This 23 part expository study of 1 Peter was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in 1992. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson. (Excepting audio for Lessons 6, 7, and 8.)
After an extensive tour of the United States some years ago, the late, well-known German pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke was asked what he saw as the greatest defect among American Christians. He replied, “They have an inadequate view of suffering.”
I think his observation still holds true. If it were not so, how could American Christians even give a moment’s credence to the ridiculous idea that it is always God’s will for believers to be healthy and wealthy? When we visited Macau in 1987, I asked a young woman from mainland China if she had heard of that teaching in China. She laughed softly, shook her head, and replied, “No, that teaching wouldn’t get very far in China.”
But an inadequate view of suffering is not just a problem for those who think that it’s always God’s will to give us a trouble-free life. I find it to be a problem among many Christians undergoing trials. Some face debilitating illness, but instead of submitting to God, they grow bitter and complain, “Why me?” Some put up with intolerable marriages for a while, but then bail out with the excuse, “Don’t I have a right to some happiness?” Others look back on a childhood in which they were abused and angrily complain, “Where was God when I needed Him? What kind of God would allow an innocent child to suffer like I did?”
All these people share in common an inadequate view of suffering. Because of their bitterness toward God, they are not in submission to Him. They are vulnerable to temptation and sin. Others who suffer may submit to God, but it’s more like glum resignation than grateful trust. They’re depressed because of their problems, perhaps even to the point of suicide. They’ve lost hope.
What all these people need is both hope and holiness in a hostile world. That is to say, they need to hear and apply the message of 1 Peter. The apostle wrote this letter to Christians scattered throughout what today is northern Turkey. He probably wrote from Rome (referred to in code as “Babylon” [5:13]) just before Nero’s fierce persecution of Christians in that city in A.D. 64. But the pressure was already on many who held to this new belief in Jesus as God in human flesh, who died on a Roman cross and was raised from the dead. Believers were being slandered (2:12; 3:14-16; 4:14). Gentile Christians were reviled by their former partners in sin (4:4). These Christians needed to know how to handle these trials that came upon them on account of their seeking to follow Christ.
Peter points them to Christ, our great example, who endured unjust suffering from a hostile world, but who maintained both hope and holiness by submitting Himself to the Father’s sovereign purpose. That’s the message of 1 Peter:
In spite of a hostile world, Christians can live in hope and holiness by submitting to God.
We all need this practical message because, in one form or another, we all face trials. Peter holds out no promise that following Jesus will exempt a believer from hardship. Far from it! He says that we should not be surprised at fiery ordeals, as if they were abnormal (4:12). But he points us to Christ and to the glory promised us in heaven. If we will learn the lessons packed into this great letter, we will be strengthened and encouraged as we live for Christ in this hostile world.
After an opening greeting, the book falls into three parts (I’ve adapted this outline from J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book [Zondervan], p. 303):
Introductory greeting: Scattered as aliens, but chosen and obedient (1:1-2).
1. The living hope: How to cultivate it (1:3-2:10).
The living hope is cultivated by knowing Christ as the living Savior (1:3-21); the living Word (1:22-2:3); and, the living Stone (
2. The alien life: How to live it (2:11-3:22).
The alien life (2:11-12) is lived as holy people in submission: as Christian citizens (2:13-17); as Christian servants (2:18-25); as Christian mates (3:1-7); as Christian witnesses who are wronged (3:8-22).
3. The fiery trial: How to endure it (4:1-5:11).
Christianity may be a life of fiery trials, but we can endure such trials purposefully as holy people (4:1-6); soberly, as serving people (4:7-11); joyfully, as expectant people (4:12-19); and, corporately, as humble people (5:1-11).
Concluding greetings: This is God’s true grace; stand firm in it! (5:12-14).
Most of the major themes of the book are in kernel form in the opening greeting (1:1-2):
Peter addresses his book “to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (the northern regions of modern Turkey). These churches may have been founded by converts from the Day of Pentecost when Peter preached (Acts 2:9); by Peter on missionary journeys into the area; by converts of the Apostle Paul from nearby regions where he preached (he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go into Asia and Bithynia [Acts 16:6-7]); or, by some combination of these.
“Scattered” is the Greek diaspora, used to refer to the scattering of the Jews outside of Palestine (John 7:35; James 1:1). Peter calls these Christians the diaspora, or scattered people of God. Judging from the many Old Testament references in this epistle, there must have been many Jewish believers in these churches. But, also, many references point to many Gentiles (1:14 18; 2:9-10, 18 [servants]; 4:1-4).
“Aliens” (used also in 2:11) contains two inherent ideas: That we are both foreigners and temporary residents. As foreigners, we do not belong to this evil world. In Jesus’ words, we are in the world, but not of it (John 17:13-16). We should not speak its language or follow its customs. Our behavior should be distinct from the residents of this world.
Have you ever traveled to a foreign country where you stood out obviously as a foreigner? In 1987, when we went to China, we spent an afternoon walking the back streets of Guangzhou, where we didn’t see any other Westerners. People stared at us and we stared back. We found their customs interesting, but very different from our own. Instead of buying dead poultry and fish, shrink-wrapped in plastic, the Chinese buy live chickens, ducks, and fish. The birds are squawking and the fish are gasping for their last breath as they carry them from the market. While their custom is no doubt more nutritious, I must confess that I was a foreigner, because I wouldn’t know what to do if my dinner was still alive when I brought it home!
One of Peter’s favorite words is the Greek word, anastrophe. He uses it six times in 1 Peter (1:15, 18; 2:12; 3:1, 2, 16) and twice in 2 Peter (2:7; 3:11). It is only used five other times in the entire New Testament. It means “way of life” or “behavior.” The point is, as Christians our way of life, our conduct and behavior should stand out like a foreigner stands out in China. We’re supposed to be different, as the King James translates 2:9, “a peculiar people.” (You’re probably thinking, “Yes, I’ve met many peculiar Christians!”) But it doesn’t mean weird, but distinct. Christians should stand out as godly people in a corrupt, ungodly world.
Peter makes it clear, as Jesus did, that we are not to become hermits, cloistered from the world, but rather to live commendably in it (2:12, 15, 20-21; 3:13-17; 4:19; 5:9). Nor are we to live apart from the church, as individuals, but in community with other Christians as the people of God (1:22; 2:4-10; 3:8-9; 4:8-11, 17; 5:1-5, 9, 13-14). As someone put it, “We are not to live in the world and go to church, but to live in the church and go to the world.” So the word “alien” means that we are foreigners in this evil world.
The second sense of “alien” is that we are temporary residents. We’re not to be settlers, but pilgrims, looking for our real home in heaven. Peter brings this out numerous times: 1:6, “for a little while”; 1:17, “during the time of your stay upon earth”; 2:11-12, you are aliens now, but the day of visitation is coming; 4:2, “the rest of the time in the flesh,” with the day of judgment to follow (4:5); and, 5:10, “suffered for a little while.”
The ideas of hope, heaven, the return of Jesus Christ, and the future glory are all prominent in 1 Peter: 1:3-5, 7, 13, 21; 2:12; 3:5, 15; 4:5, 7, 13, 17; 5:1, 4, 6 (“proper time”), 10. Also, Peter repeatedly makes the point that unbelievers will be judged by God: 1:17; 2:7-8, 12, 23; 3:12, 18-20; 4:5, 17-18).
All of this is most practical to those who are suffering, especially when you look around at wicked people who seem to be doing quite well, and wonder, “Is it worth it to follow Christ?” Sometimes people mock Christianity as a “pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die” religion. Clearly, it is! Paul says that if it’s not, “if we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
I’m thankful for modern medicine, but there’s a sense in which it has done us a great disservice. Years ago, people didn’t need to be convinced of the shortness of life and the reality of eternity. Most families lost several children in death. Many adults died of things that now can be healed. Death was a constant reminder of the fact that this life is not all there is. Eternity is ahead. Though we suffer and the wicked prosper now, a day is coming when it will all be made right, just as Jesus Christ promised.
But we often mistakenly assume that because medicine can extend someone’s life for a few years, we escape from the reality of eternity! No, says Peter, we’re aliens—foreigners, temporary residents—here on earth. We live in a hostile world now, but we’re looking for that great day when our Savior returns from heaven for us! Therefore,
People going through trials need hope. Peter begins (1:3) by saying that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope.” He instructs us to fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13). Since Jesus has been raised from the dead, our faith and hope are in God (1:21; see also 3:5, 15).
Biblical hope is not like worldly hope. Worldly hope is uncertain, at best. We say, “I hope my investment will be profitable.” There’s a lot of anxiety and not much certainty in that kind of hope! But biblical hope is certain, though not yet realized, because it is backed by the God who cannot lie.
It’s as if you and I had both missed the World Series. I heard which team won, but you hadn’t. We sit down to watch a videotape of the final game, and I say to you, “Would you like to put a friendly bet on the game?” You’d be a fool to make that bet! Why? Because even though I don’t know exactly how the game will develop, I am certain about the final outcome. And Christians may not know exactly how the events of life will unfold, but we know for certain whose side is gonna win. We can be sure of the glory that awaits us in heaven. That’s biblical hope!
In the opening greeting, Peter gives three reasons we can live with hope in this hostile world:
In the Greek text, the word “chosen” comes right after “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.” It is put at the start for emphasis. Peter wants us to know from the outset that our relationship with God does not depend on our weak grasp on Him, but rather on God’s sure grip on us. Our salvation is not our doing; it is God’s doing! Thus we can submit to God during times of trial because He is sovereign in saving and keeping His own. This comforting theme of God’s sovereignty runs through the whole book (1:3-5, 11-12, 20; 2:7-10; 3:17, 22; 4:11, 19; 5:10-11).
This greatly comforting truth, that God has chosen us for salvation, has been undermined by those who say, “Yes, but it says that God chose us according to His foreknowledge.” They say that election means that God peered down through history, saw who would believe in Him and put them on His list.
But a moment’s thought will show how inadequate that view is. It makes the eternal, sovereign plan of God depend upon the will of man. It makes God into a heavenly wimp who happened to be omniscient. So He looked at the future and said, “Oh, I do hope that Saul of Tarsus will believe in Me, because he would make such a nice apostle. Oh, good! He is going to decide for Me! I’ll put him on my list of the elect.” But Paul made it clear that God had set him apart even from his mother’s womb (Gal. 1:15).
Also, such a view turns the grace of God into merited rather than unmerited favor. If election just means that God knew in advance who would believe, then He did not sovereignly choose them apart from their choice of Him, but because of it. But Scripture is clear that God chose whom He willed, simply because of His choice (Rom. 9:11, 16, 18). The word “foreknowledge” means that God knew in the special sense of choosing His people before the foundation of the world. The idea of foreordination is implied in “foreknowledge” (1 Pet. 1:20; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29).
Peter assumed that his readers accepted the Trinity. He doesn’t stop to explain or defend it; he just states that we were chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that we may obey Jesus Christ. God is one God who exists in three coequal, eternal persons, the same in substance, but distinct in subsistence. Each person of the Godhead has a role in our salvation. We can have hope because our salvation depends on this great Triune God.
“Grace and peace” is a form of Christian greeting, but it is much more. God’s grace was the motivating factor in Peter’s life, as it should be in every Christian’s life. He uses the word in every chapter of this book, ten times in all (1:2, 10, 13; 2:19-20; 3:7; 4:10; 5:5, 10, 12). The first word of the epistle, “Peter,” illustrates God’s grace in a most personal way. The unstable Simon, who failed miserably on a number of occasions, but most terribly when he denied the Lord, became Peter (the Rock), greatly used by God as an apostle. “Peace” is the inner result of experiencing God’s grace.
The words “Peter, an apostle,” contain a fine balance that we must maintain. “Peter” illustrates God’s grace, that He forgives our sin and showers us with blessings we do not deserve. “Apostle” means “one sent under authority,” and shows that the things Peter writes to us are not helpful suggestions, but divine commandments. There is no contradiction between “grace” and “obedience” to God’s commands.
We’ve seen that Christians live in a hostile world as aliens; but, they can live with hope. Finally,
Holiness and obedience are major themes in 1 Peter (1:2, 14-17, 22; 2:1, 11, 24; 3:2, 6, 8-9; 4:1-11, 15-17). In the introduction these themes are brought out in the respective works of the Spirit and of Jesus Christ in our salvation.
First, Peter says that we are chosen “by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.” (The same phrase is used in connection with election in 2 Thess. 2:13.) The word “sanctifying” means “setting apart” and looks here at the initial work of God’s Spirit in taking a believer out of the world and setting him apart unto God in the community of God’s elect people (Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 11). But, the word also has an active, ongoing sense that points to the process by which the Spirit progressively separates the believer unto God, in cooperation with our submission and active participation in the process (Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude [Baker], pp. 36-37, 38). Thus holiness is both positional and progressive. It involves both the Spirit’s sovereign work and our willing cooperation.
Next Peter says that we are chosen “unto obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ” (literal translation). Grammatically, the word “obedience” stands alone and refers to our initial acceptance of the gospel, what Paul and Peter both call “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; 1 Pet. 4:17). The Bible is clear that saving faith is obedient faith. In fact, “obedience” is often used to describe saving faith (John 3:36; Acts 6:7; Rom. 10:16; 15:18; 2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 2:8; 3:1). We are saved by faith, but saving faith is not mere assent, but rather active belief that always results in ongoing obedience to God.
The phrase “sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ” stems from Moses’ sprinkling the Israelites with blood at the initiation of the Mosaic Covenant (Exod. 24:3-8). The Book of Hebrews applies this to Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of Himself in inaugurating the New Covenant (Heb. 9:19-28). Thus Peter is referring to the initial cleansing from sin that takes place when the blood of Christ is applied to our hearts when we commit ourselves by faith to follow Him. “Obedience” looks at our part; “sprinkling” looks at Christ’s part.
As with the word “sanctifying,” the word “sprinkling” is an active noun that also contains the idea of an ongoing process. Though the blood of Christ cleanses us from all our sins at the moment of salvation, there is also a repeated cleansing applied to our hearts as we confess our sins (1 John 1:7, 9).
Thus the idea here is that the Christian life is both an initial and an ongoing process of separation from sin and separation unto God. It is first and foremost the work of God’s Spirit and of Jesus Christ on our behalf, but also it involves our active obedience.
Another key word in 1 Peter which relates to having both hope and holiness in this hostile world is the word “submit” (2:13, 18; 3:1, 5, 22 [used of angelic submission to Christ]; 5:5). It’s not a popular word in our day of “rights” and “assertiveness,” where everyone is trying to avoid pain and seek fulfillment at all costs. But it is a key to having a proper view of suffering. When we face trials, we have a choice. We can assert ourselves and complain about how unfair things are and look for the easiest and quickest way out. Or, we can submit to the sovereign hand of God, knowing that He has chosen us for salvation and saved us by His mighty power.
We can respond to trials like an egg or like a potato. An egg goes into boiling water soft, but comes out hard. A potato goes in hard and comes out soft. I’d like you to ask yourself, “How am I responding to the trials God has sovereignly allowed into my life? Am I submitting to God or resisting Him?” If we submit to Christ, He will soften our hearts and give us both hope and holiness as we live in this hostile world.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
Have you ever been going through a difficult time when some bubbly Christian came bursting into the room shouting, “Praise the Lord!” Don’t you hate it when that happens? About the last thing you want to hear when you’re going through hard times is, “Praise the Lord!”
And yet when the Spirit of God inspired Peter to write to these suffering Christians, after his opening greeting, the first thing he does is to burst forth in praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” How insensitive of Peter! How could he do such a thing?
Let me put it this way: What if you were going through some trial and I burst into the room and exclaimed, “Praise God! You’ve just inherited $100 million!” Would that make any difference? A $100 million inheritance may not solve all your problems, but it does have a way of opening up some interesting new options, doesn’t it? With that much money, at least you could take a nice long vacation to mull things over! Just daydreaming about it has a way of lifting your spirits, doesn’t it?
Back to reality, folks! You haven’t inherited $100 million. You’ve inherited something far better! Peter is saying, “Blessed be God, because He has given us far more than $100 million. He’s caused us to be born again to a living hope. Our inheritance is reserved in heaven!” So,
Whatever our problems, we can praise God as Christians because He has saved us unto eternity.
But maybe you’re thinking, “Now, wait a minute, Steve! That’s really a superficial approach to my very complex problems. If you knew the things I’m facing, you wouldn’t be so glib as to say that I should praise God because someday I’ll have pie in the sky when I die. I need help right now!” Maybe you’re saying, “I’m being treated unfairly at work.” Or, “I’ve been fired because of my Christian testimony.” Or, “I can’t find work and I’m facing severe financial problems.” Or, “I have a mate who’s not a Christian, who makes life miserable for me.” Or, “A good friend turned against me without cause and runs me down behind my back.” Or, “Since I’ve begun to follow Christ, problems have multiplied to the point where I’m overwhelmed.” Or, “I’m facing death itself.”
I’ve just described those to whom Peter wrote this letter. Christian slaves were being treated unfairly by their masters, even though they had done no wrong (2:18-20). Christian wives were being mistreated by their unbelieving husbands (3:1-6). Many of the believers had lost former friends who now were slandering them (2:12; 3:16, 17; 4:4, 13-14, 16). Some were being threatened and it’s likely that some even were facing martyrdom (3:14; 4:12). Peter knew all about these problems and yet he proclaimed to them, “Blessed be the God ... who has caused us to be born again to a living hope ....”
If the idea of your future inheritance in heaven doesn’t affect you as you face present problems, one of two things may be true: You may not truly be saved; or, you may be saved, but you may, to some degree, be buying into an errant form of Christianity that puts the emphasis on the here and now rather than on our eternal salvation. Reverend Ike used to say crassly, “I don’t want my pie in the sky when I die; I want cash in the stash here and now.” Most of us aren’t that blatant. But I find many who are into Christianity for what it can do for them now. Heaven is a nice extra, but they want the good life now. If Christ isn’t going to give it to them, and fairly soon, they shop elsewhere. They came to Christ because they heard that God had a wonderful plan for their lives. What they didn’t understand was that the wonderful plan often means enjoying the riches of Christ in the midst of suffering and perhaps even martyrdom.
We need to stop and think about what salvation means. Salvation means that we who justly deserve the eternal wrath of God have been delivered from that wrath through the death of Jesus Christ on our behalf. If we are not saved, we’re lost, under the terrible condemnation of God. One of our problems today is that we’re trying to get people saved who have no concept of how terrible it is to be lost. And we’re trying to coax people who have forgotten what it feels like to be eternally lost into enduring hardship in living the Christian life. They don’t appreciate what God has done in saving them.
Suppose you were standing in a long line at the bank and I came running in, grabbed you by the arm, jerked you out of line, and dragged you outside. You’d probably be a bit upset. You’d say, “What do you think you’re doing? You made me lose my place in line, you made me look like a fool in front of all those people, and you hurt my arm!” You wouldn’t appreciate what I had done. But what if some terrorists had just come into the bank who intended to take everyone hostage and to kill hostages every few minutes if their demands were not met? If I rescued you from that awful fate, you wouldn’t complain about losing your place in line or looking like a fool or your sore arm. You’d be grateful to me in spite of any inconvenience or pain, because I rescued you from a terrible death.
As Christians, I fear that we’ve gotten far away from this eternal perspective. We complain about our trials and run after whatever we think will make us happy in this life (whether it’s biblical or not) because we’ve forgotten the terrors of hell from which God has saved us and the eternal inheritance He has given us in heaven. Peter makes two points here: Whatever our problems, we can praise God because our salvation comes from Him (1:3); and, because our salvation is safe unto eternity (1:4-5).
When Peter describes God as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it does not mean that Jesus was not fully God. Jesus is the eternal God in human flesh, the second person of the Trinity. In His humanity, the Father was Jesus’ God. He prayed to the Father; He trusted in the Father. In Jesus’ humanity, the Father (the first person of the Trinity) can rightly be called the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His deity, Jesus is related to God the Father as the eternal Son of God.
That Jesus is fully God can be proved in many ways from the Bible. But let me limit myself to three proofs from the immediate context. First, Jesus is mentioned with the Father and the Spirit as having an essential part in our salvation (1:2). It would be blasphemy to mention any being less than God in the same breath with God as Peter does here. Second, the title “Lord” is the Old Testament word “Yahweh” used to describe God. To call Jesus “Lord” is to call Him the sovereign of the universe, rightly demanding the submission of even heavenly powers to His name (3:22). Third, the title Christ proves Jesus to be God, because the Messiah (= “Christ”) is divine. Jesus made it clear from Psalm 110 that the Christ is not only David’s son, but also David’s Lord (Matt. 22:42-45).
Thus, Peter makes it clear that our salvation comes to us from God the Father through the work of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. (As we saw in 1:2, the Spirit is also involved, although not mentioned in 1:3-5.) In 1:3, Peter shows three ways that our salvation comes to us from God. If we’ll grasp this, we will praise God in spite of whatever trials we face in this life.
Salvation never comes from any merit or worth or from anything in us. In fact, it comes in spite of us. We cannot do anything to earn it. We cannot do anything to predispose God to grant it. Mercy is His undeserved favor. It is essentially synonymous with the word “grace.” If there is a difference, it may be that “grace is God’s free gift, displayed in the forgiveness of sins, extended to us as we are guilty, whereas mercy is His love extended to us as we are miserable” (R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Eerdmans], p. 170). Mercy has the connotation of God’s compassion toward those who suffer.
As Martin Luther points out (Commentary on Peter and Jude [Kregel], p. 20), human nature cherishes the thought that we, through our own strength, free will, good works and merit, or by keeping God’s law, can atone for our sins and acquire eternal salvation. But that is the very thing that we must let go of if we want to experience God’s mercy. If we deserve salvation, it does not come through God’s mercy. We only deserve His wrath because of our great sin, but He has shown us great mercy.
A few months ago as I was studying this very passage I received a phone call from a dear woman who was sobbing and threatening suicide. As I told her the good news about God’s forgiveness and mercy through Christ, she responded that she was a good person. It’s a rather ticklish matter to try to explain to a suicidal woman that she has too high a view of herself! But it was her clinging to the notion of her own goodness that prevented her from understanding and receiving God’s mercy which would have given her the hope of salvation.
If our salvation depends on our own goodness, it’s not very secure, to say the least! What if we do something bad? What if God doesn’t grade on the curve, or what if the curve is higher than we thought? To expect that we will get into heaven because of our own goodness is to face eternity with false hope. But if we let go of our supposed goodness and realize that we deserve God’s wrath, and we appeal to Him for His great mercy, then our hope of salvation is as secure as the mercy of God! Whatever problems we face, we can praise Him because our salvation comes from His great mercy!
Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again.” This reflects Jesus’ language to Nicodemus (with which Peter no doubt was familiar), that unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Just as we were born physically, so we must be born spiritually. And, just as we had nothing to do with our physical birth—we didn’t will it; we didn’t help the process; we didn’t decide, “I’d like to be born to these parents in this time and way”—so we cannot assist in our spiritual birth. It must come from the life-giving power of God (John 1:12-13; 6:44).
But this also gives us a reason to praise God. If our salvation comes from our effort or will or performance, then it rests on shaky ground. But if it comes from the sovereign will of God, based upon His mighty power to bring us out of spiritual death into life, then it’s a sure thing. However shaky life is, we can praise God because our deliverance from spiritual death comes from God, not from ourselves.
God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” If God had left Jesus in the grave, our salvation would not be complete. In His death on the cross, Jesus bore our sins. But if He had not been raised bodily, He would not have conquered sin and death. As Paul said, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
Peter was an eyewitness of the risen Jesus Christ. At first he did not believe the reports that Jesus was risen. But Christ’s many appearances to the apostles before He ascended into heaven turned Peter’s doubts into sure and convincing testimony. His depression and gloom over the crucifixion were turned into living hope—vital, strong, growing hope. Unlike worldly hope that often fades and grows weaker over time, living hope grows stronger as the day of its realization draws closer. Whatever trials we face, we can praise God because we have a living hope that rests on the sure fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Thus Peter wants us to know that no matter how great our problems, we can praise God because our salvation comes from God, not from ourselves or our efforts to obtain or keep it.
Peter goes on to describe our salvation as an inheritance, locked up in the bank vault of heaven, guarded against every intruder who might take it from us. And we are assured that God’s power is guarding us so that someday we will enjoy our inheritance.
I hate reading legal documents. Why attorneys can’t write in plain English is beyond me, except that it protects their jobs to write in language that no one else can understand. Reading or listening to legal documents being read has to be the ultimate boring activity. But there’s one legal document where we all would hang on every word: The reading of a will, when we know that we are named as heirs of a large inheritance.
Peter says that our salvation is an inheritance kept in heaven for us. Of course, Christ Himself is our inheritance. But it also includes all that He has provided and will provide for those whom He has purchased with His blood. It is so vast and indescribable that the only way Peter can describe it is by telling us some things that it is not: It is not perishable, not defiled, and not fading.
By imperishable, Peter means that our salvation is free from death and decay. Any human inheritance is subject both to death and decay. I may die before I can obtain and enjoy a human inheritance. I may be the heir to billions, but it won’t do me a bit of good if I die. If I manage to get it, it’s still subject to moth, rust, and thieves, as Jesus pointed out, so I could easily lose it. But our heavenly inheritance is imperishable; it can’t be destroyed.
Also, our inheritance is undefiled, which means that it’s free from moral impurity or uncleanness of any kind. Earthly inheritances can be tainted and they can taint the person receiving them. Families of wealthy men who have died have been known to degenerate into nasty quarrels that last for years as greedy family members fight over their share of the inheritance. Everyone is defiled by that kind of thing. But our heavenly inheritance is not that way. I can’t take anything from your inheritance and you can’t take anything from mine. God has plenty in store for us all.
Furthermore, our inheritance will not fade away. It is free from the ravages of time. Earthly inheritances get used up the more time goes on. But God’s riches are inexhaustible! Throughout eternity we will not get to the bottom of all that He has provided for us who are in Christ. His riches are reserved in heaven for us and nothing can diminish or destroy what God Himself has determined to give us!
But, you may be thinking, it’s nice that all that’s in heaven. But what if I don’t make it to heaven? What if I fall by the wayside so that I never get to where my inheritance is located?
“Protected” is a military term (see 2 Cor. 11:32) that implies that those who are born again are under enemy attack. Satan wants to keep us from gaining our inheritance. But we are surrounded by a garrison of troops conducting us with safe passage to the place where our eternal inheritance awaits us. But it is no vulnerable earthly army that protects us—it is the very power of God! What could be more powerful than the power of the God who spoke the universe into existence! Thus we are guarded for our salvation.
When Peter says that our salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time,” he means that we now only enjoy a small part of what God has laid in store for us. We couldn’t even begin to comprehend it all, but we can trust God that it will be far better than we can imagine. Heaven will not be the boring picture you see in cartoons—sitting around on clouds in white robes strumming harps forever. The creative God who made such a complex universe that modern science cannot even begin to figure it out can keep us creatively engaged throughout eternity.
Our salvation is ready to be revealed, like a statue waiting to be unveiled. The word “ready” is also used in 1 Peter 4:5 to warn that God is ready to judge the living and the dead. The future holds one or the other for every person: Either you wait to see the veil lifted on your salvation, or you wait to face God in judgment. Both are prepared. What determines your future is seen in the phrase, “through faith.” We receive God’s salvation and live the Christian life through faith.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I only wish I could have that kind of faith, but I don’t!” Ah, but you do! You have plenty of faith. The problem is, you’re putting it in the wrong object if it is not in the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did for you on the cross. If your faith is not in Him, then it is in yourself or in some god of your own making. If your faith is in yourself, then you’re saying, “I believe that I’m a good enough person to get to heaven by my own efforts.” That’s tremendous faith, but it’s placed on a very faulty and inadequate object.
God says that no flesh will boast in His sight. If you could get to heaven by your own good works, then you could boast in yourself. But God alone is worthy of glory. So He humbles us by making us let go of all trust in ourselves. We must cast ourselves completely on His great mercy. We cannot do this in and of ourselves. He must impart saving faith to us, which humbles our pride and gives all the glory to what God has done in Jesus Christ. Thus God has ordained that we receive His salvation by faith, not in ourselves, but in Christ alone. We live the Christian life in the same manner, trusting each day in what Christ is to us and what He has done for us. Those who have tasted of His mercy will persevere in faith until that great day when faith becomes sight.
Many years ago a team of mountain climbers began the dangerous descent of one of the peaks in the Swiss Alps. The first man in the line lost his foothold and slipped over the ledge. The next two men were dragged after him, but the experienced climbers above braced themselves and stood firm to bear the shock. But when the rope ran its length, rather than bearing the weight, it snapped like a string. Horrified, the climbers saw their friends fall to their deaths on the glacier 4,000 feet below. For half an hour the other three stayed immobilized with fear. Finally they nerved themselves to continue their perilous descent. Hours later they arrived in Zermatt to tell their sad story. When the climbers examined the rope to find out why it failed, they were shocked. True Alpine Club rope has a red strand running through it, but this rope did not. It was a weak substitute. (“Our Daily Bread,” 6/82.)
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing strong enough to save us from our sins. If your faith is in yourself or your own goodness, the rope will snap and you will perish. If your faith is in what God has done through Christ because of His great mercy, then no matter what problems you face now, you can join Peter in proclaiming, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, because He has saved me according to His great mercy. Because my salvation is not from myself, but from God, I am saved unto eternity!” It’s far better than inheriting $100 million!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
I find that there’s a lot of confusion among Christians about how we’re supposed to deal with suffering. Some say that if we suffer it’s because we lack faith. We’re supposed to claim healing by faith and deny all negative thoughts. This is clearly unbiblical, yet it persists.
Others say that Christians must go through suffering, but they’re supposed to do it with a smile on their face. They quote verses to suffering saints like, “Rejoice always.... In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:16, 18); “All things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). A few years ago I did a funeral for a man in his thirties who left a wife and two children. In the lobby after the service, the widow’s former pastor came bouncing up to her and said, “Praise the Lord, he’s in glory now!” I felt like punching him! That approach to suffering leads to hypocrisy and emotional problems, in my opinion. People put on the phony smile and mouth cliches, like “Praise the Lord,” but inside they’re hurting and not praising the Lord. They’re denying the grief and pain that are really there. It’s neither a biblical nor an emotionally healthy approach to suffering.
In reacting against that approach, some say that we need to express how we feel. We’re supposed to work through all the stages of grief. We’re told to vent all our anger, rage, and bitterness. If we don’t feel it, we’re in denial. People are even encouraged to rail at God, with the assurance that “He can take it. Tell Him how ticked off at Him you really are.” We’re told that if we don’t do this, we’ll create emotional problems for ourselves.
I would argue that none of these are biblical or emotionally healthy ways to deal with suffering. The biblical way is not to deny the pain or grief, but at the same time to have genuine joy in the Lord from the pits.
Hebrews 12:11 states plainly, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Paul spoke of his own experience through trials as being “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). He modeled it many times, but perhaps no where as clearly as when he and Silas sang praises to God at midnight from the Philippian jail, as their backs were laid open from the illegal scourging they had received (Acts 16:25).
Peter, in writing to suffering Christians, tells them that they greatly rejoice at the same time that they are distressed by various trials (1 Pet. 1:6). He is not denying the distress--the word means grief or pain. But neither is he discarding the genuine joy that a Christian can experience in the midst of the pain if he has the right perspective. Peter himself had felt it. After being flogged and warned to speak no further in the name of Jesus, he and the other apostles “went on their way ... rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). That’s joy from the pits! In our text, Peter tells us how to have it:
Because the Savior uses trials to refine our faith we can have joy from the pits by looking to Him and His salvation.
1 Peter 1:3-5 points us to our future inheritance in heaven; 1:6-9 directs us to our present joy amidst trials. From 1:6-9, I want to make three main points:
May I share some precious promises from Scripture you need to be familiar with:
Of Jesus it is written, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
Of us it says, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.... If you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:6, 8).
“All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
“In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33).
“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
Therefore, as Peter later says in our epistle, “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” (1 Pet. 4:12).
On one occasion while Jesus was still on this earth, Peter had said to Him, “Lord, we have left everything and followed You. What then will there be for us?” (Matt. 19:27). Jesus replied that anyone who left everything and followed Him would receive back in this life a hundred times as much as he gives up--houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, farms. Marvelous! Such a deal! Who wouldn’t sign up for such a program? But, then in the same breath, Jesus added, “... along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30).
In this life: trials, persecutions, hardships for Jesus’ sake--it’s part of the deal. Yes, there are untold blessings now, as Jesus makes clear. Yes, it’s a truly abundant life (John 10:10). But, yes again, the abundance is often the deep, abiding joy of salvation we feel from the pits. Trials are the mark of Jesus’ special love. No one loved by Him is exempt.
But, why? That’s what we always ask, isn’t it? Why does God take us through trials?
Peter shows us the purpose of trials, the perspective needed in trials and the final product of trials.
“That” (1:7) points to the purpose of the various trials of 1:6: that our faith might be tested or refined, like gold, to remove the dross so that at the coming of Christ there will be praise, honor, and glory. Faith is at the very heart of the Christian life. We are saved by faith; we walk by faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).
Peter both contrasts and compares faith with gold. He contrasts it in that faith is more precious than gold because gold is perishable, but faith isn’t. Gold won’t gain heaven, but faith will. All the gold in the world is worthless the instant you die and stand before God. Only faith in Jesus Christ will do in that day.
Peter compares faith with gold in that both are refined by fire. The words “proof” and “tested” have the nuance of testing with a view to approval. God does not test our faith to make it fail, but to burn off the dross and leave the pure gold. He does this by putting us in the furnace of affliction where we are forced to trust Him in ways we never would apart from such trials.
We need to be clear that there is such a thing as false faith that does fail. In the parable of the sower, Jesus said that in the shallow, rocky soil, the seed sprouted, but when the sun came out, it withered and died because it had no root. He explained that this refers to those who first receive the word with joy, but when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, they fall away, thus showing that their faith was not genuine (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17).
But genuine faith will grow stronger, not weaker, through trials. As the great hymn, “How Firm a Foundation” puts it, “The flame will not hurt thee, I only design, thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” Last year I was under attack from a number of people because of some things I was preaching. I read a comment by Martin Luther (Commentary on Peter and Jude [Kregel], pp. 39-40) where he said that if he had not been attacked as strongly as he had been, he would never have come to the place of certainty or to the full development on the doctrines of faith as he did. In a small way, I could identify with him, in that the Lord used the attacks against me to strengthen my understanding of the basic truths of the gospel which are under attack in our day.
George Muller, a great man of faith, housed, clothed, and fed over 2,000 orphans at a time simply by faith and prayer. He refused to tell potential donors of the needs of the work, even when directly asked, but instead would take the needs to God in prayer. He went through times of severe trial. For one seven-year period, he seldom had funds for more than three days’ needs for the orphans, and often the need was met on the very day, sometimes at the exact moment the children sat down to eat. Muller wrote,
The Lord gives faith, for the very purpose of trying it for the glory of His own name, and for the good of him who has it; and, by the very trial of our faith, we not only obtain blessing to our own souls, by becoming the better acquainted with God, if we hold fast our confidence in Him, but our faith is also, by the exercise, strengthened: and so it comes, that, if we walk with God in any measure of uprightness of heart, the trials of faith will be greater and greater (A. T. Pierson, George Muller of Bristol [Revell], p. 439).
Thus the purpose of trials is to refine our faith.
We like to hike. Last summer we climbed Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite, which gives one of the most panoramic views of Yosemite National Park. You can see the whole lay of the land. You gain perspective that you simply can’t get while you’re hiking the trails below.
In the same way, it helps to gain God’s perspective on trials. Peter does that by reminding us that they are temporary: “for a little while.” Maybe you’re thinking, “A little while? Good grief, I’ve been going through this trial for years!” That’s a little while compared to eternity. Paul expressed the same thing when he said, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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 Cor. 4:17-18).
Trials are temporary; salvation is eternal. In a short while, Jesus Christ is returning in glory and we will spend all eternity with Him. Our present trials, no matter how great, will pale in significance in the light of eternity. Thus, in the midst of our pain, we can have great joy if we will focus on the shortness of time and the eternal glory that awaits us when Jesus returns.
Peter also adds perspective by saying that trials are necessary (“if necessary”). They are necessary, as we just saw, to refine our faith. But also, I think Spurgeon is right when he says that not only the trials, but also the distress, is necessary. He argues (“The Christian’s Heaviness and Rejoicing,” Spurgeon’s Sermons [Baker], 5:210-221) that it is needful that sometimes a Christian’s spirit even be cast down. Christ experienced distress even unto death in the garden. If a Christian doesn’t go through those times when he is depressed, Spurgeon argues, he will grow proud, he won’t be able to relate to others who suffer, and he will miss lessons that we learn no other way. He cites Luther as saying that “affliction is the best book in my library.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, who became a Christian before his death, said late in his life, “Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, everything I have learned, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness” (Reader’s Digest [1/91], p. 158).
The third perspective Peter offers is that trials are under God’s control. This is the overall implication here--that God is using trials as a goldsmith, watching the molten metal, skimming off the dross until He can see His face reflected in it. To know that God is sovereign is a great comfort when you’re going through trials. He hasn’t forgotten you. He wasn’t asleep or on vacation when your problem hit. He is working all things, including our trials, for good according to His sovereign plan (Eph. 1:11; Rev. 6:9-11).
Thus the purpose of trials is to refine our faith; the perspective we need in our trials is that they are temporary, necessary, and under God’s control.
The result will be “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Whose praise, glory, and honor is Peter talking about? Since God alone is worthy of praise, glory, and honor in the ultimate sense, we could argue that His praise alone is in view. But there is a secondary sense in which God will reward believers at the coming of Christ with praise (1 Cor. 4:5; Matt. 25:21, 23), glory (Rom. 2:7, 10; Col. 3:4), and honor (Rom. 2:7, 10; 2 Tim. 4:8). We share these because of our identification with Christ (Rom. 8:17), and we will properly cast all honors back at His feet. Yet we can endure trials knowing that we will be rewarded when Christ returns.
Thus the Savior takes all whom He loves through trials; He does it to refine our faith.
“In this you greatly rejoice” (1:6). In what? In our great salvation just described in 1:3-5. Even though we are in the pits, temporarily distressed by our trials, we can look to our Savior and the salvation He has provided, which we already have begun to enjoy, but which we won’t experience in full until He returns, and we will have an inexpressible, glorious joy that floods our souls right there in the pits. How do we gain this joy from the pits? Three ways:
We’ve already seen that trials are to purify our faith. Peter says (1:8) that inexpressible joy in trials comes through believing in Jesus even though we do not see Him. We need to understand that faith is not an automatic response. Neither is it passive endurance. Faith is actively choosing to trust God in spite of my circumstances. Faith is putting my weight down on the firm promises of God. Spurgeon said that trials aren’t just to burn out the dross, but also to burn in the promises.
In a time of trials, it seems as if Christ is not there with you. So by faith you must say, “He promised to be with me even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), He promised never to leave or forsake me (Heb. 13:5), so I lay hold of Him right now by faith.” As Jesus told Thomas, who didn’t believe in His resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29). That’s us! We will be blessed when we look to the Savior by faith even when we’re in the pits. It’s our choice and duty.
