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COMMENTARY ON 1 PETER Chapter 2

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

God’s Purpose For His Begotten Again And Redeemed People (2.1-10).

In view of the glorious future that is theirs as previously revealed, and the responsibility that is theirs, which will now be revealed to them, they are to prepare themselves by putting away anything that defiles them, and by eagerly and thirstily partaking of the spiritual milk of the truth so as to continue growing ‘unto salvation’. Indeed if they really have tasted that the Lord is gracious they are to be built up as ‘living stones’, on Him as the chief, living Cornerstone, into a ‘living’ temple of God, so that they might offer spiritual worship which is pleasing and acceptable to God. And at the same time, because they are the new Israel, they are to fulfil their God-given destiny to carry out the responsibility that had been the old Israel’s of being a nation of chosen royal priests, in order to show forth the excellencies of the One Who has called them out of darkness into His most marvellous light.

2.1-3 ‘Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil talk, in the same way as newborn babes do, long for the unadulterated milk of the word, that by it you may grow unto salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.’

Having been begotten by God to a glorious future through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, they are now to respond by putting away anything that defiles them, and, ‘in a similar way to newborn babes’, they are to long earnestly for the genuine, unadulterated milk of the word. Peter had often seen young babes desperate for their mother’s milk, and wants his readers to be the same about the word. He knew that when a newborn baby wanted its milk no one was left in any doubt. The emphasis is not on the fact of his readers being ‘newborn babes’ but on the fact that they should have the same thirst for the milk of the word as hungry newborn babes have for the milk at their mothers’ breasts. The idea is that having been begotten by the seed of the word (logos - 1.35) they should now be thirsting after the milk ‘which the word offers’ (logikos).

The idea of milk as representing God’s life-giving word to men may well be taken from Isaiah 55.1-2, where drinking wine and milk represent avidly hearing the word of the Lord in order to find and sustain spiritual life. Compare also Joel 3.18. Here in Peter, unlike in 1 Corinthians 3.2 where there is a stated distinction, the milk is seen as sustaining for all. Compare how the commendation of Canaan had been that it was a land flowing with milk and honey for all.

However, we have here a typical Petrine contrast (compare 1.14-15, 18-19, 23-24; 2.4, 10, 20; 3.3-4; 4.15-16; 5.3 and note Acts 3.13, 14-15; 5.30), and so initially, in contrast to receiving milk they are to put away (take off):

  • ‘All wickedness’ - the thought here is of the wickedness of the Christless world seen as a whole. They are to turn their backs on that world and all its ways and doings, and rid themselves of all its wrongful and debilitating influences. They are not to ‘love the world, or the things which are in the world, for if any man loves the world the love of the Father is not in him’ (1 John 2.15). They are to be a separated people.
  • ‘All guile, and hypocrisies, and envies.’ Here the governing ‘all’ brings these three together. These are the inner sins that could very much creep in and defile believers, and hinder their love for one another. Notice the plurals. They cover a variety of sins in a variety of people. Firstly they include deceitfulness and trickery, and the failure to behave truly and honestly. In contrast the Christian must be totally straight, and must ‘let your yes be yes, and your no be no, for whatever does not come of these is evil’ (Matthew 5.37). Secondly these sins include continually ‘putting on an act’ and pretending something which is not in fact genuinely true in their inner lives. It is sad how many who call themselves Christians are only playing a part and putting on an act (it is especially sad for them, for they give themselves false hopes). They draw near to God with their lips but their hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15.7-8). They have never really turned to God from sin. They forget that while they may deceive us they cannot deceive God. And thirdly these sins include being filled with envy and jealousy at the success or wealth or status of others. This was the sin that caused so much disgruntlement among the disciples themselves (e.g. Mark 9.33-34; 10.41; Luke 22.24) at a time when their eyes should have been fixed on other things, and they should have been thinking more of what their Master was facing (He had told them often enough). It is a sign of pure selfishness. It is one of the most destructive things in many Christian churches. It is the very opposite of the humility that Christ calls for (Matthew 20.25-27; Luke 22.26; Philippians 2.3)
  • ‘All evil talk.’ Literally this is ‘all evil-speakings’. The fact that Peter separates this out and provides it with its own ‘all’ demonstrates how important he saw it to be. There are so many ways in which the tongue can do damage. Nothing can destroy the unity of a church like gossiping, disparagement, talking behind people’s backs, false or distorted rumours, unkind or harsh words, and unnecessary criticism. As James could say, the tongue is set on fire of Hell (James 3.6). We need ever to remember that for every idle word that a man speaks, he will be called on to give account of it in the day of Judgment (even though it has been forgiven). It is better not to speak at all than to speak slightingly of Christ by speaking slightingly of one who is His. (Compare Acts 9.4-5).

Instead of these things they are to seek thirstily for the milk ‘of the word’ (logikos, i.e. ‘of the logos’ - that is, of the word in 1.23) in its unadulterated form. They are to seek determinedly for the truth, like the Psalmists in Psalms 1.2-3 and 119. Having been begotten again by the powerful word of God, they are to long for that word continually to speak to them, mainly through the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the word. And they are to want it to do so in all its fullness without it being adulterated. They must let it speak to them as it is.

And the purpose of this is to be so that they might ‘grow unto salvation’. The picture is of development through drinking of the word which will cause them to grow more and more Christlike as their lives go forward, so that they are being prepared for the day when they will finally be perfected, in other words, for the day when they will ‘attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a fullgrown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4.13). As they behold Christ through His word they are to be changed ‘from glory into glory’ by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3.18) until that day when they receive their final glorification (Romans 8.30), and are made like Him and see Him as He is (1 John 3.2).

