Shepherd Like It.

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:1-7 ESV

Peter turns his attention to the leadership who serve the local congregations within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These men were overseers of their churches and had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the congregations under their care. They are sometimes referred to as shepherds, who have a God-given responsibility to care for the flock entrusted to them by God. That’s exactly how Peter addresses them when he calls them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). It is the same thing Paul said to the elders in Ephesus. But Paul would give further insight into the nature of the shepherd/flock relationship. “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). The sheep belong to God. And notice that Paul points out that the flock were purchased “with His own blood”, referring to the death of Jesus, but clearly indicating His deity. Jesus, the God-man, gave His life, so that those who call themselves children of God could enjoy freedom from sin and death. But those very same sheep have been placed under the care and supervision of elders. And these elders were expected to be men of integrity and spiritual maturity. Paul provided Timothy with a detailed description of their qualifying characteristics.

So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

Peter himself was an elder and understood well the responsibility that came with the title. That’s why he charges his fellow elders to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). And he clarifies exactly what he means by “care for.” The Greek word Peter uses is poimainō, and it literally means “to feed.” Just as literal sheep need physical nourishment to sustain life, so the sheep of God require spiritual sustenance. An elder must see to it that the sheep under his care are being fed the Word of God and receiving instruction in the ways of God. Which is why Paul told Timothy that an elder “must be able to teach.” And his care for the flock must be something he does willingly, not under some sense of compulsion or duty, and not for what he can get out of it. The role of elder doesn’t come with a paycheck and, more often than not, will not be accompanied by a lot of recognition, reward or thankfulness from the sheep. As Peter points out, the motive behind being an elder is service to God.

Peter feels compelled to point out that an elder, who is ultimately serving God, is to never see his position as one of master over his servants. He is not a lord and the people within  his congregation are not his subjects. He is to view himself as a servant, not only of God, but of the people of God. The role of elder is not about power and authority, but about caring for the needs of others. And an elder must never lose sight of the fact that he answers to a higher authority, the Great Shepherd or Jesus Christ. And Peter reminds his fellow elders that, one day, Jesus is coming back, and at that time, they “will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor” (1 Peter 5:4 NLT). Elders don’t get their reward in this life, but in the life to come. This probably does not refer to a literal crown and is most likely not indicating that elders get a specific kind of crown for their service. The apostle Paul wrote, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT). We all get the same reward. The key is that we be faithful to whatever assignment given to us by God to perform in this life. The point is, that our reward is in the life to come, not in this one.

Finally, Peter addresses the younger generation within his audience. He specifically calls them to humble themselves under the leadership of the elders who have God-given responsibility for their care. Submitting to authority of any kind is difficult for all of us. We are inherently autonomous creatures, prone to want to run our own lives and live according to our own wills. But God has placed within the body of Christ a system of authority and structure to ensure that the body works well and spiritual maturity actually take place.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood… – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

This will require humility, and not only from the younger generation. Which is why Peter adds, “all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). There is a sense in which we must be willing to humble ourselves before every other individual within the body of Christ. Paul admonished the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). It would be next to impossible for an elder to shepherd non-submissive sheep. Headstrong sheep who have a mind of their own will be difficult to direct. So there is to be a mutual cooperation going on within the body of Christ that makes it possible for some to lead and others to willingly follow. There is to be a marked lack of competition and conflict within Christ’s church. There is no place for jealousy or envy. No one is to covet the role of another. No one is to think they are somehow better than another, just because of their particular God-given role. We are in this together.

Quoting Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The prideful do not receive the grace of God. They stand opposed to God. Which is why James quoted this same proverb, then added, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Pride is antithetical to the Christ-like life. There was no pride in Jesus. He exhibited no arrogance or sense of entitlement. In fact, Paul wrote:

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And Paul says we are to have the same attitude Jesus had. An attitude of willing, submissive humility to God. It is that kind of attitude that makes the body of Christ work. Without it, there will be conflict, competition, envy, jealousy, disorder, and dysfunctionality. So, Peter encourages us to humble ourselves under God’s might hand, submitting fully to His plan for the church and for our lives within it. We are to trust Him for the future, knowing that at the right time, He will lift us up and exalt us. We are not to look for glory in this life, but in the life to come. Our reward is not temporal, but eternal. And in the meantime, we can take all our troubles and cares to Him, knowing He loves us and has His best in store for us. So elders have a God-given job to do and they are to shepherd like it. The people of God have the example of Christ to follow and they are to humbly submit like Him. All for the glory of God and the good of His people.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rejoice Like It.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV

As Christians, the natural response to the “fiery trials” that come our way because of our faith, is surprise. We ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We see trials as anomalies or abnormal experiences. We don’t expect them as believers, somehow having convinced ourselves that our relationship with God, as His children, makes us immune or not susceptible to the difficulties of life. And yet, Peter provides us with a three-word statement regarding the purpose of trials in our lives, He simply states that they are there “to test you.” The Greek word Peter uses refers to a proving or testing of someone or something. It is the same word used to refer to the testing of gold or silver to check its purity. The word, in this context, means, “adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness” (G3986 – peirasmos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV). Retrieved from https://www.blueletterbible.org). These trials or tests are not meant to defeat us, but to define and refine us. They reveal the true content of our character, exposing our doubts, fears, love for the world, and our dependence upon things like health, money, security, comfort and convenience. These “fiery trials” are like the furnace of a smelter, and are intended for our good. The heat burns away the dross and impurities that remain in our lives. We are blind to them. We don’t even know they exist. So, God turns up the heat in our lives in order to bring these impurities to the surface where they can be removed. James wrote about this very same thing in his letter, even encouraging his readers to rejoice over the trials of life:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

He adds the incentive that this process of purification through trials results in spiritual maturity. The process of having our faith tested by trials produces endurance and perseverance, which ultimately lead to Christ-likeness.

And Peter echoes the words of James when he writes, “be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:13 NLT). We don’t find joy in the trials themselves, but in the realization that they are perfecting us, and that one day our perfection will culminate in our glorification, when we see Christ face to face. We are willing to suffer in this life, because we know that Christ did. He was raised to new life and, one day, we will share in that same experience. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14 NLT). This became a theme in many of Paul’s letters.

