Living in Christ: Bible Study/Commentary Series
Living in Christ: Bible Study/Commentary Series
Published by Steve Copland at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 by Steve Copland
All rights reserved solely by the author.
The author guarantees all contents are original and do not infringe upon the legal rights of any other person or work. This book may be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author, providing it is unchanged and being used for the purpose of making disciples.
Steve Copland is a self-supported missionary from New Zealand, serving The Lord in Ukraine since 2003. He is a member of the pastoral team at New Life evangelical church in Kiev and former lecturer at the Ukraine Evangelical Seminary and International Christian University.
Chapter One: Study One: A Living Hope
Chapter Two: Study Two: Tests and Trials
Chapter Three: Study Three: Inexpressible Joy
Chapter Four: Study Four: Holiness
Chapter Five: Study Five: Living Stones
Chapter Six: Study Six: Aliens and Strangers
Chapter Seven: Study Seven: Godly Reactions
Chapter Eight: Study Eight: First Response
Chapter Nine: Studies Nine and Ten: Nephilim
Chapter Ten: Study Eleven: Baptism
Chapter Eleven: Study Twelve: The Good Fight
Chapter Twelve: Study Thirteen: Discipline and Discipleship
Chapter Thirteen: Study Fourteen: Marks of Leadership
Chapter Fourteen: Study 15: Final Instructions
A personal Note:
The Apostle Peter is the subject of my novel Simon and Simon: Passion and Power. It was during the research involved in writing this novel that I came to see Peter’s epistles in a new light; not simply theological instructions, but words of Divine wisdom forged from his decades of following Jesus Christ.
Peter’s life-story is both encouraging and inspirational, a story full of exciting and frightening experiences. This is a man who was leading a quiet life as a fisherman, but his decision to follow Christ led him into being freed from prison by angels, performing incredible miracles, confronting a demonic sorcerer, and defying a Roman Emperor. It is my prayer that those who have the opportunity to read Simon and Simon: Passion and Power will be inspired to walk with the same faith and eternal joy that Peter found in his, and our, beloved Lord.
Ist Peter 1:1
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia…
The author of this book we are going to study is a quite well known in jokes about the after-life. He is the one who, according to tradition, meets us at the pearly gates of heaven and decides if we can enter or not. In real life he was the most outspoken of Jesus’ disciples and a natural leader of men. He was a practical man, a fisherman by trade, and a man of action who wanted to get things done. He is the one who often speaks and acts before thinking, such as the time he cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane trying to defend Jesus (Luke 22:50). He was the one who had great faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water, but after he thought about what he was doing, his faith was replaced by disbelief, and he sank (Matthew 14:28-31).
He was the man who knew in his heart who Jesus was, the one who made the great confession, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). A year later, after bragging that he would stand firm for Christ even if all the other disciples fled, he was denying he even knew Jesus. Before the day of Pentecost, Peter’s life is one of a man with a good heart trying his best to be the disciple he knew he should be. He had considerable inner strength as a person, but without the indwelling Holy Spirit he failed miserably, lost his faith, and after Jesus’ death, even returned to his fishing nets. Sometimes he was mature and stable, and at others, he acted foolishly.
When the Day of Pentecost came, those people who believed in Jesus Christ were born again and the Holy Spirit came to live in them as a permanent resident. Peter’s life, like all who have experienced new birth, was transformed. Full of the Holy Spirit, he stood up and preached his first sermon and three thousand people believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. He performed many healing miracles and witnessed in power. When he was threatened, beaten, flogged and thrown into prison for preaching the gospel, he never denied his Lord, he never gave up in fear, rather he rejoiced that God would consider him worthy to be beaten for Jesus’ sake. Peter, like all who are born again, had passed from death into life; death was no longer something to fear.
At the end of his life he was imprisoned in Rome by the emperor Nero and sentenced to die by crucifixion. The Peter who denied Jesus before he was born again would most likely have denied him again at the thought of such a horrifically painful death, but instead, according to tradition, this Peter made a request which was granted to him by Roman officials. He asked to be crucified upside down saying ‘I don’t even deserve to hang on a cross the way my Lord did’.
Reason for Writing
According to Roman historians, the emperor Nero was an egomaniac who was on the brink of insanity. Much of the city of Rome was burned in Nero’s time. History claims that he ordered the fires lit in order to legitimately destroy other statues and buildings which had been dedicated or built by previous emperors. He wanted to replace these buildings with memorials to himself. But the crowds were angry, and when rumours circulated about Nero’s involvement, he needed someone to blame. He blamed the Christians. He began to persecute them, using beatings, floggings and imprisonment. But he and the crowds wanted more.
He ordered the torture of Christians, and in a spectacle that shocked even the hardened Roman crowd, Nero had Christians placed gagged, blindfolded, covered in tar and tied to stakes at 4 meter intervals around his huge garden. On a dark night he opened the gates of the Palace Garden and invited the crowd to follow him around the cobbled path as soldiers ran ahead of his golden chariot and lit the Christian’s bodies. The sight of these tortured souls, and stench of burning flesh, was too much for many, even in their hatred for those they believed had burned their city, they thought Nero had gone a step too far. In the Circus Maximus, a large arena used for entertainment, he had Christians torn apart by wild beasts and used for bloody sports, finishing the days entertainment with a series of crucifixions.
The persecutions, which began in Rome, spread throughout the empire. Christians fled the terror and became dispersed all over the empire, running for their lives. It is to this dispersed group of people that Peter writes his first letter, to those ‘scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia’. Christians were even hiding in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome, a place used for burial. Many lost everything, even their lives in order to follow Christ.
The key word in this letter is ‘suffering’. Every Christian faces storms in life. Throughout the world many are being persecuted for their faith. Every other day we see horrific images of atrocities carried out against God’s children. And there are other forms of suffering which may not threaten our lives; physical pain, emotional pain, broken dreams, conflicts, tensions and stress. Peter’s message, written and inspired by the Holy Spirit, offers good news to Christians. God has given us the power and strength to face any and every situation, power to overcome every form of suffering, and the peace and calm which is always present on the ocean floor, even when the storm above is furious.
Peter writes to ‘God’s elect, strangers in the world’. These first words call us to understand who we are, they beckon us to look upwards to the One who has called us into His eternal kingdom. We do not belong to this world, a world which is passing away, rather we are strangers here, or as Paul would say, aliens and citizens of heaven, a people just passing through. In these first words Peter points directly to the keys which unlock the mystery of dealing with suffering; keeping our eyes upon Jesus, and holding fast to the living hope we have in our new birth through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This first letter of Peter’s is filled with encouragement in the face of suffering, instructions on how we must live as God’s holy people, advise on our attitudes towards government and secular authorities, teaching for husbands, wives, and elders. Peter also calls us to be prepared to speak to those who ask about our faith in Christ, and instructs us on how to reply. Peter was a man who understood human weakness, foolish boasting, and godly humility. He had been called from his quiet life of fishing to be a ‘fisher of men’, and all of the lessons he learned along the way he shares with us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Study One: A Living Hope
1st Peter 1:2-5
In our introduction we briefly outlined the circumstances in which Peter writes his first letter to the Churches. From verse one we see that the Church was ‘scattered’ throughout the Roman empire, trying to escape the violent persecutions at this time. In verse two he calls his readers those who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God.
Some believe that the chosen are those God foreknew would obey His command to seek, repent, and be saved. Others believe that God chooses whoever He will to save or doom to eternal destruction. Has God predetermined who will be saved or lost or do we have a real freedom to choose or reject salvation?
The issues concerning these questions are complicated and beyond the scope of this study; what is more important, in my opinion, is to understand what Peter believed about the character of God concerning the lost. In closing his 2nd letter, Peter speaks about the second coming of Christ and destruction of the heavens (3:10-12). The apostles had taught, at least in the early part of their ministries, that the Lord’s return was imminent (e.g. 1st Corinthians 7:29ff), and now Christians were questioning this (3:4). Peter’s answer to this is in verse 9, which reads,
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2nd Peter 3:9)
Whatever other passages of Scripture Christians may bring to make their own point concerning predestination, chosen and foreknowledge, it is crystal clear from this verse that Peter believed that God’s heart was desiring all to be saved. In the letters of Paul, arguments can be made for hyper-Calvinist views, especially from Romans 9-11. Peter is writing from Rome, and perhaps this letter of Paul’s had already caused problems, for Peter mentions Paul’s letter in the closing words and admits that ‘his letters contain some things which are hard to understand’ (2nd Peter 3:16). If Paul’s letters contained things difficult to understand by those who lived in the same cultural context, then we should not be hasty in claiming to understand passages of those same letters which seem to be contrary to what is clear from Scripture.
In these studies we will take Peter’s words at their face value, for as we saw in our introduction, he was an uncomplicated man who spoke plainly. Whatever Peter believed about predestination, it was not the view held by hyper-Calvinists.
In the remainder of verse 2 Peter gives us a brief theology lesson on God as a Trinity. We are chosen according to God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ through his precious blood. He ends his introductory remarks with the words ‘grace and peace be yours in abundance’.
As we saw in our introduction, this was a very frightening time to be a Christian. Violent and painful death was a very real possibility. Every Christian was challenged with questions of loyalty to Jesus Christ, and none knew the pain of denying the Lord more than Peter. In all Churches there are both the weak and the strong, the radical and the timid. Peter, before he was born again, had thought he was ready to die for Jesus, but when the time came he said ‘I don’t know the man’. After his new birth experience Peter had a different strength. This was not a strength that boasts, but rather a humble peace inside that death is not something to fear.
In verse 3 he begins with praise to God and gives us reasons for his exaltation. Through God’s great mercy we have new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,…
Why does Peter begin his letter this way? Firstly, I doubt that Peter ever forgot the shame of denying the Lord and the wonderful mercy Jesus showed him when He reinstated him (John 21:15-19). Peter lost all hope on the night he betrayed his Lord and friend, but after his new birth experience he knew a living hope, a hope that is alive and indestructible.
Secondly, Peter wants to encourage his readers wherever they are and in whatever circumstances they find themselves. To those who understood the Greek of his original letter his words would have given strength, for the word ‘hope’ he uses is unlike any word we have in English. In contemporary English usage we say this word to mean something we are not sure about. For example, I hope I get a new jacket for Christmas, or, I hope my team wins the football match.
However, this word, elpizo in Greek, has a much stronger meaning. It means to have a certain expectation. In other words I could say ‘I hope the sun will come up tomorrow’. It is an anticipation of something you are completely certain of, you have no doubts about it. He adds the word ‘living’ because this hope enters us at new birth in the fullness of the Triune God, and witnesses in our spirit that He dwells within us permanently (Romans 8:16).
Peter wants us to know that our new birth is a living certainty that we are God’s chosen people, that whatever happens to us, we are God’s own possession, we belong exclusively to Jesus Christ who redeemed us through His precious blood. The book of Hebrews uses this word frequently. Hebrews 6: 19 speaks of hope as an anchor which holds us firm and sure. Jesus Christ is that anchor. Peter wants us to understand the depth of these words before he tells us about what else the Lord is keeping for us.
In verse 4 Peter now encourages his readers further by telling them of the inheritance which is waiting for them in heaven.
…and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…
He says our inheritance can never ‘perish, spoil, or fade’. Sometimes speakers use similar sounding words in order to make an emphasis, words which start with the same letter or end in the same way. For example, to say we must specialize, synthesize, and sympathize. Peter does the same thing here with ‘perish, spoil and fade’. All of these words begin with the letter ‘alpha’ and are common words connected to items of everyday use such as food and clothing. Food and clothing can spoil, perish and fade, they are temporary. The items may still exist, but they become useless.
Not so with our inheritance in Christ. Our salvation is a certain hope, a living thing, proven and experienced by the indwelling spirit, but there is more than this, for as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:17;
…we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Peter wants his readers to know that whatever happens to them, their salvation is secure, it can never be lost. That is the heart of regeneration, and we have an inheritance waiting for us which is kept in heaven.
Imagine you are a weak Christian and faced with being cruelly tortured to death, or even having to watch your child tortured to death. What if you deny being a Christian to save your child? Will you lose your salvation because of this moment of putting your child’s life first? What if in one horrendous moment of torture and fear you stop trusting the Lord, will you have forfeited everything? Peter is answering these very questions, for he knows that these are the very questions his readers are asking themselves as they may be waiting behind closed doors for the Roman soldiers to break in and seize them.
But Peter goes much further than our immediate salvation. He tells us that our inheritance also is secure. He is not speaking of rewards for service done during our Christian lives, for rewards are not gifts. Our salvation and inheritance are entirely gifts from God, whereas rewards are something we have earned through diligent and faithful service as the parables of Jesus taught on this topic.
How else does Peter describe the security of our inheritance and salvation? Again we must turn to the Greek and see the words the apostle uses. He says our inheritance is ‘kept’ in heaven for us. The word used is tereo which means to be guarded. Peter is drawing his readers into images of military defense here, an analogy he extends in the next verse when he says we are shielded by God’s power. The word for shielded is phroureo which also means to guard, but would have a special meaning to those who understood the basic layout of an ancient castle.
A castle has a gate and outer wall. Inside these guarded walls is a very strong building called a ‘keep’. This is where the royal people were protected by the best soldiers, and these soldiers were called the garrison. The word ‘shielded’ is ‘garrisoned’ in Greek. Within this garrisoned keep is our salvation and inheritance, God’s precious gifts to us through faith. The One who guards them is the Lord Jesus Christ. Only if He falls will they be lost, and He has already won the victory. He has claimed His inheritance and we are co-heirs with Him.
Peter’s message is clear. No matter what happens, those who are born again into a living hope through faith in Jesus Christ have a personal body-guard who protects their salvation and inheritance. His name is Jesus Christ, and Satan will have to defeat him in order for our salvation to be lost.
By God’s grace most of us will never face the kinds of tests the early persecuted Christians faced. None of us know our futures, but most of us recognize that, but for the grace and strength of our Lord, we might give in to fear if faced with something humanly impossible to bear. Early Church history is full of stories of the courage of the martyrs. Some of those stories witness conclusively of the grace of God who gave supernatural strength in the darkest of hours, Christians who sang songs of praise before silenced Roman crowds as lions and other wild beasts tore them apart.
But there are also the stories of those who lapsed into denial, and after the persecutions ended, came back to fellowship ashamed and condemned. Peter’s letter was never intended to suggest that we should deny Christ to save our physical bodies from suffering, for he had experienced first-hand the shame of denial and knew, from the Lord’s personal prophecy about him, that he would face death for the Lord’s sake (John 21:18-19).
Peter answers the ‘what if I’ questions that haunt Christians. His message here is two-fold. Whatever happens, know that you are a precious child of God and that He will never leave nor forsake you, therefore, trust Him in your darkest hour, for even the hairs on your head are numbered. And secondly, that nothing and no one, neither human nor demonic can steal your salvation or inheritance. They are guarded by the One who has made us more than conquerors, for he is the Captain of the Host, the garrison who stands watch over our souls.
Study Two: Tests and Trials
1 Peter 1:6-7
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. these have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Having established the promise of our salvation and future inheritance, the tense of the text moves to the present time. Peter says that we rejoice in the fact that God has our future sealed, however, for a little while we have to suffer all kinds of trials. The word ‘trials’ here does not specifically refer to being tortured for the sake of being a Christian, rather, it refers to the everyday struggles and tests of life which may include being persecuted.
