Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

More Conditions for Answered Prayer (1 Peter 3:8-12)

In the second set of essential elements of true prayer, Peter describes the correct feelings that accompany mutual prayer – sympathy and a tender heart. These words make it clear that true prayer involves aspects of one’s emotional life. There must be fellow-feeling for those with whom we pray and for whom we pray. In the immediate context of Peter’s readers there had to mutual concern for temporal needs because some of them had lost possessions because of persecution. One would expect those who knew them to show spiritual empathy. And there are many other aspects of life in which sympathy and tenderness are required. Sympathy and tenderness are essential features of the members of God’s family as they pray for one another. 

So far Peter has focused on attitudes towards other believers, but in verse 9 he comments on attitudes towards opponents of the church. How should the Christians respond to those who engage in evil activities against them or who use offensive words against them? Peter says that they cannot repay in kind because if they do God will not answer their prayers. Instead they are to bless their opponents. Obviously he cannot mean that the Christians speak well of their actions and words.

So how could they speak of their opponents in a good way, in a manner that indicated they wanted their assailants to experience spiritual good? One obvious answer is by praying for them. Perhaps Peter recalled the words of Jesus when he said that his disciples should pray for those who abuse them (Luke 6:28). Or he may have recalled the example of Jesus when he was on the cross because he there prayed that God would forgive the soldiers who took part in the crucifixion. We can extend such praying and think about how others have been converted because people prayed for them. For example, I wonder how many people prayed for Saul of Tarsus while he was rampaging against the church and trying to crush it out of existence. There are many secrets to be revealed in heaven, and perhaps that will be one of them. 

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Some Conditions for Answered Prayer (1 Peter 3:8-12)

The relationship of brothers is a reminder that such belong to the same family, the family of God. This is the basis of meaningful intercessory prayer because we pray to the heavenly Father on behalf of other members of his family. Indeed it is not possible to show brotherly love without such prayer. The proof that we love one another is that we bring one another to the Father in our prayers. This is what the apostle Paul did with regard to the Christians that he knew about, as we can see from his letters. He prayed repeatedly for believers all over the known world. 

Obviously we can imagine someone praying in a clinical manner, merely mentioning people by name but not getting involved in praying in a deep manner for them. That is where the other details mentioned here prove helpful. True prayer requires right thinking and Peter mentions two aspects of such thinking here. The first is that there has to be unity of mind and the second is that there has to be humility of mind. Unity of mind could include agreement about the beliefs that are held. It could also include agreement about what we should be praying about. Another word for this is harmony.

At the same time, there has to be humility as we pray. Pride is obnoxious anywhere, but the worst place for it to show itself is during corporate prayer. Imagine thinking that our petitions are better than those of others merely because we use better words or frame our requests in accurate theological language. Of course, it is important to have accurate terminology, but our awareness of them should be a matter of gratitude, not pride. After all, our prayers remain powerless without God’s input; we require divine wisdom as to how and when we should pray the requests on our minds.

Humility shows itself by a willingness to ask other people to pray for needs and burdens we have; pride stops us from making such requests. There are some petitions that God will not answer until you ask others to pray about them as well. Harmony and humility are essential features of true prayer. 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Answered Prayer (1 Peter 3:8-12)

In verse 7, Peter had challenged husbands about the possibility of their behaviour towards their wives being a reason for unanswered prayer. Perhaps they wondered if there were any other areas in life that could affect answers to one’s prayers. It is the case that answers to our prayers should be one of our biggest concerns. I remember once being asked to take a piece of paper and write down any specific answers to prayer that I had received around that time. The person who asked the question did not pursue his request, but it was a challenging one.  

I suspect Peter is still focussing on the possibility of unanswered prayer in the verses we are looking at because he says in verse 12 that the Lord will either answer prayer or he will not. Therefore in the statements that precede verse 12 Peter is laying down the conditions for answered prayer, and I would say that is the particular blessing he has in mind in verse 9 when he informs his readers that they have been called to inherit a blessing. Peter explains the condition in two ways: first, he uses his own words in verses 8-9 and then he quotes from Psalm 34 in verses 10-12. 