22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:22-23 NLT

We have been justified before God. In other words, our faith in Christ has resulted in God declaring us righteous in His eyes. He sees us as righteous because Christ is righteous. But not only that, we will one day be glorified by God, receiving new bodies and a resurrected life freed from the affects of sin and death, just as Jesus did. And that is the truth we are to continue to believe in and rest on as we experience the trials of life.

Peter states that if we suffer or are insulted because we bear the name of Christ, we are blessed. That sounds so strange, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

Followers of Christ don’t go through trials alone, like the rest of the world. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and who longs to bless and pour out His favor on us. And, He is especially pleased when He sees His children standing up for His name and defending His honor by enduring the pain and ridicule that comes with bearing His name. Jesus told us that the world would hate us, because of Him. It hated Him, so it is only natural that they hate us. He said, “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). “All of this” refers to the hatred and persecution the disciples were to experience. The world, because it doesn’t know and understand God, rejects the Son of God. And, as a result, it rejects and hates the children of God. It is our relationship with Christ that brings the suffering we experience. And that should bring us joy. Paul was even willing to say:

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Peter reminds us that, while there is plenty of reason to feel shame for doing the wrong things and we should expect to suffer as a result, there is no shame associated with suffering for Christ. No, we should see it as a privilege for getting to suffer for His name.

One of the things Peter would have us understand is that our “judgment” is now, and it is a far different kind of judgment that the lost world will one day face. We’re being judged as to our character in this life. We are already justified before God. He sees us as righteous because we have been covered by the righteous blood of Christ. We face no future judgment regarding sin. That is why Paul was able to say, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The trials we face in this life can be seen as a form of judgment, not to punish or condemn us, but as a means of exposing the lingering remnants of sin within us. When we go through trials, our patience, faith, dependence upon God, and our love for Him, are tested. We learn where we are weak. We are reminded that we are weak. Which is exactly why Paul could say:

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT

Peter states that, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). Our time of judgment is now. We are having our sins exposed in this life. And, as believers, we should be willing to judge the sins in one another’s lives, refusing to tolerate falsehood, immorality, or sin of any kind in our midst. Listen to these sobering words of Paul:

11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NLT

Our judgment is now. But what about the lost? They will face a future judgment that will expose their sins, illicit God’s judgment and result in eternal condemnation. While they can freely get away with their sins in this life, they will pay for them in the next. We are having our sins judged and purged from our lives now, but we do not need to fear judgment for our sins in the future. So, Peter encourages us to keep doing what is right. If we suffer for it, so be it. He simply states, “trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 5:19 NLT). We suffer in this life, but it has a purpose. We face trials in this life, but they are proof of the Father’s love and the means by which He purifies and perfects us, transforming us into the image of His Son. So, we are to rejoice like it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Serve Like It.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV

Once again, Peter gives his readers, and us, some advice about our behavior as believers in Jesus Christ. He tells us to be “self-controlled and sober-minded.” But the odd thing about this statement is the two reasons he gives for living this way: Because the end of all things is at hand and for the sake of our prayers. What is he talking about? What is he referring to by “the end of all things”? Peter, like all the other apostles, lived with a constant sense that the coming of the Lord was eminent. They lived with a short-term, temporary mindset when it came to their time on this earth. Jesus had said He would come again for them, and they lived as if that promise would be fulfilled sooner, rather than later. Here are just a few of their statements regarding the end of the age:

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. – James 5:8 ESV

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. – Romans 13:11 ESV

…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. – 1 John 2:18 ESV

By living with the end in mind, these men were able to keep their focus, even while surrounded by the cares and concerns of this life. They gained a different perspective about suffering and persecution keeping their eyes focused on the goal. That’s why Paul could say, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14 NLT).  The author of the letter to the Hebrews provides us with these powerful words that encourage us to keep our attention focused on the temporary nature of our existence here:

You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. – Hebrews 3:13-14 NLT

So, Peter warns us. He reminds us to be self-controlled and sober-minded, because the days are short. Was he lying? Was he misinformed? Obviously, he was wrong. Here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, and the end has not yet come. Jesus has not returned. Was Peter overly optimistic or just driven by wishful thinking? No, he lived with a sense of eager anticipation. He longed for the return of His Savior. He had no idea when it would happen, but he lived as if it could be any day, and it could be. Concerning His own second coming Jesus said, “no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Matthew 24:36 NLT). Jesus went on to tell His disciples, Peter being one of them, “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NLT). And He qualified this statement by adding, “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected” (Matthew 24:44 NLT). So, you can see why Peter lived with this optimistic, it-could-happen-any-day-now attitude, and he wanted us to live the same way. 

But what about his statement regarding prayer? What does he mean when he says that we are to be “self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers”? If prayer is the means by which we communicate with the Father, then it is important that we do so on a regular basis It’s likely that Peter had a special heart for prayer because of the words spoken to him by Jesus that night in the garden, just hours before Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Jesus had gone off to pray and had asked the disciples to keep watch.

Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:40-41 NLT

Peter, like the other disciples, had fallen asleep. He lacked diligence. He had allowed himself to fall asleep on the job. And just a few hours later, Peter would be the one to deny Jesus three times. That night would have stuck with him for years. And it radically changed his view regarding prayer. He knew that communication with God, the ability to share with the Father his innermost thoughts, and hear words of comfort and encouragement in return, were critical to living his life on this planet. And he wants us to know the very same truth. Prayer is not optional, it is vitally necessary.

Next, Peter highlights the necessity of love. It is another non-negotiable in the life of a believer. We are to love as we have been loved by Christ. And that love is to be ektenēs, a Greek word that means “stretched out” and conveys the idea of earnestness or ceaselessness. It is the kind of love by which the Father loves us. Over in Psalm 136, the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever” appears 26 times. God loves us tirelessly and unwaveringly. And we are to do the same. When we do, our love “covers a multitude of sins.” When we love it diminishes our capacity to hate. It keeps us from seeking revenge. It prevents us from suffering from jealousy and envy. Love keeps us from sinning against one another and allows us to react to those who persecute us in ways that “cover over” their sins against us. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us these sobering words that reflect life in His Kingdom:

44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 4:44-48 NLT

Peter adds hospitality to the list, encouraging us to open our hearts and our homes to others. And, we are to do it without complaining. Not only that, we are to use our God-given, Spirit-empowered gifts to serve one another. As children of God, chosen by Him and placed within His family, we are to live selflessly and sacrificially, treating others as more important than ourselves. Jesus came to serve, not be served, and we are to have that same mindset.