We do not need to read a reference to baptism into Peter’s words. Peter is not here pointing to a ceremony, however meaningful such ceremonies might have been for them, he is pointing to their living experience, and the main emphasis is not on the fact that they are newborn babes, but on the fact that they should be longing for the milk of the word of life. The reference to new-born babes (hardly applicable at the time to the spiritual state of all in the churches to whom he is writing) is simply illustrative of the desire and longing that they should have for the milk of the word. They are to long for the word in the same way as newborn babes long for milk.

But even if we were to see here the idea of Christians as being like newborn babes, the comparison would be with Jesus’ references to His own as His ‘children’ (Matthew 18.3; Mark 10.14, 15. 24; Luke 6.35; 18.17; Matthew 5.45; 13.38; 17.25; Luke 11.13), and none of those references contain any emphasis on the thought of baptism. Rather they lay emphasis on attitude of heart. Compare also Jesus’ words in John 3.1-6, where birth of the Spirit is prominently in mind, and where ‘of water’ has in mind the refreshing rain of the Spirit as in Isaiah 32.15; 44.1-5 rather than baptism. Indeed, as we know, as far as the Gospels themselves were concerned the idea of literal baptism is ignored to such an extent that we do not even know whether, during Jesus’ earthly ministry following the imprisonment of John, baptism was even practised. The impression is received that it had been left behind once Jesus had ceased working alongside John (John 3.22-4.2). It is only sacramentalists who assume that the writers always have baptism in mind everywhere, basing their ideas on the emphasis of the later church (where all kinds of strange idea prospered, even among bishops), and we should note in this regard that, where detailed explanation is given, new birth is, in fact, always stated as being through the word (1.23; John 1.12-13; James 1.18, 23) or through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1.3), never through baptism.

(We do not doubt the importance of baptism to the early church, nor that, when interpreted correctly, it adequately pictures these living truths. What we doubt is the excessive weight put on baptism as consciously lying behind everything that the early church taught. We treasure the experience of our own baptism, but we are not thinking of it all the time when proclaiming such truths as Peter proclaims here. Like Paul we came to Christ through faith, and through the Gospel, not through baptism - 1 Corinthians 1.17-18).

‘If you have tasted that the Lord is gracious (or good).’ Compare Psalm 34.8 which in LXX uses the same words for ‘taste’ and ‘good’. They have received the living word of God, and they have partaken of it and drunk of it. And if by doing so they have ‘tasted that the Lord is gracious (or good)’, and the assumption is that they have, then they will want to go on doing so more and more. For here is the crucial test of all our hearts, how the word of God brings Jesus home to us. Does it make us appreciate Him and long to be like Him? Does it fill us with an awareness of His compassion and mercy? Does it make us desire Him, not with our emotions, but in our minds and our deepest thoughts. Does it make us want to set aside our sins? Does it make us see Him as He is? If we have, through His word, tasted that the Lord is gracious it will do all these things, and we will seek Him more and more, coming to Him as He is revealed to be in what now follows.

2.4 ‘To whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious,’

For if they have truly tasted that the Lord is gracious they will come to Him as the One Who is the ‘living’ cornerstone described in the Scriptures, rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious, the One Who is the ‘living’ stone around which their lives are to be built, the One Whose words provide a solid foundation (Matthew 7.24; 16.18). They are to become one with His life and to share with Him in a holy union. The basic picture is taken from Isaiah 28.16 as cited in verse 7, but Peter also emphasises the fact that the stone, when thought of in terms of Jesus, is vibrant with life and is life-giving. It is emphasising that he is not speaking of Jesus as an example that we can follow from the past, but as One Who is alive and with whom we are to be connected because we have received life from Him. The idea of a ‘stone’ is of a dressed stone of large proportions usable in building.

To Peter this picture was especially vivid. For he had heard this stone (the word indicates a dressed stone) spoken of on the lips of the Lord Himself (Matthew 21.42), in the context of the wicked tenants who had slain the only Son (Matthew 21.33-41), and he had even cited it himself in Acts 4.11. And he had seen men reject Jesus throughout His ministry (John 6.66) and had watched in helplessness His final rejection at the hands of the Jewish leaders. He had known in experience what it meant for the stone which God had provided to be rejected, and it had made an indelible mark on his heart. But at the same time he had known in his heart that Jesus really was God’s true and living cornerstone, the One Who was chosen and precious to God, the One Who offered life (‘Lord to whom shall we go, for you have the words of eternal life’ - John 6.68). It had been a belief which had faltered for a time towards the end, but which had been finally re-established by His resurrection. And now he was full of it.

His description of Jesus as ‘a living stone’ brings out the vibrancy of life in his illustration, tying in with chapter 1 where being begotten to life through the resurrection and the living word has been paramount (1.3, 23). He wants his readers to recognise that above all what he is describing is Someone Who is alive and gives life. Peter no doubt carried in his heart Jesus’ words, ‘as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son also to have life in Himself’ (John 5.26; compare 1 John 5.12-13), and he could not think of Him in terms of a mere stone, even a chief cornerstone. Rather He saw Him as a living and life-giving stone. None were more aware that Jesus was alive, than those who had gone through the agonies of His death, and had then experienced the resurrection appearances. There may well also here be the implication of the indwelling of the Spirit of life and of Jesus’ heavenly nature, for he would remember how Jesus had connected the idea of ‘living water’ with life through the Spirit in John 4.10-14; 7.37-39, and even more of how Jesus spoke of Himself as ‘the living bread Who had come down from Heaven’ (John 6.51). To him Jesus was the living One Who gave men and women life from Heaven. Compare the living hope in 1.3.

