By this we are reminded that our Redeemer has erected in this world a kingdom, of which we are all a part. And our Lord has instituted a particular form of government for the proper maintenance of this kingdom.
We are not spiritual anarchists. None of us are permitted to go about on our own, doing what we think is right in our own eyes. We are to be governed by Christ, and that means we are to be ruled by those he has raised up among us as elders.
But what we have here is more than a simple endorsement of the Presbyterian system of church government. Peter lays out for us a number of things that we need to understand about elders. If we are going to be true Presbyterians, we need to have a few things set straight. The very first lesson regards the dignity of the office of elder.
I. The dignity of an elder
As I said, the passage starts out with Peter identifying himself as a “fellow elder.” I think that this is a glorious beginning to this section. You would think that, in addressing elders, he would just come out and play the authority card. He could have easily said, “Hey guys, I’m an apostle and this is the way it’s going to be.” But he doesn’t do that. He starts off by identifying himself as being on the same level.
By doing this he signifies to everyone that he shares the same spiritual role as those who would be common elders in the church.
In essence, he dignifies the office of elder. He invests it with a great deal of nobility—a nobility that we might not otherwise give it.
We might be tempted to put the office of elder in some disrepute. We could easily say, “Well, these guys are not apostles. So we don’t really need to give them that much credence.” But Peter puts all that to rest in identifying himself as one of that number. He lifts the office out of the mundane and common and reminds us that it is a lofty office in the church of God. It shares something of the apostolic authority.
Later we are going to talk about submitting to elders. But before you get to that, you need to start here. You need to grasp the fact that this office is no mundane thing. It is a monumental thing to be an elder in the church.
So that is where we begin. Do not disparage this office. Do not give it less credence than it deserves. It is apostolic in nature in that Christ has invested these men with a great deal of authority.
And that really brings us to the next thing we are to know about the elder, and the main point for which Peter writes. That is the duties of an elder.
II. The duties of an elder
The main words to focus in on are the words “shepherd the flock of God” and “exercising oversight.” These two phrases sum up the totality of an elder’s work within the congregation. Peter is talking about the pastoral care of a congregation. By using these terms Peter is reminding us that the elder’s job is the spiritual care of a congregation. He is to look after them and see to their spiritual welfare, just like a shepherd would tend to the physical welfare of his flock.
And what exactly does that look like? How does an elder “shepherd the flock of God?” Some of you might like to know what exactly “exercising oversight” entails.
First of all, it means faithfully teaching the congregation the truths of the faith. That is, of course, the primary way an elder shepherd’s the flock. He feeds them with the nutrients of the gospel. But don’t think for a minute that this is the extent of his work.
I think that is a common misnomer. We think that an elder teaches a bible study or two or preaches once a week, and maybe he’ll attend some meetings here and there. But that is by no means the extent of his duties.
The sad thing is that we have people becoming elders who think that’s all they have to do. And the church suffers exceedingly because of it. They don’t have a clue what it means to really exercise oversight of a congregation. If you think about it, that is not shepherding a congregation. You can’t exercise real oversight with that amount of contact with a congregation.
If you really want to nurture a congregation and help them grow as a church, there is so much more you need to do. For instance, an elder is to be visiting his flock in their homes. They have to pop in every once in a while and make sure that they are practicing Christianity in their homes.
The church my wife grew up in is excellent at this. The elders there have a regular rotation. Each week they pray for a specific family during the congregational prayer time. And when your name comes up for the congregational prayer, that means it is your turn to receive a visit from the pastor of the church and your designated elder. At some point they come to your house and begin to inquire after your spiritual well being. They will ask you about your devotions as a family and how those are going. They will take time to talk to each of the kids and ask them particulars regarding their walk with the Lord. Above all, they will share some scripture with the family to encourage them in their faith and spend some time praying for the family before they leave.
That’s part of and elder’s duty. If he is going to exercising oversight he’s got to be mingling with the sheep on a regular basis outside of Sunday worship.
Here’s another thing that elders need to be doing. They need to be going after their sheep when they stray. A shepherd isn’t supposed to let his sheep wander in and out of the pasture. He’s not supposed to sit idly by when a sheep skips out on the flock.
But that’s what a lot of elders do. It is almost as if they see themselves more as lifeguards at a pool than shepherds. A lifeguard will just watch people come and go. His job isn’t to chase them when they leave.
That is the job of an elder though. As a shepherd his is not to let his sheep act as if they were aimless and autonomous vagabonds. If they haven’t been in church for a couple of Sundays, you should at the very least receive a call from your elder saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed you haven’t been in worship for the last three Sunday’s. I’m just calling to see if everything is all right.”
I know one church that did this well. It was a church of over 500 members, but they kept diligent track of their members. They had those little pew pads, and every Sunday you had to fill out your pew pad to show that you were in attendance. And the secretary tallied them up each week. And if it was found that you missed 2-3 Sunday’s in a row, you would receive a letter. The congregation jokingly called that it was the “excommunication letter.” But it was a letter reminding them of their responsibility to worship the Lord and fellowship with the rest of the body. And if there came to be a pattern of absence, then you would receive a special call or visit from the elders. They would express concern for your spiritual well being and try to find out what was going on. They might end up rebuking you for your laziness or warning you of your lagging faith.
All in all, these elders took this very seriously. They sought to make sure that no one was going astray in that congregation, and if they were they went after them.
Now, I spent a lot of time explaining and illustrating these two concepts of “shepherding and exercising oversight.” But by going into specifics, you understand why Peter goes on to talk about an elder’s attitude. After you understand all that is entailed, you understand why Peter says, “do this willingly, and not as under compulsion…do it eagerly.” An elder can easily shy away from this kind of stuff. It is a lot to do.
And the other extreme is shot down too. All this power can go to one’s head. You can become controlling as an elder and you can end up lording it over your congregation. That’s why he says that an elder shouldn’t be domineering.
I’m not going to say much more than that. I think that those things speak for themselves. I think it is more important to spend the time we did outlining some of the specific duties of an elder as it pertains to oversight.
I hope that you find that profitable, especially as you consider the next generation of leaders in this congregation.
But now that we’ve talked about the dignity and the duties of an elder, let’s think about the elder’s destiny.
III. The destiny of an elder
Peter encourages the elders to execute these duties by pointing them to their future. One day, he says, Christ will come back. One day you will meet Christ face to face and, if you have been faithful in your work, you will receive a reward.
To be sure, there is a hint of a warning here. It is subtle, and should not overshadow the primary emphasis of blessing. But there is a slight reminder that elders will be held accountable for their actions if they mess up.
This warning if found in the term Chief Shepherd. Back in those days the main shepherd wasn’t always out and about with his flock. If he was well to do in the shepherding business, then he might hire a number of men to take care of the flock for him. So these men—these under shepherds—would take the sheep out to pasture. Of course, that might be a distance where they are gone for more than a day. And every once in a while the Chief Shepherd would come and check up on his under shepherds. And if anything had run amiss, then the hireling would have to pay the consequences.
Peter draws on that imagery here. And there is a hint of that “hey, you better make sure you are not shaking down the sheep or neglecting them any way.”
But the primary emphasis here is the happier side of things. There is that subtle warning, but the stress is put upon the reward that a faithful elder will receive. He says that when Christ comes, you will receive an unfading crown of glory.
Now, we don’t know exactly what kind of reward it will be. Peter is speaking metaphorically here. He’s using a comparison to the crowns that champion athletes would receive in their games. Back in those days athletes would receive a crown made out of leaves and branches for winning their specific competition. But in a matter of days, it would dry out and wither.
And Peter says you will be likewise rewarded, except yours will be much more glorious in nature. It will be something that lasts because it won’t fade or wither. You will have a blessing that has a much more lasting luster.
If you want to ask me whether or not it is a literal crown, I’ll tell you, “I don’t know.” Will there be people walking around heaven with special hats on their heads? I don’t know about that. I’m not sure we can press the metaphor very far. All we can say is that God has something glorious stored up for those under shepherds who have been diligently tending the flock.
What we can say is that this is an excellent motivation for you elders here, or for any prospective elders in our midst. Certainly that was something that motivated the Apostle Paul. At the end of his life, as he was reaching his final destiny, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, henceforth there is laid up for me a crown.”
IV. The distinction of an elder
In verse 5 Peter turns to address the congregation, particularly the young men in the congregations. He says, “you guys, you need to be subject to your elders.” Your elders have this distinction of deserving your respect. So obey them.
Now, there is a sense in which younger guys can be a little more bull headed. There is an inherent pride that lurks in the hearts of youth that says, “Don’t tell me what I must do.” And perhaps that is why they are singled out.
A number of years ago Pope John Paul came to America. I don’t remember exactly why he came, but I remember that one night there was a big event for catholic youth. It was almost like a Billy Graham rally. They rented out a stadium and they packed it full of young people. And Pope John Paul gave a special speech to these youth.
After the event one of the young people in attendance was interviewed by a TV news reporter who was on site. And, on national television, the kid said, “I don’t know who this guy is; thinking he can come in here and tell us how to live our lives.”
Come on! It’s the pope! To those of us who are protestants, this doesn’t mean anything. But for a Catholic kid to say this, that’s the epitome of disrespect.
As Protestants, we don’t regard the pope as a leader in the church. We know that it’s a blasphemous thing to call yourself the head of the church. But that kid is a good illustration of how young people can disregard their leaders. It is that spirit that Peter is speaking against here.
And if we are honest, we will admit that this is not something that is confined to young men. We all have a desire to cast off authority and live autonomous lives.
Peter even says as much. In the next part of the verse he says that all of us must “clothe ourselves with humility.” And then he adds that stinger, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
You know, you will not succeed in life if you do not submit to your elders. If you blow off your elders, it is equivalent to blowing off God. And if you want to align yourself against God, then you will find yourselves experiencing a great deal of frustration. He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
And I really want to press this point home. I really want you to understand this. It is a truth that so many in our day are not cognizant of, and there is a great deal of pain because of it. We live in this independent American cowboy culture. We are living the existentialist dream where we think that nobody should influence the way we act. We just do what we want to do. So what we have is a torrent of people dodging and disregarding anything their elders say.
It’s not often that it happens, but sometimes you actually have a body of faithful elders. And they come along and address an issue or perhaps they call you to repentance. They go out of their way to shepherd the flock of God, but the sheep just ignore it.
And if you are just such a sheep, then don’t be surprised when you find yourself falling into all sorts of ditches and experiencing all kinds of frustration.
Your elders have the distinction of being God’s agents of Christ’s love. As a result, they are to have the distinction of receiving your full obedience.
In sum, we must regard them as the under shepherds of Christ. They are men who Christ has set over us to lead us in the way that we are to go. They are given to us for our welfare. And the glorious promise is that if we do submit to them, we shall receive grace. God’s favor will overflow to us.
May that then be our aim and satisfaction. And may we all be the best Presbyterians we can be.
Our text for today (1 Peter 4:10-11) can be summed up in what someone once called “basin theology.”
Bruce Theilemann, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, told of a conversation he had with a parishioner in his congregation. This layman said, “You preachers talk a lot about giving, but when you get right down to it, it comes down to basin theology.’
Not ever having heard of it Theilemann asked, “What is basin theology?”
The man replied, “Remember what Pilate did when he had the chance to acquit Jesus? He called for a basin and washed his hands of the whole thing. But Jesus, the night before his death, called for a basin and proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples.”
After washing those feet Jesus said, “I have left you an example.” He took the form of a servant and he showed his followers exactly what they were called to do in this world. They were to focus their energies on serving one another.
And all of life is deciding which basin will we chose? Will we be like Pilate and cast Christ aside? Will we not care about who he is and what he has called us to do? Or will we plunge our hands into the basin of Christ? Will we follow him and reach down into the very lowest depths in order to assist those around us.
When we look into our passage this morning we find that Peter puts the later basin before us. Peter tells us that we need to be serving one another.
I know its not the most appealing thing. A servant’s life is not the least bit desirous. Serving others is of vital importance to the life of the church, especially in times of persecution. But even when times are smooth, it is necessary. Church cannot happen without it. This is part of the very warp and woof of what it means to be a church.
As we look at this passage this morning, the first thing we should notice is that we are commanded to serve.
I. We must serve because we are commanded to serve
In verse 10 Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” This, as you see, is nothing other than a divine mandate.
Verse 11 expands this command with a few examples to help you understand exactly how you are to serve. He says, “whoever speaks, as one who speaks the oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” In other words, do whatever you do with some vigor. It shouldn’t be like pulling teeth. You shouldn’t have to be coaxed into it or do it grudgingly. You should do it heartily. Do it with zeal and gusto.
What I want you to see is that this is not optional. This is an apostolic order. It is a divine decree that we are to obey. When it comes to life within this body, we are obligated to serve one another.
This is something that really needs to be brought out today. Many of us have been influenced by our consumer driven culture. So we pick our churches like we pick where we want to eat. We go to this church because it has a better package for us, and we can get more out of it. And if I don’t get much out of it, or if I feel the thrill is starting to wane, then I’m going to pick up and go somewhere else. So you have a lot of people who come to church and sit in their pew like they are pulling up at the drive through window at McDonalds. They are just waiting to be served.
But that is not what Christ commands us here. He does not allow us to cherry pick from the church. He tells us that we are to get into a local fellowship and get busy serving one another. If I might modify President Kennedy’s inauguration speech a little: We are not to ask what the church can do for us, but ask what we can do for the church.
This is one of the reasons why Christians throughout history have put a high priority on membership in a local church. This command can only be carried out in that kind of context. You cannot be a church hopper and fulfill this command. If you are always jumping from one church to another, you are never really in a position where you can do this. It is virtually impossible to connect with people on a deep level and pour yourself into them in any meaningful way.
