by catching a great harvest of fish by simply obeying the command of Christ. It may well be that Peter’s conversion took place in Luke 5, for there he acknowledged his sin and left his career to follow Jesus. Did Peter wonder how he stood with Jesus? Peter was as secure as he was the first day he believed.

Later in John 21, Jesus questioned Peter concerning his love for Him. Three times He told Peter that if he loved Him he should tend His sheep. Peter was not only saved, he was given a ministry. The verses immediately following catch my attention:

18 “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”

20 Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21 Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” (John 21:18-22).

Peter may have been willing to accept the concept of suffering, but he did not yet have a biblical perspective on suffering. He did not yet understand the sovereignty of God in suffering. He may have been willing to suffer, but he seems to have felt that John needed to suffer to the same degree. Jesus told Peter that was not his business. He must leave such matters to God.

Little did Peter know what the passage of time would bring. Peter, James, and John, the three men in the inner circle of our Lord, each had a different lot to suffer. James and John were brothers. All shared a similar experience with Jesus. And yet James would die first, without writing any books, seemingly with no great achievements (see Acts 12:1-2). Peter, on the other hand, was arrested by the same cruel despot and slated for the same kind of death. Peter was delivered from this sentence of death, but James was not spared. James wrote no books; Peter wrote 2; John wrote 5. Peter did die some time after James; John seems to have died last of all. God is sovereign in the suffering of His saints.

The Transformation of Peter: Acts 1-12; 1 and 2 Peter

At the end of the Gospels, we find Peter forgiven and restored, but the evidence of his transformation is not found in the Gospels. Peter’s transformation becomes quite evident in his preaching and practice in the Book of Acts and his profound writings in 1 and 2 Peter.

Imagine Peter now, standing at Pentecost declaring with great power that Jesus is the Messiah and Israel’s leaders have rejected Him. Peter declares that Jesus not only fulfilled the purpose of God in His death, burial, and resurrection, but that He also fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning His first coming.

Now drop the eyes of your imagination from Peter’s face to his side. Can you imagine him standing with his sword strapped to his side or conspicuously bulging from under his garments? What has happened to the sword? I would venture Peter may have never carried it again. His trust now is in a sovereign God. He no longer dreads opposition or even death. He no longer feels the need to defend himself. When Peter was first arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus, he boldly proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, proof that He was the Messiah. He accused his persecutors of resisting God. They took note of his confidence, along with that of John, and remembered they had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). When commanded to no longer preach in the name of Jesus, they politely refused. When threatened and released, they joined their brethren and rejoiced at the privilege of suffering on behalf of the Savior. Their prayers were not for safety, but for boldness:

27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27-30).

When they were arrested the second time, God released them from prison in a miraculous way. They did not go off to hide, but at His instruction went back to the temple to preach about Jesus (Acts 5:19-20). Standing confidently before the Sanhedrin, they reiterated the message they had previously spoken. They refused to be silenced, and when threatened and beaten, they went on their way rejoicing:

40 And they took his [Gamaliel’s] advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40-42).

Acts 12 records that Herod had put James to death, arrested Peter, and was soon to execute him. There we also see the account of Peter’s divine deliverance. Of interest and amusement is the condition in which the angel of the Lord found Peter when he came to rescue him; Peter was sleeping (Acts 12:6)! The “old Peter” would have been trying to saw through the cell bars or pick the locks of his chains, even tunnel his way out of that prison. Instead, the “new Peter” was sound asleep. This Peter is not the same man we knew in the Gospels.

Peter’s conduct in Acts is completely consistent with his teaching in his first epistle. Consider what he has to say about suffering in each of his five chapters:

Chapter 1: Suffering is the will of God, which purifies our faith, to the glory of God (verses 6-9).

Chapter 2: Suffering for sin is condemned (verse 20), but innocent suffering is commended and commanded (verse 19). Our Lord Himself is the example set before us (verses 21-25).

Chapter 3: Suffering is a blessing (verse 14), which may open the door for bearing witness to our faith (verse 15) and lead to the salvation of others, even as our Lord’s suffering brought about salvation. Suffering was the path to glory for our Lord, as it will be for us (verses 18-22).

Chapter 4: Suffering is an encouragement to us, because it occurs when godless men are threatened by the change God produces in our lives (verses 1-4). Suffering should not be a surprise but a cause for rejoicing (verses 12-14).

Chapter 5: Suffering is the experience shared by believers in the whole body of Christ around the world (verse 9). After we have suffered, we shall enter into His eternal glory, knowing that God Himself will confirm, strengthen, and establish us (verse 10).

Conclusion

How great was the change in Peter’s attitude toward suffering from the Gospels to his attitude in Acts and his two epistles. During the years Peter followed Jesus, he resisted suffering and rebuked Jesus for speaking about His own suffering. Now, in his first epistle, Peter selects suffering as the topic of his book. No longer is there avoidance of suffering, but rather a rejoicing in the midst of suffering and enduring to the glory of God.

What a great encouragement Peter’s epistles are to us, for they bear witness to the power of God to change lives. It was not that Peter’s personality changed all that much, but his thinking and actions changed radically, based on his understanding of God. Jesus had told him after His transfiguration that his thinking was man-centered. His thinking was also self-centered. Peter did not want Jesus to talk about suffering and death because it would mean suffering and perhaps death for Peter. He did not want for Jesus what might also be for him. But by the time we reach Peter’s epistles, we find Peter defending the very suffering he had avoided. Indeed, we find him declaring suffering for Christ’s sake not only to be the will of God but the cause for rejoicing:

6 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:6,7).

Peter changed, from a man who sought Jesus for power, prestige, and prosperity to a man who counted rejection, suffering, and death for Christ’s sake a great privilege and a blessing. If there was hope for Peter to change, there is hope for anyone. God could change Peter, and He can, and will, change those who belong to Him.

How desperately needed today is the lesson Peter learned. The Peter found in the Gospels epitomizes the church and Christians today. We look to Jesus for the relief of our pain and our ticket to success in life. Contemporary American Christians are wimpy. We whine and fuss over conditions most of the people of the world would find beyond their highest hopes. The smallest pain or inconvenience sends us reeling into introspection and therapy. Suffering greatly for Christ and His gospel moved the early church to prayer and to praise:

41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:41-42, see also 4:23-30).

Peter’s second epistle addresses those things many professing Christians desire. There we find that which is not a part of the true gospel—the self-indulgent fleshly seductions of the false teachers who themselves are slaves of the flesh. The epistles of Peter are needed as much or more today than in the first century.

The “old Peter” graphically illustrates the way we selectively “hear.” Old Testament prophets, as Peter confesses in his first epistle (1:10-12), spoke of the suffering and glory of Messiah even though they could not reconcile these two themes. Our Lord Himself spoke often of His suffering and glory, as well as that of His disciples. Peter heard what Jesus had to say about suffering, but he simply laid it aside as inconsistent with his own selfish desires. We may learn some important truth as though for the first time, when it is actually the same truth we have heard over and over again. Discovering the key to Peter’s change of heart and mind may help to change our lives as well.

What changed Peter from the man in the Gospels to the Peter of his epistles? A clue is found in observing that the “old Peter” is described in the Gospels, while the “new Peter” is found in Acts and his two epistles. The “old Peter” was the man we find before Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and before the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The “new Peter” is post-Pentecost. The “new Peter” not only has witnessed the gospel, he has experienced it. The “new Peter” preached these words:

38 “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39).

The “old Peter” became the “new Peter” in the same way we are transformed from the “old us” to the “new us:”

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

When one has experienced the new birth through saving faith in Jesus Christ, suffering as a Christian is seen in a totally different light. Listen to these words of the apostle Paul:

19 For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I shall not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:19-21).

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

Only when we experience the gospel by faith in Christ does suffering make any sense at all, and only then do we willingly accept the suffering God brings into our lives. The suffering of Jesus Christ is precious to us because we know we have been saved by His suffering, and suffering is transformed from gory to glory.

Jesus put it this way:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).

Have you found your treasure in Christ? Have you trusted in His suffering, death and resurrection for your salvation? If you have, then and only then, will you be able to understand the glory of suffering for righteousness sake. Then, and only then, will you grasp the beauty and wonder in these words from the lips of our Lord:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Peter’s great change also came after His denial of his Lord. Peter had trusted in himself rather than in Jesus. After his failure, Peter came to distrust himself and his faithfulness, and trust in the One who had died for Him, who is altogether faithful. Only when we cease to trust in ourselves and trust in Him who suffered for our sins will we be saved and understand the glory of innocent suffering.

Each week our church celebrates the Lord’s Supper. Every week we remember His incarnation, His suffering, His death, and His resurrection and ascension. We do this in obedience to our Lord’s command and in conformity to the practice of the early church (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34; Acts 20:7). Some may wonder why our Lord would have His church continually focus on His suffering. I suggest it is to put our suffering into proper perspective. For the Christian, suffering should be measured in comparison to Christ’s suffering; the degree to which we suffer is the measure of the difference between our righteousness and the sin of a fallen world.

Innocent suffering will always be a mystery to the unsaved, to those outside of Christ. More than this, innocent suffering is repulsive to the unbeliever and avoided at all cost. Innocent suffering for the sake of Christ can only be understood from within the faith by those who are in Christ. For those who belong to Christ, suffering is a privilege God has granted to us, which we gratefully accept:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

May God grant to us the perspective He gave Peter in Acts and 1 and 2 Peter. May we say with Peter:

3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled, and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:3-8).


1 The reader will take note that this text is quoted in Romans 8:36, with reference to the (innocent) suffering of the saints for the cause of Christ.

2 The “you” is plural in the statement, “sift you like wheat.” The “you” in “I have prayed for you” is singular. Satan wanted, indeed demanded, to destroy all of the disciples. Jesus prayed for Peter’s faith, that it would not fail, so that after his restoration he could be a source of strength to his brethren.

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2. Suffering: Victim or Victor? (1 Peter 1:1-6a)

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you greatly rejoice … 

Introduction

Years ago, radio Bible teacher and preacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee spoke at a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service while I was a student. Dr. McGee told us he had been diagnosed with a very serious form of lung cancer with a very low cure rate. Having often visited those about to undergo surgery, Dr. McGee confessed that his being rolled into surgery felt quite a lot different than his accompanying someone to surgery. God granted Dr. McGee a most unusual cure, prolonging his ministry a number of years.

Our perspective changes considerably when we become the participant rather than the observer. To some degree, circumstances do shape our perspective. But our perspective has everything to do with the way we respond to our circumstances. In recent years, our culture has taken a very unhealthy turn, embracing a perspective which predisposes our collapse under life’s adverse circumstances rather than causing us to persevere through them. The essence of this new perspective may be summed up in the word “victim.” No longer are we responsible for our attitudes and actions when we have been wronged or abused—we are now “victims.” Whatever happened is no longer our fault nor are we responsible for the way we choose to respond.

The Scriptures make it very clear that Christians will be the recipients of unjust treatment because of our faith in Jesus Christ and the godly lives we are to live in a sinful world. While the Bible promises that we will experience innocent suffering for the cause of Christ, it nowhere speaks of our being “victims” in the contemporary sense of the word. Rather, the Bible forthrightly speaks of us as “victors.”

Peter introduces the subject of innocent suffering for Christ’s sake in verse 6 of chapter 1. But he will not mention the trials and testing of our faith until he has first set down the essential truths which should shape our perspective on suffering. These truths are set down by Peter in verses 1-5 of chapter 1.

Our study begins by determining the recipients of Peter’s epistle as indicated in verse 1. We will then explore the source of our salvation in verse 2. Verses 3-4 focus on our future hope of which we are assured, due to the salvation God accomplished through the person and work of Jesus Christ. From verse 5, we will be reassured of our security in Christ and the certainty of experiencing those things awaiting us at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Close attention to our text will help us learn from Peter why we who trust in Christ can never be considered victims; we are victors.

The Recipients of Peter’s First Epistle
(1:1)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.

One could quickly conclude Peter wrote this epistle to Jewish believers who had been scattered abroad. James’ introductory greeting in his book is similar to Peter’s introduction:

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings (James 1:1).

Peter, after all, was the “apostle to the Jews,” while Paul was the “apostle to the Gentiles:”

But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter with the gospel to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles) (Galatians 2:7-8).

Other verses in 1 Peter also strongly indicate a broader readership than only Jewish believers. These statements seem difficult to apply directly to Jewish believers:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:14-16).

10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God (2:10).

3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:3-5).

While Peter’s words are addressed to individual saints, they also give instruction concerning the conduct of members of the church. Specifically, Peter provides instructions to the elders and younger men in the church (5:1-7). We find in the Scriptures no such thing as a “Jewish” or a “Gentile” church. The church of Jesus Christ is one body, made up of Jews and Gentiles, without any distinction or dividing wall between them (see Ephesians 2:11-22).

Peter writes not to one church or even to the saints in a small geographical area. He writes to those saints in five Roman provinces. While specific cities are unnamed, Peter’s epistle would surely include the churches in the “seven cities of Asia” to whom the Book of Revelation is written (see Revelation 1:11, chapters 2 and 3). These churches were neither Jewish nor Gentile. A clear Jewish presence and influence did exist in all the churches, just as there was a Gentile presence (the Gentile proselytes or “God-fearers”) in the synagogues.

Peter writes then to the saints scattered throughout the Roman world, clearly reflecting the change in Peter concerning Jews and Gentiles. This change was dramatically brought home to him in the events of Acts 10 and 11. Later, they are reinforced by Paul in Galatians 2:11-21 after Peter fell back into his old ways under pressure from Jewish saints. Clearly his epistle is written not just to Jewish saints or Gentile saints, but to all saints who make up the one church of Jesus Christ.

Peter writes in obedience to the command given him by the Lord Jesus:

“… when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

Just as Peter stumbled when faced with suffering for Christ’s sake at the time of His arrest and trial and then was strengthened, so he now writes to those facing suffering who need to be strengthened. He can offer strength and comfort from his own experiences. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians well express Peter’s ministry:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

The Source of Our Salvation
(1:1c-2)

… who are chosen 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.

Those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity have difficulty with this and a number of other texts, for they clearly speak of three members of the Godhead, all of whom are involved in the work of salvation. The Holy Spirit is strategically placed between God the Father and God the Son. Each member of the Trinity plays a distinct role in the salvation of the saint.

The Father chooses those who will be saved. We find Peter’s words consistent with the teaching of Paul:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Christians differ not so much on whether God chose us, but over the basis of that choice. Some fail to understand the significance of the word “foreknow,” supposing it means only to know (about) in advance. The word does have this meaning, as seen in Acts 26:5 and 2 Peter 3:17. But when Peter uses the word “foreknowledge” here, he speaks of God’s choice of us apart from anything we would or could do, based solely on His sovereign grace (see Romans 9:10-18). In 1 Peter 1:20, Peter speaks of Christ, Who was “foreknown before the foundation of the world.” Peter is not saying God knew about Jesus, but rather that God chose our Lord to die on the cross of Calvary before the foundation of the world, before Adam and Eve were created, before the first sin was committed. Peter made a similar statement in his sermon at Pentecost:

“This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23).

To “know” can mean to “know about,” but it can also mean to choose. God “knew” Abraham; that is, He chose Him:

“For I have chosen [literally, “known” him (Abraham)], in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about Him” (Genesis 18:19).

To “foreknow” is to choose ahead of time. Thus, Paul uses “foreknow” to speak of God’s sovereign choice in eternity past (Romans 8:29; 11:2).3

The Father chose those whom He would save in eternity past, and it is the Holy Spirit who “sanctifies” the elect, drawing them to faith in Christ:

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

When Nicodemus sought out the Lord Jesus, the Savior told him he must be “born again,” and that this was the unseen work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1-8). Before our Lord’s crucifixion, He told the disciples it was necessary (and better) for Him to depart and for the Holy Spirit to come, for it was the Spirit who would convict men of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit sets the saints apart to God by drawing them to faith in Christ:

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:11; see also Titus 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:5).

While the Holy Spirit is also involved in our sanctification, the emphasis here is on the role of the Spirit in bringing men to Christ. If the sanctification of the believer were in view, this ministry of the Holy Spirit would more logically have been introduced after, rather than before, the saving work of Christ.

Peter then moves from the choice of the Father and the sanctifying of the Holy Spirit to the contribution of Christ’s shed blood, by which we are cleansed and forgiven. Peter’s wording indicates the Holy Spirit’s sanctification has particular effects. The Spirit’s work brings about obedience which results in being sprinkled with Christ’s blood.

The sprinkling of blood is definitely an Old Testament image referred to by the author of Hebrews:

18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry with the blood. 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:18-28).

By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them (Hebrews 11:28).

And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24).

If I understand Peter’s words correctly, he is describing our salvation as the work of the Trinity, spelled out sequentially in the order actually achieved in time. The Father chose us in eternity past for salvation. The Holy Spirit drew us to faith in Christ, regenerating us, illuminating our minds so as to make the gospel clear, convicting us of sin, and baptizing us into the body of Christ. The result of the Spirit’s ministry is obedience to the gospel call, trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, and thus being cleansed by His shed blood. The obedience in view here is not so much the obedience which follows salvation as an evidence that we have a living faith, but the obedience of faith (see Romans 1:5) which results in salvation.

When Jesus was asked what men must do, He gave a very simple answer:

“Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal.” 28 They said therefore to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:27-29).

Simply put, Peter is telling us that salvation is the work of God. It is a work in which we are involved. It is a work in which we participate. But in the final analysis, salvation is God’s work. Whatever role we play, we do so because He has quickened and enabled us. As Paul writes,

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).

The Hope of our Salvation
(1:3-4)

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.

Peter’s words in verse 3 indicate that he is writing more here than simple instruction to give comfort and assurance in times of suffering; he is also indicating the basis for praise toward God. “Blessed be” in the New American Standard Bible is rendered “Praise be” in the New International Version. One cannot help but recall the words of Job when he was told of the catastrophe which had struck him, especially the death of his children:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Peter first praises God for the cause and the motivation for our salvation. God Himself is the cause of our salvation. He “caused us to be born again” (verse 3). This He did out of “His great mercy.” It is not our worthiness nor our desirability, but His mercy which is the reason for our salvation. Mercy is not an ego-inflating word, for it conveys that the object of mercy is pitiable, while the one showing mercy is praiseworthy.

Secondly, Peter further praises God because of what we have been saved to. God has caused us to be “born again.” We have been born again “to a living hope.” Our hope is a living hope because Christ not only died for our sins but rose from the grave so that we too are assured of rising with Him. Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that we have a future, and that future is our hope. As Christians, this should be our desire and our expectation.

Christ’s death and resurrection accomplished an inheritance for which every saint waits. Christ’s resurrection from the dead assures us God was well-pleased with Christ’s atoning work. Since His resurrection is the basis for, and assurance of, our own resurrection, we know we will enter into God’s eternal blessings. All Old Testament saints died without entering into the promised blessings, but they were assured they would experience them after their death:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).

All Old Testament saints, like Abraham, had a resurrection faith which enabled them to hope for blessings after death:

He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him [Isaac] back as a type (Hebrews 11:19, see also verses 20-22).

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we have a future inheritance. This inheritance will be ours because Christ died. But it will be ours after we have died (unless, of course, we are alive at the second coming of Christ). Because our hope of future blessings rests in the finished work of our Lord, it is a certain hope. Peter gives a three-fold description of this hope: it is imperishable, it is undefiled, and it will not fade away. William MacDonald says it is death-proof, sin-proof, and time-proof.4

Our inheritance will not deteriorate over time. Perishable fruit tucked away in the back of our refrigerator may be forgotten until a pungent odor brings it to our attention. But our inheritance is unlike perishable food. Neither is our inheritance subject to defilement. Someone may try to reserve a piece of cake by defiling it so no one else wants it. But even sin and impurity can never defile our future inheritance.

Thirdly, our inheritance will not “fade away.” Time will not diminish its existence, like things that wear out, nor cause its desirability to diminish. With anything new, time causes its glory to fade. But our inheritance, unlike the glow on Moses’ face in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, never fades.

What an assurance! The blessings which constitute our future hope are absolutely certain for they do not diminish over time. They are also being kept for us. We need not worry about any contingency which might nullify our hope. Our blessings are sure.

The Security of our Salvation
(1:5)

… who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

What could possibly keep us from enjoying the blessings of our future hope? It could not be the loss or devaluation of these blessings, for they are imperishable, undefiled, and they will not fade away. It is possible that our blessings will not fail, but we will. If verses 3 and 4 assure us that the blessings of our salvation are secure, verse 5 assures us that we are secure. Our blessings are reserved for us in heaven, and we are preserved for them on earth.

We are protected by the power of God. God is our refuge and strength. He is our strong tower. His power protects us. Because He is all-powerful, nothing can cause us to lose that which God has provided, promised, and preserved. As Paul has written,

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

We are protected by the power of God. We are also protected through faith. The power of God is provided for our protection, but God provides and requires faith as the means through which God’s power is appropriated. While Peter was going to fail, as Jesus warned, the Savior had prayed for him that his faith would not fail. Peter could fail and fall, but he could not fall completely. Like us, he was protected by the power of God for a salvation yet to be revealed.

Conclusion

Peter’s introductory words we have considered in this lesson serve as a message from God to us. We may sum up the essence of his introduction with these observations.

(1) We may praise God and rejoice because our salvation is secure. The first words of verse 3 are words of praise: “Blessed be … ” Our praise and rejoicing is directed toward God. The words of this epistle, and of these verses, should be the basis and motivation for our worship and our rejoicing in the Lord.

(2) Our salvation is secure because, from start to finish, it is the work of a sovereign God, a work of mercy and grace, and not of human merit. When Jesus warned Peter of his upcoming denial, he adamantly protested. He assured the Lord that though all others might deny Him, he would not. Peter trusted in himself when he assured the Lord Jesus he would not fail Him. We know the extent of Peter’s failure. But out of his failure, Peter came to understand that it was not his faithfulness, but God’s, that assured him of entering into the blessings of the kingdom of God.

Peter’s words in our text underscore the basis for our security. Our salvation is the work of God, and not the work of men. God’s salvation involves the work of the Trinity. The Father chose us in eternity past. The Spirit set us apart to salvation by causing us to trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And the shed blood of Jesus is God’s means for cleansing us from the guilt of our sins. He is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God’s salvation is not based upon our merit and good works, but it was motivated by His mercy, directed toward us in our pitiable estate.

(3) Our salvation is from sin and to a future inheritance in heaven that is certain. The salvation of which Peter speaks encompasses both time and eternity. God chose us before the creation of the world (1:2; see Ephesians 1:4). We now experience some of the benefits of our salvation. The full benefits and blessings await us at the second coming of Christ and will last for all eternity. Peter especially focuses our attention on the future dimensions of our salvation which are a “living hope” (1:3), upon which we must completely fix our hearts and minds (1:13).

The hope of our full, future salvation is based upon the work of God (1:2), and it rests upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. Particularly in view is the resurrection of Christ, which not only provides God’s seal of approval on His work, but assures us that we shall rise from the dead, and that the blessings which lie before us are “imperishable, undefiled and will not fade away” (1:4).

Many of the benefits and blessings of our salvation are yet to be experienced in the future. It is important to note that Peter very clearly states we have not obtained all of the benefits and blessings accomplished through the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. Many of the blessings of our salvation are still a matter of hope and not a present experience. These blessings are “ready to be revealed at the last time” (verse 5). Some Christians believe all of the blessings are ours to experience now, and our failure to enjoy them is due to our lack of faith in claiming them. This is not what Peter teaches. He tells us they are future, and while they are certain, we must wait until the coming of our Lord to enjoy them.

This future dimension of our salvation is not something we are naturally inclined to believe or welcome. Partly, this is because the present is to have its share of suffering (1:6ff.). Those who did not believe in Jesus challenged Him to “come down now” (Matthew 27:42-43) to prove He was the Messiah. Even to the end of His presence on earth, our Lord’s disciples were eager for His kingdom to come immediately (see Acts 1:6).

(4) Our salvation is secure, for we are kept by the power of God. Not only is our inheritance certain, “reserved in heaven for us” (1:4), but we are being kept securely for it. Our future inheritance will not fail us, and we shall not fail to enter into it and its blessings. We are “protected by the power of God through faith” (1:5). Our eyes can be fixed upon our future hope because our enjoyment of its blessings is absolutely certain.

(5) Salvation is the vantage point from which we must view suffering. One cannot mistake the unity of verses 3-12. The emphasis of verses 3-5 is upon the certainty of our salvation and our security in Christ. The emphasis of verses 6-12 is upon suffering, the suffering we can expect to experience as a result of being saved. It is no accident that Paul speaks first of our salvation, of its certainty and our security, and then of our suffering. Salvation is the vantage point from which our sufferings are to be viewed. To be certain of the future hope of the believer is to be equipped to endure the present sufferings to which we have been called.

How unfortunate that many Christians look at their salvation from their circumstances, rather than looking at their circumstances through their salvation. When some saints suffer, they begin to doubt their salvation and the certainty of their future hope. Other Christians may even encourage such doubts. Some may blame suffering on sin, as Job’s friends counseled him. It was not his sin, but his righteousness which was the occasion for his sin. It was not his downfall, but his growth which God had in view. Neither Job’s friends nor his wife were of any real comfort to him, for they did not point him God-ward, as does Peter. Peter wants us to view our suffering from the standpoint of our security as saints, based upon God’s mercy, grace and power.

(6) Peter teaches us that saints are not “victims” but “victors” in their suffering. The “victim” mindset has become a dominant note in our society. We look to our past, and to the abuse of others, or to the “genes” passed on to us from our parents as the cause of our sin and suffering. Peter turns our eyes toward God and toward the shed blood of His Son, in whom we have not only forgiveness of sins, but victory in Christ. We were not saved merely to cope with life; we were called to be conquerors in Christ. We are overcomers, especially in the trials and tribulations of life. Let us believe and behave accordingly.

The mindset Peter calls for from every saint is demonstrated by his fellow-apostle, Paul. Paul expresses the security of the saint in the midst of suffering, based upon his confidence in the Savior:

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

May we be able to say “Amen” to these words because we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our Savior, and also because we view our suffering from the standpoint of the salvation God has provided, and now protects and preserves, in His Son, Jesus Christ.


3 In Romans 11:2, it is almost impossible to understand the term “foreknew” in any other way than “to choose ahead of time.” In effect, to “foreknow” is to “elect” (or select) someone. God has not rejected Israel, Paul argues, because God chose them long before time began. What God starts, God finishes (see Philippians 1:6). He is the “author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

4 William Mac Donald, I Peter: Faith Tested, Future Triumphant, p. 16, as cited by D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), p. 61.

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3. What You See Isn’t What You Get (1 Peter 1:6-9)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

Introduction

Life for the Christian, or the non-Christian, is not a WYSIWYG! Those familiar with computers may understand this term, an acronym for “What you see is what you get.” In the early days of word processing, you could not see on the computer screen exactly what your printed document would look like. Underlining, bold-facing, italics were created by inserting control codes—but only the codes appeared on the screen rather than the actual underlining, bold-facing, or italics. You could not see on the screen what you would get.

Our Lord Jesus Christ told the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the text I used for a recent memorial service. The rich young man, like the money-loving Pharisees (Luke 16:14), thought life was a WYSIWYG; that is, he assumed life in eternity would be like life on earth. The rich young man expected to continue to live in perpetual comfort and ease just as he had on earth. Like the Pharisees, he wrongly assumed men like his servant Lazarus would spend eternity in eternal misery. Jesus shocked His audience by telling them these two men actually changed places after death. In eternity, the servant Lazarus enjoyed the bliss of heaven, while the rich man suffered the torments of hell.

Peter introduces the problem of suffering in his epistle for the first time in the sixth verse of the first chapter. Suffering proves to be the theme of his epistle. Peter informs us that suffering is indeed a part of the normal Christian experience. He also encourages us by telling us the trials and tribulations of this life will be left behind for all eternity. The suffering we endure on earth does not indicate our future estate in the kingdom of God. Because of this, we must live by faith and believe that what we now see is not what we will get in eternity.

Peter gives good reasons to rejoice in adversity in our text. Verse 6 explains the nature and necessity of suffering, while verse 7 focuses on the intended result of suffering—a proven faith which brings glory to God. Verse 8 further describes faith, with Christ as its object and the fruits of love and joy. The final and glorious outcome of our faith is found in verse 9—the salvation of our souls.

May the careful study of this text of Scripture, which introduces the theme of suffering, be used of the Spirit of God to eternally change our perspective on this often misunderstood subject of suffering.

Peter’s Premise: Saints will Suffer

In beginning our study of 1 Peter 1:6-9, note the underlying assumption Peter passes along to his reader: the saints will suffer in this life. The Scriptures are forthright, and Peter has no hesitation in saying Christians should expect to suffer. Verse 6 speaks of suffering in very general terms. James also tells us that adversity comes our way in many different forms when he writes:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

Others also share Peter and James’ view of suffering. Jesus clearly indicated suffering would come our way as did Paul and other New Testament writers:

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:20-21).

And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).

But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord delivered me! And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:10-12).

The writer to the Hebrews likewise speaks of the suffering of the saints:

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward (Hebrews 10:32-35).

Like other New Testament writers, Peter wants us to understand that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life. He tells us not to be surprised “at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). The Scriptures clearly attest to suffering as an unpleasant experience. The NIV uses the term “suffering grief;” the New English Bible employs the word “smart.” The NASB says we are “distressed” by various trials, while the KJV speaks of “heaviness.” The term generally carries the sense of “grief” or “sorrow.” The Christian should not expect life to be a warm fuzzy. Since we live in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-25) among men who hate the Son of God in whom we have put our trust (John 15:20-21), we should expect suffering.

Even though we suffer, we are to rejoice that our salvation is secure, the work of a sovereign God (1 Peter 1-6a). We are even to rejoice “with inexpressible joy and full of glory” in the midst of our sorrow (1:8). How can this be? Peter answers in verses 6-9.

Reasons to Rejoice in Suffering
(1:6)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.

Peter puts forward two good reasons to rejoice in the midst of our suffering and sorrow in verse 6.

(1) Suffering is necessary

The NIV’s overly-paraphrased rendering of this verse obscures the point Peter is making: “Though now for a little while you may have suffered grief in all kinds of trials.” The NIV’s rendering does damage to the text in two ways. It first implies that suffering is only a possibility rather than a certainty. It secondly glosses over Peter’s point that suffering is necessary.

It is essential that we grasp the necessity of suffering. Suppose, while driving to a friend’s house for Bible study, you are involved in a very serious accident which leaves you permanently injured. While in the hospital, you learn that you had not gotten word the Bible study had been canceled. How easy to immediately respond, “My suffering was completely unnecessary! It could have been avoided.” Circumstantially, it would seem your suffering should never have occurred. But in the sovereign will of God, it was purposed and, therefore, a necessity—a divine necessity. God’s plan includes no accidents or mistakes. Even the sins others commit against us are a part of God’s plan for our lives (see Genesis 50:20).

God is sovereign both in our salvation (1:1-5) and in our suffering. No suffering occurs without purpose. God is aware of every tear we shed in sorrow (Psalm 56:8), and every affliction ultimately comes from Him (see Job 1 and 2; Psalm 119:75). Peter tells us suffering only comes to us when the sovereign God of the universe deems it necessary—a sovereign and merciful God who causes “all things to work together for our good” (Romans 8:28). Though difficult, we may rest assured there is no senseless suffering for any saint.

(2) Suffering exists for only a little while, but glory lasts forever

Our earthly suffering is temporary, while heavenly glory is eternal, as seen in the phrase “now for a little while.” For the elect, suffering occurs only in this life. Glory lasts forever, and there will be no sorrow or suffering then. Listen to the glorious future that awaits us:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:2-4).

The unsaved find a very sad and different story. While they appear to prosper in this life (even though they suffer here too), they will suffer for all eternity away from the presence of God (see Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:27).

The apostle Paul emphatically contrasts the present trials of life with the future glory which we await:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Paul tells us our suffering is momentary, but glory is eternal. Suffering is “light,” but glory is “weighty.” We do not trade suffering for glory. Our suffering in no way compares with the glory we will receive. Our future glory is better, compared to the suffering which Christ endured on our behalf.

The Ultimate Objective of Suffering
(1:7)

That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

No one naturally wishes to hear what the Scriptures repeatedly say: The ultimate purpose of man is not to be happy, to be fulfilled, or even to be saved. Man’s ultimate purpose is to glorify God (see 1 Peter 4:11). Listen to these words of Paul:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love, 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6; see also verses 7-14).

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH” (Romans 9:17).

All suffering is ultimately for the glory of God, but in the context of 1 Peter we must say that the innocent suffering of the saints is to the glory of God. This is a truth many Christians find hard to accept. It is a truth Satan and unbelievers are unable to believe or accept at all. In the early chapters of the Book of Job, we learn that Satan could not imagine a man like Job could continue to trust in God if God caused him to suffer rather than to prosper. Satan found it easy to believe Job would worship God for blessing him. But he found it impossible to believe that Job could bless God if he suffered (Job 1:9-11; 2:5).

We should learn from Scripture that God is glorified by faith, by the faith of those who trust in Him because of who He is, not because of His blessings. That is the message of verse 7: the faith of the saints will “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

According to Peter, suffering is closely related to faith. It is a test which exposes false faith and reveals the genuineness of true faith. Our Lord spoke of this in the parable of the soils:

“And other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil … And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mark 4:5, 16-17).

Many were the Lord’s followers when they thought it meant “happy days are here again.” But when they heard the hard sayings of Jesus, they fell away never to follow Him again (John 6:60-66). Did they want success? By all means! Suffering? Never!

In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land how God tested them by adversity:

“And you shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Testing proves the preciousness of our faith. When a semiconductor company produces microprocessors such as the Intel 486, they are manufactured in batches. All go through the same testing process, but some chips come through better than others. The level of each test’s difficulty determines its speed and cost. The testing process sets the best chips apart from the rest.

The trials and tribulations of life prove not only the genuineness of our faith, but they strengthen and purify our faith as well (see also James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:1-13). God wants our faith to grow, and suffering is one of the best stimulants to that growth.

Peter likens the purification process by which God purifies and strengthens our faith to the process by which gold is purified and made precious. He first compares the gold purification process to the purification of our faith which suffering produces. He then contrasts the preciousness of our faith with the lesser value of highly refined gold. Gold is the asphalt, the pavement of heaven; purified faith is the basis for our praise in heaven.

Gold is purified by fire. The hotter the fire, the more impurities are burned off, and the more precious the gold becomes. So it is with our faith. The “fiery trials” (see 1 Peter 4:12) through which God puts His saints purifies our faith, so that when we stand in His presence in His kingdom, our faith will be found to be genuine and precious, resulting in praise, glory, and honor to Him.5

Thus we see that suffering serves a very beneficial function in the life of the Christian. It tests our faith and proves it to be genuine. Beyond this, it purifies and strengthens our faith, making it more precious than fine gold. And in the final analysis, our proven faith glorifies God.

Exploring Faith
(1:8)

And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

It is easy to see why suffering righteously requires faith on the part of the saint. Our hope is to be completely fixed on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13). We look forward to the glory to be revealed at the coming of our Lord. And yet our present experience is one of suffering, an apparent contradiction to our future hope. Faith is required because our hope must be based upon Scripture and not upon sight. Our hope is based upon the promises of God, while at the moment we experience the painful reality of suffering.

Faith deals in the unseen, even as the writer to the Hebrews tells us:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

I cannot help but think this theme of the “unseen” is fresh in Peter’s mind because he heard our Lord speak these words to His disciples before He ascended to the Father:

Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:28-29).

In verse 8, Peter does not attempt to minimize dealing with the unseen. But his emphasis is on who is unseen and how our faith enables us to relate to Him. The object of our faith is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the preeminent One in this verse.6

Peter has been speaking of the proving and purifying of our faith. In verse 8 he gives us three specific ways a genuine and precious faith will be evident:

(1) In our love for Christ (“Though you7 have not seen Him, you love Him”)

(2) In our trust in Him (“Though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him”)

(3) In our rejoicing, because of Him (“You greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory”)

By faith, we trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. We recognize His work as the expression of God’s love to us, and in response to His love, we love Him in return (Romans 5:3-8; 1 John 4:16-19). We not only live by faith, we love by faith. Love is rooted in and closely related to faith:

17 So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).

Faith is necessary in order to believe in Him. We must believe both that He is, and that He is good—the rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is the basis for belief.

Faith is also necessary in order for us to rejoice. Peter not only expects us to rejoice in our salvation (1:6) but to rejoice in the midst of our sufferings (1:8). And he does not mean a second-class rejoicing. He means rejoicing with “inexpressible joy,” a rejoicing which is “full of glory.” Only a masochist would rejoice in suffering for suffering’s sake. We are to rejoice because suffering proves and purifies our faith, thereby bringing glory to God. We are also to rejoice because suffering is a part of a divine process which results in the salvation of our souls, as Peter will show in verse 9.

The Outcome of Our Faith—The Salvation of our Souls
(1:9)

Obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

In the early verses of this first chapter, we were told by Peter that salvation is the basis for our confidence and rejoicing. Now Peter will tell us that salvation is also the outcome of our faith and our suffering.

Because salvation is a process, Peter can speak of salvation in terms of a past event, accomplished by God in Christ, a present experience for the believer and a future hope. The birth of a child is a process. A child is conceived in the womb and over a period of months continues to develop. The mother (not to mention others) becomes more and more aware of the child and its approaching birth. The hours before the infant’s birth are the most painful. They are endured not only because they cannot be avoided, but also because of the joy they bring at the birth of the child.

Suffering is an inescapable part of the process by which God has ordained our salvation. Suffering strengthens and purifies our faith, and the outcome of our faith is our full and final salvation at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Suffering does not save us; faith does, but suffering proves and strengthens our faith. We now have Peter’s answer of how we can rejoice in the midst of suffering.

Conclusion

Peter wants us to think of suffering in a completely different way than before we trusted in Christ. Now we should view suffering as a cause for rejoicing. To begrudgingly concede that suffering is inevitable and unavoidable for the Christian is not enough. Nor is a stoic acceptance enough when suffering comes our way. We are to rejoice in suffering, knowing it is a normal part of the Christian’s experience which produces good for us and brings glory to God. It is a part of the process which leads to the glory of God and to our full and final salvation at the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We dare not view suffering as our culture sees it. Do “bad things really happen to good people,” as most people believe? At the top of the list of “bad things” would be suffering, especially innocent suffering. The Scriptures challenge the belief that “bad things happen to good people” on several levels. Consider just two.

First, we wrongly assume that anyone is really “good.” The Old Testament Law was not given as a standard that we could keep and therefore be called good. The Law was given to demonstrate our sin:

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 13 THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; 14 WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS; 15 THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN. 18 THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:9-20).

Only Jesus can claim to be good, without hesitation or reservation. We are not “good.” We are sinners, deserving of divine wrath and in need of divine mercy. That mercy has been provided in the person of Jesus Christ, who bore the penalty of our sins and who offers us His righteousness in the place of that wrath. To be saved, we must acknowledge that we are not “good” and that Jesus Christ is. We must trust in His death, His burial, and His resurrection on our behalf, knowing that in Him we are not only forgiven but declared righteous before God on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done.

Secondly, suffering is not a “bad” thing when God uses it in our lives to bring us to faith, to prove the genuineness of our faith, and to purify our faith so that it becomes precious to the glory of God.

I want to challenge and exhort you to apply this passage in 1 Peter by meditating upon the psalm of Asaph in Psalm 73. In this psalm, through a painful process Asaph comes to view suffering as Peter does. Asaph could not understand why the wicked seemed to prosper while the righteous suffered. The wicked were arrogant and boastful about their sin and even seemed to dare God to act.

Asaph confesses he was tempted to throw in the towel before he realized this would be detrimental both to him and to the congregation who knew him. Not until he began to look at life from God’s perspective did his thinking became conformed to the truths Peter has taught in his first epistle. From a temporal point of view, the wicked did sin and were prospering. But from an eternal perspective, they would soon experience divine judgment, forever.

Asaph gradually realized that the prosperity of the wicked had turned their hearts from God, but his suffering had turned him to God, even though he initially protested. Not only did Asaph have all eternity to enjoy God’s presence, he also had the presence of God with him in his trials and troubles. When Asaph realized the “nearness of God was his good,” suffering became a blessing and prosperity a curse. Suffering draws us to God, and that is our good.

This is Peter’s message to us. He inspired words challenge us to rethink our value system so that we see suffering as a blessing and prosperity and ease as a curse. With this perspective, we can rejoice with “joy inexpressible and full of glory.” And only with this perspective can we understand what Peter has yet to say to us on the glory of godly suffering.


5 Some of the results of our testing may not be evident until glory. Note the “may be found” in verse 7. The preciousness of our faith which is demonstrated through suffering and trials, is referred to as being found at the revelation of Jesus Christ. This suggests that the immediate proof may not be evident. Is this not parallel with the teaching of 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and 5:10; see also 1 Corinthians 4:1-5?

6 The pronoun “he” has Jesus Christ as its antecedent in the last words of verse 7.

7 Peter says “you” here, rather than “we” because he has seen Him, both before and after His resurrection.

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4. When the Prophets Were at a Loss (1 Peter 1:10-12)

6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8 and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9 obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.

Introduction

When I completed my first year of seminary, our family returned to Washington State for the summer where I worked as a school teacher in a state prison. The prison facilities, known as the “Sheraton Hilton,” were the finest in which I have ever taught. Even the food was good—at least it was better than the cafeteria food I had in college. My wife used to warn me not to tell her what I had for lunch because it would probably be something more expensive than we would eat for dinner.

One particular day, we had just come back to class after a steak lunch. I will never forget one of the inmates complaining about the way his steak was cooked. My wife and I hardly ever ate steak, and here was an inmate complaining about the way his steak had been prepared, as though he were eating in a gourmet restaurant and paying for his high-priced meal. When things are bad, some people do not know just how good they do have it.

When Christians encounter suffering, they often lose their perspective and begin to complain about things which are really not as bad as they appear. Tears in our eyes distort our perspective. Asaph, in Psalm 73, starts looking on his world with myopia. He supposes all the wicked prosper and suffer no pain, while the righteous always suffer unbearably. It simply is not that simple.

The writer to the Hebrews addresses a group of professing Christians who are beginning to suffer persecution for their faith:

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly, by being made a spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:32-34).

And yet, despite all these saints endured, they had not suffered as badly as many who had gone before them. Contrast the sufferings of some in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” with the statement concerning his readers in chapter 12:

35b … others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (Hebrews 11:35b-37).

You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (Hebrews 12:4).

Those to whom Peter writes are undergoing suffering for their faith. Peter does not offer them pity or sympathy. How can one be pitied in circumstances in which they should rejoice? But often we do pity ourselves when we suffer. We become absorbed in the “pain” of our lives and lose perspective that God is using our suffering for His glory and our good.

Peter puts suffering into its proper perspective in verses 1-12. He has already caused us to look God-ward to see that our salvation, and our suffering, come from the hand of a sovereign God who chose us in eternity past, who has drawn us to Himself through His Spirit, and who has cleansed us through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-3a). Through Him, we have been born again to a living hope. Now, Peter turns our attention to the future, the hope we have in Christ of a salvation which is absolutely sure (1:3b-5).

As we live our lives in this sinful, fallen world among those who hate God, we do suffer for the time being, but our suffering has been sent our way by God to produce a very positive effect. On the one hand, it demonstrates the reality of a genuine faith, and on the other it strengthens our faith—all to the glory of God. In this we are to rejoice as we await the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls (1:6-9).

When we think of success or suffering, we often think in terms of comparison. Asaph compared his suffering to the success of the wicked in Psalm 73. Peter and the other disciples compared their faithfulness and their greatness with one another (Matthew 26:33; Luke 9:46; 22:24). When Jesus spoke to Peter about the suffering he would experience, Peter immediately wanted to compare it to John’s suffering (John 21:18-23).

In verses 10-12, Peter helps his fellow-believers keep their suffering in perspective by making two comparisons. He first compares the Old Testament prophets to New Testament saints. Secondly, Peter compares New Testament saints to angels. What he concludes from this comparison might surprise you.

How often we look back to the Old Testament saints to whom God spoke directly and wish we could have lived in their times. “Ah, for the good old days,” we reason. “If only I could have lived then and walked in such intimacy with God. If only I could have had God tell me personally what to do and what He was going to do.” Peter takes the nostalgia out of this kind of thinking and brings us to a very different view of our present circumstances.

Our study will therefore focus on the two comparisons of: (1) the New Testament suffering saint and the Old Testament prophets (verses 10-12a); and (2) the New Testament suffering saint and the angels (verse 12b).

Profiting From the Prophets
(1:10-12a)

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven … 

The Contribution of the Prophets

The Old Testament prophets contributed far more to us than they realized at the time of their prophecies. As Peter calls our attention to these prophets, he points out the ways in which their ministry touched our lives. Consider the following:

(1) The Old Testament prophets suffered greatly due to their calling, and as such, they provide us with an example of perseverance in persecution.

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12; see also 21:33f.; 23:31, 37; Acts 7:51-53).

Like our Lord in the text above, when Peter calls our attention to the prophets he seems to be reminding us that we must also suffer like the prophets for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. The blessings we have received through these prophets, which Peter summarizes in our text, came at great cost to them.

(2) God spoke to us through the prophets because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. It was the “Spirit of Christ” who moved these men to speak. I understand Peter to mean the Holy Spirit, whose task it was to speak of Christ’s coming just as He would later bear witness to His presence among the saints after His death, burial, and resurrection (see John 16:7-15).8 It was He who would guide the apostles as they went forth with the good news of the Gospel (see Acts 16:7). Likewise, the Holy Spirit would empower the preaching of the Gospel so that men might be saved (John 16:7-15; 1 Peter 1:12).

(3) The prophets of old were speaking (prophesying) of a future day. The prophets spoke to the men and women of their own time, but they also spoke of things yet to come to pass. They spoke to men of God’s program for the future, so they might live in the light of the promises of divine blessing and divine judgment.

(4) The Old Testament prophets spoke of the salvation to be accomplished in the future, a salvation by grace. The Old Testament prophets, unlike the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, did not believe men could be saved by law-keeping. They spoke of God’s salvation by grace and not by works. Here, Peter sums up all of God’s future blessings in one word: grace (1:10).

(5) Specifically, the prophets of old spoke of the coming of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the Messiah, so that the things they foretold are those which are now proclaimed by those who herald the good news of the Gospel.

(6) The prophets spoke of salvation in terms of sufferings, followed by glories. The use of the plural in reference to both suffering and glory is noteworthy, for just as the sufferings of our Lord were many (see Hebrews 5:7-10), so the glories will be many which flow from His death, resurrection, and ascension.

(7) The salvation of which the Old Testament prophets spoke was a salvation for the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. For a long time, Peter, like his Jewish brethren, resisted this reality. So firmly is this truth now embedded in Peter’s heart and mind that he speaks of the Old Testament prophets as having ministered so as to serve the Gentiles.

Paul heartily concurs as we read his exhortation in Romans:

7 Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the father, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO THEE AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO THY NAME.” 10 And again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” 11 And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:7-13).

How great a debt of gratitude we should have toward these Old Testament prophets who spoke of our salvation and who ministered to us, suffering greatly as they did.

The Confusion of the Prophets

The Old Testament prophets contributed greatly to the cause of Christianity, and the cost to them was great. But the prophets did not fully grasp the meaning of their ministry at the time. It is a very different thing for us to look back on their ministry from the vantage point of the gospel than for them to look forward, without knowing all that their words meant.

It may be difficult to grasp that Peter is contrasting our understanding of the gospel with the “ignorance” of the Old Testament prophets. Consider with me the reasons for this “ignorance” of which Peter speaks.

(1) First, we must realize that being a prophet means you have a message, not that you understand its meaning. Peter’s words indicate the prophets had the message of salvation, by grace, through Jesus Christ, for Jews and Gentiles. But he also indicates they did not fully comprehend all of this. They conveyed the message of God’s coming salvation, but the meaning of their message was not known until Christ actually came.

Consider, for instance, Agabas in the New Testament, who informed Paul that the Jews would arrest him when he reached Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-14). This revelation produced an immediate reaction, and unanimously, Paul was urged not to go to Jerusalem. Gently rebuking them, Paul conveyed his firm resolve to go to Jerusalem even though death might await him there. The group reluctantly gave in, saying, “The will of the Lord be done!”

Interestingly in this prophecy, it seems clear Agabas did not urge Paul to go to Jerusalem; he either says nothing at all, or he joins with the rest in begging Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. Agabas had a message from God, a message which others had confirmed (Acts 20:22-23). Agabas does not seem to have been told the meaning—that Paul was being prepared for his suffering and arrest, rather than being prevented from experiencing it. Prophets do not know everything, and neither do they necessarily even understand what they have said.

(2) Many prophecies were not even recognized as prophecies. Few of the prophecies fulfilled in the first coming of our Lord were recognized as such at the time they were given or even later on. When we come to the Gospels, we frequently find an expression like this: “that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled … ” (Matthew 1:23). The prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ in Isaiah 7:14 was not regarded as a prophecy until after its fulfillment. So it was also with the prophecies that Jesus would come up from Egypt (Matthew 2:15, citing Hosea 11:1) and that He would be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23). Jesus having come from Nazareth was viewed as a problem rather than as a prophecy (John 1:44-46).

Until after the fact, Psalm 22 was not recognized as a prediction of the circumstances of our Lord’s crucifixion nor was Psalm 16 understood to foretell His resurrection. Unless Paul had told us, who would have imagined that our Lord was the Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7) or that He was the “rock” which followed Israel in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4)? At least one prophecy which Israel understood as Messianic was Micah 5:2 (see Matthew 2:4-6).

(3) Old Testament prophecies were often perplexing, because of unclear distinctions, or apparent contradictions, which would not be harmonized until Christ’s coming. This confusion is evident in the answer given to our Lord’s question:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14).

The people were unclear about which prophecies were truly Messianic and which were not. They were not clear even about just who the Messiah would be.

Jesus capitalized on this ignorance by asking this question of His opponents:

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT THINE ENEMIES BENEATH THEY FEET?”’ If David then calls Him ‘Lord’, how is He his son?” (Matthew 22:41-44).

They had been asking Him questions seeking to embarrass and discredit Him publicly. Let them answer His question. How could the Messiah be David’s Lord and David’s Son at the same time? Here was another mystery, solved only in the coming of our Lord as God incarnate.

When the Old Testament prophets spoke of “suffering” and “glory,” it was often in a somewhat different context than the “sufferings” and “glories” of Messiah. They spoke of Israel’s suffering and of her glory. The term “servant” in Isaiah was puzzling, because it often referred to different individuals. It was used of Isaiah (20:3), of Eliakim (22:20), of David (37:35), and often of Israel (see 41:8-9; 44:1; 45:4; 49:13). But it was also used of Messiah (see 42:1; 49:5-6; 52;13; 53:11). Is it any wonder there was confusion about the identity of the “Suffering Servant”?

(4) The prophets were given only one small piece of a much larger puzzle. The prophets had trouble understanding the meaning of their “piece” of the puzzle, let alone being able to see the entire picture of God’s prophetic plan and purpose.

When Jesus explained His sufferings and glories to His followers, He did not do so from a single Old Testament text but from all the texts together. Only then do the pieces fit together to produce a picture:

25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, emphasis mine).

44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44-47, emphasis mine).

Peter said the same thing as he declared that Jesus was the Messiah to those in Jerusalem:

18 “But the things which God announced before hand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20 and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21 whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time” (Acts 3:18-21).

When Paul explains the marvelous plan of God to save both Jews and Gentiles in Romans 9-11, he cites nearly two dozen Old Testament texts from at least nine Old Testament books. One cannot expound the Old Testament’s teaching concerning Messiah without including all the pieces of prophecy found there. No one passage, and certainly no one prophet, had the picture which was later seen in the light of our Lord’s first coming and in light of all those prophecies fulfilled by Him.

The Prophets’ Private Revelation

While the Old Testament prophets made a monumental contribution to the cause of the gospel, they were confused. They were confused because they could not understand how the events they predicted would take place. Our text tells us they carefully searched and studied their own prophecies, “seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (1:11).

There are differences of opinion concerning how the words of verse 11 should be translated. The NASB translates the words of the original text to inform us that the prophets not only struggled to learn the circumstances surrounding the time of the fulfillment of their prophecies, but they also were perplexed as to who would fulfill them. They sought to know both the “person” and the “time” of which they were speaking.

Until now, I have failed to understand the degree to which Peter indicates the prophets were ignorant and confused. I thought the prophets understood they were writing of Messiah, of His sufferings, and of His glories. To me, the mystery was how these two seemingly incompatible elements (suffering and glory) could harmonize in one person. I see now that Peter is telling us that they were speaking both of Christ’s sufferings and of His glories, but that they did not know these were both applied to the same person or the same sequence of events. The prophets did not puzzle over the intertwining of suffering and glory; they were totally befuddled by the details of their prophecies. They just couldn’t put it together.

The words of the disciples to our Lord must be a reflection of the desire of the prophets of old:

“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).

The answer to the prophet’s question was not as they would have preferred. They were not told how their prophecies would culminate in the coming of Messiah. They were, however, given revelation in response to their inquiry. This response differed from prophet to prophet. Some, like Daniel in the Old Testament and John in the New, were given quite specific information about the future and then told to “seal it up,” and not to make it public:

10 Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words (Daniel 10:10-12).

1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. 4 But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:1-4).

8 As for me, I heard but could not understand; so I said, “My lord, what will be the outcome of these events?” 9 And he said, “Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time. 10 Many will be purged, purified, and refined; but the wicked will act wickedly, and some of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. 11 And from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. 12 How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days! 13 But as for you, go you way to the end; then you will enter into rest and rise again for your allotted portion at the end of the age” (Daniel 12:8-13).

1 And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud; and the rainbow was upon his head, and his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire; 2 and he had in his hand a little book which was open. And he placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land; 3 and he cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars; and when he had cried out, the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices. 4 And when the seven peals of thunder had spoken, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven peals of thunder have spoken, and do not write them” (Revelation 10:1-4).

All of the prophets were informed concerning one thing: at least a portion of their prophecies were not given for their own benefit or edification or even for those who lived in their times. The details of the prophecies pertaining to the distant future were not revealed to them. Their ministry in these matters was not for themselves but for those who would live centuries after them. Thus, they were informed of the link which God had purposed between them and the New Testament saints. This we also see in the Book of Hebrews:

39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:39-40).

They would have to wait to learn the answers to all their questions. But let these prophets know this: they were a link in the chain of God’s eternal purpose to save a people for Himself, a people that would include both Jews and Gentiles. Theirs was the privilege of playing a part in this plan. They, like every saint throughout history, would have to live by faith, suffering now while assured of the glory of God, their future hope.

The Saints’ Advantage Over Angels
(1:12b)

… things into which angels long to look.

The prophets of old shared one thing in common—suffering. If “suffering” is associated with being a prophet, I suggest to you that “glory” is associated with being an angel:

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened (Luke 2:9).

After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory (Revelation 18:1).

Amazingly, with all the glory we find associated with angels, Peter tells us their eyes are fixed on the earth. There is a greater glory yet to be fulfilled, and the angels cannot wait to witness it. They, like the prophets of old, do not seem to understand in advance just how these things will come to pass. Peter informs us of their intense interest in the things presently taking place on earth in light of what is yet to come.9

If the writer to the Hebrews points to the Old Testament saints in general as the great “cloud of witnesses” (12:1), Peter’s “crowd” is that of the Old Testament prophets and the angels who currently look on with great interest.

Conclusion

Do we feel overwhelmed by our suffering? Our troubles are no match for the Old Testament prophets. Do we wish we could live in the “good old days” when God spoke directly to men? No one has ever had it as good as we do now. Why? Because Christ has come, and the mysteries concerning His first coming are now openly proclaimed in the preaching of the gospel. What the prophets, who were “insiders”10 in days gone by, yearned to know, we now know.

And consider the angels, who always seemed to be about either proclaiming God’s plans and purposes or at least witnessing His hand in history. These very angels would seemingly be happy to change places with us. Their eyes are fixed upon the earth, eager to see the unfolding of the glory of God as He fulfills His promise of an eternal kingdom.

The first 12 verses of 1 Peter 1 are all about our perspective. Suffering can certainly warp our perspective. It distorted the thinking of Asaph, as seen in the early verses of Psalm 73. It seems to have adversely affected Elijah, who wanted to bring on the kingdom of God rather than prophesy that it was still yet to come (see 1 Kings 17-19). It even appears to have temporarily shaken John the Baptist, who writes from the vantage point of a prison cell and the possibility of martyrdom (see Luke 7:18-23).

Peter’s teaching in verses 1-12 sets the stage for what follows. Before he calls upon us to practice our faith, Peter first fixes our eyes on the perspective our faith gives us, allowing us to view present suffering from the vantage point of a sure salvation while culminates in the coming of our Lord. We have been chosen by God the Father, set apart to salvation through the Spirit, and cleansed from our sins through the shed blood of the Son (1:1-2). We have been born again unto a living hope, based upon the resurrection of our Lord and bringing forth the glory of His kingdom yet to come. That kingdom is our inheritance, kept for us, just as we are kept for it (1:3-5). Our suffering is divinely purposed to demonstrate and strengthen our faith to our own good and to the glory of God, and thus we rejoice with unspeakable joy, filled with glory, a mere foreshadowing of the glory yet to come (1:6-9).

Before us have gone the prophets, who ministered to us by speaking of the things we now enjoy in Christ. We now understand those things which were a mystery to them. While we may suffer, few will ever experience the persecution that was theirs. And yet they were faithful to their calling, fulfilling their mission and ministry to us. The angels too are a part of the divine plan, and they also eagerly look on to see how God’s plans and promises will be fulfilled. No one has ever been more privileged than we. With this firm foundation, we can go about our lives unshaken by persecution and tribulation, with our hope fixed on the grace that is yet to come.

In addition to this primary message, several other lessons can be learned from our text by implication.

First, this text should indicate the deep and fundamental unity which exists between the Old and New Testaments, and also between the Old Testament and New Testament saints. The prophets spoke of our salvation; they ministered to us. Let us beware of compartmentalizing our salvation so that it stands apart from that salvation promised in the Old Testament, which was received then just as it is today, by faith.

Second, let this text instruct us about the limitations we must accept concerning prophecies yet unfulfilled. Just as the Old Testament prophets pondered their prophecies, so New Testament saints agonize over the details of the fulfillment of yet future events. Let us beware of trying to learn more than God has given us to know. Let us not “fill in the blanks” which God intends to remain blank until those events occur. Let us realize some prophecies are more for those who will live after us than they are for us. We must deal with these mysteries by trusting God, knowing that the future is in His hands, that glory does await us, and that suffering may be our present lot.

Third, in light of the fulfillment of many prophecies, let us be reminded of the privileges and responsibilities which come with receiving divine revelation. As Jesus told those who heard Him,

“For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:17)

Those to whom He spoke were those who had rejected His teaching, and who were, from that point on, to hear parables rather than clear proclamation. To receive divine revelation and reject it is most serious, as we see in the writer to the Hebrews’ solemn warning:

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Let us take heed to the word which we have received as saints, not only unto salvation, but also unto obedience to His glory and to our good.


8 “Normally the prophets are simply said to have the Spirit of God or a Holy Spirit (1 Sam. 10:6; Ezra 2:2; Hos. 9:7; Joel 2:28; 2 Pet. 2:21), but Peter here, like Paul in Rom. 8:9 (the only other place in the NT where the phrase ‘Spirit of Christ’ is used), wishes to underline that the Spirit is not only from Christ but witnesses to Christ, whom he represents . . . .” J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1988), p. 62).

9 “Peter seems to imply that angels stand outside the redemptive realm and cannot understand it in terms of their own experience (cf. Heb. 2:16). First Corinthians 4:9; Ephesians 3;10; and 1 Timothy 3:16 likewise picture the supernatural world eagerly observing God’s program of human redemption. The concept seems grounded in Jesus’ words in Luke 15:7, 10 where angels are said to rejoice over one repentant sinner.” D. Edmond Hiebert, First Peter (Chicago: Moody Press, 1984), p. 71.

10 “The effect of Peter’s substance and style is to encourage his readers and strengthen their sense of identity. They are the ‘insiders’ while the great prophets of the Jewish past and even the angels in heaven are in some sense ‘outsiders’--friendly ‘outsiders’ who help bring the plan of God to realization, but ‘outsiders’ nonetheless.” J. Ramsey Michaels, I Peter (Waco: Word Books, 1988), p. 50.

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5. Fixing Our Hope (1 Peter 1:13)

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Introduction

Perhaps you have seen “The Dead Poet’s Society,” a movie my wife and I saw some time ago. As I recall, a translated Latin phrase, “Seize the moment!” became the philosophy of a group of college students. “Seize the moment!” aptly characterizes the spirit of our age; it also betrays the absence of the most vital element of hope. Sadly, our “now generation” has become the “hopeless generation.”

If ever there was an age without hope, it is our own—nuclear war, environmental pollution, racism, drugs, crime, corruption, AIDS. No wonder children live as though there were no tomorrow, and some even choose suicide to avoid facing today. If Hebrews is the book of faith, and 1 Corinthians or 1 John the books of love, 1 Peter is the book of hope. While suffering is the dominant theme of this epistle, hope is the prominent emphasis. Hope gives the Christian encouragement in the midst of the trials and tribulations of this life because it focuses our affection on the blessings which await us for all eternity.

Like faith, hope is a response to the goodness and grace of God. But we shall see in our text that hope is also a responsibility we have toward God’s grace. For the first time in his epistle, Peter issues a command which we must carefully consider, so that, by God’s grace and for His glory, we might be obedient to it.

The Context

Verse 13 begins with a very significant “therefore.” In the New Testament, “therefore” often introduces Christian obligations and responsibilities just as it often follows a doctrinal foundation the author has laid beforehand. The “therefore” of our text does exactly this.

Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter are introductory, identifying the author and the recipients of the epistle. Peter’s argument begins at verse 3. Verses 3-12 form the first major segment of Peter’s argument. This section lays the foundation for the instructions which follow in verses 13 and following.