In passing we can observe the important place that Peter gives to the psalms as expressions of Christian experience. David wrote Psalm 34 in his own particular situation as he was guided by the Spirit. The psalmist had no idea that his words would later be very helpful to Christians living in Asia Minor, but the Spirit who guided him did. Neither did David know that over three thousand years later, millions of believers all over the world would get benefit from what he wrote in this psalm, but the Spirit who guided him did. 

In verse 8 we have what is called a chiasm. This is a literary device that enables an author to stress a point and place beside it other important matters. The point that is stressed usually comes in the middle of the list. Here we have five items and we can number them: (1) unity of mind, (2) sympathy, (3) brotherly love, (4) a tender heart, and (5) a humble mind. Number 3 (brotherly love) is the central matter; then around it we can see that 2 and 4 are similar (the affections) as are 1 and 5 (the mind). So we can see, through this device, that answered prayer is dependent on brotherly love that shows itself affectionately on the one hand and humbly and unitedly on the other hand. 

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The ambition of a husband (1 Peter 3:7)

We should note that Peter connects the requirements of husbands with the practice of submission (he begins with ‘likewise’). So their taking on of the role of leadership in the family is not optional; rather it is an expression of obedience to God, which means that a refusal to take it on is disobedience to his revealed will.  

The way husbands show submission to God is by living with their wives in an understanding way. The term ‘understanding’ combines the necessities of knowledge and considerateness. What gives them this understanding? The answer is the Word of God meditated on prayerfully and continually. One of the details that a husband should be looking for as he reads the Bible is guidance as to how he can help his wife. 

At a basic level, living with their wives indicates that husbands should be at home (rather than out with the boys) and that they should live at home in an intelligent way. Peter mentions three features that husbands should think about constantly. 

First, they show honour to their wives by remembering their weakness. By weakness, Peter could be referring to physical weakness (usually a husband is stronger than his wife and he should be always ready to provide for her and protect her). He could also be referring to social weakness (at that time, the status of women was not high, but in the church and in a Christian family the wives were to be respected). Again, he could be referring to personal weaknesses that a particular wife may have (she may not have a high IQ, for example). Or Peter could be referring to her voluntary weakness in that she freely submits to her husband and he should not abuse her submission (which seems to me to be the likely option). 

Husbands show honour in several ways. The concept of honour includes praising their wives before others, commending the contributions of their wives, expecting them to do a great deal of value within their household, and many other positive activities. 

Peter also reminds husbands of the spiritual equality between husbands and wives – they are heirs together of the grace of life. This could refer to the grace of sanctification or to the grace of glorification. Either and both are true, and are reminders to the husband that his wife is and will yet be greatly blessed by God. I suppose the danger being highlighted here is the danger of letting society’s values diminish spiritual blessings – in society the wife was dependent on the husband, in the spiritual life both husband and wife are dependent on God.   

Peter closes his exhortation to husbands by warning them that unchristian behaviour towards their wives will result in unanswered prayers. This is a call to be careful about all things in the domestic world. His warning should cause husbands to engage in heart-searching about how they treat their wives. 

The obvious, overall comment that can be made of Peter’s teaching here is that it is a call to be counter-cultural, to show to society what a God-blessed relationship is like.   

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Submissive Sarah (1 Peter 3:5)

Peter reminds his female readers that fashion had not changed throughout the generations as far as spiritual clothing is concerned. Indeed submission arising from a gentle and quiet spirit has marked all holy women.

I suppose if there is one Old Testament woman whom we might suspect was not submissive it would be Sarah. After all, did she not suggest to Abraham that he use her maid Hagar and obtain a son? And did she not later on insist that Abraham expel Hagar and her son Ishmael from the family compound? Sarah does not come across as a weak person. Nevertheless Peter chooses her as the example of feminine submissiveness and refers to her response to her husband – she called him ‘lord’. 

As far as I know, there is only one occasion in the book of Genesis when Sarah calls Abraham by the title ‘lord’. It is found in Genesis 18:12, on the occasion when the Lord had come to Abraham’s tent and informed him that his wife would bear a son the following year. Sarah, who had been listening in, ‘laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”’

Often we focus on her wrong laughter and fail to notice her affectionate assessment about her husband. She calls him ‘my lord’ in her heart. Peter deduces from that example that Sarah had this attitude throughout her spiritual journey, that although there were times when she influenced her husband in a wrong way, nevertheless she still retained her respect for him. 

