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Chapter One. THE TRIALS OF THE WAY
Chapter Two. A NEW NATION
Chapter Three. THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY
Chapter Four. THE NEW LIFE CONTRASTED WITH THE OLD
Chapter Five. THE END OF THE WAY
THE Epistles of Peter were written primarily--in accord with his special ministry to the circumcision (Gal. 2:8)--to Christian Jews of the dispersion, who dwelt in various provinces in western Asia, where most of the Apostle's labors had been. They have to do with the believer's relation to the Kingdom of God rather than to the Church as the Body of Christ; though, of course, those to whom he wrote were, as are all Christians, members of the Church and subjects of the Kingdom. Both are wilderness Epistles; they contemplate the children of God, not in their heavenly aspect, as in Ephesians (1:3; 2:6), but rather as strangers and pilgrims journeying on through the wilderness of this world from the cross to the Glory. Peter tells us that he wrote the first Letter to testify that "this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand" (1 Peter 5:12). It is not so much the grace that saves (as in Romans 5:1, 2), which gives us a perfect standing before the throne of God; it is rather the grace ministered to us day by day, which enables us to stand against all the wiles of the enemy and despite all the trials of the way. Suffering has a large place in the Epistle. It is looked upon as the normal thing for the believer while pressing on to the inheritance laid up for him in heaven. In this we are reminded of Savonarola's words, "A Christian's life consists in doing good and suffering evil." He is to rejoice for the privilege of suffering for Him who has redeemed us with His own blood.
The mystery of suffering has perplexed many all down through the ages. It is part of man's sad inheritance because of sin having come into the world, and in this life the child of God is not exempt from pain, sorrow, and anguish. But the suffering of believers is all ordained of God to work out for blessing. Through this ministry of suffering we are enabled to understand better what our Lord went through for us, when in this scene. He was "a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). God uses suffering to keep us from sin (1 Pet. 4:1; 2 Cor. 12:7), and as a means of chastening and discipline (Heb. 12:6-11) whereby we are made more like our blessed Lord. As we suffer because of faithfulness to His name and devotion to His cause, we enjoy a very real sense of fellowship with Him, who is still hated by the world that rejects His testimony. The reward is sure and will make us forget all our light affliction in the enjoyment of the eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17).
Christians are not exempt from suffering. When one trusts in Christ, it does not mean that he is at once freed from all the consequences of sin. So far as divine judgment is concerned, he is forever delivered from that (John 3:18, R.V.); but he is still in the body from which the Adamic curse has not yet been lifted. Consequently, he suffers with the groaning creation, of which that body is still a part. Then, in addition to this, he now finds that the world to which he once belonged, has now become a scene of hostility because of the place he has taken in association with a rejected Christ. All this involves suffering, but with every trial and affliction there will come needed grace to endure, "as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27).
There is a difference between suffering with Christ (Rom. 8:17) and suffering for Him (Acts 5:41). All Christians suffer with Him because of the very fact that they are partakers of the divine nature, and therefore are quick to feel the adverse conditions through which they are called to pass. But to suffer for Him is to bear shame and reproach--even unto persecution and death--for Christ's Name's sake (Acts 9:16).
The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 2 that after consultation with the leaders at Jerusalem, some time subsequent to his conversion, it was arranged among them that Peter should go especially to the Jews and he to the Gentiles. It was not that either confined himself to one particular class, but He that wrought mightily in Peter to the conversion of the Jews wrought in the same way in Paul to bringing the men of the nations to Christ. In his Letters Peter still has particularly in view his brethren after the flesh--the dispersed of Israel--scattered among the nations and living in the countries mentioned in the opening verse of our lesson. These were Jews generally known as the Diaspora, who, while away from the land of Palestine, yet looked upon it as their native country, until they gave up their earthly standing to become members of a new and redeemed nation, whose inheritance was laid up in heaven. To them Peter wrote, encouraging them to trust in the Lord and go on in patience even in the midst of suffering. Of this he had much to say in his Letter. It is an Epistle for afflicted believers, for, while addressed primarily to Hebrew Christians, it was no more confined to them than Paul's letters addressed to churches among the Gentiles are to be considered as only for those who, by nature, were strangers to the covenant of promise. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, so what is written to one is intended for the help and instruction of all those who are born again.
First Peter is characteristically a Wilderness Epistle. It pictures believers as journeying on from the place of the blood-sprinkling to the inheritance in heaven, or from the cross to the Glory. Many illustrations are drawn from Israel's journey from Egypt to Canaan. In Ephesians, believers are viewed as already over the Jordan and in the Land, enjoying their inheritance in Christ in the heavenlies; in First Peter, they are seen as a pilgrim people, strangers passing through an unfriendly world, moving on to the Land of Promise.
We are not able to decide exactly when First Peter was written, but it was evidently well on to the close of Peter's life; and, as he himself connects the two Letters so intimately (2 Pet. 3:1), they were probably not written very far apart. The date given by Ussher is A. D. 60, but there is no proof that it was as early as that. The best authorities suggest that the first Epistle was written somewhere about A. D. 66 or 67, and the second somewhat later. It is evident from 2 Peter 3:15, 16 that all of Paul's Epistles were in circulation already and recognized as Scripture before Peter wrote this second Letter, and we may conclude that the first one was not penned very much earlier.
This first Letter readily lends itself to the following outline:
IN THE WILDERNESS WITH GOD Chapter One: 1-12. The Trials of the Way. 13-25. Redemption by Blood, and New Birth by the Word and Spirit of God. Chapter Two: 1-10. A New Nation. 11-25. The Pilgrim Character. Chapter Three: 1-7. The Christian Family. 8-22. Suffering for Righteousness' Sake. Chapter Four: 1-11. The New Life Contrasted with the Old. 12-19. Suffering as a Christian. Chapter Five: 1-4. The End of the Way. 5-14. Grace Operative on the Journey.
The following is a suggestive outline on the special theme of suffering:
Suffering as a trial of faith (1:6, 7) Christ's predicted sufferings (1:11) Suffering for conscience' sake (2:19) Christ's suffering, our example (2:21-23) Suffering for righteousness' sake (3:14) Christ suffered for our sins (3:18) Suffering to cease from sin (4:1) Partakers of Christ's sufferings (4:13) Suffering as a Christian (4:16) Suffering for a limited time (5:10)
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied"--vers. 1, 2.