2.5 ‘You also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’

And as a result of this contact with this ‘Living Stone’, His people also have been made into ‘living stones’ by Him (and have thus become spiritually alive, vibrant, dependable and heavenly). And they are being built up on Him into a living, vibrant ‘spiritual house’ (a living House of the Spirit), in order that they might be a holy priesthood, a priesthood who, having been set apart to God and made worthy, are to offer up spiritual sacrifices, which are acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.

As a ‘living stone’ Jesus was subject to examination by the builders and by the Master Builder, being rejected after examination by the former and made the chief Cornerstone by the latter (verse 7), Who alone knew what He was doing. The implication is that, in the same way, we as living stones have also been carefully prepared by the Master Builder for our position in His Temple. (Compare how Paul uses a similar illustration of us being different members of the body - 1 Corinthians 12).

In a sense this may appear to be a case of mixed metaphor. One moment we appear to be thinking of the stones of the Sanctuary itself, and the next moment of the priesthood, but it is doubtful if a Jew would have seen it in that way, for to him the priesthood was an essential part of the Sanctuary. Without the priesthood the Sanctuary was not complete. They were the living part of the Sanctuary, keeping Israel in constant contact with the living God Who was manifested in the Holy of Holies. Thus Sanctuary and priesthood could be seen as one. And in the same way Christians are both Spirit indwelt Sanctuary and Spirit impelled priesthood, house and household, and the implication coming from this, drawn out explicitly in the letter to the Hebrews, is that Jesus as Chief Cornerstone is also High Priest.

As Christians then we are built up into ‘a spiritual house (oikos pneumatikos),’ that is, into a house and household possessed and indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16), and into ‘a holy’ priesthood, that is, a priesthood ‘set apart wholly to the Lord’s service’. This is why there can now be no separate priesthood, for we are all priests, and all can offer up spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God. We note that no option is given. Peter leaves them no room for choice. They cannot opt in or opt out. This is their destiny now that they are His.

‘Spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Christ Jesus’. As His priests we are called on to offer up spiritual sacrifices to Him, and we do this through the One Who is the ultimate Priest and sacrifice (compare Hebrews 2-10). We learn elsewhere what these spiritual sacrifices are. They are the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving and true worship (Hebrews 13.15; Psalm 50.14; 51.17; 69.30-31; 107.22; 116.17; 141.2; Hosea 14.2). And they include the offerings of ourselves in our daily lives as ‘living’ sacrifices (note that even the sacrifices remain alive in this living house. The death once for all has been suffered by Another) as we commit ourselves to the will of God (Romans 12.1-2). They also include our good works which bring glory to our Father in Heaven (Matthew 5.16; Hebrews 13.16), our sharing together in living fellowship (Hebrews 13.16) and our gifts made from a true heart to His servants (Philippians 4.18).

Strictly speaking this idea of spiritual sacrifices does not include participation in the Lord’s Supper, for that is not ‘a spiritual sacrifice’, it is rather a participation in His once-for-all sacrifice for us. Partaking in it is the participation in the sacramental meal after the once-for-all sacrifice has been offered, on which we can constantly come to feast (John 6.35). It is seen as our making our regular commitment to God’s covenant, as we partake of Him in the bread and wine, through the blood originally shed, not as in any way offering a ‘sacrifice’. It is never described in such a way. Rather through it we benefit from His past sacrifice on the cross made once-for-all. By it we participate continually in the Lord and join with Him in living fellowship (it is a ‘sharing in common with Him’), making a commitment of ourselves to God and to each other (1 Corinthians 11.16-17). There is, however, a ‘spiritual sacrifice’ involved in the Lord’s Supper, and that is found in our offering of ourselves afresh to Him in His service. And on that ground we may include it here. But we must not be loose in our thinking and turn it into what it is not.

2.6 ‘Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he who believes on him will not be put to shame.’

Peter then cites Isaiah 28.16 as ‘Scripture’, that is as the written word of God. (Peter often drops the article when others would include it). Here in Isaiah the coming King (promised in Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; 32.1-4) can be seen as the chief cornerstone of His people, chosen by God and precious, and as the One in Whom all can put their trust without fear of their being confounded or proved to be foolish. The cornerstone was the initial stone, often laid as a foundation stone around which the whole building was built up. Having initially been laid, everything was lined up with it, and in a sense the whole building rested on it. It was the central focus of the building. Elsewhere Jesus is also described as the foundation (1 Corinthians 3.11), and, as here, is to be seen as the substratum of the whole, the unique stone on which, and around which, the whole building is built.

‘And he who believes on him will not be put to shame.’ And this living cornerstone is such that whoever relies on Him will not have reason to regret it.

2.7 ‘For you therefore who believe is the preciousness (or ‘the honour’), but for such as disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner,”

This could indicate that to those who believe the preciousness of this cornerstone is accepted without question. It is wholly believed in by His people. This is in fact what differentiates them from others. They look to Him, and honour Him, and give Him glory. They are ‘Christ’s men’, ‘Christians’ (4.14). They recognise that their whole lives are dependent on Him. But those who disbelieve, instead of honouring Him and acknowledging Him, reject Him out of hand. In their case He does not fit in with their conceptions. He is not precious. But to their chagrin they will see Him made the head of the corner.