It is also important to observe that she retained this attitude even although Abraham had twice failed her in a very public way when he was prepared to let her be a member of the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech in order to preserve his own skin. She retained the attitude that God wanted her to have even if, at times, her husband showed that he did not deserve her respect. 

I wonder if that is what Peter has in mind when he writes in verse 6 that these women will be Sarah’s children ‘if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening’. Sarah was put into situations that were frightening but does not seem to have been afraid in them. Think of some of them: she was asked by her husband to leave a good life in Ur of the Chaldees and make her way into the unknown; she had seen her nephew Lot captured by invading armies and her husband setting off to try and rescue him; she had lived for decades in an environment that was hostile to her faith; she had to wait for years before God kept his promise to give them a child. Despite all these difficulties, Peter says that she did not fear in frightening situations. 

Think about the women to whom Peter was writing. It looks as if they were facing persecution for their faith in God. In addition, some of them had unconverted husbands. Only divine grace could ensure that they would live without fear. Often throughout church history women have shown that this was possible. Peter urges them to be like Sarah and voluntarily submit to their husbands even although they were living in dangerous times for those with unconverted husbands. 

Friday, 25 April 2014

The inner spirit of a holy wife (1 Peter 3:3-4)

What kind of inner spirit produces the outlook of reverence and purity that Peter commends? Peter deals with this matter by the illustration of adornment, not of the body but of the soul. In verse 3, Peter is not commanding that women should not comb their hair or not wear jewellery or nice clothes. To suggest he was makes his words absurd. Instead he is saying that even the best attention to outward appearance should not be the priority of the Christian wives he is addressing. Instead the garment that should be obvious is the attire that comes from within and not from their wardrobe. This garment is ‘the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit’. Why is it important? 

First, this attitude is imperishable. There is not a noun following the adjective ‘imperishable’, so translations provide them and have words such as ‘beauty’. The problem with providing a noun is that we might focus on its meaning rather than on the meaning of the adjective. It looks to me as if Peter is saying that items of physical adornment will eventually perish whereas inner adornment is permanent. Clothes wear out, jewellery fades and hair can diminish. In contrast, when they get to heaven, Christian wives will have a gentle and quiet spirit, which is then a motivation for having it on earth. 

Second, this attitude is Christlike. Jesus described himself as gentle and humble (Matt. 11:29). For a Christian who wants to look beautiful, there can nothing more attractive than being like Jesus in one's heart, whether we are male or female. 

Third, the attitude is valuable – ‘in God’s sight it is very precious.’ No doubt, it is precious because it is Christlike. God will delight to look at this attire for ever. Again, the attitude is precious to God because he paid a great price for it, the death of his own Son. Jesus died in order that his people would be conformed to his image. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

One aim of a holy wife (1 Peter 3:2)

Peter here focuses on what the aim of a Christian wife with an unconverted husband should be – his conversion. He says that ‘they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.’ Peter is not suggesting here that a wife should not speak to her unconverted husband about the gospel. Yet he is indicating that words by themselves will not be effective if her conduct is not appropriate. 

Their apposite behaviour is described as ‘respectful and pure conduct’. It is not clear if the term ‘respectful’ refers to their attitude to their husbands or to God, although it can include both because the main reason why they would respect their husbands is out of respect to God. Purity of conduct means that their lives are free from unchaste words and actions.  

This instruction by Peter raises the question as to how he knows it will be effective in winning the unconverted husbands of Christian wives. We could answer the question by merely saying that God is giving a gracious promise to such wives, which he is, and therefore it is an encouragement for holy living.

One implication that comes out of this requirement of godly living is whether or not the converted wife will trust God’s methods for converting her unconverted husband. It will require patience, may include disappointed hopes, and prolonged prayer. Yet such should remember that here we have one of God’s methods of influencing people in a saving way. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The acquiescence of a holy wife (1 Peter 3:1)

Peter begins by making what we might assume was an obvious point, that the wives should submit to their own husbands. Why would he stress this detail? I can think of two possible scenarios that may help us understand his emphasis.