God willing, most Christians will never face the horrors of violent persecution, and we can but pray for the grace to persevere through such a time. Yet life has challenges for all of us, whether we are Christians or not, problems which none can escape. The question is not whether or not we will face problems, but how we will deal with them. For the non-believer, problems are often thought of as the consequences of bad choices, bad luck, and some also believe that a kind of fate or karma plays a role. But most recognize that sooner or later their luck will run out and problems will occur.
For the believer, the person who has surrendered their lives into the care of God, there is no idea of luck or fate, yet like all people we can suffer from bad choices. That aside, we understand that:
‘in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).’
Those words ‘in all things’ can be a major challenge to us when suffering enters our lives. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios.
People make mistakes, indeed, to err is human. In a moment of indecision or distraction, we make a mistake and have a car accident. I don’t know what traffic is like where you live, but here in Kiev, Ukraine drivers are extremely impatient, intolerant and aggressive. I grew up in a small city in New Zealand driving on the opposite side of the road, and in my home country people generally drive courteously. Driving in Kiev is like being in a war zone in comparison. Every time I have to go somewhere I say ‘Lord, no accidents please’, and by the grace of God, so far no accidents.
So, you have an accident. Maybe money is tight right now, you can’t afford the insurance access and need the car every day. Apart from feeling like a fool, you have questions. Couldn’t the Lord have warned me, kept me alert? God knows my situation, so why did He allow this? Lord, I’m thankful no one was hurt, but I have so much on my plate and this is one thing too much.
For me, these kinds of scenarios are about character building, they are opportunities to develop and practice the fruits of the Holy Spirit such as patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). These situations are not about testing our faith, they are about taking hold of our emotions and developing godly habits of dealing with everyday life situations.
In 2nd Corinthians 4:16, Paul tells us that though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
Perhaps before you were saved you would have cursed yourself, the other driver, blamed the kids for distracting you, got into a rage and lost your temper. Recognize that the Lord wants us to develop the fundamental fruits of the Spirit and be an example of godly behavior.
Practice the Presence of God
Start your day with the Lord. This doesn’t mean you must rise and spend an hour on your knees, but rather, practice the presence of God from when you rise to when you lay down to sleep. If you have time for a morning devotional time then start this way. If not, then have breakfast with the Lord. Give your day into His hands and ask Him to help you deal with every situation in a godly way and develop the fruits of the Spirit. Recognize also that you and I have absolutely no idea of how many potentially disastrous situations He has guided us away from.
But there are also times when our faith is sorely tested, especially at times when something happens which is beyond human control. Physical illness, either temporary or terminal, is one of the most common areas which test our faith and trust in the Lord. When the situation is outside of our control, when there is nothing we did or can do to change this situation, then naturally our thoughts turn to the Lord. These are the kinds of grief that Peter is referring to. He tells us that these have come to test the genuineness of our faith.
Throughout the Christian Church there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the topic of faith. The word we translate as ‘believe’ has come to mean something which is a far cry from what the Scriptures declare faith to be, indeed people may say ‘I believe in God’ and think that they actually have Biblical faith. Intellectual belief in the existence of God is not faith, for belief must be accompanied by the action of trust. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God, so we better be very sure that we understand what faith is and why genuine faith is so precious to the Lord.
So what is biblical faith? The word ‘faith’ in Greek is pistis and it basically means ‘trust’. The verb is pisteuo which we translate ‘to believe’, to trust. One definition of faith is to ‘cast your whole weight upon’. The practical manifestation of this is to let go of trying to control the situation and rest in the peace that the Lord is carrying all of the burden, it is the practical manifestation of trusting.
When our faith is being tested there is always that scary ‘what if’ element. What if my loved one dies, what if I am left alone to fend for myself, what will happen to me if I cannot work, etc., etc? These are the moments which define us as Christians, the most important and eternal moments of our lives. It is in these moments that we must stop and contemplate how precious our faith is to Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that our faith is much more precious than gold. Precious to who? The answer is to God, to our Lord Jesus Christ.
We could get into a deep theological discussion about why God allows us to be tested in situations which are completely outside of our control. We could examine the life of Job and see that it was the Lord who pointed out Job’s faithfulness to Satan, it was the Lord who was delighting in this man’s faith. We could examine the story of the Exodus and see that the Lord became so angry at the faithlessness of the people when they refused to enter the Promised Land, that He was going to destroy them all. We could look at various moments in Jesus’ life where He commended Gentiles for trusting in Him and how much it delighted Him.
What all of these examples would show us is that the single most important attribute we can have towards our Lord is genuine faith. Even love for God takes second place, for without complete trust, how can we say we love Him? Love, like trust, is an act of the will, and loving feelings come about through the outworking of a trusting relationship. We trust Him because He is trustworthy, and we love Him because He has proven His love time and time again.
When we gave our lives to Christ we placed them into His care, we trusted Him with our salvation. Salvation is both an event and a process. We are both saved and being saved, not in terms of eternal security, but in terms of growing in our trust of God. Up and until the time of our being born again our natural habit was to try and control every situation. Learning to let go and trust is a process all Christians must go through, a constant school of faith with varying degrees of intensity.
Praise, Glory and Honor
In the final part of the verses we are studying Peter tells us that the proving of our faith to be genuine may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
To whom is this praise, glory and honor given? The subjects of these verses are the saints of God, those who’s faith is tested through trials. For those who persevere through such trials, their reward will be praise, honor and glory when Christ is revealed. In Romans 2:10, the apostle Paul tells us that there will be glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good...
Peter’s point is this. When Christ appears the saints of God will appear with Him. Like gold that is purified in the fire, those who have been tested by fiery trials and stood firm in their faith will shine with the glory of Christ who suffered and conquered the greatest trial. Christ Himself will honor them as they share in His honor, and they will receive His praise. Likewise, Paul tells us in Romans 8:17;
Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
We are called to share in the trials and sufferings of Christ in order to strengthen and purify our faith, resulting in our sharing in the glory of Christ. Praise, glory and honor awaits those Christians who persevere through their trials. They are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. The trials are temporary, but the praise, glory and honor will be ours forever, as Paul reminds us;
I consider our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
Every person faces trials and suffering in this life. For those who do not know Jesus Christ, these times may destroy them and even reinforce their disdain and hatred for God. But for the Christian, trials and suffering are both opportunities to act in accordance with the Holy Spirit, and opportunities to invest in our eternal inheritance, the record of our faith.
Be aware of our spiritual enemy at such times. His goal is to blind us to the real reason that trials have come and to turn our hearts against our Lord. If you are in a situation which is beyond your control, don’t be surprised if you have thoughts of God betraying you in your hour of need, or that your Heavenly Father doesn’t love or care for you, that He has forsaken you. Our enemy whispers such things into our minds; he tempts us to anger and rebellion. Resist him and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Cling to God’s promises, recognize that this trial is about praise, glory and honor, about eternal things, about refining your faith so that you may shine with the glory of Christ, and remember the words of the Lord’s brother;
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
Study Three: Inexpressible Joy
1st Peter 1: 8-9
In these two verses Peter makes a short summary of his introductory words. He commends his readers for having both love and faith which is not based on the evidence of things seen, but the conviction which underlies all true faith (Hebrews 11:1). In this study we will examine what kind of love Peter is speaking of, and how this faith has led to what he calls ‘inexpressible joy’.
Love as a Command
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees to tell them what He thought was the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37). In response He quoted Deuteronomy 6:5; Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
The Pharisees were testing Jesus, but their question gives us an understanding of what it means to be commanded to love. To the secular mind love is a mysterious feeling which just appears or disappears, an emotion tied to ideas of having the right chemistry, fate, or some such thing. But the Bible commands us to love. In Scripture, love is not grounded in feelings, but rather it is an act of the will, an act which begins with obedience. The Pharisees asked Jesus to explain the Greatest Commandment because they perceived Him as a law breaker, someone who was not obeying all of the commandments, and therefore, not loving God.
In His reply to them, Jesus said that there was a second commandment which was like the first, namely, to love your neighbor as yourself. He summarized by saying that the entire Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments. Loving our neighbor is easy to understand, and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan illustrated this commandment perfectly; we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
But being commanded to love God can be much more complicated for many people. The Old Testament also tells us to fear the Lord. Can love and fear complement each other in a relationship, and can a love that is commanded develop into a love which goes beyond an act of the will to obey, to one that reaches into the heart and soul?
The context of the Greatest Commandment is very similar to the human relationship between fathers and children. God had brought the Hebrews out of Egypt. He provided for them even when they grumbled and complained against Him, He showed His faithfulness in protecting them, and His presence visually. He laid down the rules at Mount Sinai and demonstrated that there would be dire consequences for disobedience. Many of us have experienced similar relationships within families. Our fathers are seen as primary caregivers and the one who administers discipline. Disobedient children are often threatened with the words ‘just wait ‘till your father gets home’.
As I read the pages of the Old Testament, and history of the Hebrew peoples’ relationship with God, it seems to me that there were very few that ever managed to transcend their fear of God into a more intimate relationship with Him. David would be an exception to this, a man who discovered how much he was loved by the Lord, a man who crossed over the line of fear and into one of understanding the heart of God’s love and intention. In the case of David, we could say that his love for the Lord was not primarily motivated by a command, but rather as a response. In his first letter to the church, John raises these issues. He writes extensively on the topic of love, indeed he uses the word around thirty times. He summarizes his teaching with this statement;
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love.(1st John 4:18)
For the Hebrew people, fear of the Lord was tied to His being separated from them because of His holiness. God was, to a large extent, unapproachable; His Divine presence was hidden behind the veil, His holiness could only be approached by one priest, once a year. They may have recognized His character in the beauty of creation, and His heart in providing for them, but there was not the sense that He was a God one could embrace, He was not ‘Abba’ Father. That could only happen after the veil was destroyed. Sin had built a wall between man and God, a wall that no sinner could scale.
Love as a Response
It is in Jesus Christ that humanity and Divinity meet, unite, and conquer death and fear. On that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He battled with such powerful temptation, Jesus called the Father by that intimate title ‘Abba’:
‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’(Mark 14:36)
In His obedience to death Jesus broke down the wall which separated us from the holiness of God, the veil was torn, and a way was provided that we also might be made holy and know the Father as ‘Abba’. No longer would our love be something commanded and motivated by fear, but rather by the revelation, acknowledgment and surrender to the sacrifice of our Lord in bringing us into an intimate relationship with Him. Paul says it this way:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
We understand through revelation, and accept by faith, that Christ has offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin, our sin. The image of Him dying on the cross displays the intensity of God’s wrath towards sin, and also the depth of His love and desire to draw us close and make us His children. When we surrender our wills to His will, in the same way that Christ surrendered in the Garden, we are crucified with Him, united with Him in His death and resurrection, and we become partakers of the Divine Nature (2nd Peter 1:4).
For those who are in Christ there are no barriers to knowing, experiencing, and responding to the love of God. He has eliminated the fear of the consequences of sin, destroyed the slavery to sin which bound us, and given us the power to live in the new life He has gifted to us (Romans 6). We know His voice within, that voice of the Spirit which testifies with our spirit that we are His children.
This is the source of the ‘inexpressible and glorious joy’ which Peter writes of. It is that joy which emanates from the very foundation of our souls and finds expression in love, firstly towards the One who loved and called us into His kingdom, and secondly in love towards others.
Ours is not a walk of sight, but of faith.
v8 Though you have not seen Him you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now you believe in Him…
The Holy Spirit calls us to seek, He convicts us of sin, He commands that we stare upon the cross and take up our own, and then He takes up permanent residence in our souls, bringing with Him the first fruits of the Spirit. Faith is grounded in revelation and is completed through an act of obedience. We have not seen Him with our physical eyes, but we heard His call, we sensed His holy presence, recognized our slavery to sin, and responded in obedience. This is the essence of believing, to ‘cast our whole weight upon Him’, to trust Him for our deliverance, our emancipation and salvation.
Peter says that we rejoice because we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls. Salvation began at the cross. We were justified by faith (Romans 5:1), declared not guilty as Christ took the penalty of our sins in our place. On the day of our new birth we were saved from the penalty of sin, death eternal.
Hebrews 10:14 says that by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Theologians use the terms justified, sanctified and glorified. As we surrender and are joined to Him, we are ‘made perfect forever’, for His perfection is gifted to us. This is the event of justification. And then our journey begins, for we are ‘being saved’ day by day from the power of sin as we walk in the Spirit, as we ‘take up our cross daily’, surrendering our sinful nature to the indwelling Divine nature which calls us to live in holiness. This is sanctification. This is the goal of faith, the salvation of our souls. When we are called from this world we will be freed from the presence of sin, and faith will be no more, for we shall see Him as He is. This is our glorification. John puts it this way;
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1st John 3:2)
This is the living hope which Peter writes of, the certain hope that is experienced as a reality everyday in the life of those who know and love Jesus Christ. This hope is grounded in the love of Christ, and it is in this love that we respond in obedience to Him.
Unlike Peter we have not seen Christ in the flesh. Peter walked with the Lord for three years, but the faith he had by sight abandoned him and he denied that he knew Jesus at all. On the Day of Pentecost Peter received Christ in a new way, not by sight, but through the Spirit’s anointing power and the once fearful apostle was born again. His love for Christ was not motivated by fear, but by recognizing his betrayal and weakness and accepting forgiveness and mercy.
Faith which is born of the Spirit’s calling, conviction and regeneration, is faith which is not reduced to nothing by threats of the physical world, for it transcends the material and rests on God Himself, it acts to preserve the soul, not the body. Between the days of Peter’s betrayal and the Day of Pentecost Jesus appeared on the beach and made His disciples breakfast (John 21). On that morning the Lord asked him ‘Simon do you truly love me’. I wonder, from that day on until he was crucified in Rome, if Peter ever lived a day without thinking of Jesus’ question.
Peter’s love was grounded in the forgiveness and mercy he received, as ours should be. Jesus often said that those who love Him will obey Him. Our obedience should always be from a love which is not grounded in fear of punishment, but motivated by His love for us, the love which drove Him to the cross.
Paul said that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
This is the foundation of our hope, and the source of our love, a love which also has been gifted to us.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)
Our hope, our love, and the inexpressible joy we know in our hearts, all have their source in God’s gifts to us as we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
Study Four: Holiness
1st Peter 1:13-21
In this section Peter speaks about our obligations as children of God. He begins the section with the word ‘therefore’, meaning, because of everything I have reminded you of, your new birth, your inheritance, and the salvation which was spoken of by the prophets and preached to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. At the moment of our new birth every Christian becomes a partaker in the Divine nature (2nd Peter 1:4). Yet we retain our old fallen nature and throughout our lives we have a constant battle. The old nature wants to sin, this is its habit, but the Divine nature calls us to holiness in all that we do and think.
In this study we will go through the verses one by one and examine how Peter calls us to a life of holiness.
Verse 13. Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Peter tells his readers to prepare their minds for action, or literally, to ‘gird up the loins of your minds’. Asiatic men wore long loose garments which reached to the ground. When working in the fields, or on a fishing boat, men would tie these garments up so that their legs could move freely. Peter’s analogy would also have brought images of athletes that were ready to run a race, and soldiers to fight in a battle.
To gird up the mind is to prepare it for action and to avoid loose convictions regarding spiritual matters. It is to prepare ourselves to run the race of faith (1st Corinthians 9: 24-26), freeing the limbs of our minds so that sin does not trip us up and disqualify us from the prize, the crown that lasts forever. It is also to be prepared to fight the spiritual battle (Ephesians 6: 10-18) by consciously being aware that we are targets of Satan and his schemes.