The use of our spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ, not our own reputation. We use our gifts to serve, not to impress others or to gain recognition for our superior spirituality. When we use our gifts properly, they bring glory to God. In fact, Peter tells us our gifts are given by God for good of the body of Christ, and they must be used properly so that “God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV). Paul told the believers in Corinth:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NLT

Our goal in life is to bring glory to God. That’s why Peter wraps up this short section with the words: “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” He is the one who called us. He is the one who provided His own Son as the payment for our sins. He is the one who raised Jesus back to life. He is the one who provided the Spirit for us and placed Him within us. He is the one who instructed the Spirit to give us gifts so that we might build up one another. And He is the one who has loved us unceasingly and undeservedly. So, why would we not do the same for those around us? We are to serve like Christ. He served us by sacrificing His life. And He is the one who said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT).

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Prepare Like It.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV

It isn’t a matter of whether you will suffer, but when. In this life, the life we now live in the flesh, as Paul put it (Galatians 2:20), we will be required to suffer, just as Jesus did. So, Peter tells us to prepare for the inevitable. He uses the Greek word, hoplizō, which means to arm yourself. It could be used to refer to taking up arms or to prepare your mind for something. Paul gives us a similar charge when he writes:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:2 NLT

We have to equip our minds with the same mindset that Jesus had. What kind of mindset did He have? He saw suffering as essential to His assignment from God. It was part of His divine job description. Without His death, there would have been no resurrection. Without His humiliation, there would have been no glorification. And as Paul puts it, rather than mirror the behavior or attitudes of this world, we are to alter our thinking and emulate the attitude of Jesus. When Peter states that we have ceased from sin, he is not saying that we are sinless or incapable of sin. He is teaching that we are free from sins slavery and control over our lives. Paul describes it this way:

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. – Romans 6:6-7 NLT.

Earlier in this same letter, Peter referred to us suffering for doing what is good and right, just as Jesus did, and then he reminds us: “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). We are to follow His example. If we suffer for our relationship with Christ, we are to see it as a sign that we are emulating Christ. We are suffering as He did – for doing what is right – the will of God. And we treat sin as no longer having any control over us. We have been released from sins dominion and domination over us. And, as a result, we “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV). Rather than wasting our remaining years on this earth pursuing our own pleasure or seeking to live according to our own will, we submit to what God would have us do. It becomes our greatest desire. And we larn to say, as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

And, Peter reminds us “You have had enough in the past of the evil things that godless people enjoy—their immorality and lust, their feasting and drunkenness and wild parties, and their terrible worship of idols” (1 Peter 4:3 NLT). We’ve been there, done that. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession. We are new creations and we are to live as such. Our old way of life is behind us. That was then, this is now. The old things are gone. The new has come. As Paul puts it, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

And tbis is what causes the suffering we encounter in this life. Because we are new creations and live lives that reflect our new standing in Christ, our old friends will find our new lifestyles convicting. They won’t understand why we don’t do what we used to do. And Peter points this out.

Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. – 1 Peter 4:4 NLT).

They’ll be shocked by our behavior. It will seem strange and out of character to them. And, as a result, they will slander you. Basically, they will have nothing good to say about you. Why? Because your new lifestyle will convict them. It will expose them for what they are: sinners. Just as Jesus was slandered by the Pharisees because His words and actions convicted them, so our former friends will turn on us, when we live Christ-like lives in front of them. But rather than get upset and return their slander with words of self-defense or condemnation, we are to remember that “they will have to face God, who stands ready to judge everyone, both the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5 NLT). Don’t last out. Don’t feel the pressure to justify your actions or defend your behavior. Do what you do because it is pleasing to God, and leave the judgment of those who persecute you up to God.

Finally, Peter provides a timely reminder that this “life in the flesh” is not all there is. Jesus lived His life “in the flesh”, but He now lives “in the Spirit”. Remember, this is what Peter said earlier in his letter. Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). He lived His life here on earth, but now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven. And He is not alone. There are others who have joined the Lord in the heavenly Kingdom. They are those who heard to gospel and who have since died.

That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead—so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit.– 1 Peter 4:6 NLT

There is a life after this one. There is more to life than what we see on this earth. That is why we should be willing to suffer in this life, because, as Peter puts it later in this same letter: “after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10 NLT). Paul expands on this idea in his letter to the Corinthian believers.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are[e] being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

We are to be prepared in this life, because we know God has already prepared a place for us in heaven. Jesus promised His disciples that it was so.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” – John 14:1-4 NLT

We are to arm ourselves with this truth. We are to prepare ourselves for the worst in this life because God has prepared the best for us in the next one. We are citizens of heaven, not earth. We are children of God, not Satan. We belong to another Kingdom, not this one. This world is not our home, we’re simply passing through. But while we are here, let’s live as who we are. Let’s mirror the life of Christ and live out the love we have received from God to all those we meet. We are to be difference-makers, just as Jesus was. We are to be lights in a dark world, just as He was. And we are are to suffer, just as He did – willingly, patiently, joyfully, expectantly, and all according to the will of God.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Die Like It.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 ESV

This passage is a difficult one. It is full of confusing and difficult to understand statements that have left theologians and biblical scholars scratching their heads for generations. There are a variety of opinions as to exactly what Peter is referring to in these verses, but no real consensus. But we know that he is continuing to call his readers to live godly lives based on their new status as children of God. He has just finished encouraging them to suffer well for doing what is good. And now, he uses Jesus as an example. He states, “For Christ also suffered” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). We suffer just as He did, but Peter points out that His suffering had a unique, never-to-be-repeated purpose behind it. He suffered “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). He suffered and died so that He might pay the penalty that was owed for our sins. Our sin had left us indebted to God and separated from Him. It was only through Christ’s sacrificial death on our behalf that the God’s justice could be satisfied. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT). But Paul also explains that it was God’s love for us that caused Him to send His own Son to take our place and suffer the death we rightfully deserved.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. – Romans 5:8-9 NLT

And Paul gives us further good news.

23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. – Romans 3:23-25 NLT

Back to Peter’s point: Christ suffered. But His suffering had a purpose behind it. It was necessary for Him to suffer and die so that sinful men might have a means by which they could be restored to a right relationship with God. “He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NLT). Jesus didn’t just die a martyr’s death and provide us with a sobering example of how to live die and well. He was raised back to life by the power of the Spirit of God.