One is that most wives would have known other men with authority over her in the past, when she lived with her father and her brothers. It may have been difficult for her to adjust to a situation in which they no longer had authority over her. She may have tried to retain their influence over her life. If that was the case, Peter says that she should realise that because she is married the previous ties are no longer binding.  

The other scenario would be more likely with a wife of an unconverted husband. She would not be able to ask him about spiritual things and would turn to others for such input, perhaps to leading men in the church. Eventually it would seem to her husband that she paid more attention to their authority than to his. She may not have meant to undermine him, but in yielding to the advice of other men she had. The safest path for a Christian wife with an unconverted husband is that she should ask for spiritual advice from other Christian women in the congregation. She should not give the impression that she has put herself under the authority of other men. 

These two examples are merely scenarios, but I think we can see how they would be possible. So we can move from them and ask, ‘What was the basis for Peter’s insistence that Christian wives should obey their own husbands?’ One feature comes to mind. Marriage is a creation ordinance instituted by God for all people at the beginning and cannot be defined only as a Christian ordinance. Becoming a Christian after marriage does not minimise the relationship that existed before one of the couple was converted. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Wives and Husbands (1 Peter 3:1-7)

Although we might think that Peter has moved on to a new subject when he addresses wives and husbands, he is still dealing with the matter of submission. ‘Likewise’ refers back to the way Christians were expected to respond to every God-ordered structure in society (1 Pet. 2:13), including the state, the place of daily work and in the home. In this section, Peter deals with wives and husbands. 

There is a rather surprising absent detail in this section, which is that Peter does not speak to unconverted wives. He divides the men into obedient and disobedient (which is one way of distinguishing between Christians and non-Christians), but the wives he addresses in verses 1-6 and in verse 7 are regarded as believers. Perhaps the reason for focusing on wives is because some of them may have misunderstood Christian liberty and had assumed that they no longer had to show submission to unconverted husbands. 

At first glance, we might deduce that Peter is hard on the wives because he takes six verses for their role and one verse for the husband’s role. Yet the reality is that he regards the role of women as very important and desires that they would live in such a way that would please God. The apostle wanted them to be effective witnesses for God in their homes, whether they were Christian homes or not (the home at that time would be defined by the husband’s faith or lack of it).

Before we look at some aspects in later readings, we should remind ourselves what submission does not mean. It does not mean that a wife ceases to think for herself (she does not lose the privileges that come to her because she had been made in the image of God), it does not mean that a wife should do what she thinks is wrong (she cannot use submission to her husband as a reason for disobeying God), it does not mean that her husband has a higher place than Jesus, it does not mean that a wife should not advise her husband on a matter (after all, she may be a lot more intelligent than him), it does not mean that a wife should suffer in silence if her husband is cruel to her, and it does not mean that a wife is inferior to her husband in the sight of God.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Living for Jesus (1 Peter 2:24-25)

Jesus suffered for us because he had a goal in mind, and this goal was our sanctification.  Peter very movingly summarises what took place at the cross. There his Saviour willingly carried our sins. Although physically he was nailed to the tree, spiritually he was on a journey carrying our sins to where they could not be found. This he did by paying the penalty that divine justice demanded, and he paid it fully and willingly. He became a servant in order to deliver us from our sins. 

Yet his death did not only deal with the penalty of our sins. In addition, the Saviour died so that we might die to our sinful ways and live righteous lives. The place that was death for Jesus (the cross) becomes the place of life for us. At the cross, we begin the road to heaven, and it may take us through difficulties, such as the trials that Peter’s readers were going through. But our focus is not on what we are passing through. Instead we are focussed on living holy lives, on our sanctification. When earthly things begin to concern us too much, we have to remind ourselves that we are in danger of wandering of the path. These earthly things may be anything that distracts us from becoming Christlike. Jesus died so that we would be like him. 

It was true that an unjust master could have left wounds on his servants through an undeserved beating. But such wounds were not the only ones that the believer had. In addition, he had many more wounds caused by his own sins, and these wounds had marred his soul as well as his body. Any wounds caused by an unjust master would heal eventually. But what about the wounds that sin had caused? There was only one way for them to be healed and that was through the death of Jesus. Today the medical world has made many discoveries regarding healing, but no-one has found another way for healing the defiled souls of sinners. Christians have been healed, and for that they should be grateful, and should remind themselves that their unjust masters could not defile them by bad behaviour. 

