Deuteronomy 4 is the language of all of life. The Word of God is to be something that “dwells among us richly” (Colossians 3:16) not simply when we gather on Sundays or for Bible study on Wednesday. But when we walk the dog, do the shopping, watch the rugby, eat dinner, play football… We are to speak the gospel Word to each other daily in the ordinary events of ordinary life.
We are to let the Word dwell among us richly both when we gather as Christians and when unbelievers are among us. Of course we do this in a manner that is gentle and respectful (1 Peter 3:15). If we are theologically convinced that the Bible is a Word that speaks to all of life then we must bring it out of the special and into the ordinary, everyday, on the road life of the people of God.
It would be naive though to simply expect this to happen in some spontaneous, natural, organic movement. It would also betray an inadequate doctrine of man and sin. We are sinners, easily swayed from “what we know we ought to do”, easily distracted from the mission of the gospel, easily consumed with chasing careers, relationships, comfort or family as our satisfaction. We are easily seduced by the lure of comfort, entertainment and pleasure to serve our “needs” rather than giving ourselves away in service to others.
It is therefore crucial that we gather regularly, at least weekly, to eat together, share stories, study the Word, pray and share life. This is not church, it is a gathering of the church. This meeting must always be seen as both an outflow of our identity as God’s people and in the context of our wider life together as God’s people. Our regular, structured meeting together must never replace the Word dwelling among us in our day-to-day life together as God’s people. The meeting must lead to the Word dwelling among us in all of life more richly, deeply and consistently. Our life together on mission, must compel the need to meet together, pray together and be together to encourage and challenge one another in the gospel. Gathering leads to scattering as scattering leads to gathering.
1 Peter 2:4-6 speaks of Christian being built into a new temple, through which the presence and the blessing of God are mediated to the world. 2v11-12 spells out a bit more what this presence of God would look like. The presence of God experienced in our lives lived together is such that it demonstrates the truth that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus. Those who do not believe would (v12) see the goodness of our lives and glorify God. That is the language of salvation.
In this post I want to explore the nature of these good lives lived together. Is this a call to some utopian community? Some kind of exceptional life that most of us can aspire to but seldom reach? Well, yes I guess the Christian life is exceptional but it also very ordinary.
The spheres in which we demonstrate that is good to live under the reign of King Jesus – relating to government & obeying authorities (2v13-17), unjust suffering (perhaps particularly in our daily work) (2v19-20), marriage (3v1-7) and beauty and fashion (3v3). The context in which we demonstrate the presence of God and lives these lives of goodness are very ordinary and commonplace – work, home, country. The roles we play are hardly exceptional – citizen, wife, husband, employee (slave often being more akin to the role of a servant or domestic worker in those times). We are called to show the world that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus in the very ordinary spheres of everyday life, in the very ordinary roles of everyday life.
This is on one hand exceptionally liberating – anyone can do this. This is not Christianity for the special, the exceptional, the superstar – no this is Christianity for everyone. The call is to live as citizens of the Kingdom in the very ordinary roles and contexts of everyday life.
But the Christian life is far from ordinary it is profoundly counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Make the king wish all his citizens were Christians (2v13-14). Be the wives every husband desires (3v1-6). Make every slave-owner wish his slaves were Christians (2v18-20). Be the best husbands (3v7). Submit to authority (2v13), honour the king (2v17), love each other deeply (4v8), be good and considerate even when treated unfairly (2v19-21), do not retaliate in rage (2v23), lives of purity and reverence (3v2), radiant inner beauty (3v3-4), considerate (3v7), respectful (3v7) , live in harmony with others (3v8), be sympathetic & compassionate (3v8), repay insult with blessing (3v9), offer hospitality (4v9), not greedy for money but eager to serve (5v2), clothed with humility (5v5), self-controlled (5v8).
Steve Timmis has been known to say his great gospel strategy is to get Christian to be the neighbours everybody wants. Ordinary lives lived in obedience to an exceptional King.
In 1 Peter 2:4-6 Peter describes the people of God as a new temple built with living stones. This new temple is a mobile temple – free to move and to go anywhere the Spirit of God leads us. Wherever you see the people of God living as the people of God – there you will find the presence of God. The church is the presence of God in the world – demonstrating that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
But what exactly does this presence of God look like?