WE have in these opening verses the apostolic salutation. He who had been commissioned by the risen Christ to feed and shepherd the sheep and lambs of His flock addresses himself to those who in years gone by were as sheep without a shepherd, scattered on every high hill, but who now had come under the loving care of the Great Shepherd who appointed under-shepherds to minister to their peculiar needs.
Peter addresses his Letter, "To the strangers scattered." In accordance with the Lord's instruction, Peter seeks to feed and care for these scattered sheep of the house of Israel, dispersed among the nations. The lands mentioned are all in what we call Asia Minor, north of Palestine and Syria, and south of the Black Sea. In these countries many Jews were living who had been brought to know Christ through the ministries of both Paul and Peter. They had lost their old standing as Israelites in the flesh, part of an elect nation, which however had failed so grievously. Now, through infinite grace they belonged to a new country, all of whom were "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." There is nothing fatalistic or arbitrary about election as taught in the Scriptures. The gospel is to be preached to all, and all who believe it may be assured that they are numbered among the elect. Through the Spirit's sanctification--that is, His separating work, men are awakened and brought to see their need of Christ. When in the obedience of faith they appropriate the privilege of finding shelter beneath the sprinkled blood of Jesus, like the people of Israel on the Passover night in Egypt, who were safe within the houses, protected by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on the door-posts and lintels, they are forever safe from the judgment which their sins deserve. God said, of old, "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" (Exod. 12:13). So today, all who are sheltered by the blood of sprinkling may be assured that they stand where the wrath of God will never reach them.
It was to such as these that Peter wrote, wishing that to them grace and peace might be multiplied. It was not the grace that saves which he had in view, but the grace that keeps; nor was it peace with God of which he wrote, but the peace of God which garrisons the hearts of all who learn to commit their way unto the Lord.
The next section, consisting of verses 3 to 12, constitutes the introduction to the Epistle, and gives us the key to the understanding of all that follows.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into"--vers. 3-12.
It is noticeable how closely the words of verse 3 are linked to Ephesians 1:3. Both begin in exactly the same way, by blessing, or extolling the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as the passages in the two Epistles continue they unfold altogether different aspects of truth. In Ephesians the believer is seen as seated together in the heavenlies in Christ. This is the New Testament antitype of Canaan, the inheritance which is ours already. On the other hand, Peter shows us the believer as journeying on to Canaan rest which is at the end of the way. Both aspects are true, and the one never contradicts the other. As to our standing we are in Christ in the heavenlies; as to our state we are pilgrims marching on to glory.
Ours is a living hope, in contrast to Israel's dead hope, because of their failure to fulfil the terms of the covenant entered into at Sinai. Our confidence rests not on any ability of our own to carry out certain promises, but is according to the abundant mercy which God has bestowed upon us, and which is assured to us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
We are not seen here as already in the enjoyment of our inheritance, but we are journeying on toward it. It is reserved in heaven for us. Unlike Canaan it is incorruptible and undefiled, and shall never fade away. Even after Israel entered the land of promise they defiled it by their idolatry, and it became corrupted because of their gross wickedness, so that eventually they lost it altogether. It is far otherwise with our heavenly inheritance. It is being kept for us, and we are kept for it--"Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" in its complete and final sense which will be revealed in the last time--that is, when we reach the end of the wilderness journey. It is not the salvation of the soul of which he speaks here. That is ours already, as we shall see in verse 9. Salvation in its complete sense includes the redemption of the body.
In view of this blessed hope we are enabled to rejoice even though now for a season, if need be, we are in heaviness of spirit because of the many trials to which we are exposed. There is a "need be" (1:6) for every sorrow that the Christian is called upon to endure. Are we willing to trust the wisdom of God and to allow Him to plan our lives as He sees fit? Faith must be tested, otherwise it could not be verified. So we need not fear when our faith is exposed to trial that it indicates any displeasure on God's part toward us. Rather it indicates His deep interest in and concern for us. For just as gold is tried in the fire in order to separate it from the dross, so faith, which is much more precious than gold that perisheth, must be tested in order that it may be found unto praise and honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ from heaven."Precious" is one of Peter's special words. He writes of the precious trial of faith (1 Peter 1:7), the precious living Stone (2:4, 7), precious faith (2 Peter 1:1), and precious promises (1:4). Do we appreciate all these precious things enough to suffer for them if called upon to do so? Are we as ready to suffer for the sake of our blessed Lord as we are to profit by His sufferings on our behalf? Even the philosophic worldling can endure suffering without complaining, but it is only the regenerated one who can glory in tribulation. Just as gold is purified by the fire that consumes the dross, so God uses trial and suffering to separate the believer from those things that hinder fellowship with God and growth in the spiritual life.
Faith endures, we are told elsewhere, "as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27); so, although we have never seen our blessed Lord with our mortal eyes, we love Him, and believing in Him we rejoice with unspeakable gladness and exalted joy. The expression "full of glory" is a peculiar idiom suggesting an exaltation beyond our power to express. What rapture fills the heart that is really taken up with the unseen Christ, in whom we have put our confidence, so that even here and now we know we have the salvation of our souls! We know this on the authority of the Word ofGod.
Of this salvation the prophets of ancient times spoke and wrote; but it was not given to them to know the fulness of grace as it has now been revealed to us. They wrote as the Spirit directed concerning "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow," but they had no way of knowing the exact time when these things were to be fulfilled; nor could they see the long period (this entire present age) that was to elapse between the cross and the glory of the Redeemer.
It was revealed to them that their message had to do with a future day. What they reported by the Spirit's inspiration is now the basis of our confidence and the first source of information for those who have preached the gospel in our day in the energy of the Holy Spirit who was sent down from heaven at Pentecost to bear witness to these truths--things that had been hidden even from the angels, and which they now delight to look into. They are learning the wisdom of God in us, as we are told in Ephesians 3:10.
REDEMPTION AND NEW BIRTH
Just as Israel was redeemed by the blood of the lamb on the night of the Passover in Egypt, and that date became to them the beginning of months, when they were born as a nation, so Peter now asks us to consider the marvelous realities of our redemption and our new birth.
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you"--vers. 13-25.
God's word to Israel, as given in Exodus 12, was that they were to eat the passover with their loins girded and their shoes on their feet, ready to begin their journey to the promised land the moment the signal was given to evacuate Egypt. So, here, in addressing these sojourners in a world to which they no longer belonged Peter bids them gird up the loins of their minds--that is, bring every thought into subjection to the revealed will of God, for we are to have the loins girt about with truth (Eph. 6:14). Sobriety is to characterize such, for it is a serious thing to be called out of this world to live for God in the very scene where once we dishonored His name. The hope is to be the guiding-pillar that leads us on to the end of the journey which will come when Jesus Christ is revealed from heaven.
