THE FIRST LETTER OF ST. PETER
Living in the World as God's People (cont'd)
1 Peter 1:22-2:10
In the first 2 studies on 1 Peter, we saw Peter establishing the identity of Christians—they are God's people who should expect hostility from the alien world in which they live. Second, Peter began to discuss the way Christians as God's people should live in this world. The first characteristic of the Christian should be holiness. Since God Himself is holy, we as His people should be holy also. Today's study continues the discussion on how Christians should live in the world.
CALL TO LOVE (1:22-25)
Peter states that the 2nd major distinguishing characteristic of God's people should be love.
"Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for asincer love of the brethren,
fervently love one another from the heart" (1:22).
Note 2 important observations about this verse. First, the kind of love that Peter commands us to have comes from a pure soul. First Peter 2:1 which continues this section commands us to put away all kinds of vice, guile, hypocrisy, envy and slander. In other words, Peter is not just commanding us to love but to love a certain way—out of pure hearts. This is important for the church to hear.
Unfortunately, pure love does not abound in all cases. I've seen situations in which church members will try to draw in other church members into their "loving fellowship" so that they can build up a power base within the church. These church members really feign care and concern while all the time they are manipulating these people to promote themselves within the organizational structure of the church. If you want to see how much these church members love the Christians they are using, then let the other Christians buck their opinions and see how they turn on them. I've seen other church members who use other Christians to get money. They build up relationships and then expect other Christians to help them build up their business—whether it be a full-time or part time occupation. They seldom help out other Christians for free. This is not the kind of love Peter promotes. The love Peter promotes is God's kind of love—agape. It's a selfless kind of love which seeks the good of others even at the expense of one's own life. It is the kind of love Jesus demonstrated on the cross to save the world, and it is the only kind of love that Christians can express if God is going to save the world through them today.
A second observation about this passage is that love results from being obedient: "since you have in obedience to the truth . . ." This love should come from an obedient relationship with Christ; if it does not, we can make an idol out of love. Some Christians tend to idolize a certain ministry or certain characteristics of God; they are just as guilty of idolatry as the ancient Israelites. You will hear Christians say, "The main thing is that Christian be holy," or "The main this is that a Christian be loving." You will hear Christians exalt truth as being the most important thing. None of these is true! The main thing is that a Christian obey God. The Christian who obeys our holy God will be holy because our holy God will never command us to do anything unholy. The Christian who obeys our loving God will be loving because our loving God will never command us to do anything unloving. The same applies to truth. You want to see somebody holy and yet not obedient? Look at the Pharisees. You want to see somebody loving and yet not obedient? Look at the modern liberal Christian who is leading the fight for the pro-choice movement because he "loves" these young pregnant mothers by taking them to the abortion clinics. Well, no one can ever imagine Jesus leading a young pregnant girl by the hand into a clinic for an abortion. Obedience lived in the power of the Holy Spirit is the key to the Christian life. (How will I know if I am really being obedient to God? See if I am loving other people and if I am leading a holy life.)
(Looking back at Peter's relationship with Christ, one should not be surprised that Peter believed in the priority of love. The bitterest experience of Peter's life occurred on the night of Jesus' betrayal. Jesus had just taught the disciples that the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian should be love. When Peter hears this, he wants to demonstrate his love for Jesus by claiming that he will even die for Jesus. Jesus, however, informs Peter that instead of dying for Him, he will actually deny Him 3 times (John 13:34-38). After Peter denies Jesus 3x, Jesus restores Peter to fellowship a few days later by asking him 3x if he loved Jesus because his 3 denials had proved otherwise (John 21). This experience forever burned into Peter's mind the priority of love in the Christian's life.)
Peter gives the new birth as the reason a Christian should live the life of love:
"for you have been born again, not of se which is perishable but imperishable,
that is, through the living and abiding word of God (1:23).