Sinful things may be perceived through the senses, but sin itself begins in the mind. This is where we are tempted, and so the Scriptures tell us to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are to use self-control; in other words, be in control of ourselves, beginning in our minds, by setting our hope fully on the grace given you when Christ is revealed. Peter is reminding us to think about our future inheritance with Jesus Christ, to think about what He has done for us and is preparing for us in heaven. These thoughts will strengthen us against temptation and help us to make a right decision not to sin and give in to our old nature.
Verse 14. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
Once we lived in ignorance and were children of wrath, driven by and conforming to the rebellious system of the world which stands against the Lord. Peter reminds us that we are now God’s children, and as such are to be obedient to His call. We must no longer conform to our evil desires. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul tells us to no longer conform to the pattern of the world. To be conformed is to be shaped into something’s mould, to take on its form. If we belong to Christ then our shape must change to His shape, and this molding is done by the potter Himself as we submit to His hands and obey Him. It is the power of the Holy Spirit within us who does this transforming work. Our part is to yield to the potter’s hands, keeping our hearts, like clay, soft and pliable, rather than hard and unyielding.
Verses 15-16. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; (16) for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
A call to holiness is a call to be separate or ‘set apart’. Peter appeals to us to become like the One who has called us out of darkness and ignorance. Jesus Christ is holy and we are to be like Him in all we do. God’s grace and mercy are powerful incentives to live holy lives. But with great grace comes great obligation. We are motivated by the Spirit to be holy, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit for holiness, and we are obliged by our status as God’s own possession to live for Him.
Paul tells us that we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. (Romans 8:12)
In whatever we do we are obliged to live as ambassadors of our Heavenly Father; in relationships, in civil matters, in business dealings, in sport, in our place of work or education, wherever we are and in whatever action or capacity we perform duties, we must act as the children of God, and not the children of the world. Christ, and His standard of holiness, must come before tradition, culture and every other influence. We are called to be salt and light. It is we who must influence the world, rather than the world influencing us.
Verse 17. Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
What does Peter mean by ‘reverent fear’?
In his first letter the apostle John tells us that; Love is made complete in us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love. (1st John 4:17-18)
The confidence that John speaks of is based on a conditional truth, namely, because in this world we are like him. Peter is saying a similar thing but from a different angle. Peter has told us to be holy, to be like our Heavenly Father. If we are people who call on God as Father, then we are children who know Him as Father. We also understand that He judges each person’s works impartially, and if indeed we know Him, then we will be living as strangers in this world, living in this world as Christ lived.
For the Christian whose life imitates Jesus Christ, reverent fear is not a fear of being cast into hell, but rather a reverence for the holiness of God who judges each man according to what he has done. What we do determines who we are. If we truly know Jesus Christ and live as He lived, then we will be judged as sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd. But if our works prove us to be goats, then that same Judge will cast us into hell. (Matthew 25: 31-46) Faith without works is dead, it is faith which cannot save.
There is a great deal of worldliness in many congregations today. Peter’s advice is to apply a strong dose of reverent fear to our works and determine whether we are hypocrites who live as the world lives, or children of God, people living as strangers, set apart for Him. If we are like Him, like Jesus Christ in this world, then we will be those who do not conform to this world, but rather, exhibiting that ‘perfect love’ John spoke of. We will be living holy lives, set apart for Christ, constantly reflecting on the grace given us. In such there will be no fear of judgment, but rather, a reverent fear of God’s holiness which is something that a true Christian guards in their heart, indeed, being holy is our greatest desire, for to be holy is to be like Him, the object of our first love.
Verses 18-20. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Peter now outlines the reason for His prior warning. Firstly, he tells us that we know it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that paid for our redemption. No one who claims to be Christian can also claim ignorance of the price of our redemption. We have been bought with a price, the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. He is and was the Logos (John 1:1-2), the Creator, and even before He began creation He chose to lay aside His majesty and become part of His own creation. There is no other; no infinitely holy sacrifice that can redeem fallen humanity, only the blood of Jesus.
This is the same pre-incarnate Christ who walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve, who shared bread and wine with Abraham as Melchizedek, who spoke to Abraham concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, who pointed to His coming at the first Passover in Egypt, who gave the Hebrews the Law at Mount Sinai, and instituted the Levitical priesthood and system of sacrifice. The Supreme Lawgiver placed Himself under the curse of His own holy law in order to discharge the penal obligations of the law on behalf of His own creations. In this Christ took upon Himself the legal responsibility for the sins of all humanity, and the punishment of physical death which the law demanded, in order to give us new life.
Throughout the centuries of Jewish history God taught the precepts of justification and sacrifice; the uncompromising fact that the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
Blood and life are synonymous; without blood there can be no life. Thousands upon thousands of lambs were offered to cleanse from sin, but the offspring of a sheep is not made in the image of God and cannot be a fit substitute for human life. Jesus Christ was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:29) He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice, a human sacrifice, a perfect substitute, He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood (Hebrews 9:12) and made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14).
God the Son became the Son of God. He took upon Himself weak human flesh and lived in perfect obedience to the Father. He suffered throughout His entire life, a child who never entered into the games of sinful boys or teenagers, a man who was rejected by His own village, a son and brother whose mother and siblings decided He had lost His mind; He was betrayed by Judas for thirty pieces of silver and by the writer of this letter we study, the one who denied three times that he even knew Him. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that:
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…
Jesus Christ obeyed the Father in reverent submission, and we are called to be obedient children who keep His sacrifice close to our hearts. There is no such thing as ‘cheap grace’, for the blood of Christ is invaluable, unique and never to be shed again. There are those who act as if God’s grace costs them nothing, those who live as if they have no obligation to live in obedience to the Lord, but I doubt that such people have ever been to the cross of Christ, let alone carried their own cross to a spiritual death and regeneration.
Verse 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.
Peter says that through Him, through Jesus Christ, we believe in God who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. The Biblical word ‘believe’ is grossly misunderstood in contemporary society, even among Christians. There is that intellectual belief which many have, a mental consent to the existence of God and historical facts about Christ. Satan believes this way. Believing faith is that which believes on Jesus Christ for salvation, indeed the word means to ‘cast your whole weight upon’ or to trust absolutely. Saving faith, believing, is to trust our lives into the hands of God and to take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of the Lord. This is the ‘living hope’ that we have through genuine faith. Anything less is nothing more than an intellectual consent.
If a person claims to know and love our Holy Lord, then that person will exhibit and practice holiness in their daily life. The absence of a desire to be holy demonstrates that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is most likely absent from this person’s soul. This does not mean that we never have a desire to sin, for the old sinful nature still resides in us and desires its own gratification. Some genuine Christians allow their conscience to be seared, they allow compromise in their lives and end up conforming to the pattern of the world.
We are called to be in this world, but not of this world. This is a battle which is usually most fierce in young Christians who are battling against ungodly habits which they have formed and shaped before surrendering to the Lord. As we put on new habits through daily reading God’s Word, prayer and practicing the presence of God, these old habits fall away. But this takes effort on our part.
We cannot make ourselves holy! Christ has already done that through His sacrifice. Our part is simply to make every effort to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds into the likeness of Christ, motivated by the love and grace we have received, and empowered by the Divine nature which dwells within. As we go through these battles with sin, the grace of Jesus Christ covers us, His holiness is our cloak. Peter calls us to keep our eyes upon Jesus, upon the cross where the Lamb of God gave His precious blood to make us holy. If we continually focus on the cross, our motivation to live for Christ will always be love born out of gratitude. If we lose sight of His sacrifice, we can become self-righteous, comparing ourselves to those we deem less holy than us.
God the Son became the Son of God, the infinitely Holy One entered this sinful world to make us holy by His sacrifice, and empower us to live humble lives knowing, loving, and imitating Him.
Study Five: Living Stones
1 Peter 1:22-2:9
In the previous study we looked at holiness and the need to keep our hearts focused on the cross as our source of motivation for obedience. At this stage Peter has twice used silver and gold as an analogy and comparison, firstly of the value of our faith (1:7), and secondly of the value of the precious blood of Christ, the invaluable price of our salvation. One wonders if he used the example of precious metals because he was concerned about an emphasis some believers had towards earthly wealth. Many of his immediate readers in the church in Rome were merchants, men whose lives evolved around making profits.
We also know from history that the church in Rome had some major conflicts between Jewish and Gentile believers. Before the rule of Nero, the Emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from Rome (Acts 18), probably because of the evangelical efforts of Christians there. The Romans most likely viewed Christians as a sect of Judaism at this time, therefore, they made no distinction between Judaism and Christianity.
Not many years earlier there had been violent riots by Jews in Alexandria, and also in Rome during the reign of Caligula, the emperor who ordered a statue of himself placed in the Temple at Jerusalem. Claudius accepted the title of Emperor after Caligula was assassinated, so he was acutely aware of the history. Although Herod Agrippa was a personal friend, Claudius was tired of what he viewed as religious protests, so he simply ordered all Jews to leave.
The expulsion of Jews brought an even deeper hatred between non-Christian Jews and Jewish Christians, but also fierce arguments within the church because many had lost their ability to trade with the Roman capital. One result of these issues was that the remaining Gentile Christians in Rome were banned from using synagogues to meet as the divide between Christianity and Judaism widened. In the Church, divisions arose between Jews and Gentiles as blame was passed around. With this in mind, we now turn to the passage of this study.
1:22-25 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.
In 1:22 Peter commands his readers to have sincere love for each other, and to love one another deeply, a love from the heart. He reminds us that we are born again of a seed which can never perish, and quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8, using an analogy of plants which die because they are of seed which perishes. His message is clear. Life is short and we are no longer of this world because we are born again. He is calling on his readers to stop the worldly arguments based on wealth and perishable things and to recall the ‘word of God’ which was ‘preached’ to them.
Notice also that he writes that we have been purified through obeying the truth (v22). Some think they are saved through just believing the truth, but true belief, genuine faith, acts in obedience to the truth received. Belief without the action of obedience to the truth is powerless to save, indeed it is a kind of belief which will suffer the full wrath of God because the ‘believer’ knew the truth and refused to commit their lives and be born again into a new life.
Verses 2:1-2. Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babes, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
He tells them to rid themselves of (literally to strip off) all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. These words refer to taking off these old habits as if you were stripping off dirty clothes. Notice that these particular sins are very often directed towards others in the Body of Christ and they were prevalent in the Church in Rome.
In contrast to these things, Peter tells us to crave pure spiritual milk, an analogy to being fed on the Word of God, both written and spoken, and it’s directions for correct living. This is also a direct reference to the natural desires of a newborn child. It craves natural milk exclusively and frequently. Peter contrasts this natural child with the new born Christian. One of the marks that a person is truly born again is their desire for God’s word. It is only one of several marks, but if it is not there, we should doubt a person is born again. You don’t have to force milk on a natural baby, rather, it craves this food, and likewise, newborn Christians should crave pure spiritual milk. It is this milk of the Word of God which enables us to grow up in our salvation.
At this time, most Christians had access to the Old Testament in synagogues, but more so, many Jewish Christians had their own copies, or at least parts of the Old Testament in their homes. But Peter’s use of the term ‘word of God’ refers to more that just reading the Scriptures, but also to listening to and absorbing God’s word through teachers and preachers.
Verses 2:4-9 As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in the Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
(7) Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and “ A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message – which is what they were destined for.
(9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
We now come to the first of Peter’s two analogies of the Church which are connected. He describes Christians as ‘living stones’, and a ‘holy priesthood’.
These analogies are very old and date right back to the physical temple. Here we have another strong reason for understanding that Peter considered that the majority of his readers would be of Jewish heritage and easily able to relate to the analogies he uses. However, it is also very likely that he is educating Gentile believers about the prophesies concerning Christ, for he says in 2:10 that once they were not the people of God, nor had they received mercy. Peter is offering an example of the ‘pure spiritual milk’ he wants them to feed upon, a prophecy concerning Christ. When we see the supernatural element of prophecy which the Scriptures contain, if strengthens our faith, for we see that God has planned everything in advance, even our own salvation.
Peter tells us we are being built into a ‘spiritual house’ (2:5). It was Solomon who built the beautiful temple on the Mount of Zion. The stones he used were just stone, cut from the rock and dead. Old Testament prophecies taught that the Messiah would be a cornerstone of a new temple. All Jews would immediately understand this analogy as it was connected to the Temple (Isaiah 8:14, 28:16). Peter calls Jesus Christ the ‘Living Stone’ and quotes Isaiah and Psalms where He is called the ‘Cornerstone’ (Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22). All of the passages that Peter quotes are prophecies about the role of the Messiah.
Jesus Christ is the foundation of the new temple, a metaphorical temple, the capstone, as Isaiah says, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation. When you build a large structure, such as a Church, it is essential that the foundation is strong. A weak foundation and the entire building will collapse. Christ is the foundation, and He calls Himself this in the parable of the man who built on sand rather than rock (Luke 6:46-49).
We, as the Body of Christ, are the spiritual temple of Jesus Christ. He is the cornerstone and foundation, and we are the bricks or stones in the walls. The apostle Paul uses the analogy of a body in 1st Corinthians 12, and Peter uses a building. For Paul, we are members of a living organism, and for Peter we are stones in a living temple which Christ is completing. Each stone is supposed to support other stones; each stone must fulfil the role it has in the structure of the building. Peter is not specifically speaking about spiritual gifts or talents here, rather, his purpose goes back to the problems in the Church as he underlines his commandment to love each other sincerely.
Solomon’s Temple was considered to be one of the wonders of the world. It was magnificent, as the disciples pointed out to Jesus (Luke 21:5), but He told them that everyone of the stones would be pulled down. The Church is the living temple, and if it is full of malice, envy, deceit, hypocrisy and slander, then how can it be beautiful, how can it display the glory of God as Solomon’s dead stones did?
We also have another task to fulfil in this temple, the task of a priest. All born again Christians are considered to be part of a new and royal priesthood which serve the Lord. In the old temple the priests offered physical sacrifices. We are called to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (2:5).
What are these spiritual sacrifices Peter is writing about? They are our offerings to the Lord. As living stones we live to serve each other in building the Church with the Lord. As priests we do a similar task, however, these sacrifices are offered especially to the Lord. In the Old Covenant there were many different sacrifices. Sacrifices for blessings, for thankfulness, for sin and for service. In the Christian covenant they are similar. We offer praise and thankfulness to the Lord in songs, in worship. We offer thanks in prayer, we worship Christ in prayer. As priests we also must offer up to the Lord prayers and requests for others in the body of Christ, supporting each other in prayer. We also pray for the lost, mediating between God and them for their salvation.
All of these things, and more, are the work of priests, and we are all priests of God, indeed, Peter calls us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (2:9). All of these analogies are rooted in the Old Testament and bring to mind the nation of Israel. But Israel, as a whole, has rejected Jesus Christ (v7-8), and so the Body of Christ, which was foretold by the prophets, has become this chosen people, holy nation, royal priesthood and God’s possession.
Peter also gives us one of the reasons we have been called and are being built into this spiritual temple; that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light (v9)
Solomon’s Temple declared the glory of God. People went there to offer praises and sacrifices. We, as the living spiritual temple are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to him (Romans 12:1) and to offer praises out of grateful hearts for calling us out of darkness into eternal light.
In Western cultures we tend to place a huge emphasis on ourselves as individuals, and we view salvation as a uniquely individual event. It is an individual event, but as a process, salvation is both individual and collective. There is no such thing as an independent Christian. Yes, we are all responsible for what we do, and God will judge each person on what we have done, but the message of Peter in this passage is that God has not called us to individuality, but as stones in a living spiritual temple.