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us;
“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 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.”
Our lives lived together are to be of such a nature that those who do not believe see our good deeds and glorify God. In 3v15 Peter says that “by doing good we should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men”. Our lives together are a visual demonstration that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus. This blessing then overflows in a continual fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that his seed (Jesus) would be a blessing to the whole world. Our lives together are a powerful demonstration of this truth and an experience of the presence of God in the world.
The effect of these good lives and lives of goodness lived under the reign of King Jesus has a saving effect on those who are not believers. 2v12 speaks of the pagans glorifying God – to glorify God is salvation language perhaps reminiscent of Jesus’s own words in Matthew 5:16
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
As evangelicals I suspect we have become fearful of any talk of good work – because as we all know we are not saved by our good works. To be clear – I am absolutely convinced that my salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone. But what Peter does seem to be saying is that while my good works cannot save me (us) – they can save you! It is as they see our good works/lives that they are led to praise God.
Let me be clear though that our proclamation definitely has a place and 1 Peter has much to say about this but in these verses it is our good works/good lives that bring people to salvation not our words per se. Those good works/lives must include words but they cannot be reduced to them. 3v15 tells us that it is our lives together which raises questions in unbelievers about our hope.
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Peter is here using Old Testament temple language, both the actual building and the rituals of the priesthood serving there. The OT temple was the representation of the presence of God among his people. It was the place where man and God could meet through an elaborate system of rituals and sacrifices – which was a visual demonstration of both God’s justice and his mercy. How did you know that God was present among Israel? The presence of the temple was a powerful symbol that God is among his people.
It is not insignificant that when the people of Israel come under the judgment of God and are taken away into exile that the temple is destroyed – the presence of God is no longer in that land.
However all that the temple stood for and represented is fulfilled in Christ. He is the true presence of God among man – Emmanuel – God with us. He fulfils all the rituals of the sacrificial system – He is the Great High Priest who offers the once for all sacrifice for our sins. He himself is the spotless sacrifice, never to be repeated for the sins of the whole world. It is in his body that the justice and mercy of God meet as he bears the full brunt of the wrath of God as he in love lays down his own life, so that I may be forgiven, restored, healed.
That is perhaps assumed, but it is not Peter’s point here. Here Peter talks not about Christ’s fulfilment as about our inclusion. Christ’s work and sacrifice has as its goal our inclusion & our restoration.
We too like living stones are built into this new temple that God is building, with Christ as the cornerstone. We are being built into this new temple in order to continue the priestly function of Christ. We are those who in Christ mediate the presence and blessings of God to the world.
The problem with the old priesthood and temple? It was static! You had to go to a large building in Jerusalem in order to experience/see the presence of God. But now this new temple is built with living stones – it is a mobile temple – wherever you see the people of God living as the people of God – there is the presence of God. This temple is free to move and to go anywhere the Spirit of God leads us.
We are the presence of God in the world – demonstrating that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.
I am trying to capture the “big idea” of 1 Peter in a few succinct words or sentences to help clarify my thinking. I do not think the big idea says everything there is to say from 1 Peter but it is a useful exercise to try capture the heart of the book. What is the reason that Peter penned this letter to these scattered communities of Christians in Asia Minor.
“Do not surprised at the suffering you are experiencing this has always been the pattern of God’s Kingdom – suffering followed by glory. This is the heart of the gospel and the pattern of God’s story in which you rejoice to participate. Remembering the cross and anticipating the glory to come fills your lives together with a hope that frees you for a life of radical discipleship.”
Neither succinct nor pithy, thoughts, revisions, additions?
Peter writes to the Christians in Asia Minor instructing them that they ought not to be surprised when they experience gospel suffering.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 4v12-16
Earlier he writes: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (2v21) Christ is not only the author and the means of our salvation but his life demonstrates to us the pattern of gospel life – suffering followed by glory.