No longer are we to conduct ourselves, or fashion our behavior as we once did when, in the days of our blindness and ignorance, we were under the domination of carnal desires. Like the Israelite about whose garments was to run a fringe of blue, the reminder that he was linked up with the God of heaven, and upon which he was to look and remember that he was called to exhibit the heavenly character, for God had said, "Be ye holy; for I am holy," so we, too, are to manifest holiness in all our words and ways as becomes a heavenly people passing through a world of sin.
Neither carelessness nor indifference becomes those who, through infinite grace, are privileged to call God, Father, but reverent fear, lest we grieve His heart and reflect discredit upon His name.
We have been redeemed, not like Israel when they paid down the half-shekel of silver, as in Exodus 30:12-15, as a ransom for their souls, nor with gold so often demanded as a ransom by some victorious leader when he dictated terms of peace to a conquered people; but we have been purchased and freed from judgment by the precious blood of Christ, and should no longer be conformed to the empty behavior of the past, which, while in accordance with ancestral customs, was opposed to the ways that glorify God. Christ was the true, unblemished and spotless Paschal Lamb--free from sin or fault of any kind, either inwardly or outwardly. Him God had foreknown before the universe was created, because redemption was no after-thought with Him, hastily arranged to patch up a wrecked world, ruined by man's sin and rebellion against his Creator. All had been foreseen and prepared for beforehand. God had not been outwitted by Satan. It was not however until man had been tested fully under various dispensations, and proven to be utterly helpless so far as delivering himself is concerned, that the remedy God had provided, the Saviour He had foreknown, was manifest. Through Him the Father is now made known in the fulness of His grace, and by Him we believe in God who, after Christ had finished His redemptive work, raised His blessed Son from the dead, and glorified Him by seating Him as Man at His own right hand, that our faith, or confidence, and our hope might be in God--the God of resurrection.
Redemption is a work which was accomplished by Christ Jesus on Calvary, and is therefore, so far as we are concerned, entirely objective. We could have no part in it except that we committed the sins that made it necessary, unless we had been left to die in our iniquities. But regeneration, or new birth, is subjective. It is a work done in us by the Word and the Spirit of God. Of this Peter next speaks.
A great change has taken place within the hearts of all those who have obeyed the truth through the Spirit. The Word of God has been brought home to their souls in the convicting and convincing energy of the Holy Spirit, thus producing a new life and nature, the characteristic feature of which is love--the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, as Paul tells us, by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us (Rom. 5:5). This produces love for our brethren in Christ, a love that is unselfish and pure, not contaminated by the evil desires of the flesh. For all who thus believe in Christ are born again, not a birth according to the natural order, not of corruptible seed; for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh," as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:6). But this new birth is, as we have seen, the result of believing the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever. And this Word, we are told in verse 25, is that which is proclaimed by the gospel.
The intervening verse, 24, and the first part of verse 25 are parenthetical and emphasize the contrast between that which is human and that which is divine. Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6, 8, declaring that all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass, which appears beautiful and verdant for a brief season, and then is gone forever. For the grass soon withers, and the lovely flowers fade and fall; but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
Theologians may wrangle about the necessity of a new birth by the sovereign act of God whereby the elect are first quickened and then enabled to believe unto salvation; but Scripture is clear that new birth is by means of the Word, which the Spirit of God brings to bear upon the heart and conscience. Apart from this there is no divine life. James also tells us that, "Of His own will begat He us by the Word of truth" (James 1:18). Believing the gospel we become children of God, and are responsible to walk as such, in the place of realized dependence upon the Lord from day to day as we pursue our pilgrim course from the cross to the glory yet to be revealed.
"Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the Word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy"--vers. 1-10.
JUST as Israel, who went down into Egypt as a family of seventy souls, emerged from that land of bondage a new nation, under the divine leadership, so now believers in Christ, having been born of God, are constituted a new nation, whose citizenship is in heaven; and who, though living in this world, are not of it, nor to be fashioned according to it. Their habits and motives are of an altogether different order to what once characterized them as walking according to the flesh.
It was this that was symbolically emphasized in the imperative command to put away all leaven out of their houses and to eat only unleavened bread with the bitter herbs and the lamb that had been roasted with fire. We are told in 1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 to "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." This is that of which Peter exhorts as this new section opens.
One of our hymns says:
"Lord, since we sing as pilgrims, Oh, give us pilgrim ways; Low thoughts of self, befitting Proclaimers of Thy praise. Oh, make us each more holy, In spirit pure and meek, More like to heavenly citizens As more of heaven we speak."
Even so are we admonished to lay "aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings." What a clearing out of the old corrupt leaven is suggested here! How tightly these things cling to us even after we have been saved! With what readiness do we yield to the dictates of the old nature, giving way to unholy feelings, engendering evil humors, and forgetting we are to speak evil of no man. A thorough searching of our hearts for leaven such as these words describe, and burning it in the fire of self-judgment is most important as we begin the heavenward journey.
In order to obtain strength for the way we need nourishment, and that of a divine order. So, just as newborn babes desire milk we should thirst for the genuine milk of the Word, the revealed truth of God that, feeding upon it, we may grow unto salvation, as the Revised Version adds; not in order to obtain salvation in the sense of deliverance from the guilt of sin, but that salvation which means complete conformity to Christ to which we shall never attain until we see Him as He is. In the meantime, the more we meditate upon the Word the more like Christ we shall become, provided of course we have tasted already that the Lord is gracious. If we do not yet know Him we have not taken the first step in the pilgrim way.
Peter's two Letters were based upon two great events in his life, two high and precious experiences which he was never able to forget. The First Epistle links definitely with that confession of Christ as the Son of the living God which Peter made in the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus declared, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (a stone), and upon this Rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:17, 18).
The Second Epistle is linked just as definitely with the glorious vision on the mount of transfiguration, as we shall see when we come to consider it.
Whatever man may think, and however theologians may wrangle about the meaning of the Lord's words to Peter regarding the Rock on which the Church is built, there can be no room for doubt as to how Peter himself understood them. He writes, "To whom (referring to the Lord of whose grace he had just spoken) coming, as unto a living Stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also as living stones, are built up a spiritual house." The house is the Church. The Rock upon which it is built is Christ Himself, the Living Stone. Every believer is also a living stone (made such by grace), builded upon Christ and cemented to his fellow-members by the Holy Spirit. So, too, teaches the Apostle Paul in the closing verses of Ephesians 2.