On social media I often read posts from Christians calling other Christians to get out of churches and be independent of any church body. The reasons given are usually associated with some doctrine or other being taught by a pastor which they cannot tolerate. There is no doubt that in these ‘last days’ the prevalence of false teaching is on the rise as Paul predicted (1st Timothy 4:3). However true that may be, it is a serious denial of the purpose of the Church to advocate that ‘we have no need of teachers’, or ‘just worship on your own’, etc.
If you are attending a congregation which has become worldly; if your leaders have been compromising with serious issues such as ‘gay marriage’, etc., then your first course of action is prayer, secondly to gather other saints to prayer, and thirdly to collectively confront said leaders privately. If they refuse to repent and align themselves with the Word of God you may then confront these issues before the entire congregation.
These are the fundamental principles Jesus outlined in Matthew 18: 15-17. If no solution is found you may have no other option than to leave and find a congregation which teaches God’s Word faithfully. If there are none available, then meet together in each other’s homes and practice being the Body of Christ whilst continuing to pray for and reach out to those who remain in the church you have left.
Christ is the foundation, the cornerstone, and we are the living stones in the wall. No individual stone is a wall. We are called to support each other and display the beauty of the love of Christ in an even greater way than the temple built by Solomon. As a united body we offer spiritual sacrifices to Him, sacrifices of gratitude, thanksgiving, praise and worship.
Study Six: Aliens and Strangers
1 Peter 2:11-18
In this study we will examine two related issues. Firstly, the depth of what it means to be aliens and strangers in this world, and as such, how we should react to the governments, employers etc., who have authority over us. Keep in mind that Peter continues to write within the context of the various forms of suffering his audience had to endure, and how his audience should respond.
Verses 11-12 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
When a person comes to live in Ukraine, or for example a Ukrainian visits America, he comes as a foreigner or alien. You must get a visa, and leave when your visa expires, or you become an illegal alien.
I am a legal alien living in Ukraine. I am a stranger in a foreign land. In order to live here I need to understand the rules because this land has different rules to the land of my birth. However, the Bible teaches us that Ukraine, as a country, is just a small part of a much greater kingdom, a kingdom which is called the ‘world’, and Satan is considered to be the ‘god of this world’. This world system is full of sin, corruption, and every form of evil, and is an enemy of God. John tells us (1John 2:15-17) that loving the world is loving everything which is against the will of God. We are not speaking about loving nature here. It honors our Creator to love the forest, the mountains, the ocean waves, but that love is always to be directed to the one who created them for our and His pleasure.
Every Christian is an alien and a stranger in the world. American Christians are aliens in America, Australian Christians are aliens in Australia, etc., they are strangers in a foreign land, with a foreign king. All people who know and love Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior have a heavenly passport with an eternal visa, because we are all citizens of heaven as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20:
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…
Heavenly citizenship is not something a Christian enters at the point of physical death, but rather, it is granted to and guaranteed at the moment of our new birth (John 3:3). When we surrendered our lives to Christ we became citizens of God’s kingdom and co-heirs with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:16). Sometimes Scripture refers to the time between these events as ‘sojourning’, meaning a temporary existence until we go to our natural home. In the meantime, we are aliens here in the world and the world doesn’t like us. Paul tells us (2nd Corinthians 5:20) that we are ambassadors of Jesus Christ, which simply means that we represent our heavenly country while we are here in this world. We live in the enemy’s territory.
The challenge to every Christian is simply this: Do we live as if we are ambassadors in a foreign land, representing the values and principles of the Lord, or is there very little difference between us and the people who belong to the ‘god of this world’? In Nazi Germany there was a tendency for ‘Christians’ to separate their public and private lives, as if this were possible. Soldiers believed they could carry out atrocities for their commanders in the local concentration camp during the day, and return to their families in the evening to act as Christian husbands and fathers.
Obviously, if they had refused to obey their government they would have been severely punished, imprisoned, or even killed as traitors, such as men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who refused to compromise his convictions as a Christian. Most Western Christians will never have to make such choices, yet the same principles apply.
The world has certain standards and often these standards are opposite to God’s standards. The world worships power and wealth as its highest ideals, idols and ‘gods’. The world loves sin in every form. The motto of the world is “Live For Yourself, Not For God” and this is the root of all rebellion and sin. The world tells men they must be rich, independent, well educated, successful, and it doesn’t matter how you get these things. If others suffer because of your business dealings, it’s ‘just business’, as if business could be separated from our lives as ambassadors of heaven.
The world tells a girl she must be pretty, sexy, have the latest fashions and it’s acceptable for her to admire and worship herself. The compromising Christian dresses the same as the women of the world, she chooses the string bikini instead of a modest one-piece bathing suit. In many secular cultures, including America and Ukraine, it is considered unnatural to retain your virginity for marriage. In Ukraine, most Protestant Churches would excommunicate any person for practicing fornication, yet in America many young people who claim to be Christians consider sexual activity to be a natural part of ‘dating’.
Some Christians also believe that to rebuke and correct such behavior is to judge the person, and that Christians should never judge. Such understandings are extremely immature and unbiblical. The Scriptures are extremely clear about Christian behavior, and equally clear that we are a ‘body’ of believers, not individuals who can do as we please. We are to never judge an unbeliever, for they are acting as one would expect, and our attitude should be to see in them our own previous slavery to sin. However, each of us has a duty to live pure lives, to repent when we fall, and to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same. Sometimes this will mean making judgments as in 1st Corinthians 6: 2-4.
As ambassadors of Christ we have a responsibility for the way we live because we are representing the Kingdom of God, our heavenly country. Our behavior in front of people of the world is suppose to be very good, different from the way worldly people live. This includes every area of life, whether in school, university, business or workplace, home or in public.
Verses 13-17 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for doing evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect for everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
Peter tells us that we must also submit ourselves to all human authorities because these are instituted by the Lord. Christians are bound by God to obey the laws which are enforced by kings, governments, police and the courts. These institutions have been placed here by God in order to punish those who do evil and to commend those who act right. What Peter is saying is that Christians must be model citizens, the ones who show the example to others.
Should Christians drive faster than the speed limit? Should Christians refuse to pay or cheat on their taxes? Should Christians ever be involved in business which is not completely honest? Should I obey a government which is full of corruption and evil?
Christians who disobey traffic laws, lie on their tax returns and participate in business which is less than 100% honest, do so for selfish reasons and stand outside of God's will in these actions. As for governments, we do well to remember that Peter was writing at a time when some of the most evil men in human history were ruling the world in which he lived.
Peter never suggested that our level of obedience was contingent to the purity of the rulers or governments. I have heard Christians excuse themselves for cheating the government in paying their taxes because the government can use this money for anti-Christian purposes. Jesus paid His taxes. What Caesar does with the money is between Caesar and God. Paul raises this issue in Romans 13:6-7.
Peter’s understanding was that corrupt men could not remain in power if God wanted them replaced. This never means that the Lord condones the evil actions of corrupt leaders, but rather, that He allows them to be in their positions and uses their natural tendencies to test our faith, test our faithfulness to Him, test our unwillingness to compromise His Word, and help us to discern where and when to draw the line of civil disobedience.
Does this mean that we should obey laws which are obviously against what the Scriptures teach us. The answer is no. We must judge what is right and wrong because sometimes anti-christian governments order their citizens to do ungodly things. In these situations we are not to obey the government, but obey the Lord, because the government is not acting in accordance with law and justice. There is an example of this in Acts 4:18-20. The disciples had been ordered by Jesus to preach and make disciples. The authorities ordered them never to preach again in Christ’s name. They chose to obey God.
There are no perfect governments, most are corrupted to some degree, but this is not an excuse to cheat the government. We must use wise judgments which do not contradict Scripture. For further study on this topic read Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2.
For the remainder of chapter two Peter speaks directly to those who were slaves. This topic is covered in Study 19 of my Colossians series.
Study Seven: Godly Reactions
3:1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without talk by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
8 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11 He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil”.
In the first seven verses of chapter three Peter gives wives and husbands practical instructions. These two topics are discussed in depth in Studies 16 and 17 of my Colossians series, although the issue of physical presentation is not discussed by Paul in either Colossians or Ephesians so we will examine it briefly here.
Peter’s advice to women, although directed towards 1st Century culture, can be applied in a general sense to Christians of every generation. His points can be summarized in two questions.
1. Do you ‘dress to impress’?
All of us, whether Christian or not, have a degree of vanity. Peter challenges our vanity by asking who we are trying to impress, people, or the Lord. He tells us that the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit is of great worth in God’s sight. There is beauty which fades and beauty which lasts forever; one appeals to our old nature and ego, and the other to the Divine nature within us. Like all of the inner battles we face between our old and new natures, vanity turns our eyes away from the cross. Do not become a slave to vanity, but rather, a person dedicated to honoring Christ in your appearance.
2. What message are you giving?
Peter mentions non-Christian husbands who may be convicted by the reverence and purity portrayed by their Christian wife. The principle here is about the message our appearance portrays to others. For example. What kind of bathing costume do you wear? Do you give a message of modesty, or flaunt what you regard as your physical attributes? Also, do you dress modestly to attend a church service, but in public look like a non-Christian who is trying to display their sexuality? What message are you trying to portray if you buy and wear very expensive suits and shoes? Would Christ not rather you wear modestly priced clothes and give the rest to the poor?
Most of us, if we are honest, know how we should dress in order to honor the Lord. The problem is not that we don’t know the boundaries, but rather that we don’t want to listen to the Spirit’s guidelines. The way we present ourselves to others speaks volumes about how much we love Jesus Christ and desire to honor Him.
In the following verses of this study, from 8-12, Peter calls all Christians to examine their attitudes towards each other and to people who persecute them.
(V8) Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
Peter commands us to live in harmony with one another. Literally, he is saying to be ‘all of one mind’. He then gives a list of how this command may be achieved.
To be sympathetic is to empathize, to act with empathy. It is the idea of putting ourselves in the same position as another person, to get alongside them. Instead of judging, try to imagine how we would feel if the same thing was happening to us. This doesn’t mean to always agree with them, but to offer advice and help from a loving attitude.
Love as Brothers
Brotherly love focuses our attention on seeing each other as siblings in the family of God, a family bound together forever. It is a central theme throughout the New Testament. Jesus commanded us to love one another and said that the demonstration of this love would portray us as His disciples (John 13:34-35). Brotherly love (phileo) is similar to agape love in that it acts towards the other, supporting, forgiving and helping as one would a blood brother or sister. In 1st John 4:20, the apostle tells us that anyone who claims to be a Christian who loves God, yet hates his brother, is a liar. The word hate does not necessarily imply feelings of hatred, but rather indifference towards one who is a member of our family.
Compassion is to have real concern for the suffering of others. Compassion is one of the emotions which should make us act with loving actions. We must be willing to act to help each other, not just say ‘God bless you’, but to help in a practical way. Most of the time our brothers and sisters don’t need money, they just need compassion and love, a real friend. One of the most powerful demonstrations of compassion is seen in Matthew 14. Jesus and His disciples had just finished burying John the Baptist and had decided to go to a solitary place to mourn this man of God. On arriving at the far side of Galilee they found a crowd of about 20,000 people (including women and children) waiting for them.
Verse 14 tells us why Jesus didn’t just turn the boat around and find a different solitary place. Jesus had compassion on them, and the word used in Greek means to have a ‘gut-wrenching’ compassion, to feel the pain of the other. Jesus spent the entire day pouring out His love and power to change people’s lives, a day which ended with Him creating bread and fish out of nothing, and later, walking 4 km on the water. Compassion should not be static, but rather a form of empathy which drives us to act as Christ acted.
Peter knew that there were problems in the Church. People, in their sinful natures, were jealous, envious, ambitious, etc. His command to be humble is about not allowing pride to cause arguments. There are two areas where pride is a problem in the Church. The first is in matters of doctrine. We are called to be of one mind, but this doesn’t mean we must agree about everything, however, we must agree on the non-negotiable doctrines of Christ. But some people are so proud that they insist that if we don’t agree with them about everything, then we are not real Christians. This is just pride and the Lord hates it.
Secondly, there is the pride that refuses to admit when we are wrong. Admitting when you are wrong is a sign of spiritual maturity, and pride is a sure sign of immaturity. One of the things I have noticed about people is this. Non-Christians’ hearts become harder and harder the older they get, and true Christians’ hearts become softer and softer, more like Christ. It is a simple fact that the deeper our relationship with the Lord is, the more acutely we will be aware of our sinful nature. Humility is one of the fundamental attributes of God, an attribute so clearly demonstrated in the incarnation, His willingness to take upon Himself the sins of each of us and submit to the horrendous death of crucifixion. Philippians 2: 1-11 challenges us to imitate our Lord’s humility.
V9. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with a blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
Peter is speaking about how we react to others in this verse, both Christian and non-christian. Although his instructions are very clear and easy to understand, often they are extremely difficult to do. Sometimes it is easier to forgive non-Christians than Christians or members of our own family. We don’t necessarily expect non-Christians to act or speak with love, but our families or brothers and sisters in Christ are supposed to love us. When they betray or attack us it can wound us deeply.
As a Christian author, I have learned the necessity of having a thick skin. For example, some 30 years ago I wrote Just Christianity (now titled ‘Time for Truth’), a book to help non-Christians understand the story of salvation, and am thankful that God has used it to set people on a path to His cross. When I came to Ukraine this book was published into Russian as Time for Truth in order to distinguish it from another with a title too close to the original. In one chapter the book refers to the Nephilim creatures and giants referred to around 40 times in Scripture, however, pastors in Ukraine had been taught the ‘Seth theory’ and believed that the Nephilim were simply tall human beings.
Whilst most of the pastors of the large evangelical church where I was serving were willing to examine, and even re-evaluate their position, one particular man made it his personal mission to discredit my book publically. I was labeled as a heretic, deceiver, and other names, and the ferocity of this attack left me bewildered, angry, and indignant. The head pastor, who had personally endorsed my book after reading it, discovered and reported that about 89% of evangelical theologians held the same view as me, but this particular man was not moved, indeed, he continued to spread dissent throughout the church and call for my book to be banned.
How do we deal with such situations in light of Peter’s instructions? The old, sinful nature in me wanted to confront this man publically, call him names, belittle him as ignorant, and make him suffer. My wife and friends advised me to do nothing, just put it in the Lord’s hands. I reluctantly took that advice, but it took quite a few weeks for the Divine nature in me to start getting control of these emotions, and only after realizing where this man’s motivation was coming from.
Wounded pride, bruised egos, and hurt feelings are difficult to deal with. It is easy enough to forgive and heal if the person comes and asks forgiveness, but if the attack is ongoing our old nature wants to lash out in defense, at least mine does. The Lord challenged me to invite this man to my home, to cook him a meal, and suggest that we discuss my book with love and humility. I did this and he agreed, however, after several cancellations it seems he decided to move to another congregation.
All of us can come under attack from those we least expect it from. At such times, for me at least, it is humanly impossible to imitate the humility of Christ. However, if we submit to the Divine nature Peter writes that we will inherit a blessing from the Lord and he quotes Psalm 34:12-16. Notice please that he says we ‘inherit’ a blessing, meaning that we may not receive this blessing on this side of the grave. What we do receive when we submit our feelings to His will, is peace, His peace, and eventually empathy, when we realize that, like us, the person attacking us is also a broken creature being molded into the likeness of Christ.
As always in this Christian life, the key is in turning our eyes towards Jesus. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:32; be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I am very grateful that our Lord is so loving and patient with us. Imagine if He looked around the Church and said ‘what am I going to do with this lot’? All Christians are in the process of being transformed into His likeness. One of the marks that we are in Christ is that the fruits of the Spirit are displayed in increasing measure as the years go by (2nd Peter 1:5-9). Brotherly love, sympathy, compassion and humility are attributes which can be found, to a degree, in all people, but take on a life of their own when the Divine nature of God comes to dwell in us, indeed His Spirit compels us to act as He would act, if we are open to hearing His voice.