As a matter of fact, in my denomination this is one of the things you profess in your membership vows. In the PCA, to become a member, you have to make a public profession of your faith before the congregation. And during that ceremony you are asked a number of questions and you make a covenant with the rest of the church. One of those questions goes like this, “Do you promise to support the church in its worship and work to the best of your ability?” In that question you must affirm that you will do everything within your power to support your brothers and sisters in the Lord. You pledge the full use of your gifts and graces to the brothers and sisters of that congregation.
Now you might not have had a formal ceremony here like we have in the PCA. But you still have that obligation. The word of God insists that you serve in some capacity. And it doesn’t matter how menial your service may be. That’s actually something that is brought out in the text here. The word “serve” literally means “to wait upon,” as in a servant. Servants often do menial tasks around the house. But they are necessary tasks. They are needed tasks. And God is saying to you that you need to do this. You need to direct your energies away from yourself and start serving one another, because God has commanded it.
But you’ll notice that we are not only commanded to serve, but we are equipped to serve.
II. We must serve because we are equipped to serve
In this passage Peter starts off by talking about our divine design. He says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.” Peter reminds us that God has made each of us in a unique way. He has given each of us a certain gift. Most likely, He has bestowed upon us various gifts! But the point is, when God made us he equipped us with the capacity to serve one another.
So serving one another is etched right into our very being. It is something that is supposed to come naturally to us. But due to sin clogging up our system, we don’t. Our natural inclination is to avoid other people or neglect our gifts.
I think that this is why Peter calls us “stewards of God’s varied grace.” He is reminding us that we are not sovereign over our gifts.
We often talk about right stewardship of our money. That means we are to use our money responsibly because it is not ultimately ours. We are only stewards of what God has given us.
The same is true when it comes to our gifts and talents. We don’t call the shots when it comes to whether or not we want to use them. Our gifts belong to God. And since he has entrusted them to us we are not allowed to squander them. Instead we must employ them for the mutual good of the church.
Some of you might have heard about the incident with the cruise liner about a month ago or so. There was a cruise ship that was out at sea and it was doing its cruise thing. There were lots of people on board, and they were all having a merry old time. But all of a sudden, the ship lurched as it ran aground. The captain had ordered the ship to veer off course on a superfluous little errand. As a result, a hole was punctured in the ship and it started to sink. You can imagine how frantic the passengers might have been as they were ordered into the lifeboats.
Thankfully the consequences were not as bad as they might otherwise have been. Almost all of the passengers were rescued. However, there were about 20 people who were killed. Of course, there is now a large ocean liner carcass laying in an Italian port.
But here is an instance where a man was not a good steward. The captain had been entrusted with that ship by the cruise line. They gave him that ship so that he could serve the passengers on board and give them a wonderful holiday. But he took some liberties with what had been given. He thought he could tool around the ocean in that ship all he wanted and do whatever he desired. As a result of his dereliction of duty he caused a great tragedy.
That is precisely what it is like when it comes to the church and the gifts God has given us. We have been suited out with many gifts, and we are to be using those gifts for the purpose of serving the church. When we do, we thrive and experience great joy. But when we don’t it is a tragedy. The church ends up experiencing a great deal of turmoil because it is not functioning as it should.
So I want to encourage you to remember that you are a steward of your gifts. If you are an organizer, then remember that God has given you that gift for a purpose. If you are one who is compassionate and likes to care for elderly people, then try to schedule a time where you can sit and talk with someone’s grandparents. If you have the gift of making boatloads of money, find ways to support people. Help them start a business or find a way to help people in the church adopt some children.
Whatever the case may be, just remember, God has equipped you to serve. And your gifts and graces are vitally important for the welfare of the church.
We need to serve. As we’ve seen, we are commanded to ser and we are equipped to serve. But I want you to notice that we are given some pretty good incentive to serve too.
III. We must serve because we are incentivized to serve
We are encouraged to serve because of what Peter says in verse 1.1 Peter says that the outcome of our serving one another will be that God is glorified. Then, as if just thinking about it causes him to well up, he bursts into a doxology, “To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The point is that something amazing happens when we minister to one another. There is a huge payoff: God is glorified. When use our gifts in service to one another, God is worshiped. As we serve one another it is almost as if we unite our voices in the adoration of his name.
And is that not the best incentive we can have?
I am almost tempted to say that Peter tries to bribe us here. It is like holding out candy to a little child and saying, “I’ll give you this chocolate bar if you obey me.” We all know what that is. It is bribery.
That’s almost what it seems like Peter is doing. Think about it. When you bribe a kid with a chocolate bar, you are trying to appeal to their deepest craving in order to get them to do something they might not otherwise do, right? You would never say, “If you sit and be quiet, I’ll give you this branch of the broccoli.” Of course not! That’s not going to persuade any kid. You have to appeal to their appetites. You have to give them something they really want.
And I believe that Peter is doing that very thing in this verse. He knows that you are not as inclined as you ought to be to serve one another. He knows that serving one another is a pain. So he pulls out a candy bar. He appeals to your greatest appetite.
If you are a Christian, then the thing you want most is the advancement of God’s honor. The one thing that you desire more than anything else is to see God glorified. So he says, if you go out of your way to serve one another, then guess what is going to happen? God will be praised!
So I just want to encourage you, as Peter does, to have your fill. Serve one another, and let God be praised.
At a private meeting of friends, on one occasion, George Whitefield, after referring to the difficulties attending the gospel ministry, said he was weary of the burdens of the day, and was glad that in a short time his work would be done, and he could depart to be with the Lord. All present owned to having the same feeling, with the exception of Mr. Tennant. On seeing this, Mr. Whitefield, tapping him on the knees, said, “Well, Brother Tennant, you are the oldest man among us; do you not rejoice to think that your time is so near at hand when you will be called home?” Mr. Tennant replied that he had no wish about it. Being pressed for something more definite, he added, “I have nothing to do with death. My business is to live as long as I can, and as well as I can, and serve my Master as faithfully as I can, until He shall think it proper to call me home.”
Here was a man who knew his lot in life. He knew that he was to be dedicated to the service of God. Retirement was the farthest thing from his mind.
This should be said of us as well. May we seek to serve as faithfully as we can until Christ should think it proper to call us home.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
You may remember that last week Mark spoke about verse 8 and its emphasis on love. That verse is worthy of our continued mediations. “Above all, keep on loving one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” That verse emphasizes the priority that love must play in our lives. It takes precedence over everything else. We may breeze over those characters as we read them, but they are some of the loftiest in all of Scripture: “Above all.”
We Reformed folks don’t typically think in these terms. We usually phrase it like this, “Above all, keep on pressing for perfection in doctrine.” Or we say something to that affect. “Above all, make sure that you get every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed when it comes to the five points of Calvinism or the doctrines of predestination.”
Now, you know me as a guy who likes heavy hitting doctrine. You know me as someone who puts a great emphasis on Reformed theology and the doctrine that is laid down in the Westminster Standards. But it is interesting that Peter doesn’t do that. He says that the thing that is to take the highest priority in our lives ought to be love.
For some of us, I think that is a sermon in and of itself. We could glean a lot from that if we spend the day meditating on its implications. But this morning, I want us to focus on verse 9, and on what it says. But it is important to see how verse 9 relates to verse 8. In most of our Bibles, there is a period at the end of verse 8, and verse 9 appears as a completely new sentence. But that is not the way the way it should be. Verse 9 is actually a continuation of verse 8. In all reality, it should read, “Above all, keep on loving one another from the heart, for love covers a multitude of sins, showing hospitality to one another, without grumbling.”
Why do I start this message with this little exegetical lesson? It’s because Peter here tells us that one of the chief ways we “keep on loving one another” is by this thing we call hospitality.
Peter wants you to understand that hospitality is not something that is ancillary to our faith. It isn’t something that is to rate down the charts for us or be an after thought. Peter is saying that love is to be our foremost aim in life, and hospitality is one of the chief ways we express this love.
So as we come to this passage, I want you to keep that in mind. For that will help you see how important this message is today. Hospitality is to be one of our defining traits as Christians. It is that important.
But I would assume, that if you are like most people, hospitality is not something you’ve thought much about. Or, if you are like me, you’ve thought a lot about hospitality, but don’t practice much.
We live in a day that there isn’t much interaction between people. We are a disconnected bunch. We don’t see a lot of people interacting on this kind of personal and intimate level.
But the Bible says that we need to interact on a level much deeper than what you can do on facebook. We need to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships. We need to really reach out and love one another. And the way we do that is through this thing we call hospitality.
And in this passage Peter shows us what is involved in true Christian hospitality. And this morning I want you to understand that God calls us show hospitality by opening our homes and opening our hearts.
As you think about hospitality, I want you to understand that true hospitality means doing something that is quite counter-cultural today. It means having an open house.
I. True hospitality means having an open house
Verse 9 starts off by saying, “Show hospitality to one another.” The Greek word here is rather interesting. It is a compound word. Literally it means “Love of strangers.” And what is the greatest way of loving a stranger? It is by having them into your home and making them feel welcome.
So Peter is essentially telling us not to treat each other as strangers. He’s saying we need to open our homes to one another and fellowship together in places that are more convenient (more conducive) than at our local churches.
Now, as we talk about hospitality and opening our homes, I do believe there can be two different ways to take this. On the one hand, this might be an urgent call to provide assistance to those who are being persecuted.
You can imagine what it would have been like in Peter’s day. They were being persecuted. So someone might be turned away from a job because they are a Christian. Or maybe you’ve were on the run. Maybe you are a real exile, and not just one in the spiritual sense of the term. Maybe you’ve had to flee your home or even your country. If that is the case, then you really are in need of some hospitality.
In this case, then, you need to open your house to this person. And as you open your home you need to see to their every need. It may mean providing just a place at the table for them. It may mean giving them a bed and clothes. As you open your house, you may need to open your wallet too in order secure further provisions or basic necessities.
We recognize that most of the time we don’t just give hand-outs to people. The Bible elsewhere states the principle: If you don’t work you don’t eat. When someone comes to us looking for a hand out, most of the time we don’t do it.
But there are extra-ordinary cases. There may be what we call extenuating circumstances. There might be a time, like this one, when a person is impoverished or has become destitute. It’s not that they are not willing to work. It’s just that they are not able to provide for themselves at this time. They have been stripped of all that they have or their personal estate has been severely diminished for their stance for Christ. And we need to be sensitive to that.
A good example of this is the time in England called “The Great Ejection.” During the Reformation the King of England passed a piece of legislation called “Act of Uniformity.” The Book of Prayer that was used by the Anglican Church was imposed upon all the churches of England. They wanted “Uniformity” in all the churches. But a lot of protestant ministers found this offensive. They wouldn’t compromise their Presbyterian and reformed beliefs, and conform to anyone other than Christ. As a result they were ejected from their churches. (And, btw, if you didn’t conform, there were severe penalties. You would be stripped of all your wages and you would spend at least 6 months in prison.)
Over 2000 ministers lost their jobs that day. They were at the mercy of Christ, and they were wholly dependent upon the hospitality of other believers for a while.
I mention this because it is something that may be very relevant to us today. We could easily see this happening in our day. Perhaps even in the near future. Maybe one of you would be so bold as not to conform to the “uniformity act” of our day. I don’t know much about it, but there is talk of mandating coverage for abortions and abortifacient drugs. The Humanistic church of the humanistic faith is pressing for uniformity in the land.
As Christians, we cannot submit ourselves to that kind of thing. So we’ll have to stand up. But standing up might mean that we are kicked out. That’s when the rest of us would need to sacrifice for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We would have to show some real hospitality in that kind of thing ever happened.
I wonder, would you be able to do that? Would you be able to have another family stay with you for a couple days? A couple weeks? Maybe even a couple months until they are able to get back on their feet? I bet for some of you that would be a real stretch. But that is what the Lord commands us to do.
Now, that is an example of the most basic form of hospitality. That’s what we might call the urgent care kind of hospitality.
But there is another form of hospitality, and I would assume that this is the one that is most familiar to us. It is simply having other people into our homes and hosting them for an evening.
Peter might be talking about this form of hospitality. It is not altogether clear from the text. But this may be what he intends. After all, what do people who are facing persecution need most? Isn’t our greatest need during those times the regular fellowship and encouragement that comes from spending time with one another?
But even if you are not being persecuted—let’s say that you just live each day in the world, there’s nothing better than spending time with other brothers and sisters in Christ? The fellowship you have, the communion you share, has a revitalizing effect upon you.
That might be what Peter intends. And certainly that’s something we need to take to heart. We need to open our homes to one another. Especialy us too! We are a church that is rather spread out. We need this so that we can develop deep and meaningful relationships.
And this is where I really want to challenge you all. I want to challenge you to have an open door policy. Really I want you to be intentional about having people into your homes. There is no better way to increase the unity of our church than being in the confines of each other’s homes. There’s no better way to facilitate the care and mutual encouragement that is supposed to go on within the body of Christ than in some good old fashioned hospitality.
And before we go on to the next point, let me give you a quick tip on how to do this.
The first thing you do is invite someone over. Then, once you’ve secured that, you go over to the Save a Lot and you pick up some Oscar Miejer Weiners. When your company comes over, you put them in the microwave for about a minute. Or if you really want to do it up, put them on the grill until they are just starting to bubble and blacken.
The point is that you don’t have to pull a Martha Stewart to show hospitality. You don’t have to pull out the fine china. I’ve found that the more laid back it is the better. Yes, it’s wonderful to shower them with your best. Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes that’s overkill, and sometimes the pomp of it all can be what keeps you from doing it. It gets to be a hassle and you don’t end up doing it.
What is more important than how fancy the place setting is is that your home is open to them—and that they know your heart is open to them as well.
And that is what brings us to our next point. I do want you to understand that that is the real focus of our text. Hospitality is not so much about having an open house as it is having an open heart.
II. True hospitality means having an open heart
You’ll notice that Peter doesn’t just command you to open your house and show hospitality. He says you need to do it “without grumbling.”