But now in 4:12-16 Peter seems to say something even more interesting: when we suffer for being Christians we participate in the trinitarian life of God. When we suffer for being Christians we “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (v13), “the Spirit of glory” rests on us (v14) and we bear the name of God (v16). When we suffer for the gospel it is a sign that our life is now caught up in the life and mission of the truine God. Thus when we begin with God as our reference point rather than our own comforts or preferences, to suffer for the gospel becomes an occasion for rejoicing, blessing and praise.
Extra: Themes of 1 Peter
Colin recently made so good comments about the Spirit in 1 Peter. So it sent me back to my whiteboard, my scribbles and my Bible to try make some sense of it…
1) 1 v10-12 “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”
The prophets spoke the gospel (“the suffering of the Messiah and the glories that would follow”) in advance through the Spirit of Christ in them.
2) 3v18-20 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive,he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.”
This is a very controversial verse, and its primary interpretative context must be the text of 1 Peter itself. In the flow of the book it seems to make sense to me (and I confess at this point I have done very little commentary work) to understand it in a similar vein to 1v10-12. Noah spoke the gospel in advance (3v18 is the immediate context) to the people of his day through the Spirit of Christ in him.
3) 1v12 “…the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.”
Those who preached the gospel (“the sufferings of the Christ and the glories that would follow” 1v11), did so by the Holy Spirit. This gospel is the fullness of God’s plan of redemption longed and searched for by the prophets and preached by Noah.
4) Christ himself is said to be “put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” And it is similar said of us that “this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead” that they may “live according to God in regard to the Spirit” (4v6). It is the Spirit who raises Jesus to life and who raises us to life and a living hope (1v3). We are raised for salvation and good work (1v2). Or put another way for reconciliation and restoration.
5) Finally in 4v14 Peter says “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” It is this same Spirit of Christ that rests on those who “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (4v13). It is through the Spirit of Christ that we participate in God’s Story (the suffering of Christ and the glories to be revealed in 4v13).
Summary: It is through the Spirit of Christ in/among us that we are called to participate in God’s great Story of redemption and reconciliation. Participation in God’s Story through the Spirit is participation in missional life and proclamation. That same Spirit who was at work in the life and words of the prophets (1v10-12), Noah (3v18-22), the apostles (1v12) is now at work in you. It is the same story, the same Christ at work and the same Spirit of mission that rests on you(4v12). The Spirit that has raised Christ to life (3v18) has given you a new life, a new identity (4v7; 2v9-10). Our new identity is to participate in the life and the mission of God’s Kingdom – through our lives together we (imperfectly) demonstrate the life of that Kingdom, a taste of the future, and through our words we speak of Christ, our rescuer and king (2v11-12; 3v15-16)
My co-worker in Intentional Encounters, Colin was recently in China with some of the unregistered family churches. He posted this comment on my “A Week in Woodstock” post. The comment has nothing much to do with Woodstock but it was such a challenge and an encouragement to me that I thought it deserved a post on its own.
“Stepping into China and living with the unregistered Churches is like stepping back into the first few centuries of the Church. China is powerful and controlling, offering religious freedom to those who belong to religions registered with the state and abiding by the state regulations laid down by a non believer. You are free to hold worship gatherings, but as long as it does not interfere with your patriotism to the state and it’s commitment to Marxist ideology and the teachings of Chairman Mao.
The unregistered churches choose to live as Chinese patriots, but with Jesus as Lord. They love their country and pray for its leaders while living constantly with the threat of being disliked for their commitment to the gospel and being reported to the police by a neighbour. They are forced to maintain good relations with their neighbours by serving them and loving them … while not shrinking back from leading them to the truth. No Sunday Christianity or a private faith, but public and missional by nature.
The baptism that took place yesterday was in full view of onlookers at a beach. They rejoiced publicly.
While teaching on 1 Peter one day, they stopped me in mid sentence and said, ‘now we must discuss’! They proceeded to plan how they could practice what they were hearing. Besides assisting the Pastor’s family to clean the 8 flights of steps in their apartment block as a way to serve his neighbours, they invited a non believing neighbour around for supper that night to introduce her to their Christian family and to present her with the message of God’s love in Christ.
Another evening included a Communist Party member whom they had never met before! They helped her with some advice about her wayward son and then had her reading the Bible (which she had never seen before). I was nervous! But two days later, she invited me and the others to lunch and let us say grace before eating.