As to forgiveness and repaying evil with good, the keys are twofold. Firstly, to recognize that the person attacking us is a broken creature who, if a Christian, is in the process of being made like Christ, just as we are. Empathy takes the hand of Christ and looks beyond our immediate pain in order to see the other’s motivation. At that point, forgiveness is possible.
And secondly, we must always keep our eyes firmly focused on the cross of Christ, a constant reminder of what our salvation and forgiveness cost our Lord. At the foot of the cross our pride is dissolved; it is there that disagreements between Christians mean nothing; it is there that we can see each other for what we truly are, broken people forgiven by the Perfect One who gave His life to set us free.
Study Eight: First Response
1st Peter 3:13-15
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
How often do we walk away from a conversation and then hear the voice of Jesus in our conscience say “why didn’t you tell that person about me”? How often do we get the opportunity to say “I know and love Jesus Christ” and yet our mouth remained closed because we didn’t want people to laugh at us or think we are crazy?
When Peter wrote this letter to Christians it was a dangerous time to tell people that you love Jesus Christ. It was as though the government was at war with the Church and many Christians ran away because they were afraid of being thrown into prison, being beaten, or even worse, being used to feed wild lions. Everywhere you went people were talking about Christians and saying things which were not true. There were many rumors around that Christians drank human blood, an idea which came from them taking communion, and still other rumors that they sacrificed children. None of it was true, but the Roman government spread these lies to try and destroy Christianity.
Peter tells them not to fear what they fear. These words are also translated as ‘do not fear their threats’ which gives a better meaning of the context here. These early Christians faced open threats of violence. Others faced threats of divorce, of being disinherited and of losing family and friends.
What do you fear?
In verse 15 Peter tells them to always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that they have. But before he writes these words he says but in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. These words are the key to the Christian life in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. In the context that Peter writes, they are not said as a warning of Christ as judge in regards to salvation, for Christians have passed from judgment into life and in this our eternal destiny is secure. Peter’s statement has a twofold meaning:
Firstly, that when Christ is our ‘first love’ (Revelation 2:4) our hearts are set in the right place. Our actions are often determined by what we set our hearts or minds on. The mind that sets itself on the consequences of honoring Christ may tremble through fear, but if the heart has Him set in His rightful place as its first love, the mind will find peace in that love. Such a person has no fear of sharing His love with others.
Secondly, Peter has already said (v14) that if we should suffer for what is right, we are blessed. That blessing may not be realized on this side of the grave, but whatever we do in this body will be weighed for eternity. Paul, in his second letter to the Corinthians speaks about longing to be free of this earthly body and to honor Christ in our everyday lives. Then he says this:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2nd Corinthians 5:10).
Paul was never suggesting that our salvation is dependent upon our performance, for only the perfect life of Christ can ever be enough. Rather, Paul is challenging Christians about purity, integrity and service to the Lord, the actions and motives which determine our heavenly rewards. Peter then tells us to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
There are several important points to be made here.
Firstly in the words ‘to give an answer to everyone who asks’. Sometimes this verse is used to try and motivate people to go out and evangelize, but this is not the context. Rather, Peter is encouraging Christians to never miss the opportunities that the Lord sends to them. There is a great difference. Not everyone is called to be an evangelist, teacher or preacher, however, the Lord will give all of us opportunities to declare our love for Him. Peter says to be prepared to answer those who ask us for the reason for the hope we have. If our hearts are set on Christ, our lives will shine with that love, such is Peter’s reason for telling us to be prepared to suffer for doing what is right. Our godly behavior in the face of threats may prompt people to ask us why we love Christ.
Secondly, notice Peter’s use of the definite article ‘the’. He doesn’t tell us that we must give ‘a’ reason, but ‘the’ reason for the hope we have. This verse has the word defense (apologia) which is translated as ‘answer’. It means to always be prepared to defend your position, a word which fits the context of being under threat. But Peter isn’t saying that every Christian must be an apologist, a person who can give a long list of proofs for the Christian faith. The defense he is speaking of here is our personal reason for the hope we have, the single most important reason that we know and love Christ and put our hope in Him.
What will you say if someone asks you why you are a Christian?
What is your first response to this question?
What if the context is in a threatening situation, a situation which may have a negative impact on your job, club, family, marriage or other?
Is your first response to start quoting great apologists like C.S. Lewis, or quoting prophecies that prove the supernatural element of the Bible, or some other proof of God’s existence? If that is what this person is asking, then so be it, but it isn’t the context of the verses we are studying. Peter is telling us to be prepared to speak about our ‘hope’ in Christ, that ‘living hope’ he wrote about in the first verses of this letter, the reason we love the Lord and live for Him.
The most powerful first response and defense of our faith is our relationship with Christ. The great teacher and martyr Polycarp was arrested for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor and faced death by being burned alive. On the day of his death he gave his first response when asked why he put his faith in Christ. He replied, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my Lord and Savior.” Polycarp’s words echo the truth of his relationship with his Lord, and they had a profound effect on the Roman soldiers who heard them.
Just like us, the people in the first centuries of Christianity had many opportunities to tell others about Jesus Christ and some of them did, while others did not. They were spread around the world because of persecution and they took the message with them. It would have been easy, for example, to go to a new place and avoid other Christians, to keep quiet about the Lord, but what of their conscience.
Peter tells us that in speaking you are keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Christians were ordered to act in ways which were contrary to Scripture, namely, to give homage to Roman gods. Roman people believed their gods would be angry and demand retribution, therefore, they slandered Christians maliciously, and many lost family, spouses, homes and even their lives for honoring Christ. Similar forms of persecution are happening around the world, especially in Moslem and Hindu countries, and in the Western world Christians can come under attack in standing against gay and lesbian marriage, abortion and similar issues.
The stand we make for Christ, and our behavior in living for Him, may well bring increased amounts of persecution and suffering as this world comes closer and closer to the return of Christ. The apostle John tells us to be in this world but not of this world.
With gentleness and respect.
With our hearts set on Christ and living for Him, people may often ask us why we put our hope in Him rather than running with the crowd and living for worldly values. We are to give our first response, and Peter says to do this with gentleness and respect. This does not mean that we must respect the actions or way of life that others adopt for themselves; we are not called to give sinful behavior dignity or condone it as legitimate. However, neither are we to stand in judgment of those whose minds are blinded by the god of this world (2nd Corinthians 4:4) and live in slavery to sin (Romans 6:6), for we were once as they were, enemies of Christ and lost.
If we attack people from a self-righteous position they will simply defend themselves and build their walls higher. In the gospels, do we ever see Jesus Christ acting in such a way towards people in slavery to sin? The only people Jesus ever attacked verbally were the religious, self-righteous leaders of Israel, everyone else He treated with gentleness and respect, seeing in them the distorted, and twisted image of God, and the potential for that image to be made whole.
People were drawn to Christ because of His love for them; He never condemned sinners and never condoned their sin. This is the form of respect we are to offer others, the same respect and gentleness that Christ has given to us, that same love that called us to draw close to Him, to be cleansed and made whole.
What will you do when given an opportunity to tell of the hope you have in Christ? I sincerely believe that the answer to that question depends almost entirely on the degree to which our hearts are set on Him. The Christian who flirts with the principles of the world, or compromises morally and ethically through their lives, will find themselves gagged when opportunities arrive. A guilty conscience condemns us to silence, sinful secrets cause us to feel estranged from the intimate and holy presence of the Lord.
John tells us to confess our sins and be purified from all unrighteousness (1John 1:8-9). For most of us this is a daily process, for our old sinful nature is continuously at war with our desire to set our hearts fully on Christ. Yet as we keep our focus on the cross we are continuously aware of the salvation we have freely received, and this is the lens through which we will view others who are trapped in sin and slaves to its power.
We are forever under the gaze of others. Sometimes we may face persecution in various forms for the stand we make and our reaction may also prompt questions about the hope we have in Christ. Peter calls us to give a first response with gentleness and respect, the kind of response which he says may make our attackers feel ashamed of their slander.
Our first response will most likely determine if we are asked additional questions about our faith. If we treat others as Christ has treated us, then we stand with them, alongside them, and they may feel and hear His call to know the living hope that they see in our lives.
Studies Nine and Ten: Nephilim
1st Peter 3:18b-22
Within Scripture there are many recorded events which are difficult to understand unless we correctly determine the context in which they were written. Take for example the Lord’s command to the Hebrews to destroy everything living thing in Canaan at the time of the conquest of the Promised Land (Deut 20:16). The Lord told them that they could spare the people of certain cities if those cities agreed to surrender, but He also gave them a list of nation groups which they were to completely destroy, men, women, children and animals (Deut 20: 11-14, 16-17).
How can we understand the God who hates the practice of child sacrifice ordering His chosen people to kill defenseless women and children? This question is often used by atheists to suggest that God is a child killer, or hypocrite. In these two studies we will examine the reason that Jesus descended into a place called Tatarus, and the history of spiritual warfare employed by the spiritual enemies of God to try and prevent the coming of the Messiah. A summary of these events are presented by Peter in the next section of his letter.
He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
This passage of Peter’s letter is often misunderstood, perhaps because many teachers of the Bible don’t bother to learn and apply Greek in order to discover the true meaning of difficult verses. Some teach that Jesus went into hell and preached the gospel to the souls of people who died at the time of the Great Flood. This false interpretation has led some to believe that souls get a second chance after death, or, that there is a form of purgatory where souls might earn their way to heaven by the merit of those who are still alive. Therefore, before we discover what Peter is speaking about, let’s determine what he is not writing.
Firstly, he tells us that Jesus went and preached to the spirits who disobeyed. The word ‘spirits’ is not used in the New Testament to speak of deceased human beings, but rather of fallen angels and demons. Secondly, and most importantly, the word translated as ‘preached’ here is a poor choice. There are two main words used for preaching. One is euaggelizo which means to bring good news, the word from which we take the English ‘evangelize’. The second word is kerusso, which means to make a proclamation, or herald a victory. Kerusso is used when Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is near. This word is always associated with the authority of a king or kingdom.
In days gone by cities had a man called a herald. This person would stand up in the town square and make proclamations for the king. When the king was out of the city fighting a battle, a soldier would return with news and the herald would stand up and herald the victory or loss of the king. Jesus used this word, rather than the word euaggelizo, because He was acting as a herald, the one proclaiming that the King had come to establish His Kingdom.
This is the context in which Peter uses this word. Jesus did not go into hell to preach to the souls of dead people, but rather to herald His victory over demonic spirits. Notice in the last section of the passage Peter’s direct reference to Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven to sit at God’s right hand, the place of supreme authority. Peter says, all angels, authorities and powers are in submission to Him. Peter’s point is that through His death and resurrection, Christ has brought every spiritual being under His submission. Peter makes the inhabitants of this prison even clearer in his second letter.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell (Tatarus), putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment…(2 Peter 2:4)
The apostle Jude says that these same angels are kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 6).
Jude and Peter are speaking of a specific group of angels, not the entire group who were cast out of heaven. If that was the case, there would be no demons operating on the earth at all. It is to these angels that Jesus went to proclaim His victory.
In order to understand why Jesus went to herald His victory over His spiritual enemies, we need to study the history of the spiritual war between God and Satan which began in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 3:14-15 we have the first prophecy about the work of Jesus Christ and His victory over Satan.
“Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. 15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (seed) and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The first part of these verses is a curse upon the snake, perhaps because it allowed itself to be used by Satan; the second part is the prophecy. This prophecy speaks of the offspring, or seed, of Satan and the woman. The offspring of the woman is Jesus Christ who will crush Satan’s head. The word ‘head’ refers to authority, and in this case, Satan’s authority over death. This is explained in Hebrews 2:14-15:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
But what is Genesis 3 speaking of as the offspring of Satan? The word offspring or ‘seed’, as it can also be translated, refers to children. This word is used by Paul in Galatians to describe both Christ as The Seed who was promised to come into the world (3:19) and Christians as Abraham’s seed, those who belong to Jesus Christ (3:29).
In reference to Satan, people can be described as the spiritual children of the devil, and also, the fallen angels who produced physical children with women, those referred to generally as the Nephilim. In Genesis 3 the reference is to the physical seed of both the woman and Satan. In the book of Jude, the apostle refers to a text called the Book of Enoch which gives a great deal of details concerning how the Nephilim came into the world, their purpose, and the punishment their fathers received. Enoch says that about 250 angels changed their bodies in order to be able to have sex with human women and produce children. Their purpose; to rule the world and stop the coming of the Messiah; their punishment, they were chained and imprisoned in a place called Tatarus, The Abyss. It was to these ‘spirits’ that Jesus Christ went to herald His victory over Satan.
There are over 40 references to the giant races within the Bible. Most Christians are well aware of the story of David and Goliath, however, Goliath was a giant born many generations from the hybrids which lived before the global flood, and immediately afterwards, hence, he was only about 9ft or 3 meters tall (1 Samuel 17:4), whereas a large body of evidence suggests that the first generation of giants were twice that height.
In Genesis 6 we are told about the initial coupling of humans and fallen angels. Verse 2 tells us that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. The words ‘married’ and ‘chose’ should not be mistaken to mean that a wedding ceremony took place as between two people in-love, but rather, that the angels simply took any women they desired and became one-flesh with them. In verse 4 we read about the children of these unions:
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went into the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
In the Greek text the word translated as ‘heroes’ is simply ‘giants’. Notice also the reference ‘and also afterward’. The expression ‘those days’ refers to those days prior to the Global Flood, but the writer wants us to know that this happened after the Flood as well, for these first generations of Nephilim were destroyed by drowning.
The name Nephilim has two possible meanings, of which both are implied, coming from the Hebrew word ‘Nephi’ which means ‘from the fallen ones’, or ‘to fall upon’. The Nephilim, then, were giants from the fallen ones (angels) who fell upon their enemies with overpowering strength. They became legends throughout the known world such as Hercules, the half god, half man of the Greeks, The Titans, and in the Bible the descendents of the Rapha, Ishbi-Benob and Saph (2 Sam 21:16-19) as well as Goliath and Og whose iron bed was around 3.5 meters long (Deut 3:11).
Before we look at Satan’s plan in producing these creatures, a few words about the Hebrew term ‘sons of God’. The Hebrew has three variants; beney ‘elohim (בני אלהים), beney ha’elohim (בני האלהים), and beney ‘elim (בני אלים). Throughout the Old Testament these terms apply specifically to angels such as in Genesis 6:2, 4, Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:4, Psalm 29:1 and Psalm 89:5. Liberal theologians, who try to discredit the supernatural, use what is known as the ‘Seth Theory’ to support a view that a group of unusually tall humans are being spoken of as the sons of God, but the Scriptures completely contradict this. We will briefly examine this theory later in these studies.
Going back to Genesis 6, we begin to see Satan’s intent in his underlings producing offspring hybrids. Verse 11 tells us that the earth was full of violence and corruption, indeed, immediately after the verse speaking of the Nephilim (4) we read that man’s wickedness became so great that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The gravity of this statement cannot be diluted, and is essential in understanding God’s intention to destroy the world. We often think our world has become increasingly violent and corrupt, however, we do not yet live in a world where every inclination of the thoughts of people’s hearts are only evil all the time.