And by this extra qualifier we understand that Peter doesn’t just want a raw, outward obedience. He’s addressing a deeper issue. He’s addressing your heart. He understands that hospitality can operate on two different levels. Someone can come into your house, but they may never be truly welcomed there because your heart is not open to them.
You might not have wanted to have them over, and the only reason you are doing it is because you know you are supposed to be hospitable. And so you play host. You go through the motions. You smile and do the whole Martha Stewart thing, but in your heart you’re saying, “Please leave.”
Let’s admit it: Hospitality is not an easy thing. Hospitality means that someone is impinging on you. They are taking time from you that could be dedicated to something else. The cooking, the cleaning, the conversing, you expend a lot of energy when you extend hospitality. And that can be a hassle, and it can make you rather grumpy.
I actually like the Greek word here. It’s goggusmon. As I was studying, I wondered if goggusmon is onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeia is when your word sounds like the word or action for which it stands. Like “spit.” If you say spit right, the person you are talking to should wipe something off of their face. I wonder if goggusmon is onomatopoeia. It sounds like someone grumbling, doesn’t it? “Goggusmon!” You can kind of picture someone throwing down their pots and pans in frustration and saying, “Goggusmon!” Or maybe while they are stirring the soup you hear them murmuring under their breath, “gogusmon.”
I don’t know if it is really onomatopoeia or not. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the meaning of the word, and that is quite clear. It has to do with your attitude towards those whom you show hospitality. And the point is that there shouldn’t be any complaining that accompanies it.
As I was preparing this message I began by having a slightly different outline. I had originally said that true hospitality means having an open house and a closed mouth. That went with the whole grumbling thing. Just think of some of the things you could say:
Your husband asks you if you could have the Jones’ over after church. But you say, “The Jones’! Why them? They always stay so long!” Or, “I don’t want to have them over, their kids are out of control.”
Or maybe its all the preparations that go into having someone over. The cleaning of the house, the fixing of the food, and so forth. Or it’s the fact that you know God has commanded you to do this, but you don’t really want to do it. And you just get downright touchy about it, “I don’t want to do this!”
And it is true; you might need to keep your mouth closed. But as I thought about it more, it is more than just having a closed mouth. Grumbling and complaining so many times can be expressed without words. A heavy sigh, rolling of the eyes, or simply the thoughts that go through your mind.
That’s why I changed it. When Peter says that this is to be done without grumbling, he’s really going deeper than just your outward expressions. He’s talking about your inward disposition. And he’s saying, when it comes to hospitality, your heart to be just as receptive as your house is. You need to put your personal problems aside—get your mind off of yourself, and begin to open your heart to these other people.
Mrs. Roney paused from her chores to answer the girl. The girl was concerned that Mrs. Roney was doing too much. She already had enough troubles of her own. Now she was attempting to care for a sick neighbor too. Mrs. Roney responded by saying, “Your heart is never so full of its own worries that you can’t crowd in a little care for other folks. If you crowd it so full that some of your own worries get crowded out, there isn’t any great loss.”
She continued by posing a question to the girl, “Have you ever noticed that when you are walking along the road, it isn’t the empty handed people who are lending you a hand? It is always those who have burdens themselves that help you carry your load.”
That’s the essence of hospitality, my friends. It’s about the state of your home as it is the state of your heart. True hospitality is about crowding out your own cares, while crowding in the cares of others.
And if you are ever tempted to skip out on showing hospitality or to grumble about hospitality, I want you to remember where you are right now. Think about the fact that you have opportunity to sit here this morning and enjoy the Lord’s hospitality. Do you know that every Lord’s day our God opens his house to you? This isn’t just any old assembly. This is a sacred time where the Lord Jesus draws us into his presence. Sometimes we may even say that we are going to the house of the Lord. And when we say that we know we are not talking about the building or structure that we meet in. We know God doesn’t live in houses made by hands. But as we gather together each week for worship, we come into the holy presence of God and, in a spiritual sense, we are taken up to the Lord.
What’s more, each week our Lord spreads a table for us to feed us and strengthen us. We have an opportunity to come and celebrate the Lord’s Supper here at the communion table. And every week the Lord is happy to host us. He never grumbles or complains, though he has every right to. He could say, “By gum, here come those little sinners again. All they do is profane my house and irritate me to no end with their lack of reverence and disrespect.
No. Our Lord doesn't do that. He gladly welcomes us through the blood of Christ and he rejoices over us with singing. He loves to sup with us while we take communion together. He loves showing us hospitality
And my friends, we need to remember that as we seek to do what the Lord commands here. He doesn’t just tell us to do show hospitality, he shows us how. And that he does should make us more than willing to do what he says.
I like to tell people, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters; it is the size of the fight in the dog.” In competitive sports, what determines the outcome is never one’s physical makeup. It is always the determination that lies within that makes the difference. You could be the scrawniest fellow on the court, or the puniest mite on the field, but if your heart and mind are determined to overcome, then there is a good chance that you will.
I say this because what is true in sports (or in dog fights, for that matter) is also true when it comes to our faith. The book of first Peter is about suffering. And as we have looked at these passages of sacred texted, we’ve come to remember that we in a rivalry with the world. And in this rivalry we are often outmatched. I might say that most of the time the opposition we face is much greater in size and force.
Yet no matter how great the antagonism of our peers may be or how intense pressure from civil authorities may get, we must always remember that it is not the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog.
You will notice in our passage that Peter speaks to this effect. In the first verse he says, “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” He uses military language here. Soldiers going to war arm themselves with weaponry before they engage. But Peter says, it is not swords or guns that we take up. We are to arm ourselves with the right frame of mind. It is what is in our hearts that really matters.
Peter says that we are to equip ourselves with the same resolution Christ had when he walked this earth. Christ would not turn to the right or to the left. It did not matter how great the onslaught was, He was determined to serve his Heavenly Father all his days.
And this is what we are to do. We must be resolute in following Christ, no matter the opposition we may face.
And Peter says we can have this sort of resolution because we know Christ as our Sovereign, our Savior, and our Judge.
I had us start today by backing up to chapter three. I needed to do that because verse 17 contains a very important point. It is subtle, but poignant. It tells us that Christ is our sovereign.
I. Because Christ is our sovereign [3:17]
It says, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
I want you to take note of those words, “If it be God’s will.” With these words Peter reminds us that our God sovereignly governs all things. He reminds us that He determines the course of history.
And that’s important for us to remember: Nothing in this world happens by chance; not even our oppression. Everything that happens happens because God wills it. He ordains it. He plans it. He chooses to have things pan out in a certain way.
And from these words we understand that God’s providential care of you even includes the evil acts of men. You need to know that our persecutors can do nothing to us, unless God permits it. They can do nothing to us, until God gives the say so. Yet, even as they carry out their cruel plans against us—even if they should put the sword to our throats, God is not absent. He is sovereignty acting in the best interests of His glory and His church.
I love this little line because it just puts everything into perspective. It reminds us that though things might seem crazy all around us—even if things seem to be out of our control, God is still in control. And recognizing this is key to maintaining a strong resolve in the face of those dire circumstances.
This has certainly always been the case. Knowing that there is a God in heaven who imposes his will on creation has always been what makes men bold. This was certainly the case for the early American founder Patrick Henry. In his famous speech, Give me Liberty or Give me Death, Patrick Henry sought to rouse the magistrates of Virginia. He called them to engage the tyranny of the King of England. Amidst that speech he invoked the providential workings of God. He said, “Besides, we will not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.”
What gave Patrick Henry the confidence to oppose his foes? What throttled Virginia’s resolve to stand firm in her liberty? It was the knowledge that God was a sovereign God.
If this be true for the work of nations, how much more will it be true for the church of God. The Lord has his eyes upon all the affairs of the world. But it is his church that he has that particular affection for. And if persecution comes to you, you must understand that it is only because God has permitted it.
You can take comfort in that, just as our Lord Jesus did. Peter here is simply echoing what Jesus himself said on the last night of his life. You may remember that on that sorrow filled night Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he was overcome by the thoughts of pain that were to torment him through the night and into the next day. He was so overcome that the blood vessels broke causing his skin to seep blood. In that extremity of soul he prayed ever so intensely, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thy will be done.”
Christ’s only comfort in those moments was the sovereign will of his heavenly father. The only thing that he took solace in was that His Father had so ordered this course of events. And with the recollection of the finer points of God’s decree, He could get up off his knees and face that rabble who came to arrest him.
And that is your comfort too my friends. Let the truth of our God’s eternal rule be that which gives you the same sort of resolve. May you have the mind of Christ because you know him as your sovereign.
But not only do you know him as sovereign, you also know him as Savior. And this should help you too in your time of oppression.
II. Because Christ is our savior [4:1-3]
When we think about Christ saving us from sin, it should move us to be more courageous. It should give us more fortitude to face our opposition and stand strong in the faith. Peter recognizes this too. For in the first part of chapter 4 he reminds that Christ is your Savior. He is the one who saves you from sin’s penalty, power, and presence.
In verse one we see him reminding us once again of Christ’s atonement. He says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” We’re pointed again to the fact that Christ went to the cross. He dealt with the penalty that was due to us for sin in his own body.
This is a theme Peter just can’t get away from. We talked about it last week when we looked at verse 18, where Peter said, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” We’ll talk about it again towards the end of chapter 4.
Peter just can’t get away from this topic. And we shouldn’t, really. It should be that consuming topic for us. When we remember the cross, our hearts should swell with gratitude. When we see Christ dying for us, we should be moved to do the same for him.
But Christ not only saves us from sin’s penalty, he also saves us from sin’s power.
Look at that first verse again. It goes on to say, “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.”
What is Peter saying here? He’s talking about the power sin had over us prior to our faith in Christ. Sin used to be the governing force of our lives. It dominated us. It was what directed our lives. But things have been different since we came to faith in Christ. Sin is no longer what governs our lives. Its power has been broken. The Holy Spirit came in and overthrown sin and He took the throne of our hearts. So we no longer are governed by the sinful nature, but by Christ.
I spoke with my prison students about this just this week. I told them to imagine a country that has a cruel tyrant as its leader. Imagine a country like North Korea with a dictator like Kim Jong Il or his son. Now you’ve been commissioned to go in and take him out. You get him lined up in your scope and you pull the trigger. As soon as you do, he goes down. At that moment the country is a free country. It is no longer dominated by the tyrant any longer. It is under a different rule.
It might take a while for the country to shape up. There are no doubt a lot of devoted communists who are still out there. But a definite change has taken place. The country no longer is under the oppressive forces of communism. It is freed from it and a new life has begun.
The same is true for us as Christians. We have ceased from sin in that it is no longer the ruler of our lives. Christ has come in and taken him out. And though it will be a long time until all the vestiges of sin are cleaned up, there has been a definitive break. We now live for Christ.
That’s why Peter can say what he does in verse 3. Look at it. It says, “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, etc.”
Peter’s just elaborating on the fact that Christ is our savior. Just as Jesus saves us from sin’s penalty and power, so too does he saves us from its presence.
Peter essentially tells you to look back over your life. Think about all the time you wasted in sin before you met Jesus. Now he says, “Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that disgust you?”
Some of you have the privilege of never having known a day that Christ was not your savior. That is wonderful! But some of us don’t have that privilege. Some of us look back and remember that there was a time where we were not in Christ. And there is a portion of our life that was wasted. Sin filled our lives. Its presence was everywhere.
I know that when I get caught in those thoughts, I get a little saddened. I regret that I did the things that I did. I get frustrated that I lived that way and talked that way.
Thankfully Christ has saved us from continuing down that path. At some point Christ came along and started taking us in a new direction. Praise God for that. Praise God that he saved us from that life of sin.
But there you have it. Peter summarizes the saving work of Christ in 3 verses. And as he points you to what Christ has done on your behalf, he essentially points out what you need to do. If Christ has saved you from sin, how can you turn your back on him? When we remember that he gave his life to save us from the bondage of sin, it ought to fuel our fire for him.
The old hymn should always ring true: Onward Christian soldier, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
But we march on for Christ, not just because he is our savior and our sovereign, but because he is our judge too.
III. Because Christ is our judge [4:4-6]
That’s what Peter gets at in verses 4-6. Look at verse 4 with me. It says, “With respect to this [i.e. your former sins] 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.”
One of the things that will keep us resolute in our walk with Christ is the fact that one day men and women will have to give an account of their lives to Christ. One day we will all have to stand before the judgment bar of Christ. And on that day those who have not looked to Christ as Savior will meet him as their Judge. At that moment they will be held accountable for their actions. They will hear the clacking of the gavel as Jesus announces their sentence.
This is why we have no desire to waffle on the issue. We don’t want to join in those wicked ways or go back to our old way of living because we don’t want to be the ones who are found cast into hell. It is much better to suffer here a little while for believing in Christ than to suffer for all eternity for not having believed in him.
A while back I worked at a factory. It was an assembly position, and I was in charge of putting a certain product together. Once I put the components on the plate, I would wire them together. But you know, there were times when I wanted to take short cuts. Maybe it was late on a Friday afternoon when I really wanted to get out of there. I might have had a stripped bolt or perhaps a wire might not be in as tightly as it should. Whatever it was, I would be tempted to just do a sloppy job. But I rarely ever did that. I don’t think that I purposefully did so, anyway. I always tried to make sure that I did the job right. That’s because I knew that my work would always be checked. Before it could be shipped, the quality control guy had to perform a test on it. If sloppy work was submitted to him, then it would be judged a failure and sent back.
That’s sort of what Peter is talking about. The only difference is that after Christ judges, there are no second chances. But that is why we must remain resolute in our faith despite opposition. We know that there is going to be someone at the end who will look over our deeds and render his decision about them.
Verse 6 re-emphasizes the point made in verse 5. It reminds us that we do not have to face the Judge like this because Christ has taken the judgment for us. He starts by saying, “This is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead.” He’s talking about Christians who had recently passed away. They heard the gospel preached to them, but they have since died. He says, “Though they’ve been judged in the flesh the way people are (again, though they’ve died), they will live in the spirit the way God does.” That is to say, they will live eternally with Christ because of that gospel. As we said earlier, their judgment has already passed.