Note the future look of these verses. I’ve already mentioned the temporary nature of our trials in light of eternity. Peter mentions the revelation of Jesus Christ. That means His coming, but it brings out a subtle nuance that is important to grasp, namely, that Jesus is present but unseen right now, but the day is coming when He will be revealed. (Peter repeats this word, in noun or verb form, in 1:5, 7, 13; 4:13; 5:1.)
Also, Peter emphasizes the future sense of our salvation (1:9). In the New Testament, there are three tenses of our salvation. Once we have truly believed in Christ, we can say, “I have been saved from sin’s penalty” (John 3:36; Titus 3:5-8). But also, all who have been saved must say, “I am being saved from sin’s power” (1 Cor. 1:18; 15:2). Some day we will be saved from sin’s presence (Rom. 5:9-10; 13:11; 1 Pet. 1:9). Thus in a time of trial, we look with hope to the Savior who has saved us, is saving us, and will save us completely when He returns.
“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him” (1:8). Love for Jesus Christ in response to His ultimate love for us as seen in the cross, is the central motivation for the Christian life. It’s so easy to drift into the place of the church in Ephesus, which Jesus commended by saying, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who called themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” Wow! What more could you want, Lord? “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:2-4).
It’s easy to drift there in your marriage, isn’t it? You’re faithful to one another. You live together in relative harmony. You function as husband and wife, you raise your children, you pay the bills and do the other things required to run a household. But somewhere the romance went cold. You need to rekindle the delight in your spouse you once knew.
It’s the same with the Lord. We can be dutifully living the Christian life, but we’ve lost the romance with Christ. I’m talking here not just about commitment, which is the core of love, but also feelings which stem from that commitment. I agree with Jonathan Edwards, that the core of religion is emotional. Our hearts need to be filled with love for Jesus Christ.
How do we cultivate and maintain that kind of love for our unseen Savior? Three thoughts:
First, Spend time alone with Him. You can’t cultivate love for your mate if you never spend time alone together. If you want to love the Lord more, spend time alone with Him in His Word and in prayer.
Second, Obey Him. In our day of “sloppy grace,” people think that obedience is legalism and has no place under grace. Those who think so need to read their Bibles. Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love” (John 15:10). The apostle John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3). If you are disobeying God, you will not be able to love Him as you should.
Third, Come frequently to the Lord’s table. It is a time to look to the Savior and the salvation He provided for us at the price of His blood. He knew that we tend to forget, so He instructed us to do it often in remembrance of Him. It’s a time to receive His love and express your love back to Him. As you look to Christ and His salvation, as seen in those elements, you will experience His joy, even from the pits.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, © The Lockman Foundation
As you think about your life, what consistently brings you the most joy? Some might answer, “My family”; but for others their family is the source of their greatest pain. Some may say, “My friendships” or “this new guy (or gal) I’m dating.” A few may answer, “My job” or “career.” Some may not be honest enough to say it, but they really live for their possessions or hobbies or leisure activities. Or, some might be brutally honest in saying, “I don’t have much joy in my life.”
For every Christian, the true answer ought to be, “The thing that brings me the most joy in life is my relationship with the Lord and the full salvation He has provided.” The Lord and His salvation ought to be the hub of our lives from which radiate out the spokes of joy in our families, our friendships, our jobs, our possessions, and our other activities. If you take away the hub, everything else would crumble into meaningless ruin.
Yet I fear that for too many Christians, salvation is nice, but not necessary. It adds a little fulfillment to their well-rounded lives, but it’s not the essential core without which life would disintegrate. If they were honest, they would ask with a shrug of their shoulders, “What’s so great about salvation?”
God has a sure-fire method of getting us to answer that question: He puts us in the fires of affliction! Trials have a way of getting us to focus on the bare essentials of life. What really matters? What am I living for? What gives life meaning and makes it count? And, of course, the more life-threatening the trials, the more focused we are.
In 1777, Dr. William Dodd, a well-known London clergyman, was condemned to be hanged for forgery. When his last sermon, delivered in prison, was published, a friend commented to Samuel Johnson that the effort was far better than he had thought the man capable of. Dr. Johnson’s classic reply was, “Depend upon it, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Peter’s readers were enduring affliction. Some may have been facing martyrdom for their faith. Some were under pressure in their homes from pagan spouses, in their jobs from pagan employers, and in their communities from pagan acquaintances. Some were probably wondering, “Why suffer for our faith? Is it worth all the pain I’m going through?” Peter’s answer is to get them to look up from their suffering to their salvation and see, “It’s more than worth it because our salvation is so great! The salvation we enjoy is that which the prophets struggled to understand and into which the angels long to look!”
Because our salvation is so great, we should joyfully endure present suffering in light of the future glory.
To trace Peter’s flow of thought, in 1:3-5 he points his readers to the greatness and certainty of their future inheritance in Christ. In 1:6-9, he shows how this great salvation results in inexpressible joy, even in the midst of present trials. In 1:10-12, he goes back to the past prophetic revelation about this great salvation to show how unsearchable it is—neither the prophets nor the angels fully grasped it—and how privileged we are who have received it. He means to encourage believers in the midst of trials. Just as Christ first suffered and then was glorified, so Christians may now suffer, but there’s glory ahead. If we will focus on the incomprehensible greatness of our salvation, we can joyfully endure present trials.
Our text shows five reasons our salvation is great:
Peter uses the word “grace” in 1:10 (and 1:13) as a synonym for the salvation which we have received but won’t completely understand until Christ returns. As I mentioned last week, there are three tenses of our salvation: We were saved from sin’s penalty when we put our faith in Christ; we are being saved from sin’s power as we walk by faith; and, ultimately we shall be saved from sin’s presence as we persevere by faith.
I want to camp on the word “grace” for a minute, both because it is an important word to Peter (used ten times in this book: 1:2, 10, 13; 2:19-20; 3:7; 4:10; 5:5, 10, 12) and because it is a widely misunderstood concept in our day. Many Christians confuse grace for a hang-loose, laid-back flavor of Christianity that urges us not to be too rough on ourselves and not to be judgmental of others. We end up being tolerant of all sorts of sin that the Bible strongly confronts.
Grace is undeserved favor. You cannot appreciate God’s grace until you both understand cognitively and feel emotionally how unworthy you are to receive anything other than judgment from the holy God. All true Christians agree that we’re sinners, but many quickly turn around and argue that we’re worthy persons, not unworthy. We’re being told that the root of all our problems is low self-esteem. So one of the major tasks for Christians has become to build their self-esteem. One best selling book confronts the notion that we should view ourselves as sinners saved by grace:
Is that who you really are? No way! The Bible doesn’t refer to believers as sinners, not even sinners saved by grace. Believers are called saints—holy ones—who occasionally sin. (Neil Anderson, The Bondage Breaker [Harvest House], p. 44.)
I was raised in a Christian home and believed in Christ at an early age. I’ve lived a relatively clean life. I’ve always subscribed to the biblical teaching that I am a sinner. But as a young Christian, I had no idea how sinful my heart really is. The more I’ve grown in Christ, the more I see how desperately wicked I am, which makes me cling to the cross more fiercely and revel in God’s grace more joyously. I’ve had to learn that grace isn’t God giving a little boost to a basically decent, churchgoing young man. Grace is God’s mercy to me whom He justly could send to hell. It’s only when I feel how much He has forgiven me that I will love Him much because of the wonder of His grace.
God’s grace, properly understood, is not at odds with obedience to God’s Word. Rather, grace is the motivation for obedience (Rom. 2:4). No sooner does Peter tell us that we should fix our hope completely on God’s grace (1:13) than he tells us to be obedient and holy (1:14-15). An emphasis on grace is not opposed to an emphasis on obedience.
But don’t miss the point: Our salvation is great because it’s the message of God’s grace. That means that there’s hope for every sinner, no matter how great his sin! That’s good news! The only thing that keeps you from experiencing God’s grace is your pride that tells yourself that you’re a good person who doesn’t need grace. If you’ll confess your sin, the cross of Christ is sufficient to forgive you completely.
The Old Testament prophets made careful search and inquiry as they sought to know what time (a better translation than “person”) or circumstances the Spirit of Christ was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (1:10-11). Peter is saying, “The salvation you have received is the very thing that these great men of God spent their lives looking for!” That doesn’t mean that they weren’t saved. But they couldn’t understand it the way we do because they lived before Christ came.
Some have explained it by saying that the prophets saw two mountain peaks: Mount Calvary, where Christ would die for our sins; and, Mount Olivet, where He will return in power and glory to set up His kingdom. But they couldn’t see the valley between the two peaks, much as we can’t when we look at two distant peaks. So they didn’t grasp that the same Messiah who would suffer for our sins would ascend into heaven for 2,000 years before returning to reign in glory.
Note how Jesus Himself interpreted the prophet Isaiah when He was preaching in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-21): He read a few verses, then stopped in the middle of the verse and announced, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Why didn’t Jesus finish the verse from Isaiah? Because it goes on to say, “And the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 62:2), which refers to His second coming in judgment. It’s easy to see why the Old Testament prophets missed the 2,000-year gap between the two halves of that verse!
Note also Daniel 9:2-3, where Daniel seeks by prayer and fasting to grasp what Jeremiah had prophesied. In answer to his prayers, God gave him the prophecy of the 70 weeks (9:24-27), which I’m sure Daniel himself did not understand! In 12:8, Daniel admits that he couldn’t understand what the angel was telling him about the future. He was told that these things are concealed for the end time (12:9).
The question arises when we suffer: What if Christianity isn’t really true? What if I’m believing in myths or something purely psychological? What if I’m suffering for nothing? Peter’s answer is that our salvation is rooted in prophecies made hundreds of years before Christ came. Even though the prophets didn’t understand everything the Holy Spirit (here called the “Spirit of Christ” because He bears witness to Christ) revealed to them, it has been fulfilled in the death, resurrection, ascension, and promised second coming of Christ. As Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:19, “We have the prophetic word made more sure.” Our salvation is great because it is nothing less than that predicted throughout the Old Testament.
Two applications: (1) Read the Old Testament! So many Christians neglect the Old Testament, complaining that it’s too hard to understand. It is hard to understand in places. Daniel himself had trouble! But it speaks to us of Christ. We will be impoverished if we neglect it.
(2) Apply yourself diligently to understand the Bible. I confess that I’ve never sought the Lord with prayer, fasting, sackcloth and ashes, and confession of sin as Daniel did to understand a portion of Scripture! But so often we just give up in frustration rather than applying ourselves to try to understand and obey God’s Word. Peter admits (2 Pet. 3:16) that some of Paul’s stuff is hard to understand. But God saw fit to put it in Scripture, so we need to seek Him to grow in respect to our salvation.
The prophets weren’t religious geniuses who invented all the things in the Bible. They got their stuff from the Holy Spirit. Verse 11 establishes the divine inspiration of the Old Testament. As Peter explains (2 Pet. 1:21), “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The apostles didn’t cook up their own message, either. Peter tells his readers that those who preached the gospel to them did so “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Pet. 1:12).
When we talk about the inspiration of the Bible, we mean that “God superintended the human authors of Scripture so that using their own personalities they composed and recorded without error His message” (Charles Ryrie, Study Graph, “Bible Doctrine I” [Moody Bible Institute]). As Charles Hodge put it (Systematic Theology [Eerdmans], 1:154), “Inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in such a sense the organs of God that what they said, God said.”
A critic may argue that we’re reasoning in a circle: We say that the Bible is inspired because the Bible says it’s inspired. Any book can make that claim for itself. But if you read the Bible, you discover that it is a self-authenticating book. Though written by many different authors over thousands of years, there is a unity and integrity to the Bible that could not exist apart from supernatural influence. Furthermore, if you reject the divine inspiration of the Old Testament, you must reject the teachings of Jesus Himself, because He repeatedly taught that Scripture is from God (Matt. 5:17-18; 22:31-32, 43; John 10:35).
Thus our salvation is great because it is the message of God’s grace; it was predicted by the Old Testament prophets; it is revealed by God to man.
Peter says that even the angels long to look into our salvation! The word “look” means to stoop to look into (it was used of Peter stooping to look into the empty tomb--John 20:5) or to gaze intently at something (James 1:25). It implies intense interest. When Satan and the other fallen angels sinned, God did not provide salvation for them. He provided it only for fallen human beings, and that at great cost: He took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and died in our place on the cross. His plan is that His manifold wisdom might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). Jesus taught that the angels rejoice over the salvation of one repentant sinner (Luke 15:10).
Whatever angels know, we can assume that they know a lot about God. They stand in His holy presence (Isa. 6:1-3). They are sent out to do His will (Heb. 1:14). They have tremendous authority and power (2 Pet. 2:11; Jude 8-9). They’re impressive beings! And yet, there is something about the majesty of God’s Being that He is teaching even the angels through our salvation! How privileged we are to enjoy such a great salvation!
Jesus Christ is the center of world history. His coming to this earth, His dying for our sins, His resurrection, His ascension into heaven, and His promise to return bodily, are the most important facts in human history. Nothing else comes close by way of comparison. He is the center of all Scripture. As the risen Savior spoke to the men on the Emmaus road, “‘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). Christ is at the center both of human history and of Scripture.
And the cross is the central reason Christ came to this earth. Thus, as Alexander Maclaren declares (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], 1 Peter, p. 47), it is not enough to preach Christ; we must preach Christ crucified. It is not enough to preach the ethical teachings of Jesus, although we must seek to live by them. It is not enough to point to Jesus as our great example, although His life should be our model. It is not even enough to speak of His death as a brave sacrifice, unless we make it clear that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). He accomplished that salvation through His death on the cross.
When Paul reasoned from the Scriptures with the Jews in Thessalonica, he explained and gave evidence “that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead,” saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” (Acts 17:3). The sufferings of Christ refer to His death that satisfied the justice of God as payment for our sins. The glories of Christ refer to His resurrection, His ascension, His present exalted place at the right hand of the Father, His bodily return, and His future reign in power and glory. Our salvation is great because it is centered on these, the most crucial truths in history.
This point stems from the context of our text. Peter is arguing that our salvation is so great that whatever we must endure for Christ’s sake now is nothing compared with the glory that awaits us. Just as Jesus first wore the crown of thorns and then the crown of glory, so with us who follow Him. We may suffer now, but we already have tasted of this great salvation that the prophets foretold and into which the angels long to look. We can’t even fathom all the riches which God has in store for those who love Him. So when you suffer for Jesus’ sake, hang in there with joy, knowing that glory lies ahead!
When you study your Bible, one secret is to look for words that are repeated for emphasis. Sometimes these words are not significant in themselves, but their repetition makes them significant. In our text, there is a word that occurs once in 1:10 and three times in 1:12 that drives home Peter’s message: the word “you.” He writes of “the grace that would come to you“ (1:10); “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” (1:12). The point is simple: Even though the message of God’s salvation is the greatest message in human history, it does you no good unless you personally lay hold of it by faith.
I began this message by asking, “What consistently gives you the most joy in life?” The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 begins with a similar question: What is your only comfort in life and death? It’s a personal question with both temporal and eternal implications. If your honest answer is anything other than, “Jesus Christ and the salvation He has given to me by faith,” you need to do some serious soul-searching. You may be a church member or even involved in Christian ministry, but if you’ve never responded personally to the great salvation God provided in Jesus Christ, you are lost. I fear that as in Jesus’ day, so today it is often the most outwardly religious who have the most difficulty responding to the salvation Christ provides because it requires admitting that we are not good people; we’re undeserving sinners.
Years ago, Bishop John Taylor Smith, a former chaplain general of the British army, was preaching in a large cathedral on the text, “You must be born again.” He said, “My dear people, do not substitute anything for the new birth. You may be a member of a church, ... but church membership is not new birth, and our text says, ‘You must be born again.’ The rector was sitting on his left. He continued, “You may be a clergyman like my friend the rector here and not be born again, and you must be born again.” On his right sat the archdeacon. Pointing at him, he continued, “You might even be an archdeacon like my friend here and still not be born again, but you must be born again. You might even be a bishop like myself and not be born again, but you must be born again.”
He finished his message and went his way. But several days later he received a letter from the archdeacon which read, in part, “My dear Bishop: You have found me out. I have been a clergyman for over 30 years, but I have never known anything of the joy that Christians speak of. I could never understand it. But when you pointed at me and said that a person could be an archdeacon and not be born again, I understood what the trouble was. Would you please come and talk with me?” Of course, Bishop Smith did talk with him and the archdeacon responded to Christ’s call to salvation (H. A. Ironside, Illustrations of Biblical Truth [Moody Press], pp. 49-50).
If you do not know today the great joy of salvation, perhaps it is because you have never personally responded to Jesus Christ. Why not do so right now? Then you will know what’s so great about salvation!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
A California driver’s license examiner told about a teenager who had just driven an almost perfect test. “He made his only mistake,” said the examiner, “when he stopped to let me out of the car. After breathing a sigh of relief, the boy exclaimed, ‘I’m sure glad I don’t have to drive like that all the time!’” (Reader’s Digest [1/84].)
That boy was like a lot of churchgoing Americans. They put on a good front when they know someone is watching, but the rest of the time they let down their standards. There’s not much difference between them and those in the world, except that they go to church a little more. The divorce rate among Christians is about the same as in society at large. In fact, the third highest divorce rate occupationally, after doctors and police, goes to pastors! Christians watch the same TV shows and movies for the same number of hours weekly as everyone else. Christian youths are involved in sexual immorality to the same extent as those not naming Christ as Savior. Many Christian businessmen have a bad reputation. It would seem that our Christianity doesn’t have much effect on the way we live.
I know of no text that needs to be burned into the thinking of American Christians more than 1 Peter 1:13-16. Writing to many who had come from pagan backgrounds, living in a pagan society where there was great pressure to conform, Peter calls his readers to holiness in light of the coming of Jesus Christ and the holy character of the God who calls us to salvation. He makes three points:
To be holy people, we must be focused on Christ’s coming, obedient in all of life, and growing in our knowledge of God’s holiness.
The word “holy” means to be separate. When applied to God, it points to His transcendence, that He is above and beyond His creation in such a way as to be distinct from it. Contained in the word is the notion of God’s purity, that He is totally separate from all sin. When God calls us to holiness, it means that we are to be set apart from the world unto God, separate from all sin. But since sin dwells in the very core of our being as fallen creatures, how can we ever hope to be holy?
There are three senses in which we are holy (or “sanctified”) as God’s people. The moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, we are positionally sanctified or set apart unto God. Then we must be progressively sanctified by growing in holiness. This process will not be complete as long as we’re in this body, but we must actively work at it (Gal. 5:16; Rom. 8:13). When we meet the Lord we will be perfectly sanctified, made completely like Him (1 John 3:2).
Dr. Ryrie illustrates these three aspects of sanctification with a little girl with a new lollipop. She sees her friend coming and knows that she should share her lollipop, but she doesn’t want to. So she sets apart that lollipop unto herself by licking it all over. Now it’s hers. Then she starts licking it to make it progressively hers. Finally the process is over when the lollipop is completely gone. If we belong to God, He has set us apart unto Himself. He is progressively making us like Him. And someday we will be completely like Him.
Let me make it plain at the outset that you cannot get to heaven by striving to be holy. Good works cannot pay the penalty for our sins. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can satisfy the justice of God. We must put our trust in Him, not in our good works. But, if our faith in Christ to save us is genuine, it will result in a life of progressive holiness. If a person is not striving against sin and seeking to grow in holiness, it is doubtful whether his faith was saving faith. Scripture says, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, NIV).
Peter shows us three ways that we can be developing a holy lifestyle as those who have trusted in Christ:
The Greek text has only two commands in 1:13-16: “Fix your hope”; and, “Be holy.” The other action words are participles which are dependent on the main verbs. Thus the sense of 1:13 is, “Girding your minds for action, keeping sober, fix your hope completely on the grace being brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Thus the command is to have a determined focus on the grace that will come to us when Christ returns. There are three aspects of this focus:
“Gird up the loins of your mind” is a figure of speech stemming from the fact that the men in that day wore long outer robes which got in the way when they needed to run, work or fight in a battle. So they would tuck their robes into a belt so that they wouldn’t be a hindrance. We might use the expression, “Roll up your sleeves.” The idea is, be mentally prepared for combat or action in the realm of holiness. One commentator puts it: “We must begin to act as those who mean business” concerning this matter of holiness (Alan Stibbs, The First Epistle General of Peter, Tyndale N.T. Commentaries [Eerdmans], p. 85).
The point is, holiness begins in your thought life. What you think determines how you live. One of the most practical things I can tell you about living the Christian life is: Deal with sin on the thought level! Judge wicked thoughts the instant you have them, confess them to God and replace them with thoughts of Him and His Word. If you are envious of someone, judge it, confess it, and ask God to replace it with His love for that person. If you are lusting after a woman (or man), deal with it instantly. Flee from it, both mentally and physically! As Paul put it, take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).
It’s on the thought level that your Christianity is either real or fake. You can fool everyone else, but God knows your thoughts. If you’re faking it and not cultivating a holy thought life, sooner or later it’s going to come out in the open in some form of sin that everyone can see. There isn’t anyone who ever committed adultery who didn’t first entertain the thought in his mind.
You need to guard what enters your mind as carefully as you guard what you eat. You wouldn’t think of eating garbage from the gutter because it would make you sick. If you feed your thoughts daily on the sensual, materialistic garbage on TV and in the other media and you seldom feed on God’s Word, you will not become a holy man or woman. Peter says that we must fix our hope completely on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Holiness begins in our minds as we think often of our Savior and the gracious salvation we will fully experience when He returns and we are changed into His likeness!
“Being sober” (1:13) is a favorite word for Peter (he uses it 3 of its 6 uses in the New Testament-- 1:13; 4:7; 5:8). It literally means “not drunk,” but obviously has a spiritual application, meaning to be alert and self-controlled. It refers to clarity of mind and the resulting good judgment. The noun is used as a qualification of elders and women who serve as deaconesses (1 Tim. 3:2, 11, “temperate”).
Peter uses it in 5:8: “Be sober, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” If a literal lion were on the loose outside, it wouldn’t be wise to go for a stroll out there! You wouldn’t be goofing off. You’d be on the lookout for any sign of it. You’d make sure your kids were indoors. You’d warn them sternly of the dangers. You’d take every precaution so that you wouldn’t become his next meal!
The point is, we live in enemy territory. If you feed your mind on the garbage of the world and don’t feed on God’s Word, it’s like getting drunk and staggering outside when there’s a lion on the prowl. You’re dead meat! You’re not going to be a holy person. Maybe you’re thinking, “This sounds kind of legalistic!” But notice:
“Fix your hope completely on the grace being brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” God’s grace is the motivation for holy living. As I mentioned last week, the word here and in 1:10 is used as a synonym for our salvation. The “therefore” in 1:13 also points us back to the great salvation Peter talks about in 1:3-12. The present participle, “being brought to you” hints at the fact that we’ve already begun to enjoy what God is going to unveil completely when Christ returns. The word “brought” “underscores the sovereign action of God in bringing grace to his people” (J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary 1 Peter [Word], p. 56).
Why does Peter tell us to focus on the grace that will be brought to us when Christ returns rather than on the grace we’ve already received? I can’t be dogmatic, but I think it’s because his readers were going through intense trials. Peter is telling them, “You’ve already tasted of God’s salvation in Christ, but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Just hang on through the trials and focus on the fact that God is going to bless you beyond what you can imagine, not based on what you deserve, but based on His undeserved favor!” That future grace should motivate us to live holy lives right now, no matter how much we suffer.
Thus the first aspect of developing a holy lifestyle is to focus on Christ’s coming, being alert in our thinking, motivated by God’s grace.
There are three things involved in such obedience:
“Do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance” (1:14). The word “conformed” is used only one other time in the New Testament, by Paul in Romans 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [there’s that concept again!] that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Phillips paraphrases it, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within ...”
Our past lifestyle was marked by our efforts to fulfill selfish desires. The word “lusts” (1 Pet. 1:14) refers not only to sexual lust, but “to all kinds of self-seeking, whether directed toward wealth, power, or pleasure” (Michaels, p. 57). It brings out the strong emotional tug of temptation and sin. These lusts have full sway in unbelievers because they are ignorant of God and His holiness and grace as revealed in His Word. But as Christians, growing in our knowledge of God, we don’t have to be controlled by selfish desires. We make a break with the self-centered living that marked us before we met Christ and now live under His lordship and for His purposes.
I think this explains much of the shallow Christianity of our day. People “invite Jesus into their heart” because they’re told that He will give them an abundant life. If they like what Jesus is doing for them, if they feel that their lives are happier now than before, they’ll let Jesus “stay in office.” But they’ve never made a break with their past life. They’ve never repented of sin or yielded to Christ as Lord. They’re still running their own lives, living for the same selfish desires they formerly lived for. The only difference is that now they’re trying to “use Jesus” to fulfill selfish desires. That’s not saving faith. Saving faith involves repentance. It makes a break with the past lifestyle and seeks to follow Jesus as Lord.
“As obedient children” (1:14) is a Hebrew expression that means “characterized by obedience,” or “habitual obedience.” The implication is that God is our Heavenly Father whom we obey. His Word tells us how He wants us to live. We ought to obey God as a conditioned response. Such obedience is not legalism, but rather should characterize those under grace. Peter quotes from the Law (Lev. 19:2) and applies it directly to his readers under grace: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” We are not under the ceremonial or civil laws of Israel. But God’s moral law stems from His holy nature and is just as applicable under grace as it was under law (see 1 Cor. 9:21). As God’s children, we need to get in the habit of asking, “What does God’s Word say?” Then we obey it.
“Be holy yourselves in all your behavior” (1:15b). The word behavior is another favorite for Peter (6 of 13 New Testament uses are in 1 Peter, with two more in 2 Peter). It refers to conduct or, what we would call “lifestyle.” That Peter here links “holiness” with “behavior” and adds the word “all” is significant because many pagan religions of that time separated “cultic holiness” from everyday life. Peter is saying that our separation unto God is to affect every area of life, both private and public. There is no such thing as secular life that is not sacred for the Christian.
J. I. Packer, in his excellent book, A Quest for Godliness [Crossway], subtitled, “The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life,” makes the point that the Puritans did a good job of integrating their Christianity into every aspect of life, from the most intimate aspects of married life to the most public aspects of political and social life. He writes (pp. 23-24), “There was for them no disjunction between sacred and secular; all creation, so far as they were concerned, was sacred, and all activities, of whatever kind, must be sanctified, that is, done to the glory of God.”
That kind of integrated living eliminates hypocrisy. There’s nothing that turns people off more than to see someone who professes to be a Christian, but whose lifestyle denies it. Kids read it loud and clear in their parents. This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect. It means that you live with integrity, confessing sin when you blow it, making your Christianity practical in every aspect of life. We’re the only “Bible” many unbelievers will ever read. Just as we can learn quite a bit about a father by watching his children, so the world learns about our Heavenly Father by watching His children. That means that we must learn to obey our Father in all of life.
Thus, to be holy people we must be focused on Christ’s coming and obedient in all of life.
“Like the Holy One who called you,” and “You shall be holy for I am holy,” imply that we know something about who this Holy God is. The Christian life is a process of growing to know God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This knowledge of the Holy One has a transforming effect on our lives. We can never be as holy as God is holy, since such absolute holiness belongs to God alone. But we can and must grow in personal holiness as we grow to know our Holy God.
Both Stephen Charnock, in his classic work, The Existence and Attributes of God ([Baker], 2:112) and, more recently, R. C. Sproul, in his The Holiness of God ([Tyndale], p. 40), point out that no other attribute of God is elevated to the third degree. The Bible never says of God, “Eternal, eternal, eternal,” or “Love, love, love,” or “Mercy, mercy, mercy.” But it does say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3).
We are a bit flippant and shallow in our knowledge of God in our day. Many Christians talk about God without any fear of the awesomeness of His absolute holiness. John MacArthur tells about a well-known charismatic pastor who told him that sometimes in the morning when he’s shaving, Jesus comes into his bathroom and puts His arm around him and they talk together. I like John’s incredulous reply: “And you keep shaving?!” Every time in the Bible someone gets a glimpse of Christ in His resurrected glory, the person falls on his face!
It was Isaiah who had that vision of God on His throne with the angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy.” As both A. W. Tozer (The Knowledge of the Holy [Harper & Row], p. 110) and Sproul (pp. 41-44) point out, it was an emotionally violent, personally disintegrating experience. Sproul writes (p. 45), “In the flash of a moment Isaiah had a new and radical understanding of sin. He saw that it was pervasive, in himself and in everyone else.” To whatever extent we gain insight on the holiness of God, we will gain equal insight on the magnitude of our sin. At the same time, we will revel in the amazing grace of God who saved us through the cross of Jesus Christ. That knowledge will make us more holy in all our behavior.
Today I’m probably speaking to some whom God is calling to repent of sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I may be speaking to others who are faking the Christian life outwardly, but inwardly, you’re not living in holiness. You’re not dealing with sin in your thought life. It’s only a matter of time until you fall outwardly. I may be speaking to yet others who have fallen outwardly. Your life is not right before God, even though you profess to know Christ as Savior.
The solution is the same for all: To turn to God from your sin and appeal to Him for a clean conscience and an obedient heart, based on the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for you. Listen to what God says in Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” That’s good news! God, though He is altogether holy and exalted, condescends to dwell with those who humble themselves before Him! Like the father of the prodigal son, God joyfully welcomes all who turn back to Him!
Leonard Ravenhill has written (source unknown), “The greatest miracle that God can do today is to take an unholy man out of an unholy world, and make that man holy and put him back into that unholy world and keep him holy in it.” He does it as we focus on Christ’s coming, as we’re obedient in all of life, and as we grow in our personal knowledge of God’s holiness.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
If you’re motivated, you can do amazing things. What would motivate a person to get out of bed in the middle of the night and read with avid interest a boring, technical book? Every parent of a sick child who has read Dr. Spock at 3 a.m. knows the answer! What would motivate a person to go sit out in an icy wind for an hour on a Saturday when there are other pressing things to do? The love of our son who was playing soccer has caused Marla and I to do that very thing.
What would make a college student stay up all night banging away at his computer? Surely his body is crying out for sleep! Surely he’s not so intrigued by his subject that he just can’t quit! He’s motivated by a professor who said, “The term paper will count for 25 percent of your grade. No late work will be accepted. No exceptions!”
Why don’t we read our Bibles with the consistency and fervency that we should? Why don’t we pray as we ought? Why don’t we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness? Why do we get more excited about sports or leisure activities than we do about talking with a neighbor about Christ? Why don’t we strive to be holy people in every area of life? Why do our hearts grow cold toward the things of God?
The answer is that, for one reason or another, we lack motivation. If we can kindle the right motivation, we will not fall into lukewarmness (Rev. 3:14-22). We will be fervent in spirit, all-out for the Lord.
In 1 Peter 1:13-16, the apostle calls us to a holy lifestyle in light of the great salvation which God has freely given to us. But, holiness is not an easy thing! It doesn’t happen automatically. To be a holy person in a corrupt world, we must live carefully. We must be focused in purpose. We must fight against the lusts of the flesh and the pull of the world. We must be distinct, which often means standing alone in the face of group pressure. To succeed, we’ve got to be motivated. So Peter goes on to answer the question, “Why be holy?” In 1:17-21, he gives both a negative threat and a positive incentive which should motivate us to be holy people.
We should be holy because our Father is also our Judge and because He redeemed us at infinite cost.
Some say that negative threats do not motivate as well as positive incentives. But God includes plenty of negative threats in the Bible as motivators. So we’d best not shrug them off! Peter begins with a threat:
This is actually a mixed motivator. The fact that we call upon God as our Father is a wonderful thing, picturing the best of any earthly father-child relationship and raising it far above that. It means that we are His children, the objects of His special love. I love kids, but there is a special place in my heart for my own kids. Watch any father at a soccer game or school play and his eyes are on his child. “There he is! Did you see how he did that?” Maybe the thing the child did was unimportant. But that dad’s eyes are on him and he blows it all out of proportion, because it is his child.
That God is our Father means that He cares for us more than any earthly father cares for his own children. What father wouldn’t pay a million dollars, if he had to, to get adequate medical care for his child? What dad wouldn’t risk his own life to save his child from danger? A fierce dog once went after Christa when she was a toddler riding in the seat on the back of my bike. I had enough adrenalin pulsing through me that if I could have gotten a hold of that dog, I would have torn him apart with my bare hands! A father cares for his kids!
That God is our Father means that He is tender with us and that we can be intimate with Him. When my children were infants, I loved holding them on my lap or cuddling with them on my shoulder. When they were a bit older, I welcomed them climbing up on my lap and telling me about their day. Even now I want them to feel my tender concern and to know that they can share any struggles with me and that I’ll listen and care. God is far more that kind of Father to us!
But Peter says that the same one we address as Father is also the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work. He is our loving Father, but He’s also our impartial Judge! We can climb up on His lap and know that He will tenderly welcome us, but we dare not forget that He also scrutinizes our lives and that someday He will judge every motive of our hearts.
That should cause us to conduct ourselves with fear during our stay on earth (1:17). The phrase “the time of your stay” uses the same word root as the word translated “aliens” in 2:11. It is used in Acts 13:17 to refer to Israel’s stay in Egypt. It implies a short stay on this earth in light of eternity. Since we’re just here temporarily, we shouldn’t settle in as if it’s permanent. We shouldn’t live for this world’s rewards, but rather for the eternal rewards which the impartial Judge will hand out when Christ returns.
The phrase “conduct yourselves” is the same word translated “be holy yourselves in all your behavior” (1:15) and translated “way of life” (1:18). It means lifestyle. Thus the “work” God is going to judge is not so much a list of particular good deeds as it is our entire way of life--how we conduct ourselves in thought, word, and deed at home, on the job, in the world, and in the church.
The “fear” of which Peter speaks is not paralyzing dread or terror, but rather the kind of fear you have knowing that you must give an account of your life. It’s the kind of fear that motivated you to study in college because you knew that the final exam was coming. I used to see two basic responses to that kind of fear. Some guys would goof off all semester. They’d sit outside the library talking to the girls when they should have been studying. They wouldn’t keep up in reading the textbook. They would be hit and miss about attending class. Then, right before the big exam, they’d panic. They’d come around begging for any insights that those who had been diligent studying all semester could give them on how to pass the final exam. That wasn’t the way that fear of the final was supposed to work.
Others of us didn’t like to put ourselves into a position of stark terror. So we would discipline ourselves. If we had to read a 500 page textbook in 15 weeks, we’d divide up the pages and keep up. We’d get on the task of writing papers early in the semester so they didn’t stack up. We’d never skip class and we’d always take copious notes. There was still some fear about the final, but it wasn’t the dread of not being prepared. The fear of giving account on that final motivated us to do what we had to do during the semester to get ready.
That’s how the fear of standing before God someday should motivate us as His children. If we have truly put our faith in Christ as Savior, we know that we won’t fail: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But, as Paul tells us (1 Cor. 3:12-14), our works will be tested with fire at the judgment seat of Christ. If our work remains, we will receive a reward. If our work is burned up, we will suffer loss, but we will be saved, although as through fire. I don’t know exactly what that means, but the imagery of going through fire is scary enough to motivate me to live in fear of the Lord on a daily basis now.
Alexander Maclaren writes (Expositions of Holy Scripture [Baker], “Father and Judge,” [1 Pet. 1:17], p. 69):
I suppose in Peter’s days, as in our days, there were people that so fell in love with one aspect of the Divine nature that they had no eyes for any other; and who so magnified the thought of the Father that they forgot the thought of the Judge. That error has been committed over and over again in all ages, so that the Church as a whole, one may say, has gone swaying from one extreme to the other, and has rent these two conceptions widely apart, and sometimes has been foolish enough to pit them against each other instead of doing as Peter does here, braiding them together as both conspiring to one result, the production in the Christian heart of a wholesome awe.
He wrote that 100 years ago, but it’s no different today. I think the pendulum has swung toward God as all-loving and non-judgmental. Don’t throw out His love: He is our tender Heavenly Father. But don’t forget the final exam: He is the impartial Judge! Our lifestyle (“conduct”) proves the reality of our faith. We must live in holy reverence because our Father is also our Judge.
This is the positive motivation to a holy life. Peter reminds us of something we know (“knowing,” 1:18) but are prone to forget: That we’ve been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus told us to partake of communion often in remembrance of Him, because thinking about what He did for us is the greatest motivation to holy living. I keep pictures of my family in my office. As I look at them during the day it stirs my heart because of the love we share. Communion is our picture of the Savior and His love. If your heart is not moved to greater purity and love for Christ when you stop to think of what He did in dying on the cross for you, then there’s something seriously wrong with your relationship with Him.
Redemption means to buy back with the payment of a price. Our text brings out three facets of redemption:
For us redemption sounds like a theological term, but for Peter’s readers, it was an everyday word loaded with emotional meaning. There were millions of slaves in the Roman empire and many of them had become Christians. Some of them had been born slaves. Others had become slaves when Rome conquered their land. Still others had become slaves by falling into debt. But every slave knew that he was not his own man. He could not come and go as he pleased. He wasn’t free to do what he wanted to do. He belonged as property to another person. The slave was in bondage and felt it.
Every person who has not been redeemed by Christ is in bondage to sin and death. Peter describes it here as “the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers.” Life is futile apart from Jesus Christ! You live for yourself, trying to grab all the things that you think will bring you happiness. You work hard, gain a few things, lose a few things, get sick and die. If you’re “lucky,” you stave off death until you’re 80 or 90. If you’re not so lucky, you die sooner. What’s the point of it all? It’s futile!
Only Christ can redeem you from this futile bondage to sin and death. He forgives your sins and gives you power to live a holy life. He takes the sting out of physical death with the certain promise of being raised up to spend eternity with Him. He gives you the lasting purpose of working for His cause, assuring you that “your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
One of the reasons for the shallow Christianity of our day is that people don’t feel deeply enough the bondage of their futile way of life. We enjoy a pretty good life these days. We have the highest standard of living in the world. And along come Christians and say, “Wouldn’t you like to receive Jesus as your Savior? He will give you an abundant life! He will help you solve your marriage problems. He will help you deal with your children.” And people think, “I have a pretty good life, but I guess I could use a little something extra. Sure, I’ll try Jesus.”
But that’s not the point! The point is, apart from Jesus Christ, you’re in bondage to sin and futility, heading for hell! This isn’t something that some Fundamentalist preacher dreamed up. Jesus taught this. He said that hell will be an awful place (Mark 9:43-48) and that unless we repent, we will perish (Luke 13:3, 5). Unless we feel the bondage of being enslaved to sin and death and hell, we won’t appreciate what Christ did in shedding His blood for us on the cross.