The Christian is the person who has been born again; that is, at the point of conversion, the Holy Spirit has come to live permanently in their lives in order to make them a new person, a person just like Christ. What did God use to create this new person? Natural birth takes place because the male seed impregnates the woman. The male body produces millions of the reproductive seed which perish if they don't impregnate the woman. Peter claims, though, that what God uses to create the new person in Christ is not the male seed but the seed of the living and abiding Word of God. In other words, although God is the Savior of the Christian, He uses His seed, His word to save people. Every Christian who has led another person to Jesus has done so because s/he shared God's Word about Jesus to that other person. A person may paraphrase God's Word to lead others to Christ; however, it is still God's Word which is being paraphrased: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
By stating that the Word of God produces the new life, Peter wants us to realize that the life of love is possible. Man apart from God cannot love the way God wants us to love. The way God wants us to love is the way He loves; it is God's love. Since God is far greater than people, we cannot love like He does. God the Spirit must love others through us if we are really going to love like Him. Well, such love is possible since God has made us into new people by means of His Word, people capable of loving the way He loves.
Second, by pointing to the new birth, Peter is claiming that we are responsible to love the way God loves. The purpose of the new birth is that we might be able to obey God and be like Him—holy and loving. If we are not loving and holy, then we are contradicting the very reason Christ died for us and re-created us. In light of Peter's heavy emphasis on judgment in this letter, we can be sure that our judgment will be much harsher on Judgment Day if we do not fulfill the purpose of the new birth, that is, loving others the way God loves them.
GROWTH AS A CHRISTIAN (2:1-3)
Normally Christians look at heir salvation ("new birth") experience as a totally unique experience in their lives. Christians feel that something happened in their encounter with God which produced the new birth will never occur again; if they don't believe this, they at least act like it. Peter accuses the Galatians of this very mind-set: "having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3). Paul is saying that what was true of the Christian at the beginning of his relationship with Christ should be true throughout the remainder of this relationship with Christ. What occurred at the beginning of our relationship with Christ? We heard Christ's Word about our need to be saved, and we then responded in faith. Hearing Christ's Word and responding in faith should characterize not just the beginning of our relationship with Christ but our relationship with Him from then on: "long for the pure milk of the Word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (2:2).
Note how we should respond to the Word: "like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word." It has not been that long ago since my children were babies. When they got hungry, they cried and cried until Nancy fed them; and when she fed them, they really went to town, sucking away for that milk. Sometimes like most babies, they drank so fast that they got stomachaches or got air in their tummies, and they needed to be burped. Well, that is the image Peter is drawing of the way the Christian should be towards God's Word-hungering for it, and not being satisfied until they have heard God's Word.
We do not need to be legalistic about the way we receive God's Word. Some claim that if you don't have a half-hour quiet time every morning, then you're not going to be a dynamic Christian. That is legalistic. The early Christians did not have copies of the Bible in their homes. The church was the only place where you could get the Bible. Instead, they would sit and listen as a teacher read and taught the Bible (Rev. 1:3). Whether we get our Word from God by listening to godly preachers, or by listening to it on tape, or by memorizing it, etc., we just need to make sure to expose ourselves to God's Word on a consistent basis.
Most of us, though, are satisfied—to be perfectly honest, bored—with the little bit of the Word that we do get in our lives. For most Christians, it is a chore to go to Bible Study on Sunday mornings; we seldom, if ever, open our Bibles from Monday through Saturday—we don't want to overdo it. When we have the finest Bible teachers in the world in our church to do Bible studies, for Winter Bible Conference, we'll give them Sunday morning but only wish that we could have been there Sunday and Wednesday nights (which is already a reduction for the sake of people's convenience from Sunday through Wednesday nights). And we wonder why individual Christians are not experiencing God in their lives. First Peter 2:2 quite categorically claims that spiritual growth is integrally tied with the Word of God. If I do not feast on God's Word, then I am not going to grow as a Christian. Show me a dynamic Christian and I'll show you someone who centers his/her life on God's Word.
