Continuing my series of sermons on I Peter.
Tried With Fire — I Peter
#4 THE PILGRIM LIFE (2:11-25)
I Peter was written to those who are facing fiery trials. We have looked in the previous chapter at the fact that we have been chosen to be strangers, or foreigners, scattered in this world. The trials that we face are simply part of a larger picture — this world is not our home.
As we looked at the first part of chapter two, we saw some of the ways that God has prepared and equipped us for suffering. Now, as we look at the second part of the chapter, we will see Peter returning to the fact that we are pilgrims, and instructing us in some of the aspects of this Pilgrim Life to which we have been called.
I. To Live the Pilgrim Life is to Live Honourable Lives (11-12)
11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;
12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
A. Recognize and Avoid the Enemy. Fleshly lusts are not just a bad idea. It isn’t just that they hold us back. To take off on a recent political controversy, they aren’t just “a nuisance” (note: I wrote this not long after Senator Kerry, a candidate for U.S. President, used that term in reference to terrorism). Fleshly lusts are a deadly enemy, warring against the soul to destroy us. There is no “détente” with such an enemy.
We are strangers in enemy territory, surrounded by deadly enemies which war against us. Worse, there is within us that old nature, treacherously working to betray us into the power of those deadly enemies. Peter warns us to be on guard and give these enemies no opportunity to do their damage.
B. Honourable Strangers. We are among people who will recognize that we are not the same as them. As they look at us and see the differences, our lives are to be honourable and honest, commendable in their sight.
C. Now, We Are Slandered. If we live honourable lives, there will be those who will slander us and speak against us for doing so. Living honourably does not necessarily bring popularity. In fact, living honourably often brings enmity, because a righteous life convicts the heart of those who live unrighteously — the contrast turns a spotlight on their unrighteousness, showing it for what it is.
As a result, we may be slandered. The good that we do will be twisted into evil in the minds and words of those around us. They cannot comprehend why we would do what we do. A minister would not preach the Word because he loves the Lord — that motivation is entirely alien to them. Therefore, they will assume he preaches because he wants to control people, or to get rich (stop laughing, some people think that! :)), or some other nefarious reason. If you do right, it must be because you are trying to make someone else look bad, or trying to influence someone to give you something. That’s the way THEY would view it if they were doing what you are doing, so you must be that way, too. Sometimes, people will slander believers intentionally, but sometimes it is because they just don’t understand.
D. Then, God Will be Glorified. The very ones who slander us now will glorify God later. It may come at Judgment Day, when they will acknowledge to Him, “Yes, you did send someone into my life who was a living witness.” Or it may come sooner, as our lives provide a witness that is eventually used to bring them to Christ — for many people have come to the Lord as a result of the witness of someone in their life, whether that witness ever knows it or not. Remember that — God can use your faithfulness without you ever knowing how He used it. If you want to know the ways God is going to use your life for Him, you need to stop and recognise that it is actually none of your business. Let Him do what He is going to do, and He’ll let you know the things that are profitable for you to know. He is God. We are not.
But there is another lesson here as well, for Peter does not say, “Though now they speak against you as evildoers, they will later speak well of you.” For what they speak of US is and always will be mostly irrelevant. Peter’s message, which has come through previously (1:7; 2:9) is that it is ALL about God’s glory, it isn’t about us at all. Yes, those who falsely slander us will eventually tell the truth about us — but only because they will be forced to acknowledge the truth about God, and that is what matters. What someone says about me on this earth is not determinative of their eternal destiny, and when I’m with the Lord, I’m not going to care anymore. It would be good if I could train myself not to care now, either. I should try to live in a way that doesn’t tempt others (by my wrongdoing or lack of wisdom) to slander, but if they slander anyway, I must learn not to be bothered by it. God said it would happen.
II. The Pilgrim Life is to Live as Honourable Citizens (13-17)
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
A. Active Obedience — “Submit Yourselves”. God does not call us to grudging or forced submission, but to willing obedience. Governmental authority should not have to bring us into subjection by force.
B. Every Ordinance of Man for the Lord’s Sake. The Scripture makes it clear in other places that a governmental command that requires disobedience to God must not be obeyed. But unnecessary, inconvenient, and unjustified ordinances are NOT excluded from this statement. In fact, Peter makes no exceptions at all, and it is only through Scriptures such as Daniel 1 and Acts 5 that we know there are exceptions. Believers should be predisposed always to obey the government. This is because we recognize that government was established by God for a purpose, and for His sake we honour His institution.
C. Submission is “Well-doing” and Silences Ignorant Foolishness. Many ignorant and foolish accusations are made against Christians, as I discussed above. Yet, good and lawful behaviour demonstrates how wrong these accusations are, and often silences them. To try to answer every slander is hopeless — but a consistent life of good and lawful behaviour will silence many who might be tempted to slander us, and will motivate many to refute the lies.
D. Using our Liberty as God’s Servants. Do we use our liberty to do wrong, or for selfish reasons? Or do we use it to honour God? Do we claim Christian liberty as an excuse to dishonour human authorities? “Fear God” and “Honour the king” come right together in this passage. If our liberty is used rightly, as servants of God, it will determine how we respond to human authorities.
III. To Live the Pilgrim Life is to be Honourable Servants (18-20)
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.
19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
If we are God-honouring pilgrims, it will affect the way we respond to our employers, too.
A. Subject to, and Respecting, Masters — All Kinds. We are to respect and obey our boss’s instructions, unless he is particularly nasty, right? Isn’t that what Peter says? No, he says we are to treat the horrible boss respectfully, too. Now it is important to recognize that when Peter talks about “servants”, he is talking to slaves. They didn’t have the option to change masters, to find another job. If their master was cruel or abusive, they had no way out. Yet, even there, he tells them to be respectful and obedient.