Alternately it could mean that His people are to be seen as sharing His honour. They too receive honour through Him. But this does not fit so well with the comparison.

Peter seals his argument by citing Psalm 118.22-23, the Scripture quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21.42, and cited by himself in Acts 4.11. Though those who disbelieve reject Him as unworthy and useless, God will rebuke them by taking Him up and establishing Him as the head of the corner, the chief cornerstone. In mind here is the process by which every stone to be used in an important building had to be examined and passed as suitable, or was alternatively seen as ‘rejected after examination’. Jesus had been rejected by the inexperienced under-builders, but the Master Builder had seen in Him the chief Cornerstone.

At this point Peter may well have looked back and remembered how, when he himself had blurted out to Jesus that He was ‘the Messiah, the Son of the living God’, Jesus had replied that it was on ‘this rock’, this statement of His Messiahship made by Peter, that He would build His new congregation (Matthew 16.18). Peter had good reason for thinking of the church as built on a Rock, the Rock of Jesus’ Messiahship. For he was the first to have acknowledged the Rock. However, here it is not a rock, but a foundation stone.

2.8 ‘And, “A stone of stumbling, and a rock to fall over,” for they stumble at the word, being disobedient, to which also they were appointed.’

But to disbelievers, rather than being the chief cornerstone, Jesus has become a something that gets in the way, a stumblingstone, and an inconvenience. As they wander round the building site they trip over the very stone which should be the foundation of their lives. The citation is taken from Isaiah 8.14. The point is that He does not fit into their conceptions, and yet that He is unavoidable. And so they stumble at God’s word by being disobedient. They turn from Him and refuse to enter into His obedience. They are ‘disobedient ones’. And significantly they do this because that is their destiny. It is the destiny to which they have been appointed (Romans 9.22). This may mean destined to stumble because they were disobedient, or even destined to disobedience (compare Romans 9.22).

Note the reference to being disobedient ones. Just as believers have been foreknown and sanctified in the Spirit into the obedience of Jesus Christ, so these people have been appointed to disobedience, or to stumbling because of they are ‘disobedient ones’.

2.9 ‘But you are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light,’

In contrast with these unbelievers those who truly believe are His ‘chosen men and women’, and have a glorious destiny. Here Peter has in mind the special privileges granted to Israel at Sinai in Exodus 19.5-6. ‘You shall be an especially valued treasure to Me (a treasure for my possession) from among all people, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to Me a kingship of priests and a holy nation’. And he is supplementing them with God’s words to Israel in Isaiah 45.4 - ‘Israel My elect’, and in Isaiah 43.20b-21 LXX - ‘to give drink to my elect race, my people whom I have preserved to tell forth my praises’.

Putting the italicised words together we therefore have, ‘you shall be --my elect race -- a kingdom of priests and a holy nation -- a treasure for My possession -- to tell forth My praises’. We can see how this parallels 1 Peter. Thus it is clear that Peter sees the church as now fulfilling Israel’s destiny, as he has already revealed in 1.1. These words may well by this time have been put into the form of a hymn which aided the memory.

Every phrase in this verse is pregnant with meaning, for He is declaring what the church, as the continuation of the true Israel, really are. They are:

  • ‘An elect race (a chosen race).’ Initially God had chosen Israel as ‘His elect, His chosen’ (Isaiah 42.1; 45.4), expanded in Isaiah 43.20b LXX into His ‘elect race’ Outwardly it appeared as though it was the whole nation which were being described, but a careful reading of the Old Testament reveals that the elect were really seen as those who responded to the covenant (e.g. Isaiah 65.9; compare Isaiah 4.3-4; 6.11-13 and often). They were the ‘seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal’ (1 Kings 19.18). ‘Israel’ was a fluid concept. Initially it was made up of the households of the Patriarchs which included many foreigners who were servants and slaves in the family tribe. It was never strictly true that all Israel were directly descended from the Patriarchs, except by adoption. Subsequently any foreigners who wished to enter the covenant could do so by living among His people and being circumcised (Exodus 12.48 - although there were certain limitations and exceptions - Deuteronomy 23.1-8). And many did so, including the mixed multitude of Exodus 12.38. The essential point was that ‘Israel’ was made up of those who were, at least theoretically, truly committed to the covenant, of whatever nationality. And in contrast any of Israel who rejected the covenant by their words and actions were ‘cut off’. That is why God could speak of them as ‘not my people’ (Hosea 1.10). Notice Paul’s vivid picture of the branches being cut off from, or grafted into, the olive tree (Romans 11.17-28).

    But now, says Peter, it is the church who are the true succession of Israel. It is they who are now His ‘elect race’. It is they who are the continuation of the true Israel. It is only they who are true to the covenant. They are the new nation, springing out of the old, spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 21.43, and founded on Jesus the Jew and the Jewish Apostles and the early Jewish church. And they are thus God’s chosen ones, set apart to fulfil His purposes for the world. They are the true children of Abraham (Galatians 3.29), chosen by God and precious. They are the true ‘chosen race’.