So he comforts us again with yet another reminder of the saving work of Christ. But here it is to be understood that Christ is a judge. He will not let sins just slip past. Either they must be judged in the cross or they must be judged in the sinner himself. And since he will judge men on the last day, we find every reason to maintain our course.
I might add here that this is also an invitation to you to embrace Christ as your savior if you have not done so. The gospel is that Christ is the Savior of sinners, and you do not have to face judgment if you receive him. I understand that it might not be an easy thing to do. You might suffer for it. But, as Peter says, it is better to suffer here on earth for a little while, than to do so in the life to come.
During the Huganot persecutions in Southern France, a young girl was imprisoned in the tower at Aigues Mortes. She could have been released any day, simply by renouncing her faith, which through many years she refused to do. It was discovered later that she had chiseled into the stone of her prison the word “Resistez!”
The determination that this girl evidenced exemplifies what Peter calls us to. What was chiseled upon that wall was chiseled upon her heart as well. She would not give up on her Savior. She was resolute in tenaciously clinging to her Sovereign Lord. No matter what the earthly judges threatened, no matter how tempting the thought of freedom was, she feared the Judge of all the earth more.
May it be that we are armed with the same mind. May we resist the world and endure our sufferings for the sake of Christ.
Miller, Donald G., On This Rock: A Commentary on 1 Peter. Pickwick Publications (Allison Park, PA 1993).
This is one of those passages that seems to give you more questions than answers. One minister I consulted said that in these five verses there are seven major interpretive challenges.
1.What does it mean that Jesus was “made alive in the spirit”?
2.Who are the spirits now in prison?
3.Where is this prison?
4.Where did Jesus preach to these spirits?
5.What did he preach to them?
6.How does Baptism now save you?
7.What does it mean to “appeal to God for a good conscience?”
I don’t know if I will be able to answer all those questions or any others that you may have rising from the text. I hope to do my best though. I’m certainly going try and accurately express what the Lord is saying here. And it is important that we do grasp what is here because this passage is all about one of the most important subjects in the whole Bible. It’s all about how sinners like us are reconciled to God.
You see, the people to whom Peter needed to be given some reassurance regarding their salvation. We’ve been talking about suffering. We’ve been looking at how we are strangers and outcasts in the world. And when the going gets rough, the owies can make you want to quit. Peter understood that. So in this passage he attempts to reassure his readers that the only way to avert God’s wrath and curse is through Christ.
I think this is something that is good for us to hear too, especially you young people. A lot of young people today are abandoning the faith. They are just dropping it because they don’t see the use of it. But I want to make sure you guys know that eternal life is found no where else.
How can you be sure that Christ is the only way to escape God’s wrath? Well, the only thing I can say is look to Christ himself. That’s essentially what Peter directs you to do. Peter points you to the cross, the words he preached, and the sacrament he instituted.
If you want to know how to avert God’s wrath, the best thing to do is to consider the death that Jesus died.
I. The death Jesus died 
That’s the first thing Peter does. In verse 18 he says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.”
In this verse Peter tells says that Jesus died a vicarious death. That is to say, he died as a substitute. The word vicarious just means “substitute.”
Sometimes you will hear it said about a particular father that he is living vicariously through his kid. As his kid plays sports the father gets way too involved and starts pushing the kid to do more and more. Maybe he shouts too much at the games and yells at the referee all the time. When we say he’s living vicariously through his kid, we mean that he is trying to live his sports dreams through his kid. In other words, his kid’s sports become a substitute for his own.
Here Peter says that the righteous one, Jesus, suffered for (or in the place of) the unrighteous ones, that is us. So we are to understand that our salvation is complete. We do not have to fear the judgment of God because Jesus took it upon himself when he died on the cross.
So let me make sure you understand this: Those nails that pinned Christ to Calvary were supposed to be driven through you. You were the one who offended God. You were the one who was supposed to have died. Christ never did anything to deserve death. But there on Golgotha he stood in your place.
Now, there are a lot of delusions out there when it comes to this notion of the death of Jesus. They just don’t get it. Some people say that Jesus died just to show how great his love for us really is. But that’s the silliest thing in the world. If you were sitting on the beach and someone came running down the pier screaming, “I LOVE YOOOUUUUU!” and jumped in the water and drowned himself, would you say that is love? Of course not.
Maybe you can try this sometime when you are out on a date with your significant other. You can say, “Honey, do you know how much I love you? I love you so much I’m going to shoot myself.” Oooo! That’s really pouring on the romance!
Really though. That’s not what is happening on the cross at all. Jesus isn’t just showing you his love. He’s dying in your place. Yes, he is showing his love for you. But he is showing that love in that he pushes you out of the way and takes upon himself the full measure of God’s wrath that was due to you for your sin.
And please understand how important this is. This notion of a vicarious death is very important because it shows us how God’s wrath is satisfied. Now, because of what Christ has done, you can have communion with God. You can have eternal life because the debt that you owe has been paid. The red hot anger of God has been appeased because it was all consumed in the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
You need not fear God’s wrath because of the death that he died. The proof is in his vicarious atonement. But if you need more assurance that God’s wrath is averted through Christ, you can look at the message he preached.
II. The message Jesus preached [19-20]
In verses 19-20 we see Jesus as a preacher. He fulfills his role as a prophet as he preaches to those spirits who are in prison.
Now if you would bear with me a bit. This part of the passage is a bit tough to wade through. I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to spare you the alternative interpretations. If you want them, you can find them in any good study Bible. I’m going to spare some time and give you what I think is the right interpretation. [Before I do I’ll just say that my interpretation is in keeping with many other major interpreters.]
With that said, let’s jump into it. Again, in verse 19 it says that Jesus went and preached to the spirits in prison. Now, the question is who are the spirits and what is the prison? I suggest to you that the spirits were the unbelieving people who existed back in Noah’s day. And the prison is hell. So he’s saying, all those people back in Noah’s day are now in hell. They were destroyed by the flood. They were swept off the face of the planet, and they are now forever consigned to their place of doom.
Are we good on that? Ok. Now we can move on to our second set of questions, which are probably a little more difficult: Where and when did Jesus preach to them? I suggest that it isn’t that Jesus went down into hell after he died and preached, as some believe. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus’ spirit went directly to heaven after he passed away. In the gospel of Luke, you remember that Jesus said to the theif on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” So Jesus could not have gone into hell and preached to these souls.
The construction of this sentence should be taken to mean that Jesus preached back in the days of Noah. The spirit of Jesus was active back at the time of the flood. While Noah lived Christ preached through him. Over in 2 Peter Noah is called a “preacher of righteousness.” So we have some confirmation on this.
Think about it this way: over the 65-75 years Noah spent building his boat he would have plenty of opportunities presented to answer the question, “Hey Noah, whatcha doing?” His response could only evoke a sermon, “I’m building a boat.” “Whatchya doing that for?” “It’s going to rain.” And you can see Noah pleading with people to repent and find their refuge in God.
But what does our text say? It says that the people to whom Noah spoke “did not obey” while God was expressing his patience. The whole time the ark was being built God was holding out his mercy. He was giving them the opportunity to turn from their wicked ways. But no. They wouldn’t do it. So, in the end, only eight persons, as is says, “were brought safely through the water.”
This is extremely tragic. Here was Christ making his appeal, but nearly no one listened. Yet, on the other hand, there is something wildly glorious. The glorious thing about this is that those eight people who did heed the message did survive! God was true to his promise. Those that heard the word of God and put their faith in it, those were the ones who were given the opportunity to live. Death could have swallowed them up, but it didn’t because they put their faith in what God had said, and they entered the boat.
And though this happened a long, long time ago, it has a lesson for us today. For I’m standing here today doing the same thing that Noah did. I’m telling you that there is a flood on the horizon! Not a flood of water, but a flood of fire. God has promised that he will judge the world someday. The Bible tells us that one day Jesus Christ is going to come again. And when he does there will be another world-wide cleansing. All the unbelieving people are going to be judged and they will be wiped from the face of the planet.
That is why you need to listen to the words Christ is preaching to you today. Jesus is here announcing the same message that he did in Noah’s day. He’s telling you that the only way you can survive the flood of fire and judgment is by repenting of your unbelief. Jesus says, “If you want to live, you need to turn from your sins and come to me.” He is calling to you now to do that. You may be hearing the tones of my voice, but the words are those of Christ. And he is telling you that there is only one way to escape the coming wrath. It is only through faith in him. No other god will save you. No other way will provide any sort of safety. Only by taking refuge in the death that he died will you be safe when he comes again in judgment.
And that is the essence of what we find in the sacrament of Baptism too.
III. The sacrament Jesus instituted [21-22]
In verse 21 Peter says, “Baptism, which corresponds to this salvation of Noah, saves you.”
Ok. Let’s pause there. What does that mean? Is Peter teaching Baptismal regeneration? Of course not. We have to keep in mind that the sacraments are signs that point to other realities. And sometimes the sign and the thing signified are so closely identified that they are used interchangeably.
Let me give you a different example. Let’s switch sacraments for a second. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper he held up the bread and said, “This is my body.” Do we believe that the bread is actually the body of Christ? No. We believe that Jesus is speaking metaphorically. Here is a symbol. It represents his body. But we can speak of the symbol as if it was the real thing.
The same is done in this passage of 1 Peter regarding baptism. Baptism saves you in that the reality to which baptism points is effectual in its working. Baptism symbolizes the new life that comes through the Spirit. Our old life dies with Christ. The lifeless sinful nature falls away, even as dirt washes away with water. And we are raised with Christ to live for him.
The rest of the passage brings out this triumph as well. It talks about the resurrection and ascension of Christ and his being at the right hand of God, over and above all angels and powers.
Christ was not able to be kept in the grave. So you too, being united with him, will not be left in the dungeon of death. Christ has triumphed over sin, death and the grave.
That’s what your baptism points to. And that is why he can say “Baptism saves you.”
Now what should you take away from this? Take from it the assurance that your baptism brings. Your baptism is there to be a means of grace to you. It serves as a reminder of what Christ has done on your behalf. It is there to assure you that Christ is a sure savior.
Your baptism isn’t just something that happened in the past. You are supposed to meditate on the significance of it. As it says in this passage, it is not about washing dirt off your skin. It is there to remind you of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. It is to remind you of what faith can do. That’s what this passage means when it talks about this “appeal to God for a good conscience.” By faith you look to God for the removal of your guilt and shame. And your baptism reminds you that Christ does that for those who put their faith in him.
So, if you are struggling with assurance today—and that is a common thing. Many Christians struggle with having an assurance of their salvation. Its quite common. I mean, here we are, we talk about how sinful we are. And if you even gain a glimpse at how sinful you are, yes, it can be hard to think that God accepts you. And if you are concentrating on your faith, it’s the same thing. We have faith that is very small sometimes. Sometimes that faith doesn’t even seem to be recognizable it is so small. And you can question if you are really saved.
But if that’s the case, just remember what Christ is saying in this passage. Look back at your baptism. Remember the significance of it. Remember why Christ instituted this sacrament. It is there to confirm the abundant grace of God. It is to be that memorial that reminds you that God’s judgment is averted in Christ. God, by His Holy Spirit, washes all your sins away.
As I said before, Peter’s only goal in this passage is to point you to Christ. His one aim has been to remind you that Christ alone is your assurance when it comes to averting God’s wrath. I hope that I have accurately done that for you today. It is my hope that in looking to Christ's death, hearing his preaching, and remembering his sacrament that you know that Christ is the all sufficient savior.
At the very beginning of the semester I told them that they were wonderful god-fearing kids because they were taking my speech class. Just by virtue of their sitting in those chairs God was taking great delight in them. They thought I was a little looney at first, but they came around quickly. Once I told them that my class was mandated by God, they began to understand.
You might think that it’s a little pompous to say that. But as you think about the verses of Scripture that are before us today I hope that you’ll see what I mean. In this passage we find the Biblical mandate for the discipline of rhetoric, or what we typically call public speaking.
The passage says that we must be ready “to give a defense for the hope that is within us.” In other words, we have to be ready to publicly articulate our faith at the drop of a hat.
You see, there may be times in our lives when we are faced with gospel opportunities. At some point in your life you might be in a position where you are confronted about your faith. Someone may ask you a serious question about what you believe. Or you may find yourself having to give a public testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when that time comes, the Bible says that you need to be able to articulate a sound response.
So what this passage is telling us is that we need to have gospel eloquence. We need to be people who are able to communicate to other people what we believe in a coherent way and without a great deal of jibber jabber that’s going to destroy the opportunity.
And if you are going to be ready to do this, you need to do some time to get ready. You need to spend some time preparing for this confrontation. And that is why I said that my speech class was mandated by God. In that class I helped these young people to prepare by giving them some instruction on the key principles of public speaking.
But I want you to understand that what I’m saying here isn’t just a really bad plug for my speech classes. This has a great deal of significance for you too. Each of you must be ready for such situations as well. You may one day be in a position where you need to demonstrate some gospel eloquence. It may even be in a conversation this afternoon. So there’s no time to waste in getting ready.
So what I want to do is give you a crash course in public speaking. Today, you are going to sit in on Mr. Timmons’ Speech class, and we are going to listen to what Peter tells us we must to do to prepare for these conversations.
Peter says that if we are going to be ready for this confrontation with the world we must prepare. And there are 3 things we need to prepare. We must prepare our attitude, our answer, and our approach.
The first thing we must do is prepare our personal disposition. I’m talking about getting our attitudes in order.
I. Prepare our attitude [14b-15a]
That’s what Peter deals with in the latter half of verse 14 and on into verse 15. He says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”
You’ll notice that there’s two parts to this. There’s your attitude towards your fellow man, and there’s your attitude towards the Lord. When it comes to your attitude towards mankind, Peter says, “have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
When you have to stand up and face the world, that can be a pretty intimidating thing. As a matter of fact, statistics tell us that having to speak in front of other people in a public setting is the number one fear that people have. If you go out and ask people, “What is the one thing that you fear most?” most likely the response you will get the most is that they are terrified of having to stand up and speak in front of others.