Joseph Parker, a 19th century London pastor, wrote (in Preaching Through the Bible [Baker], “The Precious Blood of Christ” [1 Pet. 1:19], p. 294), “Where there is no conviction of sin--conviction amounting to the very anguish of the lost in hell-- there can be no felt need of so extreme a remedy as is offered by the outpouring of the blood of Christ.” He goes on to point out that when a man feels that he has not sinned deeply, he is in no mood to receive what he considers the tragic appeals of the gospel. But, when he feels that he has sinned and is deserving of hell--lost, damned-- then his need can be met by nothing other than the “the sacrificial ... personal ... precious blood of Christ.” It took nothing less than that precious blood to redeem us from bondage.
A slave in Roman times could be redeemed by the payment of a certain amount of silver or gold. The world values these metals above all else. They are among the most imperishable metals. But Peter calls them “perishable things” and implies that they are cheap in comparison with “the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
The imagery goes back to the very first people on this earth. God warned Adam and Eve that if they sinned, they would surely die. He meant not only physical death, but also spiritual death, separation from Him. When they did sin, God mercifully did not kill them on the spot. Instead, He killed animals and made skins for them to cover the nakedness which they had tried to cover with their own fig leaves. It must have shocked them to see the death of that animal, to watch its lifeblood soak into the ground! God was showing them that the life is in the blood and without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.
Years later God told Abraham to offer his beloved son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah. By faith Abraham proceeded to obey what had to be the most difficult command God has ever given to a human being (except the cross). At the last moment, God intervened and provided the ram caught in the thicket as the sacrifice, thus illustrating the great cost that He, the Heavenly Father, would pay in giving His own Son for our sins.
Why can’t God just forgive sins without the shedding of blood? God could not relax the penalty and still be just and holy. None of us could serve as a substitute for others, because we all have our own sin to pay for. Only Christ, who was without the blemish or spot of sin, could offer Himself in our place--the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. That’s the cost of our redemption!
For us to continue living in sin after such a price was paid would be comparable to a woman whose husband loved her dearly and gave his own life to save her from a rapist and murderer. After the funeral she sought out this vicious murderer and pursued a romance with him. Unthinkable! That is precisely Peter’s argument: Because God redeemed us at infinite cost, we dare not cavort with the sin for which Christ shed His precious blood.
Thus Peter wants us to see that redemption implies previous bondage; and, it involved great cost to God. Third,
Peter knew the tendency of the proud human heart to boast in its own attainments. We don’t want to be humbled into receiving redemption at God’s expense; we want to pay for it. We want to work for it. We want to hang on to our pride that says, “I am a self-made man! I am worthy! I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps. Of course, God gave me a little boost, but I helped Him out!” Peter says, “No! No! No! Redemption is totally of God!”
In the first place, God planned it before we ever sinned: “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20). The cross wasn’t God’s last-minute plan put into place after man fell into sin. He ordained it well in advance of the creation of the human race. “Foreknowledge” doesn’t just refer to God’s knowing in advance. It implies His purpose. But just because God predetermined it doesn’t absolve sinful man of responsibility. In his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said, “This Man [Jesus], 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).
Second, redemption is of God because God executed the plan at the proper time: Christ “has appeared [been manifested] in these last times” (1:20). At the proper time in human history, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, God sent His Son into this world. We had nothing to do with it. We didn’t vote on it and elect Jesus as Messiah. God sent Him and revealed Him as the Savior.
Third, redemption is of God because God applied it to us: Christ appeared “for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God” (1:20-21). Christ died for your sake! It wasn’t a blanket policy; it was personal. If you believe, it’s because God imparted saving faith to you through Christ (Eph. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:25). All you can do is humbly give Him the glory.
Finally, redemption is of God because God completed it by raising Christ and giving Him glory. God raised Jesus bodily from the grave, to which Peter and the other apostles and many others were witnesses. The apostles saw the risen Jesus ascend into heaven where He now sits at the right hand of the Father in glory, awaiting the day of His return. Christ’s resurrection proves that God is able to raise the dead. Thus even if we suffer as Christians, even to the point of martyrdom, we can know that He will raise us and fulfill His promises to us. Peter adds the phrase, “gave Him glory,” to remind his readers that though, like Jesus, they suffer now, there is glory ahead.
The bottom line is, “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price: therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In light of our great redemption from the bondage of sin and death; redemption which cost the Son of God His precious blood; redemption which God provided while we were still His enemies, apart from any merit on our part; we must live in holy reverence before Him.
A seminary student told of how, when he was a boy, he fell in love with golf. His parents gave him a club and a harmless whiffle-type golf ball which he could hit around the back yard. But one day, thinking his parents weren’t home, he was overcome with the temptation to feel the click of a real golf ball against the club. He teed up and gave it a hard whack. But the ball was not hit properly. It hooked from its intended flight and went directly through one of the windows on the house with a loud crash. Even worse, the crash was followed by a piercing scream.
The boy ran for the house, burst into the living room and, to his horror, saw his mother standing in front of the broken window with blood streaming down her face. He cried out, “Mother, I could have killed you!” His mother hugged him and said reassuringly, “It’s all right. I’m okay!”
The seminary student concluded the story by saying, “When I saw my mother bleeding, there were some things I could never do again in the back yard. I could never so much as carry a golf club across the lawn of our back yard. The sight of her standing there with blood flowing down--blood that I had caused--changed my behavior forever.”
Peter wants us who are the children of God to see the great price He paid to redeem us from our sins. Seeing the Savior’s blood should motivate us to be holy. As C. T. Studd put it, “If Christ be God and died for me, there is nothing too great that I can do for Him.”
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
We live in a culture which has taken some biblical words and used them in a way that redefines and cheapens them so that they no longer mean what the Bible means. But then they seep back into the vocabulary of Christians with their devalued meaning.
Take the term “born again.” The media uses it to describe anyone who makes a comeback or gets a fresh start in life. A baseball team that has been in the cellar and suddenly starts winning is called “the born again” Dodgers. Chrysler under Lee Iacocca was a “born again” corporation.
And so it’s not surprising when over 50 percent of Americans say that they’re “born again Christians.” They mean that they had some sort of religious or emotional experience that resulted in a fresh start in life. It may have involved praying to Jesus or “inviting Him into their hearts.” But in most cases, they have no idea what the Bible means by being born again.
Another word that has become devalued is “love.” We say, “I love pizza”; “I love New York” (I saw a bumper sticker that said, “If you love New York, please get on I-40 and drive east”); “I love baseball”; “I love my dog”; “I love my family”; “I love Jesus.” But what does it mean?
It’s like the little girl who was invited to dinner at her friend’s home. The vegetable was buttered broccoli. The mother asked if she liked it. She replied politely, “Oh, yes, I love it!” But when the broccoli was passed she declined to take any. The hostess said, “I thought you said you loved buttered broccoli.” The girl replied sweetly, “Oh, yes ma’am, I do, but not enough to eat it!”
I bring up these two terms, “born again” and “love” because they are central to understanding Peter’s thought in 1 Peter 1:22-25. If we allow our culture’s devalued definitions of these words to affect our thinking, we will miss what the apostle is saying. So as we work through these verses, we must keep in mind the biblical definitions of these words and consciously reject our culture’s definitions of them.
Peter was writing to scattered groups who represented the first Christians in an otherwise thoroughly pagan world (1:1). Through God’s mercy they had been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). These scattered groups of believers were made up of both Jews and Gentiles, a radical cultural mix in that day. And they were being persecuted for their faith. As often happens in our families, suffering turns small irritations into conflict and triggers friction that otherwise might not exist. Thus Peter, after showing them that being a Christian requires a holy lifestyle, brings the rubber of holiness down to the road of life and shows that the new birth demands a new love in the family of God:
Christians must love because they have been born again through God’s imperishable Word of truth.
As we saw last week on the subject of holiness, Peter stated the demand (1:15-16), but then went into a lengthy rationale as to why Christians must be holy, namely, because their heavenly Father is also their judge and they have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1:17-21). He does a similar thing here with the subject of love. First, he states something that is true of his readers due to their conversion: They had purified their souls in obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren (1:22a). Then he states the consequent demand: “Fervently love one another from the heart” (1:22b). He follows this with a theological truth relative to their conversion, which he supports with a lengthy quote from Isaiah 40:6-8: They have been born again through God’s imperishable Word (1:23-25).
Thus Peter is saying that the kind of holiness he has been describing, holiness which stems from the new birth, must work itself out in love for fellow Christians. We’ll look first at two aspects of the new birth; and then we’ll look at the new love that must follow. Keep in mind that we must define “the new birth” and “love” from a biblical perspective, not as our culture defines them.
To understand verse 22 properly, we must see that Peter is talking about something that takes place at conversion or the new birth. If this were not so, Peter could not state, as he does, that this purity of soul in obedience to the truth was true of his readers. At conversion, a person begins a new life of obedience to the truth of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. The outward symbol of this obedience to the truth is baptism, which pictures the inward purification from sins that takes place when a person trusts in Christ. Thus when Peter talks about his readers purifying their souls in obedience to the truth, he is referring to their obedience in baptism.
We need to be clear on two things here. First, baptism does not save anyone. Personal faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves a person from God’s wrath and judgment. But baptism is the way a person who has trusted Christ confesses Him publicly. We’ve gotten away from this in our day and have replaced it with walking the aisle. Preachers will say that we must confess Christ publicly (which is true) and then encourage people to get out of their seats in front of everyone and come forward. But the New Testament way of confessing Christ is to be baptized. But baptism does not save the person. Baptism is the outward symbol of obedience to Christ that reflects the inward reality of saving faith.
I heard a message by Stuart Briscoe in which he tells about being in a village in Bangladesh with the elders of that village who were Muslims by birth and background, but who had put their trust in Christ as Savior. They were sitting cross-legged on a dirt floor discussing whether they should all publicly confess Christ by being baptized. They could believe in Christ with no consequences. But if they were baptized, they would be tried and convicted as heretics and would be publicly beaten with bamboo rods. Since most of these men were old and somewhat frail, this could very likely result in their deaths.
That brings “obedience to the truth” of the gospel down to the most basic level, doesn’t it! Would you be baptized if you knew that it meant social ostracism, a public beating, and perhaps death? Briscoe reported that to his knowledge, all of these men went through with being baptized. I don’t know if any of them died from the beatings. But the baptism didn’t save them. It did prove the reality of their faith in Christ which did save them.
That leads to the second thing we must be clear about: There is no such thing as saving faith apart from obedient faith. There is a pernicious error in our day that you can believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, but obedience to Him as Lord is optional. If you want a fire insurance policy to protect you from hell, then believe in Jesus as your Savior, but you don’t need to go all the way and obey Him as Lord. You can just go to church when it’s convenient, drop a few bucks in the offering plate now and then, and call yourself a Christian. But if you like hardship and suffering, if you think that denying yourself and taking up a cross and living a holy life sounds adventurous and exciting, then you can sign up for the discipleship track. You’ll be rewarded with a few extra benefits in heaven.
Please listen carefully, because your eternal destiny depends upon your understanding this: There is no such distinction in the Bible. Christians are those who have purified their souls in obedience to the truth. In 1 Peter 1:2, Peter says that we are chosen “unto obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ” (literal translation). The word “obedience” stands alone grammatically and refers to the initial acceptance of the gospel. In 1 Peter 2:8 and 3:1, he refers to unbelievers as those who are “disobedient to the word.” In 4:17 he refers to unbelievers as “those who do not obey the gospel of God.”
In Romans 1:5, Paul describes the goal of his own mission as “to bring about the obedience of faith among the Gentiles.” In Romans 10:16, he states that not all heed (the word means, “obey”) the gospel, and then cites Isaiah 53:1 as corroborating: “Lord, who has believed our report?” Believing and obeying are used interchangeably. In Romans 16:26, he says that the preaching of the gospel leads “to obedience of faith.” In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul says that when Jesus Christ returns, He will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
John 3:36 makes the same connection between belief and obedience: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Acts 6:7 refers to the spread of the gospel in the days following Pentecost, when a number of the Jewish “priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
Does this mean that true Christians never disobey God? Of course not! But it does mean that there is no such thing as a characteristically disobedient believer. If a person claims to be saved, but lives in chronic disobedience to God and disregard for His Word, the person is deceived (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 6:7; 1 John 3:7). Saving faith is marked by purification of the inner man and obedience to God’s truth. Part of that obedience involves sincere love for the brethren.
Thus Peter’s first point is that the new birth is marked by purity of soul in obedience to the truth.
Grammatically, “you have been born again” (1:23) is parallel to “you have purified your souls” (1:22) and could be translated in the same way, “Since you have been born again.” Peter is stating an accomplished fact with continuing results which is the basis for his command to love one another. The idea is that the new birth which takes place through God’s eternal Word brings us into a new, eternal family where God is our common Father. Peter brings out two facets of this new birth which takes place through God’s Word:
The Greek participle (“have been born again”) is passive, pointing to God’s action in the new birth. J. I. Packer defines the new birth as “an inner re-creating of fallen human nature by the gracious sovereign action of the Holy Spirit” (“Regeneration,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker], ed. by Walter Elwell, p. 924). It is God who saves us “by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
He does it through His Word (both preached and written). James 1:18 affirms: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth ....” The only way we can know God is through the revelation He has given about Himself. Men can speculate about what God is like, but it is only through revelation, not speculation, that we can truly know God. He has chosen to record that revelation in the Bible. Thus He uses the truth contained in the Bible, especially the truth about His Son who gave Himself on the cross for our sins, to bring about the new birth in human hearts.
Wherever the Bible has gone and the good news about Jesus Christ recorded in the Bible has been preached, whether among a savage tribe or in a sophisticated, educated culture, the miracle of new birth has taken place. People are transformed inwardly by God’s power through His Word, not through human self-improvement.
A skeptic once told Gaylord Kambarami, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Zimbabwe, “If you give me that New Testament I will roll the pages and use them to make cigarettes!” Gaylord replied, “I understand that, but at least promise to read the page of the New Testament before you smoke it.” When the man agreed, Gaylord gave him the New Testament and that was the last he saw of him for 15 years.
Then, while Gaylord was attending a Methodist convention in Zimbabwe, the speaker on the platform suddenly spotted him, pointed him out to the audience and said, “This man doesn’t remember me, but 15 years ago he tried to sell me a New Testament. When I refused to buy it he gave it to me, even though I told him I would use the pages to roll cigarettes. I smoked Matthew and I smoked Mark and I smoked Luke. But when I got to John 3:16, I couldn’t smoke anymore. My life was changed from that moment!” That man is now a full- time evangelist, preaching the Word he once smoked! God uses His Word to bring the new birth!
Peter describes the new birth as coming from an imperishable seed, in contrast to the perishable seed of human birth. That imperishable seed is the Word (Luke 8:11) which is living and abiding. Thus the new life which God imparts through His Word is eternal, not subject to death.
Peter quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8 (LXX) to support his point. In the context, Isaiah was writing prophetically to God’s people who had been taken into captivity in Babylon, comforting them that God would fulfill His promises by restoring them to the land. Babylon, outwardly, was one of the most impressive and powerful kingdoms on the face of the earth. The hanging gardens were considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. The walls of Babylon seemed impenetrable.
But Isaiah says, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls off; but the Word of the Lord abides forever.” In other words, don’t be fooled by the outward impressiveness of Babylon. It will fade like a flower, but God’s Word will stand forever! Of course, God’s Word through Isaiah proved true. In case they missed the point, Peter adds, “This is the word which was preached as good news to you.” Thus when you are suffering in an alien world that looks glamorous and seems lasting, don’t be fooled. It will fade and perish; but the new birth you possess through God’s Word will abide forever.
This new birth, marked by purity of soul in obedience to the truth, which takes place through God’s imperishable Word, is the basis for the command Peter gives to love one another:
Peter’s readers were suffering as aliens in a foreign world. If you were an American living in a strange country like Tibet, and you were being hounded for being an American, and you heard that there was another American also in the same city, you’d seek him out. You’d cling to him as one who understood what you were going through. This would be especially true if the person were a blood relative, born to the same family as you. That’s Peter’s point, that those who are members of God’s family through the new birth must stick together in this alien world.
The implication of verses 22 & 23 is that this new love is the necessary result of the new birth; and, yet, it is not automatic and thus must be commanded and nurtured. In other words, when you purify “your souls in obedience to the truth,” which, as we’ve seen, is a reference to saving faith, that obedience took you down a one-way path toward sincere love for the brethren. Because that is true, you must exert yourself to do it, to love fervently from the heart. Paul writes the same idea (1 Thess. 4:9-10): “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more.”
I’ve developed this definition of biblical love: Biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment which shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved. Thus it is not a sentimental feeling, like so much modern love, since at its core it is a commitment. It does not mean always being “nice,” since sometimes the commitment to seek a person’s highest good involves confronting them in a way that causes pain. If I have a choice between a doctor who is nice and who gives lots of hugs, and who sends me out the door feeling good; and another doctor who says, “Steve, I’m going to be honest: You’re very sick. The cure will be painful, but it will make you well”; give me the second doctor. He’s the one who really loves me! He’s willing to confront the sickness in my life and he’s committed to helping me get better.
Love is always caring, even when it must confront. It is not devoid of feelings of compassion and tenderness. It often involves sacrifice on the part of the one extending it. The highest good for anyone, of course, is that he comes under the lordship of Christ so that his life gives glory to Him.
Peter describes this love here in three ways: First, it is a sincere love. The word means “not hypocritical” (see Rom. 12:9; 2 Cor. 6:6; 1 John 3:18). Biblical love is not affirming and gushy to a person’s face but then disparaging of him when he’s not around. It’s not manipulative, trying to butter a person up for one’s own advantage, while in your heart you despise him. Biblical love doesn’t try to use someone for the “connection” for personal gain.
Second, it is a clean love. There is strong manuscript evidence for the reading, “fervently love one another from a clean heart” (1:22). In other words, love is not for impurity, such as sexual favors. Neither should it be a camaraderie because of common sinful pursuits, such as going out drinking or partying together. You cannot love if you harbor unconfessed sin in your heart. It must stem from a clean heart.
Third, it must be a fervent love. This word stems from a verb meaning to stretch out or strain. It implies effort and emotion. It is used of Jesus’ fervent prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44) and of the church’s fervent prayer for Peter when he was in prison facing execution (Acts 12:5). It shows that while love is an emotion, it is more than an emotion. It can be commanded and thus involves the will. It involves hard work and effort. It’s not always easy. But it is required as a crucial part of the outworking of our salvation.
I want to conclude by asking two important questions: First, Have you truly been born again, not just in the American cliche sense, but has God’s Spirit imparted spiritual life to you? You ask, “How can I know for sure?” There are several tests given in the Bible, but the test which comes from our text (and is developed repeatedly in 1 John) is, “Do you obey God’s truth?” It’s not that you never sin, but is the desire and bent of your life to please the Savior who loved you and gave Himself for you? It will be impossible for you to love others as God wants you to do if you have not been born again. So you must put your trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord as the primary matter.
Second, Are you working at loving as you should? That may sound like a contradiction, since our culture says that you either have love or you don’t and there’s not much you can do about it. But God’s Word says that if we’ve been born again we must work at having a sincere love, a clean love, and a fervent love, especially toward other Christians. You may need to begin at home or with an extended family member. It may be someone in this church. But if you’ve received the new birth, you’ve got to work at the new love. Christians must love because they have been born again through God’s imperishable Word of truth.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
In his book, A Quest for Godliness [Crossway Books], subtitled “The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life,” J. I. Packer reports that a Puritan preacher named Laurence Chaderton once apologized to his congregation for preaching for two hours. They responded, “For God’s sake, sir, Go on, go on!” Ah! Every preacher’s dream! At 82, after preaching for 50 years, Chaderton decided to retire. He received letters from 40 clergy begging him not to, testifying that they owed their conversion to his ministry of the Word (p. 57). Packer states (p. 98):
Puritanism was, above all else, a Bible movement. To the Puritan the Bible was in truth the most precious possession that this world affords. His deepest conviction was that reverence for God means reverence for Scripture, and serving God means obeying Scripture. To his mind, therefore, no greater insult could be offered to the Creator than to neglect his written word; and, conversely, there could be no truer act of homage to him than to prize it and pore over it, and then to live out and give out its teaching. Intense veneration for Scripture, as the living word of the living God, and a devoted concern to know and do all that it prescribes, was Puritanism’s hallmark.
I assure you that I won’t preach for two hours (or even one hour) this morning. But I would to God that He would use my feeble attempt today to motivate each of you to get into God’s Word consistently. More than the food you eat, you must have God’s Word! Cut out of your life newspapers and television, and even sleep itself, if you must; but you must have God’s Word in your life! That is Peter’s point:
We must have God’s Word to grow in our salvation.
He writes, “Therefore (because you have been born again through the living and abiding Word of God), like newborn babes, crave the pure, spiritual-rational milk, that by it you may grow toward salvation.” God’s Word not only imparts life to us, it nurtures and sustains it. Apart from God’s Word, we shrivel and die like a starving child whose mother’s breasts have dried up and who has no other source of food. Therefore, we must have God’s Word.
We’ll look at three things: What the Word is like; How to be motivated to drink it in; and, How to drink it in.
I could spend many messages here, ranging over the whole Bible. But to limit myself to these verses we learn three things:
The Greek word means, literally, not deceitful. It is the same word as in verse 1 (translated “guile”) with an alpha added to the front, which negates the meaning. It means unadulterated, not watered down. Dishonest merchants in that day would add water to their milk to make more profit. This was “deceitful” milk. Peter tells us to long for the pure, not-deceitful milk.
This means that the Bible, if you take it straight, tells you the honest truth about yourself. It exposes the very thoughts and motives of your heart so that you have no where to hide (Heb. 4:12-13). It is not uncommon, after I preach, to have someone come up to me and ask, “Did anyone tell you about what I went through this past week?” When I assure them that no one told me anything, they say, “It seemed like you knew everything and you were aiming that sermon directly at me.” It isn’t me; it’s the Bible! We tend to deceive and flatter ourselves. But the Word of God cuts through the deception and lays out the honest truth so that we can deal with our problems.
I must warn you that there are legions of so-called evangelical churches where the Word of God is being watered down by upbeat preachers who want to be liked and who want to make everybody feel good about themselves. But that’s like going to a doctor who doesn’t talk about sickness, but who gives his patients sugar-coated pills that make them feel good without dealing with the root cause of their problems. As the Lord said to Jeremiah, “They have healed the wound of My people superficially” (Jer. 6:14).
The Bible declares that the root cause of our problems is our sin. By confronting our sin and presenting God’s remedy for it, the Bible brings lasting healing. So I try to preach the Bible in its pure, not-deceitful form, because then it confronts us with where our lives have gone astray and shows us God’s way to get back on the path.
The literal translation of verse 2 is that we should long for “the pure, spiritual milk.” The word “spiritual” also means “rational” (Greek = “logikos,” from “logos”). The only other time it occurs in the Bible is in Romans 12:1, where Paul says that presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice to God is our “spiritual (or rational) service of worship.” He means that it is a spiritual thing to do, since we don’t do it literally (as a burnt offering), but rather spiritually by yielding ourselves to the will of God. And, it is the reasonable thing to do in light of God’s great mercies to us.
Thus the term is purposefully ambiguous. Peter uses it to show us that he’s not talking about literal mother’s milk, but rather about the spiritual milk of the living and abiding Word of God (1:23). This spiritual milk is rational--it is grasped with the mind. Thus Christianity is essentially rational, but not rational in the worldly sense, but rational in a spiritual sense. Human reason must be subject to the written revelation God has given of Himself in the Bible. But you cannot know God without using your mind, since He has revealed Himself in the propositional revelation of the written Word.
Dr. Packer says that the Puritans were educators of the mind. They believed that “the mind must be instructed and enlightened before faith and obedience become possible” (p. 69). While they deeply believed that God’s truth must affect not only the head, but also the heart, they also “regarded religious feeling and pious emotion without knowledge as worse than useless. Only when the truth was being felt was emotion in any way desirable” (p. 70).
This balance would correct many of the excesses of our day. I meet many Christians who are heavily subjective. They operate on a feeling level, devoid of solid theological content. Others emphasize theological content, but they’re afraid of emotions. The Word of God ought to fill our minds with the knowledge of God and move our hearts with His majesty and love.
Peter is referring to a mother’s milk, as the analogy of newborn babes makes clear. He isn’t contrasting the milk of God’s Word with meat, as Paul does (1 Cor. 3:2). We are always to be feeding on this nourishing milk. It is simple enough for the youngest infant in the faith, but solid enough for the most mature saints.
God has designed a mother’s milk as the perfect food for newborn babies. It will immunize her baby from many illnesses and nourish her baby for growth. God’s Word will protect Christians from the many spiritual diseases which abound and nourish them to grow in the Lord. A mother’s milk will make her baby grow for months without any other food. God’s Word will nourish Christians so that they “grow toward salvation” (2:2). Peter means salvation in its ultimate sense, which includes everything that God has provided for us who are His children. We never reach a place in this life where we can stop growing.
One thing about kids is that they’re excited about growing. Just about every home with children has a growth chart. Every few months you measure your kids and say, “Wow, look how much you’ve grown since last time!” God’s children should be that excited about growing in respect to their salvation. Just as physical growth is not instant or readily seen, so with spiritual growth. You probably won’t see it day to day. But if you keep feeding on the milk of the Word, you will be nourished toward growth.
That’s what the Word of God is like: It’s pure; it’s rational; it’s nourishing milk that will make you grow toward salvation.
Peter says that we should be as motivated as a newborn babe is for his mother’s milk. I didn’t understand this analogy until we had children of our own. Newborn babies have an intense craving for their mother’s milk! It doesn’t matter if it’s 3 a.m. If they’re hungry, they let you know about it and don’t stop letting you know about it until they get what they’re after! You can stick your finger in their mouth and they’ll suck on it for a minute (and what powerful cheek muscles they have!). But then they realize that they aren’t getting any milk, and they’ll spit out your finger and scream for the real thing. A couple of times, I made the mistake of holding our newborn babies with my shirt off when they were hungry. To a newborn, a nipple is a nipple, even if it’s on a hairy chest like mine! When they latched on to my nipple, I gained new insight on what Peter meant here!
The question is, How do you get that kind of motivation for the Word of God?
In the context, it is clear that these relational sins (2:1) will hinder your motivation for the Word (2:2). To “put off” means to cast aside like you take off dirty clothes. These sins are baggage from our past before we were born again. They surround us as we live in this sinful world. They are standard operating procedure for many people in the world, especially when they get into a tough situation. But Peter says that they are opposed to spiritual growth and they must be discarded like dirty clothes.
Let me quickly go over the list: “Malice” is a general word for wickedness of every kind, but especially having it in for someone. “Guile” originally meant “bait” or “snare,” thus came to mean deceit. It means to tell someone something that isn’t true, so that you trick or mislead them. It involves having ulterior motives in your communication. “Hypocrisies” (plural) comes from a word meaning to wear a mask and refers to the many ways we can project a false image to people. If we are inconsistent between how we behave at church and how we behave at home or at work, we are engaging in hypocrisies.
“Envyings” refers to the attitude behind much deceit and hypocrisy. It means being jealous of another person or their things. It was the motive behind the crucifixion of Jesus: the religious leaders were envious of His popularity (Mark 15:10). Envy often works itself out in all sorts of “slanderings.” This word means to speak against someone. Of course, it often goes with deceit. The slanderer says nice things to the person’s face but disparaging things behind his back, with the motive of making himself look good in everyone else’s eyes.
Christian communication stands against all these worldly ways. We are to speak the truth in love with a view to building up the other person (Eph. 4:15, 29). Peter says that we are to put off these wrong ways of relating, which implies that we are both responsible for these sins and able, with the Spirit’s power, to stop doing them. You don’t need years of therapy and delving into your past to stop doing these things. It is a matter of obedience. Make a decisive break with your past and commit yourself to live as a Christian. If you don’t, you won’t be motivated to drink in God’s Word.
“If [or, “since”--there is no doubt implied] you have tasted that the Lord is kind.” For Peter, Christ is the Lord (as 2:4 makes clear). Since this is a quote from Psalm 34:8 (LXX), it shows that Peter believed Christ to be God (“Yahweh” for the psalmist). Psalm 34 must have been Peter’s favorite--he quotes from it again in 3:10-12. Also, the theme of Psalm 34 is roughly the same as that of 1 Peter: “If in distress you seek the Lord, He will deliver you from all your troubles (4), for ‘though the afflictions of the righteous are many, the Lord will rescue them out of them all’ (19)” (J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude [Baker], p. 87).
Peter here is referring especially to the Lord’s kindness or grace that was shown to us when we trusted Him as Savior and Lord. If you’re saved, you have tasted of the Lord’s kindness, because you know that though you deserved His judgment, He showed you mercy. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The cross of Christ, where a holy God made provision for me, the sinner, so that I could experience His forgiveness and receive eternal life as a free gift, ought to be the focus of every Christian every day. That’s why communion is so important; it focuses us on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Tasting of the Lord’s kindness motivates us to drink in His Word.
I am amazed at how many Christians do not read their Bibles! Maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m not a reader.” Learn to be a reader! God chose to communicate His Word in written form. Reading is a learned skill that most people can master. While you’re learning to read, get the Bible on tape and listen to it. But you also need to learn to read.
If you’re new as Christian, start in the New Testament. Read it through several times. Also, read the Psalms and Proverbs. Then, tackle the whole Bible. You can read through the Bible in a year if you read 15-20 minutes a day. Get a Ryrie Study Bible or something similar in a modern translation to help you understand the flow of thought. You won’t grasp it all in a lifetime. But pray that God would show you something about Himself, about yourself, and about how He wants you to live. Like that newborn babe, don’t let anything keep you from your feeding times!
It’s not just milk; it’s rational milk. You’ve got to think or meditate on it to understand it. Observe it carefully: What does the text say? To quote Yogi Berra, “You can see a lot just by looking.” Interpret it by comparing Scripture with Scripture and asking, What does this passage mean in its context and in light of other Scripture? Get a concordance and study how words are used in the Bible. Apply it prayerfully: What does it mean to me? How do I need to obey it? Memorize certain portions, so that God can use them in your life during the day. Listen to the Word preached every chance you get.
The image of milk and of tasting the Lord’s kindness brings up the fact that the Word is not just to fill your head with knowledge. It is to fill your life with delight as you get to know the Divine author and enjoy Him in all His perfections. Taste points both to personal experience and enjoyment. I can’t taste for you, nor you for me. We can only taste for ourselves. To taste something, we’ve got to experience it up close. You can see and hear and smell at a distance, but you can only taste something by touching it to your tongue. You can only taste God’s Word by drawing near to God and personally appropriating the riches of knowing Him. Once you like the taste of something, you don’t just eat it to live; you live to eat it. You want it as often as you can get it. God’s Word is that way for all who have tasted His kindness.
J. I. Packer (A Quest for Godliness, pp. 47-48, 97-98) tells of a Puritan preacher in the 1620’s named John Rogers who bore down on his 500 hearers for neglecting the Bible. First he personated God to the people, telling them, “I have trusted you so long with my Bible ... it lies in such and such houses all covered with dust and cobwebs; you care not to listen to it. Do you use my Bible so? Well, you shall have my Bible no longer.” And he took the Bible from the pulpit and seemed as if he were going to carry it away from them.
But then he spun around and personated the people to God. He fell on his knees and pleaded earnestly, “Lord, whatever you do to us, take not your Bible from us. Kill our children, burn our houses, destroy our goods, only spare us your Bible! Don’t take away your Bible!”
Then he personated God again to the people: “Say you so? Well I will try you a while longer; and here is my Bible for you. I will see how you will use it, whether you will love it more, observe it more, practice it more, and live more according to it.”
At this point, according to Thomas Goodwin, who was there and who later became a powerful preacher in his own right, the entire congregation dissolved in tears. Goodwin himself, when he got outside, hung on the neck of his horse weeping for a quarter of an hour before he had the strength to mount, so powerful an impression was upon him.
If you don’t have a craving for God’s Word, there could be several reasons. Maybe you’ve never tasted the Lord’s kindness in salvation. You need to believe that He died for your sins and that He offers His salvation to you as a free gift. Take it! And start feeding on the Bible.
You may not have a craving for God’s Word because of sin in your life. Someone has said that God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. Confess and forsake it! And get back into the Bible.
You may have ruined your appetite by feeding on the junk food of this world. “Hunger makes a good cook,” as the saying goes. If you don’t sense your great need for God and His Word, it may be because you’ve filled up on junk like television. Shut it off! Or, maybe you’ve been filling up on the junk food being sold at Christian book stores under the label of Christian, but which waters down the pure Word of God with modern man’s wisdom. Such junk food makes you feel full, but it doesn’t nourish the soul. Don’t waste your time reading it! There are some excellent Christian books that will help you to understand and apply God’s truth. They’re well worth reading.
But above all else, read your Bible! Hunger for God’s truth. Drink it in like a nursing infant. You’ve got to have it above all else if you want to grow in your salvation.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Life can be hectic. I thought you might enjoy this story:
“It all began when the dental hygienist, who was scraping tartar off my teeth, asked, “Do you spend about four minutes each time you brush your teeth?” With a gurgling tube hanging from my lip, I responded, “A liddle lessth than that.”
“You really should,” she said, “or you will lose your teeth.” I vowed to myself that I would floss, pick, brush and rinse as instructed.
“At my annual physical examination the doctor asked,” How often do you exercise?” “Do you limit your salt intake?” and “Does your diet contain much cholesterol?” I thus began an intensive fitness program, which I checked off on the daily “Personal Maintenance Schedule” on the refrigerator door.
“I then made an appointment for a beauty makeover. “When is the last time you had a facial?” the cosmetologist asked.
“Never” didn’t seem like the right answer so I hedged with, “It’s been a while.”
“You should have a facial more often. You’ve already got some wrinkles around your eyes,” she warned. Mentally I added “Get facial!” to my personal maintenance schedule.
“I soon learned personal maintenance was not all that I had to worry about. At the appliance-repair shop, the clerk examining my coffee maker asked, “Do you run white vinegar through it each month?” This began my “Home Maintenance Schedule,” which took its place next to my personal maintenance schedule.
“Several other appliances, too, began demanding my attention. When I discovered that the tape deck in my car, the VCR and the disk drives in my computer also required cleaning, I wondered how long I could keep up this rigorous program. I was sleeping four hours a night, had lost touch with my husband and children, and had no social life, not to mention no room left on the refrigerator door.
“It all came crashing down one night when I was reading an article entitled: “Are You Endangering the Lives of Your Loved Ones by Failing to Dust Your Smoke Alarms Regularly?”
“I ran to the refrigerator and tore the schedules to shreds. In their place I have established a policy in which I respond to all questions about my behavior by taking the Fifth Amendment.” (Lynne F. McGee, Reader’s Digest [2/89], p. 198.)
In the rush of modern life, it’s easy to lose sight of our priorities. Under pressure, we tend to focus on the urgent, but not always on the important. So it’s good to be reminded occasionally of our priorities as God’s people.
The believers to whom Peter wrote were under pressure-- probably not from being busy--but pressure from persecution. Scattered as aliens in a pagan world (1:1), it would have been easy for them to lose sight of their priorities as God’s people. The pressure easily could have driven a wedge between the Jewish and Gentile members of the church, leading to church splits. Peter wanted them to see their priorities clearly so that they could fulfill the glorious purpose to which God had called them. Thus he closes this first major section of his letter by showing that our salvation must be lived out by being built upon Christ, in Christian community, with witness to the world:
God’s people must keep God central, be built together as His people, and proclaim His excellencies to others.
You will hear me emphasize these three priorities often. They sum up the Great Commandment (to love God and neighbor) and the Great Commission (to win and disciple the lost). They help keep us in focus when pressures build.
Our relationship to God must be at the center of all we do, both individually and corporately. If God is not central, we are off track. If our devotion for Him is lacking, we’re just playing church. You will recall how the Lord rebuked the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). They worked hard for the Lord. They had persevered through trials and had not grown weary. They had stood for the truth against some false teachers in their midst. They were doctrinally sound. And yet the Lord said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Love for Christ must be central! Peter mentions two ways to do this:
“And coming to Him” (2:4). Of course we come to Him in salvation when we first put our trust in Him. But that is not what Peter has in mind here. The present tense participle means coming to Christ repeatedly. It does not refer to our conversion, but to our daily communion with Him. We must come to Christ repeatedly and build our lives on Him.
Peter calls Him a “living stone.” That is an oxymoron, a seeming contradiction in terms (like “efficient bureaucracy”). But the dissonance of the term should grab our attention. That Christ is a stone means that He is a solid foundation on which to build our lives. As Peter goes on to state, He is the cornerstone of the church. Just as when you build a house or building, you want to make sure the foundation is solid, since everything else rests on it, so with our lives. Jesus Christ is the only solid foundation for time and eternity. Thus you can put your trust in Him and know that you will not be disappointed or “put to shame” (1:6).
But Christ is not just the stone on which you can build everything in life. He is a living stone. He is living in that He died for our sins, but was raised from the dead, triumphant over sin, death, and hell. He is the author and giver of life, able to impart spiritual life to all who believe in Him. That He is living means that Christianity is not a religion of going through dead rituals. It is a relationship with the living Lord of the universe! We come to Him and commune with Him daily, building everything in our lives on who He is and on what He has provided for us in His death and resurrection.
Verse 6 (a quote from Isa. 28:16) shows that we build on Christ by believing in Him. To believe in Christ, I must let go of my own works as the means of my salvation. I must not trust in myself or what I do as the way to approach God. Rather, I rest completely on who Christ is and on what He did for me when He died on the cross in my place.
Once you’ve trusted Christ as Savior, the entire Christian life is a process of discovering all that He is to you. As Peter puts it (2 Pet. 1:3), God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Christ is our sufficiency. As we commune continually with Him by faith, we learn that our primary need in life is to “know Him” (Phil. 3:10).
Because I love you I’m going to tell it to you straight: If you are not consistently taking time to come to Christ in personal devotion to build your life on Him as revealed in His Word, then your priorities are wrong. You’re building your life on the sand. If we as a church do not keep God central by continually coming to Christ in all we do, then our priorities are wrong. We’re building a work on the sand. Christ is choice and precious in God’s sight. He must be choice and precious in our sight as well.
As we come to Christ, we 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” (2:5). This is the central text on the great doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. There is no such thing as a Christian priesthood of just a few who are ordained to ministry. In the Old Testament, only the priests could draw near to God by offering sacrifices and incense on His altar. Only the High Priest, and that only once a year, could enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the people.
But now, Christ our High Priest has offered Himself once for all as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As believer priests, we all have direct access into God’s presence through Christ, our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). We need not go through any human priest. We need not bring a bloody sacrifice, since Christ’s offering of Himself once for all is sufficient. But we offer up to God other spiritual sacrifices as priests.
What are these sacrifices? Romans 12:1 tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This means that everything we do can be done to God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31). In Romans 15:16, Paul says that he was “ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that [his] offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable.” Thus sharing the good news of Christ is a sacrifice we can offer to God. The Philippian church took up a collection and sent it to Paul to meet his needs. He calls their service “an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18; also Phil. 2:17). Hebrews 13:15-16 instructs us, through Christ, to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
This relates to all you do in your Christian life. Everything you do should be a thank offering to Christ. Do you work with our young people? Help with socials? Help at a church work day? Usher? Call on or take a meal to the sick? Give money? Sing? Pray? Lead a Bible study? Counsel? Whatever you do should be done as a sacrifice to Christ. It ought to be done by asking yourself the question, “Lord, does this please You?” Your motive is not human recognition, but gratitude to the Lord.