  • ‘A royal priesthood.’ His people are also a ‘royal priesthood’. Compare Revelation 1.6. This is clearly Peter’s interpretation of ‘a kingship of priests’ (Exodus 19.6), the latter stated at a time when each family head was a priest. The idea was that Israel would be priests to the nations in a royal capacity, because they represented the King. This may well also have in mind the royal priesthood of David, who, once he became king of Jerusalem, thereby became an intercessory priest ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalm 110.4, compare the king of Jerusalem in Genesis 14.18; and see Zechariah 6.13; Hebrews 6.19-7.25). This ‘royal priesthood’ is not a priesthood of sacerdotal duties. That is not in mind here. It is a priesthood of outgoing responsibility. Like those who bore the vessels of the Lord they were to go out in order to proclaim God’s truth with the certainty that God would go with them (Isaiah 52.11-12; compare Isaiah 2.3). For priests were also essentially involved, among other things, in preaching, teaching, interpreting the Law and interceding for the people, and as royal priests the church were to do the same from a new position of royal authority. Indeed the future of Israel had very much been seen as one of ‘priesthood’ (Isaiah 61.6), which was also to involve Gentiles (Isaiah 66.21), and here it finds its fulfilment through the church, the new Israel.

    As Hebrews firmly reminds us, the church could not be Levitical priests. Rather, like Jesus Christ Himself, they are of a higher order of priesthood, a priesthood that deals with eternal things. They worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4.24). They proclaim His eternal Law (Matthew 5.17-20). They call on all men everywhere to repent, to leave the unclean behind and become holy. They cause them to be ‘sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1.2). As we are aware, the purpose of this priesthood has been explained in verse 5. It is in order that they might offer spiritual sacrifices to God in worship and praise, in pure living, and in full dedication of themselves to His service.

  • ‘A holy nation.’ See Exodus 19.6. They are ‘a nation’ (they have a new nationality in Christ as the chosen people) set apart to God in holiness (Matthew 21.43) among the nations of the world, in order that their destiny in the world might be as a light shining in a dark place (2.9; Matthew 5.16).
  • ‘A people for His own possession (laos eis peripoiesin).’ They are His own special treasure (compare Malachi 3.17- ‘obtained for My own possession’ - peripoiesin), so special that instead of being bought with silver and gold they were bought with the precious blood of Christ (1.18-19). They are thus chosen of God, and precious like their Lord (2.6), the people in whom He can delight. A similar idea is found in Exodus 19.5; Deuteronomy 7.6; 14.2; 26.18, although there periousin replaces peripoiesin. Compare also Isaiah 43.21 LXX, ‘the people (laon) whom I obtained (periepoiesamen) for Myself, that they might set forth My praise.’

‘That you may show forth the excellencies of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.’ The whole purpose of Jesus in founding His new Israel was in order that they might reveal to the world the excellencies of God, both in His Being, in His planned purposes and in His wondrous acts. That is why He has called them out of darkness into His marvellous light, so that they might magnify Him. Being called out of darkness had always been stated by the prophets to have been God’s purpose for His people. ‘The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and to those who sat in the region and shadow of death life has spring up’ (Matthew 4.16; Isaiah 9.2). And this in order to prepare them to be priests to the nations under their Royal Master (Isaiah 9.6-17; 60.1-3; 61.6; 66.21).

But the idea of a people in darkness more often indicated the Gentile nations. Compare Isaiah’s ‘darkness will cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples’ (Isaiah 60.1), and God’s description of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles as being to ‘bring them from darkness to light’ (Acts 26.17). Note also Paul’s description of the lost as being under ‘the tyranny of darkness’ (Colossians 1.13). In 1st century AD the Jewish philosopher Philo could similarly speak of Gentile converts as coming from darkness into light. Thus this description covers both Jews and ex-Gentiles.

2.10 ‘Who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God, who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.’

He reminds all in the churches, both Jewish Christians and ex-Gentiles, of what their forebears had been before Christ came. In different ways they had been a ‘no-people’ as far as God was concerned, the Jews because of their waywardness, the Gentiles because they had been part of a different world. But now in Christ (5.10, 14) they themselves have all become the very children of God. They have become s new ‘people’, a new community. They had been without mercy, and yet now they had found mercy as one community of people.

The idea behind the words is found in Hosea 1.9. There the majority of Israel were depicted as a no-people because of their idolatrous behaviour. But the promise was then added that they would yet be called ‘the sons of the living God’ (Hosea 1.10). But even more were the ex-Gentiles a no-people. And yet they too had been able to become sons of God. Paul cites these verses in Romans 9.25-26 and makes clear that they apply to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9.24).

As we sum up our thoughts on this passage with its clear revelation that God’s chosen people continue on in the church we should note that to the Apostles this idea of the church as Israel was no legal fiction. It is not that the church is somehow a kind of ‘spiritual’ Israel, a kind of offshoot until the main branch has got itself together again, and is therefore in contrast with physical Israel so that the two can run along on parallel lines, it is that in God’s eyes the church are the continuation of physical Israel, with all disbelieving Jews being cut off from it, and all Gentile believers being grafted in. As far as God is concerned the true covenant people of Israel has never ceased. It has simply altered within and grown into the church which is the true Israel. As Peter declared in 1.10-12 it was to this Israel that the prophets pointed and concerning whom they made the promises.

But what of the old Israel? The answer is that there is no ‘old Israel’ now. Any who claim to be so have been cut off from Israel because of unbelief (Roman 11.20). Is there then no future for them. The answer is, only if they are again grafted in, by being grafted into the new Israel. Israel has no future outside the church (compare Revelation 11 which has the church in Jerusalem in the last days in mind).