Now add to that the horror of having to talk about your faith. You’re all of a sudden faced with the possibility of being thought of as an idiot or as a religious fool. That’s so unnerving. And when you’re in that kind of situation, you can be tempted to shy away from what you need to say.
I know of situations where young people were sitting in college classrooms and their professors who were spouting all sorts of crazy stuff. I forget who I was talking to, but one person relayed a story about a young lady whose professor on the very first day of class asked, “Which of you actually believes that abortion is wrong?” She was the only one in the entire class who raised her hand and was willing to speak up. Others came up to her afterwards and said they were pro-life too. But they didn’t want to speak up for fear that they may be ridiculed by this professor who was obviously ready to attack and poke fun at any moron who might admit that they were pro-life.
In those situations we need to have our minds straight. Peter says, “Have no fear of them.” The one you need to fear is God. As Jesus even said, “Do not fear him who can kill the body only. But fear him who can destroy both the body and soul.”
In those situations you need to remember that you that you are safe in the hands of God. You don’t need to worry about your reputation. You don’t need to worry about your life. Neither do you need to be concerned about any of their rage. For God is on your side. The Lord is the one in whom you trust. Therefore you need not fear them.
That’s the other side of this too. When it comes to man, your attitude is to be fearless. But when it comes to God, your attitude is to be fearful.
That’s the essence of what Peter means when he says, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” The Bible talks a lot about the fear of God. When it does it’s talking about that deep seated reverence for God that you ought to have. It is that recognition that he is awesome, that he is holy and worthy of honor. And that’s what this is saying here. You are to honor Christ as holy. You are to fear God and see to it that Christ is revered above all things in your life. You need to recognize that he is the Lord and, and put him distinctly above all other things in your life. Once you do, then (and only then) will you be ready to speak for the Lord.
If you flip through the Bible you’ll see this happen on a number of occasions. Before Moses has his confrontation with Pharaoh, what happened? He was confronted by the Lord in the burning bush. It was his preparation. God was getting his attitude in order, reminding him that He was the God who was holy and Lord over all, even Moses’ bumbling tongue.
You may remember when Isaiah was called to be a prophet. He had that stellar vision of the angels and was overwhelmed by the presence of God. It was only after that event that he was prepared to confront Israel as a prophet.
I came across another just this week. It was the calling of Ezekiel. The book of Ezekiel starts off with this amazing vision of God’s grandeur. Then God says to Ezekiel, I’m sending you to a people who are not going to listen to you.
How can you speak to a people who are going to hate you and not going to listen to a single word you say? The only way you can do that is if you have the right attitude. Having no fear of man and having a great fear of God.
In a very real sense, when you confront the world, and are called to stand up and speak on behalf of the Lord, you are acting in the role of a prophet. You are doing the work of a Moses and an Isaiah. And if that’s going to happen, then you need to be equipped with the same attitude of Moses and Isaiah.
But if you are going to be ready for this kind of confrontation, you must not only prepare your attitude, you must also prepare your answer.
II. Prepare our answer [15b]
That’s what Peter goes on to say in the next part of verse 15. Peter says you need always to be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;”
Or, as your version might say, you must be ready to “answer every man who asks for a reason concerning the hope in you.”
So when someone puts the question to you, you need to have content ready. This is the moment for your words.
In my speech class, the last speech that we did was a debate. And one of the distinctive features of the debate was this thing we call “the rebuttal.” The kids were required to give an answer to the speech that their opponent had just given. So after Joe gave his speech (Let’s say he talked about why dogs are better than cats), Mary would have to stand up and give an answer. She would have to articulate why cats are better than dogs (obviously, we feel bad for Marry. It is a lost cause and she’d probably do better just to remain seated and not say anything.).
And I told my students that they needed to be ready to give these rebuttals. They needed to study their topics thoroughly. They couldn’t just go out and do a quick internet search, because they would get burned by their opponent. They had to look at the issue intently. They had to study both sides. They had to try and anticipate what their opponent was going to say.
And that’s exactly what Peter is telling you. You need to have that sort of readiness with your response. You need to be anticipating the kinds of things that your friends or family members are going to be asking you. You need to be studying the faith in an intent manner so that you can give an adequate answer when they ask.
Now, I will say that you won’t be able to anticipate everything. There are going to be times when you get asked a question that you won’t be able to answer. And in those times you’ll have to do the humble thing and say, “I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that one.” But you shouldn’t be in a position where you do this all the time. You need to know something about what you believe and why you believe it so that you can fire these bullets at the appropriate times.
You understand what is Peter trying to prevent here, don’t you? He doesn’t want you to be caught off guard. He doesn’t want you to be caught in a situation where you have an opportunity to speak for him and come off as a bumbling idiot. He wants us to utilize every opportunity possible in the most beneficial way.
I’ll never forget the time my family and I went to Wendy’s and we happened to see one of my co-workers there. He was eating dinner with one of his buddies and he introduced me to his buddy. I have the unique privilege of being introduced as “the minister”, and that typically gives rise to one of two responses. The person slinks back and wants to avoid me or they get excited and want to engage me. My co-worker’s buddy was the kind who got excited. He immediately started asking me questions. He was very up front about it. His first question was, “Hey, what do you believe?” I was a caught a little off guard because I was about to bite into my burger, but here was an opportunity. What was I going to say? I had at the most 2 minutes. How could I give an answer? But I was ready. My church at the time recited the Apostle’s Creed every Lord’s Day. We always began the Creed by asking the congregation, “Christian, what is it you believe?” Here was a guy asking me, “Christian, what is it you believe?” So, by God’s grace, I was able to take him through the main points of our faith in just a matter of minutes.
I don’t know if that conversation had a big influence in his life. Moments later we were both back to eating our burgers. But at least he had heard. He had the gospel explained to him and he got at least a bare bones sketch of Christianity.
The point is, I was able to give an answer. I had belonged to a good church that was dedicated to sound teaching, and they had helped me prepare for that very moment.
Your being here is one step in the right direction. Your being here at this service is helping you to prepare your answer. And I want to encourage you to keep at it. Be in the Word all through the week. Dedicate yourself to studying the faith. As you do, you will be able to give an answer when the opportunity presents itself.
But along with our attitudes and our answer, notice that Peter says we need to prepare our approach.
III. Prepare our approach [16-17]
What Peter says in verse 16 is very important. It’s something that we often overlook. He says that when you give this answer, “do it with gentleness and respect.”
Again, this is the one we often overlook. Especially brainy people like us. A lot of the times we like to engage the conversation. We like to jump into the debate. And we’ll pull out all the stops so that we can win the argument. But as we do so, we don’t do it with gentleness and respect because it’s not so much about sharing the faith and winning the person over as it is winning the argument.
When we get into the conversation things can become heated. And perhaps that may be a good thing now and again. Maybe the conversation will call for some strong language. That very well might be. In my speech class I had my students give a speech that was purely emotional. We called it the passion speech because they had to give a speech that was purely energized with strong feelings.
Sometimes public speaking or interpersonal conversations need some spice to them. But this isn’t always the case. I would say that most of the time, when you speak about your faith, it requires a much more mild spirit.
Some of you know Greg Bahnsen. Greg Bahnsen was perhaps the best apologist of our time. He used to debate a lot of atheists. If you ever have a chance to listen to his debates, please do. They are some of the most informative things in the world.
But there was a time when he was debating a certain man, and Bahnsen had him cornered. Everyone knew that he could have slaughtered his opponent, and perhaps even made him look rather silly in the process. But Bahnsen didn’t do that. As a matter of fact, he skipped right over that line of argumentation. After the debate everyone asked him, “Why did you do that? You could have destroyed him!” Bahnsen responded by saying yes, he could have thrown his opponent down. But he wasn’t out there to do that. He didn’t just want to win the debate or simply defeat his opponent. What he really wanted was to win the man over to Christ. And so he chose to go in a direction that was much more gentle.
Most of us are not going to be on a platform doing a debate. But when we write our friends that letter or when we speak with them on the street, we need to remember what Peter says here. Don’t dehumanize your opponent and just make it about your answer. Remember your approach is just as important, and it needs to be like Christ himself. Remember what the Bible says about him. He was meek and mild. So gentle was he that “a bruised reed he would not break, and a faintly burning wick he would not snuff out.” That’s to be our approach.
And you see why too. Peter gives us a good reason for this kind of approach. He says that you need to do this as a means of protecting yourself. Verse 16 goes on to say that if you do this, “When you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
You may remember the story about Stephen in the book of Acts. He was the first martyr of the church. He was stoned after he gave a great testimony. As his attackers came to stone him the text says that “his face shown like that of an angel.” That’s how clear his conscience had been and it was a disgrace to those who came after him.
That’s what Peter is talking about here. When someone verbally insults you, they will be the ones who will look bad if you have maintained this kind of approach.
Well, your time in my class has come to an end. But I want you to remember the some of the keys to the art of divine eloquence. I have spoken to you today because I want you to be prepared. I wouldn’t doubt that even before the week is out some of you will have a conversation or two about spiritual things. Someone will inquire about the things you believe or you will have an opportunity to speak up for the truth.
I hope that this message has proven beneficial to some degree. But remember listening to what I have said is not enough. Every week my public speaking students had to give a speech. And they couldn’t just walk into class without having done any work beforehand. They had to think through everything that they were going to say and how they were going to say it long before they stood before the class.
The same is true for you. Class is now done, but your work has just begun. As you look to the Lord and seek to fear him, I pray that your answer will be used in tremendous ways.
In that moment I looked at the girl and did my best to suppress my laughter. I was so surprised to hear this kind of answer. I tried to muster up some sympathy and I said, with all my tactless candor, “I’m sorry to burst your bubble, my dear, but Christ isn’t going to make anything easier for you. If anything, life’s going to get much more difficult for you now that Christ is in your life.”
This young lady thought that Jesus was going to make life all hunky-dory for her. It might have been that she was seeing all her friends do the “get-religious” thing and she saw how much fun it could be since we were all having a great time at camp. Whatever the causes might have been, she thought that Jesus was going to make life nothing but a bed of roses.
If you are here today, I want to make it clear that this is by no means the case. When Jesus enters your life, life can get very messy. Life can even become quite difficult.
Becoming a Christian does not mean getting ahead start on the American dream. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean that your life is going to perk up or take a turn for the better. There are certainly many up-sides to being a Christian, but Christianity is not a short cut to “Your Best Life Now.”
And certainly that is the case that we find in the book of first Peter. This book is dedicated to people who are experiencing hardship. It contains teaching for people who are being afflicted and hassled for their faith.
When Christ enters your life, I want you to understand it can really muss up your life quite a bit. You can be sure that is true for virtually anyone who becomes a Christian in a Muslim dominated country. Life for them becomes extremely difficult. They can lose their jobs. They can lose all their social connections: their friends and families can turn them out—and that would be the nicest thing they could do. For honor killings are possible in such circumstances too.
Christ is hated by the world. And because of that sometimes the world ends up hating us. And that can be most certainly true for us as well. In this secular and humanistic society, there can be times when we find ourselves ostracized. We can become the objects of scorn.
Certainly you can see this in the Tebow craze that is going on now. If you live under a rock and don’t know what’s going on, let me give you a little heads up: Tebow is a kid that plays for the Denver Broncos. After a good play he takes the posture of prayer as a way to pay homage to the Lord. And he has been broiled for it by every newscaster, blog and twitter account.
But that’s the kind of culture that we live in. We live in a culture where even a simple little gesture as taking a knee during a football game is vilified. And so we should find it surprising that we will find ourselves in similar situations.
So the question then becomes for us, “What do we do?” How do you live in a society where the threat of persecution looms large? It is not like we can just move away and find another little Christian community to hide in. God has set us where he has set us and the culture is what it is. So the question becomes, what do we do?
Well, in our passage this morning Peter answers that question. He tells us that we must make it our aim to do good. As a matter of fact, he says we should be an enthusiast when it comes to doing good. That’s really what the passage means when it uses the word zealous. Your version may use the word “eager.” But the thrust of it is that when it comes to living in an environment that is hostile to the faith you ought to be fanatical when it comes to doing good.
You might say to me, “Well, why in the world should I do that?” That might sound a bit queer to you because you think, “If I’m being treated ill, why should I go out of my way to do good?”
Our natural reaction is to jump into the fight. To us, the best defense is a good offense. So we think that if they attack us we think we should get right back at them. You know, there’s nothing like a little “shock and awe” to keep somebody off your back. If you show them you are a powerhouse, then they are likely not going to mess with you, right?
But that’s not what Peter tells us to do. He tells us that we must be zealous for good. And He gives us two very good reasons why we ought to be fanatical do-gooders.
The first reason is because doing good reduces the possibility of suffering.
I. It reduces the possibility of suffering 
Look at verse 13. He says, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?”
Peter is just using simple logic here. He says, “The chances of you taking heat are significantly reduced when there is no cause for provocation.” Most likely, nobody is going to harm you if you are out doing things that are beneficial to the wider community. If you are out helping your neighbors and showing people you actually care about them, then it’s likely that they are not going to attack you. They will see you as an assent too important to lose.
Listen, if you are in the woods and you come across a wild animal, chances are that it will leave you alone as long as you do nothing to provoke the animal. I checked this out with my very own professional woodsman. I emailed Lyle Becker this week and I asked him that question. For those of you who don’t know Lyle, Lyle is a fellow who used to attend Providence and now he leads hunts up in Alaska. He knows a lot about grizzly bears, brown bears, wolves, mountain lions and all sorts of other wildlife.
Lyle told me that in North America most animals will not pounce upon you if you come across them in the woods. As long as you give them no reason to be provoked, they will leave you alone. The only exceptions he mentioned were the Nile Crocodiles, Tigers, and Sasquatch.