And it is at this point that the content of Peter’s letter seems to take a strange turn. He rather matter-of-factly states that Jesus “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19 NLT). What does this mean? When did Jesus do this? Why would Jesus do this? And Peter provides us even more details, but rather than clear up the matter, they seems to make it even more confusing. He says that the spirits to whom Jesus preached were “those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat” (1 Peter 3:19 NLT). Why is Peter bringing up Noah? And why does He seem to insinuate the Jesus, in some form or fashion preached to those living in Noah’s day, who would eventually die as a result of the worldwide flood God would bring to the earth?

Peter mentions the eight members of Noah’s family who were saved by God when He placed them within the safety of the ark that Noah had constructed. The book of Genesis provides us with an explanation for God’s actions.

The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord. – Genesis 6:5-8 NLT

The wickedness of mankind had reached a point that God determined to start over. He would begin with a new set of humans, the family of Noah, and begin again. This was not a naive attempt on God’s part to fix what was broken. God knew that Noah, while he found favor in the eyes of God, was also a sinful human being, along with his family members. The legacy of and propensity to sin, inherited from Adam, would survive the flood and the whole process would begin again. Peter states that the waters of the flood saved Noah and his family while, at the same time, punishing those who were outside of the ark. The waters that drowned were the same waters that kept the ark afloat. And the ark represents the salvation that God had provided Noah. It is an image of the faith required by all those who would be saved from death. Just as Noah and his family had to believe God, build the ark, and then get in it in order to be saved; so we had to trust in God’s plan for our salvation: Jesus Christ. The waters that flooded the earth did not cleanse Noah and his family from their sins, but they did save them from death. And our baptism, after having come to faith in Christ, is evidence of our salvation. It does not cleanse us from sin. It gives proof that we have trusted Christ as our Savior. Noah placed his faith in the ark. We have placed our faith in Christ. And the water proves that our source of faith is sufficient. The ark rose above the waves. Christ rose from the grave.

Our baptism, Peter states, is a pledge or an “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21 ESV). It reveals to those around us that we have confidence that we have been made right with God. His death was sufficient. His resurrection from the dead is what made our clear conscience possible, not our own attempts at sinlessness.  And that is why Paul tells us “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:1-2 NLT). No more guilt and shame. No more fear of death. All because of Jesus’ death on our behalf. Peter reminds us that “Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority” (1 Peter 3:22 NLT). He rose again and so shall we. Noah’s salvation was temporary in nature. He escaped the flood, but he would still die. He was saved from drowning, but it would not be long before he and his family were struggling to keep their heads above the waves of sin and immorality that would eventually overwhelm the world again. That is, until Jesus came.

Which brings us back to the problem verses in this passage. What does Peter mean when he says that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:19 ESV)? He is most likely referring to Jesus’ life prior to His death (in the flesh) or. in other words, His incarnation. Jesus took on human flesh and died on the cross. But He was made alive in the Spirit. This does not mean that Jesus’ body was not resurrected, but that it had a new character about it. After His resurrection, Jesus was able to walk through closed doors (John 20:19). He was still able to eat with His disciples and they were able to recognize Him. But there was a spiritual dimension to His body that was not there before His death. And Peter states that it was in this new body that “he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19 ESV). What does this mean? Did Jesus go into hell and preach the gospel to those who had refused to obey God and listen to Noah’s warnings about the flood? That seems unlikely. It seems that Peter is simply stating that it was in Jesus’ new, post-resurrection form that He “went.” Luke records, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven” (Luke 24:51 NLT). And as we’ve seen, Peter states that Jesus “has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God” (1 Peter 3:22 NLT). What Peter seems to be saying is that Jesus, with His newly resurrected body – once dead, but now alive – was living proof that He was and is the Messiah, the Savior of the world. And His ascension back to heaven and His restoration to His rightful place as God’s side is a sermon preached to all those who have rejected God’s offer of salvation. This includes all those in Noah’s day and all who have ever lived and eventually died in their sins, having rejected God’s free gift of salvation through His Son. Jesus didn’t have to descend into hell to preach the gospel. It was His resurrection and ascension that scream the gospel message loud and clear.

So, like Christ, who died and rose again, we can face death free from fear. He rose again, and so shall we. The apostle Paul gives us some incredibly good news:

33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. – Romans 8:33-34 NLT

But wait, there’s more.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

We are in Christ. So, we can live like it on this earth. And we are to be willing to die like it – confidently, hopefully, fearlessly and eagerly.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Defend Like It.

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV

Suffering wasn’t just a possibility for the recipients of Peter’s letter, it was a daily reality. And Peter is attempting to get them to realize that their suffering was a natural byproduct of their faith in Christ. It came with the territory. Being a Christ-follower was not going to be easy. Being a member of God’s family, one of His chosen ones, was a status that came with some great benefits, but also some less-than-pleasant byproducts. Doing what was right in God’s eyes was going to produce a reaction among the lost, including unbelieving masters, spouses, friends, family members and co-workers. And those reactions would not always be enjoyable or positive in nature. But Peter responds, “even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats” (1 Peter 3:14 NLT). The thing Peter wanted his readers to recognize was that God’s approval meant more and carried more weight than the approval of men. The bottom line was that they needed to do what was right according to God’s viewpoint, not that of the world. Listening to His will brought a reward. Listening to the world might bring acceptance and immediate affirmation, but not peace with God.

For Peter, it all begins in the heart, where each believer is to “honor Christ the Lord as holy” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). That’s where we begin the process of setting apart Christ as unique and as a transformative presence in our lives. Peter refers to “ the hope that is in you” and wants his readers to know that it is Jesus Christ who has made it possible for them to have a right relationship with God and to enjoy the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ. Paul refers to this as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV). And Peter states that, regarding that hope, we are to be ready at all times “to make a defense to anyone who asks.” We need to be able to explain why we have hope, both in this life and in the one to come. It is important that we be able to defend what it is that we say we believe, especially when we get push back from those who don’t agree. Of all people living on this planet, we should have hope, and that hope finds its foundation in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is our hope in Christ, and the promise He offers of abundant life now and eternal life to come, that should influence our behavior. It should be the reason we give for the way we live.