We can imagine Peter’s readers wondering why bad masters were allowed to ill-treat them. Was that a sign that Jesus had abandoned them? No, says Peter.  Instead recall who you were. You were wandering sheep without a fold. But now you are part of the flock of Jesus, and he is leading his flock through all the dangers of this life. And he will take them safely to the heavenly fold. Nothing that an unjust master could do would separate them from the love of Jesus. The idea of both Shepherd and Overseer is that of guarding what has been put into their care.  

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Serving as Jesus Did (1 Pet. 2:22-23)

What was really important for Peter was that the Christian slaves imitate the example of Christ. This is the basic calling of all Christians wherever they are, and it was the basic calling of the Christian slaves to whom he was writing. Therefore, in order to know what they should do, they had to think about what Jesus did in difficult situations. To follow in his steps is both challenging and comforting. It is a challenge because we are sinners, but it is comforting because Peter’s words indicate that we can imitate Jesus in a measure. It would be possible for a slave to disrespect his unjust master and have no inner peace as a consequence, but a Christian slave of an unfair master would have the peace of Christ even after unjust suffering. 

Peter focuses on how Jesus spoke in difficult situations, which suggests that the apostle was concerned about verbal disrespect by Christian slaves towards unjust masters. Of course, Peter here is writing about what he himself had witnessed when he saw Jesus unjustly treated after his arrest. 

Of course, it would be possible to control one’s speech in a variety of ways. One can imagine a person doing so from a stoical point of view. Many a person has managed to keep quiet under extreme pressure by this method. Indeed stoicism used to be a common feature of British character. Listen to this advice from the stoic, Marcus Aurelius: ‘Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil… I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.’ I have heard similar advice given by Christians. Yet it is an outlook based on self-sufficiency. 

In contrast, how did Jesus prepare for difficult situations? Peter tells us that his Master ‘continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly’. In other words, he continually committed himself into the care of the heavenly Father. In this, Jesus is an example of faith, of love, of patience, of acquiescence in the Father’s wisdom. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Called to serve God (1 Peter 2:18-20)

Peter now addresses a specific group, translated as ‘servants’ or ‘slaves’. One of the things that we should remember when reading the New Testament is that we no longer live in the kinds of society that existed then. The term that Peter uses was normally a description of household servants, and they could be employed in a wide range of work depending on the household.

When we think of household servants we may think about cleaners or cooks. In Peter’s day, a household servant could be a manager or a doctor or a musician. They were not slaves in the modern sense, because such household servants could purchase their freedom. Yet they were slaves in the sense that they were the property of their masters. Often they were ‘slaves’ because they were captured in war, but many also were in this category because they had been born into it. In a sense we can see that such a position in a wealthy household could be very secure. 

There were strict Roman laws regarding the use of such slaves, so mistreatment of them would not be common. It would be the case that a lazy slave would be punished, and also there would be cruel masters here and there. Probably there would be suspicion of Christian slaves because they were followers of another Master. Their earthly masters would be puzzled by such loyalty to an invisible Lord, especially when they became aware that he had been crucified as a rebel against the government in Judea. The society as a whole had not been pervaded by Christian values and the teachings of Jesus would have been regarded as revolutionary and threatening. So Christians may have been beaten merely because they were different. 

In such a scenario, Peter’s advice to his readers is that they should remember that they now serve God. This was a major difference between them and other slaves. Generally, slaves in a household would worship the gods connected to that household. Peter could not imagine his Christian readers participating in such rituals. Instead, what matters for them is what God wants them to do, and he will help them behave in such a way.  

Friday, 18 April 2014

Living as servants of God (1 Peter 2:13-17)

The way to live the life of liberty is summarised by Peter in verse 17: ‘Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.’ We may find the list a bit unusual because it seems to indicate progression of respect, yet does not mention God as the climax. It is better therefore to see Peter using a literary technique which puts the two most important aspects within the two less important aspects. In this way, we can see that Peter puts one’s attitude to unbelievers and the emperor as less important as one’s attitude to fellow-believers and to God (when we say that the unbelievers and rulers are less important, we don’t mean that they are unimportant). Seeing the four commands as two groups of two is helped when we notice that Peter uses the same word to describe how Christians should react to unbelievers and to the rulers. 