"View the vast building; see it rise. The work how great; the plan how wise! Nor can that faith be overthrown Which rests upon the Living Stone."
But not only are believers viewed as stones builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit, we are also "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." How different this from Rome's claim to have authority to appoint a special priesthood who offer material sacrifices as they present a wafer before God and pretend it is changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and is again immolated on their altars as a perpetual sacrifice for the sins of the living and the dead. The blasphemy of it all chills one's blood even as we pen the words!
In Israel of old there were three special groups: the priesthood, the Levites, and the warriors. In the Church, or assembly of God, all are priests, to go unto God as worshipers; all are Levites, to serve their brethren in holy things; all are soldiers, to fight the good fight of faith. There is no separate priesthood now, no clerical order recognized by God as distinct from and with authority over those who are content to be called and call themselves mere laymen, or the laity.
All believers are a holy priesthood, as we learn in verse 9, a royal priesthood also. We offer up the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name (Heb. 13:15). This was the real sacrifice, even in the days of types and shadows (Jer. 33:11).
Reverting to the Rock foundation Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16 where of old God declared, "Behold, I lay in Sion a chief Corner Stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded." He who in God's eyes is the infinitely precious One is the Elect Stone, the Head of the corner and the solid Rock upon which the spiritual edifice is builded. To those who believe in Him, He is indeed, not only precious, but also the preciousness; but unto the disobedient He is the rejected Stone whom God nevertheless has made Head of the corner (Ps. 118:22). Disowned by Israel and crucified, God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to this high place. But despite all the many witnesses to His resurrection there are myriads who refuse to believe. They stumble at the Word because of their disobedience, and to this they are appointed. Do not misunderstand; they were not appointed, or predestined, to be disobedient. God does not so deal with any man. The supralapsarian theologians dishonor His name while imagining they are defending His right when they so teach. But when men are determined to go on in the path of disobedience, God gives them up to strong delusion, thus appointing them to stumble.
Believers are a chosen generation, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit; they constitute a royal priesthood who, like Melchizedek, go out from the presence of God to bless mankind, and magnify the name of the Most High God; they are a holy nation, thus taking the place of that polluted nation which God has, for the time being, disowned. This new nation of pilgrims is now His peculiar people--that is, a people for His own possession, whose high calling it is to show forth His praises who has called them out of the darkness of nature, of sin, and of unbelief, into the marvelous light and liberty of the gospel.
In time past, as Hosea predicted (chap. 2:23) they were not a people; now they are recognized by God as His own. They who were once Lo-ruhamah ("not having obtained mercy") now have obtained mercy through faith in Christ Jesus the Lord.
"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: who, when He was reviled, reviled not again: when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls"--vers. 11-25.
The Spirit of God now gives us important details concerning what should characterize the pilgrim band as they travel on through the wilderness of this world to the Canaan rest that awaits them when they reach the end of the way. Let us notice carefully each verse:
Verse 11.--"As strangers and pilgrims." Notice the order. Men often reverse it. But no one is really a pilgrim in this Biblical sense who has not first become a stranger in this world. As such, he is to be careful to avoid contamination with the evil that is all about him. He is to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." Just as Amalek came out and fought against Israel (Exod. 17:8), so these carnal desires would tend to turn the believer aside from the path of devotion to Christ, and so hinder his progress as he journeys on toward that which God has prepared for him (1 Pet. 1:3,4).
Verse 12.--"They may by your good works ... glorify God." Just as Daniel's enemies had to confess they could find nothing against him (Daniel 6:4, 5) except "concerning the law of his God," which was contrary to their accepted heathen practices, so consistent believers shut the mouths of those who would deride and vilify them, making these very foes of the truth bear testimony to the consistency of their lives.
Verse 13.--"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." As loyal subjects of the State, Christians are to be obedient to the laws passed, even though they may feel that in some instances they are unnecessarily arbitrary and even actually unjust. By their submission they honor Him whom they recognize as their Lord and Saviour. Whatever form of government may prevail, so long as it is recognized as the constituted authority of the country, we are to be in subjection, whether to a king or by whatever name the supreme executive is known.
Verse 14.--"Unto governors ... for the punishment of evildoers." Human government has been established by God that evil may be checked and righteousness encouraged. The fact that some rulers act contrary to the divine ideal does not absolve the believer from obedience to the powers that be. All human government manifests imperfection, but without its restraints society would be shipwrecked and anarchy would prevail. In principle, all constituted authority is intended to prevent crime and encourage honesty and good living.
Verse 15.--"With well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Nothing is a better answer to false and malignant accusations than a godly, upright life, against which no charges can be brought truthfully. Samuel is a good example of this (1 Sam. 12:3,4). There have not been wanting evilly-disposed men in all ages, who have sought to impugn the motives and malign the conduct of God-fearing people. The best answer to all this is a blameless life, and this involves obedience to law.
Verse 16.--"As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness." Christians have been called unto liberty (Gal. 5:13), but this must never be confounded with license to obey the dictates of the flesh. He who makes of his Christian profession a cloak to cover unrighteous behavior is a hypocrite who dishonors the worthy name of the One he professes to serve. Note the vivid contrast here. Those who, through grace, are free from the slavery of sin and free from the principle of legality in Christian service are nevertheless the bondmen of God, purchased with the precious blood of Christ, and so responsible to render glad, loving obedience to His Word. They are not to make their liberty an excuse for fleshly license.
Verse 17.--There are four admonitions in this verse. The third really covers all the rest. He who fears--that is, stands in awe of--God will not dishonor any man, and will love his brethren, and give due recognition to constituted authority. "Honor all men." No man is to be despised. All are among those for whom Christ died. "Love the brotherhood." This refers, not to the world in general, but to those who have been saved out of the world--those born again into the family of God. "Fear God." Reverence Him whom we now know, not only as Creator, but also as Redeemer. "Honor the king." Show due respect to the head of the government as one set by God in that very place, who is therefore accountable to God for the right exercise of the authority committed to him.