But really, when it comes to human life, Peter tells us that it’s much the same. If you are one who is out doing good with zeal, and you are giving no reason for provocation, then the chances of you being persecuted are going to be diminished.
But if you are not known as one who is a do-gooder, then don’t expect that things are going to go your way. Let’s not be surprised that we experience some hardships if we are renown as someone who is a Christian gripe.
You know that’s a problem we have. We can be rather cynical. When the world around us is falling apart, we can be like the talk show host and sit there and make snide comments about every cotton picking thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I like a good sarcastic comment when it is appropriate. I think that it’s good to mock evil from time to time and make fun of things to show the absurdity of it. But we should never be known as cynical people. We should always be known for what we are for, more than what we are against. If we are not known as activists (in the good sense of the word), then we shouldn’t expect that our sufferings should be lightened.
But when people look at our church, our acts should make them think twice before they carry out any evil plans. When people look at our church, they should think, “I like those Keeners. They are an honest, hard-working bunch.” “That Tobias family, they are really hospitable. It seems like they are friends with everybody. I mean they are always seems like they are having people over.” “And those McFaddens, I have to hand it to them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them break a promise. Even when they got into a pinch, I knew that I could always rely on them.”
Just keep this in mind. As a general rule, people are not harmed for acts of kindness. And if we ever do come to a time where there’s the potential of conflict, then God says we can reduce the possibility of it by being fanatical about doing good.
But you’ll notice that our passage says doing good not only reduces the possibility of suffering, it also enhances the possibility of blessing.
II. It enhances the possibility of blessing [14a]
Look at verse 14. It says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed.”
In other words, even if man doesn’t regard the good things you are doing, your God will. If for some reason you do meet up with a sasquatch—you know, one of those rare occasions where someone does pounce on you despite your being on your best behavior. Even if you do find a person who just wants to lay into you, then don’t worry. God is still on your side. The All-Knowing, All-Seeing God is going to take notice of you, and He will see to it that your works are rewarded. God will bless you for your faithfulness.
Now you are probably wondering, “What kind of blessing do I get?” You might be trying to weigh out your options here. You are thinking, “Is it worth it to undergo this suffering thing? What kind of blessing are we talking about?”
Well, we are not told in this passage what exactly the blessing is. We do understand that this is a blessing from God and, as such, it is something that will most certainly satisfy our deepest yearnings. After all, God is not scant with his blessings. They are like the clouds of heaven breaking open upon you. When God blesses he always inundates you with joy unspeakable.
But while we do not have it explicitly stated here, we might find a hint at what this blessing is in a parallel passage. When Peter says this he might be alluding to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. You’ll remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When you undergo persecution for your faith, you are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is yours.
Do you know what the persecution proves? It proves that this world, in its current form, is not your home. When you are reviled and people say all kinds of evil against you, then you are blessed in that you receive a bona fide confirmation that the kingdom of man and the kingdom of the devil is not yours. Being turned out by the world is a good thing. It is an affirmation that you belong to the kingdom of God.
There might be other blessings that accompany the persecution. But friends, what greater blessing can we have in times of hardship? I think it has to be pretty nice when our culture tells us, “You don’t belong here.” Because it helps us to remember that we belong to an eternal kingdom, wherein righteousness dwells.
A number of years ago there were some American journalists working over in the Middle East. While they were there they were captured by Muslim extremists. They were treated with the utmost contempt and the conditions of their captivity were quite severe. Everyday they were reminded that they didn’t belong in that region. Their extreme conditions and harsh treatment was a reminder that they were foreigners and that theirs was the kingdom of America.
By God’s grace the reporters were released from their captivity, and they were allowed to return home. They came back to a land where there is freedom. They came back to a land where all their needs would be met. They were given food and clothing. They were treated with respect and dignity. They came back to a land where they could enjoy the presence of their families and friends and Americans who possessed the same mindset. Theirs was the kingdom of America.
That, my friends, is the essence of what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. The one difference is that yours is the kingdom of Heaven, a land that far supersedes anything America can offer.
May that then be reason sufficient for you to be fanatical about doing good. Not only will it reduce the possibility of suffering, it will increase the possibility of this kind of blessing.
If you would, please open your Bibles with me to 1 Peter 3. We are going to resume our study in 1 Peter, and we’ll be starting into chapter 3 this morning. When you get there you will find the real reason why Mark had Joe Maggelet come and speak to our joint service a few weeks ago. The passage that you are opening to is that passage that deals with women and their submission to their husbands. I’m pretty sure that Mark looked ahead and thought, “This isn’t one that will make for good unity among our churches. J” So he called in Joe.
I doubt that was really on his mind. But this passage is one that, in theological terms, we call “a real doosie.” It is a passage of scripture that flies in the face of everything our culture declares to be true. No doubt, if I read and preach it correctly, I will be stepping on some toes. If I ever run for political office, this will certainly be dug up and become headline news. I’d be asked all sorts of questions and the world would have a heyday running my name into the mud over what is said here.
At the very least I expect there to be a number of nasty comments to come to my inbox when I post this on my website. I’m sure to be called things like a chauvinist, a patriarchal pig, and woman suppresser. I just know this isn’t going to sit well with a lot of people.
But even among people of our persuasion I’m sure that it is going to be a sensitive issue. The issue that we’re going to be addressing is a delicate one. Being that this is the case let us approach the text remembering that it is the holy and inspired word of God. It is not the whims of a man. And, as we read the passage, let us do so with all reverence and readiness of faith.
Let us read then, 1 Peter 3.1-6.
Maybe it was best that Mark had us take a break from first Peter when we did. Perhaps Providence had his hand in it all. I mean, what a great way to start the New Year. If you are the type that makes New Year’s resolutions, this might be a wonderful place to begin. You ladies may be saying that you want to start that diet or hit that treadmill. Or perhaps you’re making your annual vow to read through the Bible in a year. But how about using this text as the basis of one of your resolutions? That would be great, wouldn’t it? The first resolution can go like this, “Resolved, to call my husband ‘lord’ more this year!”
My wife and I have had fun thinking about this text this week. At different times she would start calling me ‘master’. And I tell you that has affected me. Even though it’s all been in jest, it has given me a different perspective on who I am as her husband. And I want to state that up front. This message is obviously designed to speak primarily to the ladies. But I do think that if we grasp what is said here it will affect the men too. When this principle of submission is practiced rightly—and if you start calling your man ‘lord,’ it will probably affect him greatly. It’s going to help your man recognize his role as the leader in the home.
But of course, all of it starts here. It starts with you ladies and understanding your own role.
Back in the book of Genesis we read that the fall radically skewed the structures of society. Life in the home was going radically changed. God said to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you.” That line is a little difficult to interpret, but when you read it you know that it says life isn’t going to be easy. Where there was once peace and harmony, there’s now going to be a struggle. In that line you see that the battle of the sexes commenced right there.
And the fight of sanctification is drawn up along those lines. Your aim is to fight against that inclination. Your job to resist the urge, and—as it says here—to submit yourself to your husband.
And I want to suggest that the way you do this is through humility. I’m going to be talking about godly womanhood today. We’re going to be talking about submitting to your husband. But throughout this message I’m going to be talking about humility too. It is sort of a secondary theme that you’ll find here today. For you can’t have submission without humility. The essence of submission is that of humility. I mean, it should be obvious that you can’t have submission where you have pride. An arrogant person doesn’t submit. So as we talk today, be thinking about that ladies. And be thinking about how you can make that your New Year’s resolution. If you want godliness as a woman, then you’ll have to work on this. Because godly womanhood manifests itself in humble submission.
And as we consider this notion of submitting to your husband, we are going to do so under three headings. Peter begins by talking about the principle of submission. Then in verses 3-4 he talks about the practice of submission. And then he concludes in verses 5-6 by talking about our pattern for submission.
In the first verse Peter states the principle for us in simple and clear terms.
I. The principle [1-2]
He says, “Wives be subject to your husbands.” Now the word submit is the same word used regarding the slaves relations to their masters and citizens relations to their civil magistrates in the earlier verses. And it has the same force. Wives are to take a position of subordinates and they are to yield to their husbands, even as you yield to the governing officials of your state.
Now the rest of the verse makes it clear that Peter is speaking specifically to those ladies who whose husbands had not been converted. He goes on to say that your submission as a wife can be used of God to bring about their conversion.
I certainly do not want to gloss over that truth. This is a wonderful means of evangelism that we ought to take to heart. But what I want you to note here is that the Lord here commands obedience on the part of you ladies. It doesn’t matter what the spiritual estate of your husband is either. If you are married, then you ladies are obligated to fulfill your role as one who is in subjection to your husband.
God is here reminding you that He has established a structural order within the home that is fundamental to society. He has created man as the head of the household. And you, as his lady, are to give all due obedience to him.
Now this is a radical thing that I’m saying. This isn’t something that is common today. In the main, marriage is thought of as an equal partnership. It is considered a radical democracy where he has his vote and she has hers. But as you see here, that isn’t the case at all. The home is not a democracy. It is to be benevolent autocracy. As they used to say, the man is to be the king of his castle. He is to be the ruler in his home. And you ladies are to obey him as you would obey the Lord.
I don’t doubt that some of you even shiver at me using that word. That word, “obey,” is one we’re supposed to use with children, right? We’re not to use that in regards to relations between two adults, right? Oh, but we are! That’s the essence of submission! Submitting to your husband means obeying him and yielding to his authority. It means that when he makes a decision, and you don’t particularly care for it, you consent to follow his will.
And so you see why I say that this passage has to do with humility on the part of you ladies. This can be a tough nut to swallow, especially given our egalitarian day.
I don’t think that it is too much for me to say that your typical, mainstream evangelical home doesn’t acknowledge this to be true. I’m not even talking about the raging forces of feminism that are so prevalent in our culture today.
If you want to see pride, that is a good place to look. The feminist movement says, “I don’t care what God has said in his word. I do not recognize his authority over me. I am a free and autonomous individual. I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR.” If you want to understand pride, there it is. It’s the “What I say is what goes” mentality. I can get a job. I can be just as good as a man. I can exploit myself. Having this baby is my choice. You have that picture of the woman in the jumpsuit with the arms rolled up, flexing her muscles and saying, “We can do it.” There is pride just screaming its autonomy.
And as I said, that prideful feministic spirit that saturates our culture has seeped into most evangelical homes. So in any given Christian household you’ll see a milder, gentler (but no less stark) form of this egalitarian spirit. A wife will typically have no problem rebuffing her husband’s decisions. She may take money and spend it as she pleases. Or she may simply make use of her time in a certain way without the approval of her spouse.
But this is not the way it is to be. The principle that is laid down here say that you are to obey your husband in all matters that are biblically lawful. You are to demonstrate humility by bringing your life under his complete authority. The finances are his responsibility. So how the money is spent is his call. The same is true for the children. The way you raise them is his to determine. That’s the way it is for everything else, all the way down to where you spend your Christmas holiday. Everything that occurs within that house is a decision that is ultimately made by him.
Now certainly I don’t want you to think that his is a tyrannical dictatership. A loving husband is going to consult you on all these matters, and he will no doubt delegate a great deal of the decisions regarding household affairs to you. In other words, he’s going to rule over you with the utmost benevolence. And I think that is why Peter, right after addressing this issue, turns to the men and addresses their role as a husband. He knows that it can go to their head. And so he tempers it with those words. But the principle still stands: He has authority over you as your husband, and you are required to obey him.
I might add here that this is something that is supposed to be part and parcel with your wedding vows. It isn’t something you find much anymore because of the prideful influence of feminism. But in a Christian wedding the bride will pledge her humble submission to her husband publicly in the service. When you are married—if it is a distinctly Christian wedding, the minister will ask the bride to be,
"Will you have this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to live after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of marriage? And will you love him, comfort him, respect him and submit to him even as the church submits to Christ, and forsaking all others keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?
As I said, you don’t often find this as a part of the wedding service anymore. And that’s because it takes a great deal of humility to accept this teaching. Women today do not want to recognize the fact that men have authority over them. As I said, they want to be autonomous. They want to be equal in every way and a law unto themselves.
But godly women will accept this teaching. They will humble themselves before God by submitting themselves to the plain teaching of the Scriptures regarding their role as women. And, in doing so, they will pledge their undying love for their husbands by yielding to their husband’s authority.
I understand that the details of this need to be fleshed out. It’s important to ask, “What does submission look like in our day?” It is, after all, a rather foreign concept to our culture. I hope that you ladies take time to discuss it among yourselves. I think that it would be quite beneficial for you older ladies to give some examples on how you have come to apply the principle of submission. And the younger women would no doubt find it a good place to talk about where they struggle with submission.
I’d like to go into a lot of specifics, but there is one in particular to which Peter directs us. Peter could have gone in a lot of different directions, but he focuses in on one particular practice. And that is found in verses 3 and 4.
II. The practice
Right after he states this principle of humility and submissiveness in verses 1 and 2, he starts talking about a woman’s adornment in verses 3 and 4. He says that your adornment shouldn’t be consumed with how your hair looks or what you are wearing, but you should be more concerned with meekness and a quiet spirit.
In reading this you might think that Peter is jumping around a bit. First there’s this submission thing. Then he leaps over to deal with the dress code. And you might wonder, what’s the connection? You might not even think there is a connection. But don’t be fooled, these two things are very much interrelated.
It all goes back to the notion of humility and being devoted to your husband. A woman that is devoted to her husband and is lovingly submitting to him isn’t going to be overly consumed with looking all sexy when she is out and about.
This is not to say that she’s going to look like a hag. Obviously a woman who is submitting to her husband is going to try and look attractive for him. As a matter of fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if she doesn’t try to look good for him she’s sinning. We’ll come back to that in a moment.