Their Obedience And Heavenly Connection Is To Be Revealed By Their Lives And By Their Due Submission To Lawful Authority In The Same Way As Christ Submitted Himself Through Suffering And Thereby Wrought Salvation For His People (2.11-3.12).

Peter now tells them how, as sojourners and pilgrims in the world, they are to behave in order to fulfil the role given to them by God in 2.1-10. They are first of all to live in obedience and in accord with their environment so that none can accuse them of disobeying earthly authority (2.13, 18; 3.1, 8), or of being troublemakers, and this even if they are unfairly treated. By doing so they will be demonstrating their own freedom from the world, and that their whole thought is of God. They will be revealing, not that they are subject to the world, but that the world, as it is, is not important. They will be revealing that they are obedient to their heavenly calling, that they are obedient to God’s authority over their lives, and that they are like the One Who Himself revealed His own full obedience to Him. For, he reminds them, Christ did the same in carrying forward God’s saving purposes (2.21; 3.17-18). So they must be obedient as He was obedient.

It will be noted that the persecution that is to be spoken of is not seen as coming from the legal authorities, but as arising out of their private household situations. There would not yet appear to be official persecution, although that would not necessarily make it easier to bear.

Analysis of the Section.

  • They are to walk as sojourners in the world, abstaining from letting the their humanness, with its worldly ways and principles take over, so that their spiritual inner man with its thoughts fixed on God might be in genuine control, and so that the genuineness of what they have become might be revealed to all. The light of their good works is to shine before men in such a way that in the final analysis, despite blips along the way, (for they are being described as ‘evildoers’), those men will have to admit to their final true goodness in the last Day (2.11-12).
  • They are thus to be subject to, and obedient with regard to, the political authorities so that by their well doing the false reports about them as evildoers might be quashed (2.13-17).
  • Those who are household servants among them must be subject to their masters, even the more cruel ones, despite the fact that they are wrongly accused, in the same way as Christ submitted to the cross when He was wrongly accused (2.18-25).
  • Those who are wives are to be subject to their husbands so that their well doing might be known to their husbands, and the husbands are to behave well towards their wives (3.1-7).
  • All are to be considerate towards each other (3.8-12).

He is making clear by this that while fulfilling their holy calling, and recognising their otherworldliness, they are not to get out of tune with the authorities that this world has set in place. (That is the way that those who are disobedient to God behave). His point is that being spiritual does not mean avoiding worldly obligations, it means striving to maintain harmony in the world (Matthew 5.9), with the good of all in the world in mind. So whether it be with regard to rulers, masters or husbands, those who truly follow Him will seek to avoid causing unnecessary disharmony by open disobedience, but will rather be obedient, if necessary returning good for evil in the same way as Jesus did, because their aim is only to do good and is to win people over, which includes impressing unbelievers with their well doing and avoiding giving them offence unnecessarily.

They Are to Abstain From Fleshly Desires and Let the Light of Their Good Works Shine Before Men (2.11-12).

Their first aim must be to ensure that the world does not become a hindrance to them. They must not let human affairs take control over them. Rather, holding earthly things lightly, they must abstain from anything that might deviate them from their heavenly responsibilities.

2.11 ‘Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and temporary residents, to abstain (or more literally ‘to continue to hold yourself back’) from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul,’

We will remember that Peter began his letter (1.1) by describing God’s people as sojourners in the world, (those who had no permanent, settled home). Now having demonstrated their heavenly begetting in terms of the resurrection to eternal life (1.3), their positions as living stones in the Temple of God (2.5), and their uniqueness as God’s chosen people (2.9), Peter continues to emphasise their other-worldliness (note also 1.13-15).

They are to recognise that they have here no permanent home, because as those who have been begotten by God and brought into His purposes they are travelling on towards an eternal home. Their inheritance is not here but in Heaven. For that reason they are not to allow themselves to be tempted to follow the course of this world (compare Ephesians 2.1-3; 1 John 2.15-17). Indeed they are to continue to hold themselves back from following all human whims and ways, because these will prevent their eyes and hearts being set on the highest good, and will be at variance with their heavenly calling. Such things are continually at war (present tense) against their inner purpose to serve and obey God.

For such an idea as this we can compare Paul’s declaration that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3.20). But the great demonstration of it is found in the letter to the Hebrews in chapter 11 where the writer brings out that all who truly follow God will keep themselves from being entangled with the affairs of this world because their eyes are fixed on what is heavenly. And indeed that they will necessarily have to do so because the world will often persecute them and drive them out.

Hebrews also brings out the fact that Abraham was the archetypal sojourner. He left the temptations of his old life behind and at the command of God became a sojourner and wanderer in the land in which a future was promised for his seed, a land over which he had no ownership, apart, significantly, for ownership over a place in which to bury his dead (Genesis 12.10; 17.8; 20.1; 21.23, 34; 23.4). And the same was true of his son Isaac (Genesis 26.3) and then of Jacob (Genesis 28.4; 32.4), and then of Jacob’s sons (consider Hebrews 11.13). And the essential reason for this was because their eyes were fixed on God, They sought a city whose builder and maker was God. They sought not an earthly country but a heavenly (Hebrews 11.10, 16). They were not expecting to ‘inherit the land’ in this earth but in the earth which was to come.

Similarly Israel as a nation sojourned in Egypt (Genesis 47.7; Deuteronomy 26.5), and their great deliverer also had his mind, not on the treasures of Egypt, but on the eternal reward. All this is also drawn to our attention by Stephen in Acts 7, although with a different emphasis. It was clearly something very much in the minds of the early church, and seen as a pattern to be followed.