Our first priority is to keep God central by continually coming to Christ and by offering spiritual sacrifices to God through Him.
When I do weddings, I usually explain that marriage is like a triangle, with God at the apex and the partners at the other two points. As the partners each grow closer to God, they grow closer to one another. What is true in marriage is also true in the local church. As the members grow closer to God, they grow closer to one another. Our text has a distinctively corporate flavor. Peter wants his readers to see that Christianity is not an individualistic thing, where we each have a relationship with God, but not with each other. We are being built together into a spiritual house or temple in the Lord.
This truth is especially important in our increasingly fragmented, mobile, impersonal society. If you’re like me, you’ve got relatives that you haven’t seen in years. I probably wouldn’t know some of my cousins if I saw them on the street. It’s not uncommon for grown children to move thousands of miles from parents. With the high divorce rate, some children rarely see their own fathers or mothers. Since God made us to be connected with other people, there’s a high felt need for community. God designed the church to meet that need. Much could be said, but I must limit myself to two observations:
The church isn’t a building; the church is God’s people. The church may meet in a church building or in homes or outdoors. But Peter pictures God’s people, the church, as a building (or temple) in which each member is a living stone, being fitted and built together upon and by the living corner stone, Jesus Christ. How do you think this church building would look if the builder had left out a few stones here and there? I wouldn’t want to stand under the roof! And God’s church, which is His people, will only be complete and strong as every member fits in and functions in the way that the Builder designs. There ought to be no such thing as a believer just “attending church.” We don’t go to church; we are the church! We must minister one to another in the church.
It’s a mistake to think of ministry in exclusively formal terms: teaching Sunday School or serving on a church committee, etc. These are ministries. But ministry is the overflow of a life that is full of Jesus Christ. If He is central in your life (Priority One), then you will be ministering to people when you have contact with them. Ministry takes place through relationships. Thus we should gather as believer priests, looking to build up one another because Christ is filling our hearts to the brim. Ministry is Christ slopping over from you to me and from me to you.
Note the terms that Peter piles up to paint a corporate identity for his readers as the people of God. All these terms come from the Old Testament: A chosen race (Isa. 43:20); a royal priesthood (Exod. 19:6); a holy nation (Exod. 19:6); a people for God’s possession (Exod. 19:5). In verse 10 Peter draws from Hosea 1:10 & 2:23 to remind his scattered readers that formerly they were not God’s people, but now they are. Formerly they had not received mercy, but now they had.
Peter wrote this because his readers were scattered fledgling churches under persecution. To keep from falling apart, they needed to see their identity as God’s people. Since they had come to the Living Stone who, though choice and precious in God’s sight, was rejected by men (2:4), they could expect that they, too, though chosen and precious in God’s sight, would be rejected by men. But in the long run, they would not be put to shame, but rather would share the honor with Christ (1:6b-7a). Thus the way to endure rejection by men is to see our new identity as the chosen people of God.
God never intended that we live as Lone Ranger Christians. (Even he had Tonto!) I was in a gathering of Christians from different churches. We were going around the room telling what church we were from. One woman described herself as “a Christian at large.” I thought, “What a violation of biblical truth!” There’s no such thing! We all must be connected with a local church where we are being built together with other believers.
Thus, we must keep God central and be built together as His people. Finally,
God has called us out of the world as His people so that we can go back into the world and proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (2:9). Gathered as the church, we worship our great God by proclaiming His excellencies to one another and we build up one another. Scattered into the world, we proclaim God’s mercy and light to those who are still in the darkness.
It would be great to think that everyone who doesn’t know God would be responsive--just waiting to hear and believe. Some are; but the Bible is clear that we can expect some to reject not only the message, but also us. The temptation is to tone down the message so that people will not reject it (or us). In fact, evangelicals are going out of their way to present an unoffensive Christ to the world. Often Jesus is marketed as a nice, non-judgmental man who wouldn’t upset anyone, who will meet a person’s every need and desire. He makes them feel good about themselves. He helps them to be successful in whatever they choose.
I’m not suggesting that we be rude and insensitive in presenting Christ to people. We shouldn’t blast people with God’s judgment. Our Savior was kind to sinners and yet He spoke plainly about sin and judgment. We should always be gracious (Col. 4:6).
But having said that, we must remember that the biblical Christ is going to offend many people, for at least two reasons: First, the cross of Christ is offensive (1 Cor. 1:23). The cross humbles human pride. It tells people that their own good works will not get them into heaven. It tells them that they are sinners who have offended a holy God. People don’t like that. Second, Christ’s lordship offends people. Everyone likes the idea of an Aladdin’s genie-Jesus, who will fulfill their desires. But a Christ who is Lord, who confronts sin and demands obedience--that’s another story! If you proclaim Christ crucified and Christ as Lord, some will believe and be saved. But others will reject Him and you. Be prepared!
Note that the dividing line is belief versus unbelief (2:7). Believing or not believing in Jesus Christ separates people into two distinct camps. Believers are joined to God and His people and one day will be exalted with Christ in heaven. Unbelievers who do not repent are in the darkness, headed for God’s judgment. Jesus Christ is the central issue in belief or unbelief. Either He is the corner stone on whom a person puts his faith and builds his life; or, He is a stone of stumbling and rock of offense over which a person falls.
What does Peter mean when he says that unbelievers “stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this they were also appointed” (2:8)? Are some appointed to perish? Peter’s purpose here is to encourage believers under persecution. Thus his point is that the raging of the wicked is under God’s sovereign control, so that believers need not fear (Ps. 2:1-6). Those who disobey God will not somehow thwart His eternal purpose. He will someday be glorified in His saving His elect and in justly condemning the reprobate. We are assured that the wicked will be punished.
And yet, those who are disobedient are responsible for their sin, even if it is in line with God’s predestined plan (Acts 2:23)! But, they need not remain in disobedience and rebellion. God offers them mercy and forgiveness if they will turn to Christ. He has “shut all up in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Rom. 11:32). No one has piled up more sin than God’s mercy can cover. Christ’s death is sufficient for the chief of sinners. All may come and receive mercy at the cross.
I would ask each of you to examine your priorities. First and foremost, have you truly believed in Christ as Savior and Lord? Is He and His death on the cross precious to you? If so, is He central in your life? Are you coming continually to Him and building your life on Him? Are you offering your life as a spiritual sacrifice to Him? Second, are you seeking to be built together with His people or do you just attend church? You may need to commit yourself to this local church. Third, are you seeking to proclaim His excellencies to those in darkness, that they, too, may come to know the Savior? Those are our priorities as God’s people who have received His mercy.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
My subject today is one that used to be a major theme among Christians, but today it is strangely absent from Christian thinking. I’d venture to say that most of you, even those who have been Christians for years, have heard few, if any, sermons on this topic. To my knowledge, there are no recent Christian books on the subject, although the second best-selling Christian book behind the Bible (“Pilgrim’s Progress”) deals with this important theme. My subject is the pilgrim life--the fact that we are just passing through this life, journeying toward heaven. We are on this earth only for a short while and we should feel as settled in this world as we would feel if we were traveling in Mongolia. It may be a fascinating place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to sink down roots there.
To us, the word “pilgrim” reminds us of the quaint folks who came over on the Mayflower in 1620. We may think about them with their broad brimmed hats each year at Thanksgiving as we wolf down our turkey dinner. But we don’t identify much with them.
Being a pilgrim just isn’t the dominant model of the Christian life for our times. Our view of Christianity is geared to the here and now: What will it do for my marriage? How will it help me raise my kids? Will it help me succeed in my career? Will it help me overcome personal problems? Will it help me feel fulfilled as a person? Heaven is thrown in as a nice benefit at the end of the ride. But heaven is not our focus. We want to enjoy life now and cling to it as long as we’re able. We don’t view death as the gateway to everything we’ve been living for. We see it as something to be postponed and avoided at all costs. We don’t view ourselves as pilgrims.
In the summer of 1986, this truth hit me in a fresh way. I was preaching through 1 Corinthians and came to 15:19: “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” I thought, “Can I truthfully say that?” For me, the Christian life is the best way to live. I have a wonderful wife and children. I have the family of God. I have fellowship with my Creator and Savior. His Word guides me. I enjoy all the blessings He bestows. Where else can you find a way of life that brings as much joy as Christianity?
There’s nothing wrong and everything right about enjoying God and the blessings He freely bestows on us in this life. But if we don’t hold the things of this life loosely and aren’t focused on God Himself and on being in heaven with Him as our goal, we are holding to a shallow form of Christianity. If we’re just living for the good life that being a Christian gives now, we wouldn’t last a minute under persecution. We wouldn’t endure much suffering. Nor would we withstand the many temptations to indulge in fleshly desires. The only thing that can steel us to endure suffering and to seek holiness in this wicked world is to live as pilgrims, bound for heaven.
That’s what Peter wanted his persecuted readers to see-- that the Christian life is a pilgrim life. We’re aliens and strangers on this earth. Peter shows us four things we must do to live as pilgrims:
To live as pilgrims, there is a mindset to adopt, a war to fight, a lifestyle to maintain, and a day to remember.
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers...” (2:11). That’s how we are to think about ourselves: Beloved by God we are thus aliens and strangers on this earth which is for now under the dominion of the evil one. Thus we’re not simply foreigners, we’re on enemy turf! We dare not forget it! Our sense of identity should not be derived from this world, but from our relationship to God and His people, bound for heaven.
At the heart of this mindset is the precious truth that we are beloved by God. Peter uses “beloved” as a form of address to assure his readers of his love for them. But beyond the apostle’s love, the term reminds them of God’s love for them. The reason that they are out of sync as aliens and strangers in this evil world is that they are the special objects of God’s redeeming love in Christ (1:1-5). His great love is the motive that enables us to endure hardship as we live as pilgrims.
I don’t want to belabor the point, since Peter doesn’t camp on it. But I do want you all to cement in your heart, as the central motive of the Christian life, the unfathomable love of God as shown to us in the cross of Jesus Christ. The fact that God loved me enough to send His beloved Son to die for my sins should motivate me to endure any hardship for the few years I am upon this earth.
Peter says, “Seeing yourself as beloved by God, also view yourself as an alien and stranger in this wicked world.” “Alien” and “stranger” are used synonymously. They point to one who is a temporary resident or traveler in a foreign country, passing through on his way to his home country. Such a person has a different mentality about life than a permanent native has.
For one thing, a traveler doesn’t live according to the customs and standards of the foreign country. For the sake of not offending the locals, he may temporarily adopt some of their customs. When we traveled in the Orient, we learned that when you use a toothpick after a meal, you must conceal it under your hand. So we followed their custom temporarily, but as soon as we got back home, we did it the American way. As citizens of heaven, we may adopt some of the ways of earth, if they are morally neutral, in order not to offend the natives. But we live according to different standards than they do, namely those of God’s Word.
Pilgrims don’t get attached to the country they’re passing through. They have a destination in mind, and they look forward to getting there. If they pass through a scenic area, they’ll enjoy the beauty, but they won’t decide to move there. If they stop at a nice hotel, they don’t start hanging pictures on the wall and settling in. They have a transient mentality that affects how they live on the trip.
One thing that has shifted our focus from being aliens on earth, looking toward heaven, is modern medicine. I’m very thankful for the advances in medicine that enable us to recover from diseases and injuries that would have killed people a generation ago. But at the same time, good medical treatment has removed the stark reality of death from us in a way that was not true in earlier times. Even at the turn of the century, it was rare for families not to have lost at least one child in death. The Puritan theologian John Owen (1616-1683) lost ten of his eleven children before they reached adulthood. His other daughter died as a young woman.
In the face of death, you don’t get as attached to this life, and you live more consciously in light of heaven. Howard Hendricks has said, “Most people think that they’re in the land of the living, heading toward the land of the dead. But the truth is, we’re in the land of the dying, heading toward the land of the living.” As a young man, Jonathan Edwards resolved to think much, on all occasions, of his dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death. That may sound morbid and it runs against the grain of our day. But I think it’s biblical. We’re aliens and strangers on this earth, heading as pilgrims toward heaven. We’ve got to adopt that mindset, which includes constantly remembering that we aren’t staying here for long. Our home is in heaven. We should live like it!
“Abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (2:11). To abstain means “to hold oneself constantly back from.” Waging war points, not to a single battle, but to a military campaign. Every believer faces a lifelong struggle against these fleshly lusts which, if yielded to, will take a person captive and destroy him.
These lusts wage war against the soul, by which Peter means the total person. But the word “soul” connotes the nuance of the inner person. The battle against sin is waged in the mind (1:13-14). If you can win the war against sin in your thought life, you will win in your behavior. All sin starts in the mind and must be defeated there. We must learn to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4).
What are “fleshly lusts”? They include, but are not limited to wrong sexual desires. They also include “all kinds of self-seeking, whether directed toward wealth, power, or pleasure” (Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary [Word], p. 57). Unbelievers, who are ignorant of God and His Word, live for self. Everything they do is directed to promote self, please self, or protect self. Such people shrug off God and often mock Him (2 Pet. 3:3-4). But they are enslaved to their lusts, which they thought would bring them freedom (2 Pet. 2:18-19). But Christians can live for the will of God, which is opposed to the lusts of men (1 Pet. 4:2; 1 John 2:15-17).
Please note that it is believers whom Peter exhorts to abstain from such fleshly desires. Becoming a Christian does not eradicate the strong, inner, emotional tug toward self-will and sin. Walking with God for years does not eliminate the need to do battle with sin. I used to find it odd that the godly George Muller, as an old man who had walked with God for years, used to pray, “Lord, don’t let me become a wicked old man.” But he knew the propensity of his heart toward sin.
It is significant that many of God’s giants who fell into sin did so after years of walking with Him. Noah got drunk and was indecently exposed after the flood. David, the man after God’s heart, was probably in his early fifties when he fell into sin with Bathsheba. Elijah’s faith wavered after years of boldly proclaiming God’s Word to the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. Hezekiah, a godly king who brought great reform, late in his life fell into the sin of pride. As long as we live in this body, we must be vigilant and fight against these inward desires to go our own way and gratify ourselves in opposition to the will of God. Our old nature is not eradicated at conversion and it does not grow weaker as we grow older. We’re in a war for the rest of the time that we’re in this body.
Also, note that we are able and responsible to obey this command to abstain from these fleshly desires. Certainly such fleshly desires are powerful. The word “war” points to a fierce, constant struggle which implies a fair amount of effort on our part. If we yield, we can become enslaved to them (2 Pet. 2:18). But through saving faith in Jesus Christ and through the power of the indwelling Spirit and the Word of God, we can abstain from these lusts. We can experience God’s victory in the war.
I make this point for two reasons. First, there is a teaching that says that we are not to struggle or exert ourselves in the Christian life. If we are struggling, they say, it is the flesh. We are rather to let go and let God. We just rest or abide in Him, and He gives us the victory. The Christian life is portrayed as effortless and easy. I bought into that teaching for a while as a young man, but it didn’t help me overcome the lusts of the flesh. It is not balanced teaching. Peter does not urge us to rest, but rather actively to abstain from these lusts which war against our soul.
The second reason I make the point is that we’re hearing a lot in our day about “sexual addiction.” I heard a tape by a Christian psychologist on the subject. He belittled pastors as being simplistic in dealing with what he presents as a complex psychological problem. His answer is to get people into support groups and to follow his psychological path to recovery.
But sexual addiction is not a recent problem. The Bible calls it being enslaved to sin. Also, it’s not a psychological problem; it’s a spiritual problem. The answer to it is not found in psychological insights, but in the provision God has given through the cross of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and His Word. Sexual addicts don’t recover (as if it’s an illness); they must learn to repent (since it is sin). I’m not suggesting that it is simple to overcome. Sometimes habits of sin are deeply entrenched and the struggle to overcome them is intense and protracted. But the answers we need are in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, not in psychoanalysis.
Thus, to live as pilgrims, there is a mindset to adopt: strangers and aliens; there is a war to fight: abstain from fleshly lusts.
“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (2:12). The word “behavior” (used in 1 Pet. 1:15, 18; 3:1, 2, 16; 2 Pet. 2:7; 3:11; the verb is used in 1 Pet. 1:17 & 2 Pet. 2:18) means conduct, way of life or lifestyle. It points to the overall flavor of our lives. The word “excellent” means good in the sense of beautiful or attractive. Our lives should be marked by “good deeds” which conform to God’s Word, but which also, in a lesser sense, are viewed by even a godless culture as attractive. The world should look at the lives of Christians and admit, even if they don’t accept Christ or the Bible, that we are good people.
Note that the pagans (“Gentiles”) observe our good deeds. This word only occurs here and in 3:2. It has the nuance of long-term, reflective observation. Even if you’re not aware of it, unbelievers are watching your life. They see how you react to things at work. They observe how you talk about others. They watch how you deal with problems. They note how you treat your family. Missionaries who have gone to primitive cultures tell of how the natives will often come and stand at their open windows, watching everything they do to see how they do it. The native pagans in America may not be so blatant. But they are watching you as an alien and stranger.
But Peter is not so naive as to think that our good deeds will result in the immediate conversion of the lost. Rather, out of jealousy, guilt, or insecurity, they may slander us. Often they will try to get us to break down and be just like them. The early church was often accused of murder, incest, and cannibalism in their secret church meetings. After all, they met to eat some man’s flesh and drink his blood, they called one another brother and sister and were affectionate toward each other! They were even called atheists because they refused to worship the emperor and had only one God!
But Peter says that as pilgrims, we are to maintain a lifestyle of attractive deeds, even in the face of ugliness from those who are lost. It will result ultimately in glory to God (2:12), which is the overall aim of the Christian life.
Cal Thomas, a committed Christian who is a syndicated newspaper columnist, wrote (“Tabletalk,” 8/91, p. 13),
I got a letter from an editor of a newspaper that recently started carrying my column. He said, “I’m so frustrated because I’m the only believer on the entire editorial staff.” I wrote back and said, “Let’s say that you weren’t on the newspaper staff but that you were a CIA plant in the politburo of the Soviet Union. Would you be complaining that you were the only one there? You would be rejoicing that your government had placed you in such a strategic position.” That is the attitude we ought to have. God has placed us in strategic positions no matter what our job is, whether we are employed or not. If we can catch that vision, if we can see ourselves as the spiritual equivalent of CIA plants and the world as the politburo, then I think we can get on fire for God and really do something significant.
Thus as pilgrims in enemy territory, we adopt a mindset as aliens; we fight a war against fleshly lusts; we maintain a lifestyle of good works, even when we are treated unfairly or wrongly by the lost.
Peter says that those who observe our good deeds will “glorify God in the day of visitation” (2:12). What is “the day of visitation”? Either it refers to God’s visitation in saving these pagans, or it refers to the future day of judgment. Most commentators take it to mean that these pagans who slander Christians will glorify God when they later get saved as a result of observing the Christians’ good works.
I don’t interpret the phrase in that way because Peter doesn’t make it clear that all (or even most) of these pagans will be converted by seeing our good works. (In 1 Peter 4:5, 17-18, he indicates that many will face God’s certain judgment.) In the context, he is saying that God will vindicate the Christian’s righteous behavior, apart from what happens to those who persecute us (see 2:15). Thus I take the day of visitation to refer to the future day of judgment.
How, then, will pagans glorify God in that day? Some will be converted before that day because, humanly speaking, they observed the good deeds of Christians whom they persecuted. Thus they will glorify God for His saving grace and for the faithfulness of His people. Others will stand before God with every excuse for their unbelief and rebellion knocked out from under them. At that point God will be vindicated and their once-defiant knees, too, will bow and their once-proud tongues then will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
For us, the point is that as pilgrims, we keep that great day of visitation in view. We live now knowing that one day everyone must stand before God, either for commendation or condemnation. Thus we should seek to live with that day in view, so that we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” And as we live with that day in view, we should seek to persuade those who are on the road to condemnation to receive God’s mercy before it is too late.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the American lifestyle--to live for yourself, or perhaps for yourself and your family. Without even trying, you begin pursuing personal pleasure and affluence as the goals of your life. You want to get a little nicer house, a newer car, and a few more trinkets to make life more enjoyable. And God? The church? To the extent that they fit into that scheme and help you reach those goals, you get involved. But in the final analysis, you’re living for the same thing as everyone else in this world: Self-fulfillment and personal happiness.
Jonathan Edwards has a wonderful sermon titled, “The Christian Pilgrim” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 2:243-246). That great pilgrim wrote (p. 244):
God is the highest good of the reasonable creature; and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.-- To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops; but God is the ocean.-- Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives; to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on, any thing else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?
God is calling you to a radical way of life--the pilgrim life. You pursue God and the enjoyment of all that He is instead of living for this world’s pleasures or for self-fulfillment. Of course, it is the only way to true self-fulfillment as well, because, as Jesus said, if you seek your life, you’ll lose it; but if you lose your life for His sake, you’ll find true life indeed.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
We Americans live in a country that was founded on a revolution and in which defiance of government authority is viewed as a basic constitutional right. Benjamin Franklin proposed the following design for the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States:
Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. Rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the Divine presence and command, beaming on Moses, who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overflow Pharaoh. Motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” (Cited by Vernon Grounds, Revolution and the Christian Faith [Lippincott, 1971], p. 9.)
Franklin was a deist, not an evangelical Christian. But his sentiment--rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God--is shared by many committed Christians. Most evangelicals accept the American Revolution as being a proper resistance to corrupt authority. There is a difference of opinion among Christians over whether the civil disobedience of groups such as Operation Rescue is proper or not. But the presence of the issue shows the relevance of our topic: What is the proper relationship of Christian citizens toward their government?
Those to whom Peter wrote lived with a government and society that was not favorable toward the Christian faith. Both Peter and Paul were executed at the hands of the Roman tyrant Nero. It was not until the fourth century, under Constantine, that Christianity was afforded official legitimacy and protection by the government.
Peter has just stated the general principle that Christians are to live holy lives as aliens and strangers on this earth (2:11-12). We are not permanent residents here, but are pilgrims journeying toward heaven. It would have been easy for his readers to conclude that we therefore have no civic responsibility here on earth. Perhaps they would have concluded that they could disregard and disobey human government, since they were citizens of heaven, not of this earth. So Peter anticipates and counters this wrong conclusion by showing how Christian citizens must live:
Christians must live as good citizens by submitting to human government.
“Submit” (2:13) is a dirty word to Americans, but it is a favorite with Peter. In fact, it dominates much of the rest of this epistle (it occurs in 2:13, 18; 3:1, 5, 22; 5:5; the concept is implicit in 4:12-19). It is a military word, meaning to put oneself under another in rank. We will look more at the meaning of submission later in this message, but for now I will briefly say that submission is an attitude of respect that results in obedience to authority and positive good deeds. While there are exceptions, we need to be careful not to run to the exceptions, but to make sure that our normal posture toward government is that of submission.
Confining myself as much as possible to our text, I want to look first at the purpose of human government; then at the meaning of submission to government; at the reason for submission to government; and, finally, at the limits of submission to government.
The government should promote justice and peace by upholding law and order and by maintaining reasonable national defense. Peter writes (2:14) that kings and governors are “for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” Paul talks about the government “bearing the sword” as an avenger who brings God’s wrath upon the one who practices evil (Rom. 13:4). This points to the power of the state to use capital punishment, as well as lesser punishment, to bring about justice for all. The Old Testament often talks about the role of the king in promoting justice and righteousness in society.
The government does this (in part) by legislating morality. Don’t let anybody sell you the idea that we shouldn’t legislate morality. That is precisely what the government does, and rightly so. Laws against murder and theft are moral and biblical. Laws against racial discrimination reflect the biblical teaching that God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Deut. 10:17). Laws should protect citizens from sin (for example, pornography and prostitution laws, drug laws, etc.). The fact that something is illegal will restrain many who otherwise may be tempted to engage in the particular activity.
The real debate is, which morality should we legislate? Some Christians believe that we should institute the Old Testament law in our society (stoning adulterers, homosexuals, rebellious children, etc.)! I cannot deal at length with this question but, briefly, my view is that in a democratic, pluralistic society, if the value of a law would only be accepted by those who have already accepted Christ and God’s Word (for example, laws against adultery, blasphemy, or sabbath-breaking), we should not push to legislate it, even if it is biblical.
But we can work to legislate many biblical standards which have broad social value and can be argued for apart from an appeal to the Bible. Laws against abortion, laws protecting the handicapped and the elderly, laws against pornography and child abuse, and many other such issues, can be argued for on the grounds of basic human rights, apart from Christianity. Most unbelievers recognize the inherent “rightness” of the Golden Rule. We can use this biblical ethical standard as the basis for legislating proper morality in our democratic, pluralistic country.
Thus Peter and other biblical texts show that the government is ordained of God to promote justice. Although Peter doesn’t touch on it specifically, a result of promoting justice will be promoting peace and order in society. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 states that we should pray for kings and those in authority “in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” For us to live a quiet and tranquil life, the government must maintain adequate national defense so that we are not overrun by some totalitarian power that would rob us of our peace and liberty. And internally the government should not interfere with religious liberty, within the bounds of human safety and rights. Thus government should promote justice and peace in society.
What does it mean to submit to human government? Peter includes three elements:
The basic meaning of the word “submit” is “obey.” Christians must obey the laws of their government unless those laws force them to disobey God. “Kings” we can apply to federal laws; “governors” we can apply to state and local laws. To give practical examples, we need to pay our taxes and comply with traffic laws (Ouch! Ouch!).
With regard to taxes, this means properly reporting your income and following the rules to compute what you owe. There’s nothing wrong with taking legitimate deductions. In fact, it’s poor stewardship not to do so! With regard to traffic laws, some Christians take a strict constructionist view and never exceed the speed limit. I take a loose constructionist view--I get in the fast lane and go with the flow! If you’re regularly getting traffic citations, it probably shows that you need to amend your ways.
I heard of one minister who got stopped for speeding. He told the officer that he was on the Lord’s business. The officer replied, “I read the same Bible. It says to go out into the highways and bring them in--and that’s what I’m doing.”
Another minister, pressed for time and not finding a parking space, parked in a no parking zone and put a note on his windshield: “I have circled the block 10 times. I have an appointment to keep. Forgive us our trespasses.” When he returned, he found a citation along with this note: “I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I lose my job. Lead us not into temptation.” Submission means obeying the law.
You can obey with a rotten attitude. But Peter says that we are to “honor all men,” and specifies, “Honor the king” (2:17). But what if he’s a scoundrel? Even if we can’t respect a leader because he is corrupt or immoral, we should respect his office. Again, this isn’t an American tradition. We make jokes about our political leaders, portraying them as buffoons or idiots. Political satire is accepted fare. I confess that some of the things politicians do invite satire! Jesus called Herod a fox, so there may be some basis for taking a swipe at certain political leaders. But we need to be careful to promote respect for government authorities. Since God ordained government authority, to despise such authority is to despise God Himself.
“That by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (2:15). Peter is not referring to the government leaders as “foolish men,” but rather to the willfully ignorant who slander Christians as evildoers (2:12). “To silence” means, literally, to muzzle. The idea is that by our active good deeds, we take away the basis for criticism of Christianity from those who oppose it.
Paul wrote to Titus (3:1-2), “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.” When Christians live like that in the midst of a pagan culture, it is a powerful testimony. On the other hand, when professing Christians disrespect authority, when they disobey the law, or when they just withdraw from society and live unto themselves without doing good deeds, it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of those who are prone to criticize Christianity.
When Israel was sent into exile in Babylon, their situation was parallel to that of Christians today, in that they were strangers and aliens in a foreign land, looking to be restored to their promised land. God told Jeremiah (29:5-6) to tell the exiles to build houses there, plant gardens, take wives and raise children. Then He added, “And seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare” (lit., “peace”).
That’s good counsel for Christians who are exiled as strangers and aliens in this wicked world: Build houses, live in them, plant gardens, raise families, seek and pray for the welfare of the cities where we live. Buy property, work to improve the schools, help out in community projects, be good citizens. Submitting to government means that we obey the law, respect authorities, and do good deeds in our communities.
Thus the purpose of government is to promote justice and peace in society. The meaning of submission to government includes obedience, submission, and good deeds.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake” (2:13). There are at least two ideas inherent in this phrase:
Paul plainly states, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:1-2a). He even states that rulers are ministers of God (13:4, 6). Daniel 2:21 states that God “removes kings and establishes kings” (see also Dan. 2:37; 4:17; 5:18-19, 26; Jer. 27:5-8; Ezek. 29:19-20; John 19:11). He directs even pagan kings according to His sovereign purposes (Prov. 21:1; Isa. 45:1-7; 46:10-11).
Remember, both Paul and Peter wrote when the debauched, godless Nero was on the throne. Daniel lived under the ruthless Nebuchadnezzar. Since both rulers obviously fell far short of the ideal, we must conclude that we cannot make exceptions to the biblical principle of obedience to government authority based on how bad the ruler may be.
Peter knew that his readers (including us!) would not inherently gravitate toward the idea of being submissive to pagan rulers (let alone, to good Christian rulers!). He could hear us object, “But we’re free in Christ! We don’t have to obey a pagan tyrant!” Thus Peter wrote (2:16), “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”
Just as a train is only truly free when it runs on the tracks, so human beings are only free when they obey God. True freedom is living righteously in submission to God. Anything less means that we’re enslaved to sin. Thus for the Lord’s sake, because He ordained and established government for the benefit of the human race, we submit to Him when we submit to civil government.
The theme of our witness as aliens in this hostile world runs from 2:12 through chapter 3. It is implicit in this section dealing with our responsibility as Christian citizens. When it comes to politics, we need to remember that while God uses civil government to accomplish His purposes (thus it is proper for Christians to serve in political leadership and be involved in the political process), evangelism is His primary means of dealing with world problems and bringing lasting change. If we get sidetracked into winning political victories for our cause, but do not win men and women to Christ, we ultimately fail.
I struggled with why, in the context of our relationship to government, Peter adds the command, “Love the brotherhood” (2:17). It seems to me that it relates to the underlying theme of our public witness. We are to love even our enemies, of course. But Peter singles out our love for the Christian brotherhood because if Christians fight among themselves, the watching world shrugs its shoulders and says, “Why become a Christian? They’re no different than anyone else.” The same is true if we do not show proper honor to all men, including those in civil authority.
The black radical, Stokely Carmichael, was once asked, “When the world is the way you want it, what will it be like?” After brief reflection, he answered, “Men will love one another” (Grounds, p. 89). That can’t happen apart from the gospel. Our love for fellow Christians and our submission and honor toward government officials is a powerful witness. Thus we submit “for the Lord’s sake.”
Thus the purpose of government is to promote justice and peace in society. Submitting to government means obedience, respect, and good deeds. The reason we submit is for the Lord’s sake. Finally,
Peter differentiates between God and the king: “Fear God, honor the king.” The emperor deserves appropriate honor, but he is not on the same level with God. If he violates his responsibility which has been given to him by God, then the believer is responsible to confront that violation (Dan. 5:18-28) and, if it comes down to it, to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).
Commentators struggle with the words translated “human institution” or “ordinance of man” (2:13). They literally read, “human creature” or “creation.” Each of the other 17 uses of the word “creation” in the New Testament refers to God’s creation, not to something man creates. Thus many scholars translate it, “Be subject to every human creature.” But this doesn’t fit with the following context and it is difficult to understand how we are to submit to everyone. I would suggest that Peter uses this phrase to accomplish two things. He demotes the emperor and his government from being absolutely sovereign, in that he (and it) are creations, not the Creator. But he also gives dignity to each ruler and government, in that he is created by God, and thus worthy of our honor.
Thus there is a fine balance that Christians must maintain, between respecting the man and his office, but not respecting him more than God. If it comes to a tug of war between God and government, we must follow God. If the government forces us to disobey God, we first appeal to the government, if possible. If we have opportunity, we confront the government with its wrong. But if all that fails, we disobey the government and submit to our punishment.
What do we do if the government merely allows evil, rather than mandates it (such as killing babies through abortion)? I think that we then confront the government with its evil, we appeal to individuals not to do the legalized evil, and we work through legal channels to overthrow the evil. Abortion is more complicated than rescuing slaves during the Civil War or Jews during World War II, since the baby is still inside the mother and can’t be rescued apart from the mother. I appreciate the courage and convictions of those who participate in Operation Rescue, but I cannot argue biblically that it is the moral responsibility of every Christian to violate the law as they do.
Is it ever right for Christians to participate in a revolution to overthrow a government? Obviously, God sets up and takes down rulers, and He does it through people. But should Christians be a part of such, for example, when the government is evil, such as Nazi Germany or Communist China? I tend to agree with John Calvin, who states that the only command given to Christians is to obey and suffer, so we should be hesitant to think that God has entrusted the revolutionary task to us (Institutes [Westminster Press], IV:XX:31). And yet at the same time, we are responsible to speak out against evil, whether it be practiced by rulers or other citizens (Matt.
J. I. Packer wrote, “It is a paradox of the Christian life that the more profoundly one is concerned about heaven, the more deeply one cares about God’s will being done on Earth” (Christianity Today [4/19/85], I-4). Sir Frederick Catherwood, a Christian member of the European Parliament, put it: “To try to improve society is not worldliness, but love. To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness” (ibid., I-4, 5). Christian citizens should be good citizens. The main way we do that is by submitting to our human government.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
If you are a parent of children old enough to talk, you have heard them complain, “But that isn’t fair!” And you responded, “Life isn’t fair!” We are born with a strong inner sense of fairness and a strong desire to fight for our rights when we have been treated unfairly. Although we know that life isn’t fair, we’re prone to fight back when we’re the victims of unfair treatment.
Let’s assume that you are a conscientious worker on your job. You get to work early, you’re careful not to extend your lunch breaks, and sometimes you stay late on your own time to finish a job. You’re careful not to waste company time with excessive chit-chat. You work hard and produce for the company. Because you’re a Christian, you don’t go out drinking after hours with the boss and you don’t swap the latest dirty jokes with him.
Another worker is, in your opinion, a goof off. He often comes in late, he spends a lot of time chatting with the secretaries, he takes long lunches, and he does sloppy work which you often have to correct. But he also goes out drinking with the boss and he always has a new dirty joke that sends the boss into hysterics. When a promotion opens up, he gets the better job and you are overlooked.
Life isn’t fair! The important question is, “How do you respond when you’re treated unfairly?” How should you respond? Is it wrong to defend yourself or to stand up for your rights? How should a Christian respond when treated unfairly, especially on the job? That is the question Peter addresses in 1 Peter 2:18-23. My guess is that you’re not going to like his answer. (I can guess that because I don’t like his answer either!) His answer is,
When treated unfairly by a superior, we should submissively endure by entrusting ourselves to God, the righteous Judge.
That principle is easily stated, but not so easily applied. Not one of the fifteen or so commentators I read dealt with the tough practical implications raised here. How broadly can we apply to modern life principles given to slaves? Do these things apply beyond the realm of employment to any situation? Is it always wrong to defend ourselves or to speak out when we are treated unfairly? Are Christians supposed to be doormats? If so, how do we harmonize this text with the numerous occasions where Jesus and Paul defended themselves and verbally attacked their accusers? These are some of the issues we must think through if we want to apply this text properly. I’m going to offer five statements to seek to explain and apply what Peter is saying. You’ll have to struggle to apply it personally to your specific situation.
Peter addresses this to “servants.” The word refers to household servants, but these were not just domestic employees; they were slaves. They belonged as property to their owners. Immediately we cry out, “That’s not fair! Slavery is evil! Slave owners are wrong! Slaves shouldn’t have to submit to unjust authority! They should revolt!”
But that isn’t the biblical approach to righting the social evil of slavery. The biblical approach was to exhort slave owners to treat their slaves with dignity and fairness. They were even to view them as brothers and sisters in the faith (e.g., Philemon). And slaves were exhorted to be good, submissive workers. If they had an opportunity to gain their freedom, fine (1 Cor. 7:21). Otherwise, they were to be good slaves, in submission to their owners. It wasn’t a quick fix to the evil of slavery. It didn’t result in a slave revolt, although eventually it did topple slavery. But in the meanwhile, it demonstrated Christlikeness within the existing social structure in a way that led to the spread of the gospel.
How do we apply this to our cultural situation? We aren’t slaves to our employers, although we may feel like it at times. Is it wrong to defend ourselves and to stand up for our rights when they are violated by an employer? That’s the American way, isn’t it?
It may be the American way, but it’s not necessarily the biblical way. God’s way is for us to identify the nature of the relationship: Am I under the authority of the person who is treating me unfairly? That is the first question I must ask to determine how I should act in a given situation.
God has ordained various spheres of authority. He is the supreme authority over all, of course. But under God there is the sphere of human government (1 Pet. 2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). Also, there is the sphere of the family, in which husbands have authority over wives (1 Pet. 3:1-6; Eph. 5:22-24) and parents over children (Eph. 6:1-4). There is the sphere of the church, in which elders have authority over the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-5; Heb. 13:17). And there is the sphere of employment (either forced, as in slavery, or voluntary), in which employees must be subject to employers (1 Pet. 2:18; Eph. 6:5-9).
Once we’ve identified whether or not we are under the authority of the person who is mistreating us, we then must examine our own attitude and motives and ask: Do I have a proper attitude of submission, or am I selfishly fighting for my rights? If I’m truly in submission and I’m not acting for selfish reasons, I would argue that there is a proper place for respectful communication that seeks to clarify falsehood and promote the truth. In other words, if our attitude and motives are in submission to God, we need not always silently endure unjust treatment as Christian doormats. There is a proper place for self-defense and for confronting the errors of those who have mistreated us, as long as we work through proper channels.
I make this point because many take the overly simplistic (and erroneous) view that Christians must always endure mistreatment in silence and that self-defense is always wrong. But Jesus Himself did not do this, nor did the Apostle Paul who wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For example, in John 8 the Jews attacked Jesus’ character and authority by saying that He was bearing false witness about Himself and that He was illegitimately born. Jesus did not silently endure this attack. Rather, He defended Himself as being sent from the Father and He attacked these critics by saying that they were of their father, the devil! That’s hardly a passive, silent response! Nor was Jesus passive when He attacked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23). The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and parts of other epistles to defend his character and ministry which were under attack. He put down his critics in a strong and, at times, sarcastic manner.
How can we harmonize such vigorous self-defense with Peter’s exhortation to silent submission? It seems to me that there are several factors to consider in deciding whether to defend myself or silently to bear reproach. First, Am I under the authority of the one attacking me? If so, I need to examine my life to see if I’m doing something to provoke the attack. If so, I deserve punishment (2:20). I may need to ask the person to help me with a blind spot. I may need to explain my motivation. If I conclude that the superior is simply out to get me because of my faith, I probably need to bear the unfair treatment patiently for Christ’s sake.
A second question: Is God’s truth being called into question or ridiculed? If so, I should clearly defend the truth. During Jesus’ mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin, He was silent until the high priest said, “I adjure You by the living God, that You tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus couldn’t remain silent to that question, so He answered, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63-64).