But Peter’s concern here is that these ladies are trying to bring unwarranted attention to themselves. The way they did their hair and the clothes that they were wearing were designed to put the spotlight on them. So when she walks into a room everyone looks at her. She’s turning heads. She wants to be the envy of the ladies and she wants to be a turn on for other men.
Now you see how this practice opposes the principle of submission. What’s she is doing is relinquishing her man’s authority. She’s trying to show that she’s an individual, and maybe even hint at the fact that she is available. At the very least she’s giving the impression that she is.
And that, my friends, is pride.
Some of you might be waiting for me to say how long the skirt can be or how low the blouse can dip. But I’m not going to do that. What I want you to notice that this passage is about humility and submission. And whatever your practice may be when it comes to the way you look when you stand in front of the mirror is to be governed by that notion. And if it is, then that will certainly affect how you present yourself in public.
Think about the girls today. When they look into their closet in the morning, are they thinking, “What will help give the impression that I have a meek and quiet spirit?” Of course not. The length of their skirts and how tight it fits is governed by their vanity. The way they do their hair and the amount of make-up they put on is driven by their desire to be noticed. It’s all about their pride.
That’s not the way it is to be. Your attire is to be ruled by humility. Really, that’s all that modesty is. Modesty is that outward expression of that internal meekness. Modesty is simply dress that reflects a quiet spirit. And when that is your gauge, then you don’t need to have specific dictates when it comes to how long, how tight, how much, how low, or how little.
I might add that this is why I think that the other extreme of this debate is so silly. Without a regard for the context some go so far as to say, “I’m only concerned with inward beauty.” And they go around refusing anything that has to do with make-up, jewelry, or the styling of one’s hair. But that’s just as arrogant as well. It’s all about you and has nothing to do with your husband’s desires. Such a view doesn’t necessarily reflect humble submission either.
I’m pretty sure that surveys reveal that 99% of men prefer their wives to be physically attractive. So recognizing your husband’s authority means looking good for your husband, and that might mean putting on some make-up or picking out something appropriate to wear.
Again, I’m not going to be the fundamentalist preacher and say, “This is the benchmark and if you cross it you’re going to hell.” You cannot do that. To do so is to bind one’s conscience unlawfully. I’m here to tell you that this passage is helping you to put into place a proper practice of submission and humility. And that submissive humility will point you to, what I might call, elegant modesty. That is to say you are tastefully attractive.
I think that this is also confirmed by what we find in the last part of our passage for this morning. In verses 5 and 6 Peter outlines for us the pattern of humble submission.
He has stated the principle. He has given some insight into how this ought to be practiced. And in these verses he points us to the matriarchs of old and how they serve as patterns for you ladies today
III. The pattern
He says in verse 5, “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.”
Here you go. I think this solves the whole issue regarding the dress code. You remember that the Bible says that Sarah was a good looking lady. And in the book of Genesis we see how various men found her quite attractive. I’m doing some speculating here, but I don’t think that you get recommended to the Pharaoh’s court by doing your best not to look good. I think it is safe to assume that Sarah wasn’t against being fashionable or applying some perfumes now and then.
What’s more important to notice though, is that she wasn’t attempting to make herself appealing to other men. Whatever her décor might have been, her demeanor was that of humble submission to her man. That’s evidenced by the fact that she called her husband “lord.”
Sarah is a pattern for you in that she acknowledged that her husband had mastery over her. And the beautiful thing about it was that she wasn’t afraid to declare it publicly. She recognized that he was the leader of the household and she chose an apt word to describe him and his relationship to her.
Now ladies, if you want to go home today and follow the example of Sarah, you most certainly can do so. I assure you that this is certainly the way you can make your man feel like a man. When you sit down to dinner you can say, “Would my lord like some potatoes?” “Can I get my lord a drink?” “Is my lord going to take a nap this afternoon?”
I might be jesting a bit, but I do wonder if you are able to do such a thing? Would it be that awkward? If it is, perhaps that might be an indication that you have some work to do in this area of submission. If you cannot openly recognize your husband with that kind of terminology, it might be a sign that you really don’t acknowledge him to be your leader. It might be a signal that you are not submitting to him to the degree that you ought.
Elizabeth and I discussed this this week. I asked her about it and she said that calling me lord would be a little weird. Not that she doesn’t willingly submit, but because we don’t typically talk this way today. The word lord is usually reserved for reference to God. So there might be some semantics why you can’t bring yourself to say it. But think about it though. There might be something to it. It might be that if you can’t call him lord—it might be that it is a sign that you enjoy a bit of autonomy and that you consider yourself superior to Sarah.
After all, that’s what it means when it says that “you are her children if you do good.” If you are doing what the Bible commands you to do—if you are demonstrating the kind of humble submission that Sarah did, then you are one of her children.
We’ve all heard that song, “Father Abraham / Had several sons / Several sons had father Abraham.” Well, how do you get to be a child of Abraham? It is by faith in Jesus Christ. And you show you have faith in Jesus by following his word.
Well, how do you get to be a child of Sarah? It’s the same way. By faith in Jesus Christ. How do you show that faith? You obey his Word. So, when you in faith submit to your husband, you show that you are a Christian and a child of Sarah.
But if you can’t deem your husband as your lord, then obviously you are not her child. You think you are better than Sarah. You think that Sarah was some Neanderthal or a woman who was suppressed by her man. But you’ve risen above. You’ve evolved and cast off the chains of this patriarchal domination.
But let me assure you, my friends, that’s a dangerous place to be. When Paul says that you are her children if you do what is right, he’s saying that anyone who doesn’t do it is not a Christian. If you are not submitting to your husband as is taught by the Scripture—if you are not living by faith and receiving the plain teaching of the Bible, then you are outside the faith.
What Paul is saying here is that you show yourself to be a true Christian when you follow Sarah’s example. You show that true faith lives in you when you submit to your husband.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had opportunity to talk to some of you about this passage. We wondered together where the gospel was in this passage. And I tell you its right here. You have opportunity to become a child of Sarah. This passage shows clearly that God is a forgiving God and he willingly receives those who are repentant. This passage clearly is the antithesis of what you find back in the Garden of Eden. It shows that there is a way to be reconciled to God and a way to be forgiven of your sins. It is by becoming a child of Abraham and Sarah. It is by mimicking their faith. It is by believing what God has said in his word.
And that is where this passage ends. I want to be clear. This passage isn’t so much about submitting to your husband as it is about submitting to God. Submitting to your husband is just the way you show you are submitting to God. And that should be your New Year’s resolution. Resolved, to obey God in all that he says.
That’s where you will get your meek and quiet spirit. It isn’t something that comes naturally. But it begins when you humbly bow before God and say, “Thy will be done.” It comes when you say, “Lord, I understand that my culture says otherwise and my own heart wants to be a renegade individual. But I believe that you want me to be otherwise. You want me to see my husband as my lord and you want me to submit to his leadership. Help me to follow Sarah’s example and to be her child.”
When you make that sort of confession and make it your aim, then you are well on your way. Submission to your man won’t be easy, but you will have made great inroads when you’ve made that sort of submission to God.
outside. So we decided to flip on the radio to see what they were saying. It turns out that some serious storms were rolling into the area. As a matter of fact, several places around us were warning of tornados. But that didn’t affect us any. We just keep on going.
And that’s just what you do when you got to get somewhere. Whatever the conditions, you push on and make every effort to press through the situation.
I say this because it really sums up what this section of Scripture is all about. Peter has told us that we are pilgrims, and we are traveling to Zion. But you know what? Along our journey we are going to face circumstances that are less than idea. Sometimes the conditions are not going to be the best. Nevertheless we have to press on.
Last time Mark talked about the previous passage. And there you saw that Peter talked about living as a citizen in a world that is less than ideal. And Peter told you that you were to press on. Despite things being a little quirky, you needed to continue to submit to the governing authorities.
The passage before us today deals with much the same theme. The only real difference is that this passage deals with one’s work environment. Peter addresses servants. Some of these servants were finding themselves in situations that were less than ideal. The passage seems to indicate that their masters were oppressive or abusive, perhaps something of a domestic tyrant. And so Peter writes to tell them that they needed to press on in their duties as Christians. They needed to continue to submitting to their authorities.
And you can imagine the reaction! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why ever should I submit to this guy? Peter answers by giving three basic reasons why it is important to do so.
And even though you might not be a slave, you can listen in here and take note. We are all under authority. And a lot of times we find ourselves in a position where we just want to jettison the whole submission thing. But before you do that, you need to take heed to what it says here about God’s order, pleasure, and example.
Our passage begins with the command, “Servants, be subject to your masters.” And I want you to understand what it is saying here. Peter is saying that you need to submit because it is in keeping with God’s order.
I. Because it is in keeping with God’s order 
Evidently, some of the servants in Peter’s audience were starting to get a little rambunctious. They were saying that they didn’t need to be subject to their masters now that they were Christians.
Commentators mainly agree that the reason for this was that these servants, having come to Christ, acknowledged the radical difference that now existed between them. In their minds they were thinking, “I’m a Christian. I have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and set apart to the service of God.” And their conclusion was, “Why now do I have to serve this reprobate master of mine?”
It is likely that they thought this mingling was not right. They might have thought that they who were now spiritual persons didn’t have to subject themselves to these unspiritual people.
But Paul says, “No, no, no. That’s not right.” In essence, he says because you are a Christian, you must submit to them. You are the servant. They are the master. And so you owe them all due reverence and obedience. Even if the guy is warped, you still are obligated to fulfill the duties assigned to you because that’s your role.
What we see happening here is that Peter affirms the order God has established in society. You see, God has ordained that society be structured according to a certain form of hierarchy. So there are going to be some who are superiors, and there are going to be others who fill the roles of submission. And if you find yourself in a position of subservience, then it is your obligation to make sure you revere those God has set over you. It is your God given duty to ascribe to them all due obedience because that’s the way he made it.
Now, I’m not going to give a dissertation on the slavery here. If you would like, I have posted something on my blog about that. The issue does come up every time you come to a passage like this. However, I’m not going to address it here. What I want you to notice is that Paul does affirm this structure of authority and societal order. In essence, through the Apostle God affirms headship within any given culture or civilization.
This is more important for us to talk about today than the whole slavery issue. Because everywhere we go today we are seeing it challenged and opposed. As a matter of fact, this is what the whole Occupy Wall Street thing was about. The occupiers expressed that they wanted radical equality, a pure egalitarianism. They wanted to usher in a new society where there were no authority structures. They want an open and leaderless society where unadulterated democracy ruled the day. They sneered at the fact that there were these Wall Street types who were corporate leaders who were economically prosperous. It galled them to no end, and they wanted to be rid of such things.
But we are to understand that such a structure is part and parcel with God’s created order, and we are not to try and eradicate those boundaries by acts of revolution.
What’s more, you need to recognize your personal role. God has most certainly placed you in a role of submission. It might be, as these servants Peter was speaking to, that it has to do with your means of living. If in your workplace you have boss over you, then it is incumbent upon you to submit to their rules and do their bidding. Even if you do not agree with their personal strategies or tactics, you still got to do what you got to do. Neither does it matter if he has some quirks in his personality that makes him a royal jerk. As long as what they ask you to do doesn’t violate God’s will, then you are obligated to show deference to them.
Of course, if you really don’t like it, then you can leave. But if you are in a situation, perhaps like these servants, where it isn’t feasible to do so, you are required to acquiesce. And when you do that, you demonstrate regard for the God ordained order He has put in place.
So submission is required because it is in keeping with God’s orde. But you’ll notice that it is also require because it is in keeping with God’s pleasure.
II. Because it is in keeping with God’s pleasure [19-20]
Peter addresses this in the following verses. In verses 19 and 20 he talks about enduring suffering. And basically he says, “Hey, I know it is difficult sometimes to deal with your masters. But let’s be clear, you are still required to do it. And when you do,” Paul says, “God has regard for you.” As a matter of fact, he repeats the saying, “It is a gracious thing” two times, once at the beginning of verse 19 and once at the end of verse 20.
Now, no. Paul is not saying that it is a desirable thing to take a great deal of grief from whomever it is who is over you. There is no virtue in that. What he means is that it is a compliment to you if you are able to endure it with Christian patience. It is a gracious thing in that it is pleasing to God that you are willing and able to bear the brunt of a raging fool with love and grace.
Now none of us are going to find ourselves in a position like this here. None of us will be taking literal blows because we have a cruel master. I believe that this is something unique about the passage here.
But what if we found ourselves in a position where we were under a bit of unjust scrutiny. What if one of our authorities (be they a parent or your spouse) treated you with a lack of respect. Or how about an elder here at this church? What if one of them just irked you a bit? How would you react? Would you clamor and whine? Would you break out in a rage or go around talking badly about them?
That’s the way we’d like to act. Inside we think, “Oh, you want to play that way do you? If you want to treat me like this, then I will happily reciprocate.”
But that’s not what we are called to do. We are called to love our enemies—and if we are being treated this way, that’s exactly what the person its—they are our enemy at that point. And God tells us that we are to bear this with longsuffering and patience. We are to demonstrate a quite reverence and respect for them.
And when we do that, God is pleased.
You know, nothing pleases a parent more than when their children obey. But there are certain times when their obedience really brings you a greater amount of pleasure. When the circumstances are really against them and they are tempted to give in, yet they do what is right, that really brings you joy as a parent. Seeing them with that kind of composure and the marks of a good character, that really warms your heart as a parent.
That’s what this is saying. When you are suffering unjustly, and you are tempted to blow off your normal duties and tell this guy off, but yet you demonstrate a spirit of reserve and composure, then that is a gracious thing in God’s eyes. It pleases him greatly.
Such an attitude might not be noticed by your superior, it will be noticed by your God. He will see it and he will be delighted to no end at what you are doing.
But in the end, let’s remember that there is a greater reason to demonstrate obedience. We are to submit because it is in keeping with Christ’s own example.
III. Because it is in keeping with God’s example [21-25]
The majority of this passage tells us this. You’ll notice verse 21 that it says, “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.”