But we are to make our defense with “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Part of what we need to be able to communicate is the reason behind our willingness to suffer for doing what is right and good. While suffering, we are not to complain, get bitter, or respond in anger. Remember what Peter said in the last chapter:

if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you… – 1 Peter 2:20 NLT

And people are going to want to know why you willingly put up with suffering, shame, humiliation, rejection and persecution, all for doing what is pleasing to God. The average lost person is not going to understand that kind of mindset. If you say you are following the will of God and suffering as a result, they will have a hard time understanding what the motivation behind your actions might be. It will make no sense to them. They will find it hard to justify belief in a God who allows His followers to suffer.Who would want to worship a God like that? Peter’s answer would be simple. He would say he would gladly suffer for God and so should we, because of the hope He has brought to us. Our hope is based on a future promise, not immediate gratification. We don’t necessarily get our best life now, but the promise of a better life to come. In speaking of “those who revile your good behavior in Christ” (1 Peter 3:16 ESV), Peter says we are to maintain a good conscience among them, because we are suffering for the sake of Christ. Even if we are slandered, we can rest easy, knowing that we have remained faithful to Christ. And Peter makes it clear that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).

Peter will pick up this same theme in chapter four of his letter.

15 If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. 16 But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! – 1 Peter 4:15-16 NLT

You see, it is normal and natural, even among the lost, to suffer for doing the wrong thing. Bad people can and do receive punishment for wrong behavior, and so they should. But it makes no sense to the unsaved that anyone should suffer for doing what is right. It is unfair and unnatural. That’s not the way the world is supposed to operate. But for us as believers, it is to be expected. Jesus even warned us about it.

18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. – John 15:18-19 NLT

The world hates us. And the more we live for Christ and the more we live like Christ, the more intense that hatred will become. Jesus went on to say, “Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:20 NLT). Not only that, He explains that “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). God sent Jesus as the Savior of the world, and the world rejected Him. Jesus has now sent us into the world, and we find ourselves rejected as well. It is to be expected. It shouldn’t surprise us. And just like Jesus, we will suffer most for doing what is right and good. And when the lost around us see us suffer willingly and gladly, we must be ready to share with them the hope that is within us. It was Paul who said:

Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. – 2 Timothy 2:8-10 NLT

Are you willing to suffer for doing good? Are you ready to explain to the lost around you why you willingly suffer for doing what God has called you to do? The only sane answer is that you have a hope, a living hope as Peter described it, reserved in heaven for you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… – 1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT

 

We should be able to defend our actions and the suffering we endure as a result of those actions. We need to be able to articulate why we do the things we do, and why we are willing to suffer for having done them. It is because of our hope – our living hope based in Jesus Christ; our Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd and King. And it is because of our hope founded on His promise of eternal life because He sacrificed His life for ours. We suffer because He did. We endure the shame because He did. We willingly put up with the rejection and ridicule, because He did. He has given us hope and we defend our lives like it.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Bless Like It.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:8-12 ESV

Peter continues his address about attitudes and relationships. Keep in mind, he is still talking to those who are in Christ and attempting to get them to see that their new relationship with God as their Father should produce a change in their behavior. He started by addressing one of the most difficult relationships, the one between a slave and his master. Then, Peter turned his attention to husbands and wives, and, more specifically, the relationship between a believing and non-believing spouse. These kinds of relationship are going to make it difficult to live out your faith consistently and without falling back into your old sinful habits. Peter made this quite clear in the opening section of his letter.

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. – 1 Peter 1:14 NLT

And Peter has already provided them with more than enough motivation for their new actions and attitudes.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart. – 1 Peter 1:22 NLT

So, now he addresses the larger pool of relationships to which his readers must turn their attention and apply his admonitions. But he focuses on the relationships they have with one another as believers. His interest at this point is on the way each Christian should treat his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. – 1 Peter 3:8 NLT

First, he tells them to be of one mind. The Greek word he uses is homophrōn, and it means “harmonious” or “like-minded”. It comes from two other words that mean “together” and “understanding”. They are to share a mutual understanding of one another as fellow citizens of the Kingdom of God. They share an inheritance as God’s children. They are brothers and sisters. And Peter gives them concrete examples of what this one-mindedness should look like. They should sympathize with one another. This carries the idea of compassion and understanding that shows up in the form of care and concern for those around you. Paul puts it this way:

15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! – Romans 12:15-16 NLT

There is no place for individualism in the body of Christ. As Paul states in Galatians 6:2, we are to “bear one another’s burdens.” True sympathy requires empathy, an ability to vicariously relate to the feelings of another – their pain, sorrow, hurts and heartaches. The apostle Paul, using the example of the human body to illustrate the unique union of believers within the body of Christ, states, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NLT). We are in this together. We are, as Peter put it earlier, sojourners and exiles, but we are not alone. We are joined together by God to all our other fellow exiles, and living our lives together in this inhospitable land. And Peter describes us as “living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5 NLT) – all stacked together by the Master Builder, in order to create a home for His Spirit.

Peter also tells his readers to love like brothers. He uses the Greek word, philadelphos, which refers to the love shared between two blood brothers. There is to be a closer connection between two siblings than between two strangers. There is a common bond between two brothers that is not present in any other relationship. And Peter is calling the believers to whom he is writing into a deeper relationship with the ones with whom they share a spiritual kinship with Christ. Because they have been cleansed from their sins by placing their faith in Christ, they were to “show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters”, and Peter had told them to  “Love each other deeply with all your heart” (1 Peter 1:22 NLT).

They were to have tender hearts. The Greek word Peter uses is a strange one. It literally means “good bowels.” Before you let your mind run to the races, keep in mind that the readers of Peter’s letter would have understood this word to refer to the seat of the emotions. It is a word that expresses compassion, sympathy, and tenderheartedness. Paul uses the same word in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

Too often, we have no feelings for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a coldness toward them, treating them more like strangers than as our spiritual relatives. James paints a vivid picture of what a lack of tenderheartedness looks like in the body of believers.

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. – James 4:1-2 The Message

Finally, Peter tells his readers to have humble minds. This is a call to humility that shows up in a willingness to esteem others as more important than ourselves. Paul put it well.

Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:1-4 NLT

There is no place for pride within the body of Christ. There is no reason to think of ourselves as better than anyone else, because we were all sinners who were saved by the grace of God. None of us were chosen for our goodness or inherent righteousness. We are each recipients of God’s undeserved, unearned grace. So, there is no reason for us to see ourselves as somehow better or of greater worth than anyone else in the family of God.