How much more is this true for those of us who have the option of walking away, of finding another job? For us, we have a choice whether to stay or go, so we have far less excuse for poor behaviour than a slave — we can go find a less obnoxious master, if we are so weak in our spiritual life that we think we cannot respond spiritually. A Christian who is not a slave but responds wrongly to his boss needs to think about what Peter tells the slaves, and take a good look in the mirror. Even a slave has no excuse. You, on the other hand, could have left the situation, which means you have less than no excuse.
B. It Is Honourable to Suffer for God. Peter had lived this principle. In Acts 5:40-41, we see that he and the other apostles were beaten by the religious authorities for their faith. The response was that, even as they were leaving, they were rejoicing to have been counted worthy to suffer for Christ. “Practice what you preach”? Peter here is preaching what he had already practiced, and all of his readers would have known it.
C. It Is NOT Honourable to Suffer for Wrongdoing. If you lost your job because you were a poor worker or disrespectful to your employer/supervisor, you haven’t honoured God. Don’t say, “I’m suffering for the Lord, I lost my job because I’m a Christian.” That would be a lie — in a sense, you would be taking God’s name in vain, using it in an empty manner which had no truth behind it. If we treat our neighbours poorly and they respond in kind, we aren’t suffering for the Lord, we are suffering because of the type of person we are, and there is no honour in it. Sadly, too many Christians who “suffer for the Lord”, whether at the hands of employers, neighbours, or authorities, are frauds. If you brought the problem on yourself, don’t claim God’s blessing on yourself because of it. It might just be time to be quiet, and bear it patiently, recognising that perhaps the Lord is using someone else to chasten you to help you learn to do better next time (Hebrews 12).
D. Suffer Patiently. It is almost as if Peter adds an “Oh, by the way” afterthought. It is honourable to suffer for the Lord when you have done nothing wrong, and “Oh, by the way, He also expects you to suffer patiently.” Griping, moaning, or raging about it is not in God’s “honour” plan. Honourable servants aren’t complainers, and dishonourable servants aren’t very good pilgrims.
IV. To Live the Pilgrim Life is to Follow Our Shepherd’s Steps (21-25)
21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
A. Christ Suffered, Though Innocent. He is our example. As He suffered, though He had done nothing to deserve it, so also we are called to the pilgrim life, which includes wrongful persecution. He had done nothing wrong, and engaged in no trickery or guile. There was no reason in anything He had done for Him to suffer. Do you not deserve the things that have happened to you? GOOD! Praise the Lord! You’re right in Christ’s footsteps, where you need to be. 🙂
B. He Suffered Patiently. When reviled, He did not respond in kind. He did not complain against those who wronged Him, or threaten them.
C. He Suffered For a Purpose. He committed Himself unto the Righteous Judge. And yet, this is shocking, for He said on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Now Peter MUST have had that very statement in mind when he wrote the first half of verse 23, for it is the ultimate example of “when He was reviled, reviled not again”, and verse 24 also tells us the cross is in view.
We would automatically think that committing yourself to the Righteous Judge means trusting Him to sort out these terrible people once and for all. “They are persecuting me, but God is the Righteous Judge, and HE’LL DEAL WITH THEM FOR SURE!!!”
Yet, Peter connects Christ’s graciousness towards those who crucified Him with committing Himself unto the Righteous Judge — and a Righteous Judge could NOT overlook the greatest crime of all of mankind’s sorry history. The actions of Christ described in the first half of verse 23 are in the starkest contrast to the statement of the last half of verse 23. How can the perfect Son of God request the Righteous Judge to forgive? The answer lies in verse 24.
The Greatest Crime brought about the Greatest Transaction. For He took our sin on Himself, and gave us His righteousness. The Righteous Judge CAN forgive, because the Greatest Crime has been dealt with by the Greatest Transaction. This is the wondrous purpose for which He suffered.
We are being called to model the attitude of the Perfect Son of God to that Greatest Transaction. Some of the lessons we can draw from this, lessons that sink into our hearts ever deeper as we follow Christ’s footsteps:
1) Forgiveness — Whatever sin you have committed can be forgiven. Whatever you’ve done, it’s probably not worse than crucifying the Son of God — and that sin is in the “forgiveable” category.
2) Purity — Your sin is laid on Christ. And will you, as a believer, sin again? You are laying that sin on Him who died for you. Truly did David say, “Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.” Can you sin again if you see Him on the cross, with your sins upon Him? Can you really?
3) Wonder — May we never lose the wonder and gratitude of that Greatest Transaction.
4) Peace — Though believers strive to honour and obey Him, we need never fear “not being good enough”. That Transaction is done, and His righteousness is on us, as surely as our sin is on Him.
D. His Suffering Calls Us to Suffering. We are returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls — how? By His suffering. By this, by suffering, He has called us into a life of pilgrimage, as strangers, and suffering is part of that life. We are called by suffering into suffering.
Will you chafe under suffering? He called you to this pilgrim life, and in the very act of doing so, provided an example for you. And by that act, He also laid in ashes any claim you might make to a more comfortable life. For after all He has done for you, after that Great Transaction on your behalf, will you begrudge it if He calls you to suffer, in order that He might be praised? Has the truth of that Transaction not penetrated your heart, that you would refuse His call? Do you not deserve suffering? You deserved the cross, and eternal punishment in Hell. He took that from you and gave you a few things to suffer in this life in exchange. Would you reverse that transaction?
Perhaps, if you chafe under suffering, you need to make your way back to the cross, to learn again of the depths of your sin, the wonder of His love, and the beauty of all that you have in Christ. Then, go forth rejoicing, as Peter and the apostles rejoiced, that He has called you to show forth His praise through suffering.