If anyone had any right to show a little disrespect to his authorities, certainly it would have been Jesus. If anyone was mistreated, or treated unjustly, it was him. Despite his perfect love and his undefiled life, he was treated with the utmost contempt. He was despised. He was beaten. He was crucified.
It always impresses me every time I read the trial of Jesus. Here is Pilate examining Jesus. Jesus knows it is a kangaroo court of sorts. He knows there’s no escaping what’s going to happen. Yet Jesus is perfectly respectful the whole time to Pilate. He doesn’t raise his voice. He had every opportunity to tell Pilate exactly what kind a scumbag he was. But he didn’t do that. His address did not even demonstrate the slightest touch of sarcasm. As a matter of fact, at one point he chooses not to say anything at all.
That’s why Peter goes on to say in verse 22, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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.”
That is exactly what we are to do. He provides the pattern that we are to follow.
But of course, we follow Christ, not just because he was a good example. He is our savior and redeemer. That’s what verse 24 makes clear. It says, “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.”
This is talking about his substitutionary death and the effect it has upon our lives right now. Jesus took the curse of God for our sins upon himself when he was nailed to the cross. And when we are united to him in faith, our sinful nature dies with him. The wounds that he bore are our healing in that they free us from the dominion of sin and breaks the remaining power of sin in our lives.
So if you are struggling with submission, what ought you to do? You go to the cross! You go to the one who submitted himself to the Father’s will. You go to the one who submitted to the Roman centurions.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Jesus submitted to the Roman centurions! He could have easily spoken one word and the hammer would have frozen in mid swing. It never would have had a chance to drive the nail into his flesh. He could have easily called down fire from heaven and torched the Pharisees and Saducees before they delivered him over to Pilate. But he did not.
As a matter of fact, there is that one scene in the Garden of Gethsemane that I always find intriguing. Do you remember when the band of guards came to arrest Jesus? Do you remember how it transpired? They approached him and asked where Jesus was, and he said, “I am.” And the Bible says that they fell back. They were overcome with some kind of power that they just blew over like dominos. They came up again and said, “We’re looking for Jesus.” And he said, “I am.” And again, Whoosh, they toppled backwards. It was obvious that Jesus could have easily dodged the arrest. But he didn’t. He allowed them to get up, bind him, and lead him away. That story is an amazing testimony to Jesus’ submission.
He did that for us and for our salvation. And in doing so he left us an example. He shows us the kind of submission that we are to render. If we cannot get out from under our circumstances by lawful means, and if we are not being made to violate God’s commands, then we must follow his pattern of obedience.
And this is a wonderful place for us to end. It is here at the cross of Christ. For if we are going to submit to any earthly authority, we must begin by submitting ourselves to God. You were straying sheep, but have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
And here at the cross we understand that God has made a way for us to do that. That is why Christ had to die. He died in order to bring us nigh unto God. And if we are going to respect God’s order, bring him pleasure, or follow his example, then we must first submit ourselves to him at the cross—acknowledging him to be our Lord and Savior.
He tells us that we are to abstain from the passions of the flesh and he commands us to keep our conduct honorable. And in the rest of the book Peter will flesh out what abstaining and acting honorable will be like. But here, at the very outset, we are to notice that, once again, we are called to a life of extremity.
You may have heard that many Amish communities practice a thing called rumspringa. It’s that time, typically during their teenage years, where a young Amish person walks away from his Amish-ness for a while. Up to this point he’s lived a distinct life of separation. But during rumspringa, he has opportunity to explore the world.
So when an individual comes of age he will leave his family and enter the mainstream American culture. He may learn to drive. He certainly will take up the dress of your ordinary English youth. He most likely will engage in the typical practices common to American young people, such as playing video games, watching movies, listening to music. He may even go to the extreme of indulging in the excesses of life, such as sexual promiscuity, drinking, and partying.
It’s believed that this time of “freedom” is good for the young person. It is thought that after they “sow their wild oats” they will have it all out of their system and they will return to their old Amish life.
As these Amish kids live much of their life set apart from such modern delicacies, they are often quite eager for their rumspringa. They cannot wait to taste the delights of their new found “freedom.” They cannot wait to leave off their separated lives and indulge themselves the pleasures of the world.
You might think that the Amish community is way off—way out there, for this rumspringa practice. But deep down inside you know it is true of yourselves. Every one of us has the rumpsringa desire in our hearts. There is a part of us that wants to cast off the distinctly separate life that we are to live and indulge ourselves in a little rumspringa.
But when it comes to the Christian life, we find in our passage today that there is no such thing ever permitted for those of us who wish to be Christians.
As we look at this passage, I want us to consider then the extreme life that we are called to. I want you to think about what your duty before God really is, and then consider why it is important that we uphold that lifestyle.
I. What must we do?
Again, our passage calls us to do two things, to abstain from the passions of our flesh and to live honorably before the Gentiles. Let’s think about what that entails. First, what does it mean to abstain from the passions of our flesh?
When we talk about abstinence and “passions of the flesh” most likely you’ll immediately think of lust and sexual desire. Certainly that is included. And it is one that we can never talk enough about in our present day. But I want you to understand that it is not limited to that. This has to do with lust of any kind. It is much broader in its scope because it has in mind any kind of unholy obsession that we may have.
You know how your desires tend to fly off the hook, and it can be over something that is all fine and good. But you just get obsessed with it, and you want it ever so bad. And it almost becomes a fire within you that keeps flaring up, and you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s that new cell phone or that video game. Maybe it’s getting that little addition in your house that you say would make everything just so perfect, and you keep going to the internet to look at it (its under the guise of researching it, of course). Whatever it is, it is out of your reach at the moment and you salivate over it like a dog salivates over his dinner bowl.
Peter says that we are to never let the delights of this world so mesmerize us like that. If we are so spell bound in our covetousness, then you need to know that you have become sidetracked from your chief pleasure in life. Your greatest delight in life is always to be the Lord Jesus Christ. All of your other yearnings are to be held in check. If they exceed this chief priority, then we have greatly erred.
And this is something you need to remember as we approach the Christmas season. We are on the verge of the year’s grand advertising blitzkrieg. Most stores operate in the red until the last quarter of the year. And they pull out all the stops so that you’ll buy their wares. And they will come dangling every little item right before you. They want to encourage that spirit. They want you to glut yourself with their products. Their whole campaign will be designed tin such a way to best tap into that lust.
But you must understand that that urge—that feverish, pressing thirst for more that is so common to our sinful nature is to be extinguished. We are not to let it be entertained, not even for a moment.
These passions, these obsessions for the world’s pleasures, must be averted at all costs. But you say, “How? How in the world can I do that?” Well, it’s going to be the work of grace, of course. That’s why we must rely on Christ.
But I think our text gives us some help too. I think it contains a real practical hint at how we keep ourselves pure in this regard. The word that is translated “abstain” actually means “keep yourself away from” or “distance yourself.” We tend to think of abstinence as just avoiding something; like keeping it just out of our range of touch. We think of it as “hands off.” But the biblical idea of abstinence is getting clean away from it—distancing yourself.
I know that’s the last thing you want to do when it comes to something you really want. What you want to do is get as close as you can to it. But God says, get away. If it is in your mind and you are constantly turning it over, get away from it. Put your mind on something completely different. Perhaps the best thing to do is pray. When you are consumed with earthly things, get some distance by sending your thoughts to heaven. When you are consumed with yourself, pray for other people—perhaps saints who are in far off countries struggling for survival.
The chief thing to do is to get some distance.
The other thing that we must do is live honorably among the Gentiles. I’m not going to dwell long on this. As I said, we are going to flesh that out more in the upcoming weeks as we make our way through the rest of 1 Peter. And really, I believe that what is said here is just two side of one coin. I think that Peter is basically repeating himself. First he states it in a more negative fashion: abstain from the passions of the flesh [“get some distance from the things you covet]. Then he says it in a more positive fashion, “Live honorably among the Gentiles.” Both are getting at the same idea: You are to make every effort to live a spotless life. Blameless!
You might say that this is just a restatement of what he said earlier, “Be perfect, as the Lord your God is perfect.” That is the summation of this passage.
But if you would indulge me one moment…Let me just say this about what it means to “live honorably among the Gentiles.” I have heard that there are some who will not hire anyone who has an ichthus sticker on the back bumper of their car. They are business minded men and women and they will not hire anyone who claims to be a Christian. It’s not because they are flaming atheists. They don’t have any specific vendetta. It’s just that they’ve seen what a lot of Christians are like. They won’t get to work on time. They poke around while they are at work and don’t take their projects seriously.
Now what kind of testimony is that? That is certainly not living honorably among the Gentiles! And you see how the “passions of the flesh” are linked to living honorably. The passions of sloth make lives that are dishonorable.
That is not what we are called to. We are called to honorable lives—lives that other people will find respectable and praiseworthy. And that means that we need to put the passions of our flesh in check.
I have so many applications I want to make here, but I’m going to have to tuck them away for now. We’ll have to deal with them another time. Let it be enough now for us to say that God calls us to an extreme life. We must bridle our excessive desires. We need to get distance between us and them and live honorably among the Gentiles. That is what we must do. We must live the extreme life, without a single second of a rumspringa.
Peter tells us that we must live to the extreme. But you’ll notice in the passage that he doesn’t leave it at that. He gives us several reasons why we need to live that way.
II. Why must we do it?
If you need a little motivation to get you on board with this, consider what Peter says about your nationality.
A. The issue of your nationality
At the very beginning of our text for today Peter reminds you that you are a pilgrim and an exile. He reminds you that you do not belong to the kingdom of sin and Satan. You belong to God and are a citizen of heaven. As such, you must be sure to maintain the proper deportment. Your lifestyle must remain in keeping with your personal background.
Think about the Amish kid again. Imagine a little Amish boy in all his Amish clothing. He’s got his blue and black dress, and his little Amish hat on his head. Now imagine him walking into a bar full of bikers. You see the boy walk up to the bar and order up a beer. Then as he swigs it down, he lights up a cigarette, grabs a pool stick and starts flirting with the ladies sitting in a booth.
Now something in your brain has to be screaming. I hope you are having a hard time imagining that. It’s not right. An Amish kid isn’t supposed to do that. That is not his environment. That’s not the kind of lifestyle that you associate with Amish kids. So long as he is in that bar [for whatever reason, perhaps his buggy broke down] he is a stranger. And his lifestyle ought to be in keeping with his original ethnicity.
That’s exactly what Peter is talking about here. You are a spiritual alien. Your homeland is the realm of angels and of God. And since this is so, cannot kibitz with sin. It would be unnatural for you to do so. So long as you are in this world, you are to stand out like a sore thumb. Your interests are in the New Jerusalem, and so your lifestyle is to be of a heavenly sort.
You must live this life because of it is in keeping with your nationality. But it is not just your ethnicity. You also need to consider the hostility of sin.
B. The issue of sin’s hostility
Our passage here makes it very clear that sin is hostile. At the end of verse 11 it says that these passions and lusts, “Wage war against your soul.” It is saying that sin is like an army ready to advance against your spiritual life. It is the enemy to peace and happiness, and it wishes to lay siege upon your soul.
You have to understand that you cannot permit sin in your life because it will attack you. It has the power to weaken and debilitate you spiritually. And all of you know this is true by experience. You know the misery it causes you. You know how it impedes your ability to smile and enjoy life. Sure it gives the allurement of happiness, but once the fleeting moment of sin is gone you’re left with nothing but the aftertaste of bitterness, discontent, and angst.
And then that impedes the rest of your spiritual life. You know how such things keep you from prayer. The more you are taken up with the delights of the world, the less you are taken up with God. How many of you can testify to how it impinges upon your ability to listen to a sermon. You couldn’t tune in because your mind is being assaulted by worries and anger and “what if’s.”
My friends, sin is on a campaign. It would like nothing more than to breech the fortress of your breast and raise the banner of misery over your heart.
And that is why you must take heed to Peter’s call, because it is so hostile.
But Peter not only brings up the issue of your nationality and sin’s hostility. He also mentions the world’s scrutiny.
C. The issue of the world’s scrutiny
Years ago Francis Schaffer wrote a book entitled, “The church before a watching world.” That is the very notion contained in verse 12. The world is watching us because, as it says there, “they wish to speak against us.” That is to say they are watching us because they want to charge us with some sort of wrongdoing. But we must show them that there is nothing to their charges. Moreover, the bounty of our good deeds must lead them ultimately to glorify God.
In the early church we see a good example of this. There was a time when the Roman magistrates charged the Christians with sedition. They were thought to be traitors because the Christians oftentimes talked about being part of another kingdom. And the Romans called for their citizenry to report Christians. But a lot of that didn’t happen because the everyday people around the Roman Empire knew that Christians were not bad people. They knew that for the most part they were obedient citizens.
Today, we might not face such an extreme case. But we are certainly still under surveillance. To be a Christian is to live in a fishbowl. Everyone is watching. Our neighbors are peeking over the fence at us, watching us through their windows. Just think, as soon as a prominent minister falls into sin, what happens? It is headline news. It is on the front page of every media outlet. They are just looking for a way to criticize.
But we must show them that there is no credence to their charges. As they scrutinize the things we do, our purity and our love ought to lead them straight to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Warren Weirsbe tells the story of some missionaries who were trying to minister to a certain tribe. They were diligent in their efforts to preach and teach. One day the chief of the tribe came to them and began talking to them. He eventually said, “We know that you teach about this Jesus and want us to be Christians. But we also know that you are working with the next village too. We will wait and see what becomes of them. If their lives become more righteous and their lifestyle improves, then we will become Christians too.”
That is the way it is more often than not. And may we take it to heart. May we be encouraged today to take heed to what Peter has said. May we see how important it is to live holy lives.
As I said earlier, over the next few weeks we are going to see what it means to live honorably among the Gentiles, but today may we see just how important it is to do so. And may we be encouraged to live to the extreme.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.