And even when God delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt and brought them into the land of promise, the Scripture tells us that they were still to be seen as ‘sojourners’ in God’s land (Leviticus 25.23; 1 Chronicles 29.15). The land was never to be seen as theirs. For this was to be the destiny of the true people of God. God was showing them that they must hold lightly to this world. The letter to the Hebrews tells us why. It was because they were to seek a better country, that is, a heavenly (Hebrews 10.16). And this situation continued throughout the centuries, for of those who settled in the land many of the faithful became displaced outcasts for their faith (Hebrews 11.37-38). Only the idea of future resurrection could make sense of it all (Hebrews 11.35). It was the lot of God’s faithful ones to be unwanted. And now, says Peter, the situation is the same today. You too are sojourners and foreigners in the world. You too are unwanted. For that is the lot of those who truly follow God. There will be no permanent place for them in this world.

They are therefore to live in this world, but not be of it and are to abstain from all the desires to which men are prone. In Peter ‘fleshly’ simply means ‘human, of the flesh’ as opposed to ‘of the spirit’ (compare 3.18; 4.6). Thus ‘fleshly desires’ here is not referring simply to ‘sinful’ desires. Rather, while including them, it covers the whole range of human motivation (see 1 John 2.15-17). It means abstaining from any thought of putting this world first. To consider following in the world’s ways is to cause havoc in the inner heart. Their hearts must rather be set continually on obedience to the ways of God, with their eyes fixed on Heaven.

‘Beloved.’ He has previously exhorted them to love one another with a pure heart fervently (1.22). Now he wants them to know that he loves them in the same way, and that that is why he speaks so strongly. Compare also 4.12; 2 Peter 3.1. For they are all one together in Christ Jesus and grounded in His love (Ephesians 1.4; 3.17-19).

‘Sojourners and temporary residents.’ For ‘sojourners’ see 1.1. They are now of a different nation than their fellow countrymen. They therefore no longer have the same interests. Similarly by ‘temporary residents’ (which is little different from sojourners) he is emphasising the fact of their not belonging and the temporary nature of their time here. The combination doubly emphasises their position.

2.12 ‘Having your behaviour seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.’

But he then guards against their misinterpreting the idea of being heavenly minded by stressing that this does not mean that they cut themselves off totally from the world. What it actually involves is that they ensure that they behave in a seemly way ‘among the Gentiles’ so that all can see that they are different. (To Peter the church is the true Israel so that any ex-Gentiles who have joined it are no longer Gentiles). They are to remember that even though they are not of the world, they are still in the world, and must behave in a Christlike way towards the world. Jesus did not turn away from the world, and neither must they. How else will the world learn of Christ? And one reason why they are to do this is so that, while for the present certain Gentiles might smear them with a bad reputation as ‘evildoers’, (the world always tries to find fault with those who oppose it and show up its failures), they will in the end have to admit that they were wrong and will have to recognise the good works of the Christians, and thus glorify God in ‘the Day of visitation’.

‘The day of visitation.’ This could signify the day when all are called to account (Romans 14.10). In this case it is saying that Christians are to so live that when their works are examined in the Last Day, all will agree that what they did was genuinely right and will have to glorify God for the fact even though they themselves are condemned. Alternately ‘the day of visitation (overseeing)’ may simply signify the time when during the course of history God has a special ‘overseeing’ and sorting out, a time when people are faced up with consequences of things which previously they had misrepresented and are called on to face up to the truth about them (see Isaiah 10.3; Jeremiah 6.15; 10.15), thus having to admit that they were wrong and the people of God were right. We can compare how the prophets were sometimes vindicated even in their own life time, by ‘the day of visitation’. Or it may even refer to the time when such issues have to be faced up to in the course of life, possibly before a court.

Some, however, have seen ‘the day of visitation’ as indicating a time when God visits the world in a period of spiritual renewal, with newly converted Gentiles having to admit to the fact that Christians had in reality been genuinely good and in the right after all. Whichever way it is the idea is that, whatever charges are laid against him, the Christian must be able to demonstrate that he is blameless so that God might be glorified.

It is significant that Peter begins this section by drawing attention to the fact that there are already those who are describing them as evildoers (verse 12). For it explains firstly why he lays such stress on being obedient to the powers that be and on the need to demonstrate to them their well doing, something that he wants openly to establish, before going on to draw attention to who it is who are calling them evildoers. It is certain masters of householders who are as a result unfairly behaving harshly towards their Christian servants. The obvious reason why this might be so is that there are religious conflicts between them, such as might be expected to arise if masters expected their servants both to honour their master’s gods (as well as their own) and to honour the emperor in the popular emperor worship common in the eastern part of the Empire, and the servants refused.

In a letter which would be widely read he obviously could not spell out the latter, leaving it to be assumed that the problem was harsh masters, but he does go to a great deal of trouble to make it clear that Christians are subject to the powers that be, and have done, and will do, nothing which might cause them to be seen as evildoers, and will in fact do the opposite. This explains also why he sees the suffering of the household-servants as being suffering for Christ’s sake, and parallel to some extent with Christ’s own sufferings.

They Are To Be Obedient To The Authorities (2.13-17).