We honour all people when we treat them as individuals who are made in the image of God, to respect the contributions that they make through their creaturely endowments to the life of society. In this simple requirement, we see the sinfulness of any action or word that demeans any person. A Christian should never insult another human being. This requirement is basically a summary statement of the second table of the moral law, that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. And from it we can deduce that the Christian should, above all people, see the value of each human being.  

We are to love the brotherhood, that is, all those in the family of God. We love them because we have the same Father, the same Saviour, the same indwelling Spirit, the same interests, and the same destiny. How do we show love to them? By praying for them, by speaking well of them, by helping them in whatever way we can, whether in a spiritual or in a practical manner. 

We fear God because of his greatness – everything about him is far above what we can possibly be. His power, his knowledge and his wisdom are infinite. We fear him because he is righteous, determined to punish justly all who disobey him. In a sense, we fear him most of all because he is gracious and we do not want to lose what his grace has for us by any sinful action on our part. We show that we fear him by thinking about him, by admiring him, by loving him, and by obeying him. 

We honour the ruler when we obey his laws, as long as his laws do not require us to disobey God. The ruler is to be honoured because he is a representative of God, and we show our respect by also praying for them. This means that Christians should be the best subjects in a kingdom. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Christians and human governments (1 Peter 2:13-17)

How should we as Christians react to human governments. Peter mentions that we should submit to them for the Lord’s sake. The reference is to Jesus, which means that submission to human governments is part of one’s discipleship. Jesus had instructed that those who follow him should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matt. 22:21). Further, they are to submit to them because, in doing so, they are imitating the example of the Lord who submitted to various authorities when their requirements did not cause him to disobey God. 

Peter makes it clear that a God-glorifying response to human governments is an important aspect of Christian witness because ‘by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.’ The apostle has in mind accusations that may be made against the church. In his day, they were accused of being anti-social because they did not take part in religious activities, of cannibalism because they had a meeting where they ate the body and blood of their leader, of affecting the economic prosperity of a region because they did not purchase items connected to false religions. How were they to answer such charges? Peter’s response is that they should obey the authorities whenever they could. They had to prove by their way of life that they were good citizens. 

Peter highlights a possible danger – they are not to use their freedom as a cover-up for evil. His words are a reminder to Christians that they are still sinners and capable of sinful actions, indeed capable of using their divinely-given blessings as avenues to sin. The best known way of doing this is what is called antinomianism, which is connected to those who assume that they are not under the law and have therefore engaged in all kinds of sinful practices. Another way of using freedom as a cover-up for evil is to engage in hypocrisy, of living a life of pretence in which we give the impression that we are not in bondage to our sins. 

John Brown, in his commentary on 1 Peter, points out that the service of God is reasonable, pleasant, honourable and advantageous. It is reasonable because he made us to serve him – the reason why we have all our abilities is that God gave them to us so that we would serve him. It is pleasant because, as Jesus said, the yoke is easy and the burden is light., and those who bow to him discover that this is indeed so (Brown admits it is impossible to tell a person who has not tried it that this is the case). It is honourable because it is a position of great dignity, far higher than the service of an earthly ruler. It is advantageous because God has promised to give a great reward to those who serve him. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Christian freedom (1 Peter 2:13-17)

It is common for people to want to be free from all kinds of chains. In a sense, history can be summarised as repeated attempts for freedom from oppression, whether it be oppression connected to economic deprivation or social manipulation or national enslavement. To such people, Peter’s instruction in verse 16 will sound odd: ‘Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.’  

Peter’s description of Christians is that they are free, which leads us to ask, ‘From what are they free?’ We need to ask this question because its answer will enable us to use our freedom correctly. They are free from several causes of slavery. 