Verses 3-12 are about the future or the Christian’s hope. Notice the emphasis Peter places on the future dimension of our salvation expressed by Peter as praise (“blessed be” verse 2). This is the basis for our hope and good reason for rejoicing:

(1) God’s great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope (verse 3).

(2) We have been born again to obtain an inheritance … reserved in heaven for us (verse 4).

(3) We are being protected … for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (verse 5).

(4) We presently suffer trials and testings so that our faith may be tested and proven, to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 7).

(5) We are obtaining as the outcome of our faith the salvation of our souls (verse 9).

Verses 10-12 point not to the future but to the past—to the ministry of the Old Testament prophets. But even here the future aspects of our salvation are the focus. Peter argues that the Old Testament prophets ministered in the past, but they foretold a future salvation, the salvation presently being proclaimed among men. Like us, they learned they must live their lives (which included much suffering) in light of the final outcome of their faith—the salvation God would bring about in Christ. This salvation is so wonderful that even the angels are fascinated as they observe with keen interest and even awe, waiting to see this salvation come to pass.

Verse 13 serves as the transition verse. Building upon the splendor and the security of the salvation yet to be revealed, Peter will call upon us to think and to conduct ourselves in a way that befits our calling. First Peter 1:14—2:10 spells out the impact our future hope should have on our conduct, specifically, our relationships:

(1) Our relationship to our culture: Holiness—1:14-16

(2) Our relationship to our heavenly Father: Fear—1:17-21

(3) Our relationship to the Word and to one another: Love—1:22–2:3

(4) Our relationship to Jesus Christ, the Rock—2:4-10

In verse 11 of chapter 2, Peter begins the next section of his argument. He describes in much greater detail our relationship to our culture and our responsibility to submit to human authorities (2:11-3:7).

The Relationship
Between Doctrine and Conduct

Before moving on to the three imperatives of verse 13, let us pause to reflect on the significance of the “therefore” which introduces our text. This term reminds us that in the New Testament, imperatives always follow instruction.

“The imperatives of Christian living always begin with ‘therefore.’ Peter does not begin to exhort Christian pilgrims until he has celebrated the wonders of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.”11

In the New Testament, doctrine and practice are inseparably intertwined. The following statements sum up the essence of this relationship:

Doctrine defines:

(1) the standard for our conduct

(2) the means of our conduct

(3) the outcome of our conduct

(4) the basis for our conduct

(5) and the motivation for our conduct.

How encouraging is this “therefore” in 1 Peter 1:13 in light of our Lord’s words to His disciples:

“No longer do I call you slaves; for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

The fact that Christian conduct is called for only after Christian doctrine has been taught reminds us we are “friends” of our Lord and not just slaves. Christian doctrine tells us what God is doing and explains why we should follow the divine imperatives for our conduct.

Three Commands

In virtually any translation of verse 13, the verse can be broken down into three commands:

(1) Gird up the loins of your mind.

(2) Keep sober.

(3) Fix your hope.

One would normally suppose these three commands are of equal importance with none subordinate to another. But this is not the case.

I normally am most reluctant to make statements about the subtleties of the Greek language for several reasons. First, very few scholars are really qualified to make such statements dogmatically. Second, most often these subtleties do not significantly add anything to the meaning found in a good English translation. And third, non-scholars may wrongly conclude they are not competent to study the Word of God for themselves. But, keeping these factors in mind, I do want to call your attention to a subtlety not reflected in the English translations but recognized by a number of scholars.

Very often, probably most often, commands are conveyed in the Bible through the use of the imperative mood. The form of the verb, if it is imperative, indicates we are commanded to act. But quite often a participle may also be used with imperatival force. When several commands are given at one time, the difference between a participle and an imperative may be significant. Those actions called for, or commanded, by a participle may be represented as subordinate to that conveyed through an imperative.

Allow me to illustrate by turning to a text with which you may be familiar:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

At first, there seems to be four imperatives of equal force:

(1) Go.

(2) Make disciples.

(3) Baptizing.

(4) Teaching.

The translation of “baptizing” and “teaching” reveals that these are participles and not imperatives. Only the command, “Make disciples” is an imperative, and so we might best gain the force of our Lord’s commands by viewing them in this fashion:

(1) Make disciples:

(2) As you go

(3) And baptize

(4) And teach.

This is the same situation we find here in 1 Peter 1:13. Though there are three commands indicated in the English translations of the text, there is but one imperative while there are two participles. The sense of these three commands should be understood in this fashion:

Fix your hope completely on the grace that is to be brought … 

(1) Having girded up the loins of your mind

(2) And having come to a sober spirit.

The primary thrust of verse 13 then is a command for Christians to fix their hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.12 With this in mind, let us consider each command separately.

Girding Up The Loins of Our Minds

The imagery of girding up one’s loins is unfamiliar to our culture, but it would be readily understood by those whose culture parallels the Old Testament saint:

“In Israel an ordinary person wore as the basic garment a long, sleeveless shirt of linen or wool that reached to the knees or ankles. Over this a mantle something like a poncho might be worn, although the mantle was laid aside for work. The shirt was worn long for ceremonial occasions or when at relative rest, such as talking in the market, but for active service, such as work or war, it was tucked up into a belt at the waist to leave the legs free (1 Kings 18:46; Jer. 1:17; Luke 17:8; John 21:18; Acts 12:8). Thus Peter’s allusion pictures a mind prepared for active work.”13

The expression first occurs just prior to the exodus of Israel from the land of Egypt:

“‘Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the LORD’s Passover’” (Exodus 12:11).

Nine plagues have already come upon the Egyptians because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. The tenth and final plague will be the smiting of every firstborn in Egypt. The Israelites were to prepare for this final plague and the resulting exodus by eating the first Passover meal. This meal must be eaten in a very unusual way to emphasize that God’s people were about to leave the land of their bondage.

Normally, the meal would be eaten in a leisurely manner. I can imagine one’s sandals would have been left at the door as is often so until this day. Surely one’s staff would be left there as well. But this meal was to be eaten hastily with sandals on their feet and staff in hand. In addition, their garments were to be tucked into their girdle or belt so their feet would be exposed. All of this was to remind and assure the people of God that they were soon to depart. They were to be mentally and physically ready to move out.

The idea of readiness for action is seen in virtually every other instance of the expression. Elijah girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:46). Gehazi was told by Elisha to gird up his loins, take Elisha’s staff and hurry to the Shunammite’s son who had died (2 Kings 4:29).

Jeremiah was commanded to gird up his loins and to prophesy:

“Now, gird up your loins, and arise, and speak to them all which I commanded you. Do not be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you before them” (Jeremiah 1:17).

Here, girding the loins seems to have the added dimension of courage or resolve, for the task he was called to do was not a pleasant one and could very well bring about persecution.

Twice in the Book of Job God challenges Job to gird up his loins. This appears to be related to his mental outlook and not to his physical clothing. We can see that these two occurrences in Job come close to the meaning we find in 1 Peter:

“Now gird up your loins like a man; I will ask you, and you instruct Me” (Job 38:3; 40:7).

And so we see that girding up one’s loins is that preparatory action which makes a person ready to take action and move about freely without hindrance. To fail to do so is to invite trouble. My friend Beth Cunningham told me of a missionary in Africa who set out in a long dress to turn on the generator on the mission compound. When she reached out to start the generator, her dress became entangled in the machinery and was immediately torn from her, causing a hasty and embarrassing dash for home.

Peter tells us we are to gird up the loins of our mind. We are to have our thinking in order with no entangling doubts, fears, or reservations. Our mind should be prepared to act without hesitation. We see this mindset characterized in the fireman who is well prepared to respond immediately when a call comes.

I recently watched an illustration of the opposite of the mental readiness we should have when my kind elderly neighbor came by our house on his daily walk with his dog “Belle.” Belle is even older and more feeble than her master, and in years gone by, Belle always trotted alongside him, sometimes even running ahead. But things have changed. Now Belle straggles behind, reluctant to move even one more step. Indeed, it often appears Belle is heading back home, very slowly. She is no longer ready. Her loins are not girded.

Peter’s exhortation may well have come from our Lord’s words recorded in Luke 12:

35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. 36 And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 And be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect” (Luke 12:35-40).

To keep focused on the hope of our Lord’s return requires a sense of expectancy and readiness so that day does not catch us unaware:

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8; see also Matthew 24:32–25:13).

Keeping Sober

Soberness has two major meanings, the first a literal meaning and the second metaphorical. Literally, to “keep sober” is to “stay sober,” that is, to not become drunk. Metaphorically, being sober means to keep a clear head, to be clear minded and straight thinking. If girding one’s loins is the state of mind which causes one to be ready to act, keeping sober is the mental condition which enables one to act prudently and with a clear head. Peter later exhorts his readers to be clear-headed so they can pray effectively (4:7) and be able to stand against the wiles of the devil who is out to destroy us (5:8).

Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him to be sober minded. In the context, he seems to be contrasting sober-mindedness with the muddled thinking of those who reject sound doctrine for teachings which justify an ungodly lifestyle:

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

When the two expressions “gird up the loins of your mind” and “keep sober” are taken together, we see Peter dealing with two opposite extremes concerning the hope of the kingdom of God. Girding up the loins of the mind corrects a too casual attitude toward the return of our Lord and prevents us from being caught unaware and unprepared at the Lord’s second coming. The second instruction—”keep sober”—prevents the kind of mindless enthusiasm which has characterized too many professing saints over the years. Just a couple of months ago an angry group of professing saints began to beat some of their pastors. The pastors had convinced them the Lord would return on a certain day, and they had sold their possessions and given the money to their leaders. This kind of thoughtless zeal should not characterize our awaiting the coming of our Lord.

Fixing Our Hope On The Grace To Be Brought To Us

Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We have finally come to the third and primary command of this verse, even perhaps the foremost command of this epistle: “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must first understand the unique dimensions of hope, especially in relation to “faith” and “love.”

“Faith,” “hope,” and “love” are often found closely linked to each other (see Romans 5:1-5; 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:5-6; Ephesians 1:15-21; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Timothy 6:11, 17). At numerous other times, two of the three terms are found together (see 2 Corinthians 8:7; Ephesians 3:14-19; 6:23; Colossians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:5, 14; 2:15; 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:22; 3;10; Titus 2:2; 3;15; Philemon 1:5; Hebrews 11:1; Revelation 21:9).

These three terms are interrelated. Paul tells us that love “hopes” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Elsewhere we learn that faith fixes its attention on that for which it hopes (Hebrews 11:1; Galatians 5:5). It seems safe to say that faith, hope, and love are all motivations which lead to further action. God is the source of all three: faith (Hebrews 12:2), hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16; Romans 15:4, 13), and love (1 John 4:10-11, 19).

But how does hope differ from faith and love? How is it unique; what is its distinctive identity and role? Faith is the source or means, hope is the goal, and love is the manifestation of our relationship with God in Christ. With respect to our salvation, we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8), unto a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), manifested by love (John 13:35; Galatians 5:22; 1 Peter 1:22).

Hope is what we want but cannot see and what we will not have until sometime in the future. One of my daughters wants me to build her a “hope chest,” a term not commonly used today as it once was. But it certainly illustrates what hope is. A “hope chest” is a physical evidence of my daughter’s desire to be married. She does not yet know who that man will be, and yet she is preparing for the time when they will become husband and wife.

Though hope is what we desire but do not have, yet we trust, by faith, that we shall have it in the future. Love is the evidence of our faith and hope. Indeed, our hope includes those whom we love:

19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? It is not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20 For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

What then does Peter mean when he instructs us to “fix our hope … ?” I believe he means we are to fix our affection and desire on heavenly things as opposed to earthly things. This is what Jesus taught His disciples:

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you (Matthew 6:19-21, 33).

When our affection is fixed upon heavenly things, we will gladly endure the trials and difficulties of this life:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).

16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When Peter resisted our Lord’s teaching on His coming suffering, our Lord dealt with “heavenly desires” versus “human desires” in Peter’s life:

21 From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s. 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any one wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. 26 For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:21-28).

It is especially interesting to note our Lord’s analysis of why Peter was so wrong that He could refer to him as “Satan:”

“For you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23b).

I prefer the translation found in the King James Version:

“For thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

The word “savourest” conveys the idea of “appetite” or “desire.” Peter wanted what natural men want, not the things of God. Peter had the wrong hope, for his hope was fixed on the things of this world and not the things of God’s kingdom to be brought to him at the second coming.

This same verb is employed elsewhere by Paul in Romans 8:

5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8, emphasis mine).

Paul teaches in this chapter that the Holy Spirit not only gives a believer the power to live a godly life in an ungodly world, but His Spirit also gives us the desire for spiritual things as opposed to carnal things:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

In the verses which follow, Paul even more clearly describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in terms of the desire, or longing, He instills in the saint to create a hunger for heaven:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it (Romans 8:18-25).

The entire creation now groans due to the fallen condition of the universe, longing for the day of its redemption (verses 19-22). We too suffer and groan in this life, but we gladly endure life’s difficulties because we long for, and look forward to, the coming day of redemption—the things for which we hope.

Paul’s expression “to set your mind on” parallels Peter’s term “to fix your hope.” This seems clear in Romans 8 and even more so in Colossians 3. Consider first the New American Standard Bible and then the King James Version:

1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 NASB).

1 If then ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1-4 KJV).

Peter’s command to “fix our hope,” and the expression of our Lord and Paul often inadequately rendered “to set your mind,” are synonymous. Look at this passage in Philippians where the same term (“set your mind”) is rendered “to feel” in the NASB:14

7 For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:7-8).

Paul has his “mind set on” the Philippian saints, to use the most common rendering of this verb in the NASB. More precisely, and even as the translators now see it, Paul “feels” affectionately toward the Philippians, longing for them with great desire. Thus, when we see the expression in the New Testament “to set one’s mind,” we must understand it in terms of setting one’s affections. To set our hope is to fix our affections, our desires, on the things which are coming in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ at His return to the earth. This attitude, or mindset, precisely characterized our Lord Himself, prompting Him to lay down His life for our salvation (Philippians 2:5).15

The fixation of our desire must be total, complete, and undivided. The term “completely” is usually rendered “perfect.” Peter wants us to understand that our devotion and desire for heavenly things must not be diluted with desires for earthly things. Jesus put it this way:

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:19-24).

Peter uses the word “grace” to sum up that on which we are to set our affections. We are commanded to “fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us.” Peter is talking about the kingdom of God, or heaven, the word most often used. He is talking about the benefits and blessings for which we wait, a “living hope” (1:3), an imperishable inheritance (1:4) reserved in heaven (1:4) for those of us who are kept by the power of God (1:5) until the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:7), when we obtain the salvation of our souls (1:9).

Why does Peter use the term “grace?” Why not salvation, or inheritance, or blessing, or glory? Because for the believer, grace is the sum total of all the blessings of God. Every single blessing is a gift of God’s grace. None of heaven’s benefits are earned or deserved; all are a gift of His grace. Few words are sweeter to the believer’s ear than this word “grace.”

This grace is being brought to us, to be delivered in full when our Lord Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven. But there is a sense in which this grace is already on its way, which is why Peter uses a present and not a future tense for this process. D. Edmond Hiebert cites Henry Alford (p. 339) who renders it, “… which is even now bearing down on you … ”16

When our Lord returns, He will bring blessing, and glory, and honor, and power with Him. While it is true that our Lord is the source of all blessings, there is another sense in which He is the blessing. The great joy and blessing of heaven is that we are with Him. The great agony of hell is that sinners spend eternity without Him.

6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire; 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

1 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3).

1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them (Revelation 21:1-3).

God is “a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6), but He is also “our exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1, KJV).

Conclusion

How often we are exhorted (and rightly so!) to exercise faith, particularly trusting in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Word. Surely Peter sees faith as absolutely vital. So far, however, Peter has looked upon faith as something which began with God (1:1-3) and which is being proven and promoted by the trials and tests God sovereignly brings our way (1:6-9).

The focus of Peter’s epistle is on suffering; the “hope of glory” is the sustaining reality which enables suffering saints to rejoice with “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1:8). Those whose faith would be proven and prompted by suffering and trials are those who have fixed their hope completely on the grace to be brought by our Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming. If we have fixed our hope on the grace to come, then our present sufferings pale in light of the glory yet to come:

17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

If we find in our Lord and His salvation the “pearl of great price,” the suffering which comes our way as a part of the process by which we will dwell in His presence is a price gladly paid:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it (Matthew 13:44-46).

If we are obedient to Peter’s command(s), we will be able to say a hearty “Amen!” to the words written by the apostle Paul:

1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:1-5).

The comfort we gain in the midst of our trials enables us to minister that comfort to others who suffer:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 6 But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; 7 and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

More than this, the manifestation of hope in the life of the Christian, even in the midst of suffering and persecution, provides an occasion for us to bear witness of our faith:

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:14-15).

As I read these words of Peter, I better understand some of the “hard sayings” of our Lord. When He required the rich young ruler to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, He was not trying to cause this young man agony; He was prescribing the way for him to refocus from earthly to heavenly affections (see Matthew 19:16-30; compare 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Only when our affections are focused on the Savior and the kingdom He brings will we find joy in suffering for His sake.

Whatever draws our desires and affections away from Christ and His kingdom must be set aside so that our devotion is undivided and undiminished. The cares of this world compete strongly for our heavenly hope (see Matthew 13:1-23, especially verses 21-22). If giving our money to further His kingdom inclines our hearts toward heaven, it is a wise and eternal investment. If debt weighs heavy on our hearts and keeps our focus on earthly things, we have acted unwisely; we must refocus our hearts and minds. Let us use our money, and all that we have, in ways that focus our hearts heavenward.

The “health and wealth gospel” of prosperity has no ring of truth when set alongside Peter’s teaching here. We dare not expect or demand prosperity here and now when Peter clearly tells us suffering must come before glory. We must gird up the loins of our minds and keep sober, fixing our hope on the grace to be brought to us when our Lord returns.

I dare not close without reminding you that hope can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Without Him, we are without hope. For those who have placed their trust in Him, our hope remains certain and secure:

11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the common-wealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13).

Once we have experienced hope in Christ, that hope should continue to grow as we consider the riches which are ours in Christ Jesus:

1 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:15-21).

Hope Texts For Further Meditation and Study

For what do we hope?

(1) Deliverance from death—Psalm 16:9; 33:18

(2) Deliverance from enemies—Psalm 71:4, 5, 14

(3) For eternal life—Titus 1:2; 3:7

(4) For freedom from oppression—Job 5:15

(5) For fruit from our spiritual labors—1 Corinthians 9:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:18

(6) For God’s abiding presence—Psalm 42:1-11

(7) For God’s unfailing love—Psalm 33:22; 147:11

(8) For the grace to be given—1 Peter 1:13

(9) For the redemption of our bodies—Romans 8:23

(10) For the resurrection of the dead—Acts 23:6; 24:15; 26:6; 1 Corinthians 15:15-23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

(11) For the return of Christ—Titus 2:13

(12) For righteousness—Galatians 5:5

(13) For security—Job 11:13-17

(14) For the sharing of God’s glory—Romans 5:1-2

(15) For temporal and spiritual restoration—Ezra 10:2; Psalm 37:9; Jeremiah 14:8; 31:17; Lamentations 3:29; Hosea 2:15; Zechariah 9:12

How does hope benefit the believer?

(1) Hope epitomizes Christian faith—1 Corinthians 13:13; Hebrews 11:1

(2) Hope equips us for spiritual warfare—1 Thessalonians 5:8

(3) Hope gives assurance—Psalm 25:3; Romans 8:25; Hebrews 6:16f.

(4) Hope invokes divine help—Psalm 146:5-10

(5) Hope is alive—1 Peter 1:3-5

(6) Hope is intelligible—Hebrews 10:23; 1 Peter 3:15

(7) Hope leads to rejoicing—Romans 5:1; 12:12

(8) Hope produces boldness—2 Corinthians 3:12

(9) Hope produces godly living—Psalm 25:21; Hebrews 6:10; 1 John 3:2-3

(10) Hope strengthens and encourages—Psalm 31:24; Isaiah 40:31; Isaiah 49:23; Rom. 5:3; Ephesians 1:18-19; Philippians 1:20.


11 Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press), 1988. The Bible Speaks Today Series, p. 61.

12 “The original makes hope the central and leading thought of the verse. Two participles precede the controlling imperative and designate the activities that support hope. Those participles are grammatically related to the subject of the imperative and thereby receive an imperatival coloring. But to translate them as imperatives obscures the way they function to support Peter’s remarks about hope.” D. Edmond Hiebert, First Peter (Chicago: Moody Press), 1984, p. 78.

13 Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series, p. 66.

14 Ironically, the King James Version suddenly changes places with the NASB, rendering the term “to think:” “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart . . . ” (emphasis mine).

15 The same verb, phroneo, referred to above is found here and rendered, “Have this attitude.”

16 Hiebert, p. 81.

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6. A Call to Holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16)

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Introduction

The word “holy,” in contemporary thinking, is closely akin to the term “nerd” which our children use. Holiness is not thought of as a virtue but as a vice. How insulting to be thought of as “holy” by your peers. Even in the church, holiness is becoming rare. Only recently I heard a well-known evangelist speak of holiness as something which the church in America has lost.

How comfortable we are to add God to our lives with little or no change necessary on our part. Such is not the message of the true gospel or the teaching of the Scriptures on the spiritual life. The Old Testament prophets, along with John the Baptist and then Jesus, called for a radical change for those who would trust and obey God. “Repent” was an indispensable word to those who proclaimed the Word of God in truth. To repent means to change not only our thinking but our actions. When we are saved, we are saved from our heathen desires and practices and called to live a life of holiness. This call to holiness comes very early in Peter’s first epistle in chapter 1:14-16 and continues to be stressed throughout his epistle.

The belief and behavior of holiness of which Peter speaks comes neither naturally (through our flesh) nor easily. Peter did not find it natural or easy either. While the concept of holiness is frequently taught in the Old Testament, Judaism (especially the scribes and Pharisees) distorted it until it became something entirely different. To many, the scribes and Pharisees, who saw themselves as holy, were the epitome of holiness. How shocking Jesus’ words must have been to those who first heard them:

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

True holiness was not what the scribes and Pharisees or Peter thought it was. The message Peter shares with us in his first epistle came to him with great difficulty. In fact, only after the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord did Peter understand true holiness.

Our lesson begins by tracing the theme of holiness through the Bible, from the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt until the time Peter wrote this call to holiness in his first epistle. With this background, we will try to understand what Peter requires of us if we would be holy like the One who called us.

A Basic Definition of Holiness

To be holy is the opposite of being “common” or “profane.” God is holy in that He is utterly different and distinct from His creation. His people must also be distinct, separate from the heathen attitudes and actions which characterized them as unbelievers. The translation of 1 Peter 2:9 by the King James Version conveys this idea of “separateness:”

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9, KJV).

Holiness and the Exodus

When God delivered His people Israel from their bondage in Egypt, He distinguished Himself from the “gods” of Egypt. Pharaoh’s challenge set the scene for a sequence of plagues that would answer his question in a way that would prove the God of Israel was God alone:

1 And afterward Moses and Aaron came and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.’” 2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go (Exodus 5:1-2).”

This hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the work of God so that He might show Pharaoh and the Egyptians that He alone was Lord:

2 “You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh will not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt, and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. 5 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst (Exodus 7:2-5).”

25 And the hail struck all that was in the field through all the land of Egypt, both man and beast; the hail also struck every plant of the field and shattered every tree of the field. 26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there was no hail (Exodus 9:13-16).

In addition to distinguishing Himself above Pharaoh and all the “gods” of the Egyptians, God also distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians by means of the plagues:

20 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he comes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 21 For if you will not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of insects on you and your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of insects, and also the ground on which they dwell. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, in order that you may know that I, the LORD am in the midst of the land. 23 And I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign shall occur”’“ (Exodus 8:20-23).

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD the God of the Hebrews, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go, and continue to hold them, 3 behold, the hand of the LORD will come with a very severe pestilence on your livestock which are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the herds, and on the flocks. 4 But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to the sons of Israel”’“ (Exodus 9:1-4; see also 9:25-26).

Holiness and the Law of Moses

Once the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, God gave them laws which governed the conduct of every Israelite and of every one who dwelt among them as aliens. What laws, of all those given at Mount Sinai, would you expect to set the Israelites apart from all the nations as a holy people? I would have thought the Ten Commandments were given particularly for this purpose. Surprisingly, we do not find “holiness” directly linked with these commandments. The command, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” is found several times in the Law of Moses but not in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. Rather, this command is found in the Book of Leviticus. Interestingly enough, it is found in that part of the Law many Christians feel is least relevant and applicable to the New Testament saint. This portion of the Law is often referred to as the “ceremonial law,” as opposed to the “moral law,” of the Ten Commandments. And yet this is the portion of Scripture Peter uses to support his instruction in our text.

Why is this so? Consider this possible explanation. The Ten Commandments do not set the Israelites or contemporary Christians apart because virtually every civilized nation accepts many of the values and commands of these Ten Commandments as a valid standard of conduct. Civilized nations condemn stealing, lying, and murder.17 Israel was not nearly as distinct by her obedience to the Ten Commandments as she was by her obedience to the laws regarding “clean” and “unclean” set down in Leviticus.

While these distinctions were set out clearly, the reasons for them were not. Why, for instance, was a woman declared “unclean” twice as long for having a girl than for having a boy (see Leviticus 12:1-5)? Why was beef “clean” while pork was declared to be “unclean”? Many of the distinctions between “clean” and “unclean” made in Leviticus appear to be arbitrary without rational or logical explanation.

I believe this is by divine design. That which sets the true child of God apart from all others is their faith and trust in God, evidenced by obedience to His commands even when they do not seem to make sense. Not eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did not make sense to Adam and Eve, but God required their obedience. Offering up Isaac as a sacrifice to God made no sense to Abraham, but he obeyed God by his willingness to do so. So too obedience to the distinctions God made between the “clean” and the “unclean” set Israel apart from all other peoples. In false religions, men create their own “gods” and their own rules, all according to their own desires. In Christianity, God makes the rules, and they are not according to our preferences or desires. But the Spirit of God enables us to obey them (see Romans 7:7–8:4).

With this in mind, a brief review of the concept of holiness in chapters 11 through 20 of Leviticus might prove helpful. Leviticus 11 distinguished between “clean” and “unclean” foods. The unclean foods defiled the Israelites and made them “unclean” before God, thus restricting their fellowship with Him:

43 “‘Do not render yourselves detestable through any of the swarming things that swarm; and you shall not make yourselves unclean with them so that you become unclean. 44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45 For I am the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; thus you shall be holy for I am holy.’” (Leviticus 11:43-45).

In Leviticus 12-15, other forms of ceremonial uncleanness were defined. A woman was declared unclean after the birth of a child (Leviticus 12:1-5). Leprous infections made a person unclean, and very precise regulations were given regarding such persons. Clear instructions were given concerning the quarantine and the ceremonial cleansing of those no longer unclean.

In Leviticus 16, we find a very special event in the annual Day of Atonement. By the sacrifice of one goat and the release of another, a great “cleansing” was anticipated, the cleansing from sin:

29 “And this shall be a permanent statute for you; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls, and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; 30 for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD (Leviticus 16:29-30).”

This annual Day of Atonement was a temporary cleansing of the sins of the people of God, until that day when our Lord Himself would be sacrificed as an acceptable offering for sins, once for all. This was no mere ceremonial act, but the basis for our justification before God.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14).

In Leviticus 17, the more mundane matters of ceremonial uncleanness are again taken up. Chapter 17 deals with the offering of sacrifices. In chapter 18, God reveals through Moses that the Laws He is giving His people are given to set them apart from the Egyptians (among whom they formerly lived) and from the Canaanites (with whom they are about to make contact in the promised land):

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God. 3 You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. 5 So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD (Leviticus 18:1-5).

The Israelites were not to imitate the sexual practices of the Canaanites (18:6-23) which would make them unclean and also defile the land. It was because the Canaanites defiled the land that they were expelled from it. If the Israelites imitate them, they too would be expelled:

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. 25 For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. 26 But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you; 27 (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); 28 so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. 29 For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who do so shall be cut off from among their people. 30 Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 18:24-30).

In Leviticus 19, holiness is not merely symbolized by avoiding that which is declared to be ceremonially unclean. Instead, holiness is defined in terms of respect for one’s parents (19:3), generosity toward the poor (19:9-10), honesty (19:11), justice (19:11-18), and love for one’s neighbor (19:17-18). In chapter 20, holiness encompasses the entire spectrum of human conduct and all the laws God had laid down:

6 “‘As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. 7 You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. 8 And you shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you (Leviticus 20:6-8).”

The Old Testament prophets continually stressed the principles of holiness, not the minute details of the law. In the words of our Lord, they (unlike the scribes and the Pharisees of His day) emphasized the “camels” of the Law rather than the “gnats” (see Matthew 23:23-24):

6 With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my first-born for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).

Holiness According to Jesus

Jesus’ definition of holiness was one of the bones of contention between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of His day. In His famous “sermon on the mount” (Matthew 5-7), Jesus drew the lines which distinguished His teaching from that of contemporary Judaism. He shocked the smugly self-righteous Jews by calling those “blessed” whom they regarded as accursed (5:3-12). He told the people that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees would never get them to heaven (5:20). He distinguished their teaching of the law from His own, showing that they had a very legalistic view of the law, rather than an appreciation for its underlying principles (5:21-48). He warned of external religion which is big on appearances but lacking in heart (6:1-34). He spoke of wolves and false teachers, who claimed to know and serve Him but whom He had never known (7:13-23).

Mark’s Gospel describes an incident which laid the foundation for a radical change. Although Peter was present, it would not be until after our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection that he understood what it meant:

1 And the Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered together around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, 2 and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; 4 and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have been received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” 6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. 7 But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”

8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death’; 11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, anything of mine you might have been helped by is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ 12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; 13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” 14 And summoning the multitude again He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand; 15 there is nothing outside the man which going into him can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” … 17 And when leaving the multitude, He had entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. 18 And He said to them, “Are you too so uncomprehending? Do you not see that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; 19 because it does not go into his heart but into his stomach, and is eliminated? (Thus He declared all foods clean.) 20 And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mark 7:1-15; 17-23).

The scribes and Pharisees were miffed because Jesus’ disciples did not ceremonially cleanse their hands before eating. Now this was not the kind of hand-washing mothers require of their children before they can eat. Mothers want their children’s hands to be clean in a healthy sense, free of dirt and germs. But the Jews wanted people to eat with ceremonial cleanness. This ceremonial cleanness was not what the Old Testament Law required as described in Leviticus. This was a cleanness defined by a different standard—the traditions of the elders (verse 3). They had added all kinds of cleansings to the Law of God and then came to regard their definition of “clean” more highly than that which God had established in Scripture.

Jesus pointed out that it was even worse than this. To add human standards to those of divine origin was one thing. But it was quite another to use these standards to set aside and even violate the Laws of God. Yet this is exactly what Judaism had done, and Jesus exposed their hypocrisy in so doing. The Law required that one should honor their father and mother. This included caring for them in their times of need. And yet the Jews had devised a way to avoid this financial liability. They “dedicated their money to God” using the term “Corban” to do so and then excused themselves from their obligations to their parents by claiming that this was God’s money. So to speak, it was “holy money,” which they claimed could no longer be used to care for their aging parents. But it could be used to satisfy any of their lusts—for example, a vacation.

Biblical holiness results in the care of one’s parents in their time of need. The hypocritical “holiness” Jesus condemned would allow for self-indulgence and excuse one from clear biblical obligations. To rebel against God’s laws openly is one thing, but to do so in a way defined as holiness is quite another. This is the degree to which much of Judaism had departed from true holiness.

If Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of the Judaism of His day, He had even more to say to all who would understand. Cleanness was not a matter of externalism but a matter of the heart. It was not food that defiled a man but that which is inside the man that defiles him. A man is not defiled from without but from within (verses 18-19a). Mark then adds this very significant parenthetical comment:

(Thus He declared all foods clean) Mark 7:19b.

Why was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to be avoided? For one reason: because God declared it so. Adam and Eve did not understand why. They were not to understand why. They needed only to know that God had declared the fruit of this tree off limits to them.

Why were some meats “clean” and others “unclean”? Because God declared them to be so to the people of Israel. Why was a woman unclean twice as long for bearing a girl baby than a boy? Because God said so. Why are sinners deemed to be righteous, forgiven, and destined for heaven? Because God declares them to be justified. Why are all foods now clean according to Mark 7:19? Because God declared them to be clean.

The basis for this cleansing is the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. His shed blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The basis of all cleansing is the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The fact of that cleansing is the declaration of God that it is so. This is the cleansing foreshadowed by the annual Day of Atonement:

“For it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:30).

It is this cleansing for which the Old Testament saints hoped and prayed and the Old Testament prophets promised:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:2).

Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9).

“And I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned against Me, and by which they have transgressed against Me” (Jeremiah 33:8).

25 “And they will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. 33 And they will be My people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 37:23; see Ezekiel 36:25, 33).

It is this cleansing which our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished by His death, burial, and resurrection:

13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? … 22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (Hebrews 9:13-14, 22-23).

7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7; see also Romans 3:23-26; 1 John 1:9; Hebrews 8-10).

Neither Peter nor any of his fellow-disciples understood what Jesus meant when He “declared all things clean.” This was only grasped after our Lord’s death, burial, and ascension, and after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In Acts 10, Peter was about to be invited to the house of a Gentile—Cornelius. There was no way Peter would have gone apart from the revelation he received from God in a dream:

10 And he became hungry, and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he beheld the sky opened up, and a certain object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 And a voice came to him, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 And again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 And this happened three times; and immediately the object was taken up into the sky (Acts 10:10-16).

The sheet that descended from heaven contained all sorts of animals, some of which would have been unclean according to Leviticus 11. But God ordered Peter to kill some of them and to eat. Peter was horrified. He had never done so, and he did not plan to start now. The divine response was simply that God had cleansed them, and that Peter was now no longer to consider them unholy. That cleansing had been accomplished in the sacrificial death of our Lord. God had declared all foods clean. Now, Peter must obey this definition of clean and unclean, because it is God alone who can declare something holy or unholy. It is He alone who can cleanse the unclean and make it clean.

Peter was soon to understand the significance and application of his vision. Messengers from Cornelius arrived and asked him to come with them to the home of their master. Peter complied, still puzzled at what God was teaching him. But when the Holy Spirit fell upon these Gentiles, just as He had upon the Jewish believers at Pentecost, he understood that the coming of our Lord was intended to cleanse both Jews and Gentiles from their sins. Those whom God had cleansed, no man should dare consider unclean.

Peter’s Call to Holiness

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Years later, Peter calls the readers of his first epistle to a life of holiness.18 In these three verses, Peter tells us why we should be holy; he also tells us how. Let us begin with the “why” which can be summed up in two statements:

(1) We are to be holy so that we are obedient to the Word of God which commands it. Peter’s call to holiness is but a repetition of a command given long before by God Himself to the nation Israel: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We should be holy because God commands it. To do otherwise is to be disobedient.

(2) We are to be holy to be like God, our Father, who called us to be holy. Those commanded to be holy are the children of God. Never is it assumed that unbelievers can or will strive for holiness. Only His children are able to do so, by His grace and through His Spirit. The “saints” are God’s children, whom He has called to be holy:19

7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 1:7).

2 to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:2).

The people of God are to be a manifestation of the presence of God to the rest of the world. Thus, we are commanded to be like our heavenly Father:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR, and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you 45 in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

How then are we to be holy? Peter gives us several directives.

(1) We are to be holy in all our conduct. We are to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is not to be compartmentalized into certain “religious” areas of our life. Holiness is a way of life that affects everything we do. Holiness is a lifestyle, rather than mere conformity to a list of rules.

(2) We are to be holy by not being conformed to our former lusts. Holiness is a lifestyle which differs dramatically from our manner of life before we were saved. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He called them to live in a way which would set them apart from the Egyptians among whom they had lived and the Canaanites among whom they would live (see Leviticus 18:1-5).

Holiness is the choice to march to the beat of a different drum. Rather than to live as our culture encourages us to, we must live as God requires. If we are not to be conformed to this world (see Romans 12:1-2), neither are we to be conformed20 to our former desires. At first, it may sound strange to think of being conformed by our desires, but this is precisely what happens. Consider the following texts:

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen (Romans 1:21-25)

16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Romans 6:16).

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Although God’s creation bears witness to His eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20), men have chosen to worship creation rather than the Creator. Because of this God has given men over to their lusts, and in the pursuit of these lusts, their minds are darkened and distorted. Men are not only mastered by their lusts, they are conformed to them. They become mere creatures of instinct and impulse. Peter speaks more of this in his second epistle:

12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you (2 Peter 2:12-13).

Though the Christian has died to sin and been raised to newness of life in Him, he or she must also choose to serve Him and turn from their former lusts. They must no longer allow sin to master them (Romans 6:1-14). Like Paul, they must gain control over their fleshly desires, rather than be mastered by them:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

This is one of the lessons we should learn from the Israelites of old (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13). The alternative is to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2) and the members of our body as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:12-13). Our minds are to be renewed by the Word of God (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:20-24). We are to recognize that sin brings dullness of heart and mind, and that our former lusts are exceedingly deceitful, causing our thinking to become cloudy when we surrender to sin.

Paul lays down a vitally important principle here we dare not fail to grasp. He distinguishes our “former desires” from those we should now possess as children of God. The desires which characterize the fallen world we live in once dominated us. These desires are themselves to be rejected and replaced by new desires. This is what holiness is all about—not just doing what God wants, but desiring those things in which He delights. In the words of the prophet Micah, we are “to do justice” and “to love kindness” (Micah 6:8).

I am beginning to understand Peter’s strong reaction to the vision he received. He was repulsed by the thought of eating anything unclean, just as he was supposed to be so long as God had declared it unclean.

Reading Leviticus 11 teaches me an important lesson about holiness. Those things God declared unclean were unclean. And these “unclean” things were not only to be avoided but to be considered detestable:

10 ‘But whatever is in the seas and in the rivers, that do not have fins and scales among all the teeming life of the water, and among all the living creatures that are in the water, they are detestable things to you, 11 and they shall be abhorrent to you; you may not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses you shall detest … 41 Now every swarming thing that swarms on the earth is detestable, not to be eaten (Leviticus 11:10-11, 41, see also verse 13).

It was not enough for the Israelites to avoid eating what God declared to be unclean; they must also loathe what God called unclean. They were to adjust their desires to conform to God’s desires. They were to delight in what God found delightful and to loathe what God found detestable. This command is not just for Old Testament saints but for New Testament saints as well:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).

When we understand and apply this truth, we will find a great deal of practical help. We are not nearly as likely to participate in those things we find detestable as those things in which we delight. George Bush was not nearly as tempted to eat broccoli as he was to raid the refrigerator for his favorite dish. Our problem becomes evident when our desires often do not conform to those things in which God delights. Conversely, we often desire the very things which displease God. When we find our delight in God and in the things which delight Him, then we, like David, will search His word to know more of His law rather than avoiding the Law of God and restricting its application to our lives.

11 Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against Thee; 12 Blessed art Thou, O LORD; Teach me Thy statutes. 13 With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Thy mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the way of Thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways. 16 I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not forget Thy word. 17 Deal bountifully with Thy servant, That I may live and keep Thy word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law. 19 I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide Thy commandments from me. 20 My soul is crushed with longing after Thine ordinances at all times (Psalm 119:11-20).

Contrary to some popular teaching, we do not find in God the satisfaction of our natural thirsts and desires. Our former lusts cause us to be at enmity with God and slaves of sin and of Satan:

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led (1 Corinthians 12:2).

False teachers appeal to these lusts and desires:

3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:18-19).

Only when we have been born again do we begin to thirst for the things of God:

1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1-3).

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries (1 Peter 4:1-3).

4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4).

Those who persist in pursuing their former desires are rebuked:

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:1-3).

The most severe warning is given to those who would consider a return to their former pursuit of fleshly passions:

19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:19-22).”

Peter’s admonishes us to shun these former desires and to pursue and promote those desires God implants within us at the time of our conversion.

(3) We are to be holy by imitating God. We are to be holy because God is holy (see above). We are also to be holy as God is holy. As Jesus once put it,

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

This means we must first come to know God, and then, by His grace, seek to conduct ourselves in a manner that imitates Him. We must love what He loves and hate what He hates. We, like Him, are to be merciful, just, and kind. We become holy as we are conformed to His image. This is what sanctification is all about:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13; see 1 John 3:1-12).

(4) We are to be holy by obeying God’s Word. Peter instructs us to be holy “as obedient children” (1 Peter 1:14). The standards of holiness are set down by God in His Word. That is why Peter quotes from the Old Testament Law. We are to be obedient, and that obedience is directed toward His commands and standards as set down in His Word. In the days of our unbelief, we were ignorant, but now God’s Spirit dwells within us to enlighten our minds to understand His Word (1 Corinthians 2:6-16) and to empower us to obey it (Romans 8:1-4). Holiness is accomplished in our lives as the Spirit of God enables us to know God and to obey His commands, through His Word.

Conclusion

The call is a clear one. It is not a popular appeal. It is a call God has made of His people since the exodus. Those who attempt to market the gospel and appeal to the masses would say God has called us to be happy. But those who read the Scriptures more carefully must acknowledge that God has called us to be holy in an ungodly world. It is holiness which sets us apart from the world and to God. It is holiness we are called to pursue and to practice, to the glory of God and for our good:

13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing any more, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God; just as God said, I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; AND I WILL WELCOME YOU. 18 AND I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE SONS and daughters TO ME,” SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE OF GOD; but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behaviour excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:9-12).

Will you heed the call? If you are a child of God, then act like one.

There is a strong tie between hope and holiness both in the context of our passage in 1 Peter and in the doctrine Peter lays down here. In verse 13, Peter instructed us to “fix our hope completely on the grace that is to be brought to us as the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter, along with his colleague John, understands that it is our future hope which promotes holiness in this life:

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. 3 And every one who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Conversely, Peter teaches us in his second epistle that ungodliness accompanies those whose only hope is in this life and not in the one to come (see 2 Peter 2:12–3:4). It is we who have fixed our hope on the coming of our Lord and His kingdom who should strive for holiness by His grace and to His glory:

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Parallel Texts for Your Meditation and Study

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:1-3).

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:17-24).

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. 3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them; 8 for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. 13 But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. 14 For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:1-14).

1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him 11—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:1-11).

1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

10 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain. 12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed (Titus 1:10-16).

1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. 3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God may be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men (Titus 3:1-8).

2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:2-4).

24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and,

although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:24-32).

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:12-23).

9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified. 10:1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved. 7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? 23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. 25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you, and you wish to go, eat anything that is set before you, without asking questions for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone should say to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 9:24–10:33).


17 I am sad to say that abortion has now made the United States an uncivilized nation.

18 It should be pointed out that here, as in verse 13, there is but one true imperative to be found (“be holy”), along with a participle which is also translated as an imperative (“do not be conformed”). The primary command is to be holy, while the subordinate command is to not be conformed.

19 The word “saint” is derived from the word “holy.” Thus, the NASB has a marginal note in Romans 1:7 indicating that the word “saints” literally means “holy ones.”

20 The same word is found both in Romans 12:2 and 1 Peter 1:14 and nowhere else in the New Testament.

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7. Fearing Our Father (1 Peter 1:17-21)

1 Peter 1:13-21

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Introduction

Upon entering seminary in Dallas a number of years ago, I worked part-time in the warranty division of John E. Mitchell, a manufacturer of automobile air conditioners. One day a fellow-worker who wanted to cut a piece off of a two-by-four quickly decided to use a saw set up to cut aluminum. With a 15-inch blade powered by a 5-horsepower motor, that radial arm saw was awesome. But there was no stop on the saw to hold the piece being cut. As my friend began to saw, the teeth caught the blade thrusting the board through the wall behind the saw! My friend escaped unhurt.

Today I own a considerably smaller radial arm saw, but I have never forgotten that incident. Because I fear my power tools, I use my radial saw with great caution. John Maurer, a friend who has a number of saws much bigger than mine, has a great deal of respect for his saws too. John has remarked that the most dangerous tool in a wood shop is the shaper. Because the shaper does not look or sound as dangerous as the other tools, workmen may become careless in its use.

We often think of fear in negative terms, as a non-productive or even counter-productive force. In truth, fear may be very positive and productive. Peter speaks in verses 1 Peter 1:17-21 of our text about the “fear” which should characterize Christians. We find the principle command in verse 17: “Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth” (verse 17).

Certainly the fear of God is not characteristic of a pagan culture. Sadly, all too often a proper fear of God is not a prominent part of the Christian’s life either. Fear is viewed as harmful by our culture. Children have no fear of their parents. Citizens have no fear of lawful authorities. And yet Peter tells us to live out our lives in fear. Surely this kind of fear does not come naturally for us or for Peter. A careful study of our text can provide helpful understanding of that fear which compliments our faith and our hope in God.

The Structure of our Text

Our text falls into three parts: Verse 17 introduces the subject of fear with a command to live in fear, and one reason is set down as a basis for fear. Verses 18 and 19 set down a second basis for our fear—the redemption which has been accomplished through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Verses 20 and 21 set down a third basis for fear—the work of the Father in our salvation.

The Context of our Text

At the beginning of verse 1 Peter 1:17, the “if” of the New American Standard Bible is rightly rendered “since” by the New International Version:21

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

The problem with their translation is the translator’s omission of the very important word “and” which is found in the NASB:

And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.

The best of both translations would catch the positive emphasis of both:

And since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

The “and” is very important as it clearly links verses 1 Peter 1:17-21 to the two major commands Peter set down in verses 1 Peter 1:13-17:

Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 13).

Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior (verse 15).

Verse 21 shows us that the theme of hope is still in Peter’s mind. The fear Peter calls for is the other side of hope, and it is a strong motivation for living a holy life. Thus we have the “and” at the beginning of verse 17. Peter’s final words in verse 21 are “faith” and “hope.” Not surprisingly, his subject in 1:22-2:3 is love, a love linked to the Word of God.

Living in Fear
(1 Peter 1:17)

And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.

Peter assumes his readers are true believers and thus God is their Father (compare John 8:31-47 and Romans 8:14-16). The term here rendered “address” has several uses. It is used for the giving of a surname or of one’s surname (Acts 10:5, 18). It is also used a number of times with the sense of “appeal.” In the Book of Acts, this term is used for Paul’s “appeal” to Caesar (see Acts 25:11-12, 21, 25, etc.). Many times the term is employed for one’s call upon God for salvation or for help:

“‘AND IT SHALL BE, THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED’” (Acts 2:21).

And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon [the Lord] and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59; see also Acts 9:14, 21; 15:17; 22:16; Romans 10:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:22).

If we are a child of God, there is a sense in which we can think of God as being “there for me.” But there is much more to the concept of God as Father than this. As Peter is about to indicate, the fact that God is our Father requires of us the holiness which fear promotes:

14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; AND I WILL WELCOME YOU, 18 AND I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE sons and daughters TO ME,” SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

The Father-son concept begins early in the Old Testament. God referred to the nation Israel as His son, His first-born son:

22 “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born.”’ 23 So I said to you, “Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go, Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born”’“ (Exodus 4:22-23).

When the nation failed to fulfill its mission as God’s “son,” God chose David and his descendants to be His son as each of these kings ruled over the people of God. Part of the Father-son relationship involved correction:

12 “‘“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’“ (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

When David and his sons after him failed to fulfill their sonship, God sent the Lord Jesus to serve as His son:

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Matthew 2:13-15).

3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? (Hebrews 1:3-5).

Those who are “in Christ” by faith in Him are the sons of God who will share in His rule over the earth:

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).

15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).

To be a son of God, and thus to have God as our Father, involves much more than the assurance that we have a certain hope, a place in the kingdom of God. It means God is our Father in the fullest sense of the term. The One whom we call upon as Father is also the One who “impartially judges according to each individual’s work.” We cannot have God as our Father in a restricted way, but only as He is completely. Our Father is also the “Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). His judgment includes all men and is conducted without partiality. In judgment, God shows no favorites. God deals equitably with all men. The Jews in particular presumed otherwise. They were wrong, as we are if we expect God to judge us differently as His children. Indeed, as His children, we have been given more, and our responsibility is greater.

Years ago, my father taught Junior High in the same school where I was an elementary student. We did not see each other all that often at school. My friend Ricky and I discovered quite a legitimate way to skip class. We became school projectionists and were excused from class to operate the movie projector for other classes. This required pushing the projector on a mobile cart all around the school building. And, of course, at times we raced in the halls to see just how fast we could negotiate those 90-degree turns. One day I was doing especially well wheeling the cart around a sharp turn at high speed when I crashed—right into a teacher walking down the hall. That “teacher” just happened to be my “father.” I can assure you I received no special treatment; indeed, it could not have been worse. My father was also my “judge.”

We dare not presume upon our status as sons or upon God’s position as our “Father.” He judges every individual without partiality on the basis of his work. This judgment includes both the saved and the unsaved:

30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man who He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

6 May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:6).

10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:10-17).

5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

I find it interesting that Peter does not say God will judge each individual, but that He does judge (literally, “the One who judges,” a participle). I believe this is because judgment is both present and future. As I understand the Scriptures, believers are judged more in this life, while the judgment of the wicked comes largely in the future:

31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).

30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31).

5 But they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:5-6).

17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? (1 Peter 4:17-18).

9 Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9).

7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).

Having introduced the fact that our Father is also the Judge, Peter sets down the principle command of the passage:

Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.

Ready or not, here we are commanded to live in fear—in fear of our Father. Exactly what does it mean to live in fear? What does Peter expect us to understand by his command? A brief survey of the Scriptures may prove helpful on the subject of fearing God.

There are many reasons why men should fear God. Peter will certainly call our attention to the fact that God is our judge, but let us not overlook that we should fear our fathers:

3 “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:3).

Very often, in both the Old and the New Testaments, having “the fear of the Lord” is synonymous with being a true believer in God, while unbelievers are said to lack this fear:

18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:18, quoting Psalm 36:1, see Genesis 20:11).

29 “‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

18 Now Joseph said to them [his brothers] on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God” (Genesis 42:18).

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase (Acts 9:31).

The last words of the Book of Ecclesiastes sum up the essence of life:

13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 Because God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

The fear of the Lord is an attitude of humility and the beginning of wisdom:

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7). 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). 28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28).

The fear of the Lord causes one to turn from sin and obey God’s commandments: 14 “‘You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:14).

17 “‘So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 25:17).

29 “‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

12 “And you, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all year heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).

6 By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil (Proverbs 16:6).

Fear is the appropriate response to God’s power, majesty, holiness, and judgment: 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? (Psalm 90:11).

120 My flesh trembles for fear of Thee, And I am afraid of Thy judgments (Psalm 119:120).

12 “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. 13 It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread. 14 Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many will stumble over them, Then they will fall and be broken; They will even be snared and caught” (Isaiah 8:12-15).

In the New Testament, we see an ever-increasing fear of the Lord Jesus the more men come to understand who He is. The disciples feared when they witnessed the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:41). When Jesus healed the paralytic, the crowds were filled with fear:

24 “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home.” 25 And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. 26 And they were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying god; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today” (Luke 5:24-26).

Men became fearful at the raising of the widow’s dead son:

15 And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:15-16; see also 8:37).

The fear of the Lord can be learned and promoted by obedience to God’s commands:

10 “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children’” (Deuteronomy 4:10).

22 “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. 23 And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23).

18 “Now it shall come about when he [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).

10 Then Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. 13 And their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).

11 Teach me Thy way, O LORD; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name (Psalm 86:11).

The discipline of the Lord leads to fear: 5 “Thus you are to know in year heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6 Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deuteronomy 8:5-6, compare Hebrews 12:1-13).

In the New Testament, the disciplining of Ananias and Sapphira produced a healthy fear in the church and outside (Acts 5:5). In Acts, the disciplining of the Jewish exorcists brought fear to those who lived in Ephesus (Acts 19:17).

The fear of the Lord is healthy and wholesome, leading to blessing and security. While it is our duty to fear God, it is also our delight:

11 “O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere [fear] Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11).

The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever (Psalm 19:9).

19 How great is Thy goodness, Which Thou has stored up for those who fear Thee, Which Thou has wrought for those who take refuge in Thee, Before the sons of men! (Psalm 31:19).

11 The LORD favors those who fear Him, Those who wait for His lovingkindness (Psalm 147:11).

26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. 27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death (Proverbs 14:26-27).

The fear of the Lord motivated the saints to avoid evil and also promoted that which is good. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).

1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

The fear of the Lord is not merely an Old Testament phenomenon to be set aside by the “love of God” in the New. The writer to the Hebrews informs us that the “fear of the Lord” should be even greater for those of us who live in this age than it was for those in Old Testament times:

18 For you have not come to [a mountain] that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which [sound was such that] those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, [that] Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than [the blood] of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned [them] on earth, much less [shall] we [escape] who turn away from Him who [warns] from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” 27 And this [expression], “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:18-29).

I call your attention to two Old Testament psalms which are very instructive concerning the fear of the Lord. These psalms praise God for His character, wisdom, and power, as well as the fact that He will judge the earth:

4 I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them. 8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! 9 O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him, there is no want. 10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD Shall not be in want of any good thing. 11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. 12 Who is the man who desires life, And loves [length of] days that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it (Psalms 34:4-14).22 9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.” 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; 12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy 13 Before the LORD, for He is coming; He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, And the peoples in His faithfulness (Psalm 96:9-13).

To sum up Peter’s teaching in verse 17, we are to fear the God who is both our Father and our judge. As sons of God, we may call upon Him for help to bring justice to the earth and even to punish the wicked, but when we do so let us remember that He also judges us. His standard for us is holiness, and thus we must conduct ourselves with an awareness of our own weakness and vulnerability to sin. We must not expect God to overlook the sin in our own lives, for while it’s penalty has been paid at Calvary, God is at work to purify us to His glory. We should live our lives in this present age well aware that we are citizens of heaven and that our conduct must not only meet the requirements of earthly authorities, but also of our Father.

Our Redemption: A Reason to Fear
(1:18-19)

18 Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.

Redemption is a prominent theme in this epistle. Over and over again Peter refers to our salvation, brought about by the Father through the shed blood of His Son (see 1:1-3, 10-12, 13, 18-21; 2:4-10, 21-25; 3:18-22; 4:1, 13; 5:1). Peter’s use of Old Testament terms and citations bring to mind the first great redemption God accomplished at the exodus of Israel from Egypt. This redemption is overshadowed now by that redemption brought about by God through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The greater redemption is described in terms reminiscent of the former.

One would expect Peter to emphasize the work of Christ, for it is the basis of our salvation. But who would have expected him to speak of it here in a context where he calls us to live in fear? How could the first exodus or the second (see Luke 9:30-31) be an incentive to fear?

We should begin by remembering the purpose of the first exodus, the execution of God’s promise to Abraham and His descendants (see Genesis 15:13-16). It was also God’s intervention to relieve the sufferings of His people (Exodus 3:7-10). But it was also accomplished to bring glory to God by demonstrating His power and glory through the opposition of Pharaoh and the devastating defeat of the Egyptians:

13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews,” Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 14 “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. 15 “For [if by] now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. 16 “But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth” (Exodus 9:13-16).

Not until after the deliverance of the Israelites at the exodus was the Law given and God’s standards of holiness set down in the Law. By means of the exodus, God’s great power and sovereignty were made known, not only to the Egyptians but also to the Hebrews. They watched as God humbled and defeated the Egyptians, mocking their gods by each of the plagues. No one contested God’s repeated claim given as the Law was set down, “I am the LORD” (see Leviticus 19:37). Only twice was this claim made in Genesis (15:7; 28:3), but it is found dozens of times in the rest of the Pentateuch and hundreds of times in the Bible.23

The first exodus was an event designed to teach the Israelites to fear God (see Jeremiah 32:16-22). The final exodus likewise was designed to produce a holy fear in the hearts of God’s people:

38 “And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for [the good of] their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jeremiah 32:38-40).

In the redemption of Christ on the cross of Calvary, we see the holiness of God and His hatred of sin. We see there the terrifying judgment of God upon sin. We also see the power of God in raising up the Lord Jesus from the dead. Our redemption certainly should produce a healthy and holy fear.

The key to understanding verses 17-21 may be in grasping two dramatic contrasts Peter’s words bring to our attention. First is the contrast between God our Father (verse 17) and our forefathers (verse 18). The second contrast is between the worthless heritage we gained from our forefathers and the priceless, precious heritage we have gained from our heavenly Father, through the work of Jesus Christ.

Let us first consider the contrast between our Father and our forefathers. We have nothing in which to boast that we have received from our forefathers. Many of the Jews wrongly assumed that their status was dependent upon their earthly ancestry. They believed that being “sons of Abraham” made them “sons of God.” John the Baptist warned them that this assumption was false:

9 “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).

When the Lord Jesus was on the earth, He maintained God was His Father and His opponents had the devil as their father (see John 8:31-59).

The Jews had nothing to boast about concerning their ancestral origins:

5 “And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation” (Deuteronomy 26:5).

2 “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can [men] take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel?” (Ezekiel 15:2,3).

Both Jews and Gentiles inherit from defilement from their forefathers, not righteousness (see Ezekiel 20:30).

The word renderedfutile” by the NASB in 1 Peter 1:18 is translated “worthless” in James 1:26. What we gain from our earthly forefathers is of no value. Indeed, what we gain from our forefathers is of negative value. Though what we gain from our earthly fathers is worthless, what we receive from our Heavenly Father is priceless. The redemption He has provided in Christ is not that of the sacrificial animals of old but the blood of the precious, sinless Son of God shed for our sins for our salvation. The treasure of this redemption, in contrast with the comparative trash of our human heritage,24 should produce a deep sense of fear, a fear which stems from the supreme value of that which God has given to us.

Each time we partake of communion and remember the redemption we have received we are reminded of the depth of our sin, the height of His righteousness, love, and mercy, and the awesome magnitude of His divine judgment. We should be humbled, overcome with gratitude, and filled with a holy fear.

A Fear of Our Father
(1:20-21)

20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Two points catch our attention as we consider these two verses. First, the fear Peter requires of us is closely associated with faith and hope (verse 21). Second, verses 14-21 focus on the Father.

The fear of God is not incompatible with faith and hope. Faith requires fear. How can we place our trust in a God whom we do not fear? The fear of God is rooted in who God is, in His holiness, power, majesty, justice, and mercy. How could we trust in a God who is not infinitely greater that we are? I suggest we can only trust in a God whom we fear.

Hope likewise is related to fear. Hope looks forward in time, and fear does as well. Hope looks forward to those things we desire, and to some extent, fear looks forward to those things we should dread. Hope draws us toward the things of God, and fear should repel us from those things which offend God.

I find the emphasis on God the Father both interesting and instructive. Quite frankly, the Father is perhaps the most neglected member of the Trinity, even though He is the One to whom both the Son and the Spirit are and will be in submission (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28). We usually find much emphasis and attention focused on the Son and on the Spirit, but we do not see nearly as much focused on the Father. Peter’s words should serve as a corrective to us.

In verses 20 and 21, Peter portrays salvation in a very significant way. He portrays the Son of God as the “Servant” whom the Father has sent to redeem His chosen ones. It is the Father who chose or predestined (“foreknew”) the Son. Our salvation was the plan of the Father in eternity past, before He created the world. God sent the Son to save us, for our benefit. What was planned and purposed long before has now appeared to us in Christ Jesus. As God the Father sent the Son, so it is He who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. And for this reason, our faith and hope are ultimately in the Father.

Conclusion

The words of our text should shape our theology. They inform us that it is certainly not our worth which attracted God to us, for we did not exist at the time He purposed our salvation. The work of Christ is not to be viewed in terms of “our worth to God” (the current trend in evangelical circles), but in terms of the Father’s plan for His Son. The cross was not meant to glorify lost sinners but to save them, to the glory of God the Father. Our Lord knew this, even if we do not (see John 17:1-6). It is the blood of Christ and the redemption it accomplished which is precious, while what we have contributed is the worthless way of life inherited from our forefathers.

This should also straighten out some of the crooked thinking currently popular regarding our past, especially regarding our parents. I do not know how many times I have heard it said that we cannot understand God as our Father until we first have a proper picture of our earthly fathers. Peter teaches us just the opposite. We cannot understand our forefathers correctly until we do so in the light of our Heavenly Father. He has purposed and provided our salvation, through His Son. Our forefathers have only provided that which is futile. When we come to fear God as our Father, we learn to fear our parents as well. But we also recognize them as sinners who will always fall short of what fatherhood is all about, because fatherhood comes from God (see Ephesians 3:14-15, in several translations).

Our text should also serve to instruct us as fathers and parents. Our children should learn to fear us, as parents, in a healthy and godly way, just as they must learn to fear God. I see hardly any healthy fear of parents in our culture,25 or any fear for those in authority. I see far too little fear of parents in the church today. If fear of God and of parents is biblical, and it surely is, then let us strive to promote the fear of God in our lives and in the lives of those under our authority.

I believe we must also seek to apply the teaching of our text in evangelism. Some would tell us we should evangelize by stressing the “love of God” and not the “fear of God.” We simply cannot proclaim the cross of Christ without emphasizing both. Why would our Lord promise that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8) if men were not to fear the wrath to come? Why would Paul say that the “terror of the Lord” was an incentive to his evangelism and ministry (see 2 Corinthians 5:11)? Men and women need to trust in Jesus Christ because they rightly fear the wrath of God. And having come to faith in Him, they need to continue to live out their lives in fear, just as Peter commands in our text.

Have you come to fear God? I pray that you have. And if you have, you will no longer fear those things which once paralyzed you in the past. You will fear the living God, in whom you have faith and hope. This fear is pure and purifying.

One final word on the subject of fear comes from our Lord Himself.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear [whispered] in [your] ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And [yet] not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:24-33).


21 In the Greek text, the grammatical form is known as a condition of the first class, which means the “if” is assumed to be true and thus is often to be understood as “since.”

22 It does appear that this psalm and others, like Psalm 96, may have played a role in shaping Peter’s thinking on matters about which he is now writing.

23 It is worthwhile to note that when the nation Israel forgot or rejected the truth that God is the Lord they would have to relearn it. But this time it would be by means of their own punishment (like the Egyptians--see Deuteronomy 28:15ff., especially verses 27, 60, 68), so that they would know that He is the Lord. This is a constant theme in the Book of Ezekiel (see, for example, 22:16; 25:5, 7, 11, 17; 26:6).