There was no goodness left; this was a world beyond redemption, beyond saving, except for Noah who was blameless among the people of his time. These words may also be translated as ‘pure in his generations’, which may mean that Noah’s lineage had never been tainted with Nephilim bloodlines. Whatever the case, God’s statement of the hearts of men cannot be exaggerated, and is proven true by the fact that, although Noah preached for about 100 years (2nd Peter 2:5), not a single person repented and entered into the Ark with this man of God and his immediate family.
Verse 6 tells us that the Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth and his heart was full of pain. This too is a powerful statement which, in its intensity, stands apart from the rest of Scripture. In order to really understand the reasons for the Flood, and the command of God to utterly destroy specific tribes at the time of Moses and Joshua, we must recognize the all-encompassing evil of people who openly serve, worship, and place themselves under the authority of creatures who are born of demonic origins.
Consider the following. We are all born with a sin nature and into a world of corruption. However, despite this fact, human beings, even atheists, are capable of acts of kindness, sympathy and compassion, for the image of God, although corrupted, still remains in us. We have never seen the 3rd Heaven, Paradise; we have never seen God in His majesty and splendor, therefore, we may be saved through faith. But what of the angels created into this environment of infinite perfection and holiness?
What happens to the heart of a creature who rejects Paradise and perfect holiness? Such a creature is unredeemable, indeed, the measure of perfection experienced reverts to the same measure of evil and rebellion. Demons are altogether evil, they are incapable of goodness. Now, imagine a creature with a human mother and demonic father, a creature incapable of goodness, a creature with demonic power and an insatiable hatred for the Creator who cast them out of Paradise.
These are the creatures who ruled the world before the Flood, and ruled Canaan at the time of Moses. The Book of Enoch tells us that they taught humanity war, witchcraft, human sacrifice and rampant sexual immorality. They built huge flat-topped pyramids and slaughtered children to enhance their demonic powers, they enslaved people in demonic rituals, turning their hearts completely over to Satan. So God destroyed them all, for the hearts of men were only evil all the time. But Satan tried this plan again after the Flood.
In Genesis 9, we have the story of Ham seeing Noah drunk and naked sometime after the ark had landed and a vineyard established. Ham went out and told his brothers who walked backwards into the tent and covered their father. Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan and prophesied about the future. In verse 24 it says that Noah cursed Ham for what his youngest son had done to him. What was Ham’s crime? He used the discovery of his father’s shame to discredit Noah, even to gloat over Noah’s shame to his brothers. In doing this he exposed the immorality which became the hallmark of the generations and nations that preceded him. We are not told specifically in the story if Ham and his son Canaan already had a tendency towards sexual immorality and rebellion, however, to enjoy the shame of his father, as his spiritual authority, was akin to open rebellion against God.
The nations of Babylon and Egypt are both descended from Ham, as are the tribes of giants called the Anakites, Rephaim (Rapha) Zamzumites (Emites), Anakim and Amorites. It is difficult to determine exactly when these races appeared after the flood, but one name stands out which has no human ancestry, Rapha. Later in history, one of Benjamin’s sons is called Rapha, but he is not the father of the Raphaites from whom all of the giants races came.
By the time the Hebrews came out of Egypt after 400 years as slaves, the Nephilim had fortified themselves within the land called Canaan, the Promised land of the Jews. Why did they congregate there? Perhaps because 400 years earlier God had told Abraham that his descendents would be slaves for that period of time, and more importantly, that from Abraham would come The Seed, the Messiah born of a woman who would crush the serpent’s head.
If Satan could stop the Jews from entering the land promised to them, or even wipe them out, he would stop the prophecy from being fulfilled. His plan almost worked, for when the 12 spies saw the Nephilim they were terrified and turned the people from God’s plan (Numbers 13:32). Their report was that all the people we saw there are of great size. What were the practices of these people? They are listed in Deuteronomy 18:1-11. Child sacrifice, divination, sorcery, interpreting omens, witchcraft, casting spells, and acting as a medium or spiritist by consulting the dead. All of these practices are connected to the spiritual realm, the realm of the demonic.
God gave the Hebrews a list of tribes (Deut 20:17) that they were to destroy utterly, indeed, He used similar words as those used in Genesis 6 before the Flood, namely, to not leave anything alive that breathes. The land of Canaan was not inhabited by peace loving innocents who just wanted to be left alone, rather, it was ruled by creatures whose purpose was to stop the coming of the Messiah. The Hebrews didn’t do as God commanded and people with the blood of these tribes remained, as did their objective. Haman, the official in the story of Ester, was an Agagite, a descendent of the Amalakites, a tribe with Nephilim blood whom the Lord detested. He, like his ancestors before him, sought to wipe out every Jewish person living, about 520 years before the birth of Christ.
The Seth Theory
Although there are over 40 references to giants in Scripture, many theologians, including Martin Luther, have denied their existence throughout Church history, preferring to teach that the children of Adam’s son Seth are the sons of God mentioned in Genesis. This teaching originated with a man called Julian the Apostate who became the Roman Emperor in the 4th century. He claimed to be a Christian for 12 years, and then went on to try and re-establish paganism as the central religion of the Empire, claiming to be a reincarnation of Alexander the Great.
The main objection of those who hold to the Seth Theory is that it is impossible for angels to have sexual relations with women as they have a different type of body. I find this a ridiculous argument for several reasons.
Firstly, the many times Scripture speaks about angels with bodies like men, such as the two angels who visited Abraham with the Lord. These creatures ate a meal with the patriarch before going down to Sodom where the men of that city surrounded Lot’s house and ordered they be sent out so that they could have sex with them.
Secondly, in Jude, the apostle uses the Greek word ‘oiketerion’ which has been poorly translated as ‘habitation’, giving the impression of a place, rather than body. This word is used only one other time in the New Testament by Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2 to describe the changing of our earthly body into a heavenly one. Jude uses this word to describe the angels changing their bodies in the opposite way. We do not know how these changes occur, but the Scriptures declare that they were done, in the case of angels, and will be done for all who know the Lord.
The subject of the Nephilim is both fascinating and enlightening and extends far beyond what we have examined in these studies. Giants have been the rulers of almost all of the greatest ancient nations, and the ones who established the religions of China, India, Babylon, Egypt, and others.
For more information on this topic please see my book Religion: History and Mystery where the origins of 22 religions is discussed.
Jesus did not go into a Hades to preach the gospel, he went to a place called Tatarus to proclaim His victory over Satan, the place where the fallen angels who fathered the Nephilim were imprisoned as both Peter and Jude testify (Jude 6, 2nd Peter 2:4).
Study Eleven: Baptism
1st Peter 3:20-22
He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
The doctrine and practice of baptism has been one of the most misunderstood and wrongly applied throughout Church history. In this study we will examine the New Testament practice of baptism and seek to answer the following questions.
1. Does baptism save us?
2. Why are we commanded to baptize, and who should be baptized?
3. Is infant baptism biblical, or an erroneous teaching which can give a false sense of security?
The first instance of the practice of baptism in the NT is attributed to the ministry of John the Baptist. John’s practice is referred to as a baptism of repentance and his ministry was almost exclusively to Hebrew people. These people were well educated in Mosaic Law and lived in expectation of the coming Messiah. John’s preaching stressed the need to prepare their hearts for the coming kingdom of God, and baptism was an outward sign that participants were serious about making such a commitment. John’s baptism, therefore, was not about salvation, but rather about preparing the heart for salvation. Those who were baptized had already decided to cleanse their hearts, the act of baptism merely testified to this. In the passage above that we are studying, Peter speaks about the Flood of Noah’s time, and then makes this statement:
In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
On the surface of it, one could take from these verses that the act of baptism saves us, however, the important words here are the pledge of a good conscience towards God. The word pledge is linked to the covenant between the individual and the Lord. Under the old covenant the people pledged to keep God’s commandments, and under the new, we pledge our lives to Christ through faith and promise to live for Him as His disciples, keeping a good conscience as regards to sin. Paul tells us that;
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
If Paul considered that baptism saves us, surely he would have stated this. Some of the last words Jesus spoke were a commandment to His apostles. He told them to
…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-29).
Obviously, the decision to become a disciple must come before baptism. This theme is consistent throughout Scripture, so what part does baptism play in salvation?
Like the baptism of repentance in John’s ministry, which was a public testimony, baptism is primarily a confession of faith, a witness to the world that we have surrendered and pledged ours lives to Christ as His disciples. Confession of faith is vital, and at times of persecution it has often been the line between those who are in Christ, and prepared to die for their commitment, and those who think they can be secret Christians. In countries where Christianity is banned, the act of baptism delineates between Christians and non-Christians. Therefore, we may conclude the following. Baptism, in and of itself, does not save us, however, biblical faith means to act upon our conviction, for faith without works is dead, therefore, Scripture commands us to believe and be baptized.
So who should be baptized, and is infant baptism biblical?
From what we have already discussed, it should be obvious that only those who have made the commitment of discipleship should be baptized. We do well to understand that the New Testament letters are primarily written to adult males, such is the reason that the word ‘brothers’ so often appears, however, this does not mean that women or children were excluded from reading or hearing the apostles’ letters, but is more about spiritual authority in the family and Church. God has inaugurated spiritual authority within families which should be taken very seriously.
There are direct commandments to children in both Ephesians and Colossians, namely, to obey parents. Here also, we see the New Testament understanding of a child’s role within the family. The idea that a child could be a disciple is completely foreign to the Bible’s definition of disciple. Luke 14 gives us a good example of Jesus’ teachings on this topic.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple….In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
Between the two parts of this teaching quoted above, Jesus gave two examples. One of a man who wanted to build a tower, and the other of a king going to war. In both of these cases Jesus’ point was that before anyone could be a disciple he must first sit down and count the cost of discipleship. The person must be prepared to lose mother, father, children, etc., indeed, be willing to lose everything in order to receive salvation. This, plus Jesus’ words about carrying our cross, all speak to the fact that becoming a disciple of Christ is about death and rebirth; death to our ego and old way of life, and new birth into a new life of obedience to Jesus Christ. Paul explains the details of this in Romans 6.
Is it possible, therefore, for a child to become a disciple of Christ? Biblically, the answer is an emphatic ‘no’, in fact, the Bible expressly declares that children are under the spiritual authority of their parents, and in this, have no independent rights. Unlike our modern Churches which have departments for child evangelism, etc., the Bible has no such idea as an ‘age of understanding’, or ‘age of accountability’, but rather, an age of independence. The Bible declares that any obedient child with one believing parent is ‘holy’ in the same way as the Old Testament saints were considered holy (1st Corinthians 7:14).
This is a extensive topic which is beyond the scope of this study, but the main point to recognize is that no person can become a disciple of Christ until their life is independently theirs to give, therefore, until that age they should not be baptized. In general, a person prior to the age of twenty was considered to still be in the category of child (Exodus 30:14, Numbers 1:3, 14:27, 32:11). When the Hebrews refused to go into the land promised them, God swore that, all twenty years old and over, would never enter. They died in the desert. Perhaps there were teens who, like Joshua and Caleb, wanted to trust God with their lives and obey Him, however, the Lord drew a line at twenty. Likewise, no male could join the army until he was twenty years old. Both of these examples are about a person being old enough to take control of their lives, even lose their lives, independent of their parents. Such is the general definition of adult within Scripture.
No doubt there are those in their late teens who are more mature and independent than others. Children and teens can and do have a real relationship with God throughout their young years, but this relationship can ebb and flow as the child develops in rationality and independence. Children and teens all go through stages of cognitive development (1st Corinthians 13:11) and it is natural for them to question everything, even reject all they have been taught throughout these years. They may have a close relationship with the Lord at say 10 through to 12, and then at 14 decide that such beliefs were immature. A wise parent or youth leader will encourage teens to wait until they have become independent, and give the Lord the opportunity to take this person through the ‘counting the cost’ time before seeing this person as a disciple and baptizing them as such.
What of infant baptism?
The practice of infant baptism is based on the doctrine of original sin, a doctrine invented by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and taken from a false interpretation of a single verse of Scripture, namely, Romans 5:12 which reads;
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.
Recent scholarship has recognized that Augustine misinterpreted Romans 5:12 because of the Latin translation he was using. Augustine took Paul’s Greek phrase “ἐφ᾽ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον” following the Latin “in quo omnes peccaverunt” to be “in whom [Adam] all sinned”.
The original Greek text should be translated as ‘because all sinned’, not ‘in whom all sinned’. The difference in these two is incredibly important. If we take Augustine’s interpretation, then every person is a born sinner, every child is responsible for committing the sin in the Garden of Eden, because every child is a descendent of Adam and was in Adam in Eden. If we translate the Greek as ‘because all sinned’, then we are saying that, although a child is born with a sinful nature, they are not responsible for Adam’s sin, but only responsible for their own personal fall from the moment of their first rebellion against God, which is the same as rebellion against parents who are in a God-given position of authority. In other words, we are not born sinners, but rather born with a sin nature (Romans 7:9) which leads us all to sin.
Augustine’s interpretation stood unchallenged for centuries, and of course was the reason that baptizing infants was introduced. With a belief that the ritual of baptism saved, and that children were born sinners, these two false doctrines claimed that unbaptized infants would spend eternity in hell. Neither Luther, an Augustinian monk, or Calvin challenged this doctrine, indeed, it was the Anabaptists who recognized the error and refused to baptize babies. By the time of Augustine’s birth in the 4th century, Christianity had become a religion of rules and rituals, replying on sacraments such as baptism and Eucharist for salvation, rather than the experience of regeneration. The Roman Emperor Constantine, who declared Christianity the religion of the empire, remained the high priest of paganism, and was reluctantly baptized on his death-bed.
Baptism has two primary functions. Firstly, it is a witness and confession of our surrender to the will of God as disciples of Christ. Baptism is only for those who have experienced regeneration, being born again, and never done in order to be born again. The decision to be a disciple of Christ requires a person to count the cost, and biblically, this rational part of the process of faith is only expected of adults.
Secondly, baptism symbolizes a grave in which our body and old life is buried, and a resurrection into new life raised with Christ. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4-11 that we are baptized into the death of Christ, crucified with Him, buried with Him through baptism, united with Him in His death and resurrection. This is the experience of new birth, not simply a ritual as practiced by Roman Catholics and Protestants who continue the practice of infant baptism, but the witness of a real and personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures clearly teach that salvation belongs to those who know Christ (John 17:3, Matthew 25:12, 7:23). It is not enough to know about Christ, rather, a person must know Him personally as Lord and Savior, belong to Him (Romans 8:9, Ephesians 1:14) and live as a disciple producing the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Study Twelve: The Good Fight
1st Peter 4:1-11
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because he who has suffered is done with sin.2 As a result, he does not live his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.
4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
In this section Peter encourages his readers to live in the light of the declaration they have made through baptism. As we saw in our previous study, baptism is both a symbol of our death and resurrection with Christ, and a public declaration that, from this day forth, we will live for the will of God in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. In the previous passage Peter says that baptism is not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
The word ‘pledge’ is important here. Baptism is only for those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, those who have surrendered their lives to Christ by faith. It is He who opened our eyes to the sin which enslaved us, He who planted within us a hatred for sin and desire to be cleansed, and He who called us to trust in the suffering of Christ as the One who has paid our penalty and justified us before God. We chose to obey His call and take up our cross, to walk the narrow path, and pledged ourselves to live with a good conscience towards God. Our pledge is our promise, and this promise is to keep our conscience right before the Lord. With this thought in mind, Peter begins chapter 4.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered is done with sin.
Living the Christian life is a battle. Up to this point Peter has spoken of the benefits of suffering which tests the genuineness of our faith, but here he speaks of the battle against the corrupt nature which remains in us. Christ fought against temptation throughout His life. He was willing to experience and submit to the most horrific suffering in His body, but unwilling to submit to even the least sin. Christ armed Himself with resolute holiness, and Peter calls us to arm ourselves with the same attitude, in accord with the pledge we made at baptism.