First, Christians have been set free from the penalty of sin. Every person is a sinner, and each of their sins has consequences. There is a day coming when every person who has not trusted in Jesus will stand at God’s judgement seat and receive the penalty that they deserve, which will be condemnation by the Judge who will pronounce the sentence of eternal punishment. Yet there is also a sense in which everyone is condemned already because each knows that they have broken God’s law. A thief who has been caught does not have to wait until he appears in court before finding out what will happen to him.  

The way for escaping this condemnation, of becoming free from it, is by believing in Jesus, who has already paid the penalty for those who will trust in him. There on the cross he bore the punishment due to his people and made full payment for their sins. They enter into the state of pardon when they believe in Jesus. 

Second, Christians have been set free from the power of sin. We can imagine a thief who has been pardoned but who then resumes his practice of stealing. The pardon in itself was not sufficient to change his way of behaviour. Those who trust in Jesus have not only been pardoned, they also are given power to live a different kind of life. This power is from the indwelling Holy Spirit, who enables them to deal with remaining sin in their hearts. Sometimes they can sense the power of indwelling sin and it makes them afraid. Yet they have to remember that they are no longer in bondage to the power of sin. They have been set free from it and are therefore able to live according to God’s revealed will.  

Third, Christians are free from the opinions and notions of other humans regarding faith in God. A Christian cannot be compelled to believe something about his faith that is not found in the Bible. 

Yet they have not been set free from all ownership. Although they are no longer the servants of sin, they have become the servants of God.

In what ways do we belong to God? Obviously we belong to him by creation – he is the one who has made each of us with our individual personalities. We belong to him by election, because in the mystery of his purpose he chose each of his people. And we belong to him by redemption – Jesus purchased us when he paid the penalty of our sins on the cross. Then we belong to him by regeneration because he came to us when we were dead in our sins and made us alive. Finally we belong to him by consecration, as Paul exhorts at the beginning of Romans 12 when he tells us to present ourselves as living sacrifices. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Brotherly admonition (1 Peter 2:11)

Like any good brother who speaks to his family members who are about to make a journey, Peter warns his brothers about dangers that lie ahead. These dangers he describes as the passions of the flesh. What does he mean by that description?

I would suggest that he is saying that the biggest danger they face on the journey of life is found in things they once did – the passions of the flesh. What he means by the flesh is the desires that those without the Spirit will have. He has already referred to several of these passions in 1:14 and mentions some outworkings of them in 4:3: ‘living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.’ Of course, we are not to limit the sins of the flesh to physical activities. Within this category are also included wrong attitudes such as pride and selfishness. Any sin that each of us has is a sin of the flesh.

Peter calls on his brothers to abstain from such practices. He means that we should keep well away from them. In giving this advice, he recognises that all Christians, including those who have lived devoted lives, face the continual danger of reverting to these ways of living. The only way to ensure that will not happen is keep away from such practices.

Peter also reminds his readers that such ways of living are not neutral. Instead he says that they are out to defeat, harm and slay his readers. He likens them to soldiers making war against our souls. If I saw some soldiers running down the street determined to harm me, I would not walk out to greet them. Instead I would head in the opposite direction.

Peter’s warning is very important. We will be damaged in our souls if we participate in any degree with the passion of the flesh. As we know, a wound in our body can take a long time to heal and sometimes it leaves a permanent mark. Sadly an equivalent experience can be known in a spiritual sense. There are believers who have to live with the consequences of wrong involvement as Christians in sinful activities even although their misdemeanour has been forgiven by God.

Of course, Peter knew what it was like to live according to the desires of the flesh.  His playing with self-confidence is recorded in the Gospels. He ended up denying his Master and I suspect Peter shuddered every time he recalled it. On another occasion, in Antioch, he engaged in the sin of men-pleasing and was publicly rebuked by Paul for allowing such an action.

We should not assume that the only reason these examples are recorded is to tell us about Peter’s personal weaknesses. We are told about these failings because they show us how the desires of the flesh war against the soul. In fact, if we are in such a situation we will only get relief by doing what Peter did – by having a personal meeting with Jesus, as he did on the resurrection day.

