The Ninth in a Series of Sermons on 1 Peter
Although you might expect Peter to instruct Christians to fight back against their oppressors, instead Peter directs us to a different kind of war. Christians must resolve to engage in a fierce battle with sin and not let it reign over us. This war against sin should be evident in the way in which we relate to our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those outside the church. Those in Christ cannot live as the first century Greeks and Romans do, seeking to satisfy every bodily urge with little regard to natural law, and with no regard to God’s revelation of his will in his word. As we reject pagan ways of thinking and doing, and prepare ourselves to suffer for our faith in Christ, we are called to love our brothers and sisters in the church, to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another, and we are to learn to live in the light of God’s promises which will be fully realized on the day of judgment.
As we work our way through Peter’s first epistle we now come to chapter four. Peter is writing to a group of Christians in Asia Minor who have been displaced forcibly from their homes by a decree from the Roman emperor Claudius. These elect exiles were facing great uncertainty about their personal circumstances. Since many of them are victims of persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ, Peter is writing to remind these struggling saints of their dual citizenship–in addition to being citizens of Rome, these people also possess a heavenly citizenship with an inheritance far greater than human minds can comprehend. As believers in Jesus Christ, they have been sanctified by God, sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, and called to live holy lives before the watching world.
Peter concludes his lengthy series of imperatives found 2:11-3:17, with a wonderful indicative in chapter 3:18-22. The humility and suffering of Jesus provides a once for all payment for sin which remits the guilt for all of those times when Christians fail to submit to those in authority over them, or who seek vengeance upon those who wrong them, or who return the curses and reviling of others, with curses and reviling of their own. But Peter also reminds his readers/hearers that the suffering and death of Jesus is the way in which God conquered sin, death, and the grave, as well as all those authorities and powers which seek to oppress the people of God. When God calls believers to positions in life where they may suffer, Christians should not see this as the retributive punishment of God, but as the path to glory–a pathway already taken by Jesus, the savior of, and the example to the Christians of Asia Minor.
As Peter has already stated, Christians are to identify themselves as citizens of heaven, not by a distinctive wardrobe, diet, or by withdrawing from non-Christians. Instead, we identify ourselves through our profession of faith in the Triune God who sent his son to save us from our sins, and in our holy conduct, which Peter has said, is to be honorable among the Gentiles. Christians are to be good citizens, wise and compassionate masters or submissive servants, and when married are to be the kind of husbands and wives who regard each other as equals in Christ. In these ways, we demonstrate our heavenly citizenship to outsiders.
When Christians are called to suffer, or to face the reviling and cursing from non-Christians, or even when we are persecuted for our faith, our suffering is never the final word. Just as Jesus conquered death and the principalities and powers through his humility and suffering, so will we. Peter has made clear that at the end of time, there will be a final judgment when all wrongs are made right, and when the bad guys finally get theirs in the end. On the day of judgment Christians will be vindicated and rewarded by the same God who has called us to suffer, as will God be vindicated when the world is silenced by the realization that God’s ways are altogether righteous and just.
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