He emphasises here that being sojourners does not mean that Christians are rebels or that they deny their responsibilities towards authority. Nor does being ‘free’ mean that they think that they can now do as they like. For after all in their freedom they are bondservants to God. They are therefore to recognise that in general God has put authorities in place in order to preserve peace and control evil, and thus Christians will cooperate with the authorities in as far as they can. For while they themselves are under a higher authority, that does not give them freedom to ignore authorities instituted by God, rather it gives them a responsibility to support them in what is their main aim, to preserve peace and control evil. Note also how he especially emphasises their loyalty to ‘the king’, i.e. Caesar.

2.13-14 ‘Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well.’

Christians are to set their objectives (the aorist imperative suggests a once for all decision) in such a way as to intend to obey every ordinance laid down by the properly instituted authorities, not for their sakes but for the Lord’s. By this they will be obeying God and not men. He wants it to be clear that their ‘religion’ affirms the importance of loyalty to the state. And this includes ordinances laid down by Caesar, by all ruling monarchs, and by local governors set up by those ruling monarchs.

But the more mundane reason is so that they can ensure the maintenance of the fabric of society, both because it is pleasing to the Lord, and because it will best help forward His purposes. Those who have basically been set up by God to bring law and order, even if imperfectly, are to be seen as preferable to lawlessness, and it is better that they think well of Christians than otherwise, while at the same time a stable society favours the spread of the Gospel. At this stage Peter clearly has no awareness that one day such monarchs and governors will actively make ordinances for the persecution of Christians. It suggests therefore a date for the letter before the Neronic persecution of Christians in Rome (c. 64 AD).

And the reason given for this is that, on the whole, authorities control and punish evildoers and praise those who do what is right, something in which they are to be supported. For if good men do not support the authorities then evil men will soon take over. It may be that ‘ordinance’ (ktisis) suggests ‘divine ordinance’ which is its usual meaning in LXX, but others favour the idea of political and social ordinances. The former would be supported by Romans 13.1-2. But either way such ordinances are to be obeyed.

2.15 ‘For so is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,’

And one good reason for behaving in this way is because by doing what is seen to be right evil tongues will be silenced. This indeed is God’s will. And the point is that God’s will is that no one should be able honestly to accuse Christ and His followers of wrongdoing or of flouting the law. This is partly in order to aid the spreading of the Gospel, and partly because God is indeed against wrongdoing. They are thus to use discretion and wisdom. By this means foolish men will be silenced. The foolish man is the man who opposes God and His ways, and is thus basically ignorant (guilty of folly), however clever he might be in other matters. So he is best countered by righteous living with the result that he will have no charges that he can make.

(Had Nero already begun his persecutions such a statement would have been hazardous indeed if the letter fell into the wrong hands, which as a circular letter it surely would. Indeed it might have been construed as high treason against the Emperor who would not like being linked with ‘foolish men’).

2.16 ‘As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.’

By this they will be recognising that, while as God’s own children (1.3) they are free, they are not to use that freedom as an excuse for doing what is palpably wrong, or doing what might make the authorities’ task of ensuring justice difficult, or might unnecessarily cause offence. They are rather to see themselves as bondservants of God, and thus as subject to His will and to the law. Christian freedom is not licence. A good example of this was when Jesus had pointed out to Peter that while as the King He Himself was not really due to pay tribute to the Temple, He would do so in order not to cause offence (Matthew 17.24-27).

Indeed man’s heart is so deceitful that once people, even Christians, begin to feel that they are free from authority, their sinful natures soon begin to reveal themselves and they take advantage of it to the detriment of society. That is something that Christians must avoid doing at all cost. As bondservants of Jesus Christ they must therefore live according to the law, and that includes doing what authorities concerned with maintaining justice lay down, even though it might be inconvenient. Unless it is actually directly contrary to God they are to do it for His sake. By this they will both retain the approval of the authorities, and contribute towards the general good of society, while at the same time raising unnecessary antagonism.

2.17 ‘Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.’

Thus the Christian’s freedom should mean that he shows due respect and consideration to all people. He ‘honours all men’. This is to be a general attitude of life fixed once and for all (aorist imperative). And he is especially to continually (present imperative) love his fellow-Christians, to continually walk in the fear of God, and to continually pay due honour to the overall ruler. This is not, of course in order of priority. Loving the brotherhood and fearing God is the heart of the matter. They are the first essential. Honouring all men on principle, and continually honouring the overall ruler are the way in which these are outwardly manifested to the outside world.

This remarkable brief description of Christian responsibility is a reminder of four great responsibilities:

  • The first covers our attitude towards all. All are to be treated with honour, both Christian and non-Christian. The Christian degrades no one. He is not at enmity with the world of men, even when the world of men are at enmity with him. He recognises that all are God’s creatures, and should therefore be treated with respect and consideration, even when often they do not deserve it. No Christian should ever have contempt for a fellow human being, however he may view his behaviour. He remembers what he is himself, but for the grace of God. Nor does he use violence towards any (except in self-defence), for that is to demean his fellow-creature.
  • The second covers our special relationship with the sojourning community, the true people of God, that is, all who are Christ’s. As fellow-pilgrims we are to love and support each other continually along the way, even if we do have secondary doctrinal differences. For to fail to love a brother or sister is to fail to love God (1 John 4.20).
  • The third establishes the fact that the fear of God will ensure our conformity to all these other requirements and overrules all. We are to walk continually under the Kingly Rule of God and in His ‘fear’.
  • And fourthly it is because of this fear of God that we will honour the kingships that He has set in place because we know that that is what He wants. Due respect and honour must therefore be shown to those who are set to rule over us, because we recognise in them agents appointed by God. But