A third factor concerns our witness to outsiders. If I am being falsely attacked on the job, I need to ask myself how I can bear the most effective witness for Jesus Christ. It may be that a quiet but confident answer would be most effective. But if they’ve heard where I stand, it may be that quiet submission, where I let go of my rights, would be most effective. More on this in a moment.
The main principle is, am I under the authority of the person who is acting unfairly toward me? If I am, then I can appeal with the proper attitude of submission. But if the appeal fails, I must submit. Does that mean that I must remain under unjust authority for the rest of my life? Isn’t there a place for getting out from under corrupt authority? The answer is, “Yes, but be careful!” There is a place for Christians to flee from a corrupt government. There is a time to get out from under corrupt spiritual authority (as in the Reformation). There is a time for moving from a bad employer. But if you move too quickly, you may miss what God is seeking to do in the difficult situation. He may want to teach you some hard lessons of being like Christ. He may want to bear witness through you. So weigh things carefully before you make a move. If you are defiant or impulsive, you probably should stay put and learn to submit.
When Peter says, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect,” it should be translated, “with all fear.” In the previous verse Peter distinguished between fearing God and honoring the king. So here, when he says that we should be submissive with all fear, he means, “fear toward God,” not “fear toward the earthly master.”
Also, twice (2:19a, 20b) Peter says that submitting to unjust treatment “finds favor with God.” Peter’s language here reflects the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6:32-35, which was no doubt in Peter’s mind (“what credit” there is the same Greek word as “favor” here). The idea is that God gives grace (same Greek word as “credit” and “favor”) to the humble, not to the defiant, assertive, and self-reliant. If we defy an authority which God has placed over us, we are, in effect, defying God Himself. Thus, conscious of God (probably the best translation of “conscience toward God” [2:19, NASB]), we should seek to submit to please Him, trusting Him to deal with the unjust authority.
One way to apply this is consciously to recognize that you don’t work primarily for your employer; you work for God. Howard Hendricks tells the story of being on an airliner that was delayed on the ground. Passengers grew increasingly impatient. One obnoxious man kept venting his frustrations on the stewardess. But she responded graciously and courteously in spite of his abuse.
After they finally got airborne and things calmed down, Dr. Hendricks called the woman aside and said, “I want to get your name so that I can write a letter of commendation to your employer.” He was surprised when she responded, “Thank you, sir, but I don’t work for American Airlines.” He sputtered, “You don’t?” “No,” she explained, “I work for my Lord Jesus Christ.” She went on to explain that before each flight, she and her husband would pray together that she would be a good representative of Christ on her job. She sought to please God first.
The issue of a slave’s response to his master had far-reaching cultural implications in that day when there were millions of slaves. If Christian slaves were defiant, critics could have accused Christianity of stirring up rebellion and undermining the whole fabric of the society. Thus the theme of our witness to a pagan world underlies this section (as it does the previous and following paragraphs also).
Christ suffered on our behalf (2:21). His unjust suffering (Peter uses this word instead of “death” to relate to his readers’ suffering) secured our salvation in a substitutionary sense (as Peter goes on to make clear in 2:24). In a similar, but not totally analogous way, our unjust suffering can lead to the salvation of lost people if they see the character of Christ in us as we suffer. The attitude of fighting for our rights communicates to the world that we’re living for the things of this world. Submitting to unfair treatment and giving up our rights communicates the truth, that we’re living as pilgrims on our way to heaven.
If you’re being treated unfairly at work, you may be looking at a tremendous opportunity to bear witness for Christ by your behavior. If you yield your rights in a Christlike manner, people will notice and may wonder, “Why doesn’t he fight for his rights?” Maybe you’ll get an opportunity to tell them. If so, your words are backed up by the powerful testimony of your good works. You have demonstrated what it means to live under God’s authority, with a view to pleasing Him.
This raises the question of whether or not it is proper for Christians to belong to trade unions. That’s a sensitive issue, and I don’t have time to deal with it. I will say in passing that you need to think through whether you can bear witness of a Christlike spirit, in submission to God and to your employer, while belonging to an organization that seeks to fight for your rights.
Thus, the situation for submission is one in which we are under authority. The motives for submission are to please God and to bear witness.
Christ left an example for us to follow in His steps (2:21). The word example is literally, “underwriting.” It was a school word. Teachers would lightly trace the letters of the alphabet so that students could write over them to learn how to write. Or, as in our day, teachers would put examples of the alphabet up in the room for students to look at to copy as they formed their letters. Christ is that kind of example for us. If we follow how He lived, we will form our lives correctly.
Following “in His steps” pictures a child who steps in his father’s footprints in the snow. Where the father goes, the child goes, because he puts his feet in those same footprints. In like manner, we are to follow our Savior. Peter says that we are called to the same purpose as Christ was (2:21). If our Master’s footprints led to the cross where He suffered unjustly, so we can expect to die to self and suffer unjustly. If we respond as He did, people will see our Savior in us. Many people will never read the Bible, but they do read our lives. They should see Christlikeness there, not a defiant spirit of self-will that characterizes those who are living for themselves and the things of this world.
When Jesus was wronged, He did not retaliate in kind. He could have called legions of angels to strike down His enemies. He could have selfishly stood up for His rights (after all, He is Lord of the universe!). But He didn’t. He always acted selflessly, even when He did confront His accusers. While we’ll never be as unselfish as Jesus, it is a goal we should strive for.
Peter quotes (2:22-23) from Isaiah 53 to show how Jesus did not retaliate when He was wronged. There are four things mentioned which we need to keep in mind when we are treated unfairly. First, Jesus did not commit sin. He always acted in obedience to the Father, never in self-will. Second, there was never any deceit in His mouth. He didn’t bend the facts to win the argument or get His own way. When He defended Himself, He was always truthful. Third, when He was reviled, He didn’t revile in return. He didn’t trade insults. Fourth, He uttered no threats. He didn’t say, “Just you wait! I’ll get even with you!” In other words, Jesus didn’t respond to verbal abuse with more verbal abuse. Neither should we. Vengeance is always wrong for the Christian (Rom. 12:19).
How can we possibly live this way? Peter gives the answer in the final clause of 2:23:
Jesus made it through the cross by continually entrusting Himself to the Father who judges righteously. He knew that He would be vindicated by being raised from the dead and enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He knew that His persecutors would be judged and dealt with according to their sins. So He “delivered Himself up” (the literal translation of “entrusted”) to God. It is the same word used for Jesus being delivered up to Pilate by the Jews and to the soldiers by Pilate (John 19:11, 16). They delivered Him up to death, but He delivered Himself up for our sins, trusting in the Father.
Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father, knowing that even though the way led to the cross, it also led through the cross to the glory beyond. Even so, we can entrust ourselves to God. The way will lead to the cross; but also, it will lead through the cross to the glory that awaits us in heaven. God is the righteous Judge who will someday right every wrong and bring vengeance on those who resist His authority. Our task is to trust Him by submitting to human authority, even when we are treated unfairly.
Bill Gothard tells the story of a Christian boy who had a hostile, unbelieving father. The boy asked if he could attend the church prayer meeting one evening and the father reluctantly gave permission. As the boy walked home after the prayer meeting, a friend saw him and offered him a lift in his car. The father saw his son get out of the friend’s car and said, “You lied to me about going to the prayer meeting! You really went out with your friends. I’m going to whip you for that!” The boy replied, “No, I went to the prayer meeting.” The father exploded, “I’m going to give you a double whipping for lying about it.”
The boy quietly endured the beating and didn’t grow bitter toward his father. He loved his dad and wanted to see him trust in Christ. A few days later the father was in the hardware store and ran into the pastor of the church where his son attended. Not knowing about the whipping, the pastor said, “You sure have a fine son. Last week in prayer meeting, he blessed us all with a fine word of testimony.” The father asked, “Was my boy in prayer meeting last week? I thought he went out with his friends.” The father was broken and soon came to Christ.
The great goal of the Christian life is to be like Jesus. That sounds wonderful until we realize that being like Jesus means submitting to proper authority, even if it’s unjust. It means submitting to please God and to bear witness to the lost. It means following Christ’s example, even as He went to the cross. It means not retaliating when we’re wronged. It means entrusting ourselves to the Righteous Judge, knowing that someday He will right all the wrongs.
These are not easy things for any of us to apply. But consider the rebellious spirit of our age and of our country and ask yourself if you are behaving properly toward those in authority over you, especially at work. Our response to unfair treatment should be submission, not fighting for our rights. If we put our trust in God, He will look out for us and right all the wrongs. It’s true: life isn’t fair! But thank God that Jesus endured unfair treatment on our behalf by bearing our sins so that we could receive eternal life!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
My subject today--”The Meaning of the Cross”--may strike you as being a bit theological and impractical. It sounds like the kind of thing that theology professors may enjoy discussing, but not the sort of thing that will help you work out problems in your marriage or raise your kids or pay your bills or overcome personal problems.
But in reality, there is no more practical subject in all the Bible. The cross of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian faith. The cross reveals to us the character of God: His love for lost sinners and His perfect justice meet at the cross. If we want to grow in our love for God, which is the first and greatest commandment, then we must be growing to understand and appreciate of the cross, which shows us His great love. If we want to grow in godliness, we must grow in understanding the significance of the cross, which confronts the most prevalent and insidious of all sins, namely, pride.
The cross is the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. If you suffer from emotional problems--guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, or whatever--there is healing in the cross of Christ. If you are going through tragedy or suffering, there is comfort in abundance as you contemplate the sufferings of the spotless Savior on your behalf. After all, Peter wrote these very words to slaves who were suffering unjustly under cruel masters. The words about Christ’s wound (referring to the welts produced by whipping) must have spoken to the hearts of these slaves who were whipped unjustly. Peter knew that meditating on the cross would produce in them a heart of overflowing gratitude to the One who bore so much on their behalf.
Keeping the cross of Christ central will protect you from the many winds of false doctrine blowing in our day. Satan hates the cross because it sealed his doom and he is relentless in his attacks to undermine and thwart the cross. Every cult or false teaching in some way diminishes the work of Christ on the cross and magnifies human ability. I believe that the doctrine which Satan is currently working to erode in American Christianity is the doctrine of sin. If he can convince people that they are not sinners who deserve God’s wrath, then they don’t need a crucified Savior. If he can convince Christians that they are not ongoing sinners in daily need of repentance and the cleansing blood of Jesus, then they don’t need to go deeper in appropriating the message of the cross. Thus the centrality of the cross is crucial to all sound doctrine.
First Peter 2:24-25 shows us that
Through Christ’s death on the cross, those who turn to Him are delivered from both the penalty and the power of sin.
All of our problems stem from sin--from our own sin or from the sin of others against us (and our sinful reaction to it) or from the fallen world in which we live. Thus the solutions to our problems center in the cross of Christ.
This is clearly the meaning of the words, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree.” By using the word “tree” rather than “cross,” Peter no doubt had in mind Deuteronomy 21:22-23, where it prescribes the penalty for a condemned criminal, that his body be hanged on a tree: “For he who is hanged is accursed of God.” The apostle Paul refers to the same text in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” Both apostles are saying that Christ took on Himself as our substitute the condemnation which we deserved.
When Peter says that Christ bore our sins, he is citing from Isaiah 53:12 (LXX). (Isaiah 53 permeates 1 Pet. 2:21-25; see Isa. 53:4, 5, 6, 8b, 11b.) The holiness and justice of God demand that a penalty be paid for sin; Christ took that penalty on Himself on the cross. By mentioning Christ’s body, Peter calls attention to the fact of His humanity. Since the human race sinned, a member of the race had to pay the just penalty God demands. But only one who was sinless Himself could pay such a penalty, since others would have to pay for their own sin. Jesus Christ, who alone among the human race committed no sin (1 Pet. 2:22; Isa. 53:9), is the only one capable of bearing the sins of the human race. This bearing of sins was a legal transaction in which God the Father transferred to God the Son the penalty we deserve.
That God sent Christ to bear our sins means that God does not just shrug off our sin. We live in a day of loose justice at best. People commit horrible crimes and get off with a slap on the wrist. A man admits to sexually molesting, killing and dismembering numerous boys, but pleads insanity and will likely end up spending some time in a mental ward. We all know that that is not justice.
Yet I talk to people all the time, many of them Christians, who think that God’s justice is like that. They shrug off sin as if it’s no big deal to God. They think He will just overlook it. But the Bible is very clear: All sin must be judged! Either your sin is on you and you will bear the penalty; or your sin is on Christ who bore the penalty. Either way, God does not take sin lightly! The just penalty must be paid.
During the Napoleonic Wars, men were conscripted into the French army by a lottery system. If your name was drawn, you had to go off to battle. But in the rare case that you could get someone else to take your place, you were exempt.
On one occasion the authorities came to a certain man and told him that his name had been drawn. But he refused to go, saying, “I was killed two years ago.” At first they questioned his sanity, but he insisted that this was in fact the case. He claimed that the records would show that he had been conscripted two years previously and that he had been killed in action. “How can that be?” they questioned. “You are alive now.” He explained that when his name came up, a close friend said to him, “You have a large family, but I’m not married and nobody is dependent on me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.” The records upheld the man’s claim. The case was referred to Napoleon himself, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free because another man had died in his place. (In “Our Daily Bread,” Fall, 1980.)
Jesus Christ bore your sin on the cross, but you must take Him up on the offer. If you turn to Him, you will be delivered from the penalty of sin which God justly must impose. That’s what Peter means when he says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”
But that’s not the end of the matter. Peter goes on to show that Christ’s death not only delivers us from the penalty of sin, but also from its power:
“... that having died to sins, we might live to righteousness; for by His wound you were healed.” Some have wrongly applied the word “healing” to physical healing. But clearly that is not in the context (neither here nor in Isa. 53:5). The “for” (2:25) is explanatory; Peter is explaining further what he means by the healing effected by Christ’s death: Rather than straying like sheep, as we formerly lived, we now have been turned (passive verb in Greek) to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. In other words, Christ’s death delivers us from the ongoing power of sin.
There are three facts about the power of sin which we must grasp from these verses:
“For you were continually straying like sheep” (2:25). Peter uses a verb construction that emphasizes the continual past action of straying. Before we turned to Jesus Christ as our sin bearer, we were characterized by straying from the Good Shepherd, going our own way. We were lost even though we may not have known it. We were in danger of harm and even death, although perhaps we were oblivious to it.
Although I am not a shepherd or farmer, I understand that God did not do us a big favor by comparing us to sheep. Domestic sheep are some of the dumbest animals around. They must be under the care of a shepherd or they will fall prey to carnivorous beasts. If they get lost in bad weather, they are not smart enough or hardy enough to survive. But they’re not even smart enough to know that they’re not smart, so they’re continually wandering off and getting themselves into trouble.
Why do sheep do that? Well, for one thing, they don’t appreciate the intelligence or caring commitment of the shepherd. He knows of better pasture higher up on the slopes, but the sheep don’t know that he knows what he’s doing when he tries to get them to climb the hill. All they know is that it’s difficult and they’re hungry. They see a little patch of grass off the trail and think, “Why go to all the trouble of climbing this hill? This patch of grass looks good enough.” So, following their appetites and ignoring the shepherd, they turn aside for momentary gratification and miss the bountiful provision they would receive if they only followed him to higher ground. Sounds kind of like people, doesn’t it!
Sheep aren’t even smart enough to know that they’re lost or to find their own way back to the shepherd if they wanted to. The only way they come back to him is if he takes the initiative in going out looking for them. This is implied in Peter’s use of the passive verb, “have been turned to the Shepherd.” It is explicit in the parable Jesus told of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in the fold and went out looking for the one that was lost. This means that none of us can boast in our smarts in coming to Christ. If we have turned to Him, it’s because He came looking for us. If you have not yet come to Him, you cannot save yourself. But the Shepherd is seeking you, even today. He wants to deliver you from the power of sin that causes you to stray from His loving care and protection.
The power of sin is so great that we can’t be delivered from it by promising to turn over a new leaf or by sheer will power. There had to be a death of our old man toward sin and a resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ: “... that, having died to sins, we might live to righteousness.” This is the same truth that Paul teaches in Romans 6-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:1-4, and many other places: That when Christ died, we who believe in Him died with Him. We were identified with Him in His death. When He rose from the dead, we, too, were raised to newness of life, so that the power of sin over us was broken.
This sounds wonderful, of course, but the rub is that as a Christian, I don’t feel very dead to sin. To be honest, I don’t even feel faint or weak toward sin! The same evil lusts which formerly controlled my life rear up and entice me with the same force as they did before my conversion. So it sounds like a denial of reality to say that I’m dead to sin. What does the Bible mean?
Two things, as I understand it. First, being dead to sin is an accomplished fact that takes place the instant I am united with Christ at conversion. Most Christians don’t know about it at the time, but it is still true positionally. The moment you trusted in Christ as Savior, you were identified with Him in His death on the cross, so that all the benefits of His death became yours. As Paul puts it (Rom. 6:6, 10-11),
Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be rendered inoperative [lit.], that we should no longer be slaves to sin; ... For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
It’s true, so believe it! “But, still,” you say, “I don’t feel dead. So how can I believe something contrary to my experience?” The key for me is to understand that by death the Bible never means cessation of existence, but rather, separation. When you die physically, your soul is separated from your body. To be identified with Christ in His death means that I am separated from the power of the old nature and from this evil world system. I am now separated from that which formerly had a stranglehold on me. I can choose to obey God rather than the lusts of the flesh.
This idea of separation is brought out by the word Peter uses for death, which occurs only here in the New Testament. It meant to be removed from or to depart, and thus was used euphemistically of death, much as we speak of a departed one. Thayer (Greek lexicon, p. 60) says that Peter means “that we might be utterly alienated from our sins.” My old nature is not eradicated as long as I’m in this body. But it’s power over me has been broken by the cross, so that I can live separately from it.
If you’ve ever jacked up a car so that the drive wheels are off the ground and then stepped on the gas, you know what it means to have a source of power which seems very much alive, but it is rendered inoperative through separation. You can rev up the engine with the car in gear, and the wheels spin like crazy. But the car isn’t going anywhere, because the wheels have been separated from the pavement. That’s one aspect of our union with Christ, that we have been separated from the power of sin, even though it still revs like crazy inside of us.
The second aspect of death involves something I must do, not something that is already done by virtue of my union with Christ. We see these two aspects in Colossians 3:1-5, where Paul says that we have died (3:3) and then turns around and says, “Therefore, put to death ...” (3:5). By this he means that we must take radical action to separate ourselves from various sins that tempt us. It points to the decisive and often painful action of denying ourselves in obedience to God. It must start at the thought level if we want to live in holiness before God.
Peter is referring to the first aspect of death, to the separation that takes place positionally when we trust Christ (“die” is an aorist passive participle whose action precedes that of the main verb, “live”). Having died to sins (in Christ’s death), we are now to go on living to righteousness, which means obedience to the commands of the Bible. If you as a believer in Christ are continually defeated by sin, then you need to enter in a deeper way into the meaning of His death on the cross, which separates you from the power of sin.
Thus the power of sin caused us to stray continually as sheep; it required death and new life for deliverance. Third,
You have been turned “to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.” What a beautiful picture this is, especially for the slaves to whom Peter was writing, who were being mistreated by their earthly masters! Peter tells them that they are under the tender care of the Good Shepherd, who has the welfare of all His sheep in view. The word “Guardian” is “episkopos,” which later came to be translated, “bishop.” In fact, both shepherd and bishop are applied to church leaders as functions they must fulfill (1 Pet. 5:1-2; Acts 20:28). “Episkopos” means to watch over in the sense of guarding. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watches over the souls of His sheep.
Does the fact that Jesus is watching everything you think, say, and do make you uncomfortable or comforted? If you’re seeking to live to righteousness, if your focus is on the cross where the Good Shepherd laid down His life for you as one of His sheep, then it ought to be a comforting thought, that He is keeping watch over your soul. That doesn’t eliminate the need for church leaders to keep watch, nor for you to guard yourself from sin. But if we seek to follow Him, we can know that He will feed, lead, and guard us as our Shepherd and Overseer.
Thus through Christ’s death, we are delivered both from the penalty and from the power of sin. But we must turn to Him.
As I mentioned, the passive verb points to God’s initiative in turning us. We don’t turn to Christ because of our intelligence or strong will power. If we turn, it’s because God graciously turned us (Ps. 80:17-19; Jer. 24:7). And yet, at the same time, we are responsible to turn from sin to God (Isa. 55:7). It involves, according to 1 Peter 2:25, a turning from the self-willed life that seeks our own way (“straying like sheep”) to a life yielded to the shepherding and oversight of Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake: True conversion is not just intellectual assent to the truth of the gospel. Saving faith always involves an exchange of masters, from self to Jesus Christ. While we spend a lifetime growing in our submission to Christ, if we are not seeking to live under His Lordship, our claim to faith is suspect.
A mother of three children went to a counselor. In the course of the session he asked, “Which of your three children do you love the most?” She answered instantly, “I love all three of my children just the same.” The answer seemed too quick, too glib, so the counselor probed, “Come, now! You love all three just the same?” “Yes,” she affirmed, “I love all of them equally.” He replied, “But that’s psychologically impossible. If you’re not willing to level with me, we’ll have to end this session.”
With this the young woman broke down, cried a bit, and said, “All right, I do not love all three of my children the same. When one of my three children is sick, I love that child more. When one of my children is in pain, or lost, I love that child more. When one of my children is confused, I love that child more. And when one of my children is bad--really bad--I love that child more. But except for those exceptions, I do love all three of my children just the same.”
The cross says that God especially loves those who are hurting--those who are under the penalty and power of sin. If you will turn to Jesus Christ and put your trust in what He did for you in taking your just penalty for sin on the cross, He will deliver you from sin’s penalty and from its power. He wants to be your Shepherd and Overseer. He loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way. He wants to heal you from the devastating effects of sin. Will you turn to Him?
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Someone has said, “Usually the husband regards himself as the head of the household, and the pedestrian has the right of way. And, usually, both of them are safe until they try to prove it” (Reader’s Digest [2/83]). Preachers are probably safe until they speak on a text which tells wives to submit to disobedient husbands!
These verses are tough to explain and apply in light of our modern culture. It’s tough enough to teach about the submission of wives to godly husbands. But to teach that wives should submit even to husbands who are ungodly seems cruel and insensitive. Wife abuse is widespread, even, sad to say, among evangelicals. Most of us are familiar with the family patterns in alcoholic homes, where a wife “enables” the husband in his wrong behavior. Many would argue that the wife’s submission contributes to these problems rather than solves them. Is a wife supposed to submit in such situations? If so, what does that mean?
Furthermore, we live in a society that values individual rights, especially of those who are pushed down by the system (such as women). We’re constantly encouraged to stand up for our rights and to fight back when we’re wronged. Self-fulfillment is a supreme virtue in America, and those who are unfulfilled because of a difficult marriage are encouraged to do what they have to do to seek personal happiness. Submission to one’s difficult husband is not usually one of the action points! Christian psychologist James Dobson wrote a book encouraging wives with disobedient husbands to practice “tough love.” How does this fit in with submission?
To understand our text, we must see that Peter’s theme (which began at 2:11) is still Christian witness in an alien world. In that society, a woman was expected to accept her husband’s religion. If a wife became a Christian, she was viewed as being insubordinate. Thus the conversion of women was a culturally explosive situation. Peter didn’t want to compound the problem with a wife’s defiant behavior. So he gives instruction on how Christian women could live with their unbelieving mates in a way that would bear witness for Christ.
We need to understand several things in approaching this text. First, the qualities Peter encourages these women to adopt apply to all Christians, both men and women. We all are to develop a submissive spirit, to be chaste, reverent, gentle and quiet, with an emphasis on the inner person rather than on outward appearance. So even though I direct my comments to wives who have unbelieving husbands, the principles apply to us all, men and women alike.
Second, Peter’s comments do not give warrant for a Christian to enter a marriage with an unbelieving mate. Scripture is clear that believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14; Exod. 34:12‑16; Ezra 9:1‑4). Peter was writing to women who had become Christians after marriage, but whose husbands were not yet believers. Also, the Apostle Paul clearly states that if an unbelieving mate consents to live with a believer, the believer must not initiate a divorce (1 Cor. 7:12‑13). Rather, the believing wife should follow the principles Peter sets forth here, namely, that ...
A Christian wife should live with a difficult husband so that he is attracted to Christ by her behavior.
Peter’s point is that godly conduct is a powerful witness, much more powerful than words without conduct. He does not mean that verbal witness is not important. In the proper context, words are essential to communicate the content of the gospel. Peter’s point is that disobedient husbands are more likely to be won by godly practice than by preaching from their wives. They will notice attractive behavior and through it be drawn to the source of that behavior—a relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to look at seven aspects of such attractive behavior and then answer three practical questions that arise.
“In the same way” points back to 2:13 & 2:18. It does not mean that wives are to submit exactly as slaves submit to their masters (2:18; the word “likewise” in 3:7 is the same Greek word), but rather it connects this section to the whole discourse on Christian submission to authority. Those who argue for “evangelical feminism” quickly go to Ephesians 5:21 and point out that both husbands and wives are to submit to one another. They make that verse the all‑governing one and explain 1 Peter as applying only to the first century because of cultural considerations.
But we can’t throw out the submission of wives to husbands so easily. Paul recognizes a sense in Christian marriage in which each partner submits to the other under Christ, but he also goes on to state that the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church. There is a sense in which Christ submits Himself to the church in self‑ sacrificing service, but at the same time, clearly He is in authority over the church. Before the late 20th century, it never occurred to scholars to interpret these texts the way modern evangelical feminists do. So I think we must interpret and apply them as written.
Before we look at what submission means, note two things about authority and submission. First, the purpose of authority is to protect and bless those under authority, not to benefit the one in authority. Because of sin, those in authority commonly abuse it and God will hold them accountable. But just because the one in authority abuses his position does not give those under authority the right to resist, unless they must resist in order to obey God.
Second, God never tells husbands to get their wives to submit to them. All the commands to submit are directed to wives, not to husbands. A husband who focuses on his authority is out of line. His responsibilities are to love his wife sacrificially (Eph. 5:25) and to live with her in an understanding way, granting her honor (1 Pet. 3:7). Not once is there a command to husbands to get their wives into submission. A husband who suppresses, restricts, or puts down his wife is not exercising proper authority.
What, then, does submission mean? The Greek word is a military term meaning to place in rank under someone. But the biblical spirit of submission involves far more than just grudgingly going along with orders (as often happens in the military). Rather, submission is the attitude and action of willingly yielding to and obeying the authority of another to please the Lord. Some say that the Bible never tells a wife to obey her husband, but Peter holds up Sarah’s obedience to Abraham as an example of biblical submission.
Attitude is crucial. A disobedient little boy was told to sit in the corner. He said, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” That’s defiance, not submission. On the other hand, a person under authority can be strong in arguing for a point of view and yet have a submissive attitude. Submission involves an attitude of respect and a recognition of the responsibility of the one in authority. Rather than trying to thwart his will through manipulation or scheming, a submissive wife will seek to discover what her husband wants and do it to please him, as long as it doesn’t involve disobedience to God.
When Peter says that Sarah called Abraham lord, he is not setting down a mandate for all times. I heard of a wife who fell into bed and exclaimed, “Lord, I’m tired!” Her husband calmly said, “My dear, in the privacy of our own bedroom, you can call me Jim.” Proper submission doesn’t require addressing your husband as lord. But the principle is, submission is reflected by your speech. The tone of your voice and the words you speak reflect whether you respect your husband and are in submission to him, or whether you’re in a power struggle against him.
The source of many marital problems is that the wife is seeking to control the husband to meet what she perceives as her needs and the husband is seeking to dominate the wife to meet what he perceives as his needs. So you have a constant tug of war going on. That’s not the biblical pattern for husbands or wives. The biblical pattern is for the wife to yield control to the husband and to do all she can to please him and make him prosper. The husband is not to dominate, but to do all he can to bless and protect his wife so that she prospers in the Lord. Here’s the catch: You can’t wait for your partner to come up to some acceptable level of performance before you start to do your part. You must obey what God has told you to do and let Him take care of your partner.
“Chaste” (3:2) can be translated “purity” (NIV). It is used in the New Testament to refer to abstaining from sin (1 Tim. 5:22). John uses this word when he tells us to purify ourselves just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3). This means that a wife who wants to win her husband to Christ must live in obedience to God. She will be morally pure. Her husband won’t distrust her because she’s a flirt with other men. She won’t use deception or dishonesty to try to get her own way. She will learn to handle anger in a biblical way. Her hope will be in God (3:5) so that she will have a sweet spirit, even toward a difficult husband. He will see Christlikeness in her.
This could mean respect toward her husband (which a wife is to show, Eph. 5:33), but because Peter’s uses of “fear” in the preceding context refer to reverence toward God (2:17, 18), I take it that way here. The idea is that a godly wife will live in the fear of God, aware that He sees all that is going on (“in the sight of God,” 3:4). To live in the fear of God means that we recognize His holiness and wrath against all sin and therefore live obediently, even when it’s hard.
Peter says that the disobedient husbands may be won without a word as they observe (not, “hear about”) the pure and reverent behavior of their wives. By “without a word” he doesn’t mean that a wife is to be mute. He means that she must not nag or preach to her husband. Nothing will drive a man further from the Lord than a nagging wife. Solomon said it 3,000 years ago, and it’s still true, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared with a contentious woman” (Prov. 21:9). And, “the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13b). Nagging will drive your husband crazy, but it won’t drive him to Christ.
I heard about a husband who nicknamed his wife Peg although that wasn’t her name. When he was asked why, he replied, “Well, Peg is short for Pegasus who was an immortal horse, and an immortal horse is an everlasting nag, so that’s why I call my wife Peg!” Nagging will do one of two things to men: Either it will make him resist and become obstinate, or he will give in to keep the peace. Either response is not good for the wife. If the husband becomes more obstinate, he can become abusive. This creates distance in the relationship. If he gives in to keep the peace, he becomes passive and the wife is put in the role of the decision maker, out from under the covering of blessing and protection that God designed proper authority to be.
Thus attractive behavior involves submission, purity, reverence toward God, and not nagging.
Peter says that such a spirit is precious in the sight of God. I would also add that it is precious in the sight of a husband! What does it mean? “Gentle” is the word sometimes translated “meek.” It is used of Jesus (Matt. 11:29; 21:5). It does not mean weakness of the Caspar Milquetoast variety, but rather strength under submission or control. A horse that is powerful but responsive to the slightest tug of its master is a “gentle” horse. So it refers to a wife who is not selfishly assertive, but rather who yields her rights without yielding her strength of character.
“Quiet” does not mean mute, but rather tranquil or calm, not combative. A quiet woman exudes a confidence in her role and giftedness. She is not out to prove anything, because she is secure in who she is in the Lord. She may be “quiet” and yet be articulate and persuasive in presenting her point of view. But she doesn’t do it in a demanding or obnoxiously assertive way. She is at peace with herself in the Lord. The word “spirit” hints that these qualities are broad enough to allow room for personality differences.
You have become Sarah’s children “if you do what is right.” Peter emphasizes this concept (2:12, 14, 15, 20; 3:6, 11, 13, 16, 17; 4:19). It always occurs in the context of others doing wrong toward us and points to the fact that our behavior shouldn’t be determined by how others treat us. We’re so prone to react to wrong treatment with more wrong treatment and then to blame our sin on the other person’s sin. But God wants us to be prepared to respond to wrongs against us by doing what is right.
If your husband yells at you and you yell back, it escalates the conflict. He will yell louder, then you yell louder yet, and if things get out of hand, he may lose control and say all sorts of nasty things that he wouldn’t say when he’s more rational or he may even hit you. But if he yells at you and you calmly respond, “I can understand why you’re upset. What can I do to help?” you’ve just de‑escalated the quarrel. How can a man fight with that kind of response?
The point of 3:3‑4 is not that a woman should neglect her outward appearance, but rather that her emphasis should be on the inner person. He is not forbidding all braiding of hair or wearing of jewelry, or else he’s also forbidding wearing dresses! Peter’s point is that the emphasis should be on attractive character qualities, which are imperishable, not on elaborate outward attractiveness, which necessarily fades with age. Inner beauty is attractive even to a godless husband, and it enhances a woman’s outward appearance.
A young officer who was blinded during a war met and later married one of the nurses who took care of him in the hospital. One day he overheard someone say, “It was lucky for her that he was blind, since no one who could see would marry such a homely woman.” He walked toward the voice and said, “I overheard what you said, and I thank God from the depths of my heart for blindness of eyes that might have kept me from seeing the marvelous worth of the soul of this woman who is my wife. She is the most noble character I have ever known; if the conformation of her features is such that it might have masked her inward beauty to my soul then I am the great gainer by having lost my sight.” (Donald Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate [Revell], p. 156.) Outer beauty fades, but inner beauty grows stronger over time.
So Peter’s point is that a Christian wife should live with an unbelieving husband so that he is attracted to Christ by her beautiful behavior.
I want to conclude by briefly answering three practical questions that arise on this topic:
Peter’s words, “even if any of them are disobedient to the word” show that he wasn’t just thinking about nice husbands. So we must conclude that a wife may need to submit to some abuse. The difficult question is, How much? My view is that a wife must submit to verbal and emotional abuse, but if the husband begins to harm her physically, she needs to call civil or church authorities. There are civil laws against battery and it is proper for an abused wife to call in authorities to confront and deal with a husband who violates the law. Although physical abuse is not a biblical basis for divorce, I would counsel separation in some cases to protect the wife while the husband gets his temper under control. But even in such situations, a Christian wife must not provoke her husband to anger and she must display a gentle spirit.
I take the words, “without being frightened by any fear” to mean that a woman should not fear her husband’s intimidation more than she fears God (see 3:2, “with fear” [of God]; 3:14‑15). If he tries to scare her into giving up her faith, she must not go along with him.
Some say that because Sarah went along with Abraham’s sinful schemes to pawn her off as his sister (Gen. 12:10‑20; 20:1‑18), that wives should obey their husbands even when they’re told to do something sinful. But that would be a violation of the higher principle that we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Peter’s words, “do what is right” (3:6), show that he is not counseling sinful behavior in the name of submission to a disobedient husband. But, again, if you as a wife must disobey your husband in order to obey God, you can do it in a submissive spirit, letting him know that you love him and want to please him, but it is more important that you obey God.
In other words, is there a proper place for “tough love”? I think the answer is “Yes, but be careful!” Love seeks the highest good of the one loved, and sometimes that means confronting sin. But sometimes love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8), so love doesn’t mean jumping on your husband’s every sin as if you were the Holy Spirit. If you must confront, you should do it in as appealing a way as possible, so that your husband can see that you really care for him. You may say, “Honey, I love you and I value our relationship. But when you drink, it hurts both you and our relationship. You need to get help. I’m not going to cover for your behavior the next time you’re drunk.”
Several years ago a woman in my church came to me, accompanied by two elders’ wives. They proceeded to tell me how unbearable her home life was. Her husband, who had made a profession of faith in Christ after I had shared the gospel with him, was an alcoholic. He was also devoted to his job more than to his family. He was not meeting his wife’s emotional needs. They all had read James Dobson’s Love Must Be Tough and agreed that she needed to create an ultimatum by leaving her husband if he didn’t stop drinking and begin acting toward his family as he should.
I listened and then gently asked where in the Bible they found warrant for a wife leaving her husband because of drinking. One of the elder’s wives, who was on the staff of a Christian organization, exploded at me for my insensitivity in quoting Bible verses at this hurting woman. I calmly replied that the Bible was my only guide for such situations and that if they didn’t want to follow that, I couldn’t help them. I proceeded to explain the concept of 1 Peter 3 and of Hebrews 12, that God sometimes puts us in difficult situations to refine our faith, but that we must obey His Word to reap the benefits.
They left my office and the woman began to apply 1 Peter 3 to herself. The Lord began showing her many ways that she was being selfish and manipulative. She began to seek to please her husband and submit to him. Eventually, he quit drinking and began spending more time with his family. A few months ago, the wife thanked me and said that if I had not stood my ground that day she came to me, she and her husband would be divorced today.
That woman proved what Peter is saying here, that a Christian wife’s behavior should be so beautiful that it attracts her difficult, disobedient husband to her Savior. That should be your overall goal in all your dealings with your husband. Next week I’ll hit the husbands, but today I ask each wife, even if your husband is a believer, to take a look at your behavior in this spiritual mirror and ask, “Is it attractive? Does it make my husband want to follow my Lord Jesus Christ?”
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
I read a fictional story called “Johnny Lingo’s Eight‑Cow Wife” (by Patricia McGerr, Reader’s Digest [2/88], pp. 138‑141) that is a parable on our text. It took place on a primitive Pacific island, where a man paid the dowry for his wife in cows. Two or three cows could buy a decent wife, four or five a very nice one. But Johnny Lingo had offered an unheard of eight cows for Sarita, a girl whom everyone in her home village thought rather plain looking. The local folks all made fun of Johnny, who they thought was crazy to pay so much for a wife.
But when the teller of the story finally sees Johnny Lingo’s wife, she is stunned by her beauty. She asks him how this could be the same woman—how can she be so different? Johnny’s reply shows that he’s nobody’s fool:
“Do you ever think,” he asked, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has settled on the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when the women talk, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.”
“Then you did this just to make your wife happy?”
“I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes. But I wanted more than that. You say she is different. This is true. Many things can change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman in the islands.”
“Then you wanted—”
“I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But‑‑” I was close to understanding.
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an eight-cow wife.”
People tend to live up—or down—to how we treat them. If we offer repeated praise and affirmation, the person responds by living up to it. If we run the person down, they oblige us by meeting our negative expectations. Peter tells husbands that, like Johnny Lingo, they should treat their mates as eight-cow wives. Husbands should understand and honor their wives.
The reason Peter gives this command may startle you, if you aren’t overly familiar with the verse. We are not to treat our wives well so that we will have happy marriages, although that will be one result. Rather, we are to treat our wives properly so that our prayers will not be hindered! Isn’t that startling—that there is an undeniable connection between how you treat your wife and your prayer life! Since effective prayer is at the heart of a walk with God, this means that if a man mistreats his wife, I don’t care what he claims, he cannot be enjoying close communion with God.
Husbands are to understand and honor their wives so that they will have an effective prayer life.
Although it is only a single verse, it is brimming with profound truth that will transform every marriage if we husbands will work at applying its principles. I would translate it freely like this: “Also, husbands should dwell together with their wives according to knowledge, assigning to them a place of honor as to a delicate instrument, namely, a feminine one, as a fellow‑heir of the gracious gift of eternal life, so that a roadblock will not cut off your prayers.” There are two commands and one result: (1) Live with your wife according to knowledge; (2) Grant her honor as a fellow‑heir of the grace of life (= salvation); (3) The result: So that your prayers will not be hindered.
We all have a deep-seated longing to be understood by at least one other person who cares for us and accepts us for who we are. We all enter marriage with high hopes for a deepening understanding to be built between us and our mate. And yet, all too often, a couple grows increasingly callused toward one another.