The next thing Peter writes is even more difficult to accept.

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. – 1 Peter 3:9 NLT

Our natural tendency is to seek revenge, to demand justice, and to get even. We are wired to lash out and to defend ourselves at all costs, whether the threat is to our physical well-being or to our reputation. But Peter tells us to bless instead of retaliate. We are to bless as we have been blessed. And Peter isn’t making this stuff up. He got it from a reliable source: Jesus Himself.

28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Luke 6:29-31 NLT

And Paul would also echo the words of Jesus, when he wrote, “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them” (Romans 12:14 NLT). And Paul wasn’t saying this in terms of our relationships with unbelievers. He was writing to Christians. Just a few verses earlier he wrote, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:9-10 NLT). That is exactly the message Peter is trying to convey. And to drive home his point, Peter follows up his words with a quote that comes from Psalm 34.

“If you want to enjoy life
    and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
    and your lips from telling lies.
Turn away from evil and do good.
    Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right,
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord turns his face
    against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12 NLT

Notice the emphasis on the tongue. To bless literally means to speak well of someone. But they must be words that come from the heart. They are not to be hypocritical or fake. They are not to come out as some form of false flattery. It is one thing to keep your tongue from speaking evil, but it is another thing altogether to speak well and have it come from your heart. That is why Jesus said, “the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). And in His list of defiling actions and attitudes that flow from the heart, He included evil thoughts, lying and slander. And He placed them right alongside murder, adultery, sexual immorality and theft. Our words are an expression of our heart. And to speak falsehood – kind-sounding words that are actually backed by hate-filled thoughts – is to do evil and not good. Yet, Peter calls us to bless because we have been blessed. We are to be a blessing to others, because we have received the blessing of God, His undeserved, unmerited grace and favor in the form of salvation made possible through the death of His Son. And Peter would have us continually reflect on the example provided to us by Christ.

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1 Peter 2:21-23 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Honor Like It.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

Now, Peter turns his attention to the husband. He addresses those men living within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who happen to be believers and married. And, as with the women, Peter is concerned with those who are married to either a believing or non-believing spouse. His counsel will apply in either case. And the words he has to say to the husbands, while shorter in length, are loaded with meaning and significance. He tells them to “live with your wives in an understanding way.” That sounds easy enough, but we have to grasp what Peter is really saying. The Greek phrase he uses is κατὰ γνῶσιν, and it means, “according to knowledge.” What does that mean? Well, it begins with the Greek word for knowledge, which has a range of meanings. It can refer to general knowledge or intelligence, but it can also refer to moral wisdom that exhibits itself in right living. Peter seems to be encouraging a believing husband to live with his wife in such a way that his behavior shows a clear knowledge of right and wrong regarding his relationship with her. What would God have him do? How would God have him treat his wife? On top of that, is the need for the husband to understand and know his wife, both as the individual to whom he is married and as a member of the female race. She is different in terms of personality and temperament, but also gender. The husband is going to have to take the time to get to know his wife and see her as God has made her. She is a unique individual whom God has gifted and equipped with her own personal character. A loving husband will take the time to know his wife well. And he will see her as God does, as “the weaker vessel.” 

But that phrase typically conjures up extremely negative connotations in our 21st-Century minds. It sounds patronizing and patriarchal, something a man would say and think. But Peter is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we have to attempt to figure out what he means by these words. Is he referring to women as somehow inferior to men? Is he insinuating that they are less valuable or incapable of contributing to the well-being of the family or society?

Peter tells husbands to show honor to their wives. The Greek word he uses is timē, and it refers to deference, even reverence. It is an honor which naturally belongs to the one it is shown. They deserve it. The wife, as a woman, is a creation of God. She was made in the image of God. She was uniquely crafted by God to complement and complete the man. If we go back to the creation account found in the book of Genesis, we hear these words from God, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2:18 NLT). In the book of Proverbs, we read this assessment regarding a man who finds a wife. “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the LORD” (Proverbs 18:22 NLT). A wife is a blessing. She is a gift from God. Proverbs 31:10 describes the value of a wife as “more precious than rubies.” Proverbs 12:4 says she is “the crown of her husband.” And a believing husband should understand these things and honor his wife as such. She is precious, priceless and a gift from God – whether she is a believer or not.

But let’s go back to the term, “weaker vessel.” What did Peter mean? Is it a statement of physical strength? Perhaps. But that would seem to be an incomplete and, in some cases, inaccurate rendering. Not all women are physically weaker than all men. Is he referring to intelligence? That would be highly unlikely if we consider the centuries-worth of clear evidence that proves the female’s capacity to compete with men on an equal intellectual plane. So, what is Peter talking about and why would he use this kind of language to refer to wives? The Greek word Peter uses is asthenēs, and it has two significant parts: The second half of the word come from another Greek word, sthenoō, which refers to strength. The first half of the word is a negative participle that means “without.” So, the word Peter uses simply means, “without strength.” I tend to believe that Peter is using this word to speak of an unbelieving wife or at least, a wife who has followed her husband in accepting Christ, but is not as strong in her faith. It is the same word used by Paul when he refers to a weaker brother or sister in Christ.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul was forced to deal with a situation regarding the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. There were those in the church who understood that there was nothing wrong with eating this meat because there are really no such thing as other gods. They are figments of man’s imagination. But there were some in the church who, having come out of pagan backgrounds, viewed the eating of meat sacrificed to false gods as somehow worshiping them. They did not fully understand that these gods were not real, and Paul refers to them as “weaker.” He writes:

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. 10 For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol? 11 So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. 12 And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 NLT

The idea was that there were those in the fellowship who didn’t know any better. They were “weaker” only in the sense of their spiritual understanding of the matters at hand. I think Peter is using this term in the very same way. It is not a blanket statement about women, but a reference to those wives who were either new believers or unbelievers. Their spiritual understanding was “without strength. ” And their husbands were to show them honor and treat them as a “weaker vessel.” It s the same attitude that Paul had.

22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NLT

Peter says that these men were to see their wives as “heirs with you of the grace of life.” This does not necessarily mean salvation. Peter is most likely stating that men and women equally share in God’s gracious gift of life. He has made them both. And a husband and wife equally share in God’s gracious gift of marriage. They are in this thing called marriage together. And they share in the grace of God, together.