24 If you think I am a little too strong in my choice of words, I suggest that you reread Paul’s words in Philippians 3:1-11.

25 I am not talking about the unhealthy fear produced by abusive parents. On the same hand, I am strongly stating that a holy fear is not the result of abusive treatment by parents.

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8. The Enduring Word (1 Peter 1:22-2:3)

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ABIDES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you. 2:1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

Introduction

“I don’t love you any more,” words repeated every day by two people so in love at one point and now so quickly fallen out of love. How can this be so? Why does love not last?

Jesus made it clear in speaking to His disciples about the end times that tough days were ahead for the church and that persecution would threaten the love of many:

9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. 10 And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. 12 And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved” (Matthew 24:9-13).

In the Book of Revelation, God spoke these solemn words to the church in Ephesus:

2 “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them [to be] false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love’” (Revelation 2:2-4)

While Scripture and experience inform us that love seems short-lived, the apostle Paul tells us “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). As I understand the Scriptures, love never fails us, but we fail to love. Peter’s words in our text have much to say about the promotion and preservation of love, a love that endures.

An Overview of Our Text

Peter’s words in 1:22–2:3 are a part of a whole, although the chapter divisions imposed upon this text do not help us see them as a whole. The central theme uniting these verses is the Word of God. The Word is referred to as “the truth” (1:22), the “seed” by which we were born again (1:23), the “living and abiding word of God” (1:23), the “word of the Lord” (1:25), the “word which was preached to you” (1:25), and the “pure milk of the word” (2:2).

The passage we are studying has two primary commands:

(1) “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1:22), and

(2) “Long for the pure milk of the word” (2:2).

While 1:22-25 and 2:1-3 all deal with the subject of the Word of God, each has a different emphasis. In 1:22-25, the Word is the “seed” by which we have been born again, by which we have become Christians. In 2:1-3, the Word is the “milk” by which we grow as Christians.

Our passage addresses the relationship of the Word of God to the mutual love of believers toward one another. In 1:22-25, Peter appeals to the eternal nature of the Word of God to show that the love of believers should be eternal. In 2:1-3, Peter appeals to the nurture of the Word of God, which results in the growth of the saints and promotes love toward one another.

Persistent Love and Purified Souls
(1:22)

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified26 your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (NASB).

22 Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently (KJV).

Verses 22-25 contain one central command, supported by two explanatory phrases.27 The command is to “love one another.” The two phrases are: “having purified your souls” (1:22) and “having been born again” (1:23). In verse 22, Peter commands the saints to love one another. This love is described as fervent and proceeding from the heart. The basis for such love is obedience to the truth by which the saints have purified their souls, resulting in a sincere love for the brethren. We shall now explore this in greater detail.

When God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptian captivity, He also gave them laws by which they were to live. Just before the second generation of Israelites were to possess the promised land, God reiterated these laws and then made this statement:

29 “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

The sad reality was that the Israelites did not have the heart to obey God. They were sure to disobey His law and to endure the consequences He had spelled out:

15 And the LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent. 16 And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they shall be consumed, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’ 18 But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:15-18).

19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgression or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” 22 And Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen for yourselves the LORD, to serve Him.” And they said, “We are witnesses” (Joshua 24:19-22).

Only when the Lord gave the Israelites a heart to believe and obey would the promised blessings come upon them:

6 “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34; see also Jeremiah 32:36-42; Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26).

That “new heart” is the result of the new covenant brought about through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary:

14 And when the hour had come He reclined [at the table,] and the apostles with Him. 15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I say to you, I shall never again eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. “ 17 And when He had taken a cup [and] given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; 18 for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes. “ 19 And when He had taken [some] bread [and] given thanks, He broke [it,] and gave [it] to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 20 And in the same way [He took] the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. 21 “But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Me on the table. 22 For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” 23 And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing” (Luke 22:14-23).

2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

On the basis of the new covenant, and the cleansing which the blood of Christ has accomplished, Christians are able to love one another. This is Paul’s argument in Galatians 5. The new birth results in love for one another:

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only [do] not [turn] your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the [statement], “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another (Galatians 5:13-15).

The difficulty was the “flesh,” the desires and appetites which characterized and enslaved the Galatians before their conversion. They were called upon to forsake these desires of the flesh and to follow the promptings of the Spirit so that true love could abound:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16-26).

Peter calls for the same kind of change in his first epistle. Having been chosen by the Father, set apart by the Holy Spirit, and cleansed by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-3, 18-21), believers are given a living hope (1:3-9). We are to fix our hope on these blessings which are to be brought to us at the return of our Lord (1:13).

The result should be a lifestyle of holiness and fear during the time of our pilgrimage on this earth (1:14-21). Our relationship with our fellow-Christians should be characterized by a mutual love, one for the other. This is made possible by the purification of our souls, a purification provided and accomplished by the Godhead, and which includes our obedience to the truth of the gospel (1:1-3, 22). This purification of our souls has made it possible to love one another without the selfish desires and ambitions of the flesh, enabling us to sacrifice our lives for our brothers and sisters (see John 15:13).

Peter writes that the goal of the purification of our souls is a sincere love of the brethren. This is not the well-known Agape love Peter calls for in his command to “love one another from the heart,” but the Philadelphia love also found in the New Testament. Both kinds of love are found in Peter’s second epistle:

5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness (Philadelphia), and in your brotherly kindness, love (Agape) (emphasis mine 2 Peter 2:5-7).

Why does Peter seem to say that salvation produces one kind of love (Philadelphia) and then command us to exercise another kind of love (Agape)? Peter is teaching us that God provides us with all the essentials for Agape love (both a purified soul and the existence of a new, brotherly affection), but that the highest love is attained by our obedience to God’s Word and our diligence in striving to please Him. This is why Agape love is the end of the process Peter describes in 2 Peter 1. Love begins by obedience to the Word (see 1 Peter 1:22), and it continues to grow by our obedience to the Word (2 Peter 1:5-7).

God commands Christians to do that which He has made possible. Christians are consistently commanded to love one another (see John 13:34-25; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5). He also commands us to exercise diligence in knowing and obeying His Word to achieve what He has made possible.

The love God requires of us is described in verse 22. It is both a Philadelphia kind of love and an Agape kind of love. Philadelphia love is a love of warm brotherly affection, the kind evident in a closely knit family. This is the love members of God’s family have toward other family members—brothers and sisters in Christ.28 It is also a purposeful, sacrificial love, Agape love, the kind our Lord demonstrated on the cross of Calvary.

Further, the love God requires of His children is not a hypocritical29 one but a sincere, genuine love. This love is not a front we put on to impress others. Rather it is a genuine love which follows through with truly loving attitudes and actions and seeks the best interests of our brothers and sisters—at our expense. Having our hearts and souls purified now enables us to love from a pure heart:

5 But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Finally, the love God requires of us, for which we are to strive, is a lasting love which never fails. In our text, the translators have chosen to render it “fervent:”

“… fervently love one another from the heart.”

This rendering does not do justice to Peter’s meaning. In verses 23-25, Peter sets out to show the basis of the love for which he calls. He does this by stressing the relationship between the nature of our new birth and the nature of Christian love. The new birth was brought about by the “seed” of the Word of God. The nature of this “seed” (or “Word”) is that it is “living and abiding” (verse 23). This Word “abides forever” (verse 25). As the Word of God lasts forever, so should our love for one another. Our love should be neither fickle nor frail. It should “never fail” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

The adverb rendered “fervently” is found only here in the New Testament. However, other forms of the term are found in the New Testament. The verb form means to “stretch out,” as used in describing Paul’s gesture in Acts 26:1. Outside the Bible, it is used figuratively for speaking at length.30 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich indicate that the adjectival form of the word includes “perseverance,” and that the adverbial form (as it is found only in our text), indicates not only eagerness and fervency, but also constance. They indicate that the adjectival form, used in 1 Peter 4:8, should be rendered, “keep love constant.” And so it is that in the King James Version, we find this translation:

5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him (Acts 12:5, KJV. emphasis mine).

While few translations render the text in a way that emphasizes the element of perseverance, it is nonetheless a strong nuance of the word, and that which Peter seems to emphasize in our text. Few commentaries point out this sense of the term; fortunately J. Ramsey Michaels calls attention to it:

“Although ektenws and its cognates may refer either to the fervency or the constancy of their love (BGD, 245; the term is more characteristically used of prayer), the latter is more likely in the present context.”31

Peter now reinforces the element of perseverance by citing from the Book of Isaiah in the verses which follow.

Persevering Love
1 Peter 1:23-25

23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. 24 For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ABIDES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you.

Once the emphasis on perseverance in love is apparent, the relevance of Peter’s words in verses 23-25 also become apparent. Peter first appealed to the purification of our souls, accomplished at salvation, as the foundation for Christian love. The purification of our souls made love for one another possible. Now, once again, Peter turns to our new birth, this time to establish the basis for perseverance in love.

Peter argues that the “offspring” should have the same nature as the “seed” which produced it. Our love should be lasting because the seed (the Word) by which we were begotten is everlasting:

35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

As all creation was brought into existence by the spoken Word of God (“And God said, ‘let there be
… ’” Genesis 1:3f.), so we were brought to life by His Word:

18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures (James 1:18).

6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

This word is not perishable, but imperishable. It lasts, like all the other precious things Peter has mentioned, things which we should greatly value (see 1 Peter 1:4, 7, 18-19). The imperishable seed is the “living and abiding” Word of God (verse 23).

Now, in verses 24 and 25, Peter sets out to show us how his teaching finds its roots in the Old Testament. He turns us to Isaiah 40 where he cites selectively from that text.32

Man and his glory are temporary, lasting only for a short time. As an illustration of temporary glory, consider the flowers of the field which have such a short life span and then disappear. Like the azaleas in Spring which are so beautiful, they last for a little while and then are gone. So it is with man and all of his glory. In contrast stands God’s Word which is eternal, enduring forever.

This passage in Isaiah 40 assured the Israelites of their future hope. While they were being chastened for their sins, there was yet to come a day of redemption on which they were to fix their hope. While the prophecies of Isaiah may have seemed impossible in their day, his readers were to be reminded that the glories of earthly empires would fade away, while God’s Word with all of its promises would endure. Their hope was certain because His word is eternal.

Peter, in the previous verses, stresses the connection between the eternal Word by which we are born again and an eternal love which does not fail. In verse 25, Peter makes another connection with profound implications. The Old Testament text in Isaiah 40 refers to the “Word of the LORD.” Actually, a careful look at Isaiah 40:5-8 shows Isaiah speaking of the “mouth of the LORD” (40:5), the “breath of the LORD” (40:7), and the “word of our God” (40:8). The Word, in this Old Testament context, is the Word of God the Father, of Yahweh or Jehovah.

The last line of verse 25 equates this Old Testament “Word of the LORD” with the New Testament gospel which was preached to Peter’s readers. This is not news to us, for Peter has already said something similar in reference to the Old Testament prophets:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

The Word of the LORD is the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ:

1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in [His] Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world (Hebrews 1:1-2).

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away [from it.] 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, 4 God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

The Word of the LORD is the gospel, the gospel proclaimed to Peter’s readers, the Word by which they were born again. That Word, which commenced their life in Christ, is eternal, and thus the love which flows from their new birth must be everlasting as well. The Bible knows no short-lived love for Christians, for love never fails, just as His Word never fails.

Not only does Peter link the New Testament gospel with the Old Testament, he also links the Lord Jesus with God: “With the term Lord Peter highlights Jesus’ divinity; he shows that the word of God is identical with the word of the Lord Jesus.”33

This was the consistent claim of the apostles: “Jesus is LORD.” One must not only believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world whose shed blood cleanses us from sin, but that He is one with God the Father (see Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; John 8:31-59; 10:30).

The Word of God and Spiritual Growth
(2:1-3)

1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

I do not understand Peter’s “therefore” in verse 1 as the beginning of a new thought but as the conclusion to his teaching in 1:22-25. The focus is still on the Word of God and the love it enables and inspires. The imagery and emphasis do shift at verse 1, even though the general subject matter is the same. While maintaining his focus on the Word of God, Peter shifts his imagery from the Word as the everlasting “seed,” by which we were begotten, to the “pure milk,” by which we grow.

Only one imperative is found in these verses: “Long for the pure milk of the word” (verse 2). The “putting aside” (a participle) of the evils enumerated in verse 1 is a subordinate duty which prepares one for carrying out the principle command.

Please note that in 1:22 Peter spoke of salvation as that initiated by means of the Word. Now in 2:2, salvation is not the starting point (as in 1:22) but the goal toward which obedience to the Word moves us. Salvation in Peter’s epistles (1:1-13), as elsewhere (see Ephesians 1:3-14), has a past, present, and future dimension.

Those things we are instructed to put aside in verse 1 correspond to what Peter has been saying, as well as to the things he is about to say. Our initial purification (1:2, 22), together with our subsequent purification (1:14-21), requires the putting off of those things which characterized and enslaved us during the time of our ignorance and unbelief (1:14; see also Galatians 5:13-26; Ephesians 4:17-24; Colossians 3:1-11). Furthermore, these negative character qualities enumerated in verse one are hostile to true love. One cannot love with these attitudes and actions. Finally, these vices are also contrary to an appetite for the Word and the growth the milk of the Word produces. We cannot harbor malice and practice guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander and still desire the Word. To be full of these evils is to fail to have an appetite for the milk of God’s Word.

Peter specifies certain attitudes and characteristics of the flesh, all vitally important in our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.34 “Hypocrisy,” “envy,” and “slander” are stated in the plural rather than in the singular. The inference is that various and sundry forms of each of these evils exist, and all of them are to be rejected and put off.

The first evil is “malice.” Rather than an attitude which hopes for the edification and blessing of another, malice hopes (and even strives) for the downfall of another. It is the opposite of well-wishing.35Guile” is deceitfulness or deception, often rooted in hatred, and frequently found in relationship to our speech. Consider the following texts which employ this term:36

How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! (Psalms 32:2, emphasis mine).

26 [Though his] hatred covers itself with guile, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly (Proverbs 26:26, emphasis mine).

3 For our exhortation does not [come] from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4, emphasis mine).

22 “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH (1 Peter 2:22, emphasis mine).

10 For, “LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE” (1 Peter 3:10, emphasis mine).

Guile is an impure motive of the heart which distorts or opposes the truth and results in deceptive or misleading speech.37 Hypocrisy is the pretense of appearing to be one thing when we are really another. It may well be that words indicate one thing while our lives indicate another:

14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:14).

6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me’” (Mark 7:6).

The next evil is “envy” or jealousy. It is most difficult to seek the best for your brother when he possesses what you think you should have. Jealousy, or envy, is wanting what another has for yourself. Love is the willingness to give what you have to another. The evil of “slander” is literally a speaking against. It is the evil speech which seeks to defame or slander another. It is the opposite of speech that edifies.

The Word of God is the “seed” by which we were born again (1:23) and also the “milk” by which we grow. Having been born again, Peter now addresses his readers as though they were newborn babies. On the one hand, these babies have an inborn appetite for milk. Normally, you don’t have to teach a baby to want milk.

Why then does Peter command us to “desire the pure milk of the word”? The logic is the same found in 1:22-25. The new birth has purified our souls so as to produce and promote brotherly love. A God-given love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is implanted in our souls at our conversion. This makes possible a growth to a greater love which Peter commands Christians to pursue. The new birth causes us as newborn babes to desire the “milk of the Word” of God. Peter then commands us to develop this appetite by partaking of the Word, so that we become more and more dependent upon it, even addicted to it as it were.

The instinctive appetite should be enhanced into a developed appetite, the result of having “tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Allow me to illustrate Peter’s teaching here. Peter was a very hungry man as he waited for the meal to be served on the rooftop of Simon’s house (Acts 10:9-10). When he saw the vision of the sheet being lowered from heaven, he was repulsed by the thought of eating unclean food. But when God called it “clean” he was now permitted to eat of it. Peter had an appetite. The food which had been unclean was now declared clean. Only after Peter ate his first bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich did he know what he had been missing. The more he ate of these foods, the more he yearned for them. His appetite for these foods was developed by eating of them. So it is with our appetite for the Word of God. Since we have a certain inborn appetite, a much greater appetite can be developed by partaking of the Word which God has provided for us. And this appetite should be satisfied, just as in eating, on a regular, daily basis so that we might “grow in respect to salvation.”

And so we see that longing for God’s Word develops our appetite for it and enhances our partaking of it; the result is spiritual growth. The truth of God enables us to grow in respect to our salvation:

32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

19 “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth” (John 17:19).

15 But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Paul’s statement in verse 3 is a reference to Psalm 34, verse 8:

8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

The relationship of this verse to Peter’s teaching can be readily seen. As newborn babes, we are to “long for the pure milk of the word” (2:2). This assumes, of course, that we have indeed been born again and that we have already tasted of the Word of God, for it is by this Word that we have been born again (1:23).

The connection between Peter’s epistle and Psalm 34 runs much deeper than this. This psalm seems to have played a key role in the shaping of Peter’s thinking, and it underscores much of what he writes in his first epistle. You will note that in chapter 3 Peter cites verses 12-16. One could profit much by comparing Peter’s epistle with the teaching of this psalm.

Conclusion

As I consider this passage, I am deeply impressed with the supreme importance Peter places on the revealed Word of God. It is the Word of God which the Spirit of God employs to bring about our new birth. It is also the “milk of the Word” which produces spiritual growth. The Scriptures are supremely important to the believer.

When I come to Paul’s writings, I expect him to be steeped in Scripture. I think of him as a scholar, well versed in the Old Testament, and so he was (Acts 22:3). But Peter does not strike me as the scholarly type at all. And yet, after his conversion, Peter becomes a man of the Word. His sermons in Acts 2-4 are packed with Old Testament references and allusions. His first epistle is also full of allusions, symbols, and quotations38 from the Old Testament.

In the Gospels, Peter does not appear to have been a man of the Scriptures. But from the Book of Acts on, Peter is truly saturated with the Word of God. It would seem that he became a student of Scripture later in life. I believe Peter’s example is one which should be emulated by every believer. We may not be scholars, but we should all be students of Scripture, so that the terminology and theology of the Bible shapes our thinking, speaking, and behavior—our lives. I urge you to read through Peter’s epistles to gain his perspective on the Scriptures and their critical role in the life of every Christian.

In our text, Peter emphasizes the relationship between the truth of the Word and love for one another. There seems to be a growing trend for some Christians to belittle an accurate knowledge of the truth while heralding the benefits of love. These two necessities are (if you will allow me to redeem an abused term) co-dependent. Like the song says about “love and marriage,” “you can’t have one without the other.” Paul puts it this way:

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Paul and Peter could not be any more in agreement. Peter has indicated that our souls have been purified by our obedience to the truth (1:22). Paul tells us here that biblical instruction produces a pure heart and a clean conscience, and from these flow Christian love. Love and truth are inseparable. Whenever we separate one from the other, we shall distort both.

Peter’s teaching on love and its relationship to truth has caused me to rethink my understanding of love. I have always looked upon love as the source and motivation for my obedience. I have thought that God’s love produced love in me, and that this love produces obedience, leading to godliness and maturity. There is some truth in this way of viewing love, but Peter emphasizes a complimentary truth.

Peter presents love to us as the goal and the result of our obedience. Our obedience to the truth purified our souls, producing love for the brethren and laying the foundation for Peter’s command to love one another “fervently” (or persistently) from the heart (1:22). If this sequence is not clear enough, then we simply have to turn to Peter’s second epistle. There in verses 3-7 Peter spells out that a diligent pursuit of godliness in obedience to God’s Word produces, as its final outcome, love:

3 Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness; 7 and in [your] godliness, brotherly kindness, and in [your] brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:3-7).

On the basis of Peter’s teaching on the relationship of love and obedience, we need to reject much of the popular thinking about love. How many times have you heard, “I don’t love my wife any more,” or, “I don’t love my husband any longer?” These statements are usually preambles to declaring they are leaving their mate or an excuse for finding another. The logic seems to be: “If I no longer love my mate, then I surely cannot continue to live together with him or her, and I surely cannot be expected to do what love requires of me.”

Peter’s words require a very different conclusion. If we do not love another, it is not an excuse for disobedience regarding our relationship. In fact, disobedience is the reason we have ceased to love others. If love for one another is the result of our obedience, then the absence of love is due to disobedience. Obedience is the prerequisite to love. The solution to a lack of love is a return to obedience to the Scriptures. This is what our Lord Himself instructed a loveless church to do:

1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them [to be] false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent’” (Revelation 2:1-5).

Our Lord called a lack of love sin, and He instructed those deficient in love to repent and to return to those deeds which are in obedience to His Word. Love not only comes first as an incentive for obedience, but it comes last, as the result of obedience. Do we lack love? Let us turn to the Word, repent of our sin, and return to obedience.

Finally, let us not leave this text without being reminded that Peter expects obedience to the truth, love, and growth only from those who have truly been born again. It may be you lack the things spoken of by Peter because you have not yet obeyed the command of the Gospel to repent and be saved. If this is so, I urge you to acknowledge your sin, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ who bore the wrath of God for sin at Calvary. Trust in Him as God’s only means of salvation, and be saved.

8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” (Romans 10:8-11).


26 The term rendered “purified” is employed seven times in the New Testament, most of which speak of ceremonial cleansing (John 11:55; Acts 21:24, 26; 24:18) and three which speak of cleansing oneself (James 4:8; 1 John 3:3; and 1 Peter 1:22).

Two major types of cleansing or purification are emphasized in the New Testament: (1) the purification or cleansing we received at salvation (Acts 15:9; 1 Peter 1:2; 2 Peter 1:9), and (2) that on-going cleansing which should result from our salvation and our future hope (1 John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Both cleansings are related to obedience to the Word of God (see John 15:2-3; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22).

27 In the Greek text, these are both perfect participles which stress an event in the past with abiding consequences.

28 While the Scriptures require us to “love our enemies,” and to love those who are outside the faith (see, for example, Matthew 5:43-48), it is love within the family of God Peter has in view in our text.

29 The original word rendered “sincere” in our text is literally “unhypocritical” and rendered “genuine” in 2 Corinthians 6:6 (“genuine love”).

30 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (The University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 244.

31 J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher), 1988. Word Biblical Commentary Series, p. 76.

32 A very similar statement is found in Psalm 103: As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; And its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children (Psalm 103:15-17). One would have expected Peter to cite from this psalm, which stresses the everlasting nature of God’s lovingkindness. But Peter seems to have chosen the other text in Isaiah because there the everlasting nature of the Word of God is emphasized, which better suits his argument.

33 Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series, p. 74.

34 By use of the word “all,” it would seem Peter is somehow suggesting there are categories of these evils so that we are to consider them in this way: All malice; All guile; hypocrisy; envy; All slander;

35 Arndt and Gingrich (p. 397) indicate the term here means “malice,” “ill-will,” or “malignity.”

36 In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament), the Old Testament passages cited here use the same Greek word dolos used by Peter in 1 Peter 2:1, 22; 3:10.

37 In verse 2, the word “pure” is the same Greek term rendered “guile” in verse 1, but with a prefix which negates the meaning. Thus, the “pure” milk of the word is the “without guile” milk of the Word.

38 “Peter quotes the prophecy of Isaiah six times: 1:24-25--Isa. 40:6-8; 2:6--Isa. 28:16 (LXX); 2:8--Isa. 8:14; 2:9a--Isa. 43:20 (LXX); 2:9c--Isa. 43:21 (LXX); 2:22--Isa. 53:9. By contrast, he cites the Psalms twice: 2:7--Ps. 118:22; 3:10-12--Ps. 34:12-16; and Proverbs twice 4:18--Prov. 11:31 (LXX); 5:5--Prov. 3:34 (LXX). Last, he has one quotation from Exodus: 2:9b--Exod. 19:6 (LXX); and one from Leviticus: 1:16--Lev. 19:2.” Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series. P. 73, fn. 69.

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9. Rock Talk—The Rock and Your Role (1 Peter 2:4-10)

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For [this] is contained in Scripture:

“BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER [stone], AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER [stone],” 8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this [doom] they were also appointed. 9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Introduction

The first time Peter and Jesus met, Jesus said something very unusual which He did with no one else:

40 One of the two who heard John [speak], and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter) (John 1:40-42).

Peter could hardly have missed the significance of this. Certainly he remembered from the Old Testament that God had changed Abram’s name to Abraham and the name of his wife Sarai to Sarah. This signified that although this couple had been childless for many years, they were to become parents, indeed the parents of a multitude (Abraham means “father of a multitude”). He also probably remembered when God changed Jacob’s name to Israel as an indication that he was to be the patriarch of the nation Israel through his sons. Now, Jesus, the Son of God, had changed Simon’s name to Peter, a name which means “rock.”

Later, after his great confession, Jesus again referred to Simon as Peter (Petros) and said on this rock (petra) he would build His church:

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He [began] asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some [say] John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.

19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20).

We can hardly approach the “rock” portion of 1 Peter 2 independently of what has preceded it. Our text in this lesson is crucial for several reasons.

First, 1 Peter 2:4-10 is Peter’s own commentary on the meaning of our Lord’s words to him in Matthew 16. Roman Catholicism understands our Lord’s words here very differently than evangelical Protestants. Consider the Catholic view of our Lord’s words in Matthew 16:

“This passage (especially 16:17-19) proves that Peter was the first pope. ‘The pope is crowned with a triple crown, as king of heaven, of earth, and of hell.’ He wields ‘the two swords, the spiritual and the temporal.’ ‘The Catholic Church teaches that our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of his whole church, and that same authority has always resided in the popes, or bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter. Consequently, to be true followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy and laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor.’”39

One of these views must be wrong. Peter’s own words indicate the teaching of Rome is in error. We shall see that our text teaches a very different view of the church (ecclesiology) than does Roman Catholicism. Our text teaches the view we need to understand and practice.

Second, the “rock” theme is introduced very early in the Bible and plays a prominent role in the Scriptures. The earliest reference to God as our “Rock” occurs in the Book of Genesis in the blessings pronounced by Jacob:

22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; [its] branches run over a wall. 23 The archers bitterly attacked him, and shot [at him] and harassed him; 24 but his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)” (Genesis 49:22).

At the exodus of the nation Israel from her Egyptian bondage, the “rock” became a source of life-giving water for God’s people:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel (Exodus 17:6; see also Numbers 20:8-12).

Paul’s commentary in the New Testament on this “rock” from which the water flowed is almost astounding:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

In the Book of Deuteronomy, God is repeatedly called “the Rock:”

4 “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.

15 “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation.

18 “You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth.”

30 “How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? 31 Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this.”

37 “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, The rock in which they sought refuge?’” (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 37).

The “rock” imagery is sprinkled throughout the Psalms:

2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2; see 18:31, 46; 31:2-3; 42:9; 61:2; 62:2, 6, 7; 71:3; 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 95:1; 118:22; 144:1).

The “rock” symbolism continues in the prophets (see Isaiah 8:14; 17:10; 26:4; 28:16; 30:29; 31:9; 33:16; 44:8; 51:1). Daniel’s “rock” is especially fascinating:

34 “You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2:34-35).

45 “Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true, and its interpretation is trustworthy” (Daniel 2:45).

In the New Testament, the Lord Jesus identified Himself as the rejected “rock” in fulfillment of Psalm 118:22:

41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the [proper] seasons.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER[stone]; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? 43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. 44 And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 45 And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. 46 And when they sought to seize Him, they feared the multitudes, because they held Him to be a prophet (Matthew 21:41-45).

Paul chose to turn to the “rock” prophecies of Isaiah in chapters 8 and 28 rather than Psalm 118:

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at [that] law. 32 Why? Because [they did] not [pursue it] by faith, but as though [it were] by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED” (Romans 9:30-33).

In his defense before the Sanhedrin, Peter turned to Psalm 118 to show that their rejection of the Lord Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures:

8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this [name] this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, [but] WHICH BECAME THE VERY CORNER [stone.] 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).

While Jesus focused on Psalm 118 and Paul on Isaiah 8 and 28, Peter alone draws upon all three texts in 1 Peter 2 to demonstrate how the Lord Jesus Christ is the sole basis for the eternal deliverance or the destruction of men.

The third reason our passage is crucial is because it defines our relationships. Most importantly, it explains our relationship to God and then to His church through the person of Jesus Christ, the “Rock.” Furthermore, this text explains why men disdain God, reject Jesus Christ, and resist and persecute Christians. They stumble over the same “Rock” which saved us. It also defines our relationship to the nation Israel.

Fourth, after spelling out the privileges God has poured out upon us in 1 Peter 2:4-10, Peter goes on to spell out the responsibility these privileges bring. Peter tells us God’s purpose in saving us and in causing us to become “living stones,” a part of his people and of his temple, His dwelling place among men.

Finally, this text motivates our service to God and men because we are the recipients of great and marvelous privileges, all on the basis of divine grace as a result of His great mercy.

Our Text in Context

Our passage is a turning point in Peter’s first epistle. Peter began by assuring us of our hope, our confidence in those blessings which will be ours at the second coming of our Lord. At verse 14 Peter begins to speak of our present conduct based upon our future hope (see verse 13). Our life should be characterized by obedience (1:14, 22), holiness (1:14-16), godly fear (1:17-21), and love for the brethren (1:22–2:3). From verse 11 of chapter 2 onward in Peter’s epistle, the emphasis is upon our conduct in a heathen world. This conduct, as always in Scripture, is based upon our calling which Peter defines in verses 4-10 of chapter 2.

In 1:22-25, Peter introduced the concept of our new birth through the seed of the Word. In 2:1-3, Peter has moved on to the concept of growth, once again brought about by the Word. Now in 2:4-10 Peter moves from the individual dimensions to the corporate dimensions of our spiritual walk. He takes up the subject of growth, but now we are growing up together, as a building. With this he spells out our calling, our purpose. Our relationship to God, to the “Rock,” and to others is determined by our response to the Word (2:8).

The Structure of Our Text

The text, broadly outlined, divides into three sections, each with its own emphasis but all interrelated.

(1) Verses 4-6 The Christian’s relationship to the “Rock”

(2) Verses 7- 8 The unbeliever’s relationship to the “Rock”

(3) Verses 9-10 The Christian’s relationship to Israel

Believers and the “Rock”
(2:4-6)

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up40 as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For [this] is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER [stone], AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

In verse 4, Peter calls our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he refers to as a “living stone,” precious in the sight of God but rejected by men. In verse 5, Peter points out the believer’s relationship to Christ. If He is the “living stone,” we are also “living stones,”41 stones which are being built into a dwelling place of God from which priestly ministry is conducted and spiritual sacrifices are offered. In verse 6, Peter gives the Scriptural foundation for his teaching in verses 4 and 5.

It comes as no surprise that Peter would call the Lord Jesus a “living stone.” The Old Testament spoke of the Savior to come as a “stone” (see Daniel 2:34-45). Peter had heard the Lord Jesus refer to Himself as the “Rock” spoken of in Psalm 118:22 (Matthew 21:42). That He is referred to as a “living” stone is no great surprise either. Often, the no-gods—the idols of the heathen—were made of stone. The Old Testament prophets mocked them as lifeless objects which their worshippers had to carry about (see Deuteronomy 4:28; 28:36, 64; 29:17; 2 Kings 19:18; Isaiah 40;18-22; 44:6-23; Daniel 5:4, 23; Acts 17:29). But the Lord Jesus is alive! He has been raised from the dead, proof that He is precious in the Father’s sight. As Peter has already said, we have a “living hope” based on our trust in a living Lord whom God raised from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

Peter contrasts God’s estimation of the Lord Jesus with that of men.42 In the sight of the Father, He is precious, God’s chosen One. Because of this, the blood which He shed for our sins was precious (1:19). Unbelievers view Him just the opposite way. To them, He is worthless and useless, to be rejected. It is little wonder that God’s values and man’s values are so different:

And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

If the things men highly esteem are detestable to God, is it any wonder that the One who is precious43 in His sight is detestable in the sight of men?

Because the Lord Jesus is the “living stone,” those who put their trust in Him also become “living stones.”44 These “stones” share in the life of their Lord. They also share in the ministry of our Lord. Through Him, we “as living stones” become a holy priesthood, offering up spiritual sacrifices45 to the Father which are acceptable because of Him. Peter’s words are very similar in symbol and meaning to those of the apostle Paul:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22).

This “living stone,” precious in the sight of the Father, is the corner stone of the spiritual house of which we become a part. Peter now turns to Isaiah 28:16 to show that his words are based upon the Old Testament promise of the Messiah to come. Peter called the “living stone” “elect”46 and “precious.” All the terms found in verse 4, “choice,” “precious,” and “stone,” are found again in the citation of Isaiah 28:11 in verse 6. While the concept of Christ as the corner stone is implied in verse 5, it is stated in verse 6.47

The last statement in verse 6 plays an important role in our text.48 It emphasizes the blessing which comes to those who trust in Jesus of Nazareth as God’s precious stone. It also implies that those who reject Him will be disappointed, or even better, “put to shame” (see the marginal note in the NASB). The force of these words can best be understood in the light of the context in which they were originally written:

“Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord against the princes of Jerusalem who foolishly suppose that their city is secure against the threat of invasion. They speak as though they had a treaty with death and hell so that the lethal waters of the abyss could never sweep over them. God declares that their pride is no refuge, their covenant with death no security. Only one edifice can stand against the storm of destruction: God’s building, established upon one sure foundation stone. It is this figure that Jesus used when he said to Peter that the gates of hell could not prevail against his church.”49

Would the people of God put their trust in alliances with heathen nations rather than in the living God who was their “Rock?” Then they will be put to shame. But if they place their trust in the “Rock” of God’s choosing, they will find blessing. They will not be put to shame.

Men today have the same choice to make as the people of Jerusalem so long ago. They must either place their trust in God, or they must trust in men. Those who reject God will be put to shame, and those who trust in Him whom He has chosen (the “Rock”) will not be put to shame.

Unbelievers and “the Rock”
(2:7-8)

7 This precious value,50 then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER[stone],”51

8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this [doom] they were also appointed.

Those who trust in the “living stone” will not be put to shame (verse 6). Now in verse 7 Peter indicates that while there is “honor” for those who believe, there is dishonor for those who do not. The rejection of Christ by unbelievers and their resulting doom is but the fulfillment of the divine plan (“and to this [doom] they were also appointed,” verse 8) and thus the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Peter joins two Old Testament prophecies about Christ as the rejected “Rock.” The first is from Psalm 118:22; the second from Isaiah 8:14. Those who disbelieve (verse 7) and are “disobedient to the Word” (verse 8) reject the precious “Rock” to their own doom. The rejected “Rock” is the “Rock” whom the Father regards as precious, whom He has raised from the dead to be our “living stone.” This “Rock,” whom unbelievers reject, has thus been made the chief “corner stone.”

For believers, Jesus is the precious “stone” through whom they have been saved and upon whom they are built up into a dwelling place of God. Because of Him, they will never be put to shame. But for unbelievers, just the opposite is true. This “Rock” is no corner stone but a stumbling stone over whom men stumble and fall for eternity. So it was destined to be.

Verse 8 describes man’s doom from two perspectives: (1) the responsibility of man and (2) the sovereignty of God. Man stumbles to his own destruction because he has disregarded and disobeyed the Word of God, which bears witness to the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised “stone.” This is all a part of the divine plan. Man’s unbelief did not catch God by surprise; rather, it is the fulfillment of the eternal decree.

Believers and Their Relationship to Israel
(2:9-10)

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD,52 A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;53 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

Notice several things about these verses. First, here, as elsewhere in our text, the emphasis does not fall on individual believers and their individual blessings and responsibilities, but upon the corporate body of Christ, “the people of God.” Each expression, “a chosen race,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” “a people for God’s own possession,” and “the people of God” is a corporate concept. When an individual comes to salvation by a personal trust in Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a part of a people, a body of believers. As a part of this body, he or she has both a privileged position and a task to which they are called.

Second, the expressions used to describe the New Testament church in verses 5, 9, and 10 are quotations from the Old Testament. Specifically, the corporate descriptions of the church are descriptions of the nation Israel. Consider these Old Testament texts:

5 “‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.’” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him (Exodus 19:5-7, emphasis mine).

19 “Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. 20 The beasts of the field will glorify Me; the jackals and the ostriches; because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. 21 the people whom I formed for Myself, will declare My praise” (Isaiah 43:19-21, emphasis mine).

9 And the LORD said, “Name him Lo-ammi, for you are not My people and I am not your God.” 10 Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it will come about that, in the place where it is said to them, “You are not My people,” it will be said to them, “[You are] the sons of the living God.” 11 And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together, and they will appoint for themselves one leader, and they will go up from the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel” (Hosea 1:9-11, emphasis mine).

21 “And it will come about in that day that I will respond,” declares the LORD. I will respond to the heavens, and they will respond to the earth, 22 And the earth will respond to the grain, to the new wine, and to the oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. 23 And I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ and they will say, ‘[Thou art] my God!’” (Hosea 2:21-23, emphasis mine).

The nation Israel was chosen and set apart by God, not because of their goodness or merit but simply as the recipients of divine mercy (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 8:11-20). Because of her sin and rebellion against God, the prophet Hosea declared this people, who were once known as the “people of God,” no longer His people. In yet a future day, after they have repented and returned to Him, they will once again be His people.

So, as Hosea promised Israel, although they were not the people of God, He would once again make them His people. Peter applies this same principle to the Gentiles. If those who are “not God’s people” (namely disobedient Israelites) can become “God’s people,” then surely disobedient Gentiles (also “not God’s people”) can become God’s people.

These words are intended to produce in the Gentiles the proper response to divine grace. They are intended to produce a spirit of humility and gratitude. Just as Israel dare not take pride in her unbelieving past or take credit for her election and calling, along with all of its privileges, neither do Gentiles dare take credit for their salvation. Salvation is all of grace, all of mercy. Neither Jews nor Gentiles dare boast in themselves, but only in God (see Romans 3:27-30; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Furthermore, these Old Testament quotations are applied to the Gentile saints to remind them of the obligations which stem from their high calling. As the Scriptures teach, to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48). God chose the nation Israel and delivered them from their bondage for a purpose, and that purpose is given in the texts Peter cites.

9 That you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (verse 9).

While trusting in the “Rock” is for the good of the believer, the emphasis falls not on our blessings but on God’s glory and our duty to proclaim His excellencies. Our text is not self-centered, but God-centered. We are His possession. The Lord Jesus is the One who is precious in the Father’s sight. We are saved by His mercy and grace. We are chosen and called to proclaim His wonders. Our salvation, as well as the doom of those who reject the “Stone,” is by divine decree. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Conclusion

This text concludes the first section of Peter’s epistle, and what a grand finale it is! On the one hand, Peter contrasts what his readers once were with what they are now. On the other hand, he contrasts their present privileges with that of those who have stumbled over Christ, the “living Stone.” In so doing, Peter has now laid the foundation for our understanding of why unbelievers are so intensely hostile toward those of us who profess Christ as “the Rock.” This passage not only spells out our privileges and responsibilities by virtue of our identity with Christ, “the Rock,” it also explains our persecution. Our rejection is not to be personal, but representative because of our identity with Christ. As Michaels puts it, “The theological contrast between these two groups [believers and unbelievers], with its consequent social tensions, will absorb Peter’s interest through the remainder of this epistle.”54

Peter’s words demonstrate a continuity between the Old Testament and the New, a continuity sometimes denied or minimized. The privileged position of New Testament saints is spoken of in the same terms as employed in the Old Testament. The church of God is described in terms that were, and will again be, applied to Israel. These terms bring to mind both the privileges of our calling and our purpose. Our calling is by His grace and mercy, to His glory. We have been brought into a relationship with Him so that we may worship and praise Him.

Peter’s words suggest that God has privileged Gentile believers to experience all the blessings promised to an Israelite. We are what the Jews could have been and what they will someday be. But yet another truth must not be overlooked. All Israel failed to be, which we now are, we are in Christ. All of the terms Peter has used that once applied to Israel, and now apply to us, also apply to our Lord. Indeed, only through our Lord are these privileges ours (or will they be Israel’s).

Israel was called by God to be a “spiritual house,” a “holy priesthood,” a “chosen race,” “royal priesthood,” and a “holy nation.” Israel failed at all of these because they tried to do so on their own rather than by trusting in the “Stone” who was to come. Our Lord alone is holy. It is He alone who became a “royal (king) priest.” He is the great High Priest. It is He who was God’s faithful “Son” and “Servant” when Israel failed. It is He who was the dwelling place of God, for in Him God tabernacled among us (John 1:14). We dare not boast or think ourselves better than the Jews, for neither they nor we enter into these privileges other than “in Christ.” He is the means of our blessings. He alone is worthy to be praised.

In contemporary terms, this passage from the pen of Peter spells out our identity. Here we learn who we are and what God has purposed for us to do. It is the basis for the teachings which follow concerning our conduct. Our calling is the basis for our conduct (Ephesians 4:1).

Some say our value is evidenced by the price which our Lord paid to save us. Neither this text nor any other text I know of in the Bible says that God saved us because He thought we were precious. He saved us in spite of the fact that we were sinful, defiled, and useless, and only because He regarded His Son as precious. Let us not come to this passage to find ourselves, to estimate our worth, but let us come to it overwhelmed by His worth and God’s grace in saving us through His precious blood.

Let us learn from Peter that we dare not accept the value structure of this world. The world does not esteem the Lord Jesus Christ. The world does not see Him as precious. God views Him as precious though the world thinks Him worthless. We would be far better to accept God’s evaluation than man’s. And if the world could so badly appraise the worth of our Lord, why do we look to the world for approval and a sense of self-worth? We can only learn what is truly precious from God, not from our unsaved peers.

Peter’s teaching in our text most certainly requires us to reject Roman Catholic teaching on the position of Peter. Who would know better than Peter himself about his position? Peter does not wave Matthew 16 before us and demand that we believe the church is built on him. He tells us emphatically that the church is built upon the precious stone, our Lord Jesus Christ. He claims no special relationship with God nor does he claim to be a mediator between God and man; instead Peter teaches that the whole church has a priestly calling and ministry, and he in no way sets himself apart from or above others. Whatever privileges Peter experienced in his relationship to Christ and His church, his teaching here implies that they are ours as well.55 He had a unique role as an apostle but not a unique relationship to Christ or to his church. If we would learn the meaning of our Lord’s words in Matthew 16 concerning Peter, let us learn from Peter himself.

We dare not leave this text without a reminder that each individual’s response to the Lord Jesus Christ seals their eternal destiny. If you receive Him as the “precious Stone,” you will obtain the forgiveness of your sins and receive the privileges which become the possession of God’s people. If you reject Him as God’s only means of salvation, you do so to your own eternal doom. Your eternity is determined by your response to who Jesus is.

Let us close by remembering these words spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6).

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall” (Matthew 7:24-27).


39 William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 645.

40 As the marginal note in the NASB indicates, it is possible to render this term as an imperative as well as in the indicative mood. It would seem as though the indicative mood (“are being built up”) best suits the context.

41 The Greek word rendered “stone” is LITHOS not PETROS or PETRA, as we might expect. This is for several reasons. A LITHOS is a stone which has been shaped and prepared; a PETROS is not. LITHOS is the word used in the texts Peter is citing. Finally, Peter would have deliberately avoided using the term PETROS if possible to avoid any confusion with himself based on a misunderstanding of Matthew 16. The term PETRA is found once in 1 Peter 2:4-10--in verse 8, and there it is the “rock of offense.”

42 In the Book of Acts, Peter frequently draws attention to the theme that Jesus is rejected by men but chosen by God (2:22-36; 3:13-15; 4:10-11; 10:39-42).

43 There are those who seek to find their value (self-esteem, if you would) in the fact that God chose them. No biblical text ever indicates that God sent His Son to die for us because we were so precious or because there was something of value in us. To the contrary (see Romans 3:9-18), Peter speaks only of Christ as precious. If we look for value, we must look to Him and not to ourselves.

44 Peter calls us “living stones;” Paul speaks also of our privilege of presenting ourselves to God as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1).

45 See also Romans 12:1; 15:16; Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16.

46 Both the KJV and the NIV translate verse 4 to read “chosen” rather than “choice” as in the NASB. The marginal note in the NASB informs us that the term literally means “chosen” or “elect.” The same Greek word is used in verse 6 and is rendered “elect” by the KJV and “chosen” by the NIV. The NASB is at least consistent with the rendering “choice.”

47 Some have chosen to understand this “stone” as the “capstone” rather than the corner tone, but the context seems to demand that we understand Peter to be speaking of our Lord as the cornerstone.

48 The last part of this verse, “He who believes in Him shall not be disappointed,” corresponds to Psalm 34:5b, “And their faces shall never be ashamed.”

49 Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press), 1988. The Bible Speaks Today Series. P. 83.

50 The rendering “precious value” in the NASB is unfortunate. It is a different (but related) term than that rendered “precious” in verses 4 and 6. In the KJV, of the 45 times this term occurs in the New Testament, it is rendered “precious” only once--here in 1 Peter 2:7. It is rendered “honor” 35 times. The “honor” which is granted believers in Christ is the opposite of the dishonor mentioned at the end of verse 6. It seems most likely, then, that the connection is between verses 6 and 7, between shame (or being “disappointed”) and being honored.

51 Jesus applied the words of this Psalm (118:22-23) to Himself in Matthew 21:42. Peter also applied this to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:11. In Romans 9:32-33, Paul applied Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 to all Israel. Now, Peter applies it to all mankind--Gentiles in particular.

52 “Our popular idea of a priest is of a person with the right to offer sacrifice on behalf of others. The basic meaning in the Bible is a person who serves God and has the right of access to him. That is why he is able to bring sacrifices on behalf of people who do not have access to God.” I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 1991. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Pp. 74-75.

“The descriptive adjective royal, however, adds the dimension of kingdom and king. In the kingdom of priests (compare Exod. 19:6), there is a king. In fact, the Messiah is both priest and king as Zechariah prophesied: ‘He will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne’ (6:13; also see Heb. 7:14-17; Rev. 1:5-6). Whereas Zechariah prophetically portrays the Messiah as the royal priest, Peter reveals that believers are priests in a royal priesthood.” Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series. P. 92.

53 “Conversion from paganism to Christianity was commonly viewed by the early Christians as a passage from darkness to light (cf., e.g., Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 4:6; Col 1:12-13; . . . ), so that believers in Christ viewed themselves in some instances as ‘light’ (Eph 5:8-14) or at least as already living in the light (1 Thes. 5:4-5; 1 John 1:5-7; 2:9-11).” J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher), 1988. Word Biblical Commentary Series, p. 111.

54 Michaels, p. 113.

55 Note that while our Lord’s words to Peter in Matthew 16 are spoken to him alone, the same words are but two chapters later spoken to the church at large:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

“Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

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10. True Spirituality (1 Peter 2:11-12) or “Getting Down to Earth About Our Hope of Heaven”

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Introduction

Recently Phil Donahue came to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to broadcast several of his television shows. His coming prompted the efforts of a local dentist to have his programs scheduled later in the evening so young children would not be corrupted by the kinds of material he and others seem to relish. How we hoped some fearless saint could expose him as the closest thing to a pornographer found on daytime television.

By nearly popular opinion, it did not happen, and we probably should never have thought it would. Even if there had been a time when Christians could think of themselves as part of a “moral majority,” it will not be so for long. We Americans have been living in a kind of fairy-tale world. For most of our nation’s history, Christian values have closely approximated the values held by our culture. Quickly those days are coming to an end, thanks in part to social engineers like Mr. Donahue. Christian views and values are no longer tolerated as the “high road of morality” but scoffed at as backward and bigoted. Christians are beginning to be viewed as those our society would be better off without.

Such a response would not have taken the apostle Peter by surprise; in fact, he would have expected it. In our text, Peter tells us we should expect some to react to godly living. While we are obligated to live exemplary lives as we dwell among ungodly people, we should not expect to be praised for it; indeed, we should not even expect praise in this life. Holiness is a matter of obedience and hope. In our text, Peter tells us why godly living should be our goal, even when we must pay a price for it in this life.

We never think of Peter as a man of few words, but here in only two verses Peter sums up the essence of true spirituality. Peter speaks in verse 11 of the spiritual life in terms of our personal piety. In verse 12, he capsulizes the essence of our spirituality in terms of our public piety. If we would walk worthy of our calling, we must pay careful attention to these words of Peter, a man writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit about the things he has learned, which each of us must learn as well.

Aliens and Strangers
(2:11a)

11a Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers …

The tone of verse 11 is completely consistent with that of verses 4-10. Peter issues no “papal decree” or authoritarian edict. Rather, he speaks tenderly to his readers as the “beloved,” the beloved of God and of those whom he loves as well. Rather than issue a command, Peter “urges” his readers to act on the basis of gratitude, not on the basis of his authority (although this apostolic authority should not be minimized). Just as Paul does in Romans 12:1, Peter exhorts his readers on the basis of divine mercy:

1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1, emphasis mine).

10 For you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:10-11, emphasis mine).

Peter has just laid the foundation for our conduct in this present world in verses 4-10 where he defines our identity in relation to Christ and in contrast to the unbeliever. Our identity as “the people of God” (verse 10) becomes the basis for our conduct in the world. As citizens of heaven (see also Philippians 3:20), we are “aliens and strangers” in this world. We must therefore live in a way which sets us apart.

The concept of “aliens and sojourners” was a familiar one to Peter and other New Testament writers. It had been introduced early in the Old Testament where Abraham was a sojourner in the promised land, a land he never owned in his lifetime (Genesis 12:10; 17:8; 20:1; 21:23, 34; 23:4). So it was also with Isaac (Genesis 26:3) and his son Jacob (Genesis 28:4; 32:4). The nation Israel sojourned in Egypt (Genesis 47:7; Deuteronomy 26:5). Even when God delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage and brought them into the land of promise, they were still “sojourners” on God’s land (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Chronicles 29:15). The writer to the Hebrews describes all the Old Testament saints as aliens or sojourners:

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that [country] from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better [country], that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

It comes as no surprise then that Peter refers to his readers as “aliens and strangers:”

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen (1 Peter 1:1).

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.

The believer’s identity is the basis for his conduct. Having assured them of the certainty of their future hope in Christ in 1 Peter 1:1-12, Peter now calls for commitment:

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation, and fixed their hope on the grace He will bring at His second coming, become increasingly aware that they have changed their citizenship. Before trusting in Christ, we were outsiders with respect to the kingdom of God, but as believers in Him, we are now insiders, “fellow citizens with the saints.”

11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.… 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-13,19-22).

In Philippians, Paul sums up the truth of the Ephesians 2 passage even more concisely:

20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

Peter teaches the same truth in the second chapter of his first epistle. In verses 4-10, Peter described the identity of Gentile believers using the terminology once used in reference to the nation Israel. Because our citizenship is now in heaven, Peter exhorts us to conduct ourselves in this life as “aliens and strangers.” “Aliens” and “sojourners” know that “home” is heaven, not this earth. Paul knew where “home” was:

1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).

All Christians should have this view about their “home.” While many attempt to technically define “alien” and “sojourner,” my recollection of a song from another generation best conveys the sense of both words:

This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through, My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

The Pilgrim’s Personal Piety
(2:11b)

11b … abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.

We have seen that in a gentle, brotherly way Peter urges us to conduct our lives as “aliens and strangers, abstaining from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” The New International Version misses much of the point by rendering the verse in this way:

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul (NIV).

The problem arises in paraphrasing the Greek term “sinful” rather than “fleshly.” Fleshly desires are “sinful,” but that is not Peter’s entire point. Fleshly desires are “earthly” desires which pertain to this life and to our flesh. Fleshly desires are those illicit desires which originated at the fall, and they are the basis for our attachment to this world, Satan, and sin.

21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:21-23).

Fleshly lusts are human desires which stem from our depravity and seek fulfillment outside the boundaries of righteousness.56 They simply cannot be overcome by human effort and asceticism. They are only overcome by the power of the indwelling Spirit as we “walk in the Spirit:”

4 In order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:4-14).

Unlike many Christians and evangelists today, Jesus did not appeal to men on the basis of their fleshly lusts. Rather, He called upon men to deny fleshly lusts to follow Him. Rather than appeal to man’s greed and materialism, Jesus called on those who would follow Him to give up their attachment to things (Matthew 6:19-24; Mark 10:21; Luke 9:57-62; 16:1-31). When the disciples sought power and prestige for themselves, Jesus spoke to them about servanthood (Mark 9:33-35; 10:35-45). Jesus spoke of those who obeyed His Father’s will as His family (Mark 3:31-35), and He taught His disciples that family must not come before their allegiance to Him (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-25; see also Mark 10:29-30). One should rather be deprived of a member of his body than to sin against God (Matthew 5:27-30).57

There is a reason for the sequence of Peter’s teaching in verses 11 and 12. Not only does Peter deal with both personal and public piety in verses 11 and 12, but he also shows us that internal (piety) is prerequisite to external (public) piety.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day did not have internal piety. They had only the pretense of external piety, while on the inside they were rotten, driven by fleshly lusts:

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:25-27).

Because the Pharisees had no internal piety, they always concentrated on appearances rather than on the heart. For this reason, the things in which they took pride were an offense to God:

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).

Jesus insists in His Sermon on the Mount (5:21-48) that the Law dealt with much more than external matters; it dealt with the heart. He taught that rather than just avoid external sins we must deal with the root sins from which they flow. Thus, we must not only abstain from murder but from anger and unresolved conflicts (5:21-26). We must not just avoid adultery but its roots of lust (5:27-32). Defilement comes from within, not from without (Mark 7:14-23). The words proceeding from our lips come forth from the heart (Matthew 12:34).

It is helpful to understand what Peter means by “fleshly lusts.” The term “lusts” is similar to the New Testament term “tempt” in that both terms have two very different meanings indicated only by the context.58 The root word which underlies “lusts” is used for “desire” in a very broad range of meanings. On one end of the spectrum, it is used to depict our Lord’s “desire” to observe Passover with His disciples (Luke 22:15) and the “desire” (longing) of the angels to look into God’s earthly redemption of man (1 Peter 1:12). It is used of Lazarus’ desire (appetite) to eat the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21) and the prodigal’s desire to fill his empty belly with the food of the pigs he was tending (Luke 15:16). On the other end of the spectrum, the term is used with the negative connotation of an illicit or sinful desire. In such instances, the word is rendered “lust,” “covet,” or “crave” (Romans 7:7; 1 Corinthians 10:6; James 4:2).

Peter’s own words in the rest of his epistles provide an adequate sense of what he means in our text:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14, emphasis mine).

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you]; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5, emphasis mine).59

4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4, emphasis mine).

9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression; [for] a dumb donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant [words] of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:9-19, emphasis mine).

“Lusts” are those appetites or desires we have by virtue of our fallen human nature. They are not sinful acts, but the desire to perform acts which are for self-gratification rather than for the glory of God. Carried out, these “lusts” result in sin (see 1 Peter 4:3). The “lusts” of which Peter speaks are “former lusts,” those which characterized his readers as unbelievers in a state of ignorance. They are also “lusts” which have an on-going appeal. When submitted to, these lusts shape (conform) us to them (1 Peter 1:14).

How should we then deal with fleshly lusts? We are not left without help. Peter gives a very concise word of advice on how we should deal with fleshly lusts—we are to avoid them. Other texts of Scripture shed light on how we avoid them:

14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts (Romans 13:14).

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).

17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:17-23 emphasis mine).

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

While necessary negative attitudes and actions are required of us, one principle means of dealing with fleshly lusts is quite positive. A friend of mine has said, “Don’t create a vacuum; crowd evil out.” Unfortunately, Christians are often characterized by the word “Don’t.” We are thought of in terms of what we don’t do rather than what we do. When our hope is fixed on heaven, our desires begin to shift from earthly, material things to things eternal. We begin to “use” material things for God and His glory rather than give ourselves to them as slaves. A heart full of desire for the coming of Christ and His kingdom has less place for fleshly lusts.

The Pilgrim’s Public Piety
(2:12)

12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Having spoken of our inner piety in verse 11—of our abstaining from fleshly lusts—Peter moves on to our outward, public piety in verse 12. Several assumptions underlie his command to “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (emphasis mine). First, Peter assumes we will not be physically separated from unbelievers but we will live among them. Second, our conduct as Christians—our daily manner of life—should set us apart from the world. Third, Peter expects Christians to believe and behave in a way significantly different from unbelievers, who are only of this world.

Peter’s exhortation in verse 12 provides us with several important principles pertaining to true spirituality as it relates to our public piety. Allow me to highlight several of these principles.

(1) Our piety is not only to be private but public.

How often have I heard it said, “My religious beliefs are a very personal thing.” Translated, this means, “I don’t want to talk about religion.” Jesus never allowed us the option of having a strictly personal faith. The essence of the Old Testament Law is summed up in two commands: (1) love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31). One’s love for God and his love for his neighbor requires attitudes and actions open to public scrutiny.

Peter’s previous words make it evident that the Christian’s conduct is to serve as a public witness:

9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Someone may challenge the public dimensions of our piety, pointing to these words spoken by our Lord:

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Peter simply reiterates the teaching of the Lord Jesus, and there is no conflict between his teaching and that of his Lord.

Our Lord’s words recorded in Matthew 6:1 are a part of a larger message known as the Sermon on the Mount. In that same sermon Jesus has already said,

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Jesus expected His disciples to stand apart from the world in which they lived. He taught that it is impossible to be a true disciple and not be noticed as “light” in a dark place.

Jesus did not oppose demonstrating righteousness before men; He opposed the public display of religious rituals (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) rather than godly conduct in our relations with men. Jesus was rebuking acts of Pharisaical self-righteousness performed to gain the praise of men and not the praise of God. They were seeking the praise of men now rather than awaiting divine reward in heaven. Jesus calls for His disciples to live out His righteousness in their daily conduct. He lets them know this may result not in man’s praise but in persecution. They should nevertheless persist in their newly-found righteousness (His righteousness), rejoicing that their reward is their future hope:

10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

(2) Our conduct in this world should be a praiseworthy piety.

Peter tells us our conduct is to be “excellent.”60 As William Barclay indicates, the word “excellent” speaks of something beautiful, something praiseworthy:

“In Greek there are two words for good. There is agathos, which simply means good in quality; and there is kalos, which means not only good but also lovely—fine, attractive, winsome. That is what honestus means in Latin. So what Peter is saying is that the Christian must make his whole way of life so lovely and so good to look upon that the slanders of his heathen enemies may be demonstrated to be false.”61

The world tends to look at Christians in terms of what they don’t do rather than in terms of their contributions to the world. This is not to say that Christians can avoid the stigma of being separatistic. Being holy means leaving behind many of the practices we once engaged in as unbelievers (see 1 Peter 4:3-4). But since we will seldom find the world eager to praise us for what we avoid, we must also be diligent to do those things which are beneficial and therefore praiseworthy.

While we were saved in order to inherit God’s blessings, we were also called to be a blessing (see Genesis 12:2; Zechariah 8:13; Galatians 3:14; 1 Peter 3:9). Our conduct should be such that it adorns the doctrine we profess and proclaim:

3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 [to be] sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. 6 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, [with] purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound [in] speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. 9 [Urge] bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:3-10, emphasis mine).

(3) Living a praiseworthy life does not mean we will be praised for it.

It is true that living a life that is pleasing to God is the most peaceable path:

7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).

But it is not true that piety will always result in peace.

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD” (Matthew 10:34-36).

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).

Righteousness provokes a variety of responses. We see this in the response of men to our Lord and in the responses of men to our excellent conduct. Peter implies that living a godly life may result in the drawing of some to faith (1 Peter 3:15) and also may bring a favorable response (1 Peter 3:10-12). In the case of those who ignorantly accuse the righteous of wrong-doing, our conduct should be sufficient to silence their foolish and ignorant accusations (1 Peter 2:15). But here in our text, Peter indicates ungodly men may be expected to unjustly accuse and attack the Christian because of his goodness.

Who could accuse our Lord of wrong-doing? And yet men did. Do we wonder why? Because goodness threatens evil men. The opposition to our Lord and the accusations of His wrong-doing came from the wicked Pharisees whose hearts were evil even though they put on a good front. They accused Jesus because He associated with sinners whom He came to save (Luke 5:28-32). They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath rather than praising Him for healing a woman who had suffered for 18 years (Luke 13:10-16).

Perhaps the most surprising reaction to Jesus is His deliverance of the demoniac, a man who had endangered the people of that part of the country so that men feared to use the road near the cemetery where he roamed about like an animal:

1 And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones.… 14 And their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and [out] in the country. And [the people] came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 And those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [all] about the swine. 17 And they began to entreat Him to depart from their region (Mark 5:1-5, 14-17).

Paul’s preaching and ministry often provoked a negative reaction. When he delivered a demon-possessed girl from her bondage, her owners were angry, accusing Paul of crimes of which he was innocent (Acts 16:16-21). When the preaching of the gospel began to make a dent in the sale of idols, some of the idol-makers started a riot, accusing Paul and the Christians of wrong-doing (Acts 19:23-28).

Peter himself explains why some men will react to righteousness: Because our righteousness threatens their sinful way of life, not only exposing it as sin but also indirectly reminding them of the judgment to come:

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you]; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5).

When light exposes darkness, darkness strikes out against the light (see John 1:6-13; Ephesians 5:3-14).

The ancient church was falsely accused of cannibalism (the Lord’s Supper), of immorality (the Agape or “love feast”—again, the Lord’s Supper), and of treason (Jesus is Lord). Of what will the righteous of our day be falsely accused? What forms of excellent behavior will the world find threatening and offensive? Consider these possibilities. First, the world will find the doctrine of life after death offensive, particularly the doctrine of hell. The church may also expect to see reaction, false accusations and even law suits for exercising church discipline. The world will certainly object to our views and practices concerning sexual morality. If any Christians are left who are bold (and obedient) enough to spank (not abuse!) their children, they may expect false accusations.

(4) In eternity, God will be praised for the very deeds for which we may now be persecuted.

The very things for which we are now slandered will be the same things for which God is praised. The key to understanding Peter’s words here is to correctly define the “day of visitation.”

1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes, And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, 2 So as to deprive the needy of justice, And rob the poor of My people of [their] rights, In order that widows may be their spoil, And that they may plunder the orphans. 3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment,62 And in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? 4 Nothing [remains] but to crouch among the captives Or fall among the slain. In [spite of] all this His anger does not turn away, And His hand is still stretched out (Isaiah 10:1-4, emphasis mine).