Paul wrote of what he called ‘the good fight’ in his letters to Timothy, expressing the same thoughts as Peter does here.
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
Notice also Paul’s words concerning making a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Confession of faith by word, and also deed (baptism), was and is a necessary act of obedience for all who claim to be disciples of Christ.
And as Peter wrote about the pledge of a good conscience towards God, so Paul told Timothy to heed his instructions, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. (1 Timothy 1:18)
We are called to keep a good conscience, to arm ourselves for the battle of temptations which come our way every day. Our sin nature does not change its nature when we are born again, however, the root of sin from which it feeds has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20, Romans 6:6). That root was the rebellious human ego which demanded to rule with self in the center. It is this egoism which has been put to death and surrendered to the will of God, but the desires of the sin nature within us, and temptations of the world, still remain, along with the habits we formed in our previous way of life.
To deny our sin nature the gratification of its desires is to suffer in our bodies. This requires courage and resolve; it requires us to make decisions to live with a good conscience towards God. But we are never alone in this fight, for Christ in us gives us His power to live for Him. As we suffer in this way of righteous living, sin is being put to death in us, not the penalty of sin which has been paid for at the cross, but the power of sin. This is the daily taking up of our cross, the daily decision to fight the good fight that every Christian must suffer, and, as Peter tells us;
…as a result, he does not live his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
Those who fight the good fight live with a good conscience, a soul free from condemnation, such is the benefit of denying our sin natures. One of the marks of true conversion is a new and acute awareness of sin. A Christian who is living with sin in his life will be one of the most miserable people, for the indwelling Holy Spirit will continually convict and encourage repentance. Refusal to repent will result either in living with a guilty conscience, or the searing of our conscience, either way, such a person is losing the good fight. The evidence that this person is truly in Christ is repentance, the holy desire to cleanse their conscience towards the Lord, take up their cross again and resume the battle (1st John 1:8-9).
3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.
Here Peter gives us a pretty accurate description of Roman society. Romans, like many civilizations before them, had turned the desires of the flesh, hedonism, into a religion. Pagan temples filled with prostitutes of both genders catered for the religious, basically, taking the most base of human depravity and making it into a sacred practice. It was common to see sexual acts done in the streets, especially after sunset. Getting drunk in a temple of Dionysus, or spending a coin with a temple prostitute was claimed to please the gods of the empire. When a person came out of this system and gave their life to Christ, they often received abuse for being traitors to Rome, in fact, it was Christians who were first labeled as atheists for refusing to believe in or pay homage to Roman gods.
Yet, for all their claims of piety, Romans recognized immorality and drunkenness as wrong. No matter how debauched a society becomes, it is almost impossible to completely silence the god-given conscience within every creature made in the image of God. Such people try to drag others into the same filth as they wallow in to quiet that same conscience which demands they change their way of life. No person can use the practices of their culture to excuse themselves before God. Even the most base of people reject adultery, stealing etc., as wrong. Peter reminds his readers of the future judgment that awaits.
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
Peter’s first statement here reminds us that all who die without Christ, or are still alive when He returns, will be judged according to what they have done (Romans 2:5). The second statement clarifies the first but adds another thought. All of us die. This is a result of the curse of death upon all men, it is to be judged according to being human, however, those who have received the gospel live both now and after death according to the spirit.
Also, Peter may also be anticipating an objection by the opponents of Christianity who think it strange that Christians don’t join with them in their sin. If Christians claim to possess eternal life, then why do they die the same death as pagans? Are they not suffering the same judgment of death? Peter’s reply is that in terms of physical death they face the same judgment as all men under the curse, but live according to the spirit.
Peter reminds us of the pledge we made to keep a good conscience before the Lord and tells us to arm ourselves with the same attitude as that of Jesus Christ who suffered in His body. We must put on the armor of God in order to fight the good fight of faith (Ephesians 6:10-18), but for Peter, the armor is in an attitude to live as disciples, even being willing to suffer in our bodies if necessary.
The heart of Peter’s message is in denying our old sin natures which tempt us to use our minds and bodies to sin. We have taken up our cross and walked away from our former way of life, and now we must force that old nature to submit to the Divine nature which dwells within us. This is a daily battle, a daily taking up our cross and fighting the good fight of faith. It is a constant battle of self-denial, and in this, a form of suffering that reaps eternal rewards.
And we may face persecution and ridicule from those who refuse to believe. Such people live for the day, indulging their sinful appetites with whatever gives them temporary pleasure. They know right from wrong, yet they ignore their conscience, they shut their ears to the voice of holiness which calls them to repent and even try to drag us into their way of life to ease their guilt.
Peter tells us that they will give an account, and although all people live under the curse of death, those who belong to Christ will live with Him forever.
Discipline and Discipleship
1ts Peter 4:12-19
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God. 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Throughout this entire letter Peter’s goal has been to encourage and comfort those he calls ‘dear friends’. Here he begins to summarize this topic of Christian suffering. In the first chapter he makes the statement that Christians must suffer grief in ‘all kinds of trials’ and these trials have come to test the genuineness of our faith. Throughout the letter he has unpacked this statement, writing about various forms of suffering and how we as Christians should respond to them.
Firstly, that these trials were prophesied (1:10-16), therefore we must ‘prepare our minds for action’ that they will not take us unaware. The sufferings and glory of Christ were predicted long before He came into the world to bring salvation. Paul, tells us in Romans 8:17 that we must share in the sufferings of Christ in order that we may also share in his glory. Suffering and glory are inseparable, indeed, if we reject one we forfeit the other.
Secondly, that our sufferings reveal the gulf that stands between us and the children of the world. We are called to holiness, we are a ‘spiritual house’, a ‘chosen people’ and a ‘royal priesthood’, a ‘people belonging to God’ so we must live as ‘aliens and strangers in the world’ (2:1-12). In light of this, we must submit to the authorities in a godly way, being willing to follow Christ’s example and not retaliate or offer threats when we suffer (2:21-22). Peter expands this theme of suffering for doing good in chapter 3. He encourages us to ‘keep a good conscience’ before God, remembering the vow we made at baptism (3:16, 21-22).
Thirdly, Peter again points us to Christ in our struggle against bodily sins which spring from our sin natures. He calls us to ‘arm ourselves with the same attitude’ as Christ, enduring the fight against temptations and forcing our bodies to submit to the holy will of God we are called for (4:1-6), taking up our cross daily. We do this in the knowledge that Christ stands with us as the writer of Hebrews states,
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:18).
Then, in the passage of this study, he tells us that, in light of all he has said we should ‘not be surprised at the painful trial’ we are suffering, ‘as though something strange were happening to us’ (4:12). He tells us to rejoice in these suffering because they reveal the glory of God in us. If we are insulted for the name of Christ we should rejoice, for within this insult is proof that the world recognizes that we belong to Christ Jesus, that His ‘Spirit of glory’ rests upon and within us.
Sadly, there are those who preach and teach that suffering is not God’s will for His children. Such teachers usually proclaim this message from pulpits in countries where wealth and privilege may build a wall of false security against various trials. The teaching that trials are a blessing is foreign to such theology, rather, the message is that God wants to shield us from every form of hardship, however, such teaching is totally contrary to God’s Word. Is it any wonder, then, that when trials, tests and suffering come upon such people they are thrown into confusion and surprised. How can one arm themselves and prepare their minds for suffering if they sit under such false teaching?
Scripture teaches that every Christian must be trained in righteousness and that God uses various forms of discipline for those who are His children. The Lord never persecutes us; however, He often uses various forms of persecution, incidents of suffering, and trials which are common to all of us, to build godly character. It is discipline which creates disciples; hardship which creates godly character. The writer to the Hebrews tells us to;
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live.
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our own good, that we may share in his holiness. No disciple seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).
This passage begins with the words ‘endure hardship as discipline’. All of the forms of suffering that Peter has described in his letter are types of hardship. We must learn to accept and embrace these hardships as from a loving Father who desires us to be trained in discipleship so we may produce a harvest of righteousness and peace. Righteousness is primarily a gift from God through the blood of Christ. It can never be earned; however, the gift must be our motivation to accept the discipline which we need to develop in order to bring our sin natures into submission to the will of God.
We have been made perfect in Christ, and are being made holy, set apart for Him (Hebrews 10:14). Enduring hardships, suffering loss, turning away from sin and revenge, these are the disciplines that transform us by the renewing of our minds as we refuse to conform to the world (Romans 12:1-2). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the Lord Himself was ‘perfected’ through suffering (2:10). Christ took upon Himself the very same human nature that we too have. He suffered and fought against temptations all of His life, indeed, there is little doubt that Satan made Him a primary target. If Jesus had succumbed to temptation just once, He would no longer be a lamb without spot or blemish, indeed, rather a sinner in need of salvation.
Hebrews 2:17-18 reminds us that Jesus Christ was made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people, because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
And again, the same writer tells us that Christ was tempted in every way, just as we are. We who belong to Christ never go through our temptations and sufferings alone. We have a merciful and faithful high priest who understands temptation and the discipline it takes to stand against it. We do not stand in our own strength, for we would surely fail as we did while we were yet slaves to sin, rather, we submit ourselves to Christ and rely on His strength, the One with the perfect record.
Peter’s final words in our passage state; For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God… This statement is often misunderstood and applied out of context. Some Christians believe that whenever a natural disaster such as a flood, earthquake or hurricane strikes and kills, that God is exercising judgment on those who died. The New Testament, however, speaks of the Day of Judgment, and that this judgment occurs after physical death. Yes, every one of us will face judgment for how we have lived as Christians, but Peter’s point here is that the way we act in the face of suffering reflects the genuineness of our faith.
This point is made clear in his summary that: 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Our suffering is according to God’s will. The question is, will we rejoice in the fact that we are His children and that He only disciplines His own, or will we reject discipleship and prove that our faith was false and bring judgment upon ourselves when we stand before Him? Peter quotes Proverbs 11:31 asking, if it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?
The Christian life is not an easy life, but a hard life, a narrow and steep path. The entire world system is geared towards sin and rebellion against God, and we must live in this world. Coupled with this is the fact that our old sin natures remain in us, and this nature fights against our desire for holiness on every step of our journey with the Lord. The sin nature can never be coaxed into submitting to Christ: it is depraved and selfish, rebellious and proud. Only discipline can force it to submit to God’s will. The sin nature must be denied what it desires, and this continuous act of self-denial is the reality of taking up our cross daily. Testings, trials and suffering are opportunities to be trained in righteousness, opportunities to imitate Christ, opportunities to develop godly character.
We should never be surprised that we are called to suffer, for our Lord knows that we are perfected through suffering. He stands beside us and dwells within us, giving the strength, wisdom and experience to help us stand against temptation, and He is the Light which leads us through the dark times, the trials and sufferings, the Light and Life at the end of this journey of faith.
Marks of Leadership
1st Peter 5:1-4
Those who have to undergo the forms of suffering that Peter has described in the first four chapters of his letter will need wise leaders, people who can empathize, encourage and support those in their charge. Elders (presbyteroi in Greek) were appointed in fledgling churches from the very beginning of the spread of the gospel (Acts 14:23, 20:17). In this section the apostle gives them his advice as a ‘fellow elder’.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Although the NIV omits it, Peter uses the word ‘therefore’ to begin this part of his final instructions. He appeals to the elders to recall all he has previously stated and again reminds them that he, as a co-elder, is a witness of the sufferings of Christ. The image of Christ’s sufferings must always be the lens through which any of us serve, for only in gazing upon His sacrifice will our hearts and minds be fit for service. It is only through the sufferings of Christ, and in sharing those sufferings, that Peter can claim that he will share in the glory to be revealed (Romans 8:17).
Peter calls himself a fellow elder and reminds us that the first mark of being an elder is to be a shepherd, one who cares for the flock of God. These words take us back to the day beside the Sea of Galilee a short time after the Lord’s resurrection. The disciples were fishing until dawn and saw Jesus on the shore where He cooked them breakfast after telling them to cast their nets on the right side of their boat.
That morning Peter’s shame in denying Christ was replaced with a command to feed His sheep, to care for His lambs, to be a shepherd (John 21). No doubt that command remained the primary motivation throughout Peter’s life, a command which began with Jesus asking him three times ‘Simon, do you love me?’ In a sense, Jesus was saying to Peter, ‘if you truly love me, then care for my sheep’.
The foundational role of an elder is to be a shepherd of God’s flock, and the primary motivation of shepherding is in our love for Christ. If an elder loves being a leader more than he loves Jesus Christ, then the way he views those who follow him will not be in God’s will. Some men love to be followed by others, some are natural leaders, but if a person’s motivation to be an elder is in his ego, then in essence he is not a true shepherd, but rather one who is stealing the flock from the Lord. Elders are shepherds of the Great Shepherd, but the flock is never their flock, the sheep are not the elder’s sheep. The flock belong to Jesus Christ, bought with the blood of the Great Shepherd.
Peter, as a witness of Christ’s sufferings, understood that he was a sinner saved by grace before he was an elder; he was one of the sheep ransomed by the blood of Christ before he became a shepherd of Jesus’ flock. An elder, or pastor if you prefer, must never look upon the congregation as his congregation: the sheep have been bought by the one Great Shepherd and they belong solely to Him.
This is why Peter reminds the elders of the sufferings of Christ, sufferings which should induce a passion to care for the flock with love for the Lord, love born out of grace. As elders, we must never take our eyes off the cross of Christ or we may forget that He alone paid for our sins, that He alone is the Great Shepherd and, like the sheep we are called to care for, our salvation has been purchased with His precious blood.
Secondly, Peter tells the elders not to serve as overseers because they must, but because they are willing, and also called. In Acts 20:28 Paul states that it is the Holy Spirit who calls men into the office of overseer, and he gives the elders at Ephesus the following instructions, reminding them that they too are bought with the blood of Christ:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
The office of overseer is a calling, and in that sense a duty of service within the Body of Christ. Peter desires that those called to this office enter into this service willingly, recognizing the privilege it is to serve the Lord.
So what is this office? In 2:23 we see the titles ‘Shepherd’ and ‘Overseer’ used of Christ, and Peter uses both terms of the elders he writes to. In general terms, the shepherd’s role is to feed (teach), care for, lead and tend the needs of the flock. The word overseer (episkopoi) can also be translated as ‘bishop’ and has the sense of watching over and to protect, indeed, elder, shepherd, pastor and overseer are basically different titles of the same roles. Peter tells the elders to be willing overseers because God wants them to be. This could also be translated as God would do it. In either case, the role of overseer should be viewed humbly as an honor to serve the Lord.
Thirdly, Peter tells them not to be greedy for money, but eager to serve. It is likely that elders who were serving full-time received gifts from Christians in order to dedicate their time to their office, however, there is no evidence that a set stipend was paid to pastors/elders in the early Church. Peter contrasts greed and service. In light of his previous statements about willingness and God’s calling, his point is to encourage elders to recognize that the Lord will provide for them and their families. Serving as an overseer/pastor is bound to take up much time, time which could be used to make money. Peter calls them to exercise their faith in the Lord who ‘wants them to be’ elders, and to be eager to serve. For Peter, greed has no place in the heart of a shepherd.
Sadly, this point seems lost on the celebrity mega-church pastors of our time. When the income of a pastor far exceeds that of those he is called to be a shepherd to, something has gone terribly wrong. The Church is neither a business nor corporation, yet some are operated under such worldly systems to the detriment of sound biblical teaching and practice. Yes, it is important that those called into full-time ministry can serve without having to live hand to mouth wondering where the next meal is coming from, but surely the income of a pastor should be similar to the average wage of the flock he is serving?
