Understanding the Text

1 Peter 2–3

“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 2:12).

Christ is our model, who suffered for doing good.

Understanding the Text
“Crave pure spiritual milk” 1 Peter 2:1–3. In chapter 1 Peter reminded us that we have been born again and given God’s own heredity. That first taste of grace should inspire us to grow! Our religious experience does not end when we are saved. It begins.

“Rejected by men but chosen by God and precious” 1 Peter 2:4–8. The values of God and of sinful man are in constant conflict. Pagan writers of the first centuries of our era, when they did mention Christ, scoffed at Him and His followers. Modern pagans have a similar attitude, though the name of Jesus is at least familiar. But to those of us who believe, the name of Jesus is precious.
These opposite reactions to Jesus have implications for what Peter was about to say concerning submission and suffering. The pagan, who disobeys the message of Jesus, will never sense the wisdom of submission, or the praiseworthiness of suffering. Only our faith in Jesus, with complete acceptance of the values affirmed by God, enables us to choose the path that Jesus Himself trod.

In ancient times the cornerstone was the anchor of a building’s foundation. Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 which refer to cornerstones were understood by Israel’s rabbis to have messianic implications, and are applied to Jesus in the Gospels (Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17), by Paul (Rom. 9:33; Eph. 2:20) and by Peter. Jesus is the foundation of our faith, and also of the church in which believers are living stones (1 Peter 2:4–7).

“A chosen people, a royal priesthood” 1 Peter 2:9–10. It is only right that we choose to live by God’s values, for He has chosen us. In the Old Testament, priests officiated at sacrifices and led the worship of God. In first-century Roman culture, pagan priests also led worshipers in offering sacrifices and praises to the gods. In both contexts, it was considered a high honor to serve as a priest. So the imagery of a Christian royal priesthood was clear, and powerful. We who because of sin were not even a people of God have been called out of darkness, and given the highest position of all!
It is only appropriate then that we serve as priests, and “declare the praises” of Him who called us from darkness to light.

“Abstain from sinful desires” 1 Peter 2:11. Peter devoted the rest of this chapter and the beginning of the next to explaining how you and I “declare the praises” of God. Essentially, we declare God’s praises more by the way we live than by what we say.
The first declaration of praise Peter mentioned was to “abstain from sinful desires.” A better rendering suggests the Christian is to make a clean break with the “natural impulses” which dominated us in the past. The adjective sarkikon found in this Greek phrase suggests that the impulses Peter had in mind are not impulses to gross sin so much as every person’s natural inclination to preserve self and his material well-being. Peter warned that concern for the things of this world “war against your soul.” The more we care about the material universe, the less we will care about the spiritual. The things of this life are to be of slight value to the Christian, whose hopes are fixed on Christ’s return.

“Live such good lives among the pagans” 1 Peter 2:12. Freedom from care about those things which quite naturally concern pagans does not mean withdrawal from the world. Instead it means freedom to live good lives here and now. We can understand why. If you are primarily concerned about making your commission on a sale, you won’t consider whether or not you treat your customer fairly. But if you are freed from “sinful desires,” you will make your decisions solely on the basis of what is right and good.
Freed by our concern to please God only, we will be able to live such good lives that even those who slander us will be forced to acknowledge God’s work in our lives, and thus glorify God when Jesus returns. “Every man has his price.” Peter said that integrity is priceless—and Christians are to have it!

“Submit . . . to every authority instituted among men” 1 Peter 2:13–17. Early Christians were at times criticized as misfits who hated society, because they did not take part in worship at social events honoring the Emperor or state deities. Yet even pagan writers who mention early Christians confess that they were not rabble-rousers or political revolutionaries. In fact, the earliest description of Christians by Roman authorities reports an investigation which found that in Christian meetings they bound themselves by oath to live good lives, to pray for the Emperor, and to obey the authorities.

A life of submission to authorities will not prevent you from being slandered as a lawbreaker. But using your freedom to live as God’s servant in human society will win you, and God, praise forevermore.

“Not only to those who are good and considerate” 1 Peter 2:18–21. It’s easy to submit in a nation where laws are basically fair and rulers are honest men. Submission becomes difficult, however, when you are treated unfairly.

Yet Christians are called to submit even when treated unfairly. This is one of those areas of direct conflict: our “natural tendency” to shout out against submitting.
Peter remained adamant. The believer is to submit and bear “up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.” Jesus walked the way of submission, and we are to follow in His steps.

Being a Christian is more challenging than it might seem. We discard the values of our society to adopt values that conflict with those things that come most naturally to us.

“He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:22–25. Unfair treatment is most frustrating when we can’t do anything about it. If we can take it to court—even “The People’s Court” on TV—we may not win, but at least we will have done something. We will have tried to strike back.

But Peter called for submission even when we are treated unfairly. The slave with a harsh master isn’t to run away, or land an uppercut to the master’s jaw. He or she is simply to endure, and keep on doing what is good and right. It’s fine to say this “is commendable before God” (v. 20). But that doesn’t relieve the frustration of our helplessness.

Yet there is one thing we can do. And Peter tells us what. We can do what Jesus did when He suffered unjustly. Jesus didn’t retaliate, or hurl insults back at those who insulted Him. What Jesus did was to entrust “Himself to Him who judges justly.”
What a release this is. To simply trust ourselves to God, to remember that He judges justly, and leave our case in His hands.

Was Jesus wise to do so? Yes, for out of the innocent suffering of the Savior God worked our salvation. The suffering of Jesus was not meaningless; it was permitted that through it good might come. If we but commit ourselves into God’s hands, we can be sure that not only justice will be done for us, but also that our suffering will serve the cause of grace.

“Your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Peter 3:1–6. The principle of submission, as a willingness to respond to others, applies in marriage as well as social and public life. Peter’s call for wives to submit is not demeaning. He had uttered the same call to all believers, and shown that submission was the road chosen by Jesus. What Peter asked, and what the wise man will value, is the beautiful attitude of a woman willing to be responsive to her husband. Outward appearance fades. Inner beauty increases with the years.

“So that nothing will hinder your prayers” 1 Peter 3:7. A man with a responsive wife is greatly blessed—and responsible! Failure to be considerate and treat one’s wife with respect, as a partner, blocks God’s answers to our prayers.

“This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” 1 Peter 3:19–22. These verses have troubled Christians as much as any in the New Testament.
But all Peter was doing was drawing an analogy between the experience of Noah in the great Flood (Gen. 6–8), and the experience of the Christian. The floodwaters of judgment in that ancient day purged the old world of sin, and deposited Noah and his family on a fresh, new earth. This is like the baptism by which the Christian is united to Jesus (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). In the judgment that Jesus experienced for us on the cross, all that was corrupt in us was cleansed. And in Jesus’ resurrection, we were carried with Him into a new world. In the old world, Peter said, we lived our earthly life “for evil human desires” (1 Peter 4:2). Now, carried through the judgment in Christ, our ark of safety, we are to live the rest of our lives on earth for the will of God.
What an image of the Christian’s experience. After our conversion we look around us, and realize that while the world remains the same, we ourselves are fresh and new! And we are called to live in newness of life!

written by Larry Richards

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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