41 And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44, emphasis mine).

Some understand the “day of visitation” to be the “day of salvation.” I understand the “day of visitation” to be the day of our Lord’s appearing. In this sense, He has visited us once already, and His people did not recognize Him as Messiah (Luke 19:41-44). He is yet to visit the earth again. This visit will surely be a day of divine judgment just as Isaiah foretold.

Peter brings to light a different perspective of the coming day of judgment not found in any other text of which I am aware. The coming of our Lord has various implications for unbelievers. It is the time when the wicked are subdued by our Lord:

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet” (Psalms 110:1).

The wicked acknowledge our Lord’s identity as Messiah and His sovereignty:

9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

It is a day of punishment when divine retribution falls upon those who deserve it:

18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form (Psalms 73:18-20).

It is a time when the wicked are punished for their mistreatment of the righteous:

6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).

Peter adds one additional facet to the day of our Lord’s appearing: When the wicked stand before the Lord as their Judge, they will not only acknowledge their sin and His sovereignty, they will praise God for the good things we have done—the very things they once persecuted and falsely accused us of:

12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Note that it is not we but God who is praised, because He is the One who has worked in us both to “will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). No longer will the wicked be able to call good “evil” and evil “good.” Standing before God, men must acknowledge the truth, and give God the praise which He alone deserves.

In our text, Peter shows us another way hope enables and encourages us in suffering. We not only endure suffering now looking forward to the glory to come, but we also endure suffering now because of the praise which accrues to our Lord by our excellent behavior.

Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:12 should be understood in relation to what he has already said in chapter 1:

6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Persecution does play a part in the proving of our faith. When we persist in doing good even though it results in persecution, we demonstrate our faith. And when our faith is proven, God, the source and object of our faith, is praised. We do not behave excellently just because it is the pathway to present peace and prosperity, but because it is the way of faith which results in praise and glory to our Lord. We should live godly not just in hope of our blessings, but in the hope of His praise and glory!

Conclusion

Peter’s words could not be more relevant to our own times as we consider how the teaching of our text relates to our daily lives.

(1) Peter emphasizes the relationship between holiness and hope.

Our conduct must not be governed by the response of men, good or bad, but by the certain hope that our excellent behavior will result in praise and glory to God in eternity. Our hope is not only for heavenly rewards, but for the glory of God even as He will be praised by those who have rejected Him and persecuted His servants.

Psalm 73 finds Asaph lamenting that the wicked boast of their sin and God has not acted in judgment. The wicked wrongly conclude God either does not know or does not care how men live. Peter speaks of this same cavalier attitude toward sin and coming judgment:

3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

The error in such thinking is presumed continuity—the presumption that God will deal with men in eternity just as He is dealing with them now. But Peter has a different explanation:

5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:5-10).

God’s delay in divine judgment is gracious, giving men time to repent. But make no mistake: coming divine judgment is certain.

Christians need to beware of “continuity thinking” in reverse. Some Christians think we will prosper in heaven, so we must also prosper on earth. They think life on earth should be the same as life in heaven. Not so! There will be suffering here and glory there. This life is not a mirror image of the life to come, which is why we must live by faith and not by sight. We are to live godly lives now even when doing so brings persecution and false accusations, assured that these very deeds will be the basis for men’s praise when our Lord returns. Our hope of heaven enables us to bear the present heat of persecution.

(2) Spirituality must be accomplished from the inside out.

The inner, private piety of the believer is the foundation for the public piety God requires as well. This relationship between inner and outer piety can be seen in Peter’s words to Christian wives in chapter 3:

3 And let not your adornment be [merely] external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but [let it be] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).

(3) True spirituality is evidenced in separation, not in isolation.

When our Lord prayed for His disciples, He did not pray for their isolation from the world but for their insulation from the world:

14 “I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one.] 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).

We must have a certain measure of contact with the world for our godliness to be seen. There may be times when we cannot be physically present with the world, but all too often we, like the Pharisees of old, think of spirituality in terms of physical separation rather than in terms of moral purity.

A Surprising Example of Spirituality

At times I have pointed to men in the Bible we suppose to be holier than the Bible represents them to be, men like Jonah, for example. But I want to now consider a man who was more spiritual than we might want to think; that man is Lot, Abraham’s brother. We always think of Abraham as holy, looking on toward Sodom from his distant retreat (see Genesis 18). And we see Lot as the man who deliberately chose to live in Sodom; he surely could not have been very spiritual. But the Bible does not represent Lot this way at all. Peter especially points to Lot as an example of true spirituality:

1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw [them,] he rose to meet them and bowed down [with his] face to the ground. 2 And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.” 3 Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; 5 and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” 6 But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, 7 and said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. 8 “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door. 10 But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied [themselves trying] to find the doorway (Genesis 19:1-11, emphasis mine).

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day with [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. (2 Peter 2:4-11, emphasis mine).

Lot is not condemned for living in Sodom nor even for taking the better property offered him by Abraham. Who among us would have chosen the more barren land? Peter says Lot was a righteous man, a point he makes emphatically by using the term “righteous” three times in reference to Lot. This righteous man lived in a wicked city, but he had two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8). Lot knew the wickedness of the men of his town and stationed himself at the city gate hoping to save some from the evil of the city by inviting them into the security and safety of his home (like Abraham). When he sought to intervene to protect his guests, the men of the city spoke evil of him, further testimony of his righteousness:

9 “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge” (Genesis 19:9).

Like those of us who would be obedient to Peter’s instruction, Lot also was to live as an “alien” in this fallen world. By his actions, he was righteous, testifying to the wickedness of his fellow citizens. They, like some unbelievers in every age, spoke evil of him for doing good. Peter adds the final touch concerning Lot’s righteousness when he indicates that Lot abstained from fleshly lusts. Lot was not tempted by the evil and fleshly indulgence of his city. He was tormented by it.

Someone will surely protest, “But what of Lot’s daughters? How could a righteous man offer his two daughters to a wicked mob?” There are at least two possible answers to this objection. The first is that Lot knew the men of this city were so wicked they would not be interested in sexual relations with a woman.63 The second answer may be more realistic: None of us has a flawlessly consistent spirituality. We may be pious in one area of our lives and pagan in another. The Scriptures never paint an unrealistic picture of those men who loved God and sought to obey Him. All of us fail miserably in our spiritual lives. The Scriptures describe quite honestly the fallibility of men, even good men, but they also consistently hold forth the standard of holiness God has set down in His Word.

One final word to anyone who may not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Please do not be deceived by the apparent “blessings” in your life. There is no guarantee that what you are experiencing today is what you will experience tomorrow. Peace and prosperity are not proofs of piety. Indeed, they are often a deception for those soon to be judged:

3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

Those who will be saved in the day of judgment from the wrath of God are those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. May you trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins so that the return of our Lord Jesus Christ may be your hope—and not your dread.

Additional Thoughts on Fleshly Lusts

(1) Fleshly lusts are appetites, desires, or inclinations originating from our fallen humanity, not from the Spirit of God.

(2) Fleshly lusts are inconsistent with biblical holiness; indeed, they are hostile to God, to His Word, and to His will.

(3) We were born with these desires, and although Christ dealt with them at the cross, they continue to pull at our affections, seeking to seduce us from obedience to God and attempting to enslave us again to our own appetites.

(4) We must be on constant alert, for both subtly and forthrightly the “world” (our culture) and Satan employ these lusts to draw us away from God.

(5) These desires offer only present pleasures rather than the blessings God has provided for all eternity. They always tempt us to avoid suffering for Christ’s sake and to seek instant pleasure for our own sake.

(6) Almost without exception, fleshly lusts are the very desires to which modern advertising appeals.

(7) Fleshly lusts are deceptive and corrupting; and they shape us in a way contrary to godliness and the image of Christ.

(8) Fleshly lusts are hostile to God and opposed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, continually waging war against our spiritual lives.

(9) Fleshly lusts seek to attract our affections and attention to this temporary world rather than to our true eternal “home.” Abstaining from fleshly lusts compliments our condition as aliens and strangers, who are “just passing through” this world.


56 Physical pleasures are not intrinsically evil, and thus the pleasures of marriage (Hebrews 13:4) or of a good meal are a gracious gift to be received as from the hand of God with gratitude (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

57 In the context, this teaching in Matthew is related to the sin of adultery. Jesus seems to be teaching that a disciple should not be dominated by illicit sexual desires but, if need be, drastic measures must be taken to ensure purity (see also Matthew 19:1-12).

58 The same word rendered “tempted” in Matthew 4:1 is rendered “tested” in Hebrews 11:17 (see also James 1:13-14).

59 The two occurrences of the word “lusts” are the term used in 1 Peter 2:11 which we are seeking to define. The word “desire” is a different term but closely related.

60 The word rendered “excellent” in verse 12 is not the same term rendered “excellencies” in verse 9, but they are surely speaking of the same thing. Our excellent conduct is to reflect the excellencies of the God who saved us.

61 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminister Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series. p. 202.

62 “The day of visitation is mentioned in the NT only in Luke 19:44 (cf. Luke 1:68), but it appears in the Septuagint in Isa. 10:3 (cf. Gen. 50:24; Job 10:12; Jer. 11:23; Wisd. 3:7). While visitation by God can mean salvation, in the Isaiah passage, which is the only exact parallel, it indicates the day of judgment. All people will have to confess God’s powerful display in his people, that is, ‘give glory to God,’ on that day, even if they have not previously acknowledged his (and their) rightness (cf. Judg. 7:17, where ‘give glory to God’ is an exhortation to acknowledge God’s justice and righteousness by a full confession before execution).” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series. P. 97.

63 This is not a compelling argument in the light of Judges 19, especially verse 25.

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11. Submission to Civil Authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17)

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

16 [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

Introduction

For centuries, the Christian’s relationship to civil government has been a matter of critical importance. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel spent 400 years under Egyptian rule (see Genesis 15:12-16; Exodus 12:40-41). Later God gave the Jews over to Gentile rule as a consequence of their rebellion against Him (see Deuteronomy 28:64-68; Nehemiah 9:26-37; Daniel 9:4-19). The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people of Israel, directing them to submit to Nebuchadnezzar and to Babylonian rule. They were to serve the king of Babylon and live. The false prophets, however, promised the people that God would quickly deliver them from their bondage (see Jeremiah 27). As a result, over a period of time through a sequence of rebellions and defeats at the hands of the Babylonians, almost the entire population of those dwelling in Jerusalem and the territory of Judah were taken as captives to Babylon (see 2 kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36). This same spirit of rebellion against foreign domination, even though divinely imposed, was evident in the Jews of Jesus’ day. Contrast their words with those of Nehemiah:

36 “Behold, we are slaves today, and as to the land which Thou didst give to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, behold, we are slaves on it” (Nehemiah 9:36).

31 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, [then] you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s offspring, and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free’?” (John 8:31-33).

In the New Testament, the Jews were once again subject to foreign rule though they refused to acknowledge their sin or their subjection. This rebellious attitude posed a danger for the Jews of Jerusalem and a danger for New Testament churches such as those to whom Peter had written. As Peter has indicated, Christianity is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises (1 Peter 1:10-12). When unbelieving Jews tried to legally disown Christianity, Gallio, a Roman proconsul of Achaia, rejected their claims, which set a legal precedent and gave `Christianity the same rights and protection as Judaism (Acts 18:12-17).

The problem was that Rome had become increasingly displeased with Jews and Judaism (see Acts 18:2, 14-17), and the Jews were persistently resisting Roman control. This led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus just as our Lord forewarned (see Matthew 24:1-2; Luke 19:41-44). Since Rome viewed Judaism and Christianity as closely related, the church might be falsely accused of opposing Rome. Church history provides much evidence that Rome did eventually begin to accuse the church of crimes against the state. Peter’s words in our text are meant to avoid any unnecessary charges against the church and to arm the church with attitudes and actions which would show these charges to be false.

Many of the same dangers present at the time of Peter’s writing exist today in a slightly different form. Increasingly, Christians are looked upon with suspicion as those opposed to civil authority. David Koresh and his followers in Waco, Texas, may seem to be totally “unchristian” to evangelical believers, but there are those outside the faith who see little difference between them and evangelical Christianity. This is partly due to some Christians who are becoming increasingly militant and apparently more willing to break the laws of our land. An abortionist is murdered by a man whom some would view as little different from many other anti-abortionists. If the evangelical pro-life movement is willing to break laws in order to save the lives of the unborn, which laws are they not willing to break? Are they willing to kill in order to save lives? Some would like to think so. And some would like others to think so.

We see then just how vitally important the Christian’s relationship to civil government is. We are “aliens and strangers” on this earth; our citizenship is in heaven. But this does not mean we are somehow less obligated to obey the laws of the land. Unlike those who exploded a bomb in the New York World Trade Center, we dare not view our foreign citizenship as a license to break the laws of the land in which we live. Peter’s words are not easy to swallow, and they may be less than easy to obey. Peter will inform us that we have the same obligation to obey our government as do unbelievers living in this nation, but the Christian has an even higher obligation than unbelievers.

The Context of Our Text

Already in chapter 2, Peter has laid the foundation for the instructions he now gives concerning our conduct. Our relationship to Christ determines our identity. By faith in Him as the living Stone,” we become living stones built up into a dwelling place of God where He abides, where priestly ministry is performed, and spiritual sacrifices are offered up. In Christ, we have become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who belong to God, so that we may proclaim the excellencies of the One who called us from darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9). Our task is not only to be God’s possession but His dwelling place and a demonstration of His nature.

Verses 11 and 12 spell out in general terms the way we should fulfill our calling. We are to abstain from fleshly lusts which are “foreign” to our calling and destiny. We are to conduct ourselves in a godly fashion, so that while men may accuse us falsely for doing good in this life, they will give praise to God for these same deeds when they stand before Him at Christ’s return.

Beginning at verse 13, Peter becomes more specific about the ways in which we abstain from fleshly lusts and exhibit excellent behavior before men. Submission to others is the first specific manifestation of godly conduct. Since Peter is writing to the saints about Christian suffering, he addresses submission in the context of suffering. He writes about submission to those who may be the cause of our suffering. In 2:13-17, he speaks of submission to civil authorities and in 2:18-25 of the submission of slaves to cruel masters. In 3:1-6, he writes to wives who may be married to unbelieving, even unkind husbands. Finally in verse 7 of chapter 3, he speaks to husbands about submission.

Probing the Passage

Verses 13 and 14

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.

The command is given to submit ourselves to every human institution.64 The word “submit” is almost always taught and understood in terms of authority. Submission is the proper response of the Christian to those in a position of authority over us. In secular thinking, this may be as far as submission will go, but this is not so in the Bible. In addition to being a matter of authority, submission is also a matter of priority.

Allow me to explain. In addition to requiring us to submit to those in authority, the Scriptures also call for submission to those who are our peers:

21 And be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21).

In the context of his teaching on submission, Peter calls upon the saints to “honor all men.” I believe this is a manifestation of submission. Peter commands the saints to submit to the king as the one “in authority” (verse 13). The Greek term rendered “in authority” is the same term Paul employed in Philippians 2:3:

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:1-5).

While God has sovereignly ordained governmental officials to hold positions of authority over us, we are also to regard our fellow-believers as having a higher claim on us than our own selfish desires. Therefore, submission is not only a matter of authority but also a matter of priority.

So far, in verses 13 and 14, submission is viewed in the context of authority, and those to whom we are to submit are civil authorities. Submission is not only to be granted to the king, the ultimate authority, but to all of his agents. As I understand Peter, this not only means men in prominent positions of power such as governors but those who act on their behalf, the civil servants who carry out the functions of government on our level. Peter expects us to respond to these agents of authority as though they were the supreme human authority whom they represent.

The purpose of government and those who govern is completely consistent with Peter’s call for excellent conduct and submission to civil authorities: “the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” While the form of government may differ, the task is the same. Even a pagan and corrupt government is better than none at all. As bad as communism may seem to us, the people of Yugoslavia were better off under communism than the people of Bosnia are today.

Governments punish evil-doers, and they also praise those who do good. As President, George Bush initiated the “thousand points of light” program to honor those making a special contribution to our society. Even in ancient times, heathen rulers recognized their responsibility to do the same. When the Persian king Ahasuerus could not sleep, he gave the order for the chronicles of his kingdom to be read to him, no doubt hoping he would be put to sleep by them. When the account was read of Mordecai’s disclosure of a plot to abduct the king, Ahazuerus immediately asked, “What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?” (Esther 6:3). When told that nothing had been done to honor Mordecai, he made things right the next day. This heathen king understood the need to honor those who do well in his kingdom.

Government’s obligation is to praise the righteous and punish the wicked. Peter’s command to submit to civil authorities does not include a promise that we will always be praised by earthly authorities for the good things we have done. He does, however, infer that praise is certain for the Christian. We are not to live righteously primarily to obtain the praise of men. We are to live righteously in order to bring praise to God and to await His praise. And so Peter instructs us to submit ourselves “for the Lord’s sake” (verse 13). Submission is to be “as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22), “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1), and “for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13). Our submission to civil authorities should be carried out as obedience to our Lord (see Romans 13:1-7). This is to be done in His strength and to His glory (see 1 Corinthians 10:31). If we submit in this way, we will receive praise from Him whom we serve, to whom we are ultimately in submission.

Verse 15

15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Submission is doing what is right. Submission is doing the will of God. Submission by doing right is the way that we may, in the will of God, see the ignorance of foolish men silenced.

The ignorance of foolish men is that ignorance related to man’s condition in unbelief65 (see 1 Peter 1:14). Man’s ignorance of God and His ways often results in foolish accusations against believers. They may see our good deeds as evil and accuse us for doing good (see 2:12). Because government’s task is to reward men for doing well and to punish them for evil, civil authorities must also determine whether our actions are good or evil. Often this is carried out through the court system. Sometimes it is done directly by the king.

Because Daniel was faithful by diligently carrying out his duties in serving King Darius, God blessed his work. As Daniel was promoted by the king, his peers began to resent him, seeking to find some area of failure or wrong-doing in his life. They concluded they would only be able to accuse him in connection with his faith (Daniel 6:24-27). When the king was tricked into passing a law which was certain to make Daniel a law-breaker, the king reluctantly cast Daniel into the den of lions hoping that his God might save him. And his God did save him! The king joyfully received Daniel back alive and hastened to “silence” Daniel’s false accusers:

24 The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children, and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones. 25 Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and [men of every] language who were living in all the land: “May your peace abound! 26 I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion [will be] forever. 27 He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has [also] delivered Daniel from the power of the lions” (Daniel 6:24-27).

Our Lord was vindicated by Pilate although Pilate was pressured into executing this One whom he had just declared innocent:

14 “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him” (Luke 23:14).

Paul was likewise vindicated by Roman officials:

30 And the king arose and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, 31 and when they had drawn aside, they [began] talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:30-32; see 23:29).

Submission to civil authorities facilitates the task God has given to those who govern—to punish the wicked and reward the righteous—and expose and silence false charges against the righteous.

Verses 16 and 17

16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.66

Recently, I saw this bumper sticker on the back of a pick-up: “Obey God’s Laws, not man’s.”

This has a kind of pious ring to it—at first glance. But a serious problem exists in the thinking which underlies this proposition. The error is in assuming a significant conflict between man’s laws and God’s laws. Paul did not think so; neither did Peter. The biblical perspective is this: “Obey man’s laws as God’s law” (see Romans 13:1-7). Being citizens of the heavenly kingdom does not exempt us from our obligation to the laws of the land in which we live. Being “free” in Christ is not freedom from obedience to civil authorities.

To what “freedom” then is Peter referring in verse 16? Many think it is our freedom in Christ (see Luke 4:18; John 8:32, 36; Acts 13:39; Romans 6:7, 18, 22; 7:3; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 9:1, 19; 10:29; Galatians 5:1, 13). This “freedom” may be included in what Peter is talking about, but I believe he is also talking about one’s freedom as a citizen, as opposed to being a slave (see 1 Corinthians 7:21-22; 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:8; Colossians 3:11). Peter addresses slaves in 1 Peter 2:18. In verse 16, he is speaking to free citizens, urging them to use their freedom for the progress of the gospel and the glory of God rather than for selfish ambitions. Everything legal is not necessarily moral or godly or profitable to others (see 1 Corinthians 6:12).

Paul often surrendered some of his freedoms for the good of others and the advance of the gospel. He was free to marry, but he chose not to do so (1 Corinthians 9:5; 7:8). He was free to be supported in his ministry, but he often chose not to be (see 1 Corinthians 9:1-18). His liberties were not exercised at the expense of others; they were employed in ministry to others. Paul’s submission to others caused him to view and use his liberties in a very different way. Peter calls on us here to do likewise.

What are some of the freedoms we may use as slaves of Christ, or abuse as slaves of our flesh? We have the liberties of our American citizenship and the rights we are granted by our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. We should use these submissively to the benefit of others. There is the freedom of our personal liberties in Christ, within the confines of God’s Word and our personal convictions. These should be employed as slaves of Christ and as the servants of others. There is the “freedom” of retirement. Do we use this for fulfilling our own selfish desires or for serving Christ and others? For some, there is the freedom to remain single. While Paul advocates remaining single so that we may more devotedly serve our Lord (1 Corinthians 7:25-35), most of those who remain single today do so to devote themselves to the pleasures of single life (I am not quite sure what these are, especially if we limit them to what God permits).

I believe Peter is teaching that submission is not just for those who cannot avoid it, for citizens under the rule of government and slaves under the authority of their masters. Peter is teaching us that submission should be our mindset even when we are “free.” We are, first and foremost, servants of Christ. Submission is to be the dominant theme in our lives—submission to Christ, submission to governmental authorities, and even submission to our peers and subordinates. This becomes much clearer in verse 17.

Verse 17

Verse 17 greatly expands Peter’s teaching on submission. It covers the whole forest, from the king as the supreme human authority to those on the lowest levels of power or position. It also includes God as the ultimate and final authority over all creation. It covers both believers and unbelievers. And in the process, it shows certain crucial distinctions Christians must recognize and observe in their submission to others.

I am not altogether happy with the translation of verse 17 in the New International Version:

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (emphasis mine).

In the original text, it is the same term which is rendered “show proper respect” and “honor” in the same verse. This is not only unusual, it is misleading. The concept of “honor” is a fundamental and foundational part of submission. Peter is teaching that just as we must submit to those over us by honoring them, so we must submit to those under us with the same outlook.

Peter has not left the subject of submission here but rather has chosen to expand it dramatically. Now, submission involves not only submission to kings but to all men. Further, submission involves not just respect for higher authorities, but respect for all men because they are God’s creation.67

What do we honor in all men similar to the way we honor the king? The king is divinely appointed by God; thus, his authority and position are to be respected because God gave it to him (Romans 13:1). All men are created by God with a certain reflection (although distorted) of His image (see Genesis 1:26). To honor men is to honor the God who made them and to honor the dignity they have as God’s creatures:

3 When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; 4 What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? 5 Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalms 8:3-5).68

Thus we have the command of our Lord through Peter to honor69 all men.

All men are to be given honor. We are to recognize that they have been created by God and are to be treated as His creatures. To honor men is to respect their dignity and even their individuality (for each is uniquely created by God—see Psalm 139).

We may define what it means to “honor” men in terms of what it means to “dishonor” men. Consider these texts which speak of dishonoring men:

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty [enough to go] into the fiery hell (Matthew 5:21-22, emphasis mine).

1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with [an attitude of] personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world [to be] rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin [and] are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:1-9).

We dishonor men by thinking of them or calling them fools, those whom the world would be better off without. God made them. They have value and a contribution to make to this world. We dare not think of them as a detriment or we dishonor the One who created them. We also dishonor men by discriminating against them, giving preferential treatment to those who appear to be of higher value while demeaning those who seem to have little value—little to offer us, little to contribute. Discrimination dishonors men. Honoring men requires that we not judge them on the basis of appearances. It means that we dare not treat some men with dignity and others without dignity.

I see several areas where the application of this command is apparent on the surface. Racial discrimination is wrong, because it honors some men and dishonors others. The prison system often dehumanizes men and women and robs them and their families of all dignity. Strip searches of male inmates by female guards, for example, dehumanizes men. Often we fail to treat the elderly with dignity, especially in some institutions which are responsible to care for them. The poor are often humiliated and stripped of dignity by the way in which our welfare and public services are provided. To treat men as less than human is to put people in a category under us. Submitting to others begins by regarding them as having a dignity and honor which sets them above us and makes us their servants.

The arrangement of the instructions in verse 17 is meant to be instructive:

  • Honor all men; … love the brotherhood,
  • fear God, … honor the king

In addition to the arrangement, the terms “honor,” “love,” and “fear” are carefully chosen and distinguished.

Submission has a universal dimension which includes all mankind, without exception. All men are to be honored. The brotherhood of believers is to be loved. There is a greater degree of intimacy and contact, and relationship, between one believer and other saints. Thus, in Scripture, the believer has a higher level of obligation to believers than to unbelievers:

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Galatians 6:10).

The king is to receive honor as the ultimate human authority over men. He is to be honored as a man, the “head man” we might say. But there is a limit to the “honor” he receives. He is only to be honored as a man and never to be worshipped as a god. For allowing others to worship him as such, Herod was put to death by God (Acts 12:20-23). And so Peter distinguishes between the “honor” the king is to be given and the “fear” God alone is to receive from the saints.70

Conclusion

In many ways, Peter is teaching the same things Paul teaches elsewhere (see Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2). There are some unique areas of emphasis we would do well to focus on in concluding our study. To begin, I call to your attention some significant things Peter does not say in this passage.

(1) Peter gives us no exceptions concerning submission to authority. Peter mentions no exceptions or instances in which one might be required not to submit to civil authorities. Amazingly, while Paul could claim that he never violated a Roman or Jewish law (Acts 25:8), Peter is the one who broke the law. Twice he escaped from jail (Acts 5:17-21; 12:1-17), and twice he informed the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin, that he and the apostles could not obey their commands:

18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20).

27 And when they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:27-29).

How then do we square Peter’s practice with his teaching? We must first recognize that these two “escapes” were not made by overpowering the guards or sawing through the prison bars with a concealed file. In both instances, an angel released Peter (and John), and in the second incident through most of the escape, Peter thought he was dreaming. In addition, the angel who set Peter and John free gave them a specific command about where they were to go and what they were to do. To obey the command of the Sanhedrin would require Peter and John to disobey the angel and God who spoke through the angel. Peter saw that his choice was one of obeying God or men, and there was little doubt as to whom he would obey.

Having said this, it should also be suggested that even when we are forced to disobey a governmental authority, we should not cease to be in submission to them. While this sounds strange, it is important. When Daniel and his three friends disobeyed in Babylon, they still treated their governing authorities with respect. Their disobedience was not general but specific. They refused to obey only that law or command which would have forced them to disobey God. The same can be said of Peter and John. The only examples we have in Scripture of civil disobedience are those where obedience to God is directly forbidden by a human command.

Some of the civil disobedience practiced in our country and defended by citing the precedent of Daniel and Peter misses this point badly. The assumption seems to be that a Christian can disobey any law with which he or she disagrees. The Bible speaks of the disobedience of those laws and commands which directly contradict God’s commands or laws. Cruelty, and even unjust suffering at the hand of civil authorities, are not cited as a legitimate basis for civil disobedience by Christians. Today Christians who are (rightly) distressed over laws which permit (not command) others (not us) to do wrong (abortion) feel justified to selectively violate other laws. This goes beyond any biblical example of legitimate civil disobedience. It also makes the blowing up of abortion clinics or the murder of abortionists a more extreme disobedience of the same kind. The difference between the civil disobedience of some anti-abortion protesters and others who would kill or injure abortionists appears to many to be just a matter of degree and not of kind.

In our text, Peter gives no reasons for civil disobedience, not because there are none, but because he does not want the exception to become the rule. Jesus did not wish to engage in dialogue over the various legitimate reasons for divorce because even the most legalistic Pharisees of His day were too lax on this matter. He did not want the exception to overshadow the rule (see Matthew 19:3-12).

One more point should be made about civil disobedience. It is not civil disobedience to expect and even require that government officials abide by the laws they are appointed to uphold. At His arrest and during the trial which resulted in His death, our Lord pointed out that these men were acting outside the boundaries of the law they were appointed to uphold (Luke 22:49-53; John 18:19-24). Paul refused to allow the Roman officials to quietly release him after they had broken the law by illegally beating him (Acts 16:35-4). Those who are appointed to uphold the law must also abide by it. Christian submission to civil authorities does not necessarily prevent us from requiring authorities to act lawfully.

(2) No qualifications are made as to the kind of government to which we are to submit. We would most certainly prefer to submit to a democratic government, but Peter gives no qualifications of this kind. Whether the government be totalitarian or democratic, the Christian’s obligation to submit to it is the same.

(3) Peter does not make the performance of government officials the basis for whether we submit to civil authorities. Peter makes it clear that government’s responsibility is to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. He does not tell us that we must submit only to those who, in our opinion, are performing well at their task. Peter tells us what God expects of governing authorities, not as a standard for what we should expect or demand, but as the basis for our respect. We are to respect civil authorities because of the dignity of the task God has given them, not because of their success at carrying out these duties. How often Christians excuse their disobedience because their superiors do not meet their expectations. These authorities (including elders, see Hebrews 13:17), will give account to God for their faithfulness in carrying out their task. We will give account for our obedience to God’s command to submit to them, whether they are worthy of it or not.

Having considered what Peter does not say on submission, let us move on to what he emphatically says.

(1) Peter’s teaching provides a different perspective of government. Christians today are becoming more and more suspicious of government as it seems to encroach on our religious freedoms. When Christians (or conservatives) are dominant in government, Christians breathe easily, but when “liberals” or “secular humanists” take control, we suddenly look at government differently. Let us remember that the government of Peter’s day was Rome, and the emperor at the end of Peter’s life was Nero. And yet Peter speaks of government not as our persecutor but as our protector. He speaks not of civil disobedience but of submission. He does not speak of government as our accuser but as the instrument through which false accusations are silenced. Let us look at government and respond to it as God has intended it to be, not as we fear it will be.

We should remember that while the Roman government played a crucial role in the execution of our Lord, it was also the Roman government which protected Paul and the preaching of the gospel. The decision of Gallio in Acts 18 resulted in the protection of Paul throughout his missionary journeys. Sometimes Paul preached the gospel while in chains and often at the side of a Roman soldier, but Roman authorities protected Paul from the wrath of Jewish and Gentile unbelievers.

(2) Peter’s teaching concerning submission to civil authority is based upon the very crucial premise of the sovereignty of God. Government is divinely ordained and exists only by the will of God. Its authority comes from God (see John 19:10-11). It achieves God’s purposes even when it fails to carry out its divinely given task. When God allows government to persecute Christians for well-doing rather than to praise them, even then His purposes are being accomplished. This was the early church’s comfort which must also be ours.

23 And when they had been released, they went to their own [companions,] and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard [this,] they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, [through] the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ 27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:23-28).

When the governing authorities incarcerated Peter in a way that would have hindered the accomplishment of God’s predetermined plan, an angel of the Lord arranged for Peter’s escape. And when Herod sought to kill Peter, the church did not arrange protest marches; they prayed. The result was that Herod was put to death not by the hands of an angry mob but by the hand of God—and not because anyone protested against him, but because men praised him as god (see Acts 12).

(3) Peter’s teaching provides a different basis for submission. Peter instructs the saints to submit to governing authorities not because they are always right, or fair, or because doing so will always keep us from persecution. We are to obey for the Lord’s sake, in obedience to Him, and for His glory. Praise for well-doing may or may not come from earthly rulers, but it will come from God at the return of our Lord.

(4) Peter greatly expands our concept and practice of submission. The best any government can expect from its unbelieving citizens is obedience. Often that obedience is given only when under the scrutiny of those who enforce the laws. That is why people speed until their radar detector tells them to obey the law. Christian submission does not fall short of secular submission; it far surpasses it. The Christian is to obey civil authorities, whether they are looking or not. Beyond this, we are to give honor to civil authorities even when their performance does not seem to deserve it. We honor them for their position as given by God.

I must confess that I have fallen far short of Peter’s instructions in my own life. I have always had nicknames for people, particularly people in authority. I cannot give you an illustration of this without violating Peter’s command to give honor to those in authority. But one thing I know, God requires me to show honor to those in authority whether I voted for them or not.

May God grant us the ability to obey these instructions both in spirit and in truth, to the glory of God and for our ultimate good.


64 A number of commentaries note that the term “institution” is the unusual rendering of a Greek word consistently rendered “creation” or “creature” elsewhere in the New Testament. At least two meanings are inferred from this fact: (1) that the term refers to all mankind, not just to governing authorities, and (2) the terms emphasizes the divine origin and authority of human governments. The first is advocated by Kelly: “. . . the writer is laying it down that the principle of the redeemed Christian life must not be self-assertion or mutual exploitation, but the voluntary subordination of oneself to others (cf. Rom. xii.10; Eph. v. 21; Phil. ii. 3 f.).” J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers), 1969. Harpers New Testament Commentaries Series, pp. 108-109.

The second is the position of Stibbs: “It is, therefore, probably truer to biblical usage to understand the phrase here as meaning ‘every divine institution among men’--thus ascribing the existence of such human institutions directly to the divine initiative . . . .” Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), [photolithoprinted] 1968. Tyndale Bible Commentaries Series, pp. 109-110.

New Testament theology and the context would support the emphasis of both, whether the Greek term requires it or not.

65 “Ignorance is not the more common term agnoia, used in 1:14, but agnosia, also used in 1 Corinthians 15:34, which does not so much denote intellectual inadequacy as a religious failure to perceive the true nature of the Christian faith and life. It implies a stronger sense of blameworthiness.” D. Edmond Hiebert, First Peter (Chicago: Moody Press), 1984, p. 157.

66 “The necessary stance of the Christian community is further described in vv. 16-17 with two corollary questions in mind: (1) What have the universal obligations of Christians to their fellow citizens to do with their particular obligations to one another? (2) What do their obligations to the emperor and civil magistrates have to do with their obligations to God? The answer follows in a terse four-part maxim in v. 17. The first two and the last two form pairs: respect is for everyone but love is for fellow believers--God deserves reverent fear while the emperor deserves respect.” J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher), 1988. Word Biblical Commentary Series, p. 123.

67 This seems to point back to the expression “every human institution,” which is literally “every human creature or creation.”

68 While this text certainly focuses on the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, it also indicates the privileged position which God has given men in creation.

69 “To honour, or to ‘esteem highly’, is the proper general attitude to adopt towards all men. It is due equally to all as God’s creatures, and as the objects of His peculiar love and care (see Gn. v. i, ix. 6; Ps. vii. 4,5; Pr. xiv. 31; Rom. xiv. 10; Jas. iii. 8-10). This principle condemns much of man’s treatment of his fellows both in the political and in the industrial world.” Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), [photolithoprinted] 1968. Tyndale Bible Commentaries Series. p. 112.

70 Paul does not make the same distinction between “fear” and “honor” that Peter does as we can see in Romans 13:7. Peter distinguishes between “honor” and “fear” because he has already commanded the saints to conduct themselves in fear in relation to God (1 Peter 1:17-21).

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12. The Submission of Slaves to Masters (1 Peter 2:18-25)

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

Introduction

How comfortable we may feel reading these words Peter wrote so long ago to a class of people who no longer exist in our nation today. If this is your response, watch out; this lesson is for you! Peter’s words in our text, addressed to slaves, are applicable to every Christian. Let me suggest why this is true.

First, the term Peter uses in our text is not restricted only to slaves nor is this the usual word for slaves. Rather, it is a much less common word which may refer to a broader group.71 Thus, not only slaves but servants are addressed.

Second, many may technically not be slaves, but they are subject to those with virtually unquestioned authority and thus face a condition similar to that of a slave. For instance, an armed forces private (the “sergeant” is the “master”), the prison inmate, or one living in the ghetto who, because of his poverty or minority status, believes he has virtually no rights.

Third, Peter speaks more generally in verse 19 as he lays down a more general principle which applies to all believers.

Fourth, our Lord and His apostles consistently taught that every Christian is Christ’s slave.

And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

“And whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:44).

[Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God (1 Peter 2:16; see also Romans 1:1; 6:12-23).

Fifth, Peter is instructing the Christian about submission to authority in the context of suffering for the sake of godly conduct. His teaching about slaves and masters is a “worst case scenario.” If Peter’s teaching applies here, as it does, surely it applies in less difficult circumstances as well.

Sixth, no time in history has ever seen such abuse as the subject of “abuse.” Abuse is the “lion in the road”72 for most Americans—the compelling reason for not doing what we wish to avoid and for doing what we desperately wish to do. Suffering is the dominant theme of Peter’s first epistle, and no one is likely to be more abused than the Christian slave who is subject to every whim of his master, who has absolute authority over him. Peter does not allow the fact that the slave may be abused to become an excuse for sin, but rather he instructs us to use it an opportunity to imitate our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore approach this text as one which speaks clearly and loudly to each of us, trying to learn the joy and privilege which is ours to suffer as servants of our Lord.

The Structure of the Text

Our text falls clearly and neatly into two divisions. The first is verses 18-20 which focus on Christian servants who are called to suffer for Christ’s sake. The second is verses 21-25 in which Peter turns to the Old Testament prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus as the Suffering Servant who provides the motivation, the means, and the model for all suffering servants.

Background: Observations on Slavery

Before looking more carefully at Peter’s instructions to slaves, let us consider the institution of slavery as it existed in Peter’s day.

(1) Slavery played a very prominent part in the lives of those who lived in Peter’s day. William Barclay provides an excellent description of the slavery of that day:

“To understand the real meaning of what Peter is saying we must understand something of the nature of slavery in the time of the early church. In the Roman Empire there were as many as 60,000,000 slaves. Slavery began with Roman conquests, slaves being originally mainly prisoners taken in war, and in very early times Rome had few slaves but by New Testament times slaves were counted by the million.”

“It was not only menial tasks which were performed by slaves. Doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, secretaries, stewards were slaves. In fact, all the work of Rome was done by slaves. Roman attitude was that there was no point in being master of the world and doing one’s own work. Let the slaves do that and let the citizens live in pampered idleness. The supply of slaves would never run out.”

“Slaves were not allowed to marry; but they cohabited; and the children born of such a partnership were the property of the master, not of the parents, just as the lambs born to the sheep belonged to the owner of the flock, and not to the sheep.”

“It would be wrong to think that the lot of slaves was always wretched and unhappy, and that they were always treated with cruelty. Many slaves were loved and trusted members of the family; but one great inescapable fact dominated the whole situation. In Roman law a slave was not a person but a thing; and he had absolutely no legal rights whatsoever. For that reason there could be no such thing as justice where a slave was concerned. Aristotle writes, ‘There can be no friendship nor justice towards inanimate things; indeed, not even towards a horse or an ox, nor yet towards a slave as a slave. For master and slave have nothing in common; a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave.’ Varro divides the instruments of agriculture into three classes—the articulate, the inarticulate and the mute, ‘the articulate comprising the slaves, the inarticulate comprising the cattle, and the mute comprising the vehicles.’ The only difference between a slave and a beast or a farmyard cart was that a slave happened to be able to speak. Peter Chrysologus sums the matter up: ‘Whatever a master does to a slave, undeservedly, in anger, willingly, unwillingly, in forgetfulness, after careful thought, knowingly, unknowingly, is judgment, justice and law.’ In regard to a slave, his master’s will, and even his master’s caprice, was the only law.”73

(2) In the Bible, slavery is not commended, but neither is it condemned as a social evil the Christian master should cease to practice or the Christian slave should seek to overthrow. Christian masters are instructed not to abuse their power or their slaves (Colossians 4:1). Christian slaves are encouraged to obtain their freedom, if possible (1 Corinthians 7:17-24), but if not to submit to their masters (Colossians 3:22-25), and they are especially not to abuse their status as Christians in relation to their believing masters (1 Timothy 6:1-2).

Human government and slavery may both be viewed as “institutions” within society, but of the two, government alone has been divinely instituted for the purpose of executing God’s rule over men. Governments are ordained of God to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do what is right (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Slavery is not given such a status. Societies function very well without slavery; they collapse without established governing authority.

(3) Peter does not assume that all masters are cruel, but he does assume that some will be, and that this will result in the unjust suffering of many Christian slaves. Unlike Paul’s epistles, Peter does not address both slaves and masters. He addresses only slaves. In particular, he speaks to slaves who will be harshly treated by their masters. This is consistent with his theme of suffering righteously for the sake of Christ. Because the slave had no legal rights and was subject to the whims of his master, many slaves would suffer at the hands of cruel masters. Christian slaves would be especially targeted.

(4) Christian slaves would especially be targeted for persecution by their unsaved masters. There are those who say, “A non-Christian husband should be delighted to have a Christian wife, just as a heathen slave owner should be pleased to have a Christian slave.” This is not necessarily so. Granted, there were heathen masters like Potiphar, who prospered greatly from the service of Joseph and therefore was delighted to have him as a slave. But it was also Joseph’s righteousness which eventually led to his unjust imprisonment by Potiphar.

As Peter will indicate in chapter 4 of this epistle, the righteousness of the Christian is threatening to the lifestyle of heathen unbelievers. The non-Christian master could very well be distressed, even threatened, by the conversion of one of his slaves to faith in Christ. The church where the slave attended would set the earthly distinctions of slave and master aside, making the slave an equal with his master. Indeed, the slave might even be placed in a position of authority over his master:

The result was that within the Church the social barriers were broken down. Callistus, one of the earliest bishops of Rome, was a slave; and Perpetua, the aristocrat, and Felicitas, the slave-girl, met martyrdom hand in hand. The great majority of the early Christians were humble folk and many of them were slaves. It was quite possible in the early days that the slave should be the president of the congregation and the master a member of it.74

As a result of his new identity in Christ, the Christian slave would now have moral scruples, and his obedience to his earthly master would always be subordinate to his obedience to Christ. The master was no longer in first place. The master no longer had the same power to threaten and intimidate his slave, because the believing slave’s hope was fixed on heaven. True, the slave might suffer as a Christian, but this was a glorious privilege. The slave might be killed, but this would bring him into the presence of his Lord. No wonder some masters would be infuriated by the conversion of one of their slaves. No wonder some slaves would suffer for their faith in Christ.

Slavery indeed provided the opportunity for abuse, but in the sovereign plan and purpose of God that abuse affords us the opportunity to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Suffering Servants
(2:18-20)

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

Peter’s theme in this portion of his epistle is submission in the midst of suffering. Turning from submission to civil authorities, he now focuses on the submission of slaves to their earthly masters. He makes it clear that submission is not only required under favorable conditions but in painful and unpleasant circumstances as well. Christian servants are not only to submit to “good and gentle” masters but to those who are “unreasonable.” The term rendered “unreasonable” is the one from which the word “scoliosis” is derived. The term means “crooked” and thus is used for the disease of a distorted spine.

Unreasonable masters are those who are not “good and gentle.” They may be unethical or even dishonest. They may, like Laban, make promises they do not keep (Genesis 31:36-42). They may be unfair in their accusations, punishments, or rewards. They are those against whom we would naturally rebel apart from salvation, biblical instruction, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

Submission to such masters is commanded because it is praiseworthy in God’s sight. Peter’s words in verses 19 and 20 seem to be an extension of our Lord’s teaching in the Gospel of Luke:

32 “And if you love those who love you, what credit is [that] to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is [that] to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is [that] to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same [amount.] 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil [men.] (Luke 6:32-35, emphasis mine).75

We should note that verse 19 is expressed generally (“if … a man bears up”). This suggests that the principle being laid down here, while it applies to slaves, also applies to all other saints as well.

Peter wants his readers to understand that the reason for our suffering determines, in part, whether our suffering is pleasing to God. He says there is no virtue in suffering for sin which we have committed. He sets down three qualifications for suffering which pleases God.

First, suffering which is pleasing to God must be innocent suffering. Peter has been speaking of righteous conduct in the midst of an unrighteous society. He is speaking here of suffering which is the result of godliness, not the result of sin. Who would praise a man for enduring suffering that is the result of doing wrong?

What wrongs would be especially tempting for a servant? The first would be disobedience; another would be disrespect, and yet another laziness. I saw this mindset in the business world where an older gentleman working alongside me observed I was working harder than he and many of the others in the company. He took me aside and said something like, “Bob, we’re not being paid the kind of wages we should be earning for this kind of work, and so we just slow down to the pace where we think our work matches our wages.” Yet another sin is stealing. How many people justify walking off the job with pencils, paper, and even tools and equipment, because they believe they are really worth more than they are being paid?

In the aftermath of the Ohio prison riot recently, one of the networks interviewed some of the inmates to learn the reason for their revolt. Although I did not see the entire interview, I did hear one inmate describe the way the prison often punishes inmates by shackling them so they are partially suspended in the air in what prisoners call the “Jesus position.” From what I saw, it seemed the treatment of these prisoners was unnecessarily harsh and excessively cruel. (The Supreme Court might call it “cruel and unusual.”) I was satisfied that the prison system was probably wrong in their administration of discipline.

But I was not at all moved to praise the prisoners for enduring their suffering. In the brief portion of the interview I saw, one of the prisoners was punished for spitting in the face of a guard. At a time and place where the threat of AIDS contamination is very real, such an act is not only offensive but potentially life-threatening. The other prisoner was punished in a similar fashion for striking a guard. Their punishment was cruel, but their suffering was not praiseworthy. Praiseworthy suffering is innocent suffering.

Second, praiseworthy suffering is suffering endured with patience. One who suffers righteously must persevere in his suffering. Many can endure for a short period of time, but Peter calls upon the saints to endure in their patient suffering.

Third, praiseworthy suffering is that which is patiently endured for conscience’ sake. Our motivation is absolutely crucial in relationship to our rewards. Often it is difficult for us to know our own motivations, let alone judge the motives of another:

3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by [any] human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, [but wait] until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of [men’s] hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).

Some acts are clearly defined as sin and cannot be committed with impunity. Other actions may be sinful or saintly depending upon our motivation. For example, one woman may choose to endure the physical abuse of her husband out of faith, believing it would be wrong even to separate and trusting God for her safety. Another woman may endure the same kind of abuse for an entirely different reason—fear. She may endure her suffering, not as an act of obedience and faith, but because she fears living apart from her husband more than living with him. As Paul has cautioned us, we dare not judge people purely on the basis of outward appearances, because God’s judgment includes the motivation of the heart.

While the ultimate judgment for our motives and actions is yet future, we are required to make decisions which are matters of conscience. This means one Christian may decide to do something another might decide he should not do. It even means a Christian might respond to unjust treatment a certain way on one occasion and another way on another occasion. For example, Paul seems to have silently endured an illegal beating on one occasion (Acts 16:19-24), while he protested in a way that prevented a beating on another (Acts 22:25-29). One may eat meat with a good conscience, and another cannot eat in good conscience (see Romans 14:1-23).

When Peter speaks of a servant who, “in conscience toward God,” endures undeserved suffering, he means that the decision to do so was a decision in accordance with a clean conscience before God. The servant, desiring to please God, determined in his heart that passively enduring suffering was the way to please God. It also suggests the possibility that for another servant, a different course of action might be the dictates of his conscience toward God.

I must confess that in all of my study of personal convictions, I never thought of my response to unjust treatment as a matter of conscience, but I can see how easily it might be. When and where does a slave draw the line? This is not an easy question nor a question which every slave would answer the same way.

Daniel, who was virtually a slave in Babylon, illustrates this point. In good conscience, Daniel was willing to submit to his captors. He was willing to be educated in the ways of Babylon. But he was not willing to eat meat from the king’s table. Neither was he willing to cease praying to His God. His three friends were not willing to bow down before the golden image. It was easy for Peter to disobey the orders of the Sanhedrin not to preach in the name of Jesus (Acts 5:29). It was easy because an angel of God had just commanded him to do so specifically (Acts 5:20), and before that the Lord had commanded His disciples to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). But there are times when our disobedience may be dictated by our conscience rather than by a specific command given us by the Lord Himself. Peter therefore requires that we submit to unjust suffering as a matter of conscience before God.

Righteous suffering, suffering that is pleasing to God and finds favor with Him, is suffering for doing what is right, suffering patiently endured, and suffering endured for the sake of a good conscience before God.

Suffering Servants and The Suffering Servant
(2:21-25)

21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example76 for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,77 that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

It is interesting to note that Peter does not attempt to describe the suffering of our Lord from his own perspective. Peter may have chosen to use the language of Isaiah 5378 to describe our Lord’s suffering and death on our behalf for several reasons. First, because biblical prophecy is inspired and infallible, prophecy can be used to describe history as the events which are foretold will take place exactly as prophesied. Second, this text is recognized as a “Suffering Servant” text, and its application to “suffering servants” is therefore obvious. Third, Isaiah focuses on those aspects of our Lord’s suffering which Peter emphasizes as an example for us. Finally, I am not at all certain Peter personally witnessed a great deal of our Lord’s suffering and death, for he is never said to have been present when our Lord was crucified. Even when he was following our Lord after His arrest, he followed from a distance (Matthew 26:58; Luke 22:54). Those who did witness our Lord’s death were said to be at a distance (Matthew 27:55; Mark 15:40; Luke 23:49). Only a few were ever said to be standing close to our Lord shortly before His death, and Peter was not among them (John 19:25-27). In addition, darkness veiled the scene for three hours (Luke 23:44-45).

Peter has already told us how the Christian must suffer in order to glorify God and be pleasing to Him. But the question still remains, “Why should the Christian servant suffer at all?” Peter’s answer comes in verses 21-25. We must suffer because we are called to suffer. This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Scriptures, especially the teaching of our Lord and of the apostles:

20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me (John 15:20-21; see 16:33; Luke 9:23).

21 And after they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and [saying,] “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:21-22).

29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

We are called to suffer because Christ suffered and died for us so that we might be saved from our sins. Christians are “suffering servants,” who are to imitate Jesus Christ, the “Suffering Servant.” Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection saved us from our sins. In Him, we died to sin, and we have been made alive with respect to righteousness (verse 23). His suffering gives us both the motivation and the means to follow in His steps. Furthermore, His suffering provides us with the example of how we should suffer innocently to the glory of God. Note the following principles of innocent suffering which emerge from Peter’s reference to Isaiah 53.

Principles of Righteous Suffering

(1) Christ’s suffering was innocent suffering, suffering which was due to His righteousness. Peter uses the words of Isaiah 53:9 to express the fact that He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (verse 22). Jesus did not sin in deed or in word, either before His crucifixion or during His suffering.79

(2) Christ’s suffering was silent.80 As a teacher, I had only one student who tried not to react or cry out when I found it necessary to use the paddle on him (this has been a few years ago now). He did not want me to think his spanking in any way changed his heart or mind. It didn’t work. After his one solitary swat, he stoicly walked to the door of the classroom, but when his hand touched the door knob, the sobs and tears burst out to be contained no longer.

More often, a rebellious student will make a great deal of noise when spanked. This may not be genuine sorrow at first, but anger. When we can do nothing else, we can shout, threaten, and even curse. Jesus remained silent. He made no effort to resist or to retaliate. The silence of our Lord is evident in the words Peter used, and the Isaiah text has even more to say on that silence:

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7).

(3) Christ’s suffering was a path He chose and not a tragic fate imposed upon Him. Jesus frequently spoke of His suffering and death in advance of the events of Calvary. Jesus aggressively accused His adversaries, the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem, thus provoking them to bring about His own suffering and death. Jesus chose the way of the cross. He chose to take up His cross, and so must we.

(4) Our Lord’s obedience to the will of the Father81 that He suffer was an act of faith. Peter tells us our Lord “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (verse 23). It was an act that resulted from His hope being in the Father and in the future He purposed and promised. Our Lord therefore left judgment to God. He did not need to retaliate against His enemies. He trusted the Father “who judges righteously.”

(5) Our Lord’s suffering was redemptive. Because our Lord suffered and died and was raised again on our behalf, our sins are forgiven and we are made to live to righteousness. By His wounds we are healed (verse 24). His suffering saved us. This is not only motivation for us to suffer as He did, but an indication that our suffering, like our Lord’s, may be instrumental in the salvation of some who are lost. He alone bore the sins of the world. But our innocent suffering might be used of God to draw others to faith in Christ. Later on in chapter 3, Peter seems to indicate that our response to suffering may prompt others to ask us about our faith and hope in God (1 Peter 3:13-15).

(6) Our Lord’s suffering was the divinely appointed means to His glorification and exaltation. Our Lord’s cross was the means to His crown. His humiliation, suffering, and death was prerequisite to His resurrection, ascension, and exaltation. No matter how ignoble that cross may have seemed, the One who suffered and died on it is now the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls(verse 25). As suffering was the path to His glory, so it is for us as well:

11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we shall also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:11-12).

Conclusion

How amazing to find Peter turning our attention to the sufferings of our Lord on the cross of Calvary! Peter is the one who so adamantly resisted our Lord’s words about His own innocent suffering. And now Peter instructs us to suffer, just as the Savior did. The cross, once so repulsive to Peter, has now become his central focus. Throughout this epistle, Peter keeps coming back to the cross. The cross is not only the basis for our salvation, it is the basis for our spiritual lives and even for our suffering.

How do you look at the cross? Is it the symbol of salvation and hope, or is it a dreaded symbol of defeat to you? Your response depends on from which side you view the cross. For sinners, the cross is a reminder of God’s righteousness and of His hatred of sin and the penalty which our sins deserve. The cross symbolizes the wages of sin—our sin. But for the one who has received the gift of God in the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, it is the symbol of God’s love and grace. The cross is a symbol of our salvation.

Peter’s very short description of the suffering of our Lord tells you all you need to know to be saved. Jesus suffered and died innocently and willingly. He did not sin, either in word or deed. He suffered and died in trusting obedience to His Heavenly Father, so that our sins would be forgiven, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. His suffering, death and resurrection made it possible for us, who were wandering far from Him, to return to Him as the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.

Becoming a Christian requires that you look upon yourself as a sinner, deserving the kind of death our Lord suffered. It requires that you trust in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection as God’s provision for your sins. He who was without sin died for your sins, so that you and I who are without righteousness might be found righteous in Him.

18 Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:18-21).

For those who have found salvation at the cross of Calvary, the cross now becomes the pattern for our lives. Because Christ suffered innocently for our salvation, we are now called to suffer innocently for His sake. In doing so, we bring glory to God and may be privileged to point others to the cross for salvation as well. As He suffered innocently and silently, so we are to suffer in the same way.

The tongue is the last outpost in the war of the flesh against the Spirit. And now it is Peter who speaks to us about silence. I find that amusing. Peter is the one who seems almost always to be the first one to speak. Often, he spoke when silence would have been golden (see, for example, Matthew 16:22-23; 17:4). We do not save our lives by wielding the sword (John 18:10) or by trusting in our tongue (Matthew 26:69-75). Now Peter understands that a godly life speaks louder than mere words and may provide an opportunity for us to speak as men seek to know about the hope which dominates our lives (see 1 Peter 3:8-16).

Peter is not speaking to us as a pope in these verses. Rather, he turns our attention to the Lord Jesus who alone is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (verse 25). Neither is Peter seeking to make reformers of us here. He does not find “abuse” and “excuse” for sin. Abuse must not be misused as a pretext for sin but as the context for righteousness. Nowhere is the love and power of our Lord more evident than in innocent suffering. This is what the world needs to see, and the message of the cross is the word the world needs to hear. Ours is the privilege of first living, and then proclaiming, that message.

For Peter, as for Paul, suffering for Christ’s sake is not seen as a pain but a privilege. If we are living as God requires of us, we are living as His slaves, suffering joyfully on His behalf. This suffering is not to be tearfully endured with gritted teeth, but joyfully, as a high calling and privilege. We are to rejoice in our sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-13; Colossians 1:24), regarding such suffering as a graciously granted gift (Philippians 1:29), an opportunity to enter into a deeper level of fellowship with Christ as we gain a greater grasp of the meaning of His cross (Philippians 3:10).

How radically different the gospel of the Bible is from all other religious claims and teachings. It warns us about becoming too attached to the things the world is killing itself to obtain, and it teaches us to embrace as precious the very things the world rejects and resists. The Christian life is not adding God to our life to go along with us in our pursuits and desires; it is not even God making modifications in our way of life. The Christian life is a complete turn about, so that the things we once held precious we now find useless, and the things we once rejected become the things we now pursue.

May God use this passage to cause us to glory in the cross of our Lord and in the cross He has given us as well.


71 “Oiketai, servants, means member of a household, domestic servants, including freemen as well as slaves. What Peter has primarily in mind is not slaves as a class, but the household as a common social institution.” Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), [photolithoprinted] 1968. Tyndale Bible Commentaries Series, p. 114.

“Peter’s term is not the usual word translated ‘servants.’ It occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only three times (Luke 16:13; Acts 10:7; Rom. 14:4). The term could be used to denote those in one’s household, including the women and children, but generally it was used as synonymous with doulos, ‘slave.’” D. Edmond Hiebert, First Peter (Chicago: Moody Press), 1984. p. 165, citing Liddell and Scott, p. 1029.

72 The sluggard excuses himself from work because there is a “lion in the road” (Proverb 26:13). In a land where lions roam, no one would think of going out to work with a lion there. It is a compelling reason not to work. In our day, abuse has become the compelling reason for separation, divorce, and a whole host of actions which God calls sin. When the mere word “abuse” arises, Christians suddenly urge other Christians to do what God has forbidden. At first, it was but physical and sexual abuse which was accepted in the “lion in the road” category. Now verbal and emotional abuse have been added as well. One wonders what “abuses” will follow.

73 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, pp. 210-211.

74 Barclay, pp. 211-212.

75 As the marginal notes of the NASB indicate, the word “credit,” found three times in Luke 6:32-34, is a translation of the same Greek term (charis) rendered “favor” twice in verses 19 and 20. Some would prefer the word be rendered “grace,” for the ability to live in a way that pleases God and wins His favor is a gift of His grace. And to go above and beyond the call of duty is to manifest God’s grace to men. But since the term also refers to the favorable response men should have toward grace, this may be the best way to render the term as used in these two texts.

76 “The term for ‘example’ is not simply that of a good example that one is exhorted to copy, but the pattern letters that a school child must carefully trace if he or she will ever learn to write. As if to underline this point Peter adds that we are to ‘follow in his footsteps.’” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series. p. 110.

77 “For the word cross he uses the expression tree, which is an idiom borrowed from the Old Testament (see Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29). Simon J. Kistemaker, Peter and Jude (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), 1987. New Testament Commentary Series. p. 111.

78 Peter does not precisely quote an entire section of Isaiah 53. Instead, he paraphrases the passage, citing portions of the text. Stibbs writes, “In verses 22-25 there is a remarkable use by Peter of Old Testament language. There are no less than five quotations or echoes of the statements and phraseology of Is. liii. Verse 22 follows Is. liii. 9; . . . . Verse 23 is parallel to Is. liii. 7; . . . . Verse 24 has phraseology from Is. liii. 12. . . . Verse 25 echoes Is. liii. 6. . . .” Alan M. Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), [photolithoprinted] 1968. Tyndale Bible Commentaries Series, p. 117.

79 See John 8:46; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19; 3:18; 1 John 3:5.

80 “With a likely allusion to Isa. 53:7 . . . the author points out that Jesus in fact observed his own teaching about loving one’s enemies (Matt. 5:38-48; Luke 6:37-38) when he was insulted (Mark 14:65; 15:17-20, 29-32) and tortured (Luke 23:34). Unlike the Maccabean martyrs of Jewish history, who called for God’s vengeance on their persecutors . . . , Jesus was silent even in his own defense (Mark 5:15; Jas. 5:6-9; cf. Heb. 30:30).” Davids, p. 111.

81 See Matthew 26:39, 42.

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13. A Word to Wives (1 Peter 3:1-6)

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

3 And let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

Introduction

Although today is Mother’s Day, I did not plan to preach on this text; in fact, I would have been tempted to avoid this text. If we are perfectly honest, we would have to admit most Mother’s Day sermons are dishonest. Always positive, affirming, sentimental, perhaps untruthful, they sound as though every marriage in the church is unending heavenly bliss, and that every mother is a perfect blend of Mother Theresa, Betty Crocker, and Brooke Shields. If only marriages were year-round what they appear to be on Mother’s Day.

Peter is a man in touch with reality who knows that marriages are not heaven on earth. Like every other human institution, and indeed all creation, marriages too suffer from the adverse affects of the fall. Suffering and groaning (see Romans 8:18-25) are experienced in marriage as in every other aspect of life. Peter assumes there will be suffering in marriage, especially for those Christians who choose to live godly lives. Here, as elsewhere, we will be evil spoken of because of our good deeds (1 Peter 2:12).

Because of the fallen world we live in and the sin nature which exists in our flesh, Christian marriages are susceptible to the same maladies as non-Christian marriages. Peter knows that suffering for the sake of Christ will not only be the lot of Christian citizens living under the authority of heathen political leaders, and slaves under the authority of their human masters, but also wives who are subject to their husbands.

William Barclay, who writes of marriage as it existed in Peter’s day, helps us appreciate the improved lot of women today and also helps us understand why Peter assumes husbands in his day may be abusive to their wives, especially godly wives married to unbelieving husbands.82

In every sphere of ancient civilization, women had no rights at all. Under Jewish law a woman was a thing; she was owned by her husband in exactly the same way as he owned his sheep and his goats; on no account could she leave him, although he could dismiss her at any moment. For a wife to change her religion while her husband did not was unthinkable.

In Greek civilization the duty of the woman was ‘to remain indoors and to be obedient to her husband.’ It was the sign of a good woman that she must see as little, hear as little and ask as little as possible. She had no kind of independent existence and no kind of mind of her own, and her husband could divorce her almost at caprice, so long as he returned her dowry.