So Peter is not giving a mere theoretical warning. Instead he writes as one who knows the pain of dabbling with the desires of the flesh. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Brotherly love (1 Peter 2:11)

The first detail to notice is the brotherly love that Peter writes about in this verse. This expression is remarkable because many of the ones to whom he was writing were Gentiles – and Peter was a Jew. The point of this distinction is not merely that of different racial identities; in addition, Peter at one time had a spiritual dimension to the racial distinction because he had regarded Gentiles as separated from God. Yet here he is using this most endearing word to describe his affections for his readers. What had caused this dramatic change?

The simple answer to the question is that Jesus Christ had changed him. Over thirty years previously, near the River Jordan, Peter had first met Jesus Christ. Since then Peter had been discovering the capabilities and riches of his Saviour. The Lord Jesus had forgiven Peter all his sins because of what happened at the cross. At that first meeting Peter had no idea of the changed life he would experience. From then on, he lived a supernatural life, one that flowed out of his renewed heart. Of course, he had his failures, but he was a new man possessing the fruit of the Spirit. One aspect of that fruit is brotherly love.

Peter refers to brotherly love several times in this letter (1:22; 2:17; 4:8; 5:9). It was obviously a priority with him and he wanted it to remain a priority for his readers. Given the stress that he puts on brotherly love in connection to witness, it is obvious that Peter was fully aware of the exhortation of Jesus in John 13:35: ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ So how does Peter show brotherly love?

One way in which Peter does this is by using common terminology but giving it a new meaning. He calls them sojourners and exiles. Normally to be given such a description would be a depressing reminder of what a person had lost. But with Peter these words do not stress what they have lost. Instead they highlight a very bright future. A sojourner is a person always on the move, but what matters is the direction in which he is going. Peter’s readers were on the move and getting closer to heaven each day. An exile is a person who has a homeland, so also in this description Peter is reminding his readers of heaven.

The best brotherly action that we can do is remind our fellow family members about heaven. After all, it is the place to which we are going, it is the place where our Father is, where our Elder Brother is, where all the family will one day be, and where our riches are. We are not orphans as we live day by day; instead we are heirs currently in exile but travelling to our homeland.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Called to Praise (1 Peter 2:9-10)

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter reminds his readers that they belong to a community – a community that he describes in four ways. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] a people for his own possession’. Each of these descriptions says something different about God’s people, but each of them also stresses that a Christian is someone who lives in a community.

Christians belong to a chosen race, the church of Jesus Christ. All the members of this chosen race were once members of other races, and were so by birth. Membership of the new race depends on the choice of God.

Second, Christians are a royal priesthood. In Israel, priests participated in the worship of God and instructed others about him. In addition to teaching others, the priests also led the praise of the people. It is not difficult to see how this terminology applies to believers today. Their role is to instruct others about God in such a way that they too will worship him. And they do so as those who have been given a very dignified position by Jesus.

Third, believers are ‘a holy nation’. Holiness means to be distinctive as well as separate. It is easy to be detached from others, it is not so easy to be distinctive. The lifestyle of the Christian community should be so far above the best that the rest can offer that it will be easily observed. Holiness is heart obedience to the laws of Christ. When they are obeyed, the lifestyle of his people is seen to be above all other possible ways of life.

The fourth feature that marks believers is that they are God’s special treasure. He guides them, he forgives them and he restores them when they fall. He is determined to do them good now and in the future. 

Because they have been delivered from spiritual darkness through God’s mercy, because they have been given spiritual roles to fulfil, because they now live in the bright light of God’s world of grace, Peter can exhort believers to live in a dignified way. This dignified way of life he describes as ‘proclaiming the excellencies’ of God. What does this mean? 

First, it indicates that our witness should reveal God. It is a subtle difference, but my testimony should not be about me, instead it should say clearly who God is.

Second, Peter’s description says that our witness should commend God – how we live should cause others to wish they had such a life of peace, joy and love.

Third, their witness is to be comprehensive, so that each Christian’s mind, affections, tongue, eyes, interests, possessions, everything, gives a true view of God.  

Believers now live in the presence of God. His grace pervades them, and having tasted it they realise that nothing in the world can compare with it. They can now also see where they are going. The strange reality facing the ones to whom Peter was writing was that they were the only ones who knew how things were going to work out in the end, and this knowledge enabled them to live for God in their difficult situations. As they did so, they proclaimed clearly and loudly the excellencies of their Saviour.