It was like living in the Empire in one of those small household churches Peter was writing to … ‘you are a royal priesthood … a people belonging to God … that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness … Don’t be surprised when you face trials … as if something strange is happening to you … you participate in the sufferings of Christ … To this you were called … this is the true grace of God’.
I miss China and the vitality of simple church lived on the edge!”
This post represents the beginnings (so your comments, input and corrections are much valued!) of my musing to attempt to get to the “heart” of 1 Peter. What is it that caused Peter to take up “pen and paper” (“quill & parchment”?) to write this letter to this diverse group of Christians spread over a wide area of Asia Minor.
Fortunately for us, in this case Peter tells us…
“I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.” 5v12
What is this true grace of God?
4v12-13 strikes me as key in this argument
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
These verses give us some insight into the frame of mind of these Christians in Asia Minor. Even a cursory glance through this letter is enough for us to notice that suffering is the presenting context of the letter. Suffering, as always, produces doubts, questions and confusion in the minds of the sufferers. Peter responds by telling them not to be surprised – nothing strange is happening to you. The true grace of God is to participate in the sufferings of Christ.
Two further hints:
Peter twice uses the phrase to this you were called. This also is something of a hint as to both the mindset of the believers and that which Peter wishes to remind them in his letter.
2v12: “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
3v9 “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
Both verses speak about reactions to persecution and suffering. In short – do not be surprised because to this you were called to participate in the sufferings of Christ. Stand firm then, keep a clear mind, be self-controlled and alert (5v8-9), do good (2v11-12) and be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have (3v15).
What does it mean to participate in the sufferings of Christ?
To participate in the sufferings of Christ is to be caught up in the Story of God. It is to join with the sweeping story of what God has been doing throughout history, going to a climax at the cross and to a final culmination at the revealing of Christ. I think that this may also explain the proliferation of OT references & allusions throughout 1 Peter.
It seems fair to see both an objective element and an experiential element to the sufferings of Christ. It is both what the gospel does for us – the sufferings of Christ is what achieves our redemption (2v24) and gives us a new identity (2v9-10) and a new hope (1v3) (hence all the eschatological language). And what the gospel does in us – as that new identity as God’s new people, the “rejected-chosen”, is worked out as we do good & proclaim the reason for the hope we have (3v15-16) – we too share in the rejection of Christ as we are rejected and persecuted because of the gospel. Our lives together in this age are as those who are a first fruits, a foretaste and a sign as to what the end of the story will bring when God’s Kingdom will fully arrive and both see and experience his glory. (again explaining the future language).
In a sense we are caught up caught up in what God has always been doing. We join as his people on his great rescue mission of redemption and restoration. We join with the suffering God at work to bring about a people for himself and redeem His good world.
2 Final Thoughts:
1) 4v19 “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”
The people of God living as the people of God as a foretaste of the Kingdom of God convicts the world of their own lack of goodness and self-justification (3v13-16). There are two possible reactions to being “shown up”:
a) hostitility- anger – towards those who show them up. Experienced by Christians as suffering under unjust bosses (2v18), home (3v1-6) or by the government (v2v13-17).
b) submission to the reality of God’s Kingdom as imperfectly expressed by his “exiled” people. I find it interesting that suffering and submission are two fairly significant themes in 1 Peter.
2) 5v8-9 “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
How is it that the devil will devour the Christian? v9 seems to suggest that you resist him and stand firm in the faith by knowing that you are not alone in your suffering. In the context of these verses and the letter, does it make sense that the devil will devour the believer by encouraging him to resist the suffering that the gospel life brings.
I remember years ago hearing Dick Lucas suggest that each year you choose a book of the Bible for special attention. That you teach from it wherever possible, study it, read it, meditate on it, read about it… And hopefully as the year goes on you start to feel not only like you are getting a hold on the book but more importantly that the book is getting a hold on you…
In that light, my book of the year is… 1 Peter. Hopefully that will translate to some blogging as well.
Anyone have some good links or resources to recommend? Anyone done any good thinking themselves?
Anyone keen to read it with me, doing some community hermeneutics?