Under Roman law a woman had no rights. In law she remained for ever a child. When she was under her father she was under the patira potestas, the father’s power, which gave the father the right even of life and death over her; and when she married she passed equally into the power of her husband. She was entirely subject to her husband and completely at his mercy. Cato the Censor, the typical ancient Roman, wrote: ‘If you were to catch your wife in an act of infidelity, you can kill her with impunity without a trial.’ Roman matrons were prohibited from drinking wine, and Egnatius beat his wife to death when he found her doing so. Sulpicius Gallus dismissed his wife because she had once appeared in the streets without a veil. Antistius Vetus divorced his wife because he saw her secretly speaking to a freed woman in public. Publius Sempronius Sophus divorced his wife because once she went to the public games. The whole attitude of ancient civilization was that no woman could dare take any decision for herself.83

The culture of Peter’s day and the culture of our own day are worlds apart. They could hardly be more different as far as marriage and the place of women is concerned. When Peter commanded wives to be subject to their husbands, this command came as no surprise. Submission was exactly what was expected of wives. Plutarch once put it this way:

So it is with women also; if they subordinate themselves to their husbands, they are commended, but if they want to have control, they cut a sorrier figure than the subjects of their control. And control ought to be exercised by the men over the women, not as the owner has control over a piece of property, but, as the soul controls the body, by entering into her feelings and being knit to her through goodwill.84

In our society, Peter’s instruction to wives to submit to their husbands is totally foreign and repugnant to the feminist movement outside or inside the church. One contemporary commentator clearly suggests Peter’s words are definitely not for us but for another day and time:

The basic command to submission sounds strange to modern Western readers, and so it must be understood in its first-century and early Christian context. Submission to the husband was the custom of the time. For Jews it was based on the stories of the Creation and Fall where the woman, originally created to be a helper for the man (Gen 2:20), is cursed by the pain of childbirth and submission to the rule of her husband (Gen 3:16).

In contrast, the Christian gospel emphasized that in the new situation brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). Paul expresses the equality of husband and wife in as fundamental a matter as their physical sexual relationships (1 Cor. 7:3-4). He also stresses that they are mutually dependent (1 Cor. 11:11-12). This teaching clearly shows that the effects of the Fall are undone in the new creation that is manifested in the church.

Consequently, a new evaluation of the roles of husband and wife was bound to arise. With the new freedom that Christians enjoyed in Christ, there also inevitably arose the temptation to carry things to excess, trespassing the bounds of social propriety at that time.… Peter reminds wives, therefore, to submit to their husbands; that is, to consider his needs and to fulfill them.85

By these comments, Howard Marshall seems to be questioning the biblical imperative that wives should be subject to their husbands. He appears to restrict the imperative to the Old Testament age and not to this age. He seems to imply that the only reason wives were commanded to submit to their husbands was because the culture of that day expected them to submit. If I am correct in my assessment of Marshall’s comments (and I certainly hope I am not), then Peter’s words will be more difficult for us to accept than for the Christian wives of his day. Women were thought of as inferior to men, and so submission was but the lot of women. In our culture, many women are demanding that we treat them as equals, and they bristle at the mere mention of the word “submit.”

Before we allow our emotional juices to flow on this issue, let us hear Peter through, not only in his instructions to wives but also in his instructions to women. I think we will find things are not as bad as we suppose. But we must also be ready and willing to live in a way that dramatically differs from that of our contemporaries to the glory of God.

Additional Comments

It is difficult indeed for Twentieth Century Americans to identify with the setting of our text. The conversion of a wife to faith in Christ presents both the husband and the wife with considerable difficulties. The wife finds a whole new identity in Christ. While she is still dependent on her husband in some ways, she now is a member of the body of Christ, the church. From the church, she receives the ministry of other members in the body as well as sharing from her own gifts and abilities. She finds instruction, encouragement, and even correction from the church. Even if he were a believer, her husband cannot meet all of the spiritual needs of his wife. But an unbeliever cannot contribute spiritually because he neither welcomes nor grasps spiritual truths (see 1 Corinthians 2 and 3). The unbelieving husband would have to be regarded as “ignorant,” as far as matters of the faith are concerned (see 1 Peter 1:14; 2:15).

The woman who was formerly totally dependent upon her husband is now less so because she is a Christian. She might be tempted to seek counsel and guidance from Christians rather than to receive direction from her husband. The non-Christian husband would understandably find his wife’s new faith very threatening. A wife who did not seek to scrupulously follow Peter’s instructions could make matters even worse. It is no wonder that Peter writes to such women.

It would be wrong to state or imply Peter was writing only or even primarily to Christian wives married to unbelieving men. Peter’s instructions to husbands in verse 7 assumes their wives are believers. As in his instructions to slaves, Peter wants to be clear that his instructions apply even to the worst cases. The worst case would be a Christian wife married to an unbelieving husband hostile toward Christianity. If such a person were obligated to follow Peter’s instructions, all other wives would certainly be expected to obey them.

It would be further incorrect to assume Peter is speaking only to Christian wives in our text. Peter’s words are pertinent to all of us because we are all commanded to submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21; see Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Peter 3:8-12). His specific instructions to individuals in specific circumstances are illustrative of what submission is and how it works out in our lives. Peter has chosen to address citizens, servants (or slaves), wives, and husbands because these categories cover virtually all of us, at least once, and likely even more often. Even in the midst of instruction addressed to a particular group, more general application is called for (see 1 Peter 2:15-17, 19, etc.).

The specific sins of which Peter warns Christian wives are not peculiar only to wives. We might call these “besetting sins” (see Hebrews 12:1), those sins particularly tempting for wives. John the Baptist identified specific sins which characterized tax-collectors and soldiers (Luke 3:10-14), but they were not sins committed only by tax-collectors and soldiers. In the second chapter of his epistle to Titus, Paul identified dangerous areas for specific groups, but this in no way suggested the same sins might be a temptation for others. So too Peter’s warnings to wives are not restricted only to wives but should be taken seriously by every Christian.

The Structure of the Text

First Peter 3:1-6 seems to divide evenly into three sections with each containing two verses. Verses 1 and 2 dwell on the silence which should characterize wives whose husbands are both lost and hostile to the faith. Verses 3 and 4 deal with the woman’s attitude toward adornment. Verses 5 and 6 turn our attention to the example of godly women in the Old Testament, especially Sarah.

These three segments are closely related to each other, each one following up on a thought introduced by the previous one. While wives are urged to be silent in verse 1, their chaste and respectful behavior is to be evident (verse 2). This leads Peter to focus on the inward beauty of the wife, which has priority over mere outward beauty. The principle of the priority of inner beauty over external adornment (verses 3 and 4) is then illustrated by Peter in verses 5 and 6 where he turns our attention to Sarah.

When Silence is Golden
(3:1-2)

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won86 without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

The expression “in the same way” indicates a continuation of thought from the previous verses to these words addressed to wives.87 The previous passage was addressed to servants or slaves, and they were commanded to be submissive to their masters, including those who were abusive. Their suffering was for living righteously, and it was to be endured silently. The example set before them was our Lord, the ultimate “Suffering Servant,” whose suffering was innocently and silently endured.

Now Peter’s word to wives begins with the expression “in the same way,” indicating that their conduct is to be Christ-like, for they too are to suffer innocently and silently. And this is precisely what Peter requires. They, like slaves and like our Lord, were to be in submission. As our Lord submitted to the will of His Father (see Philippians 2:8), and as slaves are to submit to their masters, wives are to submit as well.

Christian wives are instructed to submit to their own husbands. They are not to submit to another man nor are they instructed to submit themselves to men in general. They are to be in submission to their own husbands. The goal of their submission, like our Lord, is first of all obedience to God and secondly the salvation of men.88 From verse 7 in chapter 2, we learn that when Peter speaks of being “disobedient to the word” he means that these husbands are unsaved. They have rejected the gospel. In such cases, the conduct of the wife should be such that the husband is saved not by the wife’s speech but by her silence.

It is not as though anyone can be saved without hearing the gospel (see Romans 10:9-15). I infer from Peter’s words that the husband has heard the gospel and chosen to reject it. I further understand Peter to imply that the husband, whether by word or deed, has indicated he wishes to hear no more of the word. If this is the case, let the husband see the word as his wife lives it out in the context of their marriage.

Here is the real test. Can the wife trust God to save her husband by her silence? What does Peter mean by the expression “without a word”? I am convinced he is not speaking about the “silent treatment” which one mate may impose on the other as a form of punishment. Peter is speaking here of silence as it pertains to the gospel. The subject of the gospel should be cheerfully and pleasantly dropped once the husband has made it clear he has heard enough.

What kinds of speech should be silenced then? In general, the subject of the gospel should be dropped, once it has been communicated to the husband and he has chosen to reject it and resisted discussing it. I believe several forms of speech could be cited as examples of the kind of speech Peter seeks to silence.

First, Peter surely forbids a wife to nag her husband with the gospel. This can be blatant or subtle, but it is nevertheless something the husband is keenly aware of and strongly resists. Proverbs indicates that this tendency to nag is one which tempts us all, but especially the wife.

A foolish son is destruction to his father, And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping (Proverbs 19:13).

Second, Peter forbids debate. While nagging may be one method one might use to persuade another, arguing is another. Nagging, by my definition, is simply trying to wear another down by repeating the same things over and over (some folks even try this on God in their prayer life, see Matthew 6:7). Debate is the effort to change another’s mind by continually approaching the discussion from a different point of view, by trying any and every line of argument.

Third, Peter forbids those subtle forms of persuasion which may produce natural responses but fail to produce supernatural conversion. Jesus warned about carefully prepared presentations of the gospel rather than a reliance upon the Holy Spirit (Luke 21:12-15). The apostle Paul is especially sensitive to human forms of persuasion, which he sees as contrary to the way the Spirit works to convince and convert the lost (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).

In 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, and Jude, we are warned about false teachers who appeal to fleshly lusts rather than the impulses of the Spirit. I believe a woman may have an even greater danger in this area than men. Women may seek to use flattery to persuade and may even employ seductive wiles on her husband.

To deliver you from the strange woman, From the adulteress who flatters with her words (Proverbs 2:16). To keep you from the evil woman, From the smooth tongue of the adulteress (Proverbs 6:24).

Delilah’s seduction was the downfall of Samson. One does not seduce another into the kingdom of God, though some most certainly seduce others into error (see Revelation 2:20-22). Using this kind of speech may not be offensive to her husband, but it is certainly inconsistent with the gospel.

Peter’s instruction is not merely negative, forbidding Christian wives to verbally pressure their husbands to come to faith in Christ. Rather, in place of her words, wives are to witness to their husbands through their works. Husbands should be able to observe that their wives are different than they were before they came to faith. They should especially be characterized by a behavior which is chaste and respectful. The remaining four verses spell out the meaning of these words, but let us at least come to a preliminary definition of them.

The word “respectful” is literally “fear” as the marginal note in the New American Standard Bible indicates. The “fear” called for here seems to be the wife’s “fear” or respect for her husband rather than her fear of God, though both are certainly required of her (see 1 Peter 1:17; 2:17; Ephesians 5:33).

The word “chaste” is employed a number of times in the New Testament, often with a meaning broader than just sexual purity.89 However, here I believe sexual purity is a prominent part of Peter’s meaning.90 A wife may influence her husband in many ways to control or at least manipulate him. Making your husband jealous is one way which is often considered not only clever but acceptable. Chastity is pressed beyond its limits when this form of manipulation is practiced. In some cases, the wife may not wish to control her husband as much as to gain the attention and admiration or another man. This is also clearly out of bounds. The wife’s feminine charms are for the glory and enjoyment of her husband and no other. Peter calls the wife to live by the highest moral standards, not merely by those of the culture in which she lives.

The Ultimate Beauty
(3:3-4)

3 And let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;91 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

The problem of looking on outward appearances is not restricted only to women:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God [sees] not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15; see also Matthew 6:1ff.).

In both the Old and New Testaments, however, outward adornment became an obsession and therefore a matter for rebuke and instruction:

16 Moreover, the LORD said, “Because the daughters of Zion are proud, and walk with heads held high and seductive eyes, and go along with mincing steps, and tinkle the bangles on their feet, 17 therefore the Lord will afflict the scalp of the daughters of Zion with scabs, and the LORD will make their foreheads bare.” 18 In that day the Lord will take away the beauty of [their] anklets, headbands, crescent ornaments, 19 dangling earrings, bracelets, veils, 20 headdresses, ankle chains, sashes, perfume boxes, amulets, 21 finger rings, nose rings, 22 festal robes, outer tunics, cloaks, money purses, 23 hand mirrors, undergarments, turbans, and veils. 24 Now it will come about that instead of sweet perfume there will be putrefaction; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a plucked-out scalp; instead of fine clothes, a donning of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty. 25 Your men will fall by the sword, and your mighty ones in battle (Isaiah 3:16-25).

9 Likewise, [I want] women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; 10 but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness (1 Timothy 2:9-10).

In the days in which Peter lived, those with the means to do so went to great extremes in dress, cosmetics, and hair styling to look good to others:

Ornate hairstyles were prevalent in the high society of the Roman world:

‘Curl climbs on top of curl and over the forehead there arose something which at its best looked like the chef d’oeuvre of a master pastry cook and, at its worst, like a dry sponge. At the back the hair was plaited, and the braids arranged in a coil which looks like basketwork.’92

While outward appearances affect every believer, male or female (see Matthew 6; and 23:5-6), Peter particularly instructs married women about their priorities concerning true beauty. There is nothing wrong with dressing in a way that pleases one’s mate. It is no sin to be well-dressed (see Proverbs 31:22). But it is wrong to be preoccupied with outward appearances at the expense of inward beauty. A beautiful woman who lacks inner beauty and character is, according to Proverbs, like a pig with a gold ring in its nose.

[As] a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, [So is] a beautiful woman who lacks discretion (Proverbs 11:22).

Not only is it wrong for a woman (or a man) to place too high a value on external appearances, it is likewise evil to seek man’s approval rather than to strive to please God. That which pleases God is a “gentle and quiet spirit.” This is hardly the contemporary estimate of the ideal woman. Our culture teaches women to practice assertiveness and aggressiveness and outer beauty, rather than to acquire a gentle and quiet spirit.

Why is modest apparel and a “gentle and quiet spirit” pleasing to God? What does this have to do with submission, the major topic of our text? Biblical submission is more than most Christians think. Many Christians are resistant to the biblical teaching of the submission of the wife to her husband. And even those who accept this teaching may think of submission primarily in terms of obeying their husband, of following his leadership.

The submission of the wife to her husband certainly includes honoring him and obeying him, whether this is popular thought or not. But the submission of the wife to her husband is much more than this. Creation requires the submission of the wife to her husband (1 Corinthians 11:7-12), as does the fall (Genesis 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:12-15). It is necessitated by the picture marriage is to portray about the relationship between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). It is to demonstrate the headship of Christ over the church (1 Corinthians 11:2-16).

The headship of Christ involves more than His authority and rule over the church. It includes the fact that He is the source of the church, that the church was brought forth through Him. It also involves the supremacy and preeminence of Christ. The glory is to be His, not ours. We are here for His glory. The glory of God must be one of our guiding goals and principles (1 Corinthians 10:31).

When the woman ceases to act with a “quiet and gentle spirit,” she begins to promote herself and bring attention to herself. Rather than being the glory of her husband, she steals the glory from him. The same is true of her attire. She may never utter a word publicly, but she may dress in a way which causes every eye to be fixed on her. To do so is to cast aside the headship of her husband and the submission required of her. No wonder Peter and Paul speak of a woman’s dress and demeanor.

But a woman can attract just as much attention to herself by looking sloppy and unkempt as she can by being “dressed to kill.” Whenever a woman attracts attention to herself rather than to her husband, she has failed to grasp and obey the biblical teaching on submission.

23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells [them,] And supplies belts to the tradesmen. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future. 26 She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband [also,] and he praises her, [saying:] 29 “Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, [But] a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates (Proverbs 31:23-31).

The Example of Holy Women of Old
(3:5-6)

5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.93

A “gentle and quiet spirit” is totally the opposite of the spirit of the contentious wife of Proverbs (see Proverbs 21:9, 19). The spirit or disposition which underlies submission is of crucial importance. Peter turns our attention to the “holy women of old,” not to remind us of how they dressed but to point to their submissive spirit, their source of true beauty. Notice these women were submissive to their “own” husbands, not because their trust was in their husbands but because their hope was in God. They trusted God to work through their husbands and to work in spite of them. Their hope, like every Old Testament saint (see Hebrews 11), was not in this life but in the kingdom of God to come. Their hope was in God alone who would bring it to pass.

Sarah is the one woman Peter identifies by name. Quite frankly, I would never have picked Sarah for she always seemed to be a kind of feminine counterpart to Lot. As I read Genesis 16 and 21, I find Sarah a little hard to like. She, like Lot and every other saint, was not a perfect saint. But she did exemplify the submissive spirit of which Peter speaks.

Peter refers to Sarah calling Abraham “lord,” as recorded the one time in Genesis:

9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “Behold, in the tent.” 10 And he said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; Sarah was past childbearing. 12 And Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” 13 And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I indeed bear [a child,] when I am [so] old?’ 14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 Sarah denied [it] however, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh” (Genesis 18:9-15).

Sarah may have called Abraham lord at other times, but this instance is especially noteworthy. Peter has been contrasting inner beauty with outer adornment and the beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” This passage in Genesis illustrates Sarah’s spirit.

The angels have come to Abraham’s camp and been invited to stay for a meal. They then announce to Abraham that at this time next year Sarah will have a son. Sarah seems to have been eavesdropping, for when she heard the prophecy of a son, she laughed to herself. The words recorded in Genesis 18:12 are the words Sarah thought to herself. She did not speak them aloud, although the Lord was aware that she laughed inwardly.

Most of us speak respectfully to someone’s face, even if hypocritically. But Sarah spoke to herself calling Abraham “lord,” indicating the way she really thought of him. In her mind, Abraham was not “the old man,” but her master, her lord. And she, as it were, was his servant. In her heart, she was submissive to her husband, which made her a beautiful woman and an example for all to follow.

Abraham is sometimes referred to as the “father” of those who believe in Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Gentile by birth (see Romans 4:11-12; Galatians 3:7, 16, 29; Hebrews 2:16). Here, Sarah is called the “mother” of all those women who walk in her footsteps and who respect and obey their husbands: “and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.”

If I understand the passage correctly, “without being frightened by any fear” parallels the earlier expression of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” Some Christian psychiatrists speak of the “typical hysterical female,” a characterization I am not certain I like. Peter talks about the godly Christian wife as being exactly the opposite. She is not hysterical or panic-stricken about the future,94 for her hope is fixed on God. She calmly and quietly submits to her husband,95 knowing God’s purposes will be achieved because of or in spite of her husband.

Can you imagine leaving your homeland, your family, and all of your friends to go to a place God has not even yet revealed (see Genesis 12:1-3)? How many times did Abraham come to his wife to tell her God had instructed him to do what appeared to be foolish? As far as I can tell, Sarah was never present when God gave Abraham his instructions (except this one time in Genesis 18). It could have been a most terrifying thing to have been married to Abraham and follow him without being frightened by any fear. But Sarah did submit to Abraham, first in her spirit, and then on a day-by-day basis.96 For this, she became an example of godly submission to all of us.

Conclusion

A few years ago, I would hardly have felt the necessity of stressing a point which seems all too apparent, but in today’s culture I must stress it: God requires wives to submit to their husbands. The submission of the wife to her husband was established at the time of the creation of man and then at the fall. It is not merely an Old Testament requirement but a New Testament imperative. Paul taught it, and so did Peter. It is clear from our Lord’s practice that He agreed. The cross does not overrule or override the need for submission. In 1 Peter, the cross is not only an example of submission, it serves as the basis, the means and the motivation. Peter’s teaching on the submission of the wife to her husband follows immediately upon his teaching of the submission of servants to their masters, and especially of Christ to the will of the Father, which led to His death on the cross as the great “Suffering Servant.” As Peter addresses Christian wives, he begins with the words, “in like manner.” One cannot avoid the fact that in this age, as in all others of the past, the wife is to be in submission to her husband.

Does our culture bristle at this thought? This is just one more way the Christian will stand apart from others and one more reason why our “doing good” will be evil spoken of by unbelievers. Submission to one’s husband is one of the many ways in which the Christian may suffer for the sake of Christ and to the glory of God. Such submission is required under favorable conditions, and even in adverse circumstances such as when the husband is an unbeliever and refuses to obey the gospel by submitting to Jesus Christ for salvation. The submissiveness of the wife to her husband may bring about his salvation which most certainly pleases God. Does submission appear to limit one’s happiness and fulfillment in this life? It may, but the Christian wife has her hope in God, and she willingly accepts suffering in this life assured of the glory to come.

While this may not sound all that good in theory, I assure you it is even more difficult to practice. More often than I wish to admit, I find Christians turning their backs on Peter’s teaching. They believe a wife should not have to put up with an abusive husband. When they do so, they are thinking according to the mold of our culture rather than the mind of Christ.

Suppose one of your very good friend confides that her husband is cruel and “abusive” to her. She is a Christian; he is not. She wonders what she should do and asks for your advice. Do you turn to the Bible, or do you give “your opinion?” And if you turn to the Bible, is this text one of the first you show her? It should be. It calls on the Christian to suffer unjustly, to the glory of God and for the salvation of those who are lost. Is a “dysfunctional marriage” pleasant? No. Is it an excuse to bail out? Peter gives us the answer, although it is not one we want to hear. Who of us wants to suffer?

Peter’s words about submission and suffering should give us a different perspective on suffering. We are a generation of so-called “victims.” The very excellent book entitled, No God, But God, contains a chapter by Os Guinness entitled, “More Victimized Than Thou.”97 We have become a generation of victims, not victors. Peter will have none of this “victim” mentality. I used to say our culture sought to replace HOPE with HYPE. That is no longer the case. Now, our secular culture seeks to redefine HOPE so that it becomes nothing more than COPE. We are not called to be “copers;” we are called to suffer for Christ’s sake so that we will be overcomers. Let us shed the victim mindset as something which comes from the pit.

This passage cuts to the heart of a growing crisis in America—the disproportionate emphasis on appearance. Peter does not sanction a blatant disregard for good health and caring for one’s body, and neither does Paul (see 1 Timothy 4:7-8). Physical appearance has become the dominant driving force in the lives of many women. I cannot help but think the epidemic of eating disorders is rooted in a failure to understand and apply the principles Peter lays down in this text. Skinny women “feel” fat, and so they refuse the nourishment their bodies need. They are never skinny enough to fit the image of the perfect body, and yet often little attention is given to the inner beauty of which Peter speaks. Let us see Peter’s words as very relevant to our thinking and conduct, for they are.

Peter certainly challenges us to think more carefully and precisely about evangelism. We think of evangelism as being virtually synonymous with our speech. We must proclaim the gospel, for men and women are saved only as they hear and respond to the good news of salvation in Christ. And yet Peter makes it clear that there is a time to be still. We do not convert people by wearing down their resistance. We do not convert people by our persuasive powers. Our lives are to be consistent with the gospel we preach. After the lost have heard of Christ, they must see Him in us. That is the connection which Peter makes between the “Suffering Servant” in 1 Peter 2:21-25 and the suffering of His servants in this entire section. It may very well be our suffering rather than our success in speaking which God uses to draw the lost to Himself. If this is so, it is consistent with the experience of others such as the apostle Paul (see 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2).

Our lesson has primarily been addressed to those who have already trusted in Jesus Christ. Peter has been speaking to Christian wives. He has made it clear that those who have come to Christ must live like Christ. Just as He suffered for us, we are now called to suffer, as He did, to God’s glory and for the salvation of others. But just as it is true that coming to Christ often results in suffering, it is also true that suffering may bring us to Christ. Listen to these words spoken by our Lord at the outset of His ministry:

1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He [began] to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:1-6).

Has suffering brought you to the end of yourself? Has it caused you to look to the Lord Jesus for salvation? Jesus came to minister to those in need. If that is your plight, then there is hope—in Him. He suffered and died so that your sins could be forgiven and so that you might have eternal life. May God open your heart to trust in Him, who turns suffering to joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:6-8).


82 I do not mean Peter is writing only to Christian wives married to unbelieving husbands. Peter focuses on the conduct of a godly wife married to an unbelieving husband because this is the “worst case scenario.” If Peter can require what he does of a wife in such adverse circumstances, then surely all other wives are to apply the same principles.

83 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, pp. 218-219.

84 Plutarch, “Advice to Bride and Groom” as cited by Balch, p. 99, cited by Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press), 1988. The Bible Speaks Today Series, p. 127.

85 I. Howard Marshall, 1 Peter (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press), 1991. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. p. 99.

86 This term is employed five times in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 for winning one to faith in Christ.

87 The same is found in verse 7 showing that Peter’s words to husbands continues the same line of thought and action.

88 Augustine described the witness of his Christian mother which led to the salvation of his pagan father: ‘She served her husband as her master, and did all she could to win him for You, speaking to him of You by her conduct, by which You made her beautiful. . . . Finally, when her husband was at the end of his earthly span, she gained him for You.’” Confessions 9:19-22. Cited by J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers), 1969. Harpers New Testament Commentaries Series, p. 128.

89 “The wife’s conduct is also characterized as chaste (hagnen), ‘pure’ or ‘holy.’ The concept is not to be limited to sexual chastity; it denotes that purity in character and conduct that should characterize all of the Christian life (Phil. 4:8; 1 Tim. 5:22; Titus 2;5; James 3;17; 1 John 3:3).” Clowney, p. 185.

90 Compare Proverbs 7.

91 “Putting on (endueos), a term not used elsewhere in the New Testament, is another noun of action and apparently indicates the practice of appearing in a great variety of dresses, ‘the frequent changing of frocks.’” Hiebert, p. 187, citing J.W. C. Wand, The General Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude, p. 90.

92 Clowney, p. 132, citing J. Balsdon, Roman Women, Their History and Habits (The Bodley Head, 1962), p. 256, cited in Hurley, op. cit., p. 258.

93 This seems to be a free quotation of Proverbs 3:25.

94 “This fits with ‘peaceful,’ a term used in the NT only here and in 1 Tim. 2:2, the nominal form appearing as well in Acts 22:2; 2 Thess. 3:12; and 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. The sense of being calm, peaceful, and tranquil as opposed to restless, rebellious, disturbed, or insubordinate appears in each passage.” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series, p. 119.

95 I want it to be very clear that I do not embrace the position publicly taught by one Christian teacher that women are to imitate Sarah by submitting to every request of her husband, whether sinful or not. As with our submission to others in authority, we must always limit our obedience to those things which do not clearly violate God’s commands. Sarah was wrong to participate in the deception that she was Abraham’s sister rather than his wife. She should have said, as Peter later would do, “We must obey God rather than men.” Wives are to submit to their husbands when they doubt the wisdom of their leadership, but not when they know it requires them to sin.

96 The tense of the word “obeyed” in verse 6 is such that it probably should be rendered “used to obey,” emphasizing the continual obedience of Sarah.

97 No God, But God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), edited by Os Guinness and John Seel, pp. 81-93.

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14. The Obligations of Christian Husbands to Their Wives (1 Peter 3:7)

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered (King James Version).

You husbands likewise, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (NASB).

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers (NIV).

Similarly, you husbands should try to understand the wives you live with, honoring them as physically weaker yet equally heirs with you of the grace of life. If you don’t do this, you will find it impossible to pray properly (Phillips).

In the same way, you husbands must conduct your married life with understanding: pay honour to the woman’s body, not only because it is weaker, but also because you share together in the grace of God which gives you life. Then your prayers will not be hindered (The New English Bible).

In the same way, husbands must always treat their wives with consideration in their life together, respecting a woman as one who, though she may be the weaker partner, is equally an heir to the life of grace. This will stop anything from coming in the way of your prayers (The Jerusalem Bible).

Introduction

Some years ago I was invited to a gathering of six to eight couples, all of whom shared something in common—they all had either separated or divorced and then come back together as husband and wife. They all shared how their marriages had crumbled and then how they had been reunited after they came to trust in Jesus Christ. It has been about twenty years since that gathering, and to my knowledge no more than one of these couples is still together. I am not even certain that one couple remains.

How can a man and a woman who both believe in Jesus Christ fail to fulfill their calling as a married couple? Why does the divorce rate among Christians differ little from non-Christians? The answer is many-fold. First, Christians have forgotten, ignored, or blatantly rejected our Lord’s teaching on the permanence of marriage. Second, Christian husbands and wives fail to understand and apply the biblical principles governing the practice of both partners in marriage. Third, Christian husbands and wives forget the divine purpose for marriage, and therefore the profound ramifications of failing our responsibilities in marriage. Fourth, Christian couples fail to view their marriage responsibilities in the light of eternity. Christian hope is foundational to a Christian marriage. Fifth, somehow it is mistakenly assumed that the spiritual equality of the husband and the wife wipes out the necessity for the submission of the one mate to the other.

In but one verse, Peter addresses each of these five fundamental dimensions of marriage. I believe I can safely say that where these truths are understood and obeyed, no Christian marriage should fail. For God’s sake, and our own, let us hear and heed these words from the apostle Peter.

The Context

We know this verse is a part of a larger passage in which Peter is dealing with the subject of submission, which introduced in chapter 2:

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17).

From here, Peter goes on to specifically address slaves (2:18-21a) and wives (3:1-6). The example set for all is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the model Suffering Servant (2:21b-25).

The words “in the same way” (3:1) and “likewise” (3:7) are unfortunately different translations of precisely the same term in the original text. They indicate that just as the example of our Lord is the pattern for slaves and Christian wives, it is also the pattern for Christian husbands. When Peter turns to husbands in verse 7, he simply continues the subject of submission he began in chapter 2 and continues to the end of chapter 3. Some unique features of Peter’s instructions to husbands in verse 7 need to be recognized:

(1) This is the only instance in Peter’s discussion of submission thus far in which a reciprocal obligation is specified. Elsewhere when children are instructed to obey their parents, parents are likewise exhorted concerning their responsibilities. When slaves are addressed, so are their masters. This is not so with Peter, except for wives and their husbands.

(2) Elsewhere submission is specifically called for, but here it is required by inference.

(3) In the other instances requiring submission, it is assumed the one submitting is a believer, while the one to whom submission is required may likely be an unbeliever.

(4) Elsewhere the one to whom submission is required is looked upon as the source of suffering for the one who is required to submit.

(5) Elsewhere, the goal of submission is the salvation of the one to whom submission is required. Here, Peter assumes that both the husband and the wife are saved.

(6) Elsewhere, the goal is a public witness to the proclamation of the excellencies of Him who called us to the unbelievers who behold our submission in the midst of suffering. Here, the outcome is an unhindered prayer life of the husband and wife.

(7) Elsewhere, submission is assumed to require silence on the part of the one who submits. Nowhere is the husband specifically called upon to be silent.

(8) Elsewhere, submission is called for on the part of a subordinate to his or her superior. Here, the husband is called upon to submit to one under his authority.

Crucial Decisions

From the various ways this one verse is translated, we see that those who have studied it do not understand it in exactly the same way. Several fundamental decisions have significantly impacted my interpretation of this verse, which I will spell out so you will understand the premises on which my interpretation is founded.98

First, it is my conviction that the text is best explained and applied as rendered in its most strictly literal fashion. The King James Version and the American Standard Version are the most literal translations I have encountered.

Second, there are two principle verbs (actually they are participles) in this verse, and I understand them to provide the two main points of emphasis.

Third, I understand the term “knowledge” to refer, first and foremost, to the knowledge which comes to believers from the Scriptures rather than from other sources.

Fourth, I define the term “to live together with” as it is employed in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). This term has a broad meaning of “living together with” another, without any marital or sexual connotations (Deuteronomy 25:5a99; 24:1). Its most common use is in reference to a man living with a woman as his wife (Genesis 20:3).100 Sometimes there is a more specific reference to sexual intercourse between a husband and his wife (Deuteronomy 22:13; 25:5b). Isaiah 62:5 appears to merge the idea of taking a wife and consummating it with a sexual union.

Fifth, I understand that this verse indicates the wife in view is a Christian and that the prayers referred to are the prayers of the husband and the wife.101

Sixth, I understand the text which most literally translates the original text of 1 Peter 3:7 is the King James Version, which should be outlined as on the following page:

Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with [them] according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. (King James Version)

Dwelling Together According to Knowledge

We must remember that Peter’s instructions to slaves in chapter 2 and to wives in chapter 3 were not calling for actions radically different from what the culture of that day expected. Slaves were expected to submit to their masters, as wives were expected to submit to their own husbands. The difference was the attitude which motivated this submission and the manner in which this submission was carried out. Wives and slaves might do what they were told, but Peter required something more, a truly submissive spirit which silently accepted suffering for being godly.

When we come to Peter’s words to husbands, there is little common ground between what society expected from Christian husbands and what God required of them. The command to dwell with their wives should be understood in the light of our Lord’s teaching:

3 And [some] Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful [for a man] to divorce his wife for any cause at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read, that He who created [them] from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, ‘FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND [her] AWAY?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men [can] accept this statement, but [only] those to whom it has been given. 12 “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are [also] eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept [this,] let him accept [it.”] (Matthew 19:3-12).

Whether liberal or conservative, Jewish religious leaders had a much lower view of marriage than our Lord. All of these leaders, including the disciples, expected a good number of husbands to forsake their marriage vows, divorce their wives, and marry another wife. The question in their mind was not “if” divorce should occur, but only how petty the excuse would have to be to justify the divorce. In this Matthew 19 text, Jesus did not contradict His teaching on divorce elsewhere. There were certain circumstances in which it was allowed. But He is emphatic in this passage that marriage is to be entered into as a permanent commitment. The disciples were shocked. Perhaps, they reasoned, it would be better not to enter into marriage if Jesus’ view of marriage was the standard. Jesus did not back off when the disciples reasoned this way. They should not hastily enter into a marriage commitment which they did not expect to keep for a lifetime.

While the men of Peter’s day could rather easily ease out of one marriage and into another, the same was not true for women. There was therefore no need for Peter to command wives as he does husbands. The command to “dwell with their wives” is but the instruction of our Lord as expressed through His apostles. Although the culture of that day and ours tolerates divorce, Peter instructs Christian husbands to remain in their marriage. Paul agrees, instructing wives not to abandon their marriages and husbands not to divorce:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).102

Does a Christian husband feel “abused” by his wife? It certainly can happen, for the Bible indicates the wife can make life miserable for her husband. One way a wife can make her husband suffer is by being unsubmissive—contentious. Another way is by her tongue. Peter certainly addresses these, and we likewise find them dealt with in the Book of Proverbs (see 12:4; 19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15). Paul likewise warns husbands of bitterness (Colossians 3:19). Regardless of the “suffering” a husband might think he endures at the hand (or tongue) of his wife, Peter says, “stay with her.”

It is not enough for the husband merely to endure marriage. He must take the “high road” of marriage, the road only a Christian is enabled to walk. Peter instructs husbands to “dwell with” their wives according to knowledge. This expression is very important. As one looks at the various translations, one sees how much difference there is in the way the expression is understood.

But what does Peter want us to understand by this word “knowledge? Having looked up every use of this term in the New Testament,103 I think it is safe to say its primary emphasis is upon that “knowledge” which is from above, knowledge of Christ, the Gospel, and that which God has revealed, especially as it relates to marriage.104 There are distorted forms of knowledge, but this false knowledge is clearly indicated (Romans 2:20; 1 Timothy 6:20).

Most significant is the way Peter uses this term “knowledge” in his second epistle:

4 Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence … 5 Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in [your] moral excellence, knowledge; 6 and in [your] knowledge, self-control, and in [your] self-control, perseverance, and in [your] perseverance, godliness (2 Peter 1:3, 5-6).105

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

The principle thrust of Peter’s command to husbands, therefore, is this: Husbands, keep on living with your wives in accordance with that knowledge which you now have as Christians. Further evidence in support of this emphasis on Scriptural knowledge can be seen in Peter’s description of our condition before salvation as being “ignorant:”

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).

For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15).

What is this knowledge which should govern the way Christian husbands live with their wives? Peter mentions several specific aspects of this knowledge. First, we are to live with our wives in the knowledge that we are to subordinate our own selfish desires to the benefit and blessing of our wives, as Christ did for the Church. Peter has already referred to this in chapter 2, verses 21-25, and points to it by the word “likewise” in 1 Peter 3:7. Paul even more pointedly points to the way in which our Lord’s love for His church is to be the pattern for the husband’s relationship with his wife:

22 Wives, [be subject] to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself [being] the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives [ought to be] to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also [does] the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and [let] the wife [see to it] that she respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).

The knowledge which should govern the conduct of the Christian husband and wife is not knowledge known to mankind in general. Paul tells us it is a mystery (Ephesians 5:32). Thus, the mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 3) is the knowledge which instructs us concerning Christian marriage.

Secondly, we are to recognize that some aspects of marriage are matters of mutual submission. Other revelation regarding Christian marriage which we find in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians appears to compliment Peter’s words to husbands in our text.

3 Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife [does.] 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

Paul, like Peter, points out a very practical connection between the sexual relationship of a husband and wife to their prayer life, which we will consider later in the lesson. But it is very interesting that Paul does not speak of the sexual union between a husband and his wife only in terms of the wife’s submission to her husband, but rather in terms of the mutual submission of both the husband and the wife. The husband does have authority over his wife’s body, but so also the wife has authority over his body. It is not a one-sided submission, but a mutual submission.

This is not to say the relationship between a husband and his wife is entirely governed by mutual submission, so that the headship of the husband over his wife is denied or nullified. It simply says that in the Christian marriage, some matters are governed by mutual submission, while others are governed by the submission of the wife to the authority of her husband. Even when the husband is in authority, his obligation is to relate to his wife as Christ loved the church, using His authority and power to minister to her for her benefit and blessing.

I understand Peter’s words to include the sexual dimensions of marriage.106 From the use of this expression (“to dwell together with”) in the Old Testament (Septuagint), I understand Peter to be referring not only to the fact that the husband lives with his wife, but that the husband persists in fulfilling his responsibilities as a husband, which includes the sexual intimacy the husband is expected to maintain with his wife. I believe this is what Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 7.

Some would favor the view that Peter’s words here refer primarily to the husband’s knowledge of his wife, of her weaknesses, her needs, her uniqueness as a woman and as an individual. While this kind of knowledge is important for the husband to minister to his wife, I do not think Peter’s emphasis lies here. This, in my opinion, is a secondary matter, while biblical knowledge is primary. I therefore seem to differ with Edmund Clowney’s emphasis, but not in a way that rejects the point he makes:

“Does Peter mean knowledge of the wife, or knowledge of God and his calling? The close connection with the description of the wife as the weaker partner favors the specific sense: the husband must dwell with his wife as one who knows her needs, who recognizes the delicacy of her nature and feelings. On the other hand, Peter has warned against ‘the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance’ (1;14). Knowledge of God distinguishes Christian love from pagan lust. That saving knowledge enables the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.”107

Granting Honor to the Wife

Not only is the husband to live with his wife according to knowledge, he is also instructed to grant honor to his wife. The noun “honor” is found here in 1 Peter as well as in 2:7 and then in 2 Peter 1:17. The verb, “to honor,” is used twice by Peter in 1 Peter 2:

Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:17).

To honor someone is to attribute value to them, to esteem them as having value. To dishonor someone is to view them as having little, lesser, or no value (see Matthew 5:22; James 2:1-6). Honor often has to do with value, but it also has to do with importance. Submission is evidenced when we consider the interests of another more important than self-interest (see Philippians 2:3-8). The husband is not to submit to his wife in the sense of subordinating himself to her authority, but he is to submit to her in the sense that he highly values her and subordinates his selfish interests to her well-being.

It would be safe to say that in the world of Peter’s day (not to exclude our own) wives were not honored by their husbands. The honoring of one’s wife was foreign to that culture, as it is in our day. The reasons for honoring one’s wife are even more foreign. Peter sets down two reasons why a Christian husband should honor his wife. First, he should honor her as the weaker vessel. Second, he should honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life. Let us consider each of these areas of honor.

Husbands are to grant their wives honor as the weaker vessel. If we are to understand and obey Peter’s teaching we must first understand what Peter means when he refers to the woman as the weaker vessel. Furthermore, we must also grasp how a husband can and should honor his wife as the weaker vessel.

The term “vessel” is used in various ways. In 1 Thessalonians 4:4 Paul seems to use the term vessel in reference to the human body. Whether that be of the man or of his wife is a matter of discussion in this particular instance, but it is not crucial for our study. In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul writes that the treasure of the gospel is contained in “earthen vessels.” Again, he seems to be referring to the human body. Both husbands and wives are “vessels” and while the man is “weak” the woman is the “weaker” of the two.

Just what is this “weakness” to which Peter refers? It is worthwhile to note that Peter does not precisely define just how the woman is the weaker vessel. The term “weak” is used often of physical sicknesses and infirmities which weaken the body. While we can all agree that, in general, women are not physically as strong as men, this does not seem to be Peter’s primary meaning. Weakness is also used in a more general way in the New Testament, which I think is more in line with Peter’s meaning. Consider these texts:

27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).

21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those [members] of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly [members come to] have more abundant seemliness, 24 whereas our seemly [members] have no need [of it.] But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked (1 Corinthians 12:21-24).

And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive [literally, weak], and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10).

The “weakness” to which Peter refers are not so much a weakness with which a woman is born, but that role or position of weakness to which she submits, in obedience to the Word of God. To be weak is to lack power and prominence. For a woman to submit to her husband, to be silent and have a gentle and quiet spirit (as taught in 3:1-6) is to be weak in the eyes of the world. The husband is to honor his wife because she has been divinely appointed to assume the “weaker” role.

How then does the husband honor his wife as the weaker vessel? If the responsibility of the wife is to give priority to her inner beauty rather than to outward adornment, it is the husband’s duty to honor his wife, to promote her well-being and praise. In submission to His Father, our Lord sought only to obey and not to promote His own glory but the glory of the Father. The Father is the One who promotes the glory of the Son (see Philippians 2:3-11). The husband of the godly woman of Proverbs is “known in the gates” of the city, because of his wife (31:23). But it certainly seems that he proclaims the praises of his wife in the gates (31:31). In Ephesians 5, the husband is to imitate Christ’s relationship to the church by his relationship to his wife. Christ is then said not only to have given Himself sacrificially for the church, but He is actively at work to perfect and beautify His bride:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-28a).

Should the husband therefore not be seeking to glorify the wife, even as she seeks to bring glory to him (see also 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, especially verses 7, 15)?

The same principle seems evident in relation to spiritual gifts. Some members of the body, some gifts, do not seem to be as significant as others. They seem weaker, and so we bestow greater honor on them. We seek to exalt and enhance them (1 Corinthians 12:20-25). So the husband honors his wife as the weaker vessel by seeking to exalt and elevate her.

What a wonderful thing submission is in marriage! The wife seeks to glorify her husband, but submits to him. The husband uses his leadership to “glorify” his wife as he exercises leadership over her in a way that sacrifices his personal interests to bring about the best interests of his bride.

We see another illustration of how we honor those who are weaker in the Scriptures in Romans 14 (also see 1 Corinthians 8-10). There Paul instructs us concerning our conduct in relationship to a “weaker brother.” A weaker brother is one who does not understand the Scriptures so well as to understand certain areas of personal liberty. Neither does he or she have the faith to do the things a “stronger” brother can do in good faith. The stronger brother honors the weaker brother by refraining from practicing his liberty so that the weaker brother is not made to stumble in his faith.

I have only recently begun to appreciate this area. My wife and I have counseled a number of couples preparing for marriage, but only recently have I begun to warn husbands to be careful to use their authority in such a way as not to force or pressure their wives to do something contrary to her convictions. The principles of Romans 14 apply as much to husbands and wives as they do to anyone else in the church.

Here we can see the true spirit of submission. True submission does not exercise strength at the expense of the weak, but rather refrains for the benefit of the weak. In the world, men use their strength to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of the weak. In the Christian faith, the strong employ their strength in such a way as to edify the weak:

14 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves (Romans 15:1; see also 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

The Christian husband seeks to discover the weaknesses of his wife, not so that he may use these to his advantage but to employ his strength in compensating for her weakness. This kind of spirit guards the husband from misappropriating his authority so as to rule with an iron fist over his wife. This kind of servant leadership causes the Christian husband to stand apart and above unbelieving husbands, who do not live with their wives according to knowledge but according to their ignorance.

There is a second basis for the honor the Christian husband is to grant his wife. This is her position as a “fellow heir of the grace of life.” I do not understand Peter to be talking about a husband and wife sharing physical life here, but rather to be talking about spiritual life. First Peter is not only about suffering; it is also about hope, our future hope:

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13; see also 1:3-12, etc.)

Peter has been explaining how the Christian’s hope changes his perspective on suffering.108 The Christian’s hope makes him an alien and a stranger on this earth. The suffering we experience in this life is short and sweet compared to our eternal glory, especially when we understand that our suffering benefits us, glorifies God, and may lead to the salvation of others. And so it is that we can submit to government authorities, slaves can submit to cruel masters, and wives to unbelieving husbands.

But now Peter shows how the Christian husband’s hope should change his attitudes and actions toward his wife. For a short time the wife is subject to her husband in this life. But in eternity it will not be this way at all. For all eternity there will be no distinction between slave and free, rich and poor, male and female. Husbands are to view marriage in terms of eternity:

29 But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. 30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:29-30).

29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

The Sadducees of Jesus’ day (and I suspect many other Jews) thought heaven was going to simply be a continuation of things the way they have been on earth. Jesus shocked them by telling them things would be very different in heaven. There would be no marrying in heaven. The husband-wife relationship is temporal, not eternal. This is why Paul urged those who were single to seriously contemplate staying single, and why he instructed those who are married to live as though they are not.

So far as what awaits Christian husbands and wives, there is no difference in heaven. The roles which husbands and wives are to fulfill in this life will be left behind when we enter into the hope of heaven. Christian husbands, therefore, cannot look on their wives as unbelievers do, for they look upon their wives only in terms of the present time and culture. Christian husbands must look upon their wives in the light of their ultimate possession and their present status as joint heirs of this possession.

Unhindered Prayers

The goal of Christ’s suffering was our salvation (1 Peter 2:21-25). The goal of the wife’s submission in suffering is the salvation of her husband (3:1-2). The goal for the Christian husband’s conduct in relation to his wife is unhindered prayer.

7b So that your prayers may not be hindered.

Peter speaks here of the relationship of a Christian husband and his believing wife. It is also my understanding that Peter is speaking of all the prayers of the husband and the wife—their individual prayers, but most particularly those prayers which they engage in together (see also 1 Corinthians 7:5).109

Peter is applying a more general principle to the relationship of a husband and his wife in marriage. That general principle is: Broken or injured relationships between Christians hinder them in their interaction with God. Loving God and loving men sums up the Old Testament Law (see Matthew 22:34-40). If our relation-ship with others is strained, it would seem to create problems in our relationship with God (see Matthew 6:14-15). Our strained relationship with a brother must be reconciled before we conduct our worship:

23 “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).

In a similar fashion, when the relationship between a husband and his wife is strained, it hinders our communion and fellowship with God, and thus the prayer life of a couple is paralyzed by the sin of one or both partners. When there is conflict between believers, it is often due to their pursuit of self-interest rather than a mutual submission to each other. In such cases, our prayers are both misdirected and unanswered:

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:1-4).

Conclusion

Peter instructs Christian husbands to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate “Suffering Servant” (1 Peter 2:21-25). They are to do so by manifesting the servanthood of Christ toward their wives, just as Christ demonstrated His servanthood toward the church. Our Lord did not cling to His elevated status over men and demand that men serve Him. Instead, He became the servant and the Savior of men:

4 Do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:4-8).

The husband should not endeavor to “use” his headship over his wife for his own fulfillment or satisfaction but should use it as a means of serving his wife. Rather than demanding honor from his wife, he should grant honor to her. And this should be done not only when she is obedient and fulfilling her responsibilities. It should be done even when the wife is failing to be and to do all that our Lord has required of her. Christ’s humbling did not occur when we were “strong,” when we were obedient, but when we were enslaved to sin, helpless and hopeless on our own:

6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath [of God] through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Romans 5:6-10).

In chapter 2, Peter turned our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ as the model servant, whose silent and sacrificial suffering brought about our own salvation. Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:22-33. The cross is not only the pattern for Christian marriage, it is the basis. Only the husband who has the “mind of Christ” will, like Christ, persistently seek to serve his wife at the cost of personal sacrifice. It is only through the grace of God in Christ that this can be done.

The “weakness” of the wife is the context for the husband’s servanthood. He lives with his wife at the deepest level of intimacy, and thus the weaknesses of the wife will be most apparent to him. The problem is that our fallen nature inclines us to capitalize on our wife’s weaknesses to enhance our own position and power. How many husbands have you heard publicly expose some weakness of his wife, often with sarcasm?

The weaknesses of the wife should be recognized and responded to by the husband as an opportunity for ministry, but often they are not. One reason this is true is because the wife’s weaknesses may be directed against the husband. When the wife fails to live up to her high calling as a Christian wife, she often strikes out at the one who is nearest—her husband. And so we can see how the husband may be “abused” and in his suffering as a husband may toy with the temptation of giving up or of getting out. The times when we most need to minister to our wives are those times when we will likely least desire to do so. This is why obedience to Christ’s commands can only be done through His power. He is the One who causes us both to “will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Peter’s instructions to us as husbands requires that we first have a personal relationship with Him who suffered and died on our behalf (1 Peter 2:21-25). Then it is essential that we know the Scriptures, for it is only by the knowledge God has revealed in His Word that we can “dwell with” our wives in a way that pleases Him and honors the one God has joined together with us in marriage. We must not allow our position and its authority to harden us so that we become calloused and insensitive to the weaknesses of our wives, for only in recognizing those weaknesses can we respond as we should as servants and minister to those needs.

Finally, we must also be aware of the danger that especially exists in our culture of abusing Peter’s teaching here. It is one thing for a husband to be a servant to his wife by knowing and ministering to the weaknesses of his wife; it is quite another for her to expect and even demand that he “meet her needs,” as she defines them. The feminist movement and the essence of its emphasis might be symbolized by a female Arnold Swartzenager, standing with clenched fists and demanding, “Go ahead, meet my needs!”

Our weaknesses are more evident to those close to us than they are to us. That is why they are weaknesses; they are blind spots. If we were keenly aware of them, they would not be the problem they are. And so the one with the weakness may not be the one who informs us of their true needs. This does not at all suggest we should not listen carefully and sensitively to our wives or to other believers. It is simply to say that the weaknesses of the weak believer are most readily apparent to the one who is strong in that area.

We see this especially true in the area of spiritual gifts. The one who is weak in teaching is most apparent to the one with the gift of teaching. The one who is weak in evangelism is most apparent to the evangelist. And so let us beware of looking only to our mate to learn what their true needs are. This is where the entire body of Christ may begin to play a very necessary and needed role. It is where counsel may need to be sought from others. Let us seek to minister to true weakness, but let us also remember that this is but one aspect of our responsibility to others. As Paul once wrote:

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Sometimes it is not encouragement that is needed, but help. Sometimes it is not help that is needed, but admonition. Let us minister to true needs, to the good of our mate, and to the glory of God.

As we conclude, let us remember that these principles, which Peter has applied to husbands in the context of their relationship with their wives, apply in general to all relationships in the church.

We are all to live together in unity and harmony:

(A Song of Ascents, of David.) Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1)

12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 And beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:12-17; see Ephesians 4:1ff.; Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Peter 3:8-12, etc.).

We are to live together according to knowledge:

9 For this reason also, since the day we heard [of it], we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please [Him] in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10; see Ephesians 4:1-24).

We are to grant honor one to another:

17 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10; see also 1 Peter 2:17).

We are to minister to the weaknesses of one another:

1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification (Romans 15:1-2).

1 Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; [each one] looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2).

May God grant that all of us would seek to live toward one another as Peter has directed Christian husbands to live in relationship to their wives, to His glory, and for our ultimate good.


98 Every student of this text must answer several crucial questions before its interpretation and application can be discerned. The answers to these questions will dictate the meaning of the text:

(1) Is Peter talking to “abused husbands” suffering at the hand (or mouth) of their wives? If so, what is the abuse, and how does Peter’s instruction directly deal with it? If these husbands are abused, why is a Christian wife seemingly referred to, rather than an unbelieving mate? If the husbands are not looked upon as “abused,” why are husbands addressed in this context, with the same term which introduced his instruction to wives (“in the same way,” 3:1)?

(2) In the command to “dwell with them according to knowledge,” is the emphasis on “living with” or on “according to knowledge,” or both? What do the expressions “dwell with,” “according to knowledge,” “giving honour,” “as the weaker vessel,” and “being heirs together of the grace of life” mean?

(3) In what sense is the wife a “weaker vessel”? How and why does the husband give her honour as a weaker vessel?

(4) How does not obeying Peter’s instruction result in the hindering of prayers? Whose prayers are hindered? Are these the prayers of the husbands, of the wives, of husbands and wives separately, or of husbands and wives together?

(5) What parallel texts, if any, do we have to help us here?

99 This first instance in Deuteronomy 25:5 refers to two brothers who live in the same place. When the first brother dies, the second, who lives nearby, is to take the widow as his wife in order to raise up seed for his deceased brother.

100 In this instance, Abimelech had taken Sarah as “his wife,” but he had not had sexual relations with her.

101 This is opposed to the view that the reference is only to the husbands’ prayers.

102 The terms used for the wife’s departure from her husband and the husband’s divorcing of his wife are not the same in this text, suggesting at least that divorce was more an option for the husband, while separation was the alternative open to the wife.

103 Luke 1:77; 11:52; Romans 2;20; 11:33; 15:14; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 8:1, 10, 11; 12:8; 13:2, 8; 14:6; 2 Corinthians 2:14; 4:6; 6:6; 8:7; 10:5; 11:6; Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 3:8; Colossians 2:3; 1 Timothy 6:20; 1 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 1:5, 6; 3:18.

104 “With an intelligent recognition of the nature of the marriage relation.” Vincent, as cited by A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), vol. VI, p. 110.

105 The first term, “true knowledge,” is not the exact term, but the same root with an intensifying prefix. It does fall into the same word group.

106 Some go too far in this. Edmund Clowney, for example, takes the expression, “dwelling together according to knowledge,” as referring especially to the sexual relationship of the husband and the wife: “The expression describing their living together is not limited to sexual intimacy, but it has particular reference to it. In all their life together, and particularly in their sexual union, the husband is to relate to his wife ‘according to knowledge’.” Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press), 1988. The Bible Speaks Today Series. pp. 133-134.

107 Clowney, p. 134.

108 Paul does the same thing. See Romans 5:1-11; 8:18-25; 2 Corinthians 4 and 5; Philippians.

109 There are those who think it is only the husbands’ prayers which are in view here. For example, William Barclay cites Bigg: “As Bigg puts it: ‘The sighs of the injured wife come between the husband’s prayers and God’s hearing.’” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series. P. 224. I do not think this conforms to the spirit of this text or to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:5.

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15. Taking a Second Look at Submission (1 Peter 2:13-3:7)

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution [creature],110 whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 [Act] as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this [finds] favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer [for it] you patiently endure it, this [finds] favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any [of them] are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. 3 And let not your adornment be [merely] external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but [let it be] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands. 6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.

7 You husbands likewise, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Introduction

Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, commented on legislation recently passed by the Florida State legislature. The bill did not deal with violence on the streets or racial injustice, nor did it address the economy or the many pressing problems of crisis proportions in that state. Although unable to pass any significant legislation on these matters, the legislature did manage to pass a law with almost no opposition. The new law requires that all legislation in Florida be purged of any sexist language. The legislature has demanded that the laws of the land be emasculated, so to speak. This means that countless hours of labor and a considerable amount of money must be spent to expunge male words from the laws of that state.

One does not have to wonder what that legislature would do to Peter’s words about submission in his first epistle. They would hardly be content with rewording these divinely inspired commands; they would ban them altogether. The tragedy is that the Florida law will do absolutely nothing to solve the incredible problems facing the state nor will it benefit its citizens or tourists in any tangible way. Conversely, Peter’s instructions could radically transform relationships, the church, and even benefit society in general.

Beginning at verse 13 of chapter 2, Peter has been dealing with submission. He has instructed believers to submit themselves not only to the governing authorities of the day and to one another, but even to submit to all men. Submission has been required in general and in very specific terms. He has particularly addressed citizens, slaves, wives, and husbands. From his instructions, we see that every Christian is to submit to others on a variety of levels. We also see how submission works itself out in a broad range of circumstances and settings. Further, Peter speaks of submission in the context of suffering. It is clear to Peter, as it should be to his readers, that submission to others should particularly be practiced in times of innocent suffering.

The saying, “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts,” is certainly true of submission. We have considered submission in the last several lessons piece by piece. We have looked at the submission of citizens (2:13-17), of slaves (2:18-25), of wives (3:1-6) and of husbands (3:7). Before pressing on, we should pause to consider the broader context of what Peter has said. We generally think of Paul as the apostle who most emphasized submission, but Peter contributes some very important insights on submission which are unique and important.

The Importance of the Subject of Submission

I want to reflect further on the subject of submission because I am convinced it is a vitally important part of the Christian life. Consider some of the reasons submission warrants such careful consideration:

(1) Submission is the key to unity and harmony in human relationships. In the Godhead, in the church, in marriage, and in any relationship, submission is the basis for unity.

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4).

(2) Satan’s fall and his on-going rebellion is a manifestation of his refusal to submit to God; he likewise tempts men to follow in his footsteps. This same spirit of rebellion is evident in Satan’s spokesmen, the false prophets, even to this day:

9b … and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord (2 Peter 2:9b-11).

Satan abused his power and position, acting independently of God (see Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-15). When Satan tempted Adam and Eve, he sought to get them to act independently of God, seeking what appeared to be their own self-interest in disobedience to God’s command (Genesis 3:1-7). In the temptation of our Lord, Satan once again sought to induce our Lord to act independently of the Father, seeking His own interests instead (see Matthew 4:1-11).

(3) Submission is at the core of man’s relationship with God. In the Garden of Eden, man was to submit to God, trusting in His Word and keeping His commandment. Adam and Eve’s sin was a revolt against God, a refusal to submit to Him. Jesus represented the sin of Israel’s religious leaders as the sin of “insubmission” (see Matthew 21:33-46). They continually challenged Jesus to prove His authority (see Matthew 21:23). They refused to submit to Him, mocking His authority at the foot of His cross (see Matthew 27:37-44).

Submission and sin are almost antithetical. Each is almost the exact opposite of the other. Salvation is the solution to man’s sin. When we are born again by faith in Christ, it is a submission to God, to the authority of His Word, and to Christ as His means of salvation. As man’s refusal to submit to God brought about the fall of man, so man’s submission to God brings about salvation (see Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9-10).

Submission is also at the heart of discipleship. Jesus called men not only to believe in Him but to follow Him. A disciple is a learner and a follower, a student who has submitted himself to his teacher. Submission is therefore one of the prominent themes in the epistles, whether the technical term for submission occurs or not.111

(4) Submission is the will and command of God. It is the good which God requires of Christians to imitate and emulate Christ and to silence some of the accusations of foolish men (1 Peter 2:15).

(5) Submission is the cure for legalism. Think of this in terms of your children. If they really do not want to obey but only comply to the degree they must, they are not submissive. In such a case, very minute and meticulous rules must be set down to cover every conceivable situation. If, however, your child is submissive, he or she really wants to do what they believe you want, then you only need a few guiding principles. No wonder Judaism had (and still has) such a mountain of legislation. No wonder our nation and every other nation has laws without number. People really do not want to obey; they are not truly submissive. Where true submission exists, legalism disappears. To teach about submission, and then embrace it, prevents a multitude of legalistic rules. Submission is a fundamental ingredient of the believer’s spiritual life.

Submission Defined

Not only do unbelievers fail to understand submission, even among the saints the concept of submission is poorly understood. We typically think submission is required only in relation to those in a position of authority over us. We are told the origin of the meaning of the underlying Greek word for submission is derived from military imagery of one “ranked under” the one in authority over him.112 This is true, but only partially. Christian submission goes far beyond obedience to those in authority over us. To understand biblical submission, we must go much further, which we will do by exploring the biblical definition of submission. To define biblical submission, we will contrast secular submission with scriptural submission.

(1) Secular submission is as limited as men can make it; biblical submission is as broad as mankind. The natural man tends to measure his worth by his status. His status is determined by the ratio of those who are over him compared to those under him. The goal is therefore to reduce those in authority above you and to increase the number under you. We see this in the disciples who continually argued with one another as to who was the greatest. In the eyes of the world, the greatest is the one who has no one over him. But in the kingdom of God, the greatest is the one who has everyone over him:

33 And they came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which [of them was] the greatest. 35 And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” 36 And taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me” (Mark 9:33-37).

42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Biblical submission is universal submission. The Christian is first subject to God (Ephesians 5:21, 22; 6:1, 5, 9; 1 Peter 1:17; 2:17); then Christians are mutually subject to each other (Ephesians 5:21; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:1-8). Husbands and wives are to be mutually in submission to each other (1 Corinthians 7:3-5; 11:11; Ephesians 5:21-22; 1 Peter 3:1-7). And finally, Christians are to be subject to all (1 Peter 2:13-17).113

(2) Secular submission is compulsory, imposed from without; biblical submission is voluntary, from the heart. Why do people have radar detectors in their cars? They are not truly submissive to the speed laws or the police whose job is to enforce them. They “submit” when supervised but not when no one is watching. Christian submission comes from the heart. Whether a policeman is around or whether we are supervised, our obed-ience should be from the heart, seeking to please Him who saved us and knowing that He will reward us.

(3) Secular submission is motivated by self-interest; biblical submission is motivated by faith, hope, and love, resulting in self-sacrifice. The world submits to speed laws because they do not wish to pay a fine. Men keep other laws because they do not want to go to jail. Still other “submission” is practiced as an assurance that it is best for us to do so. Secular submission seeks to avoid pain and suffering. Christian submission willingly endures suffering, motivated not so much by present benefits and rewards as by our heavenly hope and by the love God generates within us. And because these future benefits are not seen at present, we must submit in faith, trusting in God and in His word (see Hebrews 11:1-6).

(4) Secular submission is given to those in authority who expect (and sometimes demand) that we act in a way that benefits them; biblical submission is given to Him who gave up His rights and privileges in order to bring blessings to us. In the major texts which deal with submission, Christ is the model, the means, and the standard for submission. In Ephesians 5, the husband and wife relationship is patterned after the relationship of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:21-33). In Philippians 2, the submission we are to have one to another is to imitate Christ’s submission (Philippians 2:1-8). Peter also makes Christ the model for those who submit themselves to those who cause them suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25).