Verse 18.--Servants are exhorted to obedience to their own masters, and that "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." It is easy to obey a master who is kindly disposed and considerate. But the grace of God is seen in yielding obedience to those who are harsh and needlessly severe. This verse has added force when we remember that in Peter's day servants were generally slaves. The consistent behavior of Christians in bondage was used of God to lead many of their masters to Christ. Self-vindication is ever to be avoided on the part of the follower of Christ. He is called to imitate his master, who endured uncomplainingly the false accusation of sinners and lived His pure and holy life as under the eye of the Father, content to leave it with Him to justify Him in due time (Isa. 50:5-8). The believer is to be subject to the laws of the land wherein he dwells, and to be a loyal citizen and an obedient servant in his particular calling. Thus by his good behavior he will show the falsity of the charges of malicious men, who would seek to make him out a menace to the State and an enemy of mankind. The early Christians were often so charged, but their consistent lives silenced their accusers.
Verse 19.--"This is thankworthy." The real theme of Peter's first Letter is the grace of God as manifested to and in the saints (5:12). The word rendered "thankworthy" here is really "grace." It is grace active in the life, enabling one to bear up under false accusations and to suffer in silence when conscious of one's own integrity.
Verse 20.--"If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ... this is acceptable with God." Anyone can endure reproof when he knows it is deserved. It takes grace to enable one to accept undeserved blame without complaining; but to God it is acceptable, or well-pleasing, for this is to follow Christ's blessed example. "It is hard to be blamed for what you did not do!" So said a troubled young Christian lately. But in this portion of God's Word we are bidden to take our blessed, adorable Lord Himself as our example in this as in all else. He was falsely accused and bitterly persecuted for wrongs He had never done. As He left everything in the Father's hands, so should we. Nature will rebel when we have to say, as He did, "They laid to My charge things that I knew not" (Ps. 35:11). But grace will enable us to triumph and to rejoice when men speak evil of us and persecute us (Matt. 5:11). If we endure patiently, as seeing Him who is invisible (Heb. 11:27), we shall be vindicated in His own way and time, and reward will be sure at His judgment-seat (1 Cor. 4:5).
Verse 21.--"Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example." He has trodden the path ahead of us. We are called to follow His steps. The word here rendered "example" suggests a top line in a child's copybook. We are to reproduce Christ in our lives.
Verse 22.--"Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." He was pure outwardly and inwardly, God's unblemished, spotless Lamb; therefore a suitable sacrifice on behalf of sinners, as He would not have been had He Himself been in anyway defiled.
Verse 23.--"When He was reviled, reviled not again." Jesus endured patiently all the shame and indignities to which wicked men subjected Him. Their evil accusations brought no answers from His holy lips. He left it to the Father to vindicate Him, in His own good time.
Verse 24.--"Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree." We dislike being blamed for other people's faults, but He took all our sins upon Himself--bore all the judgment due to us--and so we are healed by His stripes, as depicted in Isaiah 53:5, 6. Shall we then live in the sins for which He died? Rather, let us live now "unto righteousness" that He may be glorified in us.
Verse 25.--"The Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." Once we were all like straying sheep, but through the grace of God we have been brought to know Christ. He is now our Shepherd, feeding and sustaining us, and our Bishop, or Overseer, guiding and directing us as we pursue our onward way through the wilderness of this world.
Having been saved by Him whom the world rejected, His pilgrim people have no reason to expect better treatment from that world than what was meted out to their Lord. When incarnate Love was here on earth, few received Him and many rejected Him. His followers need not be surprised therefore if their testimony is spurned by the majority and accepted by the minority. The Christian is not to think it strange that he, and that for which he stands, is not highly esteemed by the world. He is here as a light to shine for Christ in a dark scene. When Jesus our Lord returns He will estimate aright all His people have done and suffered for His sake, and He will reward accordingly. In the meantime it is better far to have the approval of the Lord than the approbation of the world which crucified Him.
We may epitomize the conduct which is inculcated in this section of the Epistle as follows:
STRANGERS AND PILGRIMS Purity of life (ver. 11). Honesty in word and deed (ver. 12). Subjection to law (vers. 13-15). Walking in liberty, not license (ver. 16). Reverence for God and consideration for men (ver. 17). Obedience to masters (ver. 18). Enduring grief (ver. 19). Patient under false accusations (ver. 20). Following Christ's footsteps (vers. 21-23). Dead to sins and living unto righteousness (ver. 24). Owning Christ's authority, and under His care (ver. 25).
These are the characteristics of the new life which we who are saved have received by our second birth.
"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the Word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered"--vers. 1-7.
THE new life does not run counter to natural relationships. It is no sign of grace but rather quite the opposite to be without natural affection. So the Holy Spirit now proceeds to admonish wives and husbands as to their attitude each to the other.
There are few experiences more difficult than to be united in marriage to an unbeliever. The Christian young man or young woman should never go voluntarily into such a union. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers ... and what communion hath light with darkness? ... or what part hath he that believeth with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor. 6:14,15). But where one member of a family already formed is brought to know the Lord while the other remains in the darkness of nature, the most serious misunderstandings and perplexing circumstances are apt to arise. If it be the wife who has been converted, while the husband remains out of Christ, peculiar wisdom and grace will be needed on her part. If she takes a superior attitude toward her unsaved husband she will only stir up his opposition to the truth and render conditions increasingly difficult. She is admonished here to be in subjection to her own husband, manifesting such grace and humility of spirit that even though he resents the Word he may be won without the Word--that is, without the wife saying much to him--by her discreet behavior as he observes the beauty of her Christian character. We say that, "Actions speak louder than words," and this is in accord with the teaching of Scripture. An imperious, dominating woman will drive her husband further from God instead of drawing him to Christ. But a gentle, gracious lady, whose life is characterized by purity and whose adorning is not simply that which is outward but that which is inward, will have great influence over even a godless husband.
Here let me point out that the Scriptures do not forbid a measure of adornment of the person, but rather that the wife should not depend on this to make her pleasing and attractive. A slatternly woman only repels. But one may be tastefully attired and immaculately groomed, and yet spoil everything by a haughty spirit or a bad temper. The ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in God's sight priceless, and will commend her to her husband, family and friends.
It was in this way that the holy women of old were adorned who lived in dependence on God and were in subjection to their husbands instead of domineering over them. Sara is cited as a beautiful example of this. When the angel announced that she was to become the mother of Isaac, though at a very advanced age, she wonderingly inquired how it could be when she was old and, she added, "My lord being old also," referring to her husband Abraham. Those who obey this instruction become manifestly her children morally, and need not be terrified by trying and difficult experiences.