In American culture, for some reason, men are often inept at understanding their wives on a deep level. So there are disappointments and hurt feelings that never get resolved. The husband shrugs his shoulders, ignores his wife whom he doesn’t understand, and pours himself into his job, which seems to be something he can handle. She shares her feelings with women friends and gets caught up in the frenzy of raising children and running a household. And then the nest starts emptying and the wife starts thinking about going back to school and getting a fulfilling job at about the same time the husband realizes that he isn’t fulfilled through his job and what he really wants is intimacy with his distant wife (or with a younger version who excites him more). It’s no surprise that the divorce curve shoots up at this point in life.
This piece, called “The Wall” (author unknown) captures the drift that often sets in when understanding is lacking in a marriage:
Their wedding pictures mocked them from the table, these two, whose minds no longer touched each other.
They lived with such a heavy barricade between them that neither battering ram of words nor artilleries of touch could break it down.
Somewhere, between the oldest child’s first tooth and the youngest daughter’s graduation, they lost each other.
Throughout the years, each slowly unraveled that tangled ball of string called self, and as they tugged at stubborn knots each hid his searching from the other.
Sometimes she cried at night and begged the whispering darkness to tell her who she was.
He lay beside her, snoring like a hibernating bear, unaware of her winter....
She took a course in modern art, trying to find herself in colors splashed upon a canvas, and complaining to other women about men who were insensitive.
He climbed into a tomb called “the office,” wrapped his mind in a shroud of paper figures and buried himself in customers.
Slowly, the wall between them rose, cemented by the mortar of indifference.
One day, reaching out to touch each other, they found a barrier they could not penetrate, and recoiling from the coldness of the stone, each retreated from the stranger on the other side.
For when love dies, it is not in a moment of angry battle, nor when fiery bodies lose their heat.
It lies panting, exhausted, expiring at the bottom of a wall it could not scale.
No one plans for that to happen, but we all know it does happen all too frequently. How can we prevent it? By working at three aspects of understanding our wives implied in this verse:
Peter says that you should “live with” your wife. You say, “I’ve got that down! We both live at the same address and share the same bed and eat many meals together.” But the Greek word means more than just sharing living quarters. It is used only here in the New Testament, but in the Greek Old Testament it is used several times to refer to the sexual relationship in marriage. Peter uses it to refer to the aspect of togetherness. A husband is to promote a spirit of emotional, spiritual, and physical closeness that is only possible in the commitment of marriage.
It’s significant that Peter puts the responsibility for togetherness on the husband, not on the wife. In our culture, women are often the relational ones. Men aren’t real communicative; they just sort of grunt. But the Bible puts the burden for intimacy in marriage primarily on the husband, not on the wife. If there is a drift in your marriage, men, you are to take the initiative to bring things back together. This doesn’t mean that a wife can’t act first if she notices a distance in the relationship. But it does mean that as men we are to be active, not passive, in developing and maintaining a close relationship with our wives.
I read a true story about a man who made a private vow to try to be a loving, giving, unselfish husband for the two weeks of the family’s vacation. He worked hard at noticing his wife, of attending to her needs, of doing what she wanted to do, even if he really rather would have done something else. It went great. Toward the end of the time, he made a new vow to keep on choosing to love his wife like this.
But on the last night of the vacation, his wife was obviously upset. Finally she blurted, “Tom, do you know something I don’t?” “What do you mean?” he asked. “Well ... that checkup I had several weeks ago ... our doctor ... did he tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me ... am I dying?” It took a moment for it all to sink in. Then Tom burst out laughing, took her in his arms, and said, “No, honey, you’re not dying; I’m just starting to live.” (Tom Anderson, “How Love Came Back,” Reader’s Digest [10/86], pp. 129-130.) Maybe husbands should treat their wives as if they were about to die!
It may sound perfectly obvious, but one way to develop and maintain togetherness in your marriage is to do things together. So many couples live in their own separate worlds. Men, help your wife with the dishes sometimes, not just because she needs the help, but to be together. Take walks together, go shopping together when you can. If you can’t tolerate shopping, at least drive her there sometimes and sit in the mall and watch the people or read a book. The idea is, to be together so that you intertwine your lives. As Simone Signoret observed, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.”
“Dwell together with your wives according to knowledge.” This comes partly through spending time together. The Greek word means to grasp the full reality and nature of the object, based upon experience and evaluation. It is the apprehension of truth, especially (in the N. T.) of spiritual truth (see point C). But here it refers not just to spiritual knowledge, but also to a knowledge of your wife based on careful observation.
Shortly after Ray Perkins took over as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team, someone asked him if his wife objected to his 18-hour workdays. He replied, “I don’t know. I don’t see her that much.” He should have read the fortune cookie message that said, “If a man spend too much time with his fortune, someone else might steal his cookie!” Knowing your wife is not automatic. It takes time and effort.
Every husband needs to become an avid student of his wife. You need to know her personality, her likes and dislikes, her needs, her strengths, her weaknesses, her fears, her hopes, her joys. Such knowledge is a personal trust to be guarded with great care. You should never bring up a vulnerable point as artillery in a disagreement.
Elaine and Dave arrived at the hotel exhausted. Elaine had made all the arrangements for the room and the concert they planned to attend, and she let Dave know about it all the way, telling him how hard she’d worked to coordinate everything.
Then—horrors—they walked up to the desk and the hotel manager told them they had no reservations. He pulled out the letter Elaine had written and proved he was right.
“I had put down the wrong dates,” she groans. “And having been so full of myself, I thought for sure Dave would give me my comeuppance.”
What Dave gave her instead was a hug. “Honey,” he said, “don’t worry. We’ll find something else.” It dawned on Elaine that she’d married the kind of person who never hits you when you’re down. (Judith Viorst, Reader’s Digest).
That man knew his wife and he didn’t use his knowledge to tear her down, but to build her up. That’s what Peter is talking about.
To dwell with your wife “according to knowledge” means knowing her well. But also it has the nuance of knowing spiritual truth well. This is implicit in the phrase, “as fellow‑heirs of the grace of life.” This points to the vast spiritual riches that are ours equally as men and women through faith in Christ (1 Pet. 1:4, 13). As a husband leads his wife spiritually into a fuller knowledge of all that God has prepared for those who love Him, they will grow together in a depth of intimacy the world can’t know. In knowing God and His Word, we will come to know ourselves and our wives and thus be able to relate to them more adequately.
This means, men, that if you’re spiritually passive, you’re not being obedient to what God wants you to be doing as a husband. A lot of men feel inadequate spiritually. Their wives spend time going to Bible studies so that they know more about spiritual things than their husbands do. Many men leave early for work and come home late, too exhausted to spend time alone with God. I know it’s tough. But you can do what you want to do, and if growing and leading your family spiritually is a priority, you can do it.
Thus our first responsibility is to understand our wives, which means developing togetherness, knowing her well, and knowing God and His truth well.
The word “grant” means to assign or apportion that which is due. A wife deserves honor (the Greek word has the nuance of value or worth). Grammatically, the phrase “as a delicate instrument, namely, a feminine one” can go either with “dwell together according to knowledge” or with “assigning her a place of honor.” I take it with the latter, the sense being, rather than take advantage of your wife because she is physically weaker, you should treat her carefully as you would a valuable instrument. A doctor would never think of taking an expensive, delicate instrument and using it to pound a nail. He would “honor” that instrument by treating it well.
In my opinion, if Christian husbands had practiced this well, we wouldn’t have the backlash of the so-called “evangelical feminist” movement. Notice the fine balance that Peter lays out: On the one hand, the wife is the “weaker vessel,” who should submit to her husband (3:1) for the protection and care she needs. On the other hand, she is a fellow-heir of the grace of life, which means that she is not inferior personally or spiritually. Her husband is not to dominate her, but rather to assign to her a place of honor. Thus the Bible maintains a distinctive role for the sexes, but it does not put down women as second-class citizens.
A major part of honoring your wife involves how you speak to her and about her. There is no room for jokes or sarcasm that put down your wife. Also, if you have children, it is your job as head of the household to make sure that they honor their mother. You model it by treating her with honor, but you enforce it by disciplining them for disrespect toward her. You should join the husband of the virtuous woman (Prov. 31:10‑31) in singing her praises. One of the things I often say to Marla and about her behind her back is that she makes our home a refuge for me. She serves you as a church by doing that, so that I get recharged for the ministry by being at home with her.
So the two commands are, Understand your wife; and, honor your wife. The result is:
As I said, this is a somewhat startling conclusion. I would think that Peter would have said, “so that you will have a happy marriage,” or “so that God will be glorified.” Both will be true, of course. But Peter is calling attention to something we often forget or deny: That there is always a correlation between your relationship with your wife and your relationship with God (Matt. 5:23-24; 6:14-15). If you don’t want a roadblock thrown up in your prayer life, then you must understand and honor your wife. It’s also interesting that if the Greek word translated “dwell together” has a sexual connotation, then both here and in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, Scripture brings together that which we invariably separate, namely, sex and prayer. (I’ll let you explore the theological implications of that!)
But please note: If your prayers are not effective, your life is not effective in the ultimate sense. Prayer is at the very center of life, since it is our link with the living God. Everything else in life hinges on having an effective prayer life. Yet, sadly, many Christian couples never pray together. If you don’t pray with your wife, men, why not swallow your pride or fear and begin?
Husbands, your work is cut out for you: To make your wife an “eight-cow” wife! You are to understand her and honor her so that your prayers will not be hindered. The late Bible teacher Harry Ironside once had a super-spiritual young man come to him and say, “Dr. Ironside, I have a spiritual problem. I love my wife too much!” He probably thought that Ironside would commend him for his great dedication to God. But instead, Ironside wisely asked him, “Do you love her as much as Christ loved the church?” When the young man stammered, “Well, no, I don’t love her that much,” Ironside said, “Then go get on with it, because that’s the command.”
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved
“Ah, the good life!” When you hear that phrase, you probably think of Beverly Hills, Palm Springs, or some other such place where the rich and famous lounge around their swimming pools or cruise by in their Rolls Royces. But we all know that that’s not the good life. People in Beverly Hills or Palm Springs aren’t any happier on the average than people in Flagstaff or any other city. In fact, some of the most miserable people in the world are those who live for the things money can buy.
So what is the good life and how do we live it? The truly good life comes from having God’s blessing upon us, particularly in the area of healthy relationships. In fact, God’s blessing is inseparable from having healthy relationships. As 1 John 4:20 bluntly asserts, if we say that we love God but we hate our brother, we’re liars, because if we do not love our brother whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen. Being rightly related to God and to others sums up the message of the Bible (Matt. 22:37-40). So the good life is tied up with good relationships. If, so far as it depends on you, you’re at peace with others (Rom. 12:18), life is sweet, even if you don’t have an abundance of things. But if you’re constantly at odds with others, then you can have all the stuff in the world, but life isn’t so good.
Peter (3:10-11) quotes from Psalm 34 which says that if we want to love life and see good days, then we must do some things with our lips (3:10, which relates to 3:9) and our lives (3:11, which relates to 3:8) that result in healthy relationships. Then Scripture promises that God’s blessing will be on us (3:12). If we don’t live like that, the contrary is true: The face of the Lord will be against us.
The good life results from following God’s principles for healthy relationships: Doing good in our walk and talk.
Peter is summing up (3:8) here the section that began in 2:11-12, where he tells us how to live as aliens or pilgrims in this wicked world. The theme, which continues into chapter 4, is our witness in this hostile territory. Christians are to be distinct in their behavior, noted for obedience to God and submission to proper authority, whether toward government (2:13-17), on the job (2:18-25), or in the home (3:1-7). The commands he gives in this summary section are contrary to the world and its ways and are opposed to our own natural inclinations. If we live like Peter tells us here, we will be foreigners in this world, but we will have a powerful witness for God.
Before we look in detail at how we must live to experience the good life, I want to underscore that our motive for living this way should be to please and glorify God. Our enjoyment of life is a by-product of seeking to please God. God has designed life so that when we seek to make Him look good (= “glorify Him”) by obeying His commands, we inherit a blessing (3:9). When our motive is selfish-- using God to make us happy--we come up empty. There are two broad areas where we must seek to please God: Our walk (our behavior, including our attitude); and, our talk.
“Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it” (3:11). This quote from Psalm 34 supports 3:8: “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” You will note that there is something we must turn away from--doing evil; and something we must actively pursue--doing good and seeking peace.
Implicit in 3:11 is the truth that we all have a natural bent toward evil. The word “evil” is used five times in this paragraph and refers to living for ourselves in disregard of God and others, except as they can serve us. Adam and Eve’s original sin, which plunged the entire human race into sin, was an act of self-will that sought self-fulfillment in disobedience to the command of God. The new birth does not eradicate that evil bent toward self, as any honest Christian will readily admit.
For example, when I’m driving to work (in my case, it’s the Lord’s work!) and I’m listening to the Christian radio station and praising the Lord, and some guy cuts in front of me so that I have to hit my brakes, why don’t I instinctively respond by blessing him and praying for his salvation? The answer is the same as the answer for why a toddler throws a tantrum: I didn’t get my way and I want my way! In fact, when I analyze my anger, I find that most of it stems from one source: I want my way and I didn’t get my way.
The well-known line from the “Pogo” cartoon says it well: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The barrier to the good life, the thing that hinders healthy relationships that bring glory to God, is self. The root of most interpersonal problems is our selfishness in wanting our own way. We all prove it by sitting here thinking, “Yes, I wish my mate would stop being so selfish (so that I could get my way)!” We must turn from evil which means, from the selfishness which marks all of us as fallen sinners. We have to make a conscious choice to deny self on a daily basis.
But it’s not enough just to deny self or turn from evil. Also, we must actively do good and pursue peace with others. The Apostle Paul put it, “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men” (Rom. 12:18). And, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). In other words, peace won’t just happen as we’re indifferent or passive. We’ve got to go after it aggressively.
I read about a mother with a scout troop who said to her son, “I will not take any of you to the zoo if you don’t forgive Billy for stealing your candy bar.” “But Billy doesn’t want to be forgiven,” her son complained. He won’t even listen.”
“Then make him,” his mother said angrily. Suddenly, her son chased Billy, knocked him to the ground, sat on him, and yelled, “I forgive you for stealing my candy bar, but I’d sure find it easier to forget if you’d wipe the chocolate off your mouth!” (Told by Josephine Ligon, “Your Daffodils Are Pretty,” Christianity Today [3/2/79], p. 18).
We’re not supposed to be that aggressive in pursuing peace! But you get the idea. We can’t be indifferent or passive about it. Jesus said that if you’re worshiping God and suddenly remember that your brother has something against you, leave the worship service, go be reconciled to your brother, and then come back and worship God (paraphrase of Matt. 5:23-24). We are to take the initiative to do all we can to restore strained relationships.
It’s always time consuming and more of a hassle to do that than it is to let it slide. We’d rather not expend the emotional energy and time involved in getting things straightened out. We figure that time will heal. Besides, it’s always humbling to admit I was wrong! So we don’t actively pursue peace. Of course, love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8); we aren’t supposed to confront a person every time he offends us. We should absorb it if we can. But if I have offended someone or if his offense is such that I can’t relate to him without clearing it up, then I need to set aside the time to seek peace.
Say to the one you wronged, “God has shown me how wrong I was to [name the offense]. I want to live in a way that pleases Him. I’ve come to ask, ‘Will you forgive me?’” If someone else has wronged you, be careful not to accuse or attack them, but seek to restore them in a spirit of gentleness, remembering that you, too, are a sinner (Gal. 6:1). Thus, to do good in our walk, we must turn from evil (selfishness) and pursue peace.
Peter mentions five character qualities (3:8):
Harmonious—A harmonious person seeks to get along with others. He is not self-willed, demanding his own way, and judging those who don’t go along with him. He is a team player who considers the other person’s perspective and gives others room to be different. He accepts people as Christ accepts them. He knows the difference between biblical absolutes, which must not be compromised, and gray areas, where there is latitude for difference. He gives people time to grow, realizing that it is a process. In the words of Augustine, “On essentials, unity; on non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
The only way that it’s possible for people with different backgrounds, personalities and ways of thinking to be harmonious is to be committed to growing in obedience to God’s Word. That’s one reason why it’s crucial for people entering into marriage to base their relationship on a common commitment to God and His Word. God’s Word then is the basis for authority and direction in the marriage. Both partners are seeking to conform their lives to the Word of God. Thus they are on the same team, with the same outlook and interests. Mutual submission to God and His Word is crucial for harmony, whether in the home or in the church.
Sympathetic—“affected by like feelings.” Our Savior is one who sympathizes with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15) and so we are to enter into what others are feeling. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). We are to allow the sufferings of others to touch our emotions. We are to be sensitive to how we would feel if we were in the other person’s place. We should do all we can to make him or her feel accepted and loved. God made us all with emotions, and healthy relationships must take into account others’ feelings.
Brotherly—The Greek word is “philadelphoi,” brotherly love. It points to the fact that as believers we are members of the same family. But we must also show brotherly love to those outside the family of God, since we’re all members of the human family (Acts 17:28). Often an opportunity to be brotherly toward another person opens the door for witness about our Lord Jesus Christ.
Kindhearted—“tenderhearted, compassionate.” In the New Testament it is used only here and Ephesians 4:32. The root word means “bowels.” The idea is to have deep inward feelings and genuine concern for the other person. I don’t know if there is any distinction between it and “sympathetic.” But both words have an emotional element that shows us that Christian behavior must go beyond cold duty. Others should sense that we genuinely care for them from our hearts.
Humble in spirit—“lowliness of mind.” Jesus described Himself as “humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29, using a cognate word). This quality was not seen as a virtue by pagan writers in Bible times. It was Christians who elevated it as a virtue. In our day, Christian writers seem to have reverted to the pagan ways, since almost every book dealing with relationships says that you must learn to love yourself and boost your self-esteem before you can love others. But the Bible clearly teaches that we must lower, not raise, our estimate of ourselves if we want harmonious relationships (Phil. 2:3).
Did you know that there is not one verse in the entire Bible that commands us to love ourselves? There are several verses that affirm that we do love ourselves and that command us to love others as much as we do in fact love ourselves. There aren’t any verses that say that low self-esteem is the source of relational problems and that the solution is to raise our self-esteem. But there are many verses that say that selfishness and pride (thinking too highly of ourselves) are sources of our conflicts, and that we must esteem others more highly than ourselves (see Phil. 2:1-5; James 4:1-3; 1 Pet. 5:5). And yet Christian counselors are telling us that our relational problems would be solved if we’d just work on our self-esteem! The Bible says, “Work on your humility.”
Thus the good life results from healthy relationships which result from doing good in our walk: turning from evil and seeking peace; and developing these Christlike character qualities.
Do you want the good life? Peter says (3:10b), “Refrain [lit., “stop”] your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile [deception].” Our lips must back up the good deeds in our lives if we want to enjoy the good life. Peter brings out three aspects to doing good in our talk:
Verse 10 (from Psalm 34) supports Peter’s command in 3:9, that we are not to retaliate when we are insulted, but rather to give a blessing instead, which means to speak well to the other person or to bring good to them. This principle runs counter to the world (and to much of the advice being given in the Christian world). The world says, “If someone abuses you verbally, you don’t have to take it! Stand up for your rights! Assert yourself! Let them know that you have more self-respect than that!” But God says, “If someone insults you, bless them. Say something kind to them in return.” Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28). I know it’s not easy, but it’s what God commands.
We’re not talking here about clarifying misunderstandings through conversation. There are proper times to state your point of view and speak the truth in a calm manner. What we’re looking at here is when a person is being purposely abusive toward you. He’s trying to pick a fight or bait you. Peter says, “Don’t respond to such abuse with more abuse. Don’t top his put down of you with a better put down of him. Don’t counter his name-calling by calling him names. Don’t retort to his sarcasm with more sarcasm. Don’t react to his attack by attacking him. Instead, respond with kind words.”
Peter says that we should stop our lips from speaking guile (3:10b). The word was used by Homer to mean “bait” or “snare.” It refers to anything calculated to deceive, mislead or distort the facts. Deception is a barrier to communication and healthy relationships, since it destroys trust. It may be a deliberate attempt to bend the facts to suit your side of the story. Or perhaps you don’t mention certain facts so that the other person gets a skewed view of what really happened. It may be telling a person one thing to his face, but saying another thing behind his back. That way, people side with you against the person you are slandering. It may be exaggeration: “You (or he) always ...” “You (or he) never ...”
I realize that there are difficult situations where it is hard to be honest. Do you tell a dying relative the truth about his condition? Or, in a not so serious, but just as tough situation, what do you tell your wife when she asks, “Do you like my new hairdo?” You pray for tact and wisdom at such moments. But I argue that truthfulness is always the best policy. Deception hurts healthy relationships and doesn’t please God.
Thus, negatively, doing good in our talk means not retaliating and not deceiving. Positively,
We are to speak well of others and to others (“giving a blessing”). As Paul puts it, we are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We are to speak words which build up, not which tear down. “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19).
If we would apply this in our homes—not trading insults, not deceiving, but speaking words that build up the other person—we would put marriage and family counselors out of business. Think about your speech in your family this past week. How much of it was sarcastic, critical, angry, accusatory? And how much was aimed at blessing and building up your family members?
You may protest, “We just kid each other with humorous gibes back and forth!” But I contend that trading put-downs, no matter how much in jest, does not build up the other person. When I was in college, I met each week for dinner and a discipleship time with a group of guys. Much of our time was spent bantering back and forth with funny comments to make the other guy look bad. One night a new Christian in the group confronted us by saying, “Hey, guys, this chopping each other down is sin!” We all protested at first, but he stuck to his guns until we realized that he was right. We weren’t blessing and building each other up. We had to repent.
Some might be thinking, “Now wait a minute. You’ve been talking about denying myself, laying down my rights, not retaliating, blessing those who insult me, being harmonious. sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble. But it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there! If you knew my husband (or wife or boss or roommates), you’d know that if I really did that, I’d get trampled! Who’s going to look out for my rights? Who’s going to protect me if I act like that?”
Peter adds verse 12 to show you: God will! His eyes are on the righteous. His ears attend to their prayer. But His face is against those who do evil. Our responsibility is to please the Lord by doing good in our walk and talk. He is responsible to protect us and to answer our prayers.
Barbara Bush spoke at the Wellesley College commencement a couple of years ago. She said,
As important as your obligation as a doctor, a lawyer or a business leader will be, you are a human being first, and those human connections with spouses, with children, with friends are the most important investments you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend or a parent. Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House but on what happens inside your house. (Reader’s Digest [1/91], pp. 157-158.)
She’s right! Healthy relationships are at the core of the good life. They are essential if we want to glorify God and enjoy His blessings. I know of no other Scripture that would do more good for our relationships in our families and in our church than 1 Peter 3:8-12. I ask you to commit it to memory and take whatever steps necessary to apply it to your relationships. That’s how to live the good life!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
I begin this message with a disclaimer, namely, that I am not qualified to preach it. Before you point your finger and exclaim, “Ha! Then, why are you preaching it?” I also point out that you are not qualified to hear it!
I am an American pastor who lives a reasonably comfortable life by preaching God’s Word. I’ve never been threatened with imprisonment or torture for my faith. I’ve never had my property confiscated or my family torn away from me because of my commitment to the gospel. Nor have any of you, to my knowledge, suffered much for your faith in Christ. If I were a Chinese pastor who had served years in a harsh prison for preaching the gospel and you were a Chinese church, whose very presence here this morning represented great risk of persecution, I could preach this text with power and you could hear it well.
But even though we have not paid that kind of price for our faith, we all have faced the fear of witnessing to lost people about the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know if it’s the flesh or an inbred fear of conflict or what, but we’ve all felt the churning stomach and sweaty palms that go with the thought, “Uh oh! I need to talk to this person about Jesus Christ! I’m scared! What am I going to do?”
Peter’s theme in our text is Christian witness in a hostile world. His words apply whether we are facing torture for our faith or whether we’re just nervous about the thought of telling someone about Christ. He’s saying,
The best witness in this hostile world combines good behavior with thoughtful words under Christ’s lordship.
Note in your Bible where each aspect of this theme comes from: First, the hostility of the world toward believers—3:13 (“harm you”); 3:14 (“suffer”; “do not fear their intimidation and do not be troubled”); 3:16 (“slandered”; “revile”); 3:17 (“suffer”).
Second, the best witness combines both good behavior and thoughtful words: Good behavior—3:13 (“zealous for what is good”); 3:14 (“righteousness”); 3:16 (“good conscience”; “good behavior”); 3:17 (“doing good”). Thoughtful words—3:15 (“defense” [Greek = apologia; “account” [Greek = logos]). Both terms refer to verbal witness.
Third, Christ’s lordship—3:15 (“sanctify Christ as Lord”; 3:16 (“good behavior in Christ”); 3:17 (“the will of God”).
These three themes show us, first, the place we are called to witness (a hostile world); second, the practice of our witness (good behavior combined with thoughtful words); and, third, the governing power of our witness (the lordship of Jesus Christ). The section is connected by the word “and” to the quote from Psalm 34 (1 Pet. 3:10-12), where Peter assures us that God will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. That’s an important truth to keep in mind as we face hostility or feel intimidated about witnessing. Fearing God above all else will take care of the fear of man and give us the boldness we need to bear effective witness for our Savior.
By quoting Psalm 34, Peter has reminded us that believers are to seek peace, but also that there are in this world those who are righteous and those who are evil. The implication of verse 13 (in the Greek text) is that if we are zealous for what is good, generally speaking, we will not be persecuted. It’s the same principle as Proverbs 16:7, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” That’s not a promise without exception, but a maxim that generally holds true. An upright life is more peaceful than a wicked life.
But also, Peter may be looking at ultimate harm and ultimate good. Jesus told the twelve (Matt. 10:28), “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.” As Peter points out (3:16, 17), if we maintain a good conscience when we’re slandered, someday our enemies will be put to shame, either in this life, when our good behavior exposes their lies for what they are, or at the judgment when God calls them to account. Those who do evil will suffer, either here, through civil or divine consequences, or in eternity. Those who do good may suffer here, but they will be vindicated in eternity.
But, because God does not immediately judge the wicked, we may face suffering because of our righteous living. Often sinners feel condemned in the presence of a righteous person, even if the person hasn’t said a word about God, because their sin is exposed and their guilty conscience is confronted by the life of the believer. R. C. Sproul (The Holiness of God [Tyndale], pp. 91-92) tells about a leading professional golfer a few years ago who was invited to play in a foursome with Gerald Ford, Jack Nicklaus, and Billy Graham. He had played with Nicklaus before, but he was in awe of playing with Ford and Graham.
After the round was finished, one of the other pros came up and asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the President and with Billy Graham?” The pro unleashed a torrent of cursing, and said in a disgusting manner, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat.” With that he turned and stormed off, heading for the practice tee.
His friend followed the angry pro and watched him take out his driver and beat ball after ball in fury. The friend said nothing, but just sat on a bench and watched. After a few minutes, the pro had calmed down. His friend said quietly, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there?” The pro heaved an embarrassed sigh and said, “No, he didn’t even mention religion. I just had a bad round.”
On that occasion, Billy Graham didn’t suffer on account of righteousness, although he may have if the angry golfer hadn’t admitted the truth. Peter says that if we do suffer for the sake of righteousness, we are blessed. By “blessed” he doesn’t mean good feelings, but rather the joy that comes from knowing that our lives are pleasing to God. He is reflecting Jesus’ teaching, “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. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). As 1 Peter 3:17 makes clear, sometimes it is God’s will that we suffer for doing what is right. But, as we’ll see (Point 3 below), Christ is still Lord and we can still trust Him and not fear.
So the first thing we need to recognize is that the world is hostile toward Christ and if we are identified with Christ, there’s always the possibility that the world will be hostile toward us (John 15:18-20). But God has left us here to bear witness of His mercy toward those who are at war with Him. How do we do it faithfully?
Our lives provide the foundation for our lips to speak about the Savior.
This theme runs through the whole epistle, including five times in this paragraph (3:13, “good”; 14, “righteousness”; 16, “good conscience,” “good behavior”; 17, “doing good”). Paul often emphasized the same thing (see Titus 2:7, 10, 14; 3:1-2, 8, 14; contrast with Titus 1:16; 3:5). As Christians we are to be zealous for good deeds. It is especially important that we deal rightly with those outside the faith, so that the name of Christ will not be dishonored.
I often hear about Christians and even Christian organizations who are shady in their business dealings with the world. Either they don’t pay their bills on time or they try to cheat or be dishonest or they hassle the person they’re doing business with to the point where the unbeliever says, “I don’t want to deal with this person again!” That’s a bad witness!
Peter says that we need to keep a good conscience (3:16). Our conscience is not an infallible guide, since it can be warped. For example, a new believer may have no qualms about lying or cheating, since his conscience has not yet been shaped by God’s Word. When he was a pagan, everybody lied and cheated, so he brought that over into his Christian life. But as he grows to know God’s Word (and this growth can happen very rapidly), his conscience becomes informed by that Word. If he acts in obedience, his conscience will begin to check him in things that never bothered him before.
A good conscience is essential for effective witness. If you know that you’re covering sin in your own life instead of confessing and forsaking it, then please keep quiet about your claim to be a Christian. Every time some TV preacher gets caught with a prostitute, the enemies of the Lord mock and blaspheme. It’s also true on a lesser scale at your place of work if people know that you’re a Christian, but see you living an inconsistent life. But if you live obediently to Christ, and when you wrong someone you go to them and make it right, you have a good conscience that makes for powerful witness.
I read (“Our Daily Bread,” [Dec.-Feb., ‘82-’83]) of a Christian baroness who lived in the highlands of Nairobi, Kenya, who had a young national employed as her houseboy. After three months he asked the baroness to give him a letter of reference to a friendly sheik some miles away. The baroness, not wanting the houseboy to leave just when he had learned the routine of the household, offered to increase his pay. The boy replied that he was not leaving for higher pay.
Rather, he had decided he would become either a Christian or a Muslim. This was why he had come to work for the baroness for three months. He wanted to see how Christians acted. Now he wanted to work for three months for the sheik to observe how Muslims lived. Then he would decide which religion he would follow. The baroness was stunned as she recalled her many shortcomings in dealing with the boy over the past three months. She could only exclaim, “Why didn’t you tell me at the beginning!”
Lost people are watching our behavior, even when we don’t realize it. If we are zealous for what is good, especially when we’re mistreated, it’s a powerful witness. I’m not talking about being sinless, but rather about living obediently to Christ as the bent of your life, and when you sin, confessing it and making it right with those you sinned against. That kind of righteous life is the basis for verbal Christian witness.
“... always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (3:15). The fact that they are asking implies that they have noticed our good behavior. They have seen us bear up with hope and joy, even when we’ve been mistreated. Sooner or later, they’re going to ask, “Why do you live as you do?” Peter says, “Be ready to tell them!”
“Defense” is the Greek word “apologia,” from which we get our words “apology” and “apologetics.” It had the meaning of a prepared legal defense. The word translated “account” is the Greek “logos,” meaning “word.” Both words imply a thoughtful, logical, well-reasoned presentation of the gospel. It’s possible that in the back of his mind, Peter was recalling his own miserable failure on the night Jesus was betrayed, when Peter was taken off guard by a servant girl and ended up denying that he even knew Jesus. If he had just been prepared, he might have done better.
God often uses our failures in witnessing to show us our need to be prepared. During my sophomore year of college, I was in a group discussion class. To get everyone interested so that we would get a better grade, we would pick the most controversial topics we could think of. This was on the front end of the hippie, drug, and free sex movement. There was one guy in our group who invariably took the opposite point of view from me. If we talked about sex outside of marriage, I was against it and he was for it. Homosexuality: I was against it, he was tolerant. Using drugs: I was against it and he had done it.
Finally, one day outside the class, he came up to me and said, “Hey, man, I want to know—are you for real or are you just putting us on in there?” I was a bit taken aback, so I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You’re so straight. I’ve never seen anybody like that before. I just wondered if you’re really that way or not.” It was a perfect opportunity to share my faith in Christ, but I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know what to say, so I just mumbled something about, “Yes, I’m really that straight,” but I didn’t tell him about Christ. But God used that failure a few months later to make me respond to the opportunity to get some training in how to share my faith.
The gospel message is simple: You need to tell a person what sin is and what it has done in terms of alienating us from God. They need to know who Christ is and how He bore our sin through His death and resurrection. And they need to know how to accept God’s gift of eternal life and forgiveness through faith. Learn some key verses for each point and you’ve got it. We’re often afraid that someone will ask some thorny question that we can’t answer. You can always say, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out.” But there are only about a dozen questions that you’ll ever get asked.
You don’t need to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a lion! Just uncage it and it will take care of itself. The basic problem of every person is the same: He’s a sinner, alienated from God. Every person needs the same thing: Forgiveness of sins and new life in Jesus Christ. People often raise objections and questions to divert you from their sin because they don’t want to face it. Often I will ask a person, “If I can resolve this question, will you commit yourself to Jesus Christ?” Or, I’ll say, “If you will read the Bible and tell God, ‘If You show me that this is true, I’ll obey it,’ then He will show you.” Invariably a person’s resistance isn’t due to intellectual reasons, but due to moral reasons.
We need to be careful to avoid arguing. We can win the argument and lose the person. That’s not what Peter means by making a defense. He means that we should calmly present the truth in a clear manner. He adds that we must do it with gentleness and reverence. Gentleness isn’t weakness or lack of boldness. Rather, it means strength under control. Reverence refers to fearing God more than men. We can speak confidently because we fear God and His opinion above any human opinion. As we share the gospel kindly, without quarreling, we should silently be asking God to grant repentance and bring the person to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
The place where we are called to witness is an often-hostile world. The practice of our witness combines good behavior with thoughtful words.
“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (3:15). (The KJV and New KJV are based on a weaker text, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” “Christ” is clearly the original.) To sanctify means to make holy or set apart. It’s the same word used in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus said, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” To hallow God’s name means to set it apart as holy, to reverence God above all others.
To understand this verse, we must realize that Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8:12-13. In that context, faithless King Ahaz of Judah had allied himself with Assyria to stave off an invasion from Israel and Syria. Isaiah and the faithful remnant were being charged with conspiracy because they opposed this godless alliance. The Lord is encouraging them not to fear the Assyrians nor those in Judah who were charging them with conspiracy, but rather, they were to fear the Lord of hosts and regard Him as holy (“sanctify” Him).
The significant thing is that Peter changes “the Lord of hosts” into the “Lord Christ,” thus showing that he believed Jesus Christ to be one and the same as the Lord of hosts in Isaiah. He is telling us to fear Christ as God above anyone who threatens to harm us because of our witness. Because Jesus Christ is the Lord of hosts, over all rule and authority, we can trust Him to triumph ultimately, no matter what sufferings we may have to endure for His sake (see Matt. 11:2-6).
We need to remember that if they persecuted and killed Jesus in His first coming, they may do the same to us. But we are called to bear witness, even in the face of hostility, through our good behavior and thoughtful words, in submission to His lordship, knowing that He will return in power and glory to crush all opposition and reign in righteousness.
In his book, Everyday Evangelism (IVP, pp. 21-22), Tom Eisenman tells a moving story that shows that we all can be effective witnesses in this hostile world if we will combine good deeds with verbal witness in submission to Christ’s lordship. David, a ninth grade boy in their youth program, was big for his age and very tough, but he had a heart for Jesus. In school he was making a coffee table for his mother as a Christmas gift. He finished it a few days before Christmas and left it in the shop so he wouldn’t have to take it home and hide it. On the last day of school before vacation David went to pick up his table. He was shocked to find that someone had stolen it.
David had a lot of friends. It didn’t take him long to find out who took his table. It was a younger boy who was unpopular and frail. David easily could have beat him up. Instead, he spent his entire Christmas vacation in the shop at school making a duplicate table. When he had it finished, he went to the other boy’s house. When the younger boy opened the door and saw David standing there, he was petrified. David just said, “I have something I’d like to give you and your family for Christmas.” He handed him the new table.
The younger boy burst into tears. He went into the house and came back with David’s first table. The boys talked. The younger boy asked forgiveness, and David granted it. Within a few weeks the younger boy was attending the youth program at the church and eventually he became a Christian.
Would you examine your own life? Are you zealous for good deeds, even when you’re mistreated? Are you able to give a gentle defense of the gospel? Do you fear the Lord Christ above everyone else? If not, make the necessary adjustments. Then God will use you mightily as His witness in this hostile world.
Two good books on witnessing: Concentric Circles of Concern [Broadman Press], by W. Oscar Thompson, Jr., and How to Give Away Your Faith [IVP], by Paul Little.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
When I was in seminary, one of the things they taught us in homiletics (how to preach) was, if an illustration is so complicated that you have to explain it, you’d better pick another one. The point of an illustration is to make something clear, not to make it more confusing.
While I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write this epistle, humanly speaking I wish he had followed that principle. Our text is Peter’s illustration to explain the point made in the verses just above, namely, that we are called to bear witness in a hostile world, but we can trust God to vindicate us. Peter uses Christ as the main example, showing that His unjust suffering resulted in witness and that He was vindicated through His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God. Noah was another example of a man who bore witness to a hostile world and was vindicated by God who delivered him and his family through the flood. Thus Peter’s readers should be willing to bear witness through baptism, even if it meant persecution, knowing that God will vindicate them.
While Peter’s overall point is clear, the details are incredibly complex. Most commentators acknowledge that these are some of the most difficult verses in the New Testament to interpret. Even Martin Luther says that this is perhaps the most obscure passage in the New Testament and admits that he does not know for certain just what Peter means (Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and Jude [Kregel], p. 168). Simon Kistemaker points out that the meaning of each word in verse 19 varies and he cites D. Edmond Hiebert who says, “Each of the nine words in the original has been differently understood” (New Testament Commentary: Peter and Jude [Baker], p. 141). So while the overall point is clear, we cannot be certain on the details. The main point is:
Since Christ bore witness through His suffering and was vindicated, we, too, can bear witness through suffering and trust God to vindicate us.
There are three sub-points: A. Christ suffered unjustly on our behalf (3:18); B. Christ bore witness through His unjust suffering (3:19); C. Christ was vindicated through His resurrection and ascension (3:18b, 21b-22).
The word “for” (3:18) shows that Peter is explaining what preceded, namely, that we may suffer for doing what is right as a means of bearing witness. As in 2:21-25, Peter points us to Christ as our chief example (“also,” 3:18), but then he takes us beyond Christ’s example to the uniqueness of His substitutionary death. So the overall effect is to urge us to imitate Christ, but also to show us that there is a point at which the imitation stops and we must bow before Christ who alone is exalted over all.
Some of you may have versions that read, “Christ suffered for sins” (rather than “died”). The textual evidence is evenly divided. Since “suffered” is a favorite word of Peter’s and since he doesn’t use the verb “to die” anywhere else (compare, “put to death,” 3:18), I lean toward “suffered” as the original. It fits Peter’s theme of linking his suffering readers with the Savior who suffered on their behalf (3:14, 17; 4:1).
