Series: 1&2 Peter, by Rosie Moore
This is the first in a series of devotions in 1 and 2 Peter.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12).
As Christians, we are the most privileged people on the planet. Lest we forget, the Apostle Peter reminds us that we have been chosen by God and our salvation and security rest in the free and merciful choice of God (1 Peter 1:1-3). Nothing can take away our “living hope” in the resurrected Jesus (1 Peter 1:3). Unlike everything else in this flimsy world, our heavenly inheritance is permanent and indestructible—it can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:4). And through faith in the Lord Jesus, God will shield us and keep us true to our faith until we see our Saviour face to face, to live with him in his perfect home, forever and ever (1 Peter 1:5). What’s more, as the Lord’s chosen people (1 Peter 1:9-10), we have a secure identity in Christ. And as the family of God, we have a million reasons to praise God with the Apostle Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 1:3).
But as privileged as we are, we are also strangers in this world (1 Peter 1:1). This is something we should never forget or underplay, even for the purpose of growing God’s kingdom in the world.
First century strangers.
In fact, the lived reality of Peter’s original readers– Christians scattered across the Roman empire due to persecution– is a picture of Christians in every era, who in a sense are called to be strangers, exiles and pilgrims in the world. It is a picture of us, until we reach our permanent home in heaven.
This is how Peter addresses his original readers:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia”. He calls them exiles of the Dispersion, because that is literally what they were. They were scatterlings of Christ in far flung places, away from the comfort, security and community of home.
Let’s walk for a moment in the shoes of these exiled believers who, despite their genuine suffering and grief in “all sorts of trials”, were being urged to “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:6; 8). What exactly was the source of these trials? And how were they to find joy in the midst of them?
History tells us that these Christians had been banished from their homes in Jerusalem and Rome, branded as traitors by their Jewish communities and declared enemies of Rome. This violent dispersion is described in Acts 8:1-4.
Their suffering took many forms (1 Peter 1:6): On account of the Lord’s supper, the Christians were falsely accused of ‘secret’ immoral worship practices, cannibalism and incest. They were caricatured as haters of humanity and scorned for their irrational beliefs. Two years after Peter’s second letter, Christianity was banned in the Roman empire (64AD), so things were getting worse, not better.
But ironically, far from being rebels, these Christians were living out their faith in selfless service to each other and submission to authorities. Their problem was that they did not blend in with their culture. They refused to conform to the world around them, but aspired to God’s standards of holiness instead (1 Peter 1:14-16).
In spite of their quiet, good lives, they committed the ultimate ‘crimes’ of their day: They would not affirm or participate in the sins of their culture and insisted that Jesus was the only way to know God. They didn’t support the Roman ideals of self, of power and of conquest. And worst of all, they would not bow to Caesar or the Roman gods. So, their crime was not that they were evil, but that they were cultural traitors and non- conformists. This was deeply offensive to their society, and ultimately became a crime worthy of death. That’s why they were scattered all over the Roman empire, living as strangers in the world.
Peter drives home their refugee status several times in his letter (1 Peter 1:17; 2:11). But, as strangers, he doesn’t give them false comfort. He doesn’t promise them prosperity, protection or popularity. And he doesn’t urge them to appease or agree or conform with their culture in an attempt to grow God’s kingdom.
Instead, Peter instructs them plainly to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul, to live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12). He reminds them that God the Father judges each man’s work impartially, so they are to “live as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:11). They are to be self-controlled and obedient, holy and distinct from their culture, “for as it is written: Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16).
The miracle of Christ’s mustard-seed kingdom is that the more Christians were dragged from their homes and persecuted, the more they scattered like seeds, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole Roman empire and beyond. Little churches were planted throughout the empire and gatherings of believers blossomed, even in Africa, until there were more than 40 000 Christians by AD 150.
So what do Peter’s instructions mean for Christians living in the world today?
Peter’s letter is definitely for us today! Although we naturally crave approval and hope to woo the world with the gospel, Peter reminds us that our ‘narrow’ worldview will always be deeply offensive to those who oppose Christ. Jesus reminded us of this reality too: “If the world hates you, bear in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). And James is unequivocal about this too: “Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?” (James 4:4) Friendship with the world is a dangerous thing for our souls and it doesn’t help the gospel cause either. God always expects personal holiness from his people. We are to be different.
At the same time, Peter is clear that we should never set out to be offensive, odd or unloving. We must never use our freedom as an excuse for evil but must show proper respect to everyone (1 Peter 2:16-17). We are first servants of Christ, so we must fear God and honour authorities (1 Peter 2:17).
But when we don’t conform; when we seek to obey God’s Word instead of bowing down to the high priests of academia; when we demolish ideas that set themselves against Christ; when we choose a distinct and holy lifestyle, we will automatically be ostracised. We will be ridiculed and caricatured when we expose our culture’s sin, rather than affirm and accept it. And if the prophets, Jesus, and Peter’s readers are our examples, then we too will be offensive to the world. It’s an inevitable byproduct of living as foreigners here.
Timothy Keller explains one area this may apply to Christians in contemporary culture:
“The earliest church was seen as too exclusive and a threat to the social order because it would not honor all deities. Today Christians are again being seen exclusive and a threat to the social order because we will not honor all identities.”
But we remember that Christ, who is the “stone the builders rejected…the stone that causes men to stumble” (1 Peter 2:7-8) is a precious Rock to build our lives on, because “the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:6). That’s why, like Peter’s original readers, “you can greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:6). Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to help us to be true to him, always loving God and his Word, rather than the world and its ways.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).