To the husbands there is also a word of serious admonition. Let them give all due honor to the wife, not trying to lord it over her conscience, but recognizing her physical limitations as the weaker vessel; let them be the more considerate, dwelling with her according to knowledge and as being heirs together of the grace of life; and the Spirit adds what is most important: "That your prayers be not hindered." Quarrels and bickerings in the home stifle all fellowship in prayer. It means much for the husband and wife to be able to kneel together in hallowed communion and mingle their voices in prayer and intercession.
SUFFERING FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS' SAKE
"Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him"--vers. 8-22.
Verse 8 begins with the word "Finally," which suggests that what follows is not to be divorced from what has gone before but rather is the natural result of it. Believers generally, not only husbands and wives, now are exhorted to manifest oneness of spirit, sympathetic consideration for each other, with brotherly love, the product of a gracious heart and a lowly mind. Anything like retaliation for injuries is to be sedulously avoided. In place of returning evil for evil and reviling for reviling we are to bless even our worst opponents, for in so doing we ourselves will be doubly blessed.
Peter quotes a part of the thirty-fourth Psalm, using verses 12 to 16, but he stops in the middle of the last sentence, and that for a very special reason.
The Psalmist speaks to all who love life and would enjoy it at its best, bidding them keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking guile--that is, anything of a dishonest character. He exhorts them to turn from evil and pursue righteousness, to seek peace and pursue it--that is, ever follow after that which is for the good of mankind. And all this is in view of the fact that the all-seeing eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. There Peter stops. When we turn back to the Psalm we find the sentence continues by adding, "To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth." But that will not be in this age. It will have its solemn fulfilment in the coming day of the Lord. So exact and meticulous is Scripture ! We might think that it made little difference, but Jesus put a whole dispensation into a comma when He read in the synagogue at Nazareth, "He hath sent Me ... to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. And He closed the book" (Luke 4:19, 20). The next words are, "And the day of vengeance of our God" (Isa. 61:2); but that will not begin until the day of grace is ended.
No matter how evil men, motivated by Satanic hatred for the gospel, may seek to injure believers, "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" There can no evil happen to the righteous, for, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). This includes persecution, sickness, financial distress--anything that men think of as evil, but all of which God sanctifies to the good of the subject Christian.
If called upon to suffer for righteousness' sake let it be counted a joyful privilege. There is no need to fear nor to live in dread of threatened terror, for God is over all, and none can go beyond that which He permits for our blessing. He who stopped the lions' mouths and protected Daniel, and walked in the furnace with the three Hebrew youths, will ever keep a watchful eye upon His saints, yea, and upon their enemies too, lest they go beyond His permissive will.
Only give God His rightful place in the heart. Let it be separated to Him, and when called to witness before men be ever ready to give an answer to all who inquire concerning the basis of your faith, with becoming lowliness and reverence; being careful to maintain a good conscience so that there will be no truth in their charges if accused of evil behavior by wicked men who give false testimony regarding your upright manner of life in Christ.
Verse 17 declares that it is better, that is, preferable, if it pleases God to allow it, that one suffer for doing the right rather than for doing what is wrong. In this our blessed Lord is our supreme example. He suffered at the hands of evil men who misrepresented Him and bore false witness concerning Him. Then on the cross He suffered once for all for sins--not His own but ours--He the Just, we the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God. And this He has done. We have not yet been brought to heaven, but we who believe in Christ Jesus have been brought to God.
On the cross He was put to death in the flesh, but in God's due time He was made alive by the Holy Spirit in His physical resurrection from the dead. Observe, it is not His human spirit that is here in view. It could not properly be said that He was quickened or made alive in that, for His spirit never died. But after the body and spirit had been separated in death He was raised again by the Holy Spirit (see Rom. 8:11). In that same Spirit He, in ages long gone by, preached through Noah to spirits with whom He declared He would strive for more than an hundred and twenty years (Gen. 6:3). Noah was a preacher of righteousness and suffered for righteousness' sake, as we are called to do, and as Jesus did (2 Peter 2:5). So it was "when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing," that Christ by the Spirit preached in or by the patriarch. What was the result of this preaching? "Wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water." And just as those who entered the ark passed through the flood of judgment to a new earth so in baptism the obedient believer is saved in symbol. It is not the going into the water that saves but that of which baptism speaks and which a good conscience demands: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. He who went down into death, who could say, "All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over Me" (Ps. 42:7), has now emerged in triumph, bringing over to new creation all who trust in Him. He has gone into heaven and sits as the exalted Man on the right hand of God, in token of the Father's full satisfaction in the work of His Son. To Him all angels, authorities and powers are subject.
CONVERSION to God involves an inward and an outward change. When born again one receives a new nature with new desires and new ambitions. The whole behavior is changed from that of a selfish worldling to a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The great importance of this is emphasized in the opening verses of this chapter.
"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to Him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. But the end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen"--vers. 1-11.
With Christ Himself as our example of patience in suffering how can we, who owe all to Him, do otherwise than arm ourselves with the same mind and so endure as beholding Him by faith? Many times God uses suffering to keep us from going into that which would dishonor Him. And when exposed to severe temptation it is as we suffer in the flesh that we are kept from sin. In this we may see the difference between our Lord's temptations and those which we have to face. He was tempted in all points like as we, apart from sin. He did not have a sinful nature as we do. He was from His birth the Holy One. He could say, "The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me." With us it is otherwise. When Satan attacks from without there is an enemy within, "sin, the flesh," that responds to his appeal, and it is only as we reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God that we are enabled to mortify the deeds of the body. This means suffering, often of a very severe character. But, we are told, Jesus "suffered being tempted" (Heb. 2:18). So infinitely pure and holy was He that it caused Him intense suffering even to be exposed to Satan's solicitations. He overcame by the Word of God, and the devil left Him for a season, to return in the hour of His agony as He was bearing our sins upon the cross.
Let us therefore resist every temptation to gratify the flesh, cost what it may, for it is our new responsibility to live no longer in the flesh according to carnal desires, but in the Spirit to the glory of God. A careful consideration of Galatians, chapter 5, will help to make clear what Peter here presents to us as to our responsibility to refrain from ways that once characterized us. In their unsaved days these whom he addresses wrought the will of the Gentiles when they fellowshipped with the ungodly in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and the abominations connected with idolatry. Although after the flesh, the Jews sought to curry favor with their pagan Gentile neighbors by participation in these evil things, even as Israel of old failed so grievously at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25:1-3). Since their conversion to God all this was changed. Their former companions could not understand why they so suddenly and completely turned from lives of self-indulgence to what seemed to them great abstemiousness and austerity. They who applauded them before, now spoke evil of them. But they were to live as those who should give account not to men, but to Him who is about to judge the living and the dead when He returns in power. In that day those who despised them for their holy lives would answer to God too. "For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." Those who had preceded them in the path of faith were obliged to contend with similar conditions. The good news preached to them who, though now dead, once had to face the ridicule and even persecution of wicked men who had no understanding of spiritual things, was revealed to them that even while living as men in this scene and judged by their fellows as fools and fanatics, they might actually live unto God in spirit. There is no thought or suggestion here of the gospel being carried to men after death as Romanists, Mormons, and others, would have us believe.