(5) Secular submission is mainly a matter of authority; biblical submission is more a matter of priority, putting the interests of others ahead of our own. Secular submission is granted, albeit reluctantly, only to those who have authority over us. Biblical submission is granted to our peers and to those under our authority because submission is not simply a matter of authority but of priority. It is not just a question of who has power over us but who has priority over us. It is a question of whether our own interests are subordinate to the interests of others. Biblical submission requires that we place the interests of others above our own personal interests, that we serve others sacrificially:

1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification (Romans 15:1-2; see also Philippians 2:3-8).

Pressing further, biblical submission gives others priority by seeking to enhance their glory rather than our own. Submission enables us to give up our drivenness to be preeminent. This preeminence can be a matter of status, of power, of position, of proclamation (speech), but there are other ways to be preeminent. For a woman, her clothing, her adornment, and even her demeanor can cause her to be on “center stage” with the attention of all. This is why both Peter (1 Peter 3:1-6) and Paul (1 Timothy 2:9-12) address a woman’s appearance and apparel, as well as the taking on of roles of authority. When a woman uses that which is to bring glory to her husband in such a way as to bring glory to herself, she has spurned the principle of submission (see 1 Corinthians 11:1-17).

(6) Secular submission seeks to minimize dependence on others and to maximize our own independence; biblical submission recognizes our dependence on others and surrenders independence. Satan acted independently of God and urged Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:1-7) as well as the Lord Himself (Matthew 4:1-11) to do likewise. Biblical submission emphasizes our inter-dependence on one another (see Romans 14:7; 1 Corinthians 11:11; 12:1ff.). Submission makes us a servant to others; thus submission is the surrendering of our independence.

(7) Secular submission is legalistic, outward compliance with the letter of the law when observed; biblical submission is inward agreement with the spirit of the law. Because secular submission is not a voluntary matter of the heart, it results only in a legalistic kind of obedience to the letter of the law. Biblical submission goes much further as it seeks to fulfill the spirit of the matter.

To illustrate, let’s assume one of my children is not submissive. The child asks if she can go next door to play with Sarah. I tell her no. I later find my child is next door, and when I begin to punish her for her disobedience, she insists she did not go next door to play with Sarah; she went next door to play with Stephanie, Sarah’s sister. The letter of the law may not have been violated, since I did not specifically forbid going next door or playing with Stephanie. But if my child were submissive, I would only have to express to her that I did not want her going out today, and she would apply that general principle to every specific question based upon what she knew I wanted rather than upon the exact words I chose.

Is it any wonder that the Judaism of Jesus’ day was so legalistic? Not at all, because God’s people were not submissive to Him. They rejected His authority and even His own Son. They challenged His authority, and finally nailed Him to a cross. Those who have the “law written on their hearts” need not be given a long, detailed list of rules. They need only be told, in general principles, what pleases and displeases God. Legalism is evidence of a lack of submission. Submission seeks to please God.

(8) Secular submission may act in the way one authority demands but seldom silently; biblical submission is often evident in the silence which accompanies innocent suffering. Do you notice how much emphasis Peter places on silence in these verses on submission? Slaves are urged to suffer silently as Jesus did (2:18-25). Wives are to suffer in silence as Jesus did (3:1-6). Peter’s quote from Psalm 34:10-12 again emphasizes silence.

Our culture does not agree with Scripture here. In our day, silence is not golden. Indeed, silence is often disparaged as though it were a weakness, even a “sin.” Our culture says we are to communicate; we are to express our feelings, to let it all out, to ventilate. Husbands are criticized for not being more open (sometimes rightly so, sometimes not). In Scripture, if not in “Dear Abby,” silence is more often commended than condemned. There are times to speak out, and sometimes we fail to speak when we should. But most of my regrets are not for what I have failed to say but what I have failed to refrain from saying.

The speech we should express should edify the other, even at the cost of some pain to us (see Ephesians 4:25, 29; Colossians 3:8; 4:6). We should not “confess” a fault to someone other than the one we have offended, and we should not confess to the one offended just to make us feel better. Not saying something when we have been wronged is not wrong, unless we have failed to forgive the one who has wronged us. The command to “Not let the sun go down on our wrath” (Ephesians 4:26) does not give license to vent our anger; it is an exhortation to grant forgiveness and deal with our anger in a way that edifies the offending party and promotes unity and harmony.

Problems With Submission

The biblical principle of submission is not always simple nor easy. When we endeavor to obey our Lord’s command to live in submission to others, several problem areas confront us.

The first might be called “misplaced submission.” Sometimes we are submissive to the wrong people. The wife, for example, is commanded to be submissive to her own husband. She is not to submit to any other man as she does to her husband. Worldliness is submitting to the wrong people, to the wrong system of values and standard of conduct. Submission is an act of love, and we are commanded not to love the world (1 John 2:15). The world hates us because of our identification with Jesus Christ (John 15:18-19). We are no longer to be conformed to the world’s thinking, values, or actions (Romans 12:1-2). Nevertheless, “peer pressure,” regardless of age, is a very powerful force, one to which we all too often submit. The Bible clearly warns us against submitting to it (see Proverbs 1:8-19).

The second problem area could be called “conflicts in submission” because of the multiple levels of submission. We are to be subject to more than one person, to more than one level of authority. Because of our multiple obligations in submission, we may become confused about how we can submit in a way that pleases God.

We need to recognize that when submission to one authority conflicts with submission to another, we are obliged to submit to the highest authority. The highest authority is God. And so when political or religious authorities seek to compel us to act contrary to the Word of God, we, like Peter, must say, “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29).

Some years ago, a well-known seminar speaker seemed to teach that a wife’s submission to her husband was to be without exception. He used the example of Sarah’s obedience to Abraham as assurance that God would protect the wife from adverse consequences when she submitted to her husband’s instructions, even when doing so was wrong. I believe this is wrong on several counts. Submission is not synonymous with obedience. One can still be in submission to one’s authority without always blindly obeying every command. In other words, one can submissively disobey. Daniel and his three friends illustrate this. Also, we need to recognize that submission recognizes levels of authority, so that a wife renders submission to her husband in ways that she will not do for any other.

The exception arises when we cannot obey the one to whom we are in submission because of a higher authority. The norm is that we can work out submission so that we submit on several levels, without conflict. The scribes and Pharisees seemed to assume that submission could not be carried out on more than one level at a time. They challenged Jesus with the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17). The assumption was that one could not submit to Caesar (or to civil government) and God at the same time. Jesus’ answer was that one could submit to God and Caesar at the same time. The solution was that you must submit to Caesar what is rightfully his, and submit to God what is His. This means that the obligations of our submission depend upon to whom we are submitting.

The Bible gives examples of multiple levels of submission. Daniel submitted to the authorities over him in Babylon, while at the same time he maintained his submission to God and to His Law (Daniel 1). Perhaps the most difficult situation was faced by Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. She was obliged to submit to God, to her husband, and to David, who had already been indicated as Israel’s future king. Both David and her husband were acting foolishly, and yet she wisely demonstrated submission to both. She spared her husband’s life in spite of his foolishness, and she spared David from acting in a way that would be detrimental to his reign as Israel’s king. In both cases, she turned both men from their intended course of action in a way that did not violate the principle of submission to either of them or to God.

These examples show how occasionally it may become necessary to disobey those in authority over us. It is never necessary to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). We must disobey only to be submissive to a higher authority. And we must do so in a way that shows a submissive spirit. Generally, we should be able to submit to a level of authority without conflict with others. To do so takes wisdom, which God promises to grant (James 1:5), and the wise man loves to seek it out (see Proverbs 10:23; 14:6, 8; 19:8; 23:23; 24:13; 29:3).

The third problem area is reconciling or harmonizing our duty to submit with other biblical commands. I cannot tell you how common it is for Christians to think that the command to submit overrides all other commands. For example, the Christian wife may believe that since she is obligated to submit to her husband she must never speak in a way that seeks to correct him if he is wrong. It is my conviction that the biblical commands related to discipline in the church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15) apply as much to marriage partners as to anyone else. If all of us are to submit to one another, we must somehow carry out the discipline commands in a way that does not violate the principle of submission. As citizens, the Old Testament prophets were subject to the kings under which they served. They also were sometimes required to speak a word of rebuke to them, which they did in a submissive way. Submission and rebuke are not incompatible.

The fourth problem area is how those in a position of authority should deal with those who refuse to submit as they should. Here much of what falls in the category of “abuse” might arise. What does a parent do when a child fails to “submit”? What does a husband do when his wife won’t submit? Some resort to physical force. A certain measure of force might be appropriate, such as when dealing with children (especially smaller ones). But all too often, parents feel that they must prevail over the child, that they must obtain precisely what they want. And so, when the child persists in crying, even when told to stop, even when punished, some parents, unwilling to suffer defeat, beat, scald, injure, or even kill. Some husbands deal similarly with their wives, resorting to physical force and violence to obtain the result they think they must. Something is dreadfully wrong when this happens.

Several principles should guide us in cases where the submission we desire is not obtained.

First, biblical submission comes from within a person, as a voluntary act of obedience and faith. We can no more force one to truly submit than we can force one to convert to faith in Christ. Every command which calls for submission requires it of the person who is to submit. Never are those in authority commanded to forcefully bring about the submission of those under them. A parent may be obligated to require a child to obey, but one can only encourage a child to submit. We are to lead in a way that is faithful to our task.

Second, Christ is the model for our leadership. How does He deal with our failure to submit? Does He immediately use force to compel submission? I think we can see He usually does not deal with us this way. He has placed His Spirit within us, and He works patiently to bring us to what we should be. When a wife refuses to submit to her husband, the husband should turn in faith to Him who can change hearts. We should not seek to bring our wife to her knees in submission, but should fall to our knees in prayer. Christ brought about our submission through His own sacrifice on the cross; we should seek to bring others to submission by faithfully serving them, by God’s power and grace.

Misconceptions and Misrepresentations of Submission

Submission is not a natural response. People do not naturally respond by submitting, even to those in authority over them. It should come as no surprise then that many will resist and oppose the biblical teaching on submission. Some opposition will be direct; other opposition will be more subtle and indirect. We need to look for it in a variety of forms and stand for biblical submission in both theory and practice.

The concept of submission is directly opposed by those who hold to women’s lib, self-assertion, and popular movements like EST. We should not apologize or shrink back from the teaching of Scripture on submission, whether welcomed by others or not.

More subtle forms of resistance are now appearing, and often these arise within the church. Submission may be embraced in theory but rejected and denied in practice. Often, those who submit are labeled as “enablers” or as “co-dependent.” It is possible that some Christians might be such in error, because of a dis-torted understanding of true submission. But in the process, true submission may be attacked and disdained because it is not “in” in this age of addictions, therapy and support groups. Far fewer Christians are struggling to understand and apply the biblical teaching on submission than those who are trying to cast it aside like an old, unwanted shoe.

True submission is undermined by sincere, well-meaning Christians who practice stereotypical submission, a submission defined by very precise rules and practices rather than a matter of the heart. True submission thrives best on principles and is not helped by endless rules. True submission is not always making the one we submit to happy, but seeking his or her best interest at our own expense. True submission is not building up the ego of another with flattery, but building up another with truth, truth that is proclaimed and practiced in love. True submission is not a guarantee that we will thereby avoid pain and suffering, but an attitude and outlook which can govern our attitudes and actions when we are suffering innocently for Christ’s sake.

Conclusion

I must say to those who have chosen not to submit to God, to the provision of Christ for our salvation, and to the Word of God that while God presently allows men to rebel against Him, He is going to subject all creation when He comes again. We can submit now or be subjected by force later. Either way, we will bow the knee to Him who is over all. The difference is that Christians willingly and joyfully do so now and in heaven, while unbelievers only reluctantly do so in the future as they prepare to enter into eternal doom:

9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe [them,] glorify God in the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12).

20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man [came] death, by a man also [came] the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then [comes] the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

Now, my friend, is the day for submission, submission to God through faith in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, faith that Jesus Christ died for your sins, bore your eternal punishment, and has provided the righteousness which enables you to stand justified before God.

1 For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away [from it.] 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard (Hebrews 2:1-3; see also 3:1-19).

Submission is the attitude with which men and women turn to God in faith for eternal salvation. It is also the attitude which underlies servanthood and thus the ministry of believers to outsiders and to one another in the church. We hear much more about servanthood than submission, but submission is the basis for servanthood.

Submission is the basis for servant leadership. J. Oswald Sanders wrote an excellent little book on spiritual leadership in which he speaks of three key elements in leadership: suffering, servanthood, and the sovereignty of God. He is absolutely right. I would also suggest that the one word “submission” is fundamental and foundational to these three concepts. Peter speaks of submission as the proper response to suffering. We have already seen that submission is foundational to servanthood. We should also see that we submit first to God and then to others because we know God is sovereign, He is in control, and He will fulfill all of His purposes and promises.

I submit to you that a man cannot truly be a spiritual leader until he has come to submit himself to those whom he leads. He does not follow those whom he leads, but he does subordinate his interests to the interests of those whom he leads. When he seeks to further his own interests, he will do so at the expense of others. When he subordinates his interests to those of the ones he leads, he sacrifices his own selfish interests for the interests of others. And here the paradox of Christianity becomes evident. When we die to self, we live; when we give up our lives, we find them; when we abandon our pursuit of fulfillment, we are fulfilled. And so submission is the path to blessing as Peter is about to demonstrate in verses 8-12.

Let us commit ourselves to further study and meditation on this vitally important subject of submission. And may we, by God’s grace, practice true submission from the heart to His glory.


110 I am more convinced than ever that the meaning of the term Peter used here is “creature,” not “institution” (NASB) or “ordinance” (KJV). The term is found 19 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. It is rendered “creature” 11 times, 6 times it is rendered “creation,” “building” once in Hebrews 9:11 (which the NASB changes to “creation”), and “ordinance” one time here in 1 Peter 2:13. The normal translation would thus be either “creation” or “creature.” “But why,” someone might ask, “does Peter use this expression for people?” In that day, as in our own (I speak of the unborn), not all human beings are considered as such. Just as the unborn fetus has been judged to be a non-person by the Supreme Court, so slaves and others (such as the outcasts in India) are considered non-persons. Since Peter requires us to submit to every human being, he must carefully choose his words to include every divinely created human being. His expression, “human creation” does this, perhaps better than any other.

111 The words used of submission occur in these texts: 1 Chronicles 29:24; Psalm 62:1 [61:2, LXX]; Luke 2:51; 10:17, 20; Romans 8:7, 20; 10:3; 13:1, 5; 1 Corinthians 14:32, 34; 15:27, 28; 16:16; 2 Corinthians 9:13; Galatians 2:5; Ephesians 1:22; 5:21, 22, 24; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:11; 3:4; Titus 2:5, 9; 3:1; Hebrews 2:5, 8; 12:9; James 4:7; 1 Peter 2:13, 18; 3:1, 4, 22; 5:5; The theme of submission is also prominent in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and Philippians 2:1-8.

112 The same term was also used in secular Greek of a literary work which was appended to another.

113 See footnote 1.

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16. The Makings of a Christian Marriage

Introduction

Our culture shapes our thinking and conduct regarding marriage to an incredible degree. A few weeks ago a friend from India, Dr. Theodore Williams of Indian Evangelical Mission, spoke at Community Bible Chapel. On our way to the airport after the service, I asked Dr. Williams about another friend, P. S. Thomas and his family. Dr. Williams told me one of my friend’s daughters had just married a young man from Dallas.

I was curious about how this came to pass since the families live so far apart. Theo related that the father of the groom was the pastor of a South Indian church in Dallas. When the time arrived for his son’s marriage, they took a week of vacation and flew to India, where they met P. S. and his family and selected one of his daughters for their son’s wife.

Imagine! Two young people who had never even met were, within a couple of days, living as husband and wife. And most probably this marriage will last. How different from the “American dream” of the young girl who meets “Mr. Wonderful,” falls in love, and then hopes he will propose. The Indian culture sets aside romance until after marriage; the American culture makes romance the prerequisite for marriage. In India, marriage is thought of in terms of “marriage and love” rather than the American “love and marriage.”

Culture does play a very significant role in our attitudes and actions regarding marriage. The Christian must not be shaped by his culture, but by the cross of Christ, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God:

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11; see also Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-24).

When the Christian comes to marriage then, we dare not allow the world (our culture) to shape our thinking, our attitudes, or our actions. The purpose of this message is to consider Christian marriage primarily in light of the teaching of Peter in his first epistle.

A Definition of a Christian Marriage

A Christian marriage is one in which at least one partner is a believer in Christ, who embraces the attitudes and actions prescribed by the Scriptures in their relationship with their mate.

We generally think of a Christian marriage114 as one in which both the husband and the wife115 are believers in Christ. While this is certainly the ideal, it is not always so.116 A Christian marriage is one in which Christ is manifested through the marriage relationship by at least one of the partners. Peter’s words to wives in 3:1-6 implies that a believing wife may manifest Christ while married to an unbeliever. Who would dare call this marriage something less than “Christian?”

It is not enough for one who is married to be a Christian. He or she must also think and act in a Christian manner. The Christian’s attitudes and actions must flow from the Scriptures. A Christian marriage is not governed by the same principles which guide and govern a secular marriage. The Christian life, including the relationship of marriage, is a supernatural life. A Christian marriage does not just happen naturally; it happens unnaturally, supernaturally, as we obey the Scriptures and individually depend upon the grace of God. Christian marriage is based upon a God-given faith, hope, and love, which only the true believer possesses.

I have often heard Christians say the principles for successful relationships apply as much to unbelievers as they do to believers. If one believes this, then it matters not whether the one who goes to a “Christian counselor” is a Christian or not; they simply need to be given the right principles. The Scriptures simply do not bear this out. Rather, the Scriptures inform us that when one comes to Christ, he or she becomes a “new creation,” old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Peter also speaks of a radical change which takes place when one comes from darkness to light:

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay [upon earth]; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, [the blood] of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, [that is,] through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:13-23; see also 4:1-6).

Only a believer can live the way Peter instructs us to live. We can now be holy as God is holy because we are in Christ. We can fix our hope on the glory to be revealed at the return of our Lord because we have trusted in Him for salvation. We can love one another fervently because our souls have been purified in obedience to the truth.

Paul agrees, making it clear that it is impossible for an unbeliever to do those things which the Christian is commanded to do:

5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:5-15).

The unbeliever sets his mind on the things of the flesh, not the things of the Spirit. As an unbeliever, he is hostile toward God and will not subject himself to God. An unbeliever cannot please God because they are only in the flesh. The Christian, however, has the Holy Spirit dwelling within him. The One who raised the dead body of the Lord Jesus to life is the One who can also make us alive to do what God requires.

In theory it is true—if he or she could and would follow biblical principles, the unbeliever would reap the benefits of doing so. The problem is that the unbeliever hates God, hates His commandments and instructions, and because he is ensnared by Satan and his own flesh, he cannot do what is pleasing to God. The biblical principles and commands we are about to enumerate are those which only a Christian can apply, in the power of God, to the glory of God, and to his or her own eternal benefit.

Having set down this preliminary definition of a Christian marriage, we will seek to articulate the values, goals, expectations, priorities and principles which are distinctly Christian.

Biblical Expectations for Marriage

There is no such thing as “heaven on earth.” Heaven, as it were, will come down to the earth at the return of our Lord (see Revelation 21-22). But the New Testament writers give us no indication that the believer can and will experience heaven on earth. In short, Christ and the apostles speak of suffering now and glory later (Mark 10:29-30; Luke 9:21-26; 24:26; John 15:18-20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 4 and 5; 1 Thessalonians 2:10-16; 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2:12; 3:12; 4:1-8; James 5:8-11). Peter constantly emphasizes our present suffering and our future hope of glory (1 Peter 1:6-7, 13; 4:12-19; 5:4, 10). Peter’s words to citizens (2:13-17), to servants (2:18-25), to wives and husbands (3:1-7) indicate that no matter what our station in life, we will not experience the bliss of heaven until we pass from this life into the glory of Christ’s kingdom.

Godliness does not insure marital bliss. Most conservative, evangelical Christians recognize the error of what has been called the “health and wealth gospel,” “name it and claim it Christianity,” or the “prosperity gospel.” We would be especially critical of the “prosperity gospel” which promises people that God wants them to be rich and all they have to do is to follow a few rules. As this works itself out through the prosperity televangelists, viewers are urged to send in their donations, assured of receiving God’s manifold financial blessings in return. We rightly recognize this not only as untrue, but “hucksterism” at its worst.

We are inconsistent, however. Many who reject one form of the prosperity gospel believe it in another form. For example, how many parents believe that if they raise up their children in accordance with biblically prescribed principles they may be assured of having godly children in the end? How many Christians believe the “key to marital happiness” is simply to follow the manual? I am afraid we sincerely, but wrongly, assume that following divine principles assures us of experiencing marital bliss. This is simply neither biblical nor true.

For several reasons, we dare not presume that God is obligated to “bless” our marriage with happiness if we but “follow the rules.”

First, these presumptions are contrary to the principle of grace. It is a mechanical and legalistic viewpoint which believes that every good we do receives a good in return in this life. The Pharisees held this view and thus believed a person’s spirituality was measured by his earthly prosperity and ease. If one were poor, he must be a sinner. If one were sick, he must have done something wrong (see John 9:1-2). Spirituality could be measured by outward evidences of prosperity (see Luke 16:15). If we really believe this, we do not believe in grace. The grace by which we are saved and sanctified, the grace by which we live, does not work this way. Grace is the principle whereby God pours out blessings on men who do not deserve them. We would not want God’s blessings to come to us any other way. Marital bliss is not guaranteed, and most certainly not on the basis of our faithfully following a system of rules or principles.

Second, these presumptions ignore the fact that we live in a fallen world. Marriage existed before sin came upon the human race. It was Satan who attacked mankind through marriage. When God declared the consequences of sin, He did so in terms of marriage (see Genesis 3). We should not expect our marriage to somehow be exempt from the consequences of the fall of man. We should expect sin to adversely affect marriage as it does everything else (see Romans 8:18-25).

Peter therefore assumes that even when a Christian wife lives with an unbelieving husband, there will be suffering (1 Peter 3:1-6). More than this, Peter assumes that when a Christian husband and wife are living together, there will still be sin and suffering (1 Peter 3:7).

Third, living godly may produce an adverse reaction from others rather than a favorable response (see 1 Peter 2:7-12; 4:1-6).

Fourth, suffering is a part of the process by which God proves and purifies our faith, for our good and His glory (1 Peter 1:6-9; 2:18-25; see also Job, Psalm 73; Romans 5:1-11; James 1:2-4).

Our expectations of marriage must not be based on the attitudes and actions God requires of our mate. It is true that the husband should “live with his wife according to knowledge, granting her honor as the weaker vessel and as a co-heir of the grace of life” (3:7). But it is wrong for the wife to expect or even demand that her husband live this way. She should certainly hope and pray that he will. The requirements God makes of one mate are not found on the check-list of the other. The wife should strive, by God’s grace, to fulfill that which God requires of her, just as the husband should endeavor, by God’s grace, to be the kind of husband God requires of him. Neither the wife nor the husband should dare make their obedience to God’s instructions conditional on their mate fulfilling his or her biblical obligations. Peter’s instructions to married couples assume they will not.

A Biblical Goal for Marriage

Our expectations are closely linked with our goals. We set goals for those things we desire, which we believe are attainable. The Christian’s ultimate goal should not be to have a “good” marriage, but to be godly in his or her marriage. A godly marriage is one in which at least one partner exhibits Christ in the marriage, to the glory of God. The Lord Jesus came as the Suffering Servant and thus became the model for both wives and husbands (as for every other saint). By human standards, our Lord’s ministry was not successful. But by divine standards, His sacrifice was not only for the glory of God but for the good of all those who would call upon Him for salvation. A godly marriage displays the excellencies of God to a lost world (1 Peter 2:9), resulting in glory and praise to Him (2:11). It also provides an opportunity for a living witness to the grace and glory of God and the possibility of salvation for those who are lost (3:1). Our goal for marriage should not be the fulfilling of our sensual appetites, but obedience and victory over lust. Our goal should not be happiness, but holiness:

14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior; 16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY” (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Biblical Assumptions and Marriage

We should not assume God is more glorified by a “successful” and “happy” marriage than by one fraught with difficulties. As Paul points out in Ephesians 5, a marriage in which the husband and wife play out their respective roles obediently portrays the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church.

Peter’s emphasis, however, is somewhat different. Peter’s first epistle dealt with the problem of suffering. He taught that when we suffer unjustly and righteously as a citizen, as a slave, or as a husband or wife, we imitate Christ, the Suffering Servant. Christ submitted to earthly authorities at His expense and for our salvation (2:21-25).

It is Satan who believes that men only worship and serve God when they are the recipients of His blessings. He was convinced that when suffering came into their lives, they would deny God (see Job 1:9-11). Peter came to understand that suffering purifies our faith and results in praise and glory and honor to God as well as divine blessing for us (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). Steadfast faith in the midst of suffering glorifies God in a way which is not possible in the midst of prosperity. Job learned this lesson long ago, and Peter later embraced it as well.

We should not assume we are more spiritually blessed by a happy and trouble-free marriage than by one characterized by trials and tribulation. Our ultimate good in this life is not our happiness, but our holiness (1:15). Suffering often contributes more to our holiness than our “happiness” does (see 1 Peter 1:6-9; also Romans 5:1-11; 8:1ff.; see also Job and Psalm 73).

The world believes happiness is the good we should pursue, and that suffering is the evil we should seek to avoid. The Christian believes godliness is the good we should pursue, and that earthly suffering is the price we should willingly pay for godliness and future glory.

Biblical Priorities and Marriage

Peter learned from our Lord that marriage is a temporary and temporal relationship, not an eternal union (Matthew 22:30). He also learned that marriage, family, and earthly relationships should be subordinate to our relationship to God (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-35). Many in Christian circles teach that while our devotion to Christ may come before our love for family, our family has priority over our ministry. It is indeed difficult to divide between our relationship with God and our service for Him.

The place of our family in our priorities is difficult because of errors at both extremes. Some seem to inundate themselves in ministry to avoid their family responsibilities. These people are really sluggards, not saints.117 Conversely, some use their family as a pretext for avoiding their spiritual obligations (see Luke 9:57-62). The subtle sin here is that in ostensibly making sacrifices to serve our family we are actually serving ourselves, for our life is tied up with our family. It is not surprising that in those texts in which Jesus called for His disciples to forsake (literally “hate”) their family as their first priority, He spoke of them “giving up their life” as well (see Matthew 10:39; Luke 14:26). Our commitment to Christ must come before all other commitments lest our devotion to Him be diminished (see 1 Corinthians 7:25-35).

Peter makes it clear that the eternal and precious takes precedence over the merely temporal (1 Peter 1:7, 13, 18-21, 23-25; 3:7) and that what brings glory to God takes precedence over what seems good to men (see 1:6-7; 2:12; 4:11-16; 5:1,4,10). Happiness is to be subordinate to holiness, and fleshly pleasures are to be subordinate to eternal blessings (1:1:13-16).

Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their preoccupation with fulfilling their personal physical appetites rather than obedience to God. In so doing, he points to the failure of the ancient Israelites (1 Corinthians 9-10). Jesus indicated to Satan that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by obedience to the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). Peter exhorts us to do likewise:

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Later, in his second epistle, Peter will warn his readers about those false teachers who will seek to entice them by appealing to their fleshly desires (2 Peter 2:1-22).

Biblical Principles and Marriage

Contrary to many “marriage manuals” and seminars on marriage, the key to a biblical marriage is not the execution of specialized techniques applicable to marriage alone. Rather, the key to a biblical marriage is the possession of biblical attitudes and actions which apply to all relationships. Immediately after addressing Christian wives (3:1-6) and husbands (3:7), Peter sums us his teaching on submission with these general principles applicable to every human relationship, including marriage:

8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9).

Often Christians are told how they can spice up their marriages by employing techniques devised by man. Women are taught to be as seductive as Jezebel, with the assurance that keeping her husband satisfied at home will prevent worry about outside competition for her husband’s affection. Far too often, this is at best an element of truth and a massive dose of worldly advice. The advice may be partially sanctified by calling it “Christian,” but most often it is secular and fleshly at its core. The Christian is not to live in accordance with the wisdom of this world but according to knowledge, the knowledge of God found in His Word.

In Peter’s epistle (2:21-25), as in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (5:21-33), Christ is the model for marriage. Have you ever stopped to think that in the Bible there is no model marriage, no model family? It seems Paul was not married and may never have been married (1 Corinthians 7:8; 9:5-6). We do not even know Peter’s wife’s name or how many children they had, if any. No marriage in the Bible could be considered a model marriage for us to strive to imitate. Only Christ serves as the model for marriage, and He was never married. Nevertheless, Christ manifested by His life and sacrificial death the mindset and ministry husbands and wives should have toward each other. He sets the standard, which is perfect obedience to God. He is the example of selfless love and sacrifice for the benefit of His bride, the church. He is the One who is the standard for both the wife (“in the same way,” 1 Peter 3:1) and the husband (“likewise,” 3:7). As husbands and wives dwell together, each should live as Christ, surrendering self-interest while seeking the best interest of the other. To follow the example of Christ means we are willing to endure the pain and the penalty which results from the sins of others, with the goal of their salvation. Submission is not just seeking the best interest of another; it is seeking their best interest at our expense.

We make the most of our marriage by not making too much of it. Some people do not take marriage seriously enough; others make too much of it. They mistakenly see it as the solution to all of their problems. Peter does not speak of marriage as the key to earthly happiness. For Peter, marriage is an institution where sin will bring about suffering. But the difficulties marriage introduces into our lives are also the occasion for us to evidence Christ-like attitudes and actions. We, like Christ, can demonstrate submission and steadfast faith in the context of innocent suffering. And in so doing, God may not only use our witness to His glory and to our good, but He may also employ our suffering to bring about the salvation of one who is lost (see 1 Peter 2:24-25; 3:1, 15).

Marriage witnesses to both those on earth (2:9-12) and the angelic observers. When Paul speaks of the conduct of women in the church, he indicates that obedience to his instructions will be observed by the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10). Elsewhere, Paul speaks of the celestial beings learning from what is taking place in the church (Ephesians 3:10). Peter emphasizes the interest with which angelic beings observe the things related to salvation in the church:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that [would come] to you made careful search and inquiry, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Marriage is an eternal investment—the more you put into it, the more you get out of it from the Lord at His return. Marriage is not about equality, regardless of popular cultural ideas and values on the subject. Marriage is about ministry. Marriage is about submission and servanthood. All too often one partner carefully “meters out” or measures the things he or she contributes to the other partner, and then very carefully measures what is given back in return. The hope is that what we get back will at least equal or even better, exceed perhaps, what we have put into it.

This principle appears to be wise and proper in monetary investments. But in marriage, it is entirely opposite of the biblical standard. We are to give, and give, and give, with no expectation of receiving from our mate in return. We are to look to God for blessings and rewards, and we are not to expect or demand them in this life. Jesus made it clear that giving with the expectation of returns is neither gracious nor godly:

12 And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. 13 But when you give a reception, invite [the] poor, [the] crippled, [the] lame, [the] blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have [the means] to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).

The principle our Lord lays down applies to marriage and to every other relationship. We give, not in order to get, but in order to manifest grace. And when we look for rewards, we know they also are a matter of grace and not of works.

Conclusion

I can scarcely communicate how important this message on marriage is to me. It is important because our marriages communicate a message, a message about the Lord Jesus Christ and about His relationship with His church. Marriage is a manifestation of the gospel, lived out day by day by the husband and the wife. When we mess up in our marriages, we mess up the gospel message that others see in our marriage relationship.

Sad though it is to say, many marriages are in serious trouble, and they don’t even seem to know it. Christian marriages are dissolving at nearly the same rate as the world in which we live. It is as though the gospel, the Word of God, and the Spirit of God have little power or impact on our marriages. I believe it is because we are seeking to live according to the standard the world has set and the goals it seeks to attain. We are living by the same power the unbeliever draws upon. To have a Christian marriage is to strive for the goals and standards the Bible sets, by the power which God alone provides. It is to cease striving for our own happiness and to endeavor, by His grace, to manifest godliness in our marriages, even when they fall far short of God’s ideal, and even when they bring suffering, sadness, and heartache to our lives.

Christian marriage is important because this relationship is indicative of all our relationships. The same principles which guide and govern our marriages guide and govern all our relationships. If we cannot live together with the one we have purposed to love until death parts us, how can we live in peace and harmony with our fellow-believers, or with our neighbors, or our enemies?

Our marriages are but a rehearsal for the great marriage yet to come, our union with the Lord Jesus Christ, enjoying His presence forever:

6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” 8 And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright [and] clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. 9 And he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God” (Revelation 19:6-9).

At His return, our marriage with Christ will be consummated. But for now we maintain a relationship with Him through His Word and through His Spirit. Our communion is through Bible study, worship, and prayer, which makes these essential to our lives. Our earthly marriages are a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Our expectations of God and our expectations of marriage overlap. When we expect nothing but ease, comfort, and pleasure from marriage, that is most likely what we expect from God in this life. When we are angry, frustrated, and out of submission to our mate, our relationship with God is probably similar. When we worship God and come away wondering what benefit we got from it, we probably have the same attitude toward our marriage.

Submission is an attitude which relates not only to people but to circumstances. When adverse circumstances come our way, this is often the time we strike out against others, our mate, and even God. Biblical submission accepts our circumstances as having come, first and foremost, from the hand of a sovereign and loving God, who causes “all things to work together for [our] good and His glory” (Romans 8:28). Submission then seeks to serve, in spite of these difficulties, to the glory of God and the good of others, at the cost of personal sacrifice. We sacrifice our pleasure, our happiness, our interests, looking to God alone to give us what we need even though it may not be what we want.

May God grant to each of us the willingness to be the kind of husband or wife that He wants us to be, to His glory, to the benefit and blessing of our mate and others, and to the salvation of lost sinners.


114 I am not sure the term “Christian marriage” is altogether appropriate. When the word “Christian” is used as an adjective (e.g. “Christian business”), it can be problematic.

115 Unfortunately, in light of our culture it is necessary to stipulate one final qualification: the two partners in marriage may not be of the same sex. Who would have thought, 25 years ago, one would need to specify that in a Christian marriage the partners must be male and female? There is no such thing as a Christian homosexual marriage.

116 The Scriptures are clear in teaching that a Christian should marry only another Christian (see 1 Corinthians 7:39; also 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). It is possible, however, that one has become a believer after being married. In such mixed marriages, Scripture is clear that those unions should be preserved if possible (see 1 Corinthians 7:10-16).

117 As I understand the sluggard in Proverbs, he is not a person who does nothing at all, but one who works very hard to avoid doing what he dislikes. The workaholic is, in this light, a sluggard, who works hard at one thing while avoiding another. And all the while many Christians will praise him for so doing.

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17. Summing up Submission (1 Peter 3:8-12)

8 To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; 9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose [because unto this you were called] that you might inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. 11 “And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Introduction

Years ago as I walked across my college campus to my next class, a fellow student happened to be walking with me. As usual in Seattle it had been raining, and the ground was wet. There was a vast array of sidewalks, but also muddy paths in the lawn where students cut corners. As we approached one muddy spot, an obviously-hurried coed attempted to pass us on our right. Moving too quickly for her footing, she began to fall, with books flying into the air as she desperately reached out to catch her balance. It might have worked had not the fellow beside me, who could have been the hero of the day, jumped back just as she reached out to catch hold of him, allowing her to sprawl headlong into the mud!

It was a pathetic scene as the girl attempted to salvage some scrap of human dignity by snatching up her books and running off out of public view. Since there was now nothing we could do, the other fellow and I began to make our way to class again. Sensing the need to explain his actions, the student exclaimed: “I thought she was trying to attack me!” Now here was an amazing thought. This young girl was trying to attack a young man. And the young man could think of nothing to do other than jump back and allow her to fall. Here was a man who desperately needed help.

Yet we find a parable in this story. All too many Christians shrink back as fellow-believers and others fall right before their very eyes. We are a nation so caught up in ourselves, so introspective and self-seeking, that many times we do not even recognize what is taking place until it is too late. And when we do see others in need of help, like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, we avoid becoming involved.

In the verses preceding this lesson (2:11–3:7), Peter gave instructions on submission and suffering as it relates to specific relationships. Now, in 1 Peter 3:8-12, Peter sets down the general principles which should govern all our relationships.118

Attitudes That Revolutionize Relationships119
(3:8-9a)

Let All Be Harmonious

The Christian should have an attitude and outlook at harmony with others. One can easily see how this can be true of a believer as he or she relates to fellow believers. As Paul writes:

16 Be of the same mind toward one another … (Romans 12:16a).

3 Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 [There is] one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6).

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Philippians 2:1-2).

The Christian should seek to be “harmonious” in his relationships with all men. Surely this is required in seeking to maintain peaceful relationships:

18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).

I think Peter would have us go further than this however. True submission involves more than mere obedience; it involves discerning the mind of the one to whom we are to submit and seeking to embrace it to the degree possible. For example, a submissive employee should endeavor to determine how his employer wants things done and then seek to do it that way. A child should seek not only “to mind” a parent but to learn “the mind” of his parent and act accordingly. If such were the case, far fewer rules would be required. Rules are required when we are not of one mind.

Being harmonious does not mean becoming a clone. This does happen in cults, but it is not so in Christianity. In a cult, everyone thinks the same thing—whatever the cult leader teaches. Conformity is the operative principle in cults. Harmony is the operative principle in Christianity. Perhaps the best illustration would be orchestra made up of many different musicians, with a wide variety of instruments, but many different parts to be played even by the same kind of instrument. In a good orchestra, every member plays the same song, and all follow the leadership of one conductor. So it should be in the church. We all have different stations in life, different gifts, different ministries; but we have all embraced the same gospel, trusting in the same Savior, and following His leadership through His Word and His Spirit.

Let All Be Sympathetic

The term rendered “sympathetic” in the New American Standard Bible and the New International Version is a compound word made up from the root word “suffer” and the prefix “with.” The word originally meant “to suffer with.” A number of Bible scholars think we should take the term more generally, thus referring to a sensitivity to where others are in their experience. We are to identify or empathize with others, whether in their sorrow or their joy:

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).

What it means to be “sympathetic” might be illustrated by the way people drive in the Third World. The highway may have three traffic lanes, but there are five or six lanes of cars. While traffic signs and lights are not always obeyed, one thing is quite noticeable in all the apparent chaos: every driver is very aware of what the other drivers are doing. When one car veers to miss a bicycle, the other cars adjust accordingly. This is the way Christians should be—sensitive to what is going on around them.

We dare not lose sight of the more specific meaning of the term, “to suffer with.” Peter’s epistle has much to say on the subject of suffering. The writer to the Hebrews also specifically instructs believers to “suffer with” one another:

3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:3).

Later in this epistle, Peter likewise reminds his readers to bear in mind the sufferings of other saints:

9 But resist him, firm in [your] faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world (1 Peter 5:9).

Let All Be Brotherly

Brotherly love is the next requirement for the Christian’s relationship with others. This word is transliterated Philadelphia, brotherly love. It surely refers to the love believers should have one to another (Romans 12:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7). This is the love Jesus required of His disciples (John 13:34-35; 15:11-14). I believe Peter’s instruction is broader in that he is instructing us to “love our neighbor,” our fellow-man (see Romans 13:8-10).

Let All Be Kindhearted

This word was originally used to refer to the intestines (“bowels”) or the hidden vital organs of the body as it was believed that deep and intense emotions come from deep within a person. Peter uses the term to refer to the depth of concern or compassion we should have toward others. If “sympathetic” refers to our commitment to know how others are doing, “kindhearted” refers to our emotional response to the state of others. This characteristic is prominent in the life and ministry of our Lord (see Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34, etc.).

Let All Be Humble in Spirit

The vitally important quality of humility is the recognition of our weaknesses and limitations. It recognizes strengths too, but it knows these have come from God (1 Peter 4:10; 1 Corinthians 4:7; Romans 12:3). Humility is closely related to submission, and it is essential for true Christian unity (see Philippians 2:1-8). Humility is not just required of those who are younger (1 Peter 5:5), but of all (1 Peter 3:8). Paul’s instructions to believers contain the same challenge to manifest humility:

16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation (Romans 12:16).

12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you (Colossians 3:12-13).

Our Lord Himself was characterized by humility (Matthew 11:29). Not Returning Evil for Evil:

9a Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead ( 1 Peter 3:9a).

From the time of the giving of the Old Testament law, the saint has been forbidden to take revenge:

18 “‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:18).

22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you (Proverbs 20:22; see 29:29).

Jesus taught the same thing during His earthly ministry. Men were not to take revenge; instead, they were to forgive and seek the blessing of those who have wronged us:

12 “‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.]’ 14 “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:12-15; see also Luke 6:27-36).

Both Peter and Paul call upon Christians to forgive those who have harmed them, encouraging them to seek to be a blessing to them (Romans 12:16-21; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12-14; 1 Peter 5:5; see 2 Peter 2).

The qualities Peter has called for are those qualities of God Himself, the qualities called for by the Law, by our Lord, and by His apostles. These are qualities our culture used to highly regard in women but which are now regarded as “weak” in both men and women. These qualities are antithetical to the characteristics of the “flesh” and virtually identical to those produced by the Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-26).

The Relationship Between
Getting a Blessing and Giving a Blessing
(3:9)

9 not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose [because unto this you were called] that you might inherit a blessing.

The Scriptures offer several reasons why we should be characterized by grace rather than by a grudge toward those who have wronged us.

(1) Because it is consistent with the character of God (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:35-36).

(2) Because it is consistent with our praise of God (James 3:8-12).

In our text, Peter supplies yet another reason:

(3) Because it is consistent with our destiny (1 Peter 3:9).

The logic is very simple. We have been called to inherit a blessing. If we are to live consistently with our calling, then we should be characterized by the fact that we bless others. James put it this way:

8 But no one can tame the tongue; [it is] a restless evil [and] full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless [our] Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come [both] blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening [both] fresh and bitter [water]? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither [can] salt water produce fresh. (James 3:8-12).

Not only does God bless us, but we are called to bless God. James argues that it is most inconsistent to bless God (the Creator of men) and then to curse men. Blessing and cursing should not both flow from our lips. Cursing must therefore be put away.

Peter’s instruction rests on this same principle. Our future destiny determines our present conduct. Because our future hope is that of blessing (God will bless us), our present relationships should be characterized by being a blessing to others.

This teaching is not new. From the very beginning, God’s covenant with Abraham spelled out the two-fold dimension of blessing:

2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing (Genesis 12:2, emphasis mine).

From very early times, men chose to forget this truth about God’s blessings. The Jews began to presume that God was obligated to bless them, not because of what they did but because of who they were (“the seed of Abraham,” see Matthew 3:7-10; John 8:33). They believed God’s blessings were to be theirs alone and the handful of proselytes who would convert to Judaism. Jonah portrayed this attitude in his response to God’s command to preach to the Ninevites. It was the prevalent attitude among self-righteous Jews in Jesus’ day also. And it is all too often evident in our own times. We too begin to think “sinners” rightly deserve to be punished, while we deserve to be blessed. We feel little or no obligation to be a blessing to the ungodly.

Peter teaches that we should do otherwise. To show that what he is teaching is not new, he turns us to the words of David in Psalm 34.

10 “Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. 11 And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:10-12).

Several things need to be said before we seek to interpret these words.

(1) Many students of Scripture seem to think Peter is somehow changing the meaning of David’s words, that while David spoke of temporal blessings, Peter “converts” his words to refer to “spiritual” blessings. J. Ramsey Michaels writes,

“How is the psalm being interpreted? In much the same way that the phrase, ‘inherit blessing,’ was interpreted in v 9. ‘Life,’ which to the psalmist meant a long and happy life on earth, is to Peter the same as ‘the grace of life’ in v 7—the eternal salvation that is the believer’s hope. To ‘love’ that life is equivalent to loving the still invisible Christ who will come revealing that salvation. To ‘see good days’ is to see what is now unseen, the glory in store for Christians at that revelation (see Comment on 1:8). The language of the psalm is the language of this world, but Peter has made it metaphorical of the world to come.… ”120

(2) This psalm has much in common with the teaching of 1 Peter. It would seem that Peter’s thinking has been shaped to one degree or another by this psalm he has alluded to already in 2:3. The themes of this psalm and Peter’s epistle are remarkably similar.

(3) If Psalm 34 speaks of “earthly blessings,” it also speaks of “earthly trials” as a part of life which we should expect (see verses 17-19). God will deliver the righteous from all his troubles, but it may not be immediately.

(4) This psalm speaks not only of earthly matters but of eternal ones. When he speaks of future deliverance (see verses 7, 19, 22), it may include both present and future deliverance. And when he refers to judgment (see verses 16, 21-22), it may be temporal, but if not, it will certainly be eternal. Asaph’s psalm should serve as a commentary on Psalm 34. Only when Asaph came to view life from an eternal and spiritual perspective did the (present) suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked make sense (see Psalm 73:15-28).

(5) We should not fail to notice that Psalm 34 contains a messianic prophecy:

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But the LORD delivers him out of them all. 20 He keeps all his bones; Not one of them is broken (Psalm 34:19).

This prophecy is said to have been fulfilled at the crucifixion of our Lord. While the legs of the other two men beside Him were broken, none of our Lord’s bones were broken (John 20:36).

(6) The circumstances of this psalm are given to us at the beginning. They provide us with the key to understanding the relevance of this text to our lives and also provide us with a key to the psalm’s interpretation. We shall therefore find that Peter’s interpretation and application of this text are not a modification of the psalm but a model of biblical exegesis and application. We who might be inclined to think Peter “spiritualized” this psalm had better take another look. And when we do, we will learn much from Peter’s handling of this great Old Testament text.

The Interpretation
and Application of Psalm 34

Psalm 34 was written by David. Apart from the superscription, one might think he wrote it after a great battle and a triumphant victory. Such was not the case. David wrote the psalm after he had pretended to be insane and thus was spared from the hand of a heathen king. Consider the background to this psalm as recorded in the Book of 1 Samuel:

1 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David, and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” 2 And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter, and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ 3 “Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” 4 And the priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 And David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels [be holy]?” 6 So the priest gave him consecrated [bread]; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the LORD, in order to put hot bread [in its place] when it was taken away. 7 Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds. 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.” 9 Then the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take [it.] For there is no other except it here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” 10 Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” 12 And David took these words to heart, and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. 13 So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21 NAS)

Saul was told he would lose his kingdom. David was the one who would be king in his place. David’s victories in battle were a source of bitter jealousy for Saul. Sadly, even David’s close friend Jonathan, Saul’s son, had to admit to David his father intended to kill him (see 1 Samuel 20). Along with some of his men, David fled for his life to Nob, where David lied to Ahimelech the priest about the reason for his arrival and received some provisions for his escape. As a result, Ahimelech and all of his family (save one) were put to death by Saul (see 1 Samuel 22:6-23). David knew he was to blame (1 Samuel 6:22).

After this, David fled to Gath where he sought safety and sanctuary in a foreign land from a heathen king. When some of the king’s servants reminded the king of David’s military might, he was viewed as a serious threat to the kingdom. Upon learning this, David became afraid of the king and saved himself by acting like a lunatic. He went about acting the fool, a disguise which proved successful, for he was allowed to live.

A significant clue to the meaning of these events and their relationship to Psalm 34 can be found in a later chapter of 1 Samuel in the story of Nabal and Abigail. Great wisdom is displayed by Abigail, while great folly is displayed by her husband Nabal. Both Abigail’s wisdom and Nabal’s foolishness are seen in light of their response to David’s identity as Israel’s future king.

5 So David sent ten young men, and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name; 6 and thus you shall say, ‘Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. 7 And now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. 8 Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let [my] young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.’ “ 9 When David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in David’s name; then they waited. 10 But Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, “Who is David? And who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are each breaking away from his master. 11 Shall I then take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men whose origin I do not know?” 12 So David’s young men retraced their way and went back; and they came and told him according to all these words. 13 And David said to his men, “Each [of you] gird on his sword.” So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage. 14 But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, saying, “Behold, David sent messengers from the wilderness to greet our master, and he scorned them. 15 Yet the men were very good to us, and we were not insulted, nor did we miss anything as long as we went about with them, while we were in the fields. 16 They were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the time we were with them tending the sheep. 17 Now therefore, know and consider what you should do, for evil is plotted against our master and against all his household; and he is such a worthless man that no one can speak to him.” 18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred [loaves] of bread and two jugs of wine and five sheep already prepared and five measures of roasted grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs, and loaded [them] on donkeys. 19 And she said to her young men, “Go on before me; behold, I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 And it came about as she was riding on her donkey and coming down by the hidden part of the mountain, that behold, David and his men were coming down toward her; so she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely in vain I have guarded all that this[man] has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; and he has returned me evil for good. 22 May God do so to the enemies of David, and more also, if by morning I leave [as much as] one male of any who belong to him.” 23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David, and bowed herself to the ground. 24 And she fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. 25 Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent. 26 “Now therefore, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, since the LORD has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies, and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. 27 And now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. 28 Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil shall not be found in you all your days. 29 And should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 And it shall come about when the LORD shall do for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and shall appoint you ruler over Israel, 31 that this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the LORD shall deal well with my lord, then remember your maidservant” (1 Samuel 25:5-31, emphasis mine).

Nabal did not recognize David as the future king of Israel. To him, David was a nobody, and he was not about to be generous to a nobody. To Abigail, however, David was the future king. On that basis, she sought to persuade him not to shed innocent blood in order to get revenge. She appealed to David to act like the king he was destined to be and to allow God to deal with his enemies. Abigail appealed to David to do exactly what Peter appeals to us to do: live now in the light of what God has promised we will be.

There were times when David took the “high road” of Christian conduct. Especially prominent are the two times he refused to take Saul’s life, even though it appeared God had providentially provided the opportunities to do so (1 Samuel 24, 26). At other times, David failed to live up to his calling. On this occasion, apart from Abigail’s intervention, David would have acted foolishly in seeking vengeance on Nabal and his household.

The two events described in 1 Samuel 21 are not noble acts David would want as his epitaph. I believe Psalm 34 was written by David after he reflected on his own folly. God did deliver him from Achish of Gath, but it was due to God’s grace and not to David’s piety. God did deliver Abraham from Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) and from Abimelech (Genesis 20), but not in a way that commended his actions. Abraham was deceitful and sought to save his own skin at the risk of sacrificing his wife’s purity rather than trusting God.

David describes the “fear of the Lord,” hoping to instruct and encourage others by the lessons he learned from his folly. God is always righteous and faithful. He will deliver the righteous and judge the wicked (compare Psalm 34 with 2 Peter 2). Those who trust in Him need never fear men. Rather, we should turn from evil and do what is right. We should demonstrate Christ’s righteousness with our tongues by keeping our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit (34:13). When we are in danger, we should trust God to deliver us and not resort to a lie or deceit to save ourselves. This demonstrates faith and righteousness and manifests the character of God to men. Doing so also makes His divine intervention all the more evident and glorious.

What can David say to us who live as “aliens and strangers” in a hostile world? What can he say to us about our conduct when persecution and even death might result from persisting in righteousness? He can say this:

“I know what it is like to live as a stranger and alien. I lived this way during the days king Saul sought to kill me. I know what it is like to have God’s promise of blessings to come, and to go about day by day fearing for my very life. I know what it is like to live in a world hostile to me and my destiny when the promise of a future day of blessing seems remote and dubious. But I can say from sad experience that these are the times when righteous living are most apparent. These are the times when our speech and our conduct manifest the character of our Lord. These are the times when we can identify with the rejection and suffering of the Savior.”

And this is precisely why Peter can turn to Psalm 34 for support. Like David of old, we are living as “aliens and strangers” in a hostile world, knowing that in God’s time we shall enter into the blessings He has promised. Like David, we should live in a manner consistent with our future hope. Specifically, rather than seeking to retaliate for the evils men commit against us, we should actively seek to be a blessing to them, trusting God to be faithful to His promises for us.

Psalm 34 is not entirely about future blessings, however, and neither is 1 Peter. Up to this point in time, Peter has emphasized our future hope and the conduct it requires of us in the present. David’s psalm promises not only future blessings but present blessing. Peter begins at the point in the psalm where David promises blessings in the present:

10 “Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. 11 “And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 “For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:10-12).

David and Peter both want us to understand that the “good life” is not just a future hope. The “good life” is not what the popular beer or other commercials offer us. The “good life” is the fullest enjoyment of the days God gives us in this life and in the next. Only a Christian is free to enjoy the “good life.” Those who are enslaved to the flesh (see 1:14; 2:11) are not free to say “no” to it; they are compelled to obey its desires (see Romans 6:15-18). The one who can do without earth’s delights is the one who can most enjoy them.

Peter’s use of Psalm 34 allows him to make a transition at this point in his epistle. Having contrasted the minimal price we have of suffering in this life for the blessings of the next (like Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5), Peter now begins to change his emphasis. He shows us those things we may have considered to be a “pain” are really a privilege. Many of the burdens we think we are bearing are really blessings.

This truth is powerfully taught in Psalm 73 where Asaph begins by confessing his self-pity and self-absorption in verses 1-14. How could God be “good to Israel” (verse 1) when the wicked were prospering and the righteous were suffering? By verses 15-18, Asaph sees things from God’s perspective (verses 15-28) and recognizes the depth of his sin in his response thus far (verses 21-22). He realizes that his suffering has drawn him closer to God but prosperity has done the opposite for the wicked. He sees that the pleasures of the wicked are momentary, but their torment is eternal. He comes to understand that God is his portion now and for all eternity (verses 24-27). Most of all, Asaph comes to understand “good” in a biblical sense. Good is not measured by pleasure in life; good is measured by the “nearness of God” (verse 28). The psalmist’s suffering drew him to God, and thus his suffering was “good.”

Peter is about to say the same thing. Suffering is not “evil;” ungodliness is evil. The good in life is not only to know God but to make Him known to others. Suffering for Christ’s sake is a high calling, a privilege, for Peter and for Paul—and for us:

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, [you are] blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED (1 Peter 3:14).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29).

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

When we suffer for Christ’s sake, we should respond with blessing, not only because we will be blessed eternally, but because we are being blessed in time as well. How great God’s blessings are for the saint. How great our blessings should be for the world. And all the glorious blessings we now experience are but a foretaste of what will follow.

Conclusion

When Jesus was given the opportunity to judge and to condemn men and women during the time of His first coming to the earth, He declined. He had not come to judge, He said, but to save. Jesus came to the earth to bring God’s blessings to men. The sad reality is that those who reject God’s blessings, provided in Christ at His first coming, will experience the judgment of God to be meted out by our Lord at His second coming. I am therefore compelled to ask you this question: “Have you entered into the blessings God has provided in Christ?” If not, I urge you to do so today. The present promise of blessing for those who believe is accompanied by a word of warning for those who do not. It was none other than Peter who sounded this word of hope, along with a warning, on the day of Pentecost:

33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 35 UNTIL I MAKE THINE ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR THY FEET.” ‘ 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard [this], they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter [said] to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” 40 And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:33-40).

For those of us who are saved, we see that God has set a very high standard of conduct for His saints. It is indeed an impossible standard, apart from His grace. We are to manifest the mind of Christ and seek to bless those who harm us rather than seek revenge. We are to be a blessing to those in this world, even our enemies, knowing that we are destined to receive God’s blessings in the future and experience them now in the present. May God give us the grace to understand and apply the words of this precious text in 1 Peter.

Attitudes Which Revolutionize Relationships

Word
Concept

Definition

New Testament
Parallel

Divine
Attribute

Antonym
(contrast)

Harmonious

Having one mind

Rom. 12:16; 15:5-7
John 17:20-23
Acts 4:32, 41-47
1 Cor. 1:10; chapter 12
2 Cor. 13:11
Eph. 4:3
Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 3:15; 4:2

Phil. 2:5
Matthew 4:1-11
John 5:30-32

Factious
Titus 3:9-11
3 John 9-10
1 Cor. 1:10-12

Contentious
1 Cor. 6:1-11

Sympathetic
(literally, “suffer together”)

Sensitivity to what others are going through

Rom. 12:15
1 Cor. 12:26
Heb. 13:3

Heb. 4:15; 10:34
John 11:35

Detached
1 Cor. 12:14-18

Self-centered and thus insensitive to impact on another – Romans 14-15
1 Cor. 8-10

Brotherly
(Philadelphia)

Brotherly love

Rom. 12:9-10
1 Thess. 4:9
Heb. 13:1
1 Pet. 1:22
2 Pet. 1:7

John 11:35-36;
13:1; 15:12-15

Hate your brother
1 John 3:14-15; 4:20

Kind-hearted

Compassionate
Deep feeling
Merciful
“Affectionately
sensitive —quick to feel and show affection” (Stibbs, p. 129)

Good Samaritan,
Luke 10:30-37
Eph. 4:32
2 Cor. 7:15
Phil. 1:8; 2:1
Col. 3:12
Philemon 12
1 John 3:17

Jesus —Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34;
Mark 1:41;
8:2;
Luke 6:36; 7:13

Aloof,
Uncaring
Luke 13:10-17

Humble in spirit

Humility
Prov. 29:29
Acts 20:19
Romans 12:16

Eph. 4:2
Phil. 2:3
Col. 2:18, 23; 3:12
1 Pet. 5:5

Matt. 11:29
Phil. 2:5-8

Proud,
Arrogant

Not
Vindictive

Forgiving
Gracious
Lev. 19:18
Prov. 20:22; 24:29

Matt. 6:12-15
Luke 6:27-36
Rom. 12:14-21
1 Cor. 4:12-13
1 Thess. 5:15

Matt. 5:44-45
Luke 6:27-38

Vengeful,
Retaliatory

This chart gives parallel passages which refer to the particular attitude either as a characteristic of the Christian or as an attribute of God. It is my contention that each of these characteristics is an attribute of God which should be evidenced in the Christian as well.


118 Two Pauline texts closely parallel the words of Peter in our text: Romans 12:9-21 and Colossians 3:12--4:6. In the Colossians text, Paul begins with the general principles and then gives specific instructions afterward. In 1 Peter, the order is the reverse. Peter starts with specific relationships and then concludes with general principles. Peter’s teaching is more oriented toward the ungodly to whom we are to submit and to the suffering which often results. See also 1 Corinthians 13; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; Galatians 5:13-24; Ephesians 4:1-3, 25--5:2; Philippians 2:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 5:13-22.

119 At the end of this lesson, a chart has been provided for further study and meditation. It gives parallel passages which refer to the particular attitude either as a characteristic of the Christian or as an attribute of God. It is my contention that each of these characteristics is an attribute of God which should be evidenced in the Christian as well.

120 J. Ramsey Michaels, 1 Peter (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher), 1988. Word Biblical Commentary Series, p. 180.

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18. A New Slant on Suffering (1 Peter 3:13-4:6)

13 And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ121 may be put to shame.

17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18 For Christ also died122 for sins123 once for all,124 the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

Introduction

Recently I needed to obtain an official registration for an item purchased some time ago which required approval by a federal government agency and a lower level of government. To receive approval from the lower level, I needed the necessary paperwork certifying approval by the federal government agency. I received approval from the first agency without much trouble with an official form in triplicate. I then took these, along with other necessary forms, to the second government agency.

When I walked in the door of the second agency, I knew something was unusual. Having been there a number of times, I knew a few of the people who worked there. The problem soon became quite evident as two pre-school age children totally out of control ran around the room while their mother pretended they weren’t there; the clerks certainly wished they weren’t. The eyes of several rolled in contempt.

My attention was quickly drawn to a more mature woman attempting to push a heavy oak church pew. She attempted to navigate between the two children who were doing all they could to harass her as well as the rest of us. Stepping out of line, I approached the older woman and asked, “Do you need some help?” “Yes, please,” she responded, “these children broke this pew, and I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt if I don’t get it out of here.” Picking up the broken end of the church pew, (a pew intended for use by those waiting in line), I began to work my way toward the back of the room. The woman tried to lift the pew but could not until a co-worker came to her aid. The three of us gingerly carried the pew safely out of the way.

Stepping back in line, I waited for one of the clerks to check my paperwork. After looking through the forms, she hesitated. “They didn’t give you all the forms you need,” she informed me. Although this came as no real surprise, I did not know what I needed. “Just one moment,” she commented, as she made her way into one of the offices to inquire further. She soon returned with words of great comfort to my ears, “It’ll be O.K.,” she said, “the supervisor approved your papers.” The “supervisor,” I learned, was the older women who had been struggling with the bench.

The point is quite simple. Today’s jargon would say, “What goes around comes around.” Those in days gone by would have said, “One good turn deserves another.” This incident surely illustrates the beginning words of our text in the Epistle of First Peter:

13 And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? (1 Peter 3:13).

Living according to biblical principles is the best way to live. And yet we are not guaranteed that godliness will always be received with gratitude and good deeds in return.

This passage is not so much about the favorable responses we might receive in response to godliness but the unpleasant responses of persecution and false accusations. Nevertheless, adversity is the soil in which the gospel thrives. And so Peter sets down in this text principles which should guide us in our response to persecution so that the gospel is proclaimed, God is glorified, and we are truly blessed.

Our text is without doubt the most difficult in the entire epistle. Luther reportedly said he did not know what Peter meant by these words. Others differ greatly in its meaning. Some misuse the passage to proof text doubtful, even heretical doctrines. As we come to this text, let us ask God to open our minds and hearts so the Spirit of God may guide our interpretation and application of this portion of God’s inspired Scripture.

The Structure of the Passage

Our text divides into two nearly equal portions. The first is verses 13-16; the second verses 3:18-4:6. The first section concentrates on instructions concerning our practice in Christ. The second focuses on our position in Christ and His position as the One at God’s right hand, exalted above all earthly and heavenly powers and authorities. Verses 18-22 also compare our “baptism” to that of Noah and his family who were spared from the flood by the ark.

Piety is the Best Course
(3:13)

13 And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?

Peter puts it in the form of a question because he has already cited the principle in the immediately preceding verses which are quoted from Psalm 34:

10 For, “Let him who means to love life and see good days Refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. 11 And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, And His ears attend to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (Psalm 34:10-12).