Fourthly, Peter tells the overseers to be examples to the flock and not lording it over those entrusted to you. Jesus, in Mark 10:42-45 taught the disciples the attitude they must have as His representatives, contrasting Gentile overseers with Himself:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.(Mark 10:42-45)
Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, had asked Jesus for prominent positions of authority in what they thought was to become His established kingdom on earth. They were on their way to Jerusalem where they thought Jesus was going to seize authority and rule the world with them at His side. When the other disciples heard about their request they were indignant. These men were still operating in the flesh and thinking with their egos. After seeing Jesus crucified and risen, and experiencing new birth on the Day of Pentecost, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and those same egos were ‘crucified with Christ’. From that day onwards a new option of reasoning was available to them, a choice to yield to their old sin natures, or submit to the Divine nature living within them.
Jesus taught them the Christian concept of anointed authority using Himself as an example. Notice too, that Jesus, like Peter after Him, points to the cross as our motivation for service. Peter’s command to overseers is to be an example to the flock, not lording it over those entrusted to them. Jesus pointed to Himself as the example par excellence. The Son of Man served those entrusted to Him, He laid down His life as an example to the flock; He inverted the pyramid model of authority that is typical of the world’s system of power, placing Himself beneath as the One foundation on which the entire Christian Church is built. The Christian overseer will need the same attitude of self-denial in order to be an example to those entrusted into his care.
Finally, in 5:4 Peter tells overseers that when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. There are several different crowns spoken of in the New Testament. The ‘crown of life’ (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10) refers to a crown of eternal life given to those who persevere in their faith to the end of their human lives. Paul refers to this as the ‘crown of righteousness’ in 2nd Timothy 4:8. The crown of glory refers to sharing in the glory of Christ, a crown received through service to God, that which Christ alluded to in His parables about rewards. Peter tells us that this crown will never fade away, contrasting this to the fading crowns of laurel leaves awarded to victors in the games. Paul uses the same comparison when speaking of crowns in 1st Corinthians 9:24-25.
Every Christian has the freedom to choose how they will serve the Lord with the gifts and position they fill within the Body of Christ. Self-denial is not natural to our fallen natures, it is something which is part of our training in righteousness. We can choose to serve or be served, choose to deny ourselves for the sake of others, or put ourselves first. Our decisions will have eternal consequences, not the forfeiting of salvation, but of the rewards which Christ has prepared for those who imitate His example.
The New Testament model of leadership is both unique and original. An overseer has the authority of Christ to rebuke, correct and encourage (Titus 2:15, 1st Corinthians 13:10), but at the same time his authority is grounded in servant-hood, rather than in the world’s system of dictatorial hierarchy. An overseer must see himself as the servant/slave of those entrusted to his care, but at the same time, those he serves should never see him as their slave. His authority is God-given, his appointment by the Holy Spirit, and his service applied by the example of Jesus Christ.
It should also be noted that several elders/overseers were always appointed by the apostles. The concept of the single pastor/shepherd, who answers only to himself under Christ, is not the Biblical model. Unfortunately, the ‘one-man-ministry’ concept or ‘head-pastor’ model is all too frequent in modern congregations. Christians often speak of Pastor so and so’s Church referring to the single man considered to be in authority, and this mentality creates the celebrity model which has many dangers to both the man himself, or the congregation he serves.
Every pastor/shepherd/elder/overseer must be subject to other persons of equal authority within the Church. If this is not the case we are inviting the sin nature and ego to abuse the authority Christ has given. Paul commands us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21) and this command applies to all.
The appointment and role of overseer is both an honor and a duty, and such servants should also be held in high regard and respect among those they serve (1st Timothy 5:17). In the first chapter of Titus Paul gives a list of attributes an elder must have in order to be fit to lead, including one whose children are believers, a man who is blameless, not over-bearing nor quick tempered, not given to excesses of alcohol, not violent or one who pursues dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, love what is good, be self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. On top of these he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it (Titus 1:5-9).
From the list given, it is obvious that being an elder is not the role of those who are young in the faith, but rather those who through suffering and perseverance have been trained in righteousness, a person who lives with his eyes firmly fixed on the cross of Christ from whence comes his humility, love, motivation and inspiration to serve.
1st Peter 5:5-11
In this study we will work through Peter’s final instructions in an exegetical style, verse by verse.
Verses 5-6. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
In the same way. Throughout the letter Peter has addressed various groups within the Church; slaves, wives, husbands and elders. In 2:13 he tells all of his readers to submit to the authorities, then for slaves to submit to their masters, and chapter three addresses wives with the words in the same way be submissive to your husbands. Here in 5:5 he uses this phrase to address the young men, appealing to them to submit to those who are older. Submission is not a popular topic in modern western cultures, yet it is an essential element of Christian practice, for without it, we may lack one of the most important attributes of Christ, humility.
In his next sentence Peter addresses all of his readers again, telling them to clothe themselves with humility toward one another. He quotes the Greek Septuagint version of Proverbs 3:34 which is also found in James 4:6. The Lord Himself opposes the proud, and proud Christians are no exception. God’s grace is found by those who, being aware of their sin nature which demands the elevation of self, submit to His ordained structure of authority. Humility is to be the practice of all; slave, wife, husband, young men and elder, for all must submit to one another out of reverence for Christ who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant (Philippians 2:7).
Humility has the sense of bowing down to authority, and Peter has this idea in mind in his promise that God will lift us up in due time. In the same way that Jesus submitted all to the will of the Father, and was raised up to His right hand, so we are to submit in humility that the Lord might raise us up.
Verse 7. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Peter was a fisherman who cast nets. Here he uses a word which literally means to hurl or throw with all your might. We are not called to ‘place’ our anxieties onto the Lord, but to hurl them away from ourselves, to cast them upon Him as we would a net into the sea. Peter’s appeal reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34 where the Lord speaks about all of the things people worry about. No doubt Peter was present that day, but more importantly, he writes as one who has seen the hand of God intervene when he was thrown into prison, he has walked the Christian faith and witnessed first-hand the provision of God in troublesome times.
Casting our anxieties onto the Lord is a difficult lesson for many of us as in entails the very heart of faith which is to trust the Lord with those things which cause us the most concern, things we care deeply about. Peter isn’t telling us that we should be irresponsible, careless, or even to have no concern at all, such would be almost impossible for most of us. His point is that God is our Sovereign Lord and loving Father, and nothing can happen to us outside of His will for our lives. Therefore, trust in His will because he cares for us.
Verses 8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Casting our anxieties onto the Lord does not mean to be careless or blind to the spiritual warfare which is waged against those who live with Christ in the center of their lives. Satan often attacks Christians through temptation, therefore Peter warns us first about self-control. Our emotions and desires can lead us into sinful behavior which can give the Devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). Satan is the accuser of the saints, therefore we are to do all we can to live in such a way that he can bring no accusation against us.
But living a pure life with a good conscience is no guarantee against spiritual attack, indeed the truth is quite the opposite. As in the case of Job, Satan’s hatred for God’s children is most intense against those who love Christ the most. Peter warns us to be alert, echoing Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:41. We are called to be watchful and pray (Colossians 4:2, Ephesians 6:18) because the enemy is always seeking an opportunity to stir up persecution against us and to destroy the faith and trust we have placed in the Lord. The Greek word ‘devil’ means ‘slanderer’. Satan slanders God to men and men to God. His purpose is to undermine faith and trust, and in times of suffering and persecution, his form of slander is often in trying to convince us that our Lord does not care for us.
Peter’s advice is to resist him (James 4:7) and stand firm in the conviction of faith that our Lord loves us beyond measure. Faith must transcend understanding at such times. When we are weak emotionally, or oppressed to the point of giving in to the temptation to doubt the promises of God, our best course of action is to throw this anxiety as far from ourselves as we can, to come to God humbly and know His presence. Jesus spoke of wanting to gather the stricken as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but the people refused to be protected. Let that not be said of us. In times of trouble we must shelter beneath His wings where Satan has no place. There we may also find our brothers and sisters throughout the world who are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Verse 10. And the God of grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
In this verse, which is in the form of a prayer, Peter states that we are called into eternal glory. If He has called us, then He is faithful and true to bring us into that same eternal glory. Jesus Christ is both the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 2:10, 12:2). Peter tells us that after we have suffered for a little while, that Christ will restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. It is Christ who is ‘making’ us what He has called us to be. Our part is to cast ourselves onto Him and exercise faith in His promises.
Verses 12-14 With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
In these closing words Peter mentions Silas, a Gentile believer he considered a faithful brother. This letter has predominantly addressed the many issues surrounding the topic of suffering. Peter says his purpose was to encourage, and that his words testify to the true grace of God to which we must stand firm. His reference to ‘she who is in Babylon, chosen together with you’ is almost certainly his description of the Church in Rome, the city where, as legend has it, Peter met his death.
Peter’s final words offer peace to all who are in Christ. Writing from Rome, where persecution towards Christians may have already broken out under the rule of Nero, Peter is highlighting the eternal chasm between the pagan system of ‘Babylon’ which will face the wrath of God (Revelation 16:19) and the peace of Christ that only His children can know.
In this first epistle of Peter’s the apostle has written primarily to encourage, strengthen and inspire us that suffering, in all its various forms, is something that we as Christians should expect as part of our journey of faith. Peter writes from the perspective of one who has travelled on the narrow path. He left his fishing boat to follow Jesus of Nazareth, but I doubt in his wildest imagination he could have anticipated the life set out before him.
He witnessed all of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection, and then, after being commissioned, experienced the power of miracles as Christ used his hands to heal; saw angels enter his prison cell and lead him past his sleeping captors, confronted Simon Magus, the sorcerer who became the father of Gnosticism, and was crucified for his faith before the Emperor Nero and a crowd of Romans in the Circus Maximus.
This man writes from his experiences, the trials and tests that shaped and transformed him into an inspiration man of God.
It is my prayer that these studies have encouraged you to stand fast in the living hope that is your inheritance in Christ.
Also by Steve Copland
Mary Magdalene: A Woman Who Loved
1st Century Trilogy – Book One
Throughout history there has been much written about Mary of Magdala, most of it legend and speculation, some of it derogatory. The Bible, however, gives us many clues as to the character, personality and contributions this first century woman made to the ministry of Christ and the early church. This book is, in many ways, a tribute to a woman whose life was dramatically changed by the one she came to love more than life itself.
Mary Magdalene was a woman whose life circumstances led her from demonic possession and prostitution to being the first witness of the greatest event in world history. In an attempt to reconstruct her life, this book demonstrates her struggle as she confronts the patriarchal traditions embedded in first century culture, the hypocritical practice of condemning only one gender in adultery, her transformation as she finds grace, freedom and real love in her encounter with Christ, and her being chosen as ‘the apostle to the apostles’.
This novel takes the reader into the first century. It delves into the personal lives of lepers, cripples and the sight impaired; it goes on a journey from the battlefields of ancient Germania to Jerusalem with two Roman soldiers who end up initiated into the cult of Mithraism; it explores the fears, prejudices and arrogance of the religious rulers of Israel, and the ambitions of Judas Iscariot; it portrays the everyday struggles of first century people in an occupied land; it looks behind the scenes at a woman who is seduced into committing adultery and used to test Jesus, and brings them all together beneath the cross of Jesus Christ.
Simon and Simon: Passion and Power
1st Century Trilogy – Book Two
Simon and Simon is the second novel of the 1st century trilogy. It features two men born just a few miles apart whose lives are dramatically different, Simon Peter and Simon Magus. Simon Peter’s life weaves through the story and is contrasted with Magus, the one known as ‘Simon the Sorcerer’. The latter travels to Kashmir and studies the Rig Veda in search of individual power. He returns to Israel where he meets Simon Peter. Both end up in Rome: one levitates for Nero, the other is crucified. Triarius is a Roman soldier married for only a few months and sent to the Northern frontier. His wife is pregnant when he leaves and believed to be carrying a son, if the witch was correct. He sends orders to dispose of the child if the hag is mistaken. His wife gives birth to a daughter, ‘Triaria’, and secretly raises the child while her husband is away, not knowing if he will return. He does, and discovers the child’s existence, and…well that would be telling the story.
Religion: History and Mystery
War, Power, Greed, Jihad, Inquisition, Crusades and Extremists, all words we associate with religion. Shamans, priests, prophets and magicians, servants of the gods, mediums of power, or frauds? 22 religions, examined, exposed and deciphered.
Religion: History and Mystery explores the ancient and modern religions which have dominated the world for 6000 years, exposes the contradictions, uncovers the mysteries, and reveals the truth of who and what we are. This book also points out why Judaism and Christianity are so incredibly distinct from every other religion. Is there a Divine Mystery contained in the Bible which is absent in all other religious texts?
Running the Race
Every generation of Christians face challenges in ‘running the race of faith’. Living for Christ in the 21st Century is no exception. The Apostle Paul warned that ‘the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’. We are living in such times. We should not be surprised, for Jesus warned us there would be many false prophets in the Last Days before His return. ‘Running the Race’ challenges the extremes, throws light on the shadows, and illuminates the path which Christ has set before those who have trusted Him with their lives.
Slug: The Reluctant Butterfly
Slug wants to fly, but he doesn’t want to die. Slug is a beautiful story about our reluctance to allow God to transform us into what He wants us to become. Slug learns through his mistakes that many will lead us down wrong paths, but obedience to our Creator brings complete joy and fulfillment. Grunt, a crow and central character in the story, discovers the pitfalls of peer pressure, the power of forgiveness, and eventual self acceptance in his new life. (Children ages 7-11)
Time for Truth: A Challenge to Skeptics
Time for truth challenges skeptics to take a fresh look at the supernatural qualities of the Bible. Issues such as the existence of God, creation/evolution, evil and suffering are discussed, and the reader is taken on a logical, scientific and inspiring walk through world history as a story of God’s plan for humanity. This book has been used in various forms since 1985 when it was first written for a man dying of cancer. He refused to speak of God. He was an ardent atheist; however, he had a spiritual transformation just three days before he died and witnessed of his faith in Christ.
Within the human soul a voice calls us to reach for perfection. In every area of our lives we demonstrate a desire to know, experience and create that which is perfect. The clothes we wear, the flowers we choose, religions we practice and love we seek, all testify to our instinct to reject that which we perceive as flawed, and strive for beauty, contentment and fulfillment. Is it possible for us to know and experience perfection? The answer is ‘yes’.
Just Because: The Story of Salvation for Children
Just Because takes children on an exciting and inspirational journey through the Bible. It gives them an exciting bird’s-eye-view of God’s plan unfolding as He prepares the world for the coming of Jesus Christ. Throughout the story Satan is watching out for the child who will “crush his head,” (Genesis 3) and he endeavors to stop God’s plan from unfolding. The reader knows who that special child is, and the story especially opens up the insights that point to Jesus throughout the Old Testament. Each chapter takes about twenty minutes to read and ends with a short Biblical lesson. Children love it.
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Facebook: Steve Copland
New Life Church Kiev Ukraine
This first letter of Peter's is filled with encouragement in the face of suffering, instructions on how we must live as God's holy people, advise on our attitudes towards government and secular authorities, and teaching for husbands, wives, and elders. Peter also calls us to be prepared to speak to those who ask about our faith in Christ, and instructs us on how to reply. Peter was a man who understood human weakness, foolish boasting, and godly humility. He had been called from his quiet life of fishing to be a 'fisher of men', and all of the lessons he learned along the way he shares with us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.