Christ’s suffering involved “the just for the unjust” (or, “righteous for the unrighteous”). Right away we see that Christ is our example in suffering, but He is more than our example. Only Christ is just or righteous. None of us, when we suffer, can truly say, “I don’t deserve this!” We do say that because we erroneously compare ourselves with other sinners and think, “I’m a good person! I don’t do drugs or cheat on my mate or murder. I’m basically honest and law-abiding. Why should I suffer when scoundrels get away with murder and enjoy a good life?”
But our problem is, we’re comparing ourselves with the wrong standard! If we would compare ourselves with the absolute righteousness of God, we would see that the only thing we deserve is hell! Each of us has broken God’s Ten Commandments over and over and over, even as believers in Christ. We put other gods before the living and true God. We make idols for ourselves. We take His name in vain. We don’t keep His day as holy. We dishonor our parents. We murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet. If we think we don’t, read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows the self-righteous what the true standard of the law means. Truly, we are unrighteous; only Jesus Christ is righteous.
God, in His perfect justice, cannot just shrug off our sin. But He took our sin and put it on Jesus Christ, the righteous, to bear the penalty we deserve. The purpose was that Christ might “bring us to God.” The word was used by the Greek writer Xenophon for an admission to an audience with the Great King. You just didn’t stroll into the presence of a great king and say, “How’s it going?” You had to have someone to introduce you properly. Because the righteous Christ bore our sins, He can bring us into an audience with the Great King.
One other point: Christ’s death for sins was “once for all.” His death was sufficient to pay for all the sins we have committed and will commit. The author of Hebrews makes this point repeatedly and with great emphasis, contrasting the repeated sacrifices of animals under the old covenant with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ under the new (Heb. 10:1-18, esp. vv. 10, 11, 12, 14, 18).
The point is, if you’ve put your trust in Christ, then your sins are on Him and you have been reconciled to God once-for-all. God wants every believer to come to the place of full assurance where you understand that the basis of your acceptance with God is not your performance; it is His grace, that Christ died for your sins once for all and you have trusted in Him, not in your own good works. The hymn writer (Horatio Spafford, “It Is Well”) put it,
My sin, O, the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
That’s the good stuff! Now, for something a bit more complex:
We need to answer three questions: (1) To whom did Christ bear this witness? (2) What did Christ proclaim? (3) When did Christ bear this witness?
There are three main groups of interpretations (I’m relying on Edwin A. Blum, 1 Peter [12:241], in Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], Frank Gabelein, general editor). In the first group, Christ went down to Hades (the realm of the dead) during the interval between His death and resurrection and preached to Noah’s contemporaries. Clement of Alexandria (ca. A.D. 200) taught this view (Kistemaker, p. 144). This group is subdivided into those who say that Christ gave a second offer of salvation to those who perished in the flood; those who say that He announced judgment to them; and, those who say that He announced salvation to those already saved.
Calvin (Institutes, II:XVI:9) seems to take it that Christ went to the nether world and preached the fulness of grace to the righteous dead and condemnation to the wicked dead. He also affirms the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, that Christ “descended into hell,” to mean that He bore the full wrath of God on our behalf (II:, II:XVI:9) seems to take it that Christ went to the nether world and preached the fulness of grace to the righteous dead and condemnation to the wicked dead. He also affirms the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, that Christ “descended into hell,” to mean that He bore the full wrath of God on our behalf (II:XVI:10-12).
A second group of interpreters take it that the pre-incarnate Christ preached through Noah to Noah’s disobedient contemporaries. Augustine (ca. A.D. 400) taught this view (Kistemaker, ibid.).
A third group of interpreters think that Christ proclaimed His victory on the cross to fallen angels. This group is subdivided into those who say that this took place between His death and resurrection (through a descent into hell) and those who say that He made this proclamation in His ascension.
With that as an overview, let’s try to answer the three questions: (1) To whom did Christ bear this witness? In other words, who are “the spirits who once were disobedient in the days of Noah”? To me, it is decisive that the word “spirits” in the New Testament “always refers to non-human spiritual beings unless qualified” (Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter [Eerdmans, NICNT], p. 139). Since these spirits are “in prison,” I take it to refer to demons who influenced the terrible wickedness on earth in Noah’s day and were put into hell to await the final judgment (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Thus I do not understand Peter to be referring to Christ’s preaching through Noah to his contemporaries.
Some say that these demons cohabited with women before the flood, leading to the increase of sin on earth in that day (Gen. 6:1-4), but I think that view creates many more problems than it solves. These demons influenced people then just as they do now, only to a greater extent then. When God judged the world through the flood, He also judged these demonic forces. It was to these confined demons that Christ bore witness of His triumph over Satan through the cross.
(2) What did Christ proclaim? The verb means, “to proclaim” or “announce.” Peter uses another verb for “proclaim the gospel” (1:12, 25; 4:6; noun in 4:17). The idea that Christ would give an offer of salvation to souls who have already died or to fallen angels is foreign to the Bible (Heb. 2:16; 1 Pet. 1:12). Hebrews 9:27 states that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” There is no second chance for salvation after death (Luke 16:26). So I understand that Christ proclaimed His victory over sin, death, and Satan (Col. 2:15) to the fallen angels who had been confined to hell since the time of the flood.
(3) When did Christ bear this witness? The answer to this question largely depends on how you interpret the phrase, “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (3:18). If you take the two phrases, “in the flesh” and “in the spirit” to be exactly parallel, then the meaning is that in His human sphere Christ was killed, but in His resurrected sphere He went and made proclamation to the spirits in prison. Connecting the verb “went” in 3:19 with the same verb in 3:22, it is concluded that in His ascension the risen Christ made this proclamation.
But if you take the phrase “in the spirit” to mean “by the [Holy] Spirit” (there are no capital letters in the original text), then Peter would be referring to the Holy Spirit as the agent of Christ’s resurrection (see Rom. 1:4; 8:11). The passive voice may lend weight to this view (see discussion in Kistemaker, p. 140). Ephesians 4:8-9, which talks of Christ descending into the lower parts of the earth and then leading captivity captive in His ascension, seems to allow that Christ descended into hell before His ascension (“lower parts of the earth” can also mean “the grave”). Since the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed about Christ’s descent into hell has been there since the early centuries of the church (see Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker], p. 314), I lean toward the view that between His death and resurrection, Christ went into Hades and made proclamation of His victory, which was further displayed in His ascension.
All of that is to explain what it means that Christ bore witness through His unjust suffering! Peter’s third point about Christ is:
He was raised from the dead (3:18b, 21b) and now is at the right hand of God, with all the spiritual powers made subject to Him. Though “we do not yet see all things subjected to Him” (Heb. 2:8), we know that the victory was won and it’s just a matter of time for the outcome to be revealed. As the angels told the disciples as they gazed upward as the risen Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).
If someone scoffs, “If this is true, then why hasn’t He come back sooner?” the answer is, “Because just as in the days of Noah, God is patient, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:3-10). Just as in Noah’s day the flood was delayed for many years, and yet certain, so the second coming of Jesus Christ to judge the earth has been delayed, but is drawing ever closer. The patience of God keeps waiting, but He will not wait forever. Today is the day of salvation!
The application of Peter’s pointing to Christ, who bore witness through suffering and was vindicated by God, is:
Peter implies that we bear witness through suffering in two ways: through baptism and holy living (as seen in the example of Noah).
The reason that many of Peter’s readers were suffering was that they had borne witness to their faith in Christ through baptism. Perhaps some had confessed Christ verbally, but were hesitant to confess Him through baptism because they had seen what had happened to others. So Peter here is urging these persecuted Christians to make public confession of their faith through baptism.
Peter is using the flood and deliverance of Noah and his family as a loose analogy or type of what is portrayed in Christian salvation and baptism. Just as Noah passed through the flood waters into salvation from God’s judgment, so believers pass through baptism into salvation from God’s judgment. But, before you leap to wrong conclusions, Peter clarifies—it is not the act of baptism which saves (“the removal of dirt from the flesh”), but what baptism signifies—the appeal to God for a good conscience.
“Appeal” can point either to the moment of salvation, when a person cries out to God for cleansing from sin; or, to the pledge given at the baptismal ceremony, when a person promises to live in a manner pleasing to God. Either way, baptism testifies to our faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (3:18). Since Christ’s suffering did not minimize His witness, but rather enhanced it, Peter is urging his readers to be baptized, even if it means persecution, in order to bear witness of Christ’s saving grace.
This is implied by the reference to Noah. It took him years (perhaps 120 years) to build the ark in obedience to God. His neighbors watched and no doubt ridiculed the old man who spent so much time building this ocean liner in the middle of dry ground. By his godly life and words, Noah preached righteousness to that generation (2 Pet. 2:5). But rather than having people stand in line to get a berth, only eight persons got on board (Noah, his wife, and his three sons and their wives; note that Peter believed in a literal flood account in Genesis). The rest of the world perished.
Peter’s point is clear: His readers were a small minority seeking to obey God, but surrounded by a godless culture. They were being chided for not joining in the dissipation around them (4:4). Peter uses the example of Noah to say, “The majority is seldom right on spiritual matters! Stand alone for God, if you must. Don’t cave in to the pressure to conform to this godless world. Like Noah, you will bear witness. Also like Noah, you will be delivered and this wicked world will perish.”
He vindicated Noah, although he was vastly outnumbered. He vindicated Christ, although it looked to His enemies as if He was defeated on the cross. Even if we give our lives in martyrdom, the day is coming when we will be vindicated (Rev. 6:9-11). Christ’s resurrection and ascension assure us that He is King of kings and Lord of lords! We need not fear what this wicked world can do to us.
We’ve covered a lot of difficult material. But I don’t want you to miss the clear application of this text for your life. Three questions we each need to answer:
(1) Have I truly trusted in Christ as my sin bearer? To do that I need to view myself as unrighteous, unable to present myself to God by my own good works. The pervasive pride of the human heart always wants to earn salvation based upon personal merit or worth. But God’s way is always to humble our pride and strip us of everything in ourselves that would commend us to Him. Many who have attended church for years do not understand this basic point. They are trusting in their own goodness or they are hoping that God’s standard is not absolute holiness. That’s a false hope. As Toplady put it (“Rock of Ages”), “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” Make sure that you have let go of all human goodness and trust in the righteous Christ who died for the unrighteous.
(2) Have I testified to my faith in Christ through baptism? Baptism cannot save anyone, but it is an important step of obedience to Christ in which we publicly identify ourselves with Him in His death and resurrection. It was important enough that Jesus mentioned it as a part of His Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). We dare not neglect it.
(3) Am I standing alone for Christ in my sphere of influence? By standing alone, I mean, standing for Christ even if I’m the only one, or standing with others who are following Him. The Bible is clear that we can expect opposition and hostility if we take a stand for Christ. Frankly, it is most difficult when that opposition comes from those who profess to know Christ instead of from raw pagans. But if our Savior had to face hostility at the hands of sinners before He entered into glory, why shouldn’t we? But God’s truth is never established by majority vote. Even if, like Noah, no one else listens to our witness, we know that God listens and His cause will ultimately prevail. Make a commitment to be like Noah—to stand alone for God—and He will vindicate you.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 1992, All Rights Reserved.
In 1988 Leadership, a leading journal for pastors, commissioned a poll to determine, “How common is pastoral indiscretion?” One question was, “Since you’ve been in local church ministry, have you ever done anything with someone (not your spouse) that you feel was sexually inappropriate?” The responses: 23% yes; 77% no.
A second question was more explicit: “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse since you’ve been in local church ministry?” Yes: 12%; No: 88%.
To put these figures in perspective, they also surveyed subscribers to Christianity Today magazine who are not pastors. The incidences of immorality were nearly double: 45% had done something they considered sexually inappropriate; 23% admitted to adultery (Leadership, Winter, 1988, p. 12.)
Those figures disturb me! If one out of four pastors admits to doing something sexually inappropriate and one out of eight has crossed the line into adultery, and twice that many lay people have done so, is it any wonder that the American church is lacking God’s power and blessing?
If you’re thinking, “I’ve never done any of those things,” I ask, “Do you fill your mind with inappropriate movies and TV shows? Do you feast on sexually provocative pictures in magazines or read trashy novels?” If so, you’re just a bit more careful in your sin than those who have crossed the line. It’s just a matter of time and opportunity before you fall.
If I add other sins such as drunkenness, greed (which amounts to idolatry—Col. 3:5), and living for selfish pleasure rather than for the kingdom of God, I’m sure the percentages would shoot up. There are other deeds of the flesh which I could call to your attention (Gal. 5:19-21). I mention these in particular because they are the sins Peter lists as characterizing the pagans (4:3). Although many of Peter’s readers had come out of such loose backgrounds, he is now exhorting them to be intent on holiness--to live the rest of their lives no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (4:2). I can think of no more relevant message for the American church today—we must be intent on holiness!
These verses give hope to those from difficult backgrounds. Many today mistakenly think that Christianity “works” if you were lucky enough to have a relatively clean past. But if you come from a rough background, then somehow the Bible and Christian discipleship are inadequate to deal with your problems and meet your needs.
But the same gospel that is the power of God for salvation for the religious person (the Jew) is the power of God for salvation for the pagan (the Greek--Rom. 1:16)! These people to whom Peter wrote came from some pretty tough backgrounds! They had been victimized by sin. But no matter how sinful your past, you can be transformed by believing in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ and by learning to walk with Him and obey His Word.
That is not to say that living a holy life will be easy. Clearly, it’s not. As our text shows, it’s a constant struggle. Peter’s readers were being persecuted for their faith. Some were being ridiculed by their former friends because they no longer joined them in their drinking and sexual orgies. The persecution was making them wonder, “Why am I enduring this? Why not go with the flow and enjoy the pleasures I used to enjoy?” When they saw the first century version of the Schlitz commercial, which encouraged them to grab all the gusto they could, since they only go around once, they were tempted.
But Peter counters that mentality by saying, “Yes, you only go around once, and then you stand before Christ who suffered for our sins and who will judge the living and the dead! In light of that, you must be intent on holiness. Any suffering you encounter for Christ’s sake should steel you to live for the will of God, not for the lusts of men.”
Christians must arm themselves with the decisive intent to be holy.
“Arm yourselves” is a military term for a warrior putting on his armor in preparation for battle. The word “purpose” means “intention.” It shows us that holiness must begin in our thinking and in our will. The intent is spelled out in the purpose clause of 4:2: “to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” Since such holiness is a constant struggle, we need some motivation if we are to be intent on holiness. Peter gives two main sources of motivation:
“Therefore” goes back to 3:18: “Christ died (many good manuscripts read “suffered”) for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous ....” “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh [His body], arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because [or, “namely, that”] he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.”
This last phrase presents us with some interpretive difficulties. There are four main ways to take it. One view is that Peter is teaching that suffering purges a believer from sin. The main problem with this view is that the verb “ceased” is in the perfect tense, meaning that it was completed in the past with ongoing results. How could any suffering (except for physical death) result in a complete, ongoing cessation from sin?
A second view is that it refers to the believer’s physical death. This view takes the phrase “suffered in the flesh” as parallel to the same phrase as applied to Christ. The idea is, then, that since at death believers will be completely through with sin, as Christ was at His death (3:18), they should now live the rest of their lives no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. The main problem with this view is that it seems like an awkward way to say that.
A third way to understand the phrase is in the sense of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6, namely, that by virtue of our union with Christ in His death, as pictured in baptism, we, too, are dead to sin. The problems with this view are that you have to read Paul’s theology into Peter and the phrase “has suffered in the flesh” doesn’t seem to fit our spiritual identification with Christ’s death through baptism.
Each of the above views also is hampered by the fact that “he who has suffered” is an unusual Greek form (singular articular participle) for a reference to believers in general. It would have been more natural for Peter to use the plural.
The fourth view takes the phrase to refer to Christ with application to believers. This view takes the first participle (“Christ has suffered in the flesh”) as the antecedent to the second anonymous participle (“he who has suffered in the flesh”), which is parallel to it. It is the only view that adequately explains the singular form of the second participle. The second phrase is parenthetical and explanatory: Christ’s suffering in the flesh ended His relationship with sin once for all. Believers, by way of application, are to arm themselves with the same holy intent. They will not be sinless until they die; but, as verse 2 explains, they can live the rest of their lives for the will of God rather than for the lusts of men.
The main problem with this view is that it seems to imply that since Christ ceased from sin, before that He was a sinner. But it need not mean that. Already Peter has twice affirmed Christ’s sinlessness (2:22; 3:18). But His purpose in coming to this earth was to be identified with sinners by taking on the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) and bearing our sins in His body on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). Paul even states it so strongly as to say that He who knew no sin was made sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). So Peter here means that once Christ bore our sins, He was through with sin. Since Christ died for our sins once for all (1 Pet. 3:18), the direction of our lives should be to arm ourselves with the decisive intent to be through with sin, to live for God’s will, not for the lusts of men.
I realize that all this is rather complicated. Let me try to cinch it down on a practical level with a familiar illustration. Suppose a woman’s husband was killed trying to save her from the attack of a rapist who was infected with AIDS. It would be absurd for the woman, after her husband’s funeral, to call up the rapist and say, “Let’s meet at a motel.” Having been rescued from that which would destroy her, why would she want to go back to it? Peter’s argument is, since Christ gave Himself to deliver us from the sin which would destroy us, why go back to live in it? Christ’s suffering for our sin should motivate us to holy living.
This motive toward holiness is implicit in the phrase in 4:2, “the rest of the time in the flesh,” and explicit in 4:5: “They shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” “The living and the dead” shows that judgment is inclusive: None will escape. “Is ready” shows that the final judgment is imminent: The only thing standing between lost people and the wrath of God is His sovereign, inscrutable will. At any moment Christ could return and there will be no opportunity for repentance. While we who are in Christ need not fear condemnation, we also must stand before Him to give account of what we have done with our lives (2 Cor. 5:10). The imminence and inclusiveness of the coming judgment should motivate us to holiness.
Then Peter adds another difficult verse: “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 God.” There are three main views: First, some have connected this with 3:19, taking it to mean that Christ preached to dead souls in Hades, giving them a second opportunity to repent; or that He preached to the righteous dead. But as we saw last week, “spirits” refers to fallen angels, not to dead people. There is no biblical warrant for dead people having a second chance to repent (Heb. 9:27). The very point of 1 Peter 4:5 is that people will be judged for what they did while they were living, whether they are living or dead at the time Christ returns to judge the earth.
A second view takes “dead” as “spiritually dead.” But 4:5 seems to refer to the physically dead and there is no indication that the same word in 4:6 should be taken in a different sense.
The third view is that Peter is referring to those who heard the gospel and received it while they were living, but now have died. The idea is that “the coming judgment not only will bring sinners to account (v. 5) but will also reverse the judgments of men (v. 6)” (Edwin A. Blum, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], 12:245). Christians will be vindicated in the final judgment even though now they may be maligned.
Within this view, the phrase “judged in the flesh as men” can be taken in several ways. It can refer to physical death, in the sense that it is the only vestige of judgment for sin that believers must endure. But even though believers must die physically, they can be assured of eternal life (so Alan Stibbs, The First General Epistle of Peter Tyndale N.T. Commentaries [Eerdmans], p. 151).
Or, it can refer not just to the physical death of believers, but to the condemnation which the world heaps on them because of it. The world may say, “The gospel had no effect: Christians die just like other people” (Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter NICNT [Eerdmans], p. 154). But Peter is arguing, “True in one sense; but totally false in another sense, in that they will be vindicated in the future judgment.” “In the end the reception of the gospel will make a difference, no matter what people say now” (Davids, 155).
Another view points out that “judged in the flesh according to men” is exactly parallel (in the Greek text) to “live in the spirit according to God.” The meaning is that though men may judge you in this life, it is God’s judgment that counts. If you have trusted in Christ, God will grant you eternal life in the spirit (Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary [Word], 49:238).
Again, don’t let all the technical ambiguities rob you of the clear practical application: Christ is coming back soon to judge every human being who has ever lived. It is His judgment, not the opinions of men, which counts. The fact of His soon coming in judgment should motivate us to holiness.
Let’s say we’re motivated to holiness. How do we grow in it? What means are there for holy living? Peter doesn’t cover everything--there’s no mention of the power of the Holy Spirit, for example. But he does mention three things that will help:
At the least, Peter’s readers were being maligned by their former pagan friends (4:4; 3:16). Quite probably, there was even more intense persecution. A major point of Peter’s letter is that if believers will submit to God in suffering, they will be blessed. Please note: Suffering does not automatically produce holiness in a believer. It can lead to a person’s growing bitter and distant from God. But, if we submit to suffering by trusting in the Father’s loving purpose, it will help us to grow in holiness.
The way it often works is that the suffering confronts us with areas where we need to grow. To use my recent trials as an example, I was defrauded by the man who sold me my house in California and it cost me a lot of money, not to mention a lot of hassles. I could grow angry and say, “This isn’t fair! I’ve walked with God and served Him. This other person lied and cheated me. I don’t deserve this!” If I said that, it would reveal a root of pride in my heart, because the only thing I deserve if God deals with me in fairness is hell.
I didn’t respond that way, but my actual response surfaced some other areas where I need to grow. It took me a while to come to the point of thanking God for the trial, revealing a lack of trust in God. Anxiety kept creeping in, revealing the same lack of faith. As I recognize those sins and confess them to God, He can use this trial to deepen my trust in Him. Suffering is one means God has designed to move us toward holiness in this wicked world.
Peter indicates (4:2) that there are only two ways to live: For the lusts of men or for the will of God. The fact that we must arm ourselves to be holy (4:1) shows that there is a fierce struggle involved. As Peter put it in 2:11, these fleshly lusts “wage war against the soul.” While Paul teaches that our “old man” died with Christ (Rom. 6:2-8), we would be mistaken to conclude that he means that it ceases to exist. Whether you call it the old man or the flesh, there is a strong inner desire toward sin that is with us until we meet Christ. Death, in the New Testament, always means separation, not cessation. I am separated from the power of the old man through the cross, so that I need not yield to its lusts. But I must engage in a daily, lifelong war against these sinful desires that dwell in me if I want to grow in holiness.
I could say much more, but I must be brief. My main point is that if you want to grow in holiness, you must engage in a daily battle against sin. This warfare begins in your mind, where you must judge every sinful thought and take each thought captive to the obedience of Christ. And the struggle doesn’t grow less intense the longer you’re a Christian. The battlefront changes as God progressively reveals to you new areas where you are not holy. But there is no such thing as a living Christian who has achieved a final victory over sin and temptation. You must struggle against the lusts of the flesh if you want to be holy.
This is the point of 4:3-4. Peter is using irony when he says that the time already past is sufficient to have carried out these pagan lusts. Any amount of time living for sin is wasted time. When I was younger, I used to envy people with a dramatic testimony of being saved out of a terrible life of sin. I don’t feel that way any more, because even though God forgives all sin, it still leaves some scars. God may graciously lessen the consequences of our sin if we repent, but the law of sowing and reaping still operates under grace.
Peter says that their former drinking buddies are surprised that they don’t still run with them. Isn’t it odd how people can ruin their lives and others’ lives through alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or venereal disease and not think it strange? But when a person repents of sin, gets right with God and begins to clean up his life, they think he’s gone off the deep end!
If you want to grow in holiness, you’ve got to separate yourself not only from the sins listed here, but also from the sinners who live this way. “But,” you say, “Jesus was the friend of sinners. How can I reach them for Christ if I cut myself off from them?” But, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). There’s a big difference between careful contact for the purpose of winning a person to Christ and running with sinners as they gratify their lusts. To be intent on holiness, you must separate yourself from the wrong crowd (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
The ermine, a small animal known for its snow-white fur, lives in the forests of northern Europe. God has put into this animal an instinctive drive to protect his glossy coat from becoming soiled. Hunters capitalize on this trait. Instead of setting a mechanical trap, they find the ermine’s home in a cleft of a rock or a hollow tree and daub the entrance and the interior with tar. Then their dogs start the chase, and the frightened ermine flees toward his home. But finding it covered with tar, he won’t enter, even to save his life. He will face the yelping dogs who hold him at bay until the hunters capture him rather than soiling his white fur. For the ermine, purity is more dear than life.
Is it for you? You won’t become holy by osmosis if you hang around church buildings or Christians long enough. It won’t happen spontaneously as you float downstream through life. You must arm yourself with the decisive intent to be holy. The motivation comes from thinking on Christ’s suffering and His imminent return as Judge. The means toward holiness are suffering, struggling against sin, and separating from those who would drag you back into it. May God make us all intent on holiness!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Every once in a while you read about a wacky religious group that has become so convinced that the Lord’s coming is imminent that they have sold everything they owned and gone out to sit on a hilltop and await His coming. In 1988, thousands of pastors in America received in the mail a booklet by Edgar Whisenant, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988.” It had a lot of interesting arguments, but, needless to say, they were not accurate. So, in 1989, I received another booklet explaining why his calculations were off by one year and why the Lord would come back in 1989. I didn’t receive another booklet in 1990.
I’m sure that the author of those booklets is a sincere, Bible-believing man who means well. He admits in his 1989 booklet that he could be mistaken again in his specific calculations, since there are many complicated factors involved. And, his goal is worthy, namely, to wake up the sleeping church. He raises an important question: How should we, as the church, conduct ourselves in light of the fact that we are living in the end times? Peter answers that question in 1 Peter 4:7-11:
Because the end is near, the church should glorify God through prayer, love, and service.
These verses are sandwiched in a context dealing with the persecution Peter’s readers were facing. In both the preceding and following sections, Peter brings in the certainty that Jesus Christ will return to judge all people (4:5, 17). In our text, he is telling the church how to relate to one another in light of the present suffering and the future judgment. Trials have a way of either driving a family closer together or further apart. Peter wants to make sure that the churches to which he wrote would draw together as the persecution intensified and as the coming day of the Lord draws nearer.
I don’t know why, but most translations omit the connective particle that links verse 7 with verse 6. It should read, “Now [or, but] the end of all things is near.” Peter has just mentioned how Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5). Some believers had died, which may have drawn ridicule from scoffers (4:6): “The Christians died just like everyone else! What difference does your Christianity make? Those ‘holy Joes’ who died just missed out on all the fun they could have had!” But Peter asserts, “Now the end of all things has come near.”
Today many would scoff and say, “That’s crazy! It’s been almost 2,000 years and life goes on. How can anyone say that the end of all things has come near?” Peter answers that charge in 2 Peter 3:3-10. What such scoffers don’t realize is that God’s view of time and ours are significantly different. A thousand years with the Lord is as one day. Any extension of time that God gives before the certain, coming judgment is due to His patience and mercy: He does not wish for any to perish. But that judgment is delayed does not mean that judgment is not coming!
And, while the signs of the times look as if the return of Christ is very close, even if He does not return in our lifetimes, we are individually very near the end, aren’t we? I’m 45, just 20 years from 65, the American retirement age! But I have no guarantee that I’ll live to be 46. None of us is certain that we will be alive tomorrow. So we all need to live in light of the fact that the end of all things is near.
Does that mean that we make no plans for the future, that we sell everything and go sit on a hilltop? No, of course not! Although he is no theologian, newspaper columnist Sydney J. Harris was on target when he wrote, “The art of living successfully consists of being able to hold two opposite ideas in tension at the same time: first, to make long-term plans as if we were going to live forever; and second, to conduct ourselves daily as if we were going to die tomorrow” (Reader’s Digest [5/82]). Because the end of all things is near, Peter shows how God’s people should live:
The commands in 4:7b-11 stem from the declaration in 4:7a: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore, ...” If Christ is ready to judge the living and the dead (4:5), if it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God (4:17), then here is how we, as His people, should conduct ourselves. There are commands in three areas (prayer, love, and serving one another), but the overarching principle comes at the end of verse 11: “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
God’s glory is a rather nebulous concept, so let me explain what it means and what it means to glorify Him. The Hebrew word (“kabod”) translated “glory” has the nuance of weight or heaviness. It points to the riches or power of a person of importance, much as we may say, “He’s a heavyweight” or “a man of substance.” The Greek word (“doxa”) comes from a word meaning “to seem or think,” and has the nuance of reputation or honor. When applied to God, His glory is His inherent majesty and infinite worth. God’s glory is intrinsic to His being. It is the manifestation of His perfect attributes, often expressed on earth by light brighter than the sun (Matt. 17:2; Acts 26:13; Rev. 1:16). In the Old Testament, God’s glory was often seen as a bright cloud or a fire (Exod. 24:16-18; 40:34-35).
It is debatable, grammatically, whether “to whom” (1 Pet. 4:11) refers to God or to Jesus Christ, although it really doesn’t matter (Rev. 1:6 clearly attributes glory and dominion to Jesus Christ). Hebrews 1:3 asserts, Jesus Christ “is the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power.” Paul calls Christ “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Jesus Himself claimed that the Father had given all judgment to the Son “in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). So, as believers, we are to glorify God through Jesus Christ, who has revealed the Father to us.
To glorify God means to show forth His excellencies to others, or, as I’ve often said, in street language, to glorify God is to make Him look good as He really is. If a photographer glorifies some natural wonder, he makes us revel in the inherent beauty of that scene. We see the photograph and gasp, “Look at the colors and grandeur of that mountain!” If a literary critic glorifies an author, he brings forth the subtle nuances of language and plot in a way that makes us exclaim, “Wow! That author has a rare ability with words!”
When the photographer or critic does his work rightly, we don’t extol the photographer or critic; we extol the object toward which they point. We say, “What a beautiful scene!” Or, “What a tremendous author or work of literature!” And when Christians properly glorify God, people should exclaim, “What a great being God is!” John Calvin rightly says, “We never truly glory in him unless we have utterly put off our own glory. ... whoever glories in himself, glories against God” (Institutes [3:13:2], [Westminster Press], ed. by John T. McNeill). As Peter makes it clear here, everything we have we received from God. Thus He alone is worthy of glory.
Peter mentions three means of conduct which will glorify God: prayer, love, and serving in line with the gifts God has bestowed on us.
Prayer glorifies God because it acknowledges our weakness and dependence upon Him. Not to pray is, in effect, to assert our own sufficiency and arrogance, in that we’re acting on our own. So as we recognize the critical times in which we live, our own inadequacy, and God’s total sufficiency, we should be driven to prayer. Peter mentions two somewhat synonymous qualities which will help us to be people of prayer:
First, “Be of sound judgment.” Knowing that we are in the end times should not make us go off the deep end. Rather, we should keep our wits about us, or be sensible. The same word is used as a qualification for elders (NASB--”prudent,” 1 Tim. 3:2; “sensible,” Titus 1:8). It points to a man who is levelheaded, not impulsive, not swayed by fluctuating emotions.
Paul, like Peter here, uses this word in the context of spiritual gifts: “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” (Rom. 12:3). The danger is not that we will think too lowly of ourselves, but that we will think too highly of ourselves. Sound judgment concerning ourselves will move us to prayer as we recognize our own sinfulness and weakness, but also, God’s holiness and strength.
Second: “Be sober.” (See 1:13; 5:8; Peter uses it 3 out of 6 NT uses). It is also a quality for elders (1 Tim. 3:2). It means, literally, “don’t be drunk,” but Peter intends more than not being intoxicated by liquor. He means that we should be alert and self-controlled. We should have the clarity of mind and resulting good judgment that mark a person who is not drunk in contrast to the one under the influence.
The opposite of the word is to be asleep (1 Thess. 5:6-8). Peter slept in the garden with Jesus when he should have been alert, sober, and in prayer. As a result he fell into temptation and sin. As we see our enemy prowling about as a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8), seeking to devour us, we should soberly perk up our spiritual eyes and ears and be in prayer, both for ourselves and for one another.
“Above all” does not pit love against prayer, as if you can choose love and neglect prayer. Rather, Peter is calling our attention to the priority of love for fellow Christians as a central part of the Christian faith (Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (NICNT) [Eerdmans], p. 157). Jesus said that love for one another is His new commandment, the mark by which the world will know that we are His followers (John 13:34-35). Paul told the Corinthians that he could have all spiritual gifts and faith, but without love he would be nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Loving our neighbor is second only to loving God (Matt. 22:37-39), and is a tangible evidence that we do love God (1 John 4:20).
Peter didn’t doubt that his readers were practicing love, but he knew that under trials it’s easy to start taking out our frustrations on those closest to us. So he writes, “Keep fervent in your love for one another.” “Fervent” (lit., “to stretch” or “strain”) was used of an athlete stretching and straining every muscle toward the end of the race. As we see the Lord’s coming drawing near, we should exert ourselves to love one another.
This implies that love is not a warm, fuzzy feeling. Rather, it takes sustained, strenuous effort, such as athletes expend as they near the finish line. The fact that love can be commanded shows that it is primarily an action, not an emotion, although often there will be an emotional element involved. But often biblical love is more sweat than sweet. It involves effort!
That’s implicit in the phrase, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” It’s fairly easy to love people who don’t sin against you. But biblical love extends even to those who wrong you. The phrase comes from Proverbs 10:12 (Hebrew text), which contrasts love with hatred, which stirs up strife. Peter seems to have in mind the fact that love is ready to forgive and careful to protect the offender from needless exposure. The one who loves doesn’t keep a feud going by retaliating or holding a grudge. As Paul puts it, Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:7, NIV).
That love covers sin does not mean that love condones sin. Scripture is clear that love often confronts sin. Church discipline, which is sometimes necessary as an expression of love, exposes rather than covers sin. So how do we know whether to cover someone’s sin or to confront it?
I don’t know of an easy formula to answer that question. Study how Jesus dealt with the disciples and how God deals with His people and seek to do likewise. But here are four guidelines:
First, it’s helpful to distinguish between immaturity and defiance. Is this person a rebellious Christian who knows better or just an immature one? Paul wrote that we are to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and help [literally, ‘hold on to’] the weak (1 Thess. 5:14). The unruly (“out of step”) are defiant and their defiance, like those out of step in a company of marching soldiers, will affect others. Their sin needs confrontation, not covering. But others are discouraged or weak, and they need encouragement or just being held on to so they don’t go under. Cover their sin.
A second guideline: Cover whatever offenses you can, but if an offense bothers you to the extent that it hinders your relationship, you need to confront it. Many offenses are too trivial to confront; absorb these. But if it is creating a barrier to a relationship, then it needs to get cleared up. Consider a way to do it that will bring healing, not a deeper rift.
Third: Do I have an adequate relationship to confront the offense? If not, I need to cover it for a while and work on deepening the relationship so that I will be heard when I do confront. People are more inclined to accept correction if they know that I genuinely care for them.
A fourth guideline: Is this a minor flaw that just grates on me, or is it a character defect or sin that hinders this person’s growth in Christ? Again, love’s motive and goal is to glorify God. If a person has a blind spot or sin that is hindering God’s glory in his life or that may result in his falling into worse sin, it needs to be confronted, not covered. I may or may not be the one to do it, but I shouldn’t dodge confronting it just because confrontation is unpleasant.
We are commanded to love people in the church that we may not like. Peter knew that we aren’t inclined to like everyone. That’s why, in mentioning the specific duty of love to be hospitable (4:9), he adds, “without complaint.” We can be outwardly hospitable while under our breath we’re saying, “I wish they would leave!” But we’re supposed to do it joyfully, as unto the Lord Himself (Matt. 25:35-40).
Hospitality is also a quality required of elders (1 Tim. 3:2). In Peter’s day, there weren’t many clean, safe motels which “left the light on for you.” Traveling evangelists and other Christians often needed a place to stay. So the church was exhorted to open their homes not just to friends, but even to Christians whom they didn’t know (“hospitable” lit. = “a lover of strangers”). Our love should be shown in cheerful hospitality.
Peter divides all spiritual gifts into two broad categories: Speaking gifts and serving gifts. Speaking gifts are usually more visible: preaching, teaching, exhortation (counseling), and (if valid for today) prophecy. Serving gifts are usually more behind the scenes: good deeds, helping, showing mercy, giving, and administration.
There are few areas where there is more confusion and disagreement among Bible teachers than the specifics concerning spiritual gifts. But the New Testament is clear that every believer has at least one gift (note “each one” in Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10). That means that each of us is a steward or manager of the resources God has given to us to use for His glory. The fact that God’s grace as seen in His gifts is “manifold” shows that we are all uniquely equipped by God for distinctive functions. No gift is insignificant.
A local church will be healthy only to the extent that every member conscientiously exercises his or her gifts as stewards before God. The one who speaks must speak, as it were, the utterances of God. This doesn’t mean that he is speaking under divine inspiration; rather, it calls attention to the seriousness of communicating God’s Word. When you preach, you don’t toss out human opinions that are up for grabs, but rather you bring people face to face with God’s authoritative truth.
Those who serve must do so by the strength which God supplies, which points to the need for conscious dependence on God, no matter how mundane the task. The word “supplies” originally was used of a wealthy person who supplied the funds for a chorus or dance, much like a modern philanthropist who supports the arts. God is an abundant source of strength for all that He commands us to do. If Christians were serving in the strength which God supplies, I doubt that we would be hearing so much about “burnout.”
Remember: Our motive in service, as in prayer and love, must be God’s glory. Some get involved in serving the Lord in order to meet their own needs for love or recognition. Invariably they get hurt at some point when their efforts go unnoticed or unrewarded. Many others serve with good motives, but not the best. They want to help people with their problems or see people get saved or see the church grow in numbers. Great! But they, too, eventually will be disappointed. The glory of God is the only motive that will enable us to persevere in serving Him without burning out.
The end is near; therefore, the church should glorify God through prayer, love, and service. When I once lived in Chicago, I got a job as a bellman at the Drake Hotel, an older, but first class hotel overlooking Lake Michigan. I later learned that in 1959, the Queen of England visited Chicago. Elaborate preparations were made for her visit. The waterfront was readied for docking her yacht. Litter baskets were painted. A red carpet was rolled out. Many hotels were alerted. But when they contacted the Drake, the manager explained, “We are making no plans for the Queen; our rooms are always ready for royalty.” What an advertisement for the Drake!
Peter is saying, “The King is coming soon. Don’t go sit on a hilltop to wait. Rather, ask yourself: Are you living so that others will see how great God truly is? Are you depending on Him in prayer? What about your love for other Christians? How about your management of the gifts God has entrusted to you? Your life should always be ready for royalty. Don’t let His coming catch you unprepared!”
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Nobody likes hard times. But hard times are especially hard to handle when it seems like you’ve done everything right and you suffer anyway. You seek to live a godly life, but you suffer one health problem after another, while you know many who abuse their bodies with a life of dissipation and are never sick for a day. You follow the company procedures, but your boss blames you for a problem that was beyond your control, while the guy who didn’t follow the procedures and lied about it gets praised for doing right. You invest many inconvenient hours trying to help someone get her life together and follow the Lord. But she turns against you and tells others all sorts of lies about you behind your back.
At such times, when you’ve done what was right, but things seem to be going against you, you begin to wonder if somehow you’re out of the will of God. Or maybe there’s some hidden sin in your life that you need to confess. Such answers to the problem of suffering have been with us for centuries, since those are the mistaken suggestions of Job’s friends.
But Peter wants his readers to know that suffering is often according to the will of God (4:19). The idea that if you’re in the center of God’s will, you’ll be free from trials, is not biblical. Being in the center of God’s will may mean that you are in the center of suffering! Peter gives us four hard lessons about hard times--hard lessons because they’re hard to apply. But they’re necessary and useful lessons because not one of us will escape hard times in this life (Heb. 12:8).