The principle we should live by is this: The one who follows biblical principles will get the most out of life—both this life and the life to come. Or we might say, “Obeying God’s Word spares us much needless suffering.” In the context of this third chapter of Peter’s first epistle, Peter is saying the Christian who seeks to be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, humble in spirit, and gracious (not retaliating) will have the most peaceable and rewarding life. We find this principle evident throughout the Scriptures. The Book of Proverbs constantly refers to the blessings which normally result from godliness and wisdom (see 11:2, 9; 13:3, 10; 14:27; 15:1). The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) also deals with these same truths.125

Piety Does Not Keep Us From All Suffering
(3:14a)

Living according to the Scriptures keeps us from much unnecessary suffering, but it is no guarantee we will be spared from all suffering. Living by the Scriptures is something like defensive driving: it does not keep one from having an accident, but it may keep us from many accidents. Having established a “good life” as the norm, Peter addresses suffering as a possibility.

14a But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.

Peter wants us to know suffering may come our way even when we are living as God instructs us to live. Indeed, suffering may come our way because we are living godly lives. A number of evangelical Christians fail to grasp this. They sincerely believe that if they follow the divine principles of Scripture, they can be assured of a happy, trouble-free life, a life of “prosperity.”

Job’s friends made this same error. They assumed Job’s prosperity was the result of his piety; when adversity overtook him, they were certain he had done something wrong. The way back to prosperity was to find the sin in Job’s life and be rid of it. This was also the view of the scribes and Pharisees in the days of our Lord who linked material prosperity with spiritual piety. Imagine how shocked they would be to hear the Lord Jesus say,

20b “Blessed126 are you who are poor … 24a But woe to you who are rich … ” (Luke 6:20b, 24a).

Peter makes it very clear that when one suffers for doing what is right, he is blessed (1 Peter 3:14). The blessings do not stop when the suffering begins. Peter insists that suffering for the sake of godliness is a blessing. This statement will receive further support and clarification in chapter 4 (see verses 1-5, 12-16).

Guidelines For Making the Most of Suffering
(3:14b-16)

14b And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Verses 14b-16 instruct us how we should conduct ourselves in suffering to make our suffering a blessing, both to others and to ourselves.

The first principle: if we are to be blessed in suffering, we must suffer for the sake of righteousness and not for sin.

20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer [for it] you patiently endure it, this [finds] favor with God (1 Peter 2:20).

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed (1 Peter 3:14a).

17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Peter 3:17).127

The only virtuous suffering is innocent suffering, suffering for the sake of righteousness. If we are to be blessed in suffering, we must suffer for righteousness.

Our second principle: we should make the most of suffering by using the occasion for the proclamation of the gospel.

The last words of verse 14 and the first few words of verse 15 are a reference to Isaiah 8. In these verses, God warns the prophet Isaiah not to buckle under to the opposition he receives in response to the message God gave him to proclaim. Peter uses these words to remind us that we too should not be frightened or intimidated by the opposition we receive from men. We are to faithfully embrace and proclaim the truths of God’s Word.

Collapsing under the pressure of persecution is a very real danger (see Matthew 24:9-10). It would seem as though this were the great danger faced by the Hebrew Christians to whom the Book of Hebrews was addressed (see 10:32-39). When the Old Testament prophets were divinely commissioned, they were instructed to stand firm in the face of opposition and to faithfully proclaim the truth God revealed to them (see Isaiah 6:1-7; 8:1-22; Jeremiah 1:4-19; Ezekiel 2:4-7).

Peter is concerned that when things get tough, we will be tempted to be silent or to take the edge off our witness. Who should understand this better than Peter who, under pressure, denied being associated with His Lord (see Matthew 26:69-75). Now he writes that times of persecution are often occasions for bearing witness to the Savior; these are the times we dare not be intimidated so we deny our Lord, remain silent, or dilute the message of the gospel.

The third principle: the suffering saint must settle the question of whom he serves.

When persecution arises because of righteousness, we often find strong resistance and opposition. The pressure is to renounce or revise the message to make it less offensive. Our response to this pressure is a reflection of whom we most fear. We either fear God or men. Jesus put it this way:

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear [whispered] in [your] ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And [yet] not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:24-33).

If we fear men who are able to kill us, we will be shaken and silenced by their opposition. If we fear God, we will not be shaken or silenced but faithfully persist in proclaiming the gospel. Persecution forces us to settle the question of whom we fear—God or men.

The fourth principle: we must be ready.

Peter says we are always to be ready to give an account. Readiness involves a couple of elements. First, it involves expectation or eagerness (see Matthew 24:44; Luke 12:40). In referring to this kind of anticipation, we say we are “ready and waiting.” This anticipation keeps us alert to the opportunities so they do not pass us by unexpectedly. Second, it involves preparation (see Exodus 19:15), ability, and resolve (1 Peter 4:5).

Our fifth principle: we must be ready to respond to those who ask.

There are times when we should seek to stimulate interest and gently introduce the subject of spiritual things, but Peter’s emphasis here (like Paul’s in Colossians 4:6) is that the gospel should be given when men ask us for an explanation. Peter assumes persecution will precipitate opportunities for witness. Peter’s words encompass a broad range of possibilities. We may be arrested and required to make a defense before political or civil authorities (see Luke 21:12-13) as Peter (Acts 4; 5:12-42) and Paul did (see Acts 9:15; see chapters 21-28).

The message is clear: we are to be ready to give an answer concerning the Christian’s hope. Times of suffering and persecution highlight the hope every Christian possesses. It is the hope of an eternal inheritance, preserved for us in heaven as we are kept for it on earth (1 Peter 1:3-9). It is a hope fixed completely on the grace yet to be revealed at the return of our Lord (1:13). It is a hope we have by faith, and this faith is proven through adversity (1:7). As the unbeliever observes the steadfast faith and hope of the Christian, he may be prompted to inquire, for without Christ, there is no true hope (see Ephesians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; 2 Peter 3).

We should always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks. Peter’s words strongly imply we are to have more than the cultists. When they come to our door, they simply have a script. When forced to depart from their “script,” they don’t know what to say. We have more than a script; we have the Scriptures. We have experienced the grace of God through the gospel, and from the Word of God, we should have a thorough grasp of what the gospel is all about.

A recent television special celebrated 25 years of the Carol Burnett Show. One scene from that show illustrates how we are to understand the gospel and be able to translate it into terms which would relate to anyone who might ask about our hope. A replay from a past show captured a woman in the audience who told Carol she did not have a question, but she would like to sing. Carol invited her up on stage, and the woman confidently turned to the orchestra director and named the song she wanted, in the key of G. The orchestra performed magnificently, as did the woman, who was later joined by Carol herself.

The orchestra had never rehearsed the song, much less in the key of G. They could not possibly rehearse for every situation that might arise. But the men were expert musicians who could think musically. They were able to put the song together based upon their years of experience and skill as musicians. That is the way we should be concerning the gospel. We should not have a canned presentation of the gospel which we apply uniformly to every inquirer. This kind of evangelism is never seen in the New Testament. Rather, we are to know the gospel so well that we can relate it to anyone, in any situation, at any time. Is this a challenge? Of course it is. But what subject is more important?

The request may be a private one, prompted by our own testimony, or it may be occasioned by another believer. I have always thought this verse (15) referred primarily to “personal evangelism”—people asking us about our faith based upon our godly conduct and lifestyle. Certainly this is one aspect of our witness, but there is much more. The New Jerusalem Bible suggests yet another:

15 Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have (emphasis mine).

The “you” was not rendered “you all” by the translators because they are from the deep South but because the “you” is plural. Peter is indicating that a person may ask us for an explanation of our hope because of the godly conduct of another believer. Some believers are much more visible, much more prominent than others. A man like Billy Graham is one of the most well-known evangelicals alive today. People may ask us about him, which results in an opportunity to share the faith we have in common with him. This assumes a fundamental unity and harmony between us and others who are in the household of the faith. It also suggests that a very prominent Christian who falls into sin has a negative impact on many Christians and their witness.

The message of the gospel is always the same although our method of presenting it will vary from person to person. Our motivation and manner of presentation is prescribed by Peter: We are to give an answer with “gentleness” and with “reverence.” As I understand Peter’s words, gentleness applies to the way we respond to the person to whom we are explaining our hope. Reverence appears to refer to our attitude toward God as we present the gospel. We are to be gentle, proclaiming the gospel with grace, not harshly or without concern. But we are also to present the gospel in truth. Thus we remember the One of Whom we are speaking is the One who sees and hears us as we witness to our hope, and He is the One before Whom we must one day stand and give account.

The sixth principle is to maintain a good conscience.

16 And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16).

The conscience is one’s inner sense of what is right and wrong, especially in matters not directly addressed by Scripture (see Romans 2:15; 2 Corinthians 1:12).128 The conscience is closely related to one’s personal convictions (see 1 Corinthians 8:7, 12; Romans 14). The conscience can be deadened by sin (1 Timothy 4:2) and unnecessarily scrupulous (see Romans 14:2). The Christian should always strive to maintain a clear conscience (1 Timothy 1:5, 19; 3:9).

Elsewhere, the conscience is viewed as the basis for ministry (1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:3). It is also something we dare not violate lest we sin (1 Corinthians 8; Romans 14). It is wrong for us to act in a way that encourages a brother in Christ to violate his conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7-13). But here in our text, Peter refers to a clear conscience in the context of our witness to unbelievers.

Peter puts his finger on a very important outworking of a clear conscience. He says we are to have a clear conscience so that when we are slandered, those who have spoken evil of us for well-doing will be put to shame. Godly conduct puts sinners to shame. But when godly conduct shames sinners, it often results in persecution. The Christian is tempted to draw back, to modify his conduct to reduce or minimize the persecution he faces. Peter urges us not to violate our conscience by compromising our convictions.

Peter well understood what he was saying. How painful the memory of his own denial of the Lord must have been, as he once sought to avoid arrest and punishment by denying he even knew the Lord. Peter was a new man. His conscience had been cleansed. He would (with a few exceptions—see Galatians 2:11-21) no longer compromise to avoid persecution. And he now urges us to do likewise.

Daniel was also a man faithful to his conscience. When he was far from his homeland living as a captive in Babylon, Daniel nevertheless made every effort to live with a clear conscience. When he was given food to eat which would have violated his conscience, Daniel wisely petitioned the one in authority so that he would not defile himself (see Daniel 1). His conduct was such that his jealous peers knew they could only accuse him in some matter related to his personal practice of spiritual piety (see Daniel 6:1-5).

I believe a clear conscience gives one a boldness to witness we do not have when we compromise. This is evident in Daniel’s life and in the life and ministry of Paul. When Paul was falsely accused by his Jewish adversaries, he was able to say,

1 “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1).

It is little wonder that Paul’s accusers were greatly upset by such words. Their “religion” did not make such a statement possible. Paul would have us keep our conscience clear, so that our lives will contrast with the sinful ways of the world and our lips will be able to proclaim the good news of the gospel without fear that we are hypocritical in so doing.

Why Suffering For Righteousness is Right
(3:17-4:6)

17 For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

The verses we are about to consider are some of the most difficult in the New Testament and certainly the hardest to handle in this epistle.129 Before attempting to interpret these verses, allow me to set down some guidelines I follow when dealing with difficult texts in the Bible. These principles apply not only to our text but to all troublesome texts (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:29).

Handling the Tough Texts

(1) Recognize that we are in good company when we find some texts or truths hard to handle. The prophets had difficulty understanding the things revealed to them (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). During our Lord’s earthly ministry, the disciples failed to grasp the meaning of our Lord’s words (Mark 9:32; Luke 18:34). Peter finds Paul’s writings difficult to grasp at times (2 Peter 4:14-16). Why should we expect to understand all things pertaining to an infinite God, especially in this life (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-13; 1 John 3:2).

(2) Do not feel compelled to have a satisfactory explanation for every text in the Bible or a solution to every biblical problem. Tough texts humble us, reminding us that God is infinite and beyond our ability to understand or put in a box (see 1 Corinthians 13:9-12). It is good for us to be mystified by Scripture so that we realize we do not have it all under control.

(3) Problem passages should not be the basis for new and novel doctrines or interpretations. Never accept a doctrine based solely on a problem text. Any truth vital to our understanding will be taught clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly. The cults often use difficult texts to establish bizarre doctrines which have no support elsewhere in Scripture.

(4) Be suspect of interpretations of difficult texts which do not have broad acceptance throughout the history of the church (2 Peter 1:20-21).

(5) We should not be overly dogmatic about the conclusions we reach concerning a problem passage. We should hold these interpretations and applications more tentatively and not make them a test of spirituality or orthodoxy.

(6) Avoid becoming obsessed with the gnats of the text and thus miss the camels. The mysterious elements of Scripture can sometimes become an obsession to the neglect of the main teaching of the text. Often the main thrust or message of a problem text is clear, even if some of the particulars are uncertain. We should not lose sight of the message, even if we do not understand the minute details of the text. Seek to determine the main flow of argument and to discern the main point. In our text, the message is clear, even if the minutia is not.

(7) In seeking to interpret difficult texts, determine if there are any parallel texts similar in teaching, and interpret the more obscure text in light of those which are clearer.

(8) Determine the issues, the interpretive options, and then choose the interpretation that best fits the context, the argument of the entire book, and biblical theology.

Probing the Problems in our Passage

The major thrust of Peter’s teaching can be traced in verses 17-18 and verse 22. The problems arise in verses 19-21. The following views sum up the more popular interpretations of this problem passage.

(1) Christ preached through Noah to the people of his day. This view was held by Augustine. Christ has always been actively involved in the world, even from ancient times (see Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 10:4). He is also vitally involved with the world and His church until He comes again (Matthew 28:20; Acts 9:1-9; 16:7). This view’s main problem is the expression “spirits now130 in prison” which does not seem to be one that most naturally would be used and understood in reference to men. It is true, however, that “spirits” is used in Hebrews 12:23 in reference to those believers who have died.

(2) Between the time of our Lord’s death and His resurrection, He descended into the abode of the dead and preached to those who had formerly lived in Noah’s day but were now dead and in prison, spiritually.131 Matthew 27:52-53 and Ephesians 4:9 are sometimes cited as support. There are several problems with this view. First, why is only this group of unbelieving dead selected and preached to and not all unbelievers? Second, why would the gospel be preached to a group of people who were warned of the coming judgment of God for 120 years and who rejected this warning (see Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:4-5)? It wasn’t as though these people were not warned. Peter tells us they were disobedient (3:20). Third, at least some of those who hold this view also believe these folks are given a “second chance,” but this seems contrary to other biblical teaching (see, for example, Hebrews 9:27).

(3) Between Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ descended into hell and proclaimed His victory to the demonic spirits, who cohabited with women in Noah’s day (see Genesis 6:1-8; 2 Peter 2:4-5, Jude 6; see also 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:18-23; Philippians 2:8-11; Colossians 2:8-15; 1 Peter 4:22). This view seems to square best with Genesis chapter 6, 2 Peter 2 and Jude 6. It appears most consistent with the terms “spirits in prison.” But what does this have to do with Peter’s theme of suffering?

(4) Enoch (not Christ) preached to those living in Noah’s day. This is the view of J. Cramer and J. Rendel Harris. It has no textual support, but only a textual emendation (a change of the text, without the existence of any such text) based upon certain presuppositions. It can hardly be taken seriously.

(5) “I don’t know what Peter means here.” Luther held this view. We can at least respect his honesty.

The Argument of the Passage
Why Suffering For Doing Good is Better than Suffering for Wrong-doing

As I understand Peter’s teaching in our text, verse 17 lays the foundation for what Peter writes from verse 18 of chapter 3 through verse 6 of chapter 4. Peter writes that it is better, if God wills, for the Christian to suffer for doing what is right than to suffer for doing wrong. The following verses explain why.

The first reason is found in verse 18:

18 For Christ also died132 for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.

Why is it better for us to suffer for well-doing than for evil-doing? What else should the Christian do, knowing that our Lord suffered and died for our sins? He who was righteous died for men who are unrighteous to bring us to God. His suffering and death accomplished a “once for all” salvation. Our Lord put it quite well when He was dying on the cross of Calvary, “It is finished!” He said (John 19:30).

Peter’s argument here is very similar to that Paul employs in Romans 6. There, the question at hand is: “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1). Paul’s answer is simple: Christians have been united with Christ by Spirit baptism. Our water baptism symbolizes what took place when we were united with Him, by faith. In Christ we died to sin, and we rose again in newness of life. Because this is so, how could we live in a manner inconsistent with our life in Him? How can we practically deny that which we have experienced in Christ?

Peter will also deal with the necessity of our denying sin, but that is introduced in chapter 4, verse 1. Here Peter relates the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ to our suffering. He was righteous, yet He suffered and died for our salvation. If the sinless Savior could suffer and die for sinners, surely those who were once sinners should find it right to identify with Him in suffering for righteousness. Since He died to make us holy in God’s sight and to forgive our sins, how could we think of continuing in sin and suffering because of sin? His suffering for sin means it is no longer necessary, no longer acceptable, for saints to suffer for sin. If He, the just, suffered for sinners, surely we who are sinners saved by His grace should be willing to suffer for righteousness.

The second reason is also introduced in verse 18. The Christian, like Christ, may suffer physically, but he will also, like Christ, triumph spiritually. The unbeliever may seem to prosper physically, but he will be put to shame spiritually. At the end of verse 18, Peter goes on to remind us that Jesus suffered in the flesh but triumphed in the spirit. Our Lord died both physically and spiritually, and His resurrection was a bodily resurrection, not just “spiritual.” I believe Peter contrasts the “physical” and the “spiritual” for a particular reason. Jesus’ suffering was endured “in the days of His flesh,” while He was on the earth (see Hebrews 5:7-9). His triumph was “in spirit.”133 This should be recognized as a pattern with regard to our suffering. We should expect suffering while we are in the “days of [our] flesh,” suffering in this life. We should look for triumph in a spiritual dimension, rather than merely in a physical and fleshly way.

In the flesh, our Lord was rejected and persecuted by sinful men. He was tortured and put to death. But our Lord was also made alive “in spirit.” It is “in spirit” that our Lord triumphed over those who were disobedient, over those who rejected Him. “In spirit,” Jesus “went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison” (verse 19).

Let me explain the literal meaning of verses 19-20 as I understand them. “In spirit,” Jesus went to the abode of the dead between the time of His death and the time of His resurrection. “In spirit,” He presented Himself to the “spirits.” I understand these to include all men, both saved and lost. I further understand these “spirits” to include those who were a part of the super race which was destroyed by the flood (see Genesis 6:1-8). I believe “the sons of God” were angels, for this is the way the expression is used in the Old Testament (see Job 1:6; 2:1). These disobedient angels took on human bodies, which is also consistent with what we see elsewhere of angels in the Old Testament (see Genesis 18-19). They then married the “daughters of men” (6:2). The result seems to be a super race of Nephilim (6:4), who were “mighty men of valor” (see 6:4). This new race indeed threatened the “seed” through which the promised Messiah would come (see Genesis 3:15).

The flood was necessitated because this super race seemed to be growing rapidly. The race was a half-breed race, a blending of human and angelic lines. Noah and his family lived among these mighty men, proclaiming by deed and by words the coming wrath of God. This race rejected that warning and brought judgment on themselves. Further, this race was not only disobedient to God, they were actively in pursuit of fleshly lusts and pleasures. They were, as the New Testament informs us,eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38).

This entire race was destroyed with the exception of but eight souls, the family of Noah. While Noah’s generation sought earthly pleasures, Noah and his family devoted themselves to obeying God by the building of the ark. This was hardly an earthly pleasure. The result, however, was that Noah and his family were spared. The civilization of his day was destroyed. Noah and his family suffered in the flesh, but they were blessed spiritually. The disobedient race of Noah’s day indulged in fleshly lusts, but they will suffer spiritually for all eternity.

Peter’s argument therefore seems to go this way: Jesus suffered physically, but He was victorious spiritually. In spirit,” He went to the spirits” of those who in an earlier day indulged in the pleasures of the flesh in disobedience to God. He did not preach the gospel to these souls, offering them a second chance of salvation. Rather, He proclaimed victory over them declaring their eternal shame which they bear spiritually for all eternity. Those who chose to indulge physically in the flesh and to disobey God are those who now suffer spiritually for all eternity. The One whom sinful men rejected and caused to suffer and die in the flesh is the One whom God appointed to declare that victory to them. This is the point of several passages, including one in our own text:

18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:18-23).

13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us [and] which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him (Colossians 2:13-15).

22 Who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him (1 Peter 3:22).

Both men and angels, who sought only the satisfaction of fleshly appetites in the days of Noah, have been put to shame. They lived it up, physically, and now they live in torment, spiritually. In contrast, Noah lived not for the satisfaction of fleshly lusts but denied these in order to obey God. In so doing, he suffered the scorn and persecution of his peers during his years of building the ark, but he was also spared. The waters, which brought about the destruction of the disobedient, brought Noah to safety as he took refuge in the ark. Noah spent his life preparing for eternity. His peers spent their lives in the pursuit of earthly pleasures.

Verse 21 sets forth the third reason. Noah’s deliverance through literal water is likened to our spiritual deliverance in Christ which is symbolized by water baptism. It is absolutely essential that Peter is talking about spirit baptism, not mere water baptism. He is talking about our spiritual union with Christ at salvation, when we were identified with Him in His suffering, death, burial, resurrection and ascension (see also Romans 6:1-11).

Noah and his family were brought safely through the flood waters of divine judgment by being in the ark, the instrument of God’s salvation. We are brought safely through the judgment of God by being in Christ, God’s full and final provision for sin. The physical waters of baptism cannot cleanse the defilement of sin; it is the blood of Christ which cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). Christ’s suffering in the flesh was the payment for our sin; Christ’s triumph in the spirit is the basis for our victory over sin. How then could we possibly consider a lifestyle of sin in the flesh, resulting in suffering for doing wrong? Our only reasonable path of action is to follow in the steps of our Savior, suffering for doing good.

The rite of water baptism is an act of obedience, an act in which we make a public profession of faith in Christ. Peter refers to it as an appeal … for a good conscience(verse 21). Peter means that when we trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, we turn to Him for the forgiveness of our sins; we appeal to Him for a cleansing both of our sins and our defiled conscience which these sins have produced (see Hebrews 10:22). If, at the time of our water baptism, we have expressed our petition for a cleansing of conscience, then we must in our daily walk “keep a good conscience” (verse 16) by suffering for doing good rather than suffering for sin.

The fourth reason is given in verses 1-6 of chapter 4. We must choose either to identify with Christ and suffer in the flesh or choose to identify with the world in the indulgence of the flesh. Peter appeals to us to adopt the same mindset as Christ who fulfilled His commitment to suffer in the flesh for our salvation:

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1).

Suffering should not come upon us as some kind of unexpected surprise (see 4:12), but rather as the result of a conscious choice and commitment on our part to imitate Christ whose suffering resulted in our salvation.

The last part of verse 1 and verse 2 pose another problem for us. Is Peter saying here that suffering is the means to being freed from sin?

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-2).

I believe Peter’s words have a two-fold meaning. First, Peter is speaking to us as those who are “in Christ” by faith to those who are saved. In Christ, we have suffered in the flesh, ceased to sin, and been freed from the lusts of the flesh to serve God (see also Romans 6). Christ has accomplished our redemption from sin once for all. If we are in Him, we should have the same mind as Christ, we should be willing to suffer in the flesh (for doing good), and we should be freed from sin to obey the will of God.

The first meaning is called by some “positional truth”, truth about what we are, in Christ, apart from our contribution, based solely on the work of the Savior. The second meaning is personal and practical in that it speaks of our appropriation and application of all that Christ has accomplished for us. As Christians, we should embrace the mind of Christ and thus be willing to suffer in the flesh. When we, in Christ’s power, suffer for doing what is right, we recognize that our bondage to sin has been broken and that sin no longer is master over us (Romans 6:12-23).

From this perspective, suffering takes on a whole new meaning, a completely different meaning than that of the religious legalists. Jewish legalists believed suffering was an indication of sin; Peter teaches that suffering for doing right is an evidence of true spirituality. This was a dramatic change for Peter, who once held the legalistic view. When the disciples came upon a man born blind, they asked Jesus who had sinned, the blind man or his parents (John 9:1-2). Just like Job’s friends, they believed adversity is always the result of personal sin. But they likewise believed prosperity was proof of piety. This is the reason the Pharisees were so in love with money and power (see Luke 16:14): they thought these were proofs of their spirituality.

Peter turns the tables upside down. He tells us that suffering for Christ’s sake, suffering for well-doing, is an indication of righteousness, of freedom from sin, through the grace of God. This is also the teaching of our Lord, though it surely took His listeners by surprise:

1 And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 And opening His mouth He [began] to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-10).

Peter explains in verses 3 and 4 why suffering for well-doing is evidence of God’s grace in our lives.

3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you] (1 Peter 4:3-4).

Ultimately, suffering is the result of sin. But when the righteous suffer for well-doing, their suffering is the result of the sin of those who persecute them. Before we were identified with Christ at salvation, we used to live in the same way unbelievers still live. Our former lifestyle, like theirs, was characterized by fleshly self-indulgence. We endeavored to fill the cup of human pleasure to overflowing. But when we were turned to faith in Christ, all that changed. And now, our new lifestyle not only puzzles unbelievers, it threatens them. It makes them look bad. It might make them feel guilty. And so we are reviled for doing good.

But this is not the end of the story. The unrighteous may indulge in the flesh now and persecute those who pursue righteousness. But their pleasure is only momentary, just as the suffering of the righteous is temporary. Like those who lived in Noah’s day (3:19-20), the wicked must someday stand before the One who is ready to judge both the living and the dead (verse 5).

This should be a very frightening statement for an unbeliever. God’s judgment is not just for the living but for the dead. The greater judgment comes after, not before, death:

27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this [comes] judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without [reference to] sin, to those who eagerly await Him (Hebrews 9:27-28).

This is precisely what Peter has just told us about those who lived in Noah’s day. They were disobedient in Noah’s day, but the Lord went to them in spirit and proclaimed His victory (and thus, their doom). Christians, on the other hand, may suffer for righteousness’ sake in this life, but we have all eternity to experience the blessing of a more intimate fellowship and worship in His presence.

For this reason, Peter tells us in verse 6, the gospel has been preached even to those who are dead. Life does not end at death. The spirit lives on for all eternity. The spirits of those who are disobedient and ungodly spend eternity in torment, while the spirits of the righteous experience eternal bliss:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than [the blood] of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24).

The gospel is preached so some may be delivered from the coming wrath of God and so those who are not will be without excuse. The saved may suffer the general sentence of death pronounced upon all men due to the sin of Adam (see verse 6; Romans 5:12-21) but they will live eternally in the spirit in the blessed presence of our Lord.

Conclusion

Studying this passage in Peter’s first epistle once again reminds me of the importance of “connectivity.” Connectivity refers to the importance of making the connection between the truths of God’s Word and the daily application of them in our lives. Too many Christians have an academic grasp of biblical truth but fail to see its relevance and application to their daily decisions and actions. Peter, like Paul and all the other apostles, calls upon us to practice what we profess to have experienced in Christ.

One of the vital connections Peter wants us to make is the linking of our present attitudes and actions with our future hope. We ought to live in the present in the light of eternity. Closely related is the relationship between the flesh and the spirit. The “flesh” refers to those physical things we wish to enjoy in the present. The “spirit” refers to spiritual matters which are not seen but which continue for all eternity. While the world sets aside things of the spirit which God provides for the present enjoyment of the things of the flesh, the Christian is willing to suffer in the flesh, knowing that untold spiritual blessings are ours now and throughout eternity. The contrast between our thinking and actions pertaining to flesh and spirit and those of the world is a prominent theme in our text.

Our text has much to say to us about suffering. Christians should view suffering in the light of the suffering of our Savior. He is the One who suffered and died to lead us to God. He, the righteous and sinless One, suffered and died for us, the unrighteous. And because He suffered and died for us, we should adopt the same attitude toward suffering He demonstrated.

We should see that suffering is one of the ways in which we enter into a deeper fellowship with our Lord. Baptism is not just being dipped into water and lifted out (or being sprinkled). Baptism is about identification with Christ. The term rendered “baptize” is one used in ancient times for the dying of a garment. The garment was immersed in dye, and when this was done, the garment took on the qualities of the dye; the garment identified with the dye. So also Paul tells us that the “baptism” of ancient Israel was their identification with Moses as they went down into the sea and came forth:

1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).

Suffering, according to Jesus, is a kind of baptism experience, a time when we are identified with our Lord in His suffering and death for our salvation:

36 And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” 37 And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on [Your] left.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized” (Mark 10:36-39).

If I understand Peter correctly, he says suffering for Christ is a kind of baptism, a way in which we come to identify with Him in a greater way. This puts suffering in an entirely different light. It makes suffering a blessing rather than a perceived punishment, for it draws us ever more close to the One who suffered and died for us.

8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from [the] Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which [comes] from God on the basis of faith, 10 that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:8-11).

With this, Peter wholeheartedly agrees:

14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, [you are] blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED (1 Peter 3:14).

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Suffering not only draws us more closely to Christ, it affords opportunities to bear witness to the lost about our faith in Christ. Our endurance at doing good in the face of persecution demonstrates that we have a hope lost men do not possess. Maintaining a clear conscience when suffering for Christ may provide occasions where we are asked to explain the hope which is ours in Christ. Often, times of suffering are when the church experiences growth, and the blood of the martyrs is seen to be the seed of the church.

This text not only assures us that suffering for Christ’s sake will lead to opportunities for witness, it teaches us some very important principles concerning evangelism. Allow me to share a few.

(1) Witnessing is not an attack waged against an unwilling victim, but an explanation given in response to a request about our hope. This is not to say we only share our faith when asked, but one finds little support for the forceful style of evangelism more characteristic of those selling aluminum siding or carpet cleaning than of our Lord or His apostles. This is especially important in relation to the principle of submission. Submission is putting the interests and needs of others above our own. Submission in evangelism does not seek to force the gospel on unwilling victims, but to stimulate interest and then respond to it (see also Colossians 4:6).

(2) Evangelism is not trying to identify with unbelievers to show them how much like them we are; it is about living a distinctly different life than they, and then explaining why. Too much of today’s evangelistic effort tries to look and act like the world, trying to make people comfortable with us and our faith. It is the difference between the believer and the unbeliever which is so important, and it must not be compromised by defiling our conscience when opposition to our well-doing arises.

(3) If you want an opportunity to witness to your unsaved friends and neighbors, do what Noah did—build an ark. Obviously we need not build a literal “ark” like the one Noah built over 120 years. The ark was but the physical evidence of Noah’s faith and obedience. The ark symbolized his willingness to spend this life in preparation for the next. It served to condemn the sins of the people of his day and to warn them of future judgment. If we did as Peter has instructed—fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13)—our neighbors would begin to see the ark in our lives, and we would have many opportunities of explaining our hope. As I read the commands of our Lord in the Gospels, I begin to see that our obedience to them would make us “Noahs” in our own time. The key to evangelism is not some gimmick or slick presentation of a packaged gospel; it is a life that witnesses to our waiting and working for the things not of this world but of the next.

I dare not leave this text before asking you a very direct question: “Are you in the ark, or are you outside the ark? Are you living only for the pleasures of this age and disregarding God and the judgment which awaits you?” The people of Noah’s day were warned of coming judgment by Noah and the building of the ark, but they disobeyed God and disregarded this warning. Both Noah and the people of that age went through the flood. The difference was that Noah and his family were delivered through the flood, inside the ark, while the rest were destroyed by the flood, outside the ark.

By God’s design, there is a coming day of judgment when sinners will stand before a Holy God and acknowledge their sin and guilt. And they will bow their knee to Jesus Christ. They will also spend eternity suffering the consequences of their sin in this life. God has provided a solution for man’s sin and a way to escape divine judgment. The only way of escape is Jesus Christ. He took on human flesh, adding sinless humanity to His perfect deity. He suffered and died for sinners, and He was raised from the dead so that men might be justified before God. The wrath of God on sin was outpoured on Him. Those who are in Christ need not suffer God’s wrath, because they have been punished in Christ. Those who lack righteousness need not fear the wrath of God because they are declared righteous, in Christ.

And so I ask you very simply, “Are you in Christ, or are you outside Christ? Are you trusting in your righteousness, or in His righteousness?” The difference between those who are saved and those who will suffer eternal torment is the difference between being “in Christ,” by faith, and being apart from Christ. I urge you to acknowledge your sin, your need of salvation, and to trust in the One whom God has sent to deliver you from His wrath—the Lord Jesus Christ.


121 This expression, “in Christ,” is one of Paul’s favorites. Peter uses it here and in 5:10, 14.

122 A number of Greek texts read “suffered” here. I am inclined to favor “suffered” over “died,” largely because this is the subject at hand.

123 A. T. Robertson points out that this expression “for sin” is the regular phrase for the sin offering in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), VI, pp. 115-116.

124 See also Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10.

125 It is amazing that some dispensationalists want to sweep aside this teaching as irrelevant to this present age and applicable primarily to the coming of Christ’s kingdom. The standards our Lord sets down in this sermon are those established by the Old Testament Law which apply to life here and now, even though many of the blessings are to be fully realized in the future.

126 Peter uses a different term for blessing here in verse 14 than he employed in verse 9. In verse 14, the term is essentially the same as our Lord used in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-22. In verse 14, Peter underscores his teaching by joining the teaching of Isaiah 8 with that of our Lord in Matthew 5 and Luke 6.

127 Note the repetition of this principle of righteous suffering. Peter lays down themes like this which he then takes up later in his epistle, pursuing the principle even further. Peter’s approach to teaching seems to be more circular (as in 1 Peter), while Paul’s is more linear (as in Romans).

128 Kelly defines conscience as “. . . a man’s inner awareness of the moral quality of his actions.” J. N. D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers), 1969. Harpers New Testament Commentaries Series, p. 144.

129 “This is not only one of the most difficult passages in Peter’s letter, it is one of the most difficult in the whole New Testament; and it is also the basis of one of the most difficult articles in the creed, ‘He descended into Hell.’“ William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976.) The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 232. “The following verses have caused more controversy than anything in the Epistle.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), VI, p. 116.

130 The “now” is supplied by the editors of the NASB; the KJV has “spirits in prison.”

131 “Bigg argues strongly that Christ during the time between his death and resurrection preached to those who once heard Noah (but are now in prison) and offered them another chance and not mere condemnation.” Word Pictures in the New Testament, A. T. Robertson, VI, p. 117.

132 In the King James Version, the text reads “suffered,” not “died” as in the NASB. This difference is due to a different term found in some of the Greek manuscripts. I believe “suffered” is the correct reading and that the concept of our Lord’s death is then taken up later in the verse. Peter wants us to remember that our Lord suffered and died for us.

133 In verse 18, the Greek New Testament reads literally, “in spirit” without the definite article (the). The translators of the NASB have opted to supply the definite article the. It is ironic that much time and effort is spent trying to determine whether “in spirit” means by the (Holy) Spirit or in His spirit. I doubt Peter is as concerned with such distinctions. The fact is He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit (see Romans 1:4; 8:11). He was quickened “spiritually” as well as raised bodily (see 1 Corinthians 15). But Peter is here contrasting the physical, fleshly world with the spiritual realm. Let us look for and count our blessings in this realm, the realm of the spiritual (see Ephesians 1:3).

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19. Living on the Edge of Eternity (1 Peter 4:7-11)

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Introduction

A few years ago, our friends from the Northwest called to ask that I visit a woman in a Dallas hospital who was dying of cancer. The woman was a relative of people who attended their church, and they were not sure of her spiritual condition. I took a seminary student along with me, and because we were both wearing suits, the family greeted us eagerly. Eventually we realized they thought we were doctors. When they realized we had come to talk about spiritual things, the atmosphere chilled. We left, indicating we would return.

And so we did. But on the second visit we did not even get into the hospital room. The husband opened the door just far enough to tell us his wife was “not up to a visit” at the time. Through the opening in the door, I could see his wife sitting up in bed reading movie magazines. Here was a woman who knew she was dying but rather than deal with eternal issues, she chose to live in the make believe world of Hollywood.

Knowing that eternity is just around the corner should significantly affect the way we live. In our text, Peter first reminds us that we are living on the edge of eternity. And then, having done this, he outlines the way this truth should manifest itself in our day to day living.

Peter and Prophecy

Peter is a man whom we would have expected to write a book on prophecy. All during our Lord’s earthly ministry, he had heard the Savior speak about the events that lay ahead. Prophecy, both near and distant, was a prominent theme is His teaching. Prophecy was also a matter of great interest to the disciples, although often for the wrong reasons. They constantly asked Jesus for more specific details about the final events, especially about His kingdom:

1 And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He answered and said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what [will be] the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3).

6 And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel? “ 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

Jesus refused to focus on the date His kingdom would be established and was unwilling to reveal the specific events immediately preceding the inauguration of His kingdom. But He did emphasize the importance of watchfulness and alertness, a consistent readiness for the kingdom. He warned that His coming would catch most people unaware just as past judgments had done. He urged His disciples to be found faithfully carrying out the tasks He had given them to do in His absence:

26 “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30).

35 “Be dressed in readiness, and [keep] your lamps alight. 36 And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open [the door] to him when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself [to serve,] and have them recline [at the table,] and will come up and wait on them. 38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds [them] so, blessed are those [slaves]. 39 And be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” 41 And Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone [else] as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:35-43).

Like our Lord, Peter has much to say about things to come. In his first and second epistles, Peter speaks of the blessings which await believers and the judgment stored up for unbelievers:

For believers:

For unbelievers:

1 Peter

 

1 Peter

 

1:3-5

a living hope

2:8

doom

1:9

the salvation of your souls

2:12

they will glorify God in the day of visitation

1:7, 13

grace to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ

3:19-20

the spirits in prison; judgment in days of Noah

3:9

inherit a blessing

4:5-6

they will give account to Him who will judge the living and the dead

4:13

we exult at the revelation of His glory

4:17-18

a dreaded, unspecified horror

5:1

the glory that is to be revealed

2 Peter

 

5:4

the Chief Shepherd appears and we receive crown of glory

2:9

will be kept under punishment for day of judgment

5:6

He will exalt us

2:17

black darkness reserved for them (contrast 1 Peter 1:3-5)

   

3:10-13

the day of the Lord

2 Peter

 

1:11

our entrance into the eternal kingdom

1:19

the day dawns, the morning star arises in our hearts

2:9

the godly are rescued

3:13

the new heavens, new earth, in which righteousness dwells

3:15

salvation

The Peter writing these epistles is not the same Peter we know from the Gospels. No longer is Peter hung up with dates and timing and signs. Now, Peter seeks only to remind us that the “end of all things is at hand” and that we should live accordingly.

A Problem With Peter’s Premise?

Peter sums up all prophecy with these few words:

The end of all things is at hand (1 Peter 4:7a).

The difficulty with this statement is that nearly 2,000 years have passed since it was penned by Peter. How can Peter say the end of all things is at hand, and yet 2,000 years later the kingdom of God still has not come to the earth? Consider these solutions to this apparent problem.

(1) Peter’s words must be interpreted in light of the teaching of the Lord and His apostles in the rest of the New Testament. We shall not try to expound all the relevant texts, but we must be aware of them, and our interpretation of Peter’s teaching must not contradict the rest of Scripture. A few of the relevant texts are Matthew 24:45–25:13; 26:45-46; Mark 13:33-37; Romans 13:11-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29; 10:11; 15:20-58; Philippians 4:4-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-17; 4:3-4; Hebrews 10:23-31; James 4:13–5:11; 1 John 2:18; Revelation 1:3; 22:12, 20.

(2) We must interpret Peter’s teaching here in light of the rest of his teaching. From the rest of Peter’s teaching on the end times, we see he knows he is soon to die (2 Peter 1:13-15). From Peter’s words in 2 Peter 3:3-4, he seems to have expected a delay before all the prophecies were fulfilled. Some things are seen by Peter as yet future (see 2 Peter 3:3). Indeed, in 2 Peter, he feels the necessity of explaining the apparent “delay” in the fulfillment of prophetic promises. He sees this delay as consistent with past delays (see 2 Peter 3:5-6). Any apparent delays in prophetic events must be viewed from an eternal time frame rather than a merely temporal one (2 Peter 3:8). The delay is gracious (2 Peter 3:9). Peter also recognizes that prophetic revelation is difficult to understand and easy to distort (2 Peter 3:14-18).

(3) We must understand the difference between saying “the end of all things is near,”134 and “the end of all things is here.” Peter’s meaning of the term “near” is illustrated in Paul’s teaching in Romans 13:

11 And this [do,] knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy (Romans 13:11-13).

It is possible that the rendering of the NASB “at hand” is misleading, suggesting that the end has arrived rather than emphasizing its nearness.

(4) Peter’s words must be understood by giving heed to the term “end” and the expression “all things.” The word “end” refers to the goal or the outcome of a sequence of events or elements. Peter uses it for the outcome of our faith (1 Peter 1:9) and also for the outcome of unbelief (1 Peter 4:17). It is rendered “to sum up” in 1 Peter 3:8. This “outcome” is the consummation of “all things.” In other words, Peter is speaking of the consummation of all of God’s plans, purposes, and prophecies. The end is not just one event but the converging of all things to draw to a close the eternal purposes of God.

(5) The “end” seems to begin with the first coming of our Lord.

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11).

26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26).

In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke of future events pertaining to the first and second coming of our Lord as though they were one event. For example, Joel’s quote in Acts 2. We have heard Bible teachers speak of these events, separated by at least 2,000 years, as mountain peaks which the prophets saw in close proximity. We now see there was a gap in time, a significant gap. But the Old Testament prophets were right in seeing the events of the first coming of Christ and those of His second coming as one main event rather than two. It is all a part of one big plan, a plan God is bringing to a close.

When Jesus came to the earth the first time, He was identified more in terms that describe His second coming than those which depict the first (see Matthew 2:1-6; Luke 1:30-33, 46-55, 67-79). Jesus’ message was that of John the Baptist: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.In chapters 1 and 2 of Hebrews, the Lord Jesus is identified as God’s final Word, His last revelation to mankind (see 1:1-2; 2:1-4). Since the coming of Christ, there has been no new revelation recorded in the Bible as Scripture. That is because we are living in the same age our Lord commenced in His first coming, which He will bring to consummation in His second. The writer to the Hebrews therefore urges his readers to obey the gospel rather than continue to rebel against it. He insists that “today is the day of salvation(Hebrews 3:7-15; see 2 Corinthians 6:2).

(6) The “final judgment” has begun with the judgment of the saints (1 Peter 4:6, 17). Peter’s words in his first epistle seem to indicate that God has already begun to bring the ages to their divinely appointed end.

6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to [the will of] God (1 Peter 4:6).

17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17).

Peter contrasts the fate of the believer with that of the unbeliever. While the Christian may suffer in the flesh now, he will triumph in spirit and in Christ for all eternity. The wicked may prosper and live a life of fleshly indulgence now, but they will give account for their sins and suffer eternally for them.

Peter goes even further as I understand his words. There is a sense in which the believer is judged now while the unbeliever is judged later. In 1 Peter 4:6, Peter speaks of the saints who are “judged in the flesh as men,” but who “live in the spirit according to the will of God.” Whether this judgment is by unbelieving opponents (as Stephen was condemned to death) or whether it is the “judgment” of physical death all men suffer due to Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-21), or both, it is judgment believers suffer in time. Our judgment comes now, Peter suggests, but our vindication and glory comes afterwards for all eternity. We suffer but for a moment, but we experience God’s uninterrupted blessings eternally (see also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). The wicked may indulge in fleshly pleasures for a moment, but their torment for unbelief is eternal.

In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter indicates it is “time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Is Peter not saying our judgment begins (and ends) in time,135 while the unbeliever’s judgment may not begin until the return of our Lord and last for eternity?136 If judgment begins “now” for the believer, then the last phase of God’s program has begun. Indeed, the “end of all things is at hand.”

(7) The “end” is “at hand” for each and every generation, and their response to the gospel in this life determines their eternal fate. Always there is an urgency to the gospel, for one’s response to the gospel determines one’s eternal destiny.

27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this [comes] judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

1 And working together [with Him,] we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—2 for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU”; behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Each and every generation lives on the edge of eternity, for their eternal fate is sealed in life and commences at the point of death. The story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is but one example. When Paul speaks of his impending death, he speaks of eternal bliss accompanying it:

6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6).

23 But I am hard-pressed from both [directions,] having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for [that] is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Philippians 1:23-24).

No wonder the gospel is proclaimed with such urgency. Men’s eternal destiny hangs in the balance, so to speak.137 And so it was that Joshua could say,

“And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).

When John the Baptist preached, these were his words:

1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1-2).

When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach, this is what He told them to proclaim:

7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10:7).

The kingdom of heaven is at hand in a number of ways, but especially is it at hand at the time the gospel is proclaimed. Unbelievers are sinners, whose sins have set them on the road that leads to eternal torment. The only way they can be saved is to hear the gospel and to repent and be saved. One’s response to the gospel seals one’s eternal destiny. And so we can surely say that the “kingdom of God is at handevery time the gospel is proclaimed. While the kingdom of God may yet be distant in the time of its establishment, it is very near in terms of the gospel we preach. And the beginning of the torments of hell or the bliss of heaven are as close as the day of our death.

Conduct That Characterizes the Christian

In the Gospel of Luke, our Lord cautioned His disciples not to be caught by surprise when He returned:

35 “Be dressed in readiness, and [keep] your lamps alight. 36 And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open [the door] to him when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself [to serve,] and have them recline [at the table,] and will come up and wait on them. 38 Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds [them] so, blessed are those [slaves]. 39 And be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” 41 And Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone [else] as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes” (Luke 12:35-43).

Knowing His return was imminent, Jesus’ disciples were to be ready and watchful and found doing those things He had given them to do. Peter reiterates these same principles in our text and actually spells out those things we should be found doing when our Lord returns:

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Because the “end of all things is at hand,the Christian should be found doing these things:

(1) Being of sound judgment and sober unto prayer (verse 7b).

(2) Keeping fervent in our love for one another (verse 8).

(3) Being hospitable to one another, without complaint (verse 9).

(4) Faithfully exercising our stewardship of the spiritual gifts which have been given to us (verses 10-11).

Keeping Sound Judgment and Soberness Unto Prayer (4:7)

Sound judgment and soberness are closely related to each other and to prayer. Sound judgment is the opposite of insanity. To have sound judgment is to think sanely, realistically, to make judgments based upon truth and reality rather than on falsehood, deception, or distorted perception. Notice the way the term “sound judgmentis used elsewhere in the New Testament:

15 And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened (Mark 5:15, emphasis mine).

13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you (2 Corinthians 5:13, emphasis mine).

3 For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (Romans 12:3).

Soberness is the opposite of drunkenness. It also deals with a sober state of mind capable of perceiving and reasoning accurately and in accordance with reality. Paul uses the term “soberin the context of living on the edge of eternity, as does Peter:

4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of [the] day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:4-11, emphasis mine).

1 I solemnly charge [you] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1-5, emphasis mine).

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

8 Be of sober [spirit,] be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8, emphasis mine).

As I understand the Bible’s teaching on the last times, two major dangers exist for the Christian. The first is becoming aloof to the return of our Lord so that we are caught up with the world and with the things of the present and thus fail to make heavenly things our treasure and our priority (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 for Paul’s exhortation). The second danger is unrestrained excitement of mind which leads one to faulty thinking and actions in light of the nearness of the “end of all things.For example, some, in the excitement of the last days, will be too quick to believe the claims of false “messiah’s.”

Our Lord’s words recorded in Luke’s Gospel cover these two extremes and also exhort us to pray:

7 And they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things be? And what [will be] the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And He said, “See to it that you be not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am [He,’] and, ‘The time is at hand’; do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end [does] not [follow] immediately … 34 Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; 35 for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. 36 But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:7-9, 34-36).

Watchfulness for the Lord’s return should be characterized by prayer. In these words found in Luke’s Gospel, the believer’s prayer is for strength to escape all of the evils abounding in the last days and to be able to stand before the Son of Man as having been found faithful in the trials and tribulations he has endured.

Other texts, in addition to the Luke text, provide further insight into the kinds of prayer138 Peter calls for in our text.

12 You husbands likewise, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and grant her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7).

“FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL” (1 Peter 3:12).

15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, And His ears are [open] to their cry. 16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, To cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 [The righteous] cry and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:15-18).

1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, 2 saying, “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God, and did not respect man. 3 And there was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ 4 “And for a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, lest by continually coming she wear me out. ‘“ 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; 7 now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? 8 I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with [an attitude of] thanksgiving; 3 praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; 4 in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. 5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, [as it were,] with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person (Colossians 4:2-6).

My understanding is that Peter, along with our Lord and the rest of the apostles, taught that the last days would be characterized by increasing persecution and suffering for the saints (see, for example, 1 Peter 4:12-19; 2 Timothy 3:1-12; 4:1-8). In such times, our prayers will be for the grace to stand under fire, for boldness in our witness and other saints’ witness, and for the soon return of our Lord accompanied by the establishment of His kingdom on earth. The coming of our Lord includes the vindication of the righteous and the condemnation of the wicked—the outworking of justice on earth.

In these trying times, we must constantly turn to God for strength and perseverance. We must persist in prayer, but our prayers can be easily perverted. Often, this is because we have ceased to be sober and sane, especially in relationship to the end of all things:

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; [so] you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; [so] you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend [it] on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore [it] says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. 11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge [of it.] 12 There is [only] one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are[just] a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, [you ought] to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:1-17).

How similar is Peter’s writing to our Lord’s teaching and to Paul’s and the other apostles’, like James. In these latter times, we need to be aware of the nearness of the consummation of God’s plans and purposes revealed to us in the prophecies of the Bible. And as the end draws near, we must be sane and sober, thinking right so that we will pray right.139 We should not be asking for escape from pain or from persecution but rather for faithfulness in trials to the advancement of the gospel and the glory of God.

Maintaining Love for One Another: (4:8)

8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

While still with His disciples, Jesus warned that times would get tough as the end drew nearer. Peter’s instructions to his readers in verse 8 surely reflect the words of the Savior:

3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what [will be] the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for [those things] must take place, but [that] is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are [merely] the beginning of birth pangs. 9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. 10 And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. 12 And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come” (Matthew 24:3-14).

Jesus told His disciples things would go from bad to worse as the end of all things approaches. There will be social and political upheaval and natural disasters. There will be an intensification of opposition toward Christians so that fellow Christians begin to turn on each other and family members betray one another (see also Mark 13:12-13). In such times of danger, love will wane and people will forsake the self-sacrifice of love for the sake of self-preservation. Peter therefore exhorts his readers to persevere in their love one for another:

8 “Above all140 cherish for each other a love that is constant and intense.… ”141

Peter has already challenged his readers to this kind of love in chapter 1:

22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

In chapter 1, Peter can call for a persevering love because we are born of an eternal seed, and thus our love should likewise be long-lived and not just fair-weather sentimentality.

Peter now gives us the reason love must be a matter of the highest priority: “love covers a multitude of sins.This is not a new principle. We find it used elsewhere in both the Old Testament and the New:

12 Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions (Proverbs 10:12).

20 Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:20).

The meaning of this statement which Peter cites is not necessarily obvious; many even differ on what Peter meant by it. Some believe it means that when we love, many of our sins are covered. Others believe our love covers the sins of others. Consider these observations which may help us to arrive at a satisfactory interpretation of Peter’s words.

(1) The “multitude of sins” which are “covered” are the sins of the saints. The “one another” characteristic of this passage makes it apparent Peter is speaking to Christians about their love for fellow-believers. It would seem obvious that when Peter speaks of a “multitude of sins” he must be speaking of the sins of saints, which are many. Saints are those whose sins are forgiven but whose sins are not yet eradicated (see Romans 7). Love “covers” the sins of saints. But how?

(2) To “cover sins” is not to “cover up” sin. We are given a clue to the meaning of Peter’s citation in Proverbs 17:9:

9 He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends (Proverbs 17:9)

The one who “covers a transgressionis contrasted with one who “repeats a matter,thus separating close friends. Among other things, love does not gossip about the sins of others. Instead, it seeks to keep sin as private as possible. We are given a graphic illustration of the truth of this Proverb in Genesis 9:

20 Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 21 And he drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness (Genesis 9:20-23).

Ham did not act in love toward his father, because he made his father’s sin public. Noah’s other sons did the opposite. They refused to look upon him in his condition, even as they were covering him. They sought to keep the sin of their father as private as possible.

This gives us a very important clue to the meaning of the expression, “love covers a multitude of sins.” Love does not seek to “cover up” sin but to cover it. Just as a doctor cannot cure cancer by putting a band-aid over it, neither can the church remedy sin by concealing its existence. Sin is “covered” by privately confronting sin, hopefully in a way that results in repentance, but if not, in removal from fellowship.

15 “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen [to you,] take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. 17 And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:15-20).

19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).

Individual saints, as well as the church as a whole, are called to holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16; 2:5, 9). Holiness requires that we stand apart from sin and pursue righteousness. Love is the best antidote for sin. It was out of His love for us that Christ came to die in our place, bearing the punishment for our sins. It is in love that we should seek out wayward saints and seek to turn them from their sins. As the return of our Lord draws nearer, there will be times of persecution and affliction. In these times, some of the saints will be tempted to fall and even to fall away from the faith (see Matthew 24:10-12; Hebrews). The loving church will be characterized by its pursuit of holiness. Love is the key to a spiritually healthy church in times of trial and testing. Love draws a church together in unity even in the toughest of times:

14 And beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14).

Happy Hospitality: (4:9)

9 Be hospitable142 to one another without complaint.

Our Lord’s words concerning the last days provide the backdrop for Peter’s teaching on hospitality.

43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think [He will.] 45 Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Matthew 24:43-47, emphasis mine).

31 “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 And all the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me [something] to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. ‘ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, [even] the least [of them,] you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:31-40, emphasis mine).

Lest we think that our Lord’s words speak only of the future, let me remind you that some of the suffering our Lord spoke of was experienced by the apostles and the early church. The faithfulness of the saints was evidenced, in part, by their hospitality shown to believers who were rejected and persecuted for their faith and the proclamation of the gospel:

32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. 37 FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY. 38 BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Hebrews 10:32-39, emphasis mine).

1 Let love of the brethren continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body (Hebrews 13:1-3, emphasis mine).

It is hard for us to grasp the difficulty and danger hospitality poses for those endeavoring to practice it in times of persecution. Some time ago a Romanian Christian visited our church, and I happened to be standing by as he spoke to another Romanian believer attending that day. They reminisced about the last time they had attended church together in Romania. The secret police stood outside the church taking down the names of all who entered. Church leaders and pastors were arrested and sometimes imprisoned. How easy we have it here compared to saints elsewhere. In those places hostile to the gospel, it can be very dangerous to be hospitable to Christians, for in so doing, one identifies himself with the believer and with Christ.

The good news is there are very positive benefits. By being hospitable, we give evidence to our own faith, and we do what is pleasing to our Lord. We may even learn one of those we have entertained was an angel! The bad news is we may be arrested and even put to death for “harboring a criminal.”

Peter does not mention the repercussions of hospitality here nor does he call attention to the blessings we will experience from showing hospitality toward the saints. Instead, Peter deals with the ordinary, every day hindrances to hospitality which blesses others. He exhorts us to be hospitable, without grumbling.

Peter obviously did not have his head in the clouds. He was a realist. He had not only experienced the hospitality of others toward him, he had undoubtedly shown hospitality toward others. He knew from experience the truth of this old proverb: “A guest is like a fish; after three days he stinks!”

Over the years our family has been privileged to open our home to a number of Christians. On one occasion, we took in a family who had come all the way to Dallas from the Northeast in a converted school bus to attend seminary. They spent the summer in our home with many good times shared together, and the memories we have of this family are warm ones. But not all our moments were utter bliss, for us or for them. This is where grumbling comes in. Grumbling resents our opportunity to serve and sacrifice for the sake of our Lord and the benefit of our fellow-believers. Peter, knowing how life is (even among the saints), gently admonishes us to be hospitable but to leave grumbling at the front door.

In the days of the early church, hospitality was vitally important. The early church often met in homes (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). The early church kept traveling missionaries and apostles (see Luke 10:1-11; Acts 10:6; 21:16; 3 John 5-8). A Christian might not be welcome except in the home of another saint.

But let us be careful to see that hospitality is no less important in the church today. We still have traveling speakers and missionaries. We have newcomers and visitors to our church who would greatly profit from our hospitality. We have ministry groups, most of which meet in homes. We also have many these days who have not known the love and devotion of a Christian home.

Hospitality does not come naturally these days; it comes supernaturally. This is not because hospitality is dangerous for us, but because our culture holds privacy so dear. Our high fences isolate and protect us from our neighbors. We have burglar bars, security systems, and big ugly dogs, all sending the same clear signal—stay away! Hospitality will not happen naturally in this culture. But the kind of hospitality Jesus and the apostles spoke of is not natural—it is supernatural. Hospitality is but one more way in which submission and servanthood are expressed.

The Stewardship of Spiritual Gifts (4:10-11)

10 As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

While it is Paul who speaks more often and more fully of the spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:7-16), in these two verses Peter also provides very important knowledge about spiritual gifts.

(1) Spiritual gifts are divinely endowed abilities which empower saints to perform spiritual ministry. The New American Standard Bible translates verse 10 by designating spiritual gifts as “special.” The word “special” is supplied by the translators, but it accurately conveys the thought that these “gifts” are not merely natural abilities which every individual (believer or unbeliever) possesses. These are supernatural abilities given to Christians so they may minister spiritually. Spiritual gifts are supernatural capacities for ministry which God sovereignly bestows on His children.

(2) Every Christian has been given at least one spiritual gift. Peter tells us “each one has received a special gift(verse 10; see also 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 29-31; Romans 12:6). No believer is excluded. Every Christian has been divinely gifted for service. Some may have more than one gift, but each believer has at least one gift.143

(3) Spiritual gifts are “gracious” in nature. The word “giftis derived from the root word for grace (charis). Grace is unmerited, and so we cannot boast in the gifts we have been given (1 Corinthians 4:7). We are, Peter tells us, “stewards of the manifold grace of God(verse 10).

(4) Spiritual gifts are given to Christians as a stewardship. Spiritual gifts are to be used, and we will give an account for the use we have made of the gifts we were given. This means each Christian must not only know his gift(s), but he or she must develop and use them to the greatest possible extent. Spiritual gifts can be neglected (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6), and they can also be prostituted (2 Peter 2:15-16).

(5) Spiritual gifts are not given to us primarily for our own benefit and edification but as the means of edifying and blessing others. Peter writes that spiritual gifts are to be employed in serving one another (verse 10). No wonder Paul, in the twelfth chapter of Romans, speaks of spiritual gifts (verses 3-8) after he has exhorted us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (verses 1-2).

(6) Spiritual gifts are to be exercised in love. In 1 Corinthians, Paul strategically places an entire chapter on love between chapters 12 and 14 which deal with the exercise of spiritual gifts. This is because spiritual gifts have little value apart from love. In our text, Peter has spoken of love first in verse 8, and now he writes about the ministry of the saints one to another through the exercise of spiritual gifts.

(7) Spiritual gifts should be exercised to the glory of God (verse 11). If spiritual gifts are to be employed in serving one another, they are ultimately to be employed to the glory of God. In the final analysis, this is the goal of every aspect of our life:

31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

(8) In this passage, spiritual gifts are not named but described in terms of two general categories: (a) speaking gifts and (b) serving gifts.

11 Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies … 

Peter’s two-fold division of spiritual gifts does not seem unique, for in Romans 12 Paul also views all gifts as falling into one of two broad categories: (a) prophecy, that is, speaking, or (b) serving.

6 And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, [let each exercise them accordingly]: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8).

By following clues provided by the grammar of the original text, we would classify the different gifts named in this way:

      Prophecy

      Ministry

      the teacher

      the one who gives

      the exhorter

      the one who leads

      the one who shows mercy

In both gifts (speaking or serving), Peter’s exhortation is given in a positive way. But there also is a negative side to Peter’s words. The one whose gift manifests itself in words needs to speak “as the oracles of God.” The one who serves “as by the strength which God supplies.”

Some of the translations appear to go too far, suggesting or at least leaving room for, something the Scriptures elsewhere condemn.

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. (NIV)

If any of you is a preacher then he should preach his message as from God. (Phillips)

If you are a speaker, speak in words which seem to come from God. (New Jerusalem Bible)

If speaking, let it be as God’s suggestions. (Berkeley)

The emphasis of all these translations falls on the way we speak, not on what we speak.

Peter assumes something in writing these words which we may not assume in interpreting them. Peter assumes that when we speak, we speak God’s Word. This means we do not, like the false prophets, speak independently of God and even contrary to His Word (see Jeremiah 23:25-32; Ezekiel 13:1-7; Colossians 2:18). Peter expects those who speak to speak for God by speaking His Word. Paul urged Timothy to do this: “Preach the Word … ” (2 Timothy 4:2). The Word of God is completely sufficient revelation for every spiritual need (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 2 Peter 1:2-4, 19-21).

When Moses spoke his final words, he warned the Israelites not to become preoccupied with the mysteries which were not revealed, but to become students of what God had revealed to them in His Law:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He told them He spoke nothing but what the Father gave Him to say (John 3:11; 7:16; 8:28; 12:49-50). He further told them that after He was gone, the Holy Spirit would enable them to remember the things He had said to them (John 14:26). The writer to the Hebrews indicates God spoke finally and fully in His Son, and those who heard Him repeated and recorded His words for us (Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:1-4). The apostles were accredited as such by signs and wonders, which proved them to be true apostles of our Lord (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4). No new revelation has been given during this past 2,000 years because there is nothing to add to God’s complete revelation through our Lord and His apostles. Preachers do not need to “add” anything either; they should only faithfully proclaim what God has revealed and what He has given us through His Spirit to understand and apply (1 Corinthians 2).

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul warned of going beyond the Scriptures as some teachers in that church seemed to be doing:

6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other (1 Corinthians 4:6).

Paul was very careful in the things he spoke and wrote to distinguish between what he taught by the command of the Lord, those things he taught by permission, and those things which were his own opinion (1 Corinthians 7:6, 10, 12, 25, 40).