Verse 7.--The Christian is ever to keep the end in view. He is to live not for the passing moment, but as one who knows that the end of all things--that is, all things of this present order, is at hand. It will be ushered in at the Lord's return; therefore, the importance of sobriety and watchfulness unto prayer.
Verse 8 emphasizes that upon which Paul lays so much stress in 1 Corinthians 13, the importance of fervent love among those who are of the pilgrim company. The world hates believers. This is all the more reason why they cling to one another in love, even though they cannot be blind to the faults of others, but love covers the multitude of sins, rather than exposing and holding them up to censure. This does not mean that we should be indifferent to evil. We are taught elsewhere how to deal with and to help those who are overtaken in a fault or who drift into sin. See Galatians 6:1; James 5:19, 20.
It is incumbent on those who love Christ to be gracious to one another, using hospitality ungrudgingly, as verse 9 tells us.
Verses 10 and 11 have to do with the exercise of spiritual gifts and Christian service generally. Each is responsible to use the gift he has received to minister for the blessing of the rest, "as good stewards of the grace of God." A steward is held accountable to fulfil faithfully the trust committed to him by his master.
They who speak, addressing the church when assembled together, are not to give out their own or other men's theories, but are to speak as the oracles of God, declaring only that which He has revealed. Those who minister (or serve) in any capacity are to do it according to the ability God gives, so that in all things He may be glorified through Christ Jesus to whom all praise and dominion eternally belong.
SUFFERING AS A CHRISTIAN
The name "Christian" is not found very often in the New Testament, but is the distinctive title of those who belong to Christ. We read of it in Acts 11:26 where it was conferred upon the Gentile believers at Antioch by divine authority; for the word "called" there literally means "oracularly called," and therefore it was not the Antiochians alone who bestowed this name upon the believers, but God Himself who so designated them. That it has become their well-known appellation is evident from Acts 26:28, where we read that King Agrippa exclaimed, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!" When Peter wrote this letter some years later he uses it as the commonly recognized name of the pilgrim company, and he tells us that it is praiseworthy to suffer as a Christian.
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator"--vers. 12-19.
In verse 12 he writes of "the fiery trial which is to try you." Primarily, the reference was to the great suffering that the Jews--whether Christian or not--were about to undergo in connection with the fulfilment of our Lord's prophecy concerning Jerusalem's destruction, shortly to take place (Luke 21:20-24). But it also has reference to the horrors of the Roman persecutions, which were to continue for two terrible centuries. The words are applicable to every time of trial and persecution.
Verse 13.--"Partakers of Christ's sufferings." The believer suffers in fellowship with his Lord. Our Lord has told us to expect this (John 15:18-21). We cannot be partakers of His atoning sufferings. They stand alone: none but He could endure the penalty for our sins and so make propitiation, in order that we might be forgiven. But we share His sufferings for righteousness' sake.
Verse 14.--"Reproached for the name of Christ." No one can be true to Christ and loved by the worldsystem, for everything that Jesus taught condemns the present order and leads ungodly men to hate Him and His people. But he who suffers for Christ's sake now is assured of glory hereafter, which will fully answer to the shame now endured. "On their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified." The reproach of the world should not deter the Christian. He need not expect the approval of those who reject and misunderstand his Saviour. It is his responsibility so to live as to give the lie to the false reports of the ungodly and so to glorify the One whose name they spurn.
Verse 15.--No believer should ever suffer as "a busybody in other men's matters." Notice the company in which the busybody is placed. He is linked with murderers, thieves, and evildoers of every description, and that for a very good reason; for the busybody steals men's reputations, seeks to assassinate their good names, and by his calumniations works all manner of evil. The follower of Christ is called upon to be careful never to misbehave so as to deserve the ill-will of the wicked. He is not to be dishonest or corrupt in life, nor to be given to gossipy interference in other people's affairs. Thus by a holy and righteous life, he will adorn the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27, 28).
Verse 16.--"If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed." None needs to be ashamed to suffer because of his faithfulness to the hallowed name he bears. The disciples, as we have noticed already, were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26), and this name has clung to them ever since. It signifies their union with Christ, and therefore is a name in which to glory, however the world may despise it! Let us therefore never be ashamed of this name and all that it implies, but be prepared to suffer because of it, knowing that we may thus glorify the God who has drawn us to Himself and saves us through His blessed Son, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).
Verse 17.--"Judgment must begin at the house of God." Our Father-God does not pass over the failures of His people, but disciplines them in order that they may be careful to walk in obedience to His Word. If He is thus particular in chastening His own, how solemn will be the judgment of "them that obey not the gospel," but persist to the end in rejecting the Saviour He has provided!
Verse 18.--"If the righteous scarcely be saved," that is, if the righteous have to endure chastening at the hand of God and persecution at the hand of the world, what will it mean for unsaved and impenitent men to answer before the judgment-throne for their persistence in refusing His grace?
Verse 19.--"Commit the keeping of their souls ... in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator." However hard the way and however perplexing their experiences, the suffering Christian may look up to God in confidence, knowing he can rely upon the divine love and faithfulness, and assured that all will work out for blessing at last.
Throughout the entire Christian era, which is that of the dispensation of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2), believers in Christ are called out from the world and are responsible to live for the glory of Him who has saved them. But though separated from the surrounding evil, they are not to shut themselves up as in a monastery or convent in order to be protected from defilement, but are to go forth as God's messengers into that very world from which they have been delivered, preaching to all men everywhere the gospel, which is God's offer of salvation through the finished work of His beloved Son. Whatever suffering or affliction this entails is to be borne cheerfully for His sake, knowing that He will reward abundantly for all endured, when He returns in glory. His Church is to be in the world, but not of it, witnessing rather against its evil, and offering pardon through the cross. Tertullian declared that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. This has been demonstrated over and over again. Persecution can never destroy the Church of God. The more it is called to suffer for Christ, the stronger it becomes. It is internal strife and carelessness in life that endangers it. But so virile is the life it possesses that even this has never been permitted to destroy it, for although its outward testimony has at times been ruined by such things, God has always kept alive a witnessing remnant to stand for the truth of His Word.