As Christians, we should expect trials, exult in trials, examine ourselves in trials, and entrust ourselves to God in trials, knowing that they are according to His will.
Peter is speaking specifically about the trials of persecution, about which most of us know very little firsthand. Some of us may have suffered a little rejection, ridicule or slander because of our testimony. A few may have lost a job because of their Christian stand. Almost none of us have had our property confiscated or have been imprisoned or tortured or had loved ones executed because of our faith, like many of our brothers and sisters in China. But Peter’s lessons apply to other forms of suffering as well, and if we ever should suffer for our faith, the lessons are good to know in advance.
“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.” But in spite of his words, we often are surprised, aren’t we?
We’re often surprised by the intensity of the trials. Peter calls the trials a “fiery ordeal.” We don’t know for sure, but he may have been referring to the persecution that the madman, Nero, had unleashed on the church in Rome, where Peter was (“Babylon,” 5:13), which he presumed would shortly reach his readers in the provinces. Nero was one of the most cruelly wicked men in history, ranking up there with Hitler. He would cover Christians with pitch and burn them as human torches to light his garden parties. Or, he would feed them to the lions in the arena as public sport.
That’s about as intense as you can get! Think of your loved one giving his life for a few minutes’ light as this depraved man strolled around sipping his drink and flirting with the women at his party! Where was God in all this? We often ask that question when intense trials hit. “But don’t be surprised at the intensity of your trial,” Peter says. As he implies in 4:17-18, if God’s people suffer so much in this life, what do you think hell will be like for those who do not obey the gospel?
We’re often surprised by the purpose of the trials. Peter says that this fiery ordeal comes upon us “for [our] testing.” Most of us flatter ourselves into thinking that we’re doing reasonably well in our Christian life and that we don’t need any intense trials to test our faith. But we don’t know ourselves--the depth of our sin, the extent of our self-trust, the shallowness of our joy. So the Lord graciously sends trials to test our faith.
John Newton, the slave trader who met Christ and became a pastor, known for his beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” wrote another hymn which tells of his experience with such trials:
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried,
“Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?”
“‘Tis in this way,” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.”
If you’re a Christian, your faith must be tested and refined through trials.
We’re often surprised by the source of the trials. Peter’s readers were catching persecution from their former friends (4:4) and they thought it strange (4:12). They must have reasoned, “Don’t they know that we’re just trying to help them? We care about them and want them to know the joy we have found in Christ.” Yes, but the world hates Christ and He warned that it would hate us because it hates Him (John 15:18-19). Don’t be surprised if former friends persecute you.
We often think it strange when we catch opposition from those in the church. But Jesus told the disciples that they would be persecuted by the religious crowd, which would flog them in the synagogues (Mark 13:9). He was crucified by the religious leaders and it was their fathers who murdered the prophets (Matt. 23:31). Religious people often hide their sin behind a mask of spirituality. They don’t like having their sin exposed by those who live and proclaim the message of the cross. So we shouldn’t think it strange when we are maligned by religious people. As Christians, we should not be surprised by trials—we should expect them. That’s the first hard lesson about hard times!
This is where the hard stuff gets harder! Enduring trials is one thing; exulting in them is something else! In fact, it’s humanly impossible. Only God can supernaturally give us great joy in the midst of trials. We may not rejoice in the trial itself, which would be masochistic; but, we can rejoice in the ultimate good that will come out of it. As Paul put it, “We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). James tells us to count it all joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that the result will be endurance and maturity (James 1:2-4).
Here, Peter uses the word rejoice or some synonym four times in two verses: “Keep on rejoicing”; “rejoice with exultation”; “you are blessed.” He brings out three reasons why we can exult in trials:
We share (the Greek word is “koinoneo,” “to fellowship with”) the sufferings of Christ (4:13). Of course, Christ’s sufferings were penal and substitutionary, while ours are not. He died for our sins, whereas our death cannot pay for anyone’s sins. But even so, when we suffer on behalf of the gospel, we join with our Savior in suffering unjustly at the hands of sinners. It makes us realize that He went through much more on our behalf than we’re going through on His behalf. That draws our hearts into a deeper love for Him.
Whenever we suffer on behalf of the gospel, the Lord comes to us in a special way and affirms that He suffers with us. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into the fiery furnace, Nebuchadnezzar looked in that furnace and saw four men walking in the midst of the fire without harm (Dan. 3:24-25). The Lord Jesus came and stood with them in the flames! When Stephen was stoned for his witness to the Sanhedrin, he gazed into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).
When Paul was fearful in Corinth, the Lord appeared to him and encouraged him to go on speaking (Acts 18:9-10). Later, when he was arrested in Jerusalem, the Lord appeared to him and told him that he would bear witness for Him in Rome (Acts 23:11). As he stood trial for his life in Rome, though others deserted him, Paul reported to Timothy how the Lord stood with him and strengthened him (2 Tim. 4:17).
Last year, I was going through a time of more intense criticism than I had ever known because I had spoken out against some popular false teachings that have crept into the American church. I was getting into bed one night when Acts 18:9-10 popped into my head. I hadn’t been reading Acts recently, nor had I thought about those verses, so there was no human explanation for why I would think of that reference. I read, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” I rejoiced as I realized that, in a small way, I was sharing in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings and that He was standing with me.
“At the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (4:13b). Christ and His glory are now hidden from human sight. We can guess, but really can’t know, what it will be like to see Him coming in the clouds with His mighty angels with Him! But our sufferings now on His behalf will get us a front-row seat for the big event, so that we will burst with joy at seeing Him. Paul put it, “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” (Rom. 8:18).
“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14). The New King James Version adds, “On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” Probably the phrase was added by a copyist as an attempt to explain the verse, which is difficult in the Greek text. Peter’s meaning seems to be to distinguish the Holy Spirit both as the Spirit who is marked by glory and also as divine, the Spirit of God.
God’s glory, as we saw last week, is the manifestation of His majesty and perfect attributes. When the Spirit of glory rests on a believer, something of God’s attributes shine forth. Peter’s overall meaning, then, is that when we suffer rejection because of our stand for Christ, something of the Lord will be seen in us, even if others reject God and us. Those who stoned Stephen saw this as they saw his face as the face of an angel (Acts 6:15).
It takes God’s Spirit to make us exult in trials. My tendency is to groan and look for the escape hatch! But if we will see that trials, especially persecutions, lead us to deeper fellowship with Christ, to deeper joy at His coming, and to a deeper experience of His Spirit, we can grow in this hard lesson about hard times.
Peter says, in effect, “Make sure you aren’t suffering because of some sin on your part. If you’re not, then you can glorify God in it. And, if you’re tempted to bail out and go back to the world on account of your trials, then consider what will happen to unbelievers. If godly people suffer now as they do, what do you think will happen to the ungodly when Christ returns to judge the earth?” These verses suggest three questions we need to ask ourselves when we face trials:
If I brought persecution or civil judgment on myself because I disobeyed God or broke the law, and now I’m reaping the consequences, then I need to repent of the sin. But I shouldn’t sniffle about how I’m suffering for the cause of Christ, when really I’m suffering because of my sin.
If there’s no sin in my life, and I’m suffering because I took a stand for Christ, then I should seek to make God look good as He is through my conduct in this trial. When Peter and John were beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching Christ, they went on their way “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). The name “Christian” (vs. 16) only occurs three times in the Bible (Acts 11:26; 26:28). It meant “little Christs” and was a derogatory term the pagans applied to the church. It’s not a bad identification to strive for, is it!
In 4:17, Peter pulls out an Old Testament concept and applies it to the church. When God did a work of purification or judgment, He began at the sanctuary and moved outward (Ezek. 9:4-6; Jer. 25:29; Mal. 3:1-3). Paul told the Corinthians that they needed to judge their own lives by dealing with their sin so that they would not be condemned along with the world (1 Cor. 11:31-32). God’s purifying process must begin with His people before it falls on the world.
Peter is teaching that the trials God’s people go through for refining are the initial stages of God’s judgment on all sin, which will culminate in the second coming of Jesus Christ, when those who have not obeyed the gospel will go into the flames of hell. Peter is arguing from the lesser to the greater: If God uses such severe trials to purge sin from the righteous--if the process of salvation is that difficult--think of how much worse the day of judgment will be for the godless and the sinners! So if you’re tempted to bail out of the faith when you encounter trials, ask yourself, “Where else will I go?”
One of the hard lessons we all need to learn about hard times is that the cancer of sin is rooted at the very core of our being and that God is committed to cut it out entirely. The process may be painful, but not nearly as painful as the alternative, which is to face His wrath on the day of judgment. So in a time of trials, we need to examine ourselves and the depth of our sin in the light of eternity and submit to God’s refining process.
Thus the first hard lesson is that we should expect trials; second, we should exult in trials; third, we should examine ourselves in trials. Finally,
Where else can we go? If we suffer for our faith in Christ, then we can know that it is according to God’s will. Thus we can entrust ourselves to Him as the faithful Creator and continue to do what is right. “Entrust” is a banking term that meant to deposit one’s valuables to another for safe keeping. Paul used the noun when he told Timothy, “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 Tim. 1:12). It was the word Jesus uttered from the cross when He expired: “Father, into Your hands I commit [entrust] My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
This is the only time in the New Testament God is called the Creator. If God created the universe by the word of His power, He is able to guard your deposit with Him and bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom. That He is the faithful Creator shows that He cares enough to guard you. So you can trust Him with your very life, even if evil men take it away from you, and know that He won’t lose it. You demonstrate your trust by continuing to do what is right when you suffer. You don’t plot revenge on those who wrong you. You pray that God will save them and know that if He doesn’t, He will judge them and exonerate you.
Trusting in God has fallen on hard times. We’re told today that when we suffer, we need to express all our anger toward God or we might do some psychological damage to ourselves. But trust the Lord? Get practical! I am! Trusting in the Faithful Creator is the most practical thing you can do when you’re going through a difficult trial.
Compared to what martyrs and other saints have suffered, I have not gone through much. But I can testify that whenever I have suffered, especially when I’ve suffered for the cause of Christ, I have grown closer to Christ, I have sensed His abiding peace and good pleasure, and I’ve known His joy in a deeper way than at any other time.
I just received a letter from a friend who met the Lord at 41 out of a night club background in which he was enslaved to drugs and alcohol. He went on to pastor a church near me in Southern California, where I got to know him and enjoyed many times of fellowship together. He’s now 72 and has just found out that he has prostate cancer. He wrote, “The result has been that the Lord has provided many opportunities to share His sufficient grace with saved and unsaved alike, especially young people.” He mentions how his relationship with his wife and with the Lord has deepened through this trial and adds, “Hallelujah!”
You say, “That’s not natural!” Precisely! Only God can bring such joy in the face of what the world calls a crisis.
As Christians, we can expect trials. Don’t be surprised. More than that, by God’s power, we can exult in them if we see the result God is accomplishing. When they hit, we should examine ourselves more deeply and entrust ourselves to God more fully, knowing that we are in His perfect will. Hard lessons about hard times—but our God is faithful!
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
Good churches are hard to find! I often hear from people, as I did this week, who were in the church I pastored in California, who have moved away, who say how much trouble they’ve had finding a healthy church. Sometimes the church lacks vital worship. Often, they could not find a pastor who faithfully preaches God’s Word. Sometimes the church is racked by dissention over petty issues or is shot through with legalism. This is not to say that our church was trouble-free, but by comparison to many other churches, they felt that it was the healthiest church they had ever been in.
What makes for a healthy church? Many scriptural elements could be listed. Especially important is a strong commitment to God’s Word, our only authority for faith and practice. But what makes a commitment to God’s Word happen? The answer is, strong leadership. Most churches rise and fall with the quality of leadership. But, of course, leaders can’t lead without supportive followers. And, even with strong leaders and supportive followers, that ubiquitous sin, human pride, often gets in the way and causes problems. With those factors in mind, Peter here gives us a prescription for a healthy church:
In a healthy church, the elders will shepherd and the flock will submit, all in a spirit of mutual humility.
The churches to which Peter wrote were facing intense persecution (“fiery ordeal,” 4:12). Such trials test the cohesiveness and strength of a church. To survive, they needed a prescription for spiritual health. Sandwiched between two sections dealing with trials (4:12-19 & 5:6-11), Peter gives this Rx (“Therefore” [5:1], in light of the trials). It focuses primarily on the elders, since strong pastoral leadership is essential. But there is also a word to the rest of the flock. And, the whole process must be wrapped in what is arguably the chief Christian virtue, humility.
In the New Testament there are three terms used to describe the same office of leadership in the church, each from a slightly different perspective. Elder focuses on the character qualities of the man, that he is a mature man of God. As 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 make clear, the main qualification for elders is not that they have impressive spiritual gifts. Rather, it is that they be godly men. Overseer (or, “Bishop”; Greek, “episkopos”) is used interchangeably with elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and looks at the primary function of the office, to superintend matters in the local church. The third term, Pastor (which means “Shepherd”) looks at the function of the elder/overseer from the metaphor of the church as God’s flock. It focuses on the tasks of providing leadership, care, feeding, and protection for God’s people.
In the New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders (overseers, pastors) over the church in a given location. Acts 14:23 reports how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Acts 20:17 tells how Paul called to him “the elders of the church” in Ephesus. In Titus 1:5, Paul reminds Titus how he left him to appoint elders (plural) in every city. In the New Testament, the church in a city was viewed as a unit. Thus you have the church in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. Each church may have been broken down into house churches that met all over the city on any given Lord’s Day. But over each church there was a plurality of elders or pastors.
Paul says that “the elders who rule well [should] be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “Honor” (in Greek) meant both “respect” and “price.” As 1 Timothy 5:18 makes clear, elders who labor at preaching and teaching should not only be respected, they also should be paid. By virtue of their full-time commitment to the work, such elders usually take on the role of leader among leaders in a local church. But they share the task of pastoring or oversight with other qualified men.
It is beyond the scope of this sermon, but I believe Scripture is clear that the position of elder in the local church is reserved for men. Many are arguing that women can serve in any capacity, even as the teaching pastor of a church. In passing I will just say that such an interpretation of the New Testament never occurred to Christians until the women’s movement became prominent in the world. To me, the arguments for feminism are reading the world into the Word.
Peter points out the requirement, the responsibility and the reward of shepherding God’s flock:
Peter models what he is exhorting: He does not lord it over these men, although as an apostle, he could have asserted his authority. “Apostle” referred to men entrusted with authority from Christ to establish churches. As an apostle (1:1), Peter had authority over these churches. “Elder” relates to a local church. But here he doesn’t flex his apostolic muscle, but exhorts them humbly as a fellow elder.
Peter begins by relating his own experiences with Christ as the basis for his exhortation. He had been a witness of Christ’s sufferings and he also was a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed. Some say that Peter did not witness the crucifixion, since he denied Christ and fled. But it is quite possible that Peter crept to the outskirts of the crowd and saw Jesus hanging on the cross. Even if he did not, Peter had witnessed the sufferings of Christ throughout His earthly ministry, including His agony in the Garden, His arrest and mistreatment at His trial. He had seen the scars in the risen Savior’s hands and side. He had personally witnessed the sufferings of Christ.
Also, Peter had seen a glimpse of the Savior’s future glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Warren Wiersbe (Be Hopeful [Victor Books], pp. 124-125) points out the parallels between Peter’s experiences with Christ and what he writes in chapter 5. Verse 1 takes us to the cross and the transfiguration, as noted. Verse 2 recalls Jesus’ teaching on being the Good Shepherd (John 10), as well as His charge to the restored Peter to shepherd His sheep (John 21:15-17).
“Lording it over” the flock (5:3) recalls the silly debates the twelve had about who was the greatest, and the Lord’s teaching about the greatest being the servant of all. “Be clothed with humility” recalls Jesus taking a towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The word about Satan (5:8) recalls Jesus’ warning that Satan would “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The verb, “to perfect” (5:10) is the same word translated “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21) when the Lord called Peter to follow Him.
So Peter wrote out of his own experiences with Jesus Christ. He was a witness (5:1). A witness doesn’t speculate about religion. A witness relates what he has seen and heard. We have the apostolic witness recorded in the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. An elder who wants to shepherd the flock conscientiously must be a student of the apostolic witness in Scripture, especially as it relates to the cross (“the sufferings of Christ”) and the coming kingdom of Christ (“the glory that is to be revealed”).
The cross is at the center of the Christian life and an elder must live by the cross daily and be able to help others to do so. Focusing on the suffering of Christ is the motivation for dealing with sin and for loving Christ more. Focusing on the glory that is to be revealed in Christ’s coming kingdom makes an elder live in holiness and hope in light of Christ’s coming. It is out of an overflowing personal experience of the cross of Christ and His coming kingdom that a man can minister Christ to His flock, the church. An elder must be a man who walks closely with the crucified, risen, and coming Savior.
The command, “Shepherd the flock of God,” calls to mind a familiar biblical picture, that God is the Shepherd and His people are His flock (Ps. 23; Ps. 100:3; Isa. 40:11; Ezek. 34:1-24). He has appointed undershepherds to tend His flock. For us, it is unusual to see a flock of sheep, let alone to know what is involved in caring for them. But shepherding was a familiar, everyday illustration in the biblical world.
The shepherd knew his sheep. Jesus, in talking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, said that He called His own sheep by name and they followed Him because they knew His voice (John 10:3-4, 14). At the very least, the task of shepherding involves getting to know people by name, and letting them get to know you. The larger a church, the less likely it is that one pastor can know all the people by name. But, as I said, there should always be a plurality of pastors (elders) per church. Between them, they should know every person. You cannot give adequate pastoral care to a person you do not know.
Jesus also said that He led His sheep out to pasture (John 10:3, 9). Shepherding means leading God’s people in the ways of God. Sheep cannot be driven like cattle. They must be led by example (3:3). Shepherding means taking the sheep to the rich pastures of God’s Word, where they can feed and be nourished. The shepherd binds up the wounded and corrects the sheep who cause trouble. He goes after strays and brings them back into the fold. The shepherd is always alert for and guards and defends the flock from enemies that prey upon them. Often such work involves great personal sacrifice and effort. The supreme example is Jesus, who laid down His own life for His sheep.
Peter here sums up the shepherding task with the term, “exercising oversight” (5:2; some manuscripts omit this phrase, but there is good evidence for retaining it as original). Oversight does not mean being overlords. The fact that it is “the flock of God” reminds shepherds that they are not the owners and that they must give an account to the Owner. But they must give oversight to the flock under God. The key to giving proper oversight is having the right attitude. Peter here describes this attitude with a series of three contrasts:
A man should not be in leadership out of duty, but out of delight. Paul says that an overseer should “aspire to the office” (1 Tim. 3:1). Yet serving as an overseer is not a matter of self-willed ambition, but rather of the calling of God, as seen in the phrase, “according to God,” which probably means, “according to God’s will.” During times of persecution, an elder and his family would be the first targets. The rest of the time, pastoral leadership is more often the grind of mucking out the stalls rather than the glory of recognition. So an overseer must serve gladly because God has called him to the task, not grudgingly because he was forced into it.
The opposite of serving under compulsion is serving eagerly. But some serve eagerly for the wrong reasons, either financial gain (here) or power (next phrase). As I mentioned, Paul taught that it is proper for some elders to be supported financially for their work, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching, which takes a lot of time (1 Tim. 5:17-18). But a man’s motive must not be to make money through the ministry, but rather to serve God with eagerness.
Some go into ministry because they like the power or status of leadership. I heard a well-known pastor say that he thought that most men in pastoral ministry were insecure and that they were after the affirmation they received from their people. I thought, “If he’s right, we’re in big trouble!” A man who goes into the pastorate or who serves as an elder because he wants power or strokes is not qualified to serve.
The word translated “allotted to your charge” meant “apportioned by lot,” and thus came to refer to anything portioned out. It underscores the fact that the flock belongs to God and is entrusted to overseers as those who will answer to God. Rather than leading by lording, they are to lead by example. This does not mean that elders can never exercise authority (Titus 1:11; 2:15). There are times when they must take a stand and say, “We are not going to allow this practice or this false teaching to go on in this church.” Sometimes they must enforce church discipline or confront spiritual bullies. But their normal mode of leadership should be their example of godly living.
We need to remember that leadership is more a responsibility than a privilege. If a man is into leadership for the perks, whether status, money, or power, he is abusing a sacred trust. Leadership, whether in the church, the home, or the government, means that you’re the one whom God holds accountable for the direction of things under your care. If that thought doesn’t cause you to break out in a cold sweat, then you’ve got wrong ideas about leadership!
Thus, the requirement for shepherding is a close personal experience with Christ. The responsibility of shepherding is to exercise oversight with the right attitude.
The rewards for the work don’t come until the Chief Shepherd returns. That Christ is the “Chief Shepherd” again reminds us that we are only undershepherds, accountable to the Chief. The word “appears” is literally, “made visible.” We presently do not see the Chief Shepherd, although He is present. But soon He will be made visible, when He comes again in power and glory, to shepherd the nations with a rod of iron (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). Thus our motivation for serving as pastors must never be to receive the praise of men, but only the desire to hear on that great day, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Then we will share in His glory! Unlike earthly rewards which fade, that crown will last forever.
Much more could be said. But, in a healthy church, the elders will actively shepherd the flock, which is an awesome responsibility! But the flock must willingly follow:
There is some debate over why Peter singles out “young men.” My understanding is that he assumed that the women would be in submission to the elders; but young men are more prone to resent their authority. Younger men are often more impatient and idealistic than the more mature men in leadership. They may not understand why the elders don’t move more quickly. So he singles them out as representing all in the church who are not elders and tells them to submit.
Submission does not mean mute acceptance of decisions. There is a place for expressing disagreement and voicing concerns. But submission is primarily an attitude of respect and a recognition of rank. If the elders go against a clear principle of Scripture, then the flock is responsible to appeal to them based upon the Word. If an elder is violating Scripture, he should be removed from office, since no human authority transcends God’s authority. But normally, the flock needs to submit to and cooperate with the elders as they seek to follow the Lord’s will for His church (Heb. 13:17). I fear that we, in democratic America, have gotten away from this important biblical principle of proper authority and submission in the local church.
“Clothe” is a unique word that referred to an apron which a servant would put on before doing his tasks. No doubt Peter was recalling Jesus taking the towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet. Humility (lit., “lowliness of mind”) is the robe with which we all must gird ourselves. So far as I know, the Bible never exhorts us to think more highly of ourselves than we do or to improve our self-esteem, as we’re being told to do by many Christian writers. But it often tells us that we need to humble ourselves.
I disagree with the comment often made that humility is elusive because, just when you think you’re humble, you’ve lost it. Both Jesus and Paul called themselves humble (Matt. 11:29; Acts 20:19). The best biblical definition of humility is 2 Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” Humility is being aware of our own insufficiency, but trusting in Christ’s all-sufficiency.
I suppose that Moses had “low self-esteem” when he told the Lord that he couldn’t speak well enough to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exod. 4:10-12). God didn’t say, “Moses, you need to work on your self-esteem. You’re really terrific! You can do it!” Instead, God confronted Moses with his lack of trust in God’s ability. God didn’t correct Moses’ low view of himself; He challenged Moses’ inadequate view of God. People with so-called “low self-esteem” are too self-focused. They need to focus on God’s adequacy.
Christian leaders have always recognized this. Chrysostom called humility “the foundation of our philosophy.” Augustine said, “If you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, Humility.” Calvin, who regarded pride as the chief vice and humility as the preeminent virtue, said, “But I require only that, laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought [cf. Gal. 6:3], he rightly recognize himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture [cf. James 1:22-25]” (the above quotes are in Institutes of the Christian Religion II:II:11; see also, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [Baker], p. 537). Jonathan Edwards says that the whole gospel and all of God’s dealings with us are calculated to bring about in us a lowly attitude toward ourselves and that those who lack this attitude are destitute of true religion, whatever profession they may make (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:294).
If you think these men too strong, go back to 1 Peter 5:5b: He quotes Proverbs 3:34 which (bringing out the nuance of the Greek text) says that “God sets Himself in battle against those who lift themselves up, but He gives grace to those who see themselves as lowly.” Nothing could be worse than to have God set Himself against you! Nothing is more essential than receiving His grace! The way to be the object of His grace is to humble yourself before Him and before others. It also is the chief virtue for harmonious relationships in the church.
Thus I exhort myself and my fellow elders: Shepherd God’s flock! I exhort the church: Be subject to your elders! I exhort us all: Put on the servant’s apron of humility! That’s the prescription for a healthy church.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.
One of the most crucial lessons to learn as a Christian is how to handle suffering. In this fallen world, suffering is a certainty. It may be the physical suffering that goes with living in these frail bodies that get sick and die. It may be the grief of watching a loved one suffer and die. It may be problems stemming from your own sin or from others’ sins against you. It may be the common pressures of life, of providing a living and wondering how you’re going to pay all the bills. It may be the emotional suffering of struggling with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, anger, worry, or fear. But wherever it comes from, suffering is inevitable. And, it will make you grow bitter or better, depending on how you handle it.
It is significant that in Jesus’ parable of the sower, two of the three soils that failed to produce a crop represent people who did not know how to handle suffering. The rocky soil, Jesus explained, pictures those who receive the word joyfully at first, but do not sink down roots, so that when affliction or persecution comes, they fall away. The thorny ground reflects those who seem to grow for a while, but then allow, among other things, the worries of the world to choke out the word so that it does not bear fruit unto eternal life (Mark 4:16-19). If you don’t learn how to handle affliction, worries, and other kinds of suffering, you will not persevere as a Christian. On the other hand, if you do learn how to handle suffering, you will grow solid through it.
Peter here gives us four strategies for growing solid through suffering:
To grow solid through suffering, humble yourself before God, resist the devil, trust the Lord, and stand firm in God’s grace with the saints.
“Therefore” connects 5:5 with 5:6 & 7. I would paraphrase (bringing out the nuances of the Greek text): “Because God sets Himself in battle against those who lift themselves up, but gives unmerited favor to those who view themselves as lowly, therefore, lower yourself under God’s sovereign dealings with you, that He might lift you up in due time. You lower yourself by throwing all your anxieties on Him, knowing that He cares for you.”
The Greek word translated “anxieties” comes from a word meaning to divide. Anxieties divide our minds, so that we cannot concentrate on anything else. Someone has defined “worry” as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” Thus worries and anxieties distract us from the productive things God wants us to do and consume us by diverting all our thoughts into these channels of fear.
Why is there a need for humbling yourself in a time of trial? Because at the heart of anxiety is the proud notion that I can handle things by myself. We all have a sinful tendency to lift ourselves up and to pull the Lord down. Even we who have trusted in Christ as Savior, who talk about trusting Him for everything, when it comes right down to it, really trust in ourselves and in our ability to work our way through life’s difficulties. We’ll call on God for a little boost now and then, to get us through something. But we don’t know what it means to cast ourselves totally upon the Lord until He yanks the rug out from under us through some trial that is bigger than us. Even then we tend to scramble to regain control without submitting to God’s mighty hand over us.
At the root of this self-reliance is pride. Suppose you were on a ship which encountered a fierce storm at sea. You don’t know anything about handling a ship in such rough waters, but the captain is a seasoned veteran who has brought his ship safely through many such storms. Wouldn’t it be the height of arrogance for you to go up on the bridge and tell him how to run the ship or, even worse, to take the helm from him? If you were anxious in the storm, your fears would subside if you stopped to think about the captain’s competency. If you had a chance to talk to him, and he assured you that he had been through many such storms, you could relax and trust that he will get you through this one. You still may be in for a rough ride, but you can go through it without anxiety because you humbled yourself (by not taking control) and exalted the captain by trusting him.
George Muller used to tell the story of a boy who was walking along the road carrying a heavy load. A man came along in a horse-drawn cart and offered him a ride. The boy climbed in the cart, but he kept the heavy load on his shoulders. When the man asked him why he didn’t put the load down on the cart, the boy replied that he didn’t want to burden the horse! We’ve climbed into the cart of salvation through Christ. He is in fact bearing our load. Why don’t we let go and put it all on Him?
We’re prone to doubt two things in a time of intense trial: God’s sovereign control over circumstances: “Where is God in all this?” And, we doubt His concern for us: “If God is in control and cares, then why is this happening to me?” Peter says that we must bow and acknowledge God’s mighty hand—His sovereignty and power. He wasn’t asleep at the helm when this trial hit me. And, we must bow and affirm His loving care—He cares for me personally, in spite of how it may seem in the middle of my crisis. No doubt Peter was recalling Jesus’ teaching that if God cares for the birds and for the lilies of the field, then obviously, He cares for each of us (Matt. 6:25-30).
Having acknowledged these two things--God’s control and His care--we then cast all our anxieties on Him through thankful prayer: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). F. B. Meyer (Tried by Fire [Christian Literature Crusade], p. 173) helpfully advises, “Treat cares as you treat sins. Hand them over to Jesus one by one as they occur.” I find that often I have to do it repeatedly all day long, confessing my lack of faith, praying at times, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
No sooner has Peter got us to relax by casting our cares on the Lord than he yells, “Wake up! Be alert! There’s a lion on the prowl, and he’ll eat you for lunch if you aren’t careful!” George Morrison put it: “God does not make His children carefree in order that He may make them careless” (Morrison on James through Revelation [AMG Publishers], p. 34). The fact is, in a time of trial, you are especially vulnerable to the enemy of our souls. You must be sober and alert so that you can resist his attacks.
When it comes to dealing with the devil, Christians often go to one of two extremes: Either they see the devil behind every bush; or, they ignore him altogether. The former are more prevalent in Christian circles now than the latter. These folks see the devil everywhere. They go around casting out the demons of every common cold, the demons of car trouble, the demons behind emotional problems, etc. They often blame the devil for problems that stem from their own sin or mistakes. Many popular books teach elaborate methods to overcome demonic forces, both personally and as a church. But the Bible just tells us to resist the devil. While I enjoyed reading Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness [Crossway Books], I think we need to be careful to derive our understanding of Satan and demons from the Bible, not from such popular books.
On the one hand, Satan is a powerful unseen foe, so powerful that Michael the archangel did not dare to pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). We dare not get arrogant and start barking orders at Satan like some tinhorn general, or he will make quick work of us. Probably none of us has ever encountered Satan himself, although he has legions of demons to do his will. But on the other hand, Satan is neither omnipresent nor omnipotent. And, he is a defeated foe. The cross of Jesus Christ spelled his doom and the resurrection sealed it. So we can resist him, firm in our faith, and know that he will flee from us (James 4:7).
Peter describes him as “your adversary, the devil.” “Adversary” means an opponent in a lawsuit. “Devil” means “slanderer,” one who throws things against you. He is described as the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). His strategy is often to hit you when you’re under some intense trial by suggesting either, “God isn’t strong enough to deliver you,” or “Obviously He doesn’t care. If this is how He treats His people, then why are you following Him?” Or, if you’ve fallen into some sin, he will accuse your conscience, even after you’ve confessed your sin, by saying, “Some Christian you are! What makes you think you can be forgiven for that one?”
Or, as suggested by Peter’s reminder in 5:9b, the devil will get you to think that you’re the only one in the world going through the kind of suffering you’re experiencing. Your trial is unique! Surely, no one else understands! “They have slain your prophets, and I alone am left!” But Peter says, “No, you’re not alone. Your Christian brothers throughout the world are going through similar trials.”
Remember that verse 6 comes before verse 9: We must bow before God before we stand against the devil. Resisting the devil is a defensive posture. I don’t advise stalking him like a lion hunter. But if he roars against us, we stand firm in the full armor of God and he will flee. Also, we need to understand that we are to flee certain sins, but resist the devil. If you’re tempted with sexual immorality, don’t stand around rebuking Satan; get out of there (1 Cor. 6:18)!
Many of God’s people are vulnerable to Satan’s attacks because they’re not alert to spiritual danger. If a real lion were on the prowl and had just been spotted outside, would you go for a casual stroll, admiring the flowers? Would you let your children play out there? And yet so many Christians watch filth on TV or in movies, and let their kids watch it, and wonder why they aren’t more interested in spiritual things.
Or, they’re going through trials, but they forget that they are especially vulnerable. They tolerate their own grumbling or complaining, not realizing that they are playing right into Satan’s attack to devour their faith and to discredit the goodness of God. If my children always complained about how meanly I treated them, it wouldn’t speak well of me. As God’s children, we need to be careful to speak well of our Father, even when He’s taking us through trials. To grow solid through suffering, humble yourself before God and be alert so that you can resist the devil.
Trust is implicit in 5:6-7, is stated explicitly in 5:9 (be “firm in your faith”), and is strongly implicit in 5:10-11. Peter is saying, “God hasn’t forgotten you in your trial. He is the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ in the first place. Thus you can trust Him to use the trial for His purpose in your life, because He is the sovereign Lord who has all dominion forever and ever!”
But trusting God has fallen on hard times in Christian circles. It is viewed as about the most impractical thing you can do. If you came to me with a big problem in your life and asked, “What should I do?” and I said, “I think you should trust God,” you’d probably go away thinking, “What worthless counsel!” And yet from cover to cover the Bible extols the practical benefits of putting our trust in the living God as the way to deal with our problems!
You ask, “How can I trust God? It seems so hard to do when I’m in the middle of a crisis!” There are at least four ways to nurture your faith suggested in these two short verses (9 & 10):
(1) Put the trial in perspective. It will only last “for a little while.” You say, “For a little while! I’ve been going through this suffering for years!” But even a whole lifetime is a little while in light of eternity. Paul had this perspective when he wrote (2 Cor. 4:17-18), “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 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) Put God in perspective. He is “the God of all grace.” He is not the God of a little bit of grace. He is not the God of a lot of grace. He is the God of all grace. His grace is like the ocean, a limitless supply, that keeps breaking over our lives time and time again. It will never run out. But remember, God withholds grace from the proud, but gives it to the humble (5:5), those who lower themselves by admitting their total need. So in your time of trial, come as a needy soul and ask, and He will give you abundant grace to meet your need.
Also, to put God in perspective, remember that He is the God of dominion or strength, both now and forever (5:11). He is mighty to save His people from every trial, if it be His will. Even more, He is mighty to save us from eternal destruction. Nothing can separate us from His love and care. In your trial, rehearse in your mind God’s mighty strength as seen over and over in the Bible.
(3) Put God’s calling and purpose for you in perspective. He “called you to His eternal glory in Christ.” You didn’t come to Him by your own strength or effort. He called you. He didn’t call you to condemn you, but to bring you to His eternal glory in Christ. You will dwell in His presence throughout eternity. In your trial, look ahead to what God has promised for those whom He has called, and you can trust Him to bring you through it.
(4) Put God’s purpose for trials in perspective. He Himself will “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Trials are to burn away the dross and refine the gold. “Perfect” means to equip, repair, or render complete. It was used of Peter “mending” his fishing nets (Matt. 4:21). God will put you back together after the trial so that you will be useful to Him. “Confirm” means to fix, set fast, or strengthen. Jesus told Peter that after he was restored from his denial of Jesus, he would “strengthen” [same word] his brothers. The next word, “strengthen,” occurs only here in the Bible and rarely in extra-biblical Greek. We don’t know how it differs from the previous word. “Establish” means to lay the foundation. Jesus used it to describe the house founded on the rock that withstood the storm (Matt. 7:25).
Thus the overall idea is that the sovereign God will use the trials to establish you in your faith and to equip you to serve others in His cause. So you can trust Him in the process. Thus, to grow solid through suffering, humble yourself before God, resist the devil, and trust the sovereign Lord. Finally,
This section is the concluding greeting of the letter. But it contains a powerful truth, stated also at the end of 5:9, that you don’t go through suffering alone. And there is a strong testimony that what Peter has written is God’s true grace and an exhortation to stand firm in it.
Note first that we go through suffering with other believers. These final verses are brimming with warm relationships. Peter commends Silvanus (Silas), his secretary who probably bore the letter to the churches mentioned in 1:1. He was a faithful brother. He had served with Paul on the second missionary journey. He had sung hymns with Paul at midnight in the Philippian jail, as his back was laid open and his feet were in the stocks. He was no stranger to persecution. Here he is, faithfully serving the Apostle Peter. What an encouragement it is when you’re going through trials to have a faithful brother like Silas, who has been through it himself!
Peter sends greetings from “she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you.” This most likely refers to the church in Rome, going through the fires of Nero’s persecution. Peter probably used “Babylon” as a code name to protect the believers there, as well as for the symbolism of Babylon as the place of exile and wickedness, the epitome of that which is opposed to God. But there, in that center of evil, God had planted His church, and it was linked with these churches in Asia in the great cause of the gospel.
And there was Mark, whom Peter calls his son. He wasn’t his physical son, nor is it likely that Peter was Mark’s father in the faith. Rather, the younger man had become like a son to Peter as they served Christ together. Mark, afraid of persecution, had deserted Paul and Barnabas, but had grown now into a faithful man, ready to endure hardship for the gospel.
Peter concludes by encouraging the church to give the customary kiss of love, a warm greeting which consisted of a kiss on the cheek (men with men, women with women), as is still practiced in some cultures today. We need not violate our cultural norms by adopting this literally, but we should be genuinely warm in greeting one another. And he extends peace (“shalom,” well-being) on all who are in Christ. When we go through trials, we should go through them together, supporting one another as family in Christ.
But also, we are to stand firm together in God’s true grace. Peter is referring to all he has written in the letter. “True” grace suggests that there is a false grace. Jude 4 refers to those “who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” False grace portrays the Christian life as a hang loose, go with the flow, don’t worry about sin, be tolerant of everyone sort of thing. True grace exhorts us to be holy, even as the Lord is holy. False grace implies that the Christian life requires no effort on our part. True grace is not passive, but active. It teaches that we exert ourselves to stand firm in it, that we endure hardship as we live righteously in this evil world.
Elizabeth Hanson, a medical missionary in Central Africa, served the Lord faithfully for years. A rebellion broke out in the country and one night the rebels broke into her room and raped her on the dirt floor. As it was taking place, she cried out to the Lord, “Why are You allowing this to happen to me?” In an almost audible voice, the Lord replied, “When you chose to follow Me, you gave me not only your mind and heart, but your body. They aren’t just doing this to you, but to Me. I’m with you.”
She didn’t tell this story very often, but years later, in the U.S., she was lecturing on a technical medical subject when she felt the Holy Spirit leading her to tell her story. She did and then went on with her lecture. Afterwards, everyone left except two young girls. The older girl came up and said, “That’s my 13 year-old sister. Two months ago she was raped in the park and she hasn’t spoken since.” Elizabeth’s eyes and those of the young girl met and filled with tears. They embraced, wept, and talked for two hours. Elizabeth led her to Jesus Christ. That girl is serving Christ today because Elizabeth Hanson grew solid through her suffering and let God use her painful experience to minister to others.
Suffering is never easy. But if we will humble ourselves before God by casting all our anxieties on Him, resist the devil, trust in the sovereign God of all grace, and stand firm in His grace with other saints, we can grow solid through our suffering.
Copyright 1992, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.