THE CORPORATE NATURE OF CHRISTIANS (2:4-16)
From 1:22 to 2:3, Peter has been dealing with the individual aspect of the Christian life. Peter now turns to the corporate side of our faith—the church. John Donne claimed that no man is an island. While this is true of the secular world, it is especially true of the Christian. Many Christians in the past 30 years have really rejected the church which is really nothing more than a balancing of the overemphasis of the church and under-emphasis of individual relationship with Christ in previous generations; however, there is a corporate nature to our faith, and Peter deals with it here:
"And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men but choice and precious in the sight of
God, you also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer
up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship (2:4, 5).
Notice that Peter speaks about he growth of the individual Christian (2:1-3) before he speaks about the growth of the church. Many times we put the cart before the horse. We want a strong healthy church. We focus on pageants (which are not necessarily bad in and of themselves) and all other kinds of productions, and then we wonder why our churches are unhealthy. The truth is that in order for a church to be a strong and vibrant fellowship, the individuals in the church itself must be growing Christians. Yes, put on the pageants but emphasize personal growth and development too.
Peter uses the image of a building—specifically a temple—to describe the corporate nature of the church. According to Peter, we are a "spiritual house" in which "spiritual sacrifices" are being offered up to God. As you would do with any building, Peter puts a major emphasis on the foundation of the building. I know as little as there is to know about construction; however, one thing I do know is that the foundation is probably the most important part of the building. Some people have given me a "hard" time because I've been painting the interior of our house for the past 4 years. One day I will finish the interior, probably right as the colors in the house go out of style. Then it'll take me another 4+ years. No matter how much I may procrastinate on the decorating the interior, I never leave the foundation unattended. Each week I turn the soaker hoses on the foundation and soak it for 40 mins. Now the foundation of my house may crumble, but it won’t be because I didn't try. Why this much energy on the foundation? Because it is that important.
Well, Peter claims that the foundation of this temple is none other than Jesus Christ Himself: "and coming to Him [Jesus] as to a living stone, rejected by men but choice and precious in the sight of God." Note that Peter draws attention to the fact that Jesus experienced rejection while on earth. It was a real rejection, and it was a painful rejection that cut to His heart; however, man's evaluation of Christ ran directly counter to God's evaluation of Jesus. God considered Him so precious and so valuable that He gave Jesus the honor of being the foundation—the chief cornerstone—of this new and marvelous super-structure that God is creating—the church, the people of God.
Just like the people of Jesus' day incorrectly evaluated Him, so people today incorrectly evaluate Christians. Just like He is God's Son, so we are God's sons and daughters because of our relationship with God the Son. Just like John claims: "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him" (1 John 3:2).
Not only has the Father vindicated Jesus, because of our relationship to Jesus—because Jesus and we are part of the same super-structure (this spiritual house)—we too experience vindication: "and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed [literally "put to shame"]." By this, Peter does not mean that we're going to get everything we want. God is not obligated to meet our expectations; He is, however, going to meet His expectations if we will just trust Him. Before each SS class I teach or each VBS I direct, etc., I have to check my expectations and realize afresh each time that God is not obligated to meet them; however, if I do give these over to Him, He will accomplish what He desires to accomplish. This most definitely applies in an ultimate sense. Not every person I love will recover from some illness; not every person I care about will make the right decisions; however, those who are Christians will experience vindication by being with the Lord after death. In an ultimate sense, God will vindicate ME by allowing me to reign with Him throughout eternity. (Peter will elaborate on the vindication of Christians in vv. 9-10).
How do we come to this living stone? According to Peter, we come to Jesus in an obedient faith or a believing obedience: "he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed . . . They stumble because they are disobedient to the Word” (2:6, 8). The kind of faith the NT honors is the faith which expresses itself in obedience. NT obedience comes out of a trusting relationship with Christ. It is a faith which is sensitive to Jesus speaking to us and obeys Him in the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the only way to be in a right relationship with this living stone.