THE path of suffering, both for Christ and for His followers, ends in glory. Peter has a special word for his fellow-elders, to whom was committed the care of the flock of God, and who were, as we know, specially exposed to the assaults of the enemy.
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away"--vers. 1-4.
Note the expression, "the elders which are among you." There is no suggestion here of a clerical order ruling arbitrarily over the laity. These elders were mature, godly men, upon whom rested the responsibility of watching over the souls of believers, as those for whom they must give an account (Heb. 13:17). Peter links himself with them, "who am also an elder," or "who am a co-presbyter." If Peter was ever a Pope he never knew it! He took his place as one with his elder-brethren in sharing the ministry for the edification of the saints, even though he was one of the original twelve, and so a witness of the sufferings of Christ; and he was yet to be partaker of the glory that shall be revealed at the Lord's second advent.
He admonishes the elders to feed, not fleece, "the flock of God which is among you." They were to feed the people by ministering the truth of God as made known in His holy Word. What a grievous thing it is when men, professing to be servants of Christ, set before the sheep and lambs of His flock, unscriptural teachings which cannot edify but only mislead!
Not as pressed unwillingly into a service which was a hard, unwelcome task, were these elders to take the oversight; nor yet for what money was to be gained thereby, but as serving the Lord with all readiness of mind. Neither were they to become ecclesiastical lords, dominating over God's heritage. Think of the hierarchy that has been developed in the professing body, with its priests, lord-bishops, cardinals known as "princes of the church," and all the other dignitaries who rule as with an iron hand those under their jurisdiction! Could anything be more opposed to what Peter teaches here? Yet some call him the first Pope!
Whatever authority the elders have springs from lives of godliness and subjection to the Lord. They are to be examples to the flock, those whom the sheep of Christ may safely follow.
Their reward will be sure when they reach the end of the way. Then they shall give account of their service to the Chief Shepherd at His glorious appearing, and His own blessed hands will bestow upon each faithful under-shepherd an unfading victor's wreath of glory--the token of His pleasure in the service they have done as unto Him.
GRACE OPERATIVE ON THE JOURNEY
We have seen that throughout this Epistle Peter dwells on the grace of God as that which enables the believer to triumph in all circumstances. He stresses this most definitely in the concluding section of this Epistle.
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen"--vers. 5-14.
It is as we walk in subjection to Him who is meek and lowly in heart that we can appreciate the preciousness of that grace which He gives to the humble. Pride is a barrier to all spiritual progress. In the Christian company it should have no place. None should ever be puffed up against others. All are to be submissive to one another, not only the younger to the elder, as is befitting, but each to his brethren, and all clothed with humility; for God sets Himself against the proud and haughty, but ministers all needed grace to enable the meek to overcome, no matter what difficulties they are called upon to face.
Verse 6.--"Humble yourselves therefore ... that He may exalt you in due time." We are to take the lowly place of unquestioning submission to the will of God now, knowing on the authority of His Word that in the day of manifestation He will take note of all we have endured for His name's sake, and He will then give abundant reward.
Verse 7.--"He careth for you." It is of all-importance to realize that God's heart is ever toward His own. He is no indifferent spectator of our suffering. He feels for us in all our afflictions and bids us cast every care upon Him, assured that He is concerned about all we have to endure. Weymouth has rendered the last part of this verse, "It matters to God about you." How precious to realize this!
Verse 8.--"Your adversary the devil ... walketh about." Satan is a real being, a malignant personality, the bitter enemy of God and man. But when we refuse to give place to the Devil, standing firmly at the cross, he flees from us, and his power is broken.
Verse 9.--"Whom resist." We are to stand against all the Devil's suggestions, "steadfast in the faith," battling for the truth committed to us. Nor are we alone in this: our brethren everywhere have the same enemy to face.
Verse 10.--"After that ye have suffered a while." We grow by suffering. Only thus can God's plan of conformity to Christ be carried out. But all is ordered of Him. He will not permit one trial too many. When His purpose is fulfilled we shall be perfected and stablished in His grace.
Verse 11.--"To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever." The victory will be His at last. All evil will be put down; Satan will be shut up in his eternal prison-house. Suffering then will be only a memory, and God will be glorified in all His saints, and His dominion established over all the universe.
In verse 12 Peter mentions the name of his amanuensis, Silvanus, whom Peter regarded as a faithful brother to them and to himself. He may be the same Silas, or Silvanus, who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey; or he may have been another of the same, not uncommon, name. The theme of the entire Epistle is here declared to be "the true grace of God wherein ye stand." As intimated in our introduction, while these words are much like those of Paul in Romans 5:2, "This grace wherein we stand," the meaning is different. Paul writes of our standing in grace before God; Peter testifies to the power of grace which enables us to stand in the hour of trial, neither giving place to the devil nor disheartened by suffering and persecution. There are abundant stores of grace from which we may draw freely for strength to meet every emergency as we pursue our pilgrim way.
This Letter was written at Babylon, which Romanists claim was pagan Rome, but it seems more likely it was, as the Nestorian Church has held from the beginning, Babylon on the Euphrates, where many Jews dwelt to whom Peter ministered; or as the Coptic Church holds, with apparently less evidence, a new Babylon in Egypt, near to the present city of Cairo. Wherever it was, the church there joined Peter in salutations to the scattered Christians throughout Asia Minor. Mark, too, participated in this. He is identical with the John Mark who was the companion for a time of Paul and Barnabas, and who, though unfaithful at first, became accredited later to Paul's own satisfaction (2 Tim. 4:11). According to some very early writers Mark accompanied Peter in later years and wrote his Gospel in collaboration with the venerable apostle, under the Holy Spirit's guidance.
The Epistle closes with a benediction quite different from those which bring Paul's letters to an end. Paul always wrote of grace: Peter bids the saints greet one another with a kiss of love, and prays that peace may be with all that are in Christ Jesus. These three final words are significant. We ordinarily think of them as characteristic of Paul's writings. He uses the expressions "in Christ" and "in Christ Jesus" with great frequency. Peter joins with Paul in speaking of the saints in this blessed relationship. They are no longer in the flesh or in Adam; they are new by new birth and the gift of the indwelling Spirit in Christ Jesus, and so a new creation.