I believe Peter is first urging those who speak to speak Scripture and to speak scripturally, not diluting or adulterating the truth of God’s Word with either opinions or more palatable ideas to sinful men (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-2; see also Acts 20:28-32; 2 Timothy 4:1-4). Second, Peter seems to be urging those who speak God’s Word to speak in a way that communicates God’s authority and not the authority of the speaker. We are to speak as though God Himself had spoken.144

A number of years ago I was asked on a couple of occasions to preach at a church which tried to create a “laid back” atmosphere. Rather than preach from behind a pulpit, the speaker sat on a bar stool. I simply could not do that. I set the bar stool aside and stood, proclaiming God’s Word. It was not I who had authority, but the Word of God has authority. The Bible should not be on a bar stool. The pulpit, though merely a piece of furniture, is a symbol of the authority of God’s Word. The preacher should preach the Word, and when he does, he should do so in a way that communicates the authority of God’s Word. It is not the messenger who is authoritative; it is the message. Those who speak should speak the truth of the Word—in a way that communicates: “This truth is God’s truth—truth that should not only be heard but heeded.”

If those who speak should speak God’s Word as though it were God’s Word, those who serve should do so in God’s strength. Peter’s words indicate that Christian service is not natural but supernatural. We cannot serve apart from the gracious gifts of God which enable and empower that service. We must do everything in the strength God Himself supplies.

How easy to serve another in the flesh. Our “service” may actually be self-serving. How easy it is for a man to stop and help a beautiful young woman change the tire on her car. How easy for a woman to help a young mother care for her newborn baby. How easy to want to help ease the suffering of someone experiencing the consequences of their own sin. I once told a mother that while her child was indeed a prodigal, the difference between the father of the prodigal and this mother was that she built the pig pen in her own back yard.

Paul gives these instructions in his epistle to the Thessalonians:

14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

We need to be careful not to admonish the fainthearted nor to help the unruly (see also 2 Thessalonians 3:10). We must pray and ask for divine wisdom to know how best to serve others, and then we must do so in the strength God supplies.

There is a world of difference between serving our brothers and sisters by giving in the strength God supplies and the kind of giving we see when a panhandler receives a dollar on a city sidewalk. Spiritual service is serving in the name of Christ. Indeed, it is serving the other as though they were Christ (see Matthew 25:31-40). In the context of 1 Peter (not to mention Matthew 24 and 25, along with Hebrews 10 and 13), it may well be serving one of the saints who is suffering for the sake of Christ. It is serving fellow-believers so they are edified and built up in their faith. The desired goal is not just the meeting of a need but the praise and glory of God. This happened to Paul due to the generosity of the saints as recorded in 2 Corinthians:

12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry they will glorify God for [your] obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14 while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:12-15).

Conclusion

Our text of Scripture has much to say to Christians today. It reminds us we are living in the latter days and that the return of our Lord and the consummation of His eternal plans and purposes are at hand. A sense of the nearness of the end is not natural nor is it based primarily on what we see. Rather it is based on what God has said in His Word. Jesus warned us the great day would catch many, even Christians, unaware. We must be ever mindful of the times, looking, watching, and working so that when He comes He will find us faithfully carrying out our stewardship. While suffering may not be a pleasant companion, it is one of God’s effective ways of keeping us from becoming too attached to this life and giving us a yearning for heaven. It also gives us a sense of urgency that the time for the preaching of the gospel and the salvation of the lost is short (see 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:21).

Because we live on the edge of eternity, we must not lose our heads. We must get our heads on straight and think in accordance with divine revelation. We must not be oblivious to the times in which we live; neither should we be frightened and act in panic. Our clear-headedness enables us to pray as we ought, seeking divine wisdom, guidance, and power to live faithfully in difficult times.

Perseverance in our love for fellow believers should be a matter of the highest priority for us. Rather than allowing hard times to produce contention, strife, and self-protection, we should continue to give ourselves sacrificially in the service of others. In so doing, we will deal with sin in a Christlike fashion and pursue holiness rather than persisting in the pursuit of sin and fleshly lusts as we formerly did.

We must demonstrate our love for one another by practicing hospitality. We should realize that the only barrier to hospitality for us today is selfishness. We do not risk our property or possessions; we do not put our lives at risk as some do even today because they identify themselves with those who faithfully practice and proclaim the gospel. If we do not pursue the practice of hospitality now, how will we possibly do so in trying times? Let us happily open our homes and our lives to those whom we do not know, especially those who our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, we must in these final days make the most of the gifts of which God has made us stewards. If we are to be good stewards of these gifts, we must first know what God has endowed us to do—to serve others to His glory. It may not be as important for us to have the right label for our gift as to have a sense of what God has gifted us to do. If our gift is in the area of speaking (and this means much more than preaching), we must be sure to speak the truth of His Word in a way that communicates the authority of the Word. If our gift is in serving, we must serve those whom God has set before us (it may be “the least of these, my brethren—Matthew 25:40), and we must serve in the strength which produces both spiritual and eternal fruit.

May God help us to grasp what this text means to our lives and give us a sense of urgency concerning His coming. And may He give each of us a commitment to conduct our lives accordingly.

29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and [his interests] are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and [to secure] undistracted devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7 NAS)

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of [the] day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).


134 “Perfect active indicative of eggizo, to draw near, common late verb (from eggus), same form used by the Baptist of the Messiah’s arrival (Matt. 3:2) and by James in 5:8 (of the second coming). How near Peter does not say, but he urges readiness (1:5f.; 4:6) as Jesus did (Mark 14:38) and Paul (I Thess. 5:6), though it is drawing nearer all the time (Rom. 12:11), but not at once (II Thess. 2:2).” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933), VI, p. 124.

135 There is a “judgment” for believers, but the outcome of this judgment is our rewards (1 Corinthians 3:12-15; see also 2 Corinthians 5:10 which encompasses the lost and the saved).

136 The Bible does speak of judgment which comes on unbelievers in time as well as in eternity. There are the “judgments” of Romans 1, for example, as well as those special judgments like the flood (Genesis 6-9), Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18 and 19), and the judgments on Egypt (Exodus 1-15) which serve as types of the great judgment yet to come. In the New Testament, the destruction of Jerusalem is also a temporal judgment which anticipates the great coming judgment on Israel--the Great Tribulation.

137 This, of course, is looking at salvation solely from a human standpoint. From an eternal point of view, man’s destiny has been divinely ordained in eternity past (see Romans 9).

138 You will see from the marginal note in the NASB that “prayer” in 1 Peter 4:7 is literally “prayers” (plural). This may refer to the prayers of individual saints which are of various kinds and over a period of time. It may also include the prayers of the church collectively offered up in these latter days.

139 “The great characteristic of sanity is that it sees things in their proper proportions; it sees what things are important and what are not; it is not swept away by sudden and transitory enthusiasms; it is prone neither to unbalanced fanaticism nor to realizing indifference. It is only when we see the affairs of earth in the light of eternity that we see them in their proper proportions; it is when God is given his proper place that everything takes its proper place.” William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976. The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 251.

140 For this expression, see also James 5:12. Peter can instruct us to persevere in love “above all” because love is the foundational motive which underlies all our attitudes and actions as Christians (see also 1 Corinthians 13).

141 William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, [rev. ed], 1976). The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 251. Barclay goes on to show that Peter calls for a love that is both intense and persevering: “The word Peter uses to describe this love is ektenes which has two meanings, both of which we have included in the translation. It means outstretching in the sense of consistent; our love must be the love that never fails. It also means stretching out as a runner stretches out. . . . Our love must be energetic. Here is a fundamental Christian truth. Christian love is not an easy, sentimental reaction. It demands everything a man has of mental and spiritual energy . . . Christian love is the love which never fails and into which every atom of man’s strength is directed.” Barclay, p. 252.

142 This term is found only here in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8. Other references to hospitality are common. For example, see Genesis 18:1-8; 19:1-8; 24:10-20; Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:10 (widows); Hebrews 13:2; 3 John 5.

143 Some maintain that no one can possess more than one gift. Surely our Lord manifested all the gifts in His ministry. But we must be careful not to restrict the gifts to “one per customer.” It seems almost impossible to say that Paul had but one gift. Barnabas seems to have the gift of encouragement (see Acts 4:36), but he must also have possessed the gift of teaching and/or prophecy (see Acts 13:1).

144 “The word he uses for sayings is logia. That is a word with a kind of divine background. The heathen used it for the oracles which come to them from their gods; the Christians used it for the words of scripture and the words of Christ. So Peter is saying, ‘If a man has the duty of preaching, let him preach not as one offering his own opinions or propagating his own prejudices, but as one with a message from God.’” Barclay, p. 256.

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20. A Final Word on Suffering (1 Peter 4:12-19)

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; 13 but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation.

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; 16 but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?

19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Introduction

Contemporary secular society has a theology of suffering easily summed up in two words seen on bumper stickers all across the country. While I cannot quote the bumper sticker exactly, you will recognize it when I tell you it reads, “… happens.” Using King James’ vocabulary, the sticker reads, “Dung Happens.”

One surely wonders why anyone would make such a crude statement. It is because these two words sum up a view of suffering radically opposed to the suffering Peter teaches in our text. I must confess I did not know what the sticker meant until an unsaved relative used the expression in a context which made its theological content quite clear. After citing several instances of apparent senseless suffering, he summarized his thoughts with the two-word slogan: “Dung happens.”

If we were to “exegete” this slogan, we would now emphasize the following affirmations (not truths). First, this theology believes that suffering = dung. Suffering is not just worthless; it is repugnant and disgusting. It has no value. It is detrimental, something we would do well to be rid of once for all. Second, suffering is random and senseless, similar to a drive-by shooting which comes upon innocent victims unexpectedly without reason or provocation. It just happens.

The contemporary theology of suffering believes suffering is unpredictable and unavoidable; we can do nothing to avoid it and certainly we cannot make something of it. We can only passively accept and endure, hoping it will end as soon as possible. Suffering is like toxic waste we cannot possibly be rid of ourselves.

Christians must categorically disagree with this theology of suffering. First, we know that while God does not “cause” all suffering, He does allow it. No suffering comes our way but that which God has purposed for our good and for His glory. God may not “cause all things” but He does “cause all things to work together for good, to those who love God and are the called according to His purpose(Romans 8:28). Therefore, the Christian dares not view suffering as a negative experience (“dung”) but as something positive. Suffering is neither random nor senseless; it is part of the divine plan. We also dare not look upon suffering as something we merely endure; for the Christian, suffering is an experience in which we may rejoice.

This is precisely Peter’s teaching in our text. Verses 12-19 of 1 Peter 4 are Peter’s final words of instruction to suffering saints. Peter sets out in these verses the attitudes and actions we should manifest in suffering. He also buttresses his teaching with numerous reasons these should be embraced and exemplified in our lives. Heeding Peter’s words will revolutionize our attitudes and actions. We could never again embrace the “bumper sticker” theology of suffering.

Sufferings’ Different Categories

Peter does not address every form of suffering in this text. He speaks primarily of one type of suffering. It may be helpful, however, to recall the types of suffering145 found in the Bible:

(1) Suffering because we are a part of a fallen creation (Romans 8:18-25).

(2) Suffering the temporal consequences of personal sin (believers and unbelievers): Deuteronomy 28:15–30:20; Proverbs 1:20-33; 4:19; 13:15; 15:19; Matthew 18:15-20; Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 11:27-30.

(3) The eternal suffering of hell for rejecting Christ (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation 20:11-15).

(4) The sometimes “involuntary” suffering or chastening at the loving hand of God to enhance our trust and obedience as His sons (Job; Hebrews 12:1-13; James 1:1-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).

(5) Voluntary suffering in identification with Christ and in living a godly life (John 15:13; Acts 20:33-35; Romans 12:10; 15:1-3; 1 Corinthians 8-10 [see especially 9:1-27]; Philippians 2:1-4; 3:7-11; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 2:12, 18-25; 3:15-17; 4:1, 12-19). This is suffering one purposes to endure, suffering one knowingly brings about by doing what is right.

The Appropriate Attitude For Suffering Saints
(4:12-18)

Do not be surprised,but “Keep on rejoicing(verses 12 and 13). Suffering should not take the Christian by surprise. Old Testament saints such as Job and Joseph suffered, and virtually all the Old Testament prophets suffered (Matthew 5:12; Acts 7:51-53). Jesus taught that His followers would suffer (Matthew 5:10-12; 10:22, 24-25; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 6:40; 21:12-19; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4), and He Himself suffered, setting an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21-25). The apostles and many in the early church suffered, and they taught that we too should expect suffering (Acts 4 and 5; 9:16; 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Philippians 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Hebrews 10:32-34; James 1:1-4; 1 John 3:13). Still further, we are to consciously choose the path of suffering (1 Peter 4:1).

Since there is no good reason for suffering to catch the Christian unaware, why are some Christians surprised when suffering comes our way? One reason is the wide-spread preaching of a distorted gospel in which Christ is presented as the key to earthly bliss and the solution to all our problems. While Paul taught that the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation(Romans 1:16), many doubt its power and attempt to “merchandize” the gospel by slick, secular techniques and gimmicks which emasculate the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 2; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 4:1-4). False teachers do not just modify the gospel; they proclaim another gospel which appeals to the flesh (see 2 Timothy 3:1-4:8, 2 Peter 2). As a result, many think they are Christians who are not. Such pseudo-Christians become evident when suffering occurs, and they quickly abandon their profession of faith (see Mark 4:10-20; John 6:22-60).

Unfortunately, a number of true believers also fail to grasp the future dimensions of the blessings brought about by the sacrificial work of Christ. They believe that because Christ suffered in their place, they no longer need to suffer. They are told that if they but have the faith, they may live in a constant state of blessing, experiencing many of heaven’s blessings now. The televangelists’ prosperity movement is only one manifestation of this error. Such thinking fails to understand our Lord’s teaching on discipleship (see Luke 9:23-26, 57-62; John 15:18-21) and the apostles’ teaching (see Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 2:12; 3:12). They do not under- stand that Christ is still rejected by the world (1 Peter 2:7-8) and that we share in His suffering and rejection (see Philippians 1:29-30; 3:10; Colossians 1:24). Discipleship is not about self-actualization or self-indulgence; it is about self-denial (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Our present experience is not the “crown” but the “cross.”

In many Christians’ minds, one’s plight in this life should be thought of only in terms of contrast with the next. It is true that we must suffer now in order to experience glory later. But in verses 12-13, Peter insists that we must also think in terms of continuity. We must “rejoicenow (verse 12) in order to “rejoicelater in heaven (verse 13). We praise God now, and we praise Him eternally as well. The difference is that our rejoicing and praise will be much greater in heaven, for there our exultation and praise will be unhindered and untainted by sin.

Peter knows that some of his readers do not expect to suffer and will therefore be surprised when it comes. Surprises are of two types: a happy surprise and an unwanted surprise. Both are unexpected, but one is welcome and the other is not. Peter speaks here of the unwanted surprise. He knows some of his readers will experience the same type of surprise unbelievers experience:

3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you] (1 Peter 4:3-4, emphasis mine).

The surprise of the Gentile unbelievers is displeasure and chagrin. They are shocked because we have renounced the self-indulgent lifestyle we once shared with them, and they are dismayed and threatened by our godly conduct. As a result, they malign and persecute us. They are threatened by good works and self-control (see Acts 24:25).

But the believer should not be surprised when suffering comes his or her way. Instead of suffering being greeted as an unwelcome visitor, we should “keep on rejoicing(1 Peter 4:13). Our lives should be characterized by this rejoicing even in the midst of suffering. This practice of the apostle Paul is so evident in his epistle to the Philippians (see, for example, 1:18). Paul wants our attitude likewise to be one of continual, persistent rejoicing.

In verse 16, Paul expands on this double-edged exhortation. Just as suffering should not be the cause of surprise, neither should it be the source of shame. Just as we should “keep on rejoicingin suffering, so we should “glorify God.” Shame ought to be the result of guilt, regardless of whether contemporary psychology validates this truth or not. If suffering for the name of our Lord results in a feeling of shame, then we not only falsely pronounce ourselves as guilty, but we look upon our Lord as guilty, as unworthy. Peter experienced this sense of shame at the arrest of our Lord, and the result was his three-fold denial of the Master. But Peter learned his lesson well, and he hopes to spare us from the same experience. Let us not feel ashamed. Shame is the result of guilt, and praise is the result of glory.

When we grasp the greatness of our God, the worth of our Savior, and the preciousness of His sacrifice (see 1 Peter 1:18-21), we glorify Him for the privilege of suffering for His name’s sake. As Peter experienced shame, so he later expressed praise for the glory of God, even though he was persecuted for identifying with Christ:

23 And when they had been released, they went to their own [companions,] and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard [this,] they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, [through] the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’ 27 For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and [began] to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:23-31).

Counting our Blessings in Suffering

When we suffer for Christ’s sake, we are to consider ourselves blessed. Suffering for Christ’s sake is not a curse but a blessing. Peter sets down a number of reasons why suffering is a blessing in verses 12-18:

(1) The suffering we experience for Christ’s sake is innocent suffering (see 2:11-25) brought about by the expression of Christ’s righteousness in our lives (4:19). It is not suffering that results from our sin (4:15). Such suffering should be an encouragement to us, an evidence of our victory over sin in Christ (see 4:1).

(2) Suffering for Christ’s sake is the will of God. Even as it was the Father’s will for Christ to suffer for our sins, so it is His will that we suffer as we identify with Christ (see Acts 2:23; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Peter 2:15; 3:17; 4:19).

(3) Suffering for Christ’s sake is not only for the glory of God, but for our own good. Suffering for the name of Christ produces these spiritual fruits:

Suffering for Christ’s sake proves and improves our faith. It is difficult to grasp, but even our Lord was “improved” by suffering:

10 For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).

Suffering sets us apart from unbelievers as a people of faith (see 1 Peter 1:6-7). It develops and strengthens our faith (1 Peter 4:12, 17-19; see Romans 5:3-5; James 1:1-4).

Suffering facilitates a detachment from this world and its lusts (see 4:1-2). Peter has already urged us to forsake fleshly lusts (1:14; 4:2). Those who suffer for righteousness evidence a certain measure of victory over the flesh (see 4:1-2). The flesh no longer rules us (see Romans 6:14, 16-18), but, through the Spirit, we make our bodies our slave (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Earthly suffering reminds us of the brevity of this life and the eternal blessings of the next, creating a hunger for heaven and a consequent detachment from this world (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10).

Suffering now is no picnic, but it is vastly more desirable than entering into the suffering of eternal judgment. Peter’s words in verses 17 and 18 are perplexing:

17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner?

From other biblical texts, we know “judgmentis vastly different for believers than unbelievers. Saints are judged not for salvation, but for rewards (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). Sinners are judged according to their works because they have rejected God’s provision for salvation in Christ (John 3:16-19; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-9; Revelation 20:11-15).

From Peter’s words here, we can surmise:

(1) There is a coming “judgment,” which seems to lie shortly ahead for Peter’s readers;

(2) “Judgment begins with the household of God,” followed afterward by the judgment of unbelievers;

(3) Whatever difficulties believers may face in time, the eternal suffering of unbelievers is incomparable. Our sufferings may seem great, but they do not hold a candle to what lies ahead for the lost.

(4) Suffering now is an encouragement because we know we are not among those whose suffering comes later.

(5) There is a relationship between our suffering in time and divine judgment. But just what is the connection? Peter may be saying the only “judgment” (i.e, condemnation) a believer will experience is the “condemnation” the world pronounces on us because of its rejection of Christ. Our condemnation comes from the world for a short time for living righteously in identification with Christ; their judgment comes from God for all eternity because of their sin. This seems to be the connection Paul makes in 2 Thessalonians 1:

3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is [only] fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows [ever] greater; 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. 5 [This is] a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10, emphasis mine).

In suffering for the name of Christ, we experience a greater sense of union and intimacy with God. When suffering for Christ’s sake, we are assured of a special measure of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:14).

When we are reviled for being Christians, we are truly blessed. The source of this blessing is the Holy Spirit, who abides on us in a special way. He is the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God.

As I understand Peter’s words, the Holy Spirit has a special ministry to us in times of suffering for Christ’s sake. We know from our Lord’s words that the Spirit will give us the words to speak when we are brought before hostile governing authorities (see Mark 13:9-11). Here in 1 Peter, we are told that the Holy Spirit manifests glory and God Himself. When do we need assurance of God’s presence and pleasure (His will) more than when we are attacked by men for our faith in God?

It would seem that when our Lord was baptized by John, it was in anticipation of His suffering and death. Our Lord voluntarily committed Himself to this path, knowing it was the will of the Father. When we are baptized, we look back to Christ’s death, and by our baptism we publicly identify ourselves with Him, His suffering, death, and resurrection. At Christ’s baptism, the Spirit descended upon Him. The baptism of our Lord assured Him of the Father’s presence and pleasure, as well as the glory of the kingdom which would come as a result of His atoning work. When we identify with Christ’s suffering by our own, we share as well in the ministry of the Spirit, assuring us of God’s presence and pleasure and of the glory which lies ahead.

Did not Stephen experience this at his time of suffering?

54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they [began] gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse. 58 And when they had driven him out of the city, they [began] stoning[him,] and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon [the Lord] and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” And having said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:54-60).

While Paul’s experience was not as dramatic as Stephen’s (whose death Paul witnessed), Paul found in his suffering for Christ’s sake a deeper sense of intimacy and fellowship with His Lord:

10 That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death (Philippians 3:10).

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).

Suffering for Christ’s sake should therefore produce rejoicing (4:12-14) and praise to God (4:16). As we find ourselves drawn more closely to Christ and to the Father, as we experience a greater measure of the Spirit’s ministry in our lives, as we see our faith proven and promoted, our hearts should overflow with gratitude and praise. Suffering is no longer perceived as simply pain but as a privilege (see Philippians 1:29). Seeing suffering from Peter’s perspective should transform our attitude toward this aspect of our identification with Christ and His cross.

Appropriate Actions of Suffering Saints
(4:19)

19 Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Having instructed his readers about their attitude toward suffering, Peter now moves on to the actions appropriate to these attitudes. “Therefore” indicates that verse 19 is a logical outworking of what he has just taught. Those who suffer righteously, in the name of Christ and in the will of God, should “entrust their souls to a faithful Creator … ”

The term “entrust” (and the word “faithful”) indicates we are dealing with a matter of faith. Suffering righteously requires faith. This is very evident in Hebrews 11, and we shall see why shortly. Suffering righteously requires us to entrust our souls to God. What else can we entrust to God other than our souls? After all, this is the unseen part of us which makes it to heaven (see Matthew 10:28). Entrusting ourselves to a faithful Creator is trusting in His character, in His faithfulness.

6 And without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Our Lord entrusted His soul (or spirit) to God:

23 And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:23).

46 And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO THY HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT .” And having said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46).

And so did Paul:

12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12).

We are also to commit our souls to God. The Saviour, through His sacrificial death, has become the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). We are to entrust our souls to a “faithful Creator” (verse 19). Why would Peter use the expression “faithful Creator” to refer to the One to whom we are to entrust our souls?

In answering this question, we should first note that Peter and the rest of the newly-born church in Jerusalem worshipped and praised God as the Creator after being persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders:

24 And when they heard [this,] they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM” (Acts 4:24).

A most beneficial clue to our answer is found in the Book of Isaiah in the way God is referred to as theCreator.146 Isaiah speaks of God as the “Creatorin several senses. (1) God is the Creator of the world (Isaiah 40:21-26; 42:5; 44:24; 45:18). As such, God distinguishes Himself from all other “gods” who are man-made and must be carried about by men. In sharp contrast, God is our Creator; He made us and He is the One who conforms us to His image. (2) God is the Creator of Israel (Isaiah 43:1-7, 15, 21; 44:1-2; 45:11). In a similar sense, He is our “Creator” (see John 1:1-3, 12-13; Ephesians 2:10). (3) God is the Creator of new things (Isaiah 42:1-25 [see especially verses 9f.]; 48:1-11; 65:17-25; see also 2 Peter 3:7-13). We need not look only to the past to find God as “Creator;” we can also look to the future, for He still has much to create:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem [for] rejoicing, And her people [for] gladness. 19 I will also rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in My people; And there will no longer be heard in her The voice of weeping and the sound of crying… ” 24 “It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD (Isaiah 65:17-19, 24-25).

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. 11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13).

Now do you see why Peter instructs us to entrust our souls to a “faithful Creator? Because the things we hope for do not exist. It is not just that they are not seen; they cannot be seen because they do not exist yet. The things for which we hope are the very things God Himself must create. No wonder we must worship God as the Creator; it is fundamental and foundational to our future hope.

Peter does not simply leave us to contemplate the commitment of our souls as an academic, intellectual, or philosophical matter. Instead, he instructs us how we commit our souls to our “faithful Creator:by “doing what is right.Peter has been telling us that the suffering of which he writes is that prompted by righteousness (2:11-12, 20-25; 4:1-5, 13, 15) and certainly not by sin (see 2:19-20; 4:15). Commitment to Christ is more than mere profession; it is a matter of practice (compare James 2:14-26). When we know that “doing the right thing” will provoke the wicked to persecute us, doing what is right becomes an evidence of our faith in the “faithful Creator.”

Conclusion

Years ago, the White Sisters recorded a song which went something like this:

Must Jesus bear the cross alone, And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone, And there’s a cross for me.

I used to think this song was doctrinally incorrect. Christ suffered for our sins on the cross, once for all. How then can we say we must also bear a cross?

We can, and we must. Christ suffered for our sins once for all. This is precisely the reason Peter instructs us that our suffering for Christ’s sake must not be for sin. When Christ suffered on the cross, He did so for us, to bear our sins. When we take up our cross and suffer for His sake, it is for righteousness. The work of Christ on the cross of Calvary is complete, but until He returns in glory, His rejection by men continues (see 1 Peter 2:6-8). When we identify ourselves with Christ and His righteousness is lived out in our lives, men reject Him by rejecting us; they persecute Him by persecuting us.

Our Lord had to bear the cross of Calvary alone so that sinners might be set free from sin and from death. But there is a cross every saint must bear: the cross of self-denial and suffering for Christ’s sake. In and of itself, suffering is no pleasure. But in light of Peter’s teaching, it is a privilege and a cause for rejoicing, seeing the outcome of the process God is bringing about through the pain of suffering and persecution.

Suffering is a part of God’s divine plan for the saints, as well as for lost sinners. Suffering is included among the “all thingsGod causes to work together for His glory and our good (Romans 8:28). And thus it is a blessed privilege.

But suffering is also a choice. When suffering unexpectedly comes our way, we must choose whether to rejoice or to react in surprise. Suffering is also a path which we must choose or reject, if I understand the words of our Lord and those of the apostles,

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25; see also Luke 14:25-35).

1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Peter 4:1).

Suffering is a path we must choose. And when we do so, we determine by God’s grace to live righteously, knowing that in so doing we will bring opposition and persecution.

Having now seen the contrast between the Christian’s view of suffering and the secular perspective, “Dung Happens” well expresses secular theology’s view. But the Christian view is the opposite.

This contrast is most apparent in Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. Note what Paul considers “dung.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed [is] not grievous, but for you [it is] safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. 3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. 4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things [but] loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them [but] dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death (Philippians 3:1-10, KJV, emphasis mine).

The world considers suffering as “dung,” something which just happens and must be begrudgingly tolerated. For Paul, those things the world counts as glorious (as he once did as well), he now considers “dung.The best the world has to offer is but dung compared to what is found in Christ. What Paul sees as glorious, the world calls dung. What the world sees as glorious, Paul calls dung.

Only salvation thought Christ can transform one’s values the way Paul’s life was transformed. Only when we see Christ as precious do we see the things of this world as valueless, indeed, even detrimental. Have you found Him to be precious? Have you trusted in His shed blood as God’s provision for your sin? I earnestly urge you to do so even now. When you do, you will be able to join with Paul in the words of Philippians 3 and with the hymn writer of these words:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold, I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or land, I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Chorus:

Than to be the king of a vast domain Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything This world affords today.
I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause, I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame; I’d rather be true to His holy name.
He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom, He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs, I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.147


145 There are also different forms of suffering, which we shall not enumerate but only suggest a few. In 1 Peter, there is the suffering of cruel treatment one may endure at the hand of superiors to whom we submit ourselves (2:13-25). There is the suffering of speech--of slander and reviling (2:12, 23; 4:14). In Hebrews, there is the suffering of imprisonment and seizure of property (10:32-34). In Job’s case, suffering came in the form of natural calamities, human sin and cruelty, and physical infirmities (Job 1 and 2).

146 See Isaiah 4:2-6 [v. 5]; 40:21-26 [26]; 42:5-9 [5]; 43:1-7 [1]; 43:15-21 [15]; 44:1-28 [2, 21, 24]; 45:8-19 [8, 9, 11, 12, 18]; 65:17-25 [17]).

147 Rhea F. Miller, Words copyrighted 1922, Renewal 1950, Assigned to Chancel Music Inc.

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21. The Leader and Suffering (1 Peter 5:1-7)

1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.

Introduction

Of all the Lord’s disciples, who would have thought Peter would pen the words of our text to the leaders of the churches? Peter argued with, and even rebuked, the Lord when He spoke of His coming suffering and death (Matthew 16:22). He argued with the other disciples about who was the greatest and who would be greatest in the coming kingdom (Mark 9:33-34; 10:41; Luke 9:46; 22:24). Peter, like all of his fellow-disciples, was unwilling to take the place of a servant at their Passover celebration and neither was he immediately willing for His Lord to do so (John 13:6-9).

When I read the first seven verses of 1 Peter 5, I cannot help but chuckle when I remember who is writing these words. Neither can I avoid the strong sense that Peter is a changed man whose view of leadership has been radically transformed. Peter’s perspective on leadership is now that of his Lord. In these verses addressed primarily to elders, we see a very clear link to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels, a teaching Peter came to embrace for himself and now is teaching others.

When Peter exhorts elders to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), we are reminded of Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:15-17. When Peter instructs church leaders not to “lord it over” those under their care (1 Peter 5:3), we are reminded of our Lord’s words in Matthew 20:25-28. And when Peter urges all of his readers to “clothe yourselves with humility,” we can hardly miss the allusion to the example and teaching of our Lord in John 13 when He clothed Himself with a towel as a servant and washed the disciples’ feet.

Peter is a changed man from the Peter of the Gospels. And his teaching is vastly different from what we would have expected of him from the Gospel accounts. His teaching is also very different from much that is taught about leadership today, even in Christian circles.

Peter’s words are not just to elders nor even to leaders. These are words addressed to all. We should all listen carefully, looking to the Holy Spirit to make their meaning and application clear in our minds—and also in our lives.

The Structure of the Text

The commands Peter sets down by the use of four imperatives indicates the structure and argument of our text:

(1) Elders, take charge! (verses 1-4 [“shepherd the flock,” verse 2]).

(2) Younger men, follow! (verse 5a [“be subject,” verse 5a])

(3) All, humble yourselves! (verses 5b-7 [“cloth yourselves with humility;” “Humble yourselves”]).

The main section concerns the leadership of the elders in their local congregations. A very brief word of instruction is then given to the younger men. The elders are instructed by God to take charge, and the duty of the younger men is to obey, to follow their leadership. Then in verses 5b-7, Peter focuses on the attitude or mindset which should characterize both leaders and followers—a humble spirit, which prompts leaders to lead lovingly and sacrificially and followers to graciously submit to and support their leaders.

Who Are Elders, And What Do They Do?

The existence of elders as spiritual leaders goes back to Israel’s Old Testament times when 70 elders were appointed and divinely empowered to assist Moses in leading the people of God (see Numbers 11:16-30). They persisted throughout Israel’s history (see Deuteronomy 25:7; 1 Kings 20:8; 21:11; 2 Kings 6:32; Ezra 10:8) and into New Testament times, where they are mentioned in conjunction with the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees (see Matthew 16:21; 21:23; 26:3, 57; 27:1, 3; Acts 4:5; 6:12; 24:1). Elders also played a role in secular rule as well.

Elders emerged as the highest human authority in the New Testament church, assisted by deacons (see Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; James 5:14). Elders of the church first appear in Acts 11:30, where the monies collected for the poor in Judea were sent to the elders. In Acts 14:23, we are told that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches founded on their first missionary journey. In Acts 15, the apostles and elders of the church met in Jerusalem at what became known as the Jerusalem Council to clarify the gospel as it related to Gentile converts. Throughout the New Testament, the church is ruled by a plurality of elders with no central “head” of the church other than her Lord Jesus Christ. When Peter addresses the elders in our text, he is addressing those who have been divinely appointed and entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the church.

Why Elders (and other Christian leaders) Suffer

One must assume Peter’s exhortations to the elders and younger men in our text are related to his teaching on suffering in the immediately preceding verses. What is the relationship between leadership and suffering? Peter does not directly answer this question, but from other biblical texts we find a close relationship between leadership and suffering. Consider the following reasons elders suffer:

(1) Sinful natures rebel against God and thus resist God’s leaders, who act in His behalf (see Exodus 16:7-8; 17:2).

(2) Elders are not necessarily appointed democratically nor do they rule democratically (see Numbers 16:1-50). Ultimately, elders are divinely appointed (Acts 20:28), and thus accountable, to God (Hebrews 13:17). The elders therefore do not “represent” the church congregation as elected officials are supposed to represent their constituency. The elders represent God and are to act according to the directives of His Word, which may mean their decisions are not always popular.

(3) Because they lead, elders get the blame when things seem to go wrong. Things are considered wrong when commitment, self-denial, or rebuke are required, or when suffering or adversity are encountered. Israel grumbled and complained at every little difficulty and grasped for every chance to indulge themselves (see Exodus 16:1-12; 17:1-7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:13).

(4) Christian leaders appear to be weak, ineffective, and certainly unimpressive, because God chooses the foolish things to confound the wise (Acts 4:13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 3:18-23), because of the methods they employ or refuse to employ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2, 10-11), and because of their convictions (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9; compare 2 Corinthians 11:7). They also do not commend themselves (2 Corinthians 3:1f.; 5:12; 10:12, 18; 12:11). How ironic that suffering is the badge of a true apostle, and yet it is what causes many to reject their apostleship for smooth-talking, easy-living false leaders (see 2 Corinthians 10-12; Philippians 1:12ff.).

(5) We all, to one extent or another, are to bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2), but leaders seem to bear a greater part of the burden (2 Corinthians 11:28-29; see also Romans 12:15).

(6) The corrective and disciplinary responsibilities of elders (and others) require as much privacy as possible, which means that all facts behind any action are not a matter of public knowledge. Misunderstanding and criticism may therefore result (see Matthew 18:15-20).

The First Command: Take Charge!
(5:1-4)

1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Peter lays down in verse 1 the basis for his exhortation in the verses that follow. Allow me to point out three observations from verse 1 to prepare us for what follows. First, the “therefore” of verse 1 links Peter’s words to what has immediately preceded. His exhortation to elders is related to the theme of suffering for Christ’s sake. Second, Peter’s authority as an apostle is evident as he refers to himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (see also Acts 1:8, 21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1). The word “witness” sometimes takes on the sense of “martyr,” which is virtually a transliteration of the original term (see Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13; 17:6). Third, in light of his apostolic authority, Peter is remarkably humble, for instead of merely stressing his authority over them he also emphasizes his association with them as a “fellow-elder,” who “exhorts” them rather than issuing a decree. How much easier it is to embrace these words, spoken by the “new Peter,” rather than the power-seeking Peter of the Gospels.

Peter’s first command of our text is found in verse 2: “Shepherd the flock of God among you … ”

This is the principle command which is given as an imperative. The secondary command is “exercising oversight,” which is a participle.148 The imagery of shepherding often includes different functions, such as leading or ruling (see Matthew 2:6), feeding (see John 21:15-17) and guarding (see John 10:27-30).

Here the emphasis seems to fall on ruling or “exercising oversight.” It should not be difficult to see why this emphasis is found here. One can teach privately, but it is difficult to lead privately. Leadership is a public and visible task. In times of persecution, those who are leaders make themselves vulnerable to attack by being visible in leadership. Peter therefore urges them not to shrink back but rather to step forward and carry out their God-given calling in faith.

As Peter indicates, shepherding necessitates the exercise of an elder’s God-given authority which is not easy in times of persecution. We know that power corrupts, even those Christians in positions of authority. This is why our Lord strongly rebukes the scribes and Pharisees concerning their abuses of leadership in Matthew 23. Peter therefore clarifies how elders should exercise authority by contrasting the fleshly temptations leaders face with the spiritual characteristics of leadership which were evident in our Lord and which should be exemplified by elders and all others who exercise authority.

Spiritual leadership should not be “under compulsion” but voluntary (verse 2). A nearly identical contrast is seen in Paul’s letter to Philemon, the owner of Onesimus, a runaway slave brought to faith by Paul’s ministry and now being sent home to his master. Paul would love to have Onesimus stay with him, but he does not wish to compel Philemon to act graciously. Paul writes to Philemon:

12 And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, [sending] my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will (Philemon 1:12-14, emphasis mine).

It is not that compulsion is always wrong, for Paul acts “by compulsion” in carrying out his calling as an apostle:

16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16, emphasis mine).

Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel for this is what he was called to do. He could do nothing else. But he did have freedom regarding the way he was supported, and so he had a greater privilege in giving up his right to be supported in ministry.

In our text, Peter does not seem to be referring to the inner compulsion of which Paul spoke but of an external compulsion or pressure applied by others. Peter seems to be urging elders not to reluctantly take up their task and the authority which accompanies it, but to exercise authority willingly, enthusiastically. Who wants a reluctant leader in times of crisis? Who wants a reluctant warrior in time of battle (see Deuteronomy 24:5; Judges 7:3)?

If the first contrast deals with an elder’s willingness to lead, the second contrast has to do with a man’s motivation for taking leadership. Some men may be strongly motivated to lead but for the wrong reasons. This is the way it was with the scribes and Pharisees:

5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels [of their garments.] 6 And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi” (Matthew 23:5-7).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:14; see also Luke 16:14).

Power gives a person the advantage over another. It is easy for one to abuse their power and use it for selfish gain. No wonder John the Baptist said to the tax collectors and soldiers who came to him,

12 And [some] tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 And [some] soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And [what about] us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse [anyone] falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:12-14).

It is no wonder Paul instructed that elders be men free from an addiction to money (1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:7).

The elder is to exercise his God-given authority not so as to pursue sordid gain but rather to sacrificially give himself in serving as a leader for the edification and growth of others. They are to lead “with eagerness.” A sense of the meaning of this expression may be gained by comparing Paul’s use of a closely related term:

11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so (Acts 17:11, emphasis mine).

11 But now finish doing it also; that just as [there was] the readiness to desire it, so [there may be] also the completion of it by your ability. 12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what [a man] has, not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:11-12, emphasis mine).

In both cases, it seems the “readiness” or “eagerness” is a zeal that is sacrificial and without any thought or calculation of self-gain. When many of the Jews in other synagogues heard Paul, they recognized that his teaching threatened their practices and position. They therefore reacted strongly, seeking to silence his preaching. The saints in Thessalonica listened eagerly, with open hearts and minds, to see if he was speaking the truth in accordance with the Scriptures. If the truth meant they had to change, so be it.

The Macedonian saints were poor, and yet they begged Paul for the privilege of giving to those in greater need. They did not give with a calculating spirit, thinking their giving would assure them of greater financial gain. They gave sacrificially, knowing their eagerness and enthusiasm would result in a diminished lifestyle but glad to pay this small price. They were eager to live out the spirit of the Gospel.

The eagerness of a godly elder is the readiness to serve others sacrificially and not the eagerness of greed.

The third contrast concerns the manner with which one exercises authority over others. Peter’s words reflect the teaching of his Master:

42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45, emphasis mine).

2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3, emphasis mine).

The elders are to “rule” the flock, as undershepherds of our Lord. Those who “lord it over” the flock are those who have come to look on the flock as their possession and upon themselves as “lords.” They are to be shepherds, not lords. It is His flock, not theirs. In the Old Testament, the expression, “lord it over” is used to describe the way in which a victorious nation rules over its defeated foe (see Numbers 21:24; 32:22; Psalm 10:5 [9:26 in the Septuagint]). It describes the reign of men over creation (Genesis 1:28). In Psalm 119:133 (Septuagint), it is used to depict the despotic rule of sin over a man. In Acts 19:16, Luke employs this term to describe the subduing of the sons of Sceva by an evil spirit. While the exact words are not employed in these texts, they illustrate the kind of “rule” Peter condemns:

4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with [so much as] a finger … 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation]” (Matthew 23:4, 13-14).

19 For you, being [so] wise, bear with the foolish gladly. 20 For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. 21 To [my] shame I [must] say that we have been weak [by comparison.] But in whatever respect anyone [else] is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself (2 Corinthians 11:19-21).

Contrast this kind of “rule” with that of Paul:

5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing [mother] tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, [how] working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and [so is] God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we [were] exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father [would] his own children, 12 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:5-12).

The “good shepherd” “lays down his life for the sheep(see John 10:11, 15). The evil shepherd’s abuse the sheep, and rather than feeding them, they feed on them:

1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat [sheep] without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek [for them]”’“ (Ezekiel 34:1-6).

When elders shepherd the flock, they are to use their authority in obedience to the Good Shepherd and for the good of the sheep. They are not to use their authority to abuse the sheep.

In contrast to the abusive use of authority to control the sheep, elders are to show themselves to be examples to the flock. To play out the shepherd imagery here, they are not to stand behind the sheep, driving them forward, but to go before the sheep, leading the way.

Sometimes this truth is taken to extremes. Some saints think the elders must be the example for every ministry in the church. They expect to see an elder visibly taking leadership in every aspect of the programs of the church. I do not think this is what Peter is talking about. I understand Peter to be exhorting those who are elders to strive to be examples of leadership. A gifted teacher should be an example of teaching; one gifted to encourage should serve as an example of encouragement. An elder should exemplify servant leadership. He should be an example to all who lead, to church leaders, parents, husbands, and others.

The scribes and Pharisees sought to gain authority and power by “seating themselves in the chair of Moses(Matthew 23:2), but they lacked true authority (see Matthew 7:28-29). There is a certain authority which comes from adding godly practice to godly principle. This authority was absent in the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23:3).

Evil shepherds seek to further their own interests and use the sheep to bring about selfish gain. They look for their rewards now and think of them in temporal and material terms. Those who would shepherd the flock of God must do so with the same mindset every Christian is called to embrace:

13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).

4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).

The first thing Peter says about rewards is to remind these shepherds Who the Chief Shepherd is and that He is the One who ultimately shepherds the flock and them. It is He before whom elders must stand and give account (Hebrews 13:17) and He who will reward them for their faithfulness (see also 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).

He is the Chief Shepherd, the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20) and the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). The sheep are His sheep. The shepherds are His sheep. The sheep are not the possession of earthly shepherds but the flock God has placed under their care for a time (1 Peter 5:3).

Jesus Christ is (not) was the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” This is very important. If Jesus is the Great Shepherd, then surely we should shepherd as He does. How often I hear Christians (and even Christian leaders) speak of Jesus as the “model Shepherd” during the time of His earthly ministry. Our text seems to indicate our Lord continues to be the “Great Shepherd” and the “Good Shepherd.” In part, He shepherds through earthly shepherds. But He also continues to shepherd His flock from heaven.

I make this point of our Lord’s on-going shepherding for a reason. A great deal of emphasis is placed on shepherding these days, and much of the emphasis falls upon a personal and intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. There is an element of truth here I do not wish to deny. But having acknowledged the personal relationship element of shepherding, let me also remind you of these words of our Lord to Mary, who wanted the personal human relationship with our Lord she had enjoyed to continue:

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’” (John 20:15-17, emphasis mine).

When Jesus spoke to His disciples about His death and departure, they were deeply saddened. In John 13-17, Jesus indicated to His disciples it was better for Him to depart from them and terminate His physical relationship with them so a deeper, more intimate relationship could be entered into through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Intimacy with Christ does not require His physical presence. His shepherding of us does not require His physical presence. And, unpopular as it may be, I do not think an elder always needs to be physically present to shepherd the flock. If “prayer and the ministry of the Wordare the primary tasks of the elders (see Acts 6:4), surely they must have some time of seclusion for study, meditation, preparation, and prayer.

Our reward as shepherds does not come in this life but in the next. It is then the Chief Shepherd will award us with the “unfading crown of glory.I am not certain this reward is only a leader’s reward; I am inclined to believe it is the reward of every faithful saint, the sharing in the glory of our Lord for all eternity (see 1 Peter 1:7-8; 4:11, 13; 5:1, 10). Our eternal rewards are not based upon the gifts or office God has given us in this life but in our faithfulness in carrying out whatever task He has given each of us:

2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by [any] human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, [but wait] until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of [men’s] hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:2-5).

The Second Command:
“Younger men, submit to your elders!”
(5:5a)

5a You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.

The second imperative is short and sweet. There is no question as to its meaning. The younger men are to submit to their elders. But why so short? Why does Peter devote four verses to the elders but only half a verse to the younger men? Several explanations seem to apply. First, little more needs to be said. The duty of younger men to submit to their divinely appointed leaders needs little qualification or defense. Second, much has already been said on the subject of submission (2:13-3:7) which applies to this command in chapter 5 to submit.

Another question may come to your mind as you read Peter’s instruction to the younger men: “Why are only the younger men addressed?” First, the younger men are likely those who are most inclined to second guess the leadership and go their own way. Youth often fails to appreciate the wisdom of those older and wiser in the faith. Second, women are not addressed because it is assumed that if they are in submission to their husbands, who are in submission to the elders, the leadership of the elders will be followed.

The Third Command: “Everyone, be humble!”
(5:5b-7)

5b And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.

The key to unity and harmony in the church, the key to godly leadership and submissive obedience, is humility. Paul makes this clear early in his epistle to the Philippians:

1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).

Peter calls for humility toward God and toward men. Twice in these verses he commands us to be humble. He bases his call for humility on a principle drawn from a passage in Proverbs 3:34 as cited from the Septuagint,149 the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Compare Peter’s citation from the Septuagint with the translation of the Hebrew text as found in the NASB:

34 Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted (Proverbs 3:34, NASB).

5b God is opposed to the proud, But gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5b, following the Septuagint)

I find it interesting to note the difference between these two renderings of Proverbs 3:34. The Hebrew text has “scoffers;” the Septuagint and Peter, “proud.” The Hebrew text has “afflicted;” the Septuagint and Peter, “humble.” I believe these differences are not as great as they may appear. Affliction often humbles men, causing them to rely on God and not on themselves (see Psalm 73; 119:67, 75, 92; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23). It is the proud who scoff at the things of God and His people (Proverbs 21:24). Affliction turns the saint toward God in humble dependence.

In humility, leaders exercise their God-given authority self-sacrificially, laying down their lives for the sheep. In humility, younger men follow the leadership of their elders. Both submit themselves to God in humble dependence, looking to Him for their eternal reward at the proper time. Each casts their cares upon Him who is the Great Shepherd. The elders cast their shepherding cares on Him, knowing their task is impossible in merely human strength. The younger men cast their cares upon God, looking to Him for their strength and reward as they submit to their leaders.

We cast our cares upon Him because we know He cares for us. He cares more for us than we care about ourselves. Our “cares” are the touchstones of faith and obedience. Our “cares” are the things we really care about, the things which are important to us. How easy it is to profess adherence to doctrines and creeds (as important as they are) and yet fail to cast our cares on Him. What we worry and fret about is what we feel to be most important. What we worry and fret about is what we don’t wish to commit to Him because we trust ourselves more than we trust God. In times of suffering, persecution, and affliction, what greater assurance and comfort is there than knowing not only that God is good and He is sovereign (in control), but that He cares for us?

Conclusion

This text shows us that Peter’s understanding of leadership has radically changed from the time he first followed the Lord Jesus. But I am not so sure our thinking has changed. We think a leader is one who is confident, self-assured and assertive. Peter tells us a leader is humble and a servant of others. He accepts the task of “being ahead” (leading) without the ambition to “get ahead” in so doing.

Even Christians tend to measure leaders in terms of their success, but the Scriptures measure them in terms of their faithfulness in the midst of suffering. Success is not the test of leadership; suffering is. When we introduce a Christian speaker, we tell the audience of their educational achievements, their success in ministry (usually measured in numbers), and their acceptance by men. Peter will have none of this. And neither should we.

Even when we seek to recruit leaders, we appeal to men on a human level, according to human pride and ambition. We want them to think of leadership as an honor rather than a means of expressing humility. We speak to them about feeling fulfilled rather than of emptying themselves in service to others. How desperately we need to embrace Peter’s view of leadership.

This text brings us face to face with choices. Peter has set down three primary commands. Elders are to shepherd the flock by exercising leadership in a way vastly different from the way unbelievers lead. Younger men are not to be characterized by independence and rebellion but by submission to the elders. Saints are not to be self-seeking, self-serving, and self-sufficient but humble in their relationship to God and to men.

All three commands indicate we must think and act in a way dramatically different from unbelievers. Each of these commands confronts us with a choice, to obey or to disobey. Peter challenges us to commitment and to action. What will your choice be?


148 As indicated earlier in this series, I understand Peter to indicate primary commands by the imperative and subordinate commands by the use of the participle. Thus, “shepherd the flock” is the principle command, while “exercising oversight” is the secondary command. The same distinction can be seen in the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go (participle) therefore and make disciples (imperative) of all the nations, baptizing (participle) them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching (participle) them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

149 Peter’s quotation follows the Septuagint exactly, except that he uses a different Greek word for God than do the translators of the Septuagint.

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Passage: 

22. Suffering, Satan, and Standing Firm (1 Peter 5:8-14)

8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

12 Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace be to you all who are in Christ.

Introduction

A very cruel error is being proclaimed from some pulpits, especially by certain television preachers seeking to attract followers and supporters. They assure their audience that Christ’s death on Calvary means the end of suffering and of Satan—for all who have sufficient faith. This cruel error causes many to question their faith when they need it most. And it is error, for it simply is not true. Peter’s final words of his first epistle address the relationship between Satan, suffering, and the saints. Heeding his words may not deliver us from suffering, but it will deliver us from the error of those who tickle the ears of men for gain.

Satan and Suffering:
A Review of the Biblical Teaching

Peter’s first epistle has been dominated by the topic of suffering. In these final verses, for the first time he mentions Satan. Before trying to understand Peter’s words here, let us briefly review from the Scriptures Satan’s relationship to suffering.

Satan’s view of suffering is dictated by his view of success. Because he is success oriented, Satan revels in what he perceives to be success. His head swims with thoughts of his own splendor and glory. His addiction to success led to his own downfall because of his pride and grasping for the preeminence and glory which belong only to God (see Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:11-15; 1 Timothy 3:6).

Satan also tempts men on the basis of their success. When they are successful, Satan seeks to puff up their pride, convincing them they do not need God (see 1 Chronicles 21:1; 1 Timothy 3:6).150 But for those who suffer, Satan tries to convince them God cannot be with them, that He cannot care for them because godly people should not suffer.

9 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Hast Thou not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face” (Job 1:9-11).

Satan shamelessly brushed aside God’s commendation of Job as a godly man. “How can God hold Job forth as a godly man when He ‘bought’ his worship by blessing him with all he could possibly want? Just take the blessings away and replace them with suffering, and his adoration will turn to animosity.” Satan believes men worship God because He gives them success; he also believes they will turn from God if He allows them to suffer. Satan’s theology sees suffering as his golden opportunity to turn men from God.

Let us use the term “glory” rather than today’s popular term of “success.” Peter indicates that the themes of suffering and glory both converged in the person of Messiah. But the Old Testament prophets could not understand how this could be since suffering and glory seemed incompatible (1 Peter 1:10-12). Satan craves glory, and he employs suffering to turn men from worshipping God to serving him (all the more glory).

Satan’s theology of suffering and glory is evident in the temptation of our Lord in the fourth chapters of Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4:1-13). Following the account of Matthew, consider how Satan relates suffering and glory in the temptation of our Lord.

The First Temptation: Matthew 4:1-4

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD’” (Matthew 4:1-4).

Satan granted Jesus the premise that He was the Son of God. But if He was the Son of God, why was He enduring the suffering of this forty day fast in the wilderness? Jesus should use His power as the Son of God to end His suffering and reveal His glory by commanding that stones become bread. Suffering was not appropriate for the Son of God, Satan reasoned, but glory could be gained by performing a miracle.

Jesus’ response comes from Deuteronomy 8. There God indicated through Moses that He purposely led Israel into the wilderness and let them hunger and thirst so they would learn that men live by God’s Word and their obedience to it, not just by eating physical bread. Even if He were to die in the wilderness, He would “live” because life comes from obedience to God’s will and to His Word.

The Second Temptation: Matthew 4:5-8

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘HE WILL GIVE HIS ANGELS CHARGE CONCERNING YOU’; and ‘ON [their] HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, LEST YOU STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

Satan seeks to intensify the temptation of our Lord by challenging Him to wrongly apply a biblical (and Messianic) promise of protection. God has promised that His angels will protect His “sons(and especially His Son) from harm. If this promise is true, and if Jesus is truly Messiah, then let Him put God to the test. Let Jesus cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple and then God must act to save Him. Let Him put Himself in a situation where suffering is inevitable, and then God must save Him.

Jesus knew this promise of protection was first and foremost a protection from divine judgment to be fulfilled because He would suffer the wrath of God in the sinner’s place. But once again He employed the principle drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy. Men are not to put God to the test, forcing Him to come to their rescue or do their bidding. Such an action would allow man to become the cause of God’s actions, rather than God being the cause of our actions. It is illicit to put God to the test by precipitating suffering.

The Third Temptation: Matthew 4:8-11

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and [began] to minister to Him (Matthew 4:8-11).

The first two temptations were primarily about suffering; the third is about glory. Satan shows our Lord the kingdoms of the world and their glory, arrogantly claiming possession of them, a vast overstatement of the truth. He offers these to our Lord if He will but bow down and worship him.

What cheap glory! Cheap in the sense that it was neither Satan’s to give nor would it last long. The price was exceedingly high—worship Satan. Satan thought Jesus would be repulsed by suffering and attracted by glory. So he offered Him the glory of earthly kingdoms for the glory Satan would gain by obtaining the worship of Messiah. Oh, to have the Son of God bow down to him!

With no hesitation, Jesus made the reason for His refusal crystal clear: “God alone deserves to be glorified by worship.” Jesus knew obedience to God brings glory to Him and leads us to share in His eternal glory. Satan must not be submitted to in worship, for what we worship, we serve. Jesus will not be tempted by cheap glory. His glory will come not in serving Satan but through suffering in the will of the Father.

I believe these same tests were failed by God’s “son,” Israel (Hosea 11:1; see Matthew 2:15), making the victory of our Lord over these temptations all the more significant. The first test was Jesus’ refusal to turn stones into bread. When in the wilderness, God allowed the Israelites to hunger and thirst so they would learn that obedience to God is the key to life—not just the eating of physical bread (see Deuteronomy 8:1-3). Over and over, the Israelites grumbled against God and threatened to rebel and return to Egypt because they lacked food or water (see Exodus 16; Numbers 11, 14).

During the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus fed the 5,000. The people followed after Jesus hoping for an eternity of free bread (see John 6:25-34). When Jesus spoke to them about suffering (namely His suffering and their identification with Him), they wanted out. At that point, the crowds left Jesus and only His disciples remained (John 6:52-69). They wanted the glory of the kingdom, but no suffering. They expected God to turn the stones of suffering into the bread of glory. And this He would do, but only by means of Christ’s suffering and their identification with Him in His suffering. This is what baptism was all about.

Our Lord’s second test was to cast Himself down so that God would fulfill His promise to protect Him from suffering and harm. The Israelites presumed they could live as they chose, flagrantly disobeying His Word and even rejecting His Son, assuming their privileged position as God’s chosen people would force God to save them in spite of their sin. John the Baptist rebuked them for this error, indicating the Son of Man had not come to bless them but to bring judgment upon those who rejected God’s Word (see Matthew 3:1-12).

The third test was Satan’s proposition that Jesus fall down and worship him so all of the world’s glory could be his. Throughout its history, until the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites were idolaters. They worshipped the “gods” whom they trusted to indulge their every fleshly desire. When Moses was absent for a time on the holy mountain, the Israelites had Aaron make them a “god,” whom they worshipped by indulging in fleshly and sinful pleasures (Exodus 32:6). The Israelites of Jesus’ day chose to reject Him as Messiah to protect and preserve their little kingdom on earth and the glory it provided them, all of which Jesus threatened (John 11:47-50).

Just prior to Jesus’ transfiguration before His disciples which revealed the glory of His coming kingdom, Jesus began to speak of His suffering and death—a prerequisite to this glory. Peter reacted and rebuked Jesus, seeking to turn Him from suffering to glory. In so doing, Peter was simply reiterating the very same temptation Satan put to the Savior in Matthew 4. No wonder Jesus rebuked Peter as Satan. When Satan left Jesus until an “opportune time(Luke 4:13), he found that time when Peter sought to rebuke Christ. Satan’s attacks come not only through unbelievers but even through the saints (such as Job’s friends).

In the Book of Revelation, John writes to some of the same churches addressed by Peter—the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2 and 3). In four out of seven churches (2:9, 13, 24; 3:9), John mentions Satan in the context of opposition and suffering. The rest of Revelation teaches that in the last days of history Satan will intensify his efforts to bring about suffering and persecution for the saints. This suffering will serve as a temptation for them to forsake the faith (which appears to be the temptation for the Hebrews). But it will also test and prove the faith of the saints, distinguishing them from the rest of the world.

Now we can understand Peter’s reason for establishing the link between suffering and Satan. Peter’s warning about Satan’s opposition also becomes clearer. Two times in the Gospels Peter falls prey to Satan’s attacks. The first we see in Matthew 16, where Peter virtually mouths once again the words of Satan recorded in Matthew 4. Speaking for Satan (almost speaking as Satan), Peter rebuked our Lord for bringing up the subject of His suffering because Peter had only thoughts of glory. And later, just before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion, He warned Peter of Satan’s demand to “sift him like wheat(Luke 22:31-32). In those final hours at the Garden of Gethsemene, Peter was not sober and he did not keep alert to Satan’s attacks, so he fell—but not for long.

In reality, Peter’s words to us here are his obedience to our Lord’s instructions to him in Luke 22:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded [permission] to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, emphasis mine).

We should pay utmost attention to Peter, for he knows only too well whereof he speaks.

Satan, Our Adversary
(5:8-9a)

8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, … 

Satan often is given too much credit and too much publicity because of the naivety of Christians who see Satan behind every bush. In one sense, he is there. The forces which oppose the Christian are the world, the flesh, the devils (demons), and the devil. But my conviction is that Satan seldom engages in a personal attack against a believer. Even a man like Paul is afflicted through a “messenger of Satan(see 2 Corinthians 12:7). Very often, Satan attacks the believer indirectly through the impulses of the flesh (see Romans 7:7-25) and the world (see Romans 12:2).

Satan is our “adversary.” The term, “the devil,” is the word employed by the Greek translation of the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 21:1; Job 1:6-12; Zechariah 3:1) when referring to Satan. The term is used of one who makes accusations and presses charges. In Revelation 12:10, Satan is called the “accuser of our brethren.” Peter has already indicated we will be unjustly accused of being evildoers by unbelievers for doing good (2:12; 3:16; 4:4). Now we see that behind these accusations is Satan,151 the great “accuser.”

When Peter does introduce the subject of satanic attack, he does so at the very end of his epistle, giving Satan little “press.” Satan loves to bask in the glory we will give him, even negative press. But Peter wants us to understand that behind the opposition and persecution of unbelievers is the encouraging hand of Satan, who seeks to frighten and destroy us through the opposition of men (see Ephesians 2:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:26).

Satan is a creature with a great diversity of methods. At times, he seeks to catch us unawares, slipping up on us unnoticed (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). But sometimes, like we see here, Satan’s opposition is direct and frontal. He is described as stalking us like a “roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.I have heard some strange explanations of why lions roar. One is that an “old lion” stalks its prey, roaring so it will frighten his prey into the jaws of the younger lions who will share their kill with the older feline. Another is that lions are cowards, roaring loudly to frighten off jackals and other predators which seek to take the kill away from the lion.

The Scriptures speak of roaring lions, and I believe we should take Peter’s meaning from these references:

21 The young lions roar after their prey, And seek their food from God (Psalms 104:21).

14 “Is Israel a slave? Or is he a homeborn servant? Why has he become a prey? 15 The young lions have roared at him, they have roared loudly. And they have made his land a waste; His cities have been destroyed, without inhabitant” (Jeremiah 2:14-15; see also 51:36-39).

25 “There is a conspiracy of her prophets in her midst, like a roaring lion tearing the prey. They have devoured lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in the midst of her” (Ezekiel 22:25).

4 Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Does a young lion growl from his den unless he has captured [something]? (Amos 3:4).

From these references, it seems clear the explanations above do not fit the picture portrayed in Scripture. The young (not old) lions roar as they pursue their prey and after they have captured it. In this mode of attack, the lion wants his prey to know he is in pursuit. Fear is a part of his plan of attack. A frightened prey is a more likely catch. After the prey is caught, it is devoured, while the lion roars to let all the other creatures know of his victory. The boldness and confidence of the lion is likened to the aggressive confidence of Satan, who vainly believes he is invincible.

Peter gives us two commands regarding Satan’s attacks. First, we are to be “sober;” second, we are to be “alert.” Twice already Peter has instructed us to be sober (1:13; 4:7). Jesus often exhorted His disciples to be “alert” (Matthew 24:42; 26:41; Romans 13:11f.; 2 Timothy 4:5). In 1 Thessalonians, both terms occur together:

6 So then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of [the] day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, emphasis mine).

Most often these terms are employed in the context of the last days. The disciples must not be caught off guard; they are to be mentally alert so the events preceding our Lord’s coming do not cause them to panic, for many, in Peter’s words, will be devoured (see Matthew 24:3-14, 32-44).

As I understand our Lord’s teaching concerning the last days in the Gospels (Matthew 24 and 25; Mark 13; Luke 12; 21; John 13-16), in Paul’s epistles (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and in the Book of Revelation, they will be marked by increased opposition and persecution toward the saints. Satanic activity and opposition will also increase. The saints are therefore exhorted to be alert and sober so these difficult days do not throw them off balance.

I believe Peter’s words in our text imply a sh