The final admonition Peter gives husbands is significant. He warns them that, if they ignore his words, their prayers will be hindered. It they do not treat their wives as “weaker vessels” and honor them as God does, their prayers to God will go unheard. Their inappropriate treatment of their wives will be seen as sin before God. That’s a sobering statement. And this all goes back to the behavior of those who have been called by God. We are to live differently. We are to behave in a way that mirrors our newfound status as sons and daughters of God. And one of the first ways our new life should show up  is in our relationships with other human beings, especially our spouses.

For a husband to live with his wife in an understanding way is going to take wisdom, patience, grace, mercy, and the help of the Holy Spirit. He is going to have to see his wife the way God does. He is going to have to view her through God’s eyes and make her spiritual well-being his highest priority, whether she is a believer or not. Just like the believing wife may bring her husband to faith by her righteous behavior, so a husband may lead his unbelieving wife to Christ by living with her in an understanding way, honoring her as a gift from God and his fellow heir in the grace of life.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Relate Like It.

1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  – 1 Peter 3:1-6 ESV

As Christians, our relationships are to be primary opportunities to live out our new relationship with Christ and to exhibit externally, the inner transformation that is taking place in our hearts because of the work of the Holy Spirit. And there is no more intimate and important relationship than the one between a husband and a wife. Peter was dealing with a situation where there were a growing number of individuals coming to faith in Christ who found themselves married to unbelieving spouses. Keep in mind the locations of those to whom he was writing: Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. They were living in the northern Roman provinces of Asia Minor, which is modern western Turkey. Not all of his audience would have been Gentiles, because there were literally millions of Jews who had relocated and settled in these very same provinces. But whether Gentiles or Jews, the recipients of his letter were believers who, in many cases, had become followers of Christ without their spouses. This important point will factor into what Peter has to say, because our behavior, as Christians, can have a significant impact on our lost relationships, especially with our unbelieving spouses.

Peter begins with the women. and his words continue to leave many modern-day women shaking their heads and labeling Peter as a male chauvinist. His counsel comes across as archaic and a product of some ancient cultural paradigm that has long lost its relativity. Peter begins his address to wives, saying, “wives, be subject to your own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV). He would not be the only apostle to communicate this information. Paul would write virtually the same thing: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord” (Colossians 3:18 NLT). He would repeat this statement to the Ephesians: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22 ESV). Then, in his letter to Titus, Paul provides even more detail, when he challenges the older women in the church:

…train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. – Titus 2:4-5 NLT

Whether we like what these men have to say, we have to take their words seriously, because they speak for God – that is, if you believe they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, which I do. These are not two 1st-Century Jewish males sharing their personal opinions about women. They are not misogynists. They don’t hate women and are not attempting to place them in a subservient position to their more superior male counterparts. And yet, this is how many modern-day Christians interpret these passages.

What we tend to miss is the definition of the word Peter and Paul use for submission. It is the Greek word, hypotassō, which means “to subject one’s self.” There is a willingness involved, a self-determination or personal decision to submit to another out of love and, in this case, obedience to the will of God. Remember what Paul said? Women are to do it “as to the Lord.”  He says, it is “fitting for those who belong to the Lord.” It is what those who belong to God should do. And Peter makes it clear that it doesn’t matter if the woman’s husband is a believer or not. There is a witness involved in all of this. He states that when wives willingly subject themselves to the leadership of their husbands, “Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2 NLT). What Peter (and by extension, God) is interested in is godly living. This isn’t about rights and privileges, status and personal authority. It is about the cause of Christ, the name of God, and the witness of our lives in a lost and dying world.

But as if this wasn’t enough and Peter had not stepped on enough toes, he wades into even more deadly waters, giving advice on women’s clothing, hair and makeup. Was he just a glutton for punishment or was there a method to his madness? He gives his female readers the following Spirit-inspired counsel:

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. – 1 Peter 3:3-4 NLT

The first thing we gravitate towards is the fashion advice. It seems that he is telling them how to dress. But what is his real point? “Clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within.” Peter is contrasting our natural obsession with the exterior aspects of our lives with that of the interior, spiritual dimension that reflects the nature of our heart. He talks of inner beauty and the spirit within. How we look is to be far less significant to us than how we behave. And our behavior is a product of our hearts. It was Jesus who said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:20-23 NLT). 

Peter is simply reminding the women in his audience that dressing up the exterior of their lives means nothing if they give no importance to the interior condition of their hearts. They become little more than hypocrites, what Jesus called white-washed tombs. They look great on the outside, but their interiors are filled with death and decay. And that can be true of both women and men.

Peter gives additional insight into what he is saying by comparing the behavior of the “modern-day” women to whom he is writing with the “the holy women of old” (1 Peter 3:5 NLT). There are several points of interest in what he writes and they all relate to the subject of submission. First of all, he says these women of old made themselves beautiful by placing their hope in God. They trusted God for their lives, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their lives. He uses Sarah as an example. She submitted to her husband, Abraham. But how? Remember, it was he who received the call of God to leave Ur and travel to a land yet to be named. And Sarah willingly followed her husband’s lead, even though it meant leaving her family behind. She was inherently trusting God, because her husband was not quite sure how all of this was going to work out. Even later on, when they found themselves moving to Egypt to escape a famine in the land of Canaan, she went along with her husband’s counsel to pawn herself off as his sister. She trusted Abraham, because she was really trusting God.

Secondly, Peter points out that Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him “master.” Why? Because she believed he was following the leadership of Yahweh, God Almighty. So, she listened and obeyed. She showed him respect. She didn’t ridicule or belittle him, even when what he said didn’t work out for the best or seem to make any sense. She was trusting God. Third, Sarah was being transformed on the inside. She had her own set of issues. She struggled with doubt and disbelief. And by following her husband’s leadership, she was having her heart changed by God. Finally, Peter uses Sarah as an example of someone who did what was right, according to the will of God. And he tells his female readers that they will be daughters of Sarah if they “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6 NLT). Submitting to a Christian husband is scary enough. Submitting to a lost one can be petrifying. But both situations require trust in God. There will be fearful days and moments of doubt. There will be situations that come up where the husband seems to lack any leadership skills or is devoid of common sense. But at the end of the day, believing women are to put their trust in God. They are to see themselves as those who “belong to the Lord” as Paul said. They are to submit, not because their husband deserves it or has earned it, but because it is fitting to the Lord. It reveals a heart that is submissive to God. And He finds that far more attractive than the outward beauty that comes from clothes, cosmetics or jewelry.

These are not easy words for women to hear. They are counter-cultural and seem to go against the grain. But Peter is speaking of deep-seated heart issues. He is addressing matters of character and Christ-likeness. Because when all is said and done, Peter is concerned about our witness in the world. We are sons and daughters of God, and our lives are to be a testimony to His life-transforming, counter-cultural calling on our lives.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Suffer Like It.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:18-25 ESV

There are two ways to approach the content of this particular passage. First of all, as modern Americans, we can become incensed over the fact that Peter addresses slaves, but fails to make any statements regarding the unacceptable nature of the institution of slavery. And among the authors of the New Testament, he is not alone in his silence. He and Paul spoke frequently to slaves, but said very little about the moral nature of the institution of slavery. So, when we read a passage like this, it can come across as a subtle approval of slavery. And when we read the following passages, it would be easy to reach that conclusion.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NIV

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. As slaves of Christ, do the will of God with all your heart. Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free. – Ephesians 6:5-8 NLT

22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. – Colossians 3:22 NLT

1 All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching. If the masters are believers, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. – 1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT

Where is the moral indignation? Why do Paul and Peter seem to act as if slavery is just a normal part of everyday life? Because it was. Slavery was entrenched in the culture of their day. Even Jews had slaves. The failure of these men to speak out against slavery should not be construed to be some king of tacit approval of it. From our own sordid history as a nation, we know that our ancestors attempted to use the Scriptures to justify their unwavering determination to maintain the slave trade and to rationalize their inhumane treatment of millions of fellow human beings. But the presence of slavery is the result of the fall. It is a symptom of man’s sinful state and has been around since the beginning. It was alive and well when Jesus came to the earth. It was a normal part of the social fabric of the day. But this does not mean it was right or acceptable in the eyes of God.

When we focus on this passage with a sense of social outrage, we miss the point of what Peter is trying to say. He was not speaking into the culture at large, but into the context of the local body of believers. He was addressing Christians living within a non-Christian society where moral, social, and civic codes would be diametrically opposed to their new way of life as followers of Christ. Remember, Peter has addressed them as chosen by God. They are a holy nation. God has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. That does not mean God has changed any and all circumstances surrounding them. They are still living in a pagan culture. They are still living under the auspices of a pagan government. Immoral institutions like slavery still exist. In fact, some of them are actually living as slaves in that system. Peter’s interest was not in overthrowing the government of his day, anymore than Jesus was out to overturn the rule of the Romans while He was alive. Peter is addressing Christians who find themselves living in a culture that hates and despises them, and he is calling them to be beacons of light in a dark world. Any change that was going to take place in the culture was going to come from Christians living as citizens of the Kingdom of God and emulating the character of Christ among those who were living in darkness.

So, Peter addresses those in the church who had come to faith in Christ while living as slaves. This is an important point that often gets overlooked. The New Testament church was a literal melting pot made up of people from all walks of life. There were the rich and poor, the influential and the seemingly unimportant, women and men, as well as slaves and freemen. Not only that, there were congregations where masters and their slaves attended the same worship services together. This was unheard of. It was antithetical to the culture of the day. But it reveals that the gospel was for anyone and everyone, regardless of their social or economic status. Peter talks to the slaves just as he would anyone else. He did not see them as second-class citizens. He fully understood their situation and spoke into it. He didn’t minimize it, but he also did not offer them the hope of freedom from the current condition as slaves. His concern was that they live our their new identity in Christ, right where they were. Paul addresses this in his letter to the believers in Corinth, including those who happened to be slaves.

21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you. – 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 NLT

Paul uses that phrase, “remain as you were” repeatedly in his letter. If they were uncircumcised when they came to faith, they were to remain so. If you were married to an unbeliever when you came to know Christ, remain married to that person. Paul makes it clear: “Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Their goal should not be to change the circumstances surrounding their life, but to live out their new life in Christ differently in the midst of those very same circumstances. We tend to look for changes in our circumstances, while Peter and Paul are demanding a change in heart, which will lead to a change in behavior – regardless of our circumstances.

And Peter makes his counsel to the believing slaves in his audience very specific and applicable to their situation.

19 God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. 20 Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. – 1 Peter 2:20-21 NLT

He knew their status as sons and daughters of God was not going to change the way their masters treated them. In fact, it might make things worse for them. They were going to face unjust treatment. After all, they were slaves. It came with their position as slaves. But now that they were believers, their reaction to that unjust treatment was to be different. They were to patiently endure. They were to suffer for doing good. And in doing so, they would have the pleasure of God. That needed to be their focus. They were not out to please their human masters, but God Himself. They had a new motivation and a new incentive for living. And Peter gives them Jesus as their example to follow. He reminds them, “He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT). Then, he provides them with a succinct, yet beautiful summary of Jesus’ life.

22 He never sinned,
    nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
    nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
    who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
    in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
    and live for what is right.
By his wounds
    you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
    who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
    the Guardian of your souls. – 1 Peter 2:22-25 NLT

That is the model we are to follow, whether slave or free. His example is the one we are to emulate, regardless of our circumstances. Jesus was not born into wealth and comfort, but obscurity and relative poverty. He wasn’t born in a palace, but a cattle stall. He wasn’t highly esteemed, but regarded as a lowly carpenter from an obscure backwater town called Nazareth. When Phillip told Nathanael that he had met Jesus of Nazareth, Nathanael sarcastically responded, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46 NLT). God didn’t send His Son into the best of circumstances. He sent Him into the midst of darkness and sin. He sent Him into a culture mired in moral decadence and spiritual darkness. But Jesus was the light and He lived as a shining example of godly obedience and submission to the will of His Father in the midst of all the moral mess of His day. He didn’t attempt to change the government or fix all the social ills of His day. Jesus described His ministry as bringing Good News to the poor, proclaiming that captives will be released, that the blind will see, and that the oppressed will be set free (Luke 4:18). For Jesus, like Peter and Paul, the problem wasn’t a social one, it was spiritual. Human slavery wasn’t the real issue, slavery to sin was. And nothing is going to truly change in our world until the hearts of men and women are transformed by the message of salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Like Christ, we are going to suffer in this life. But other question is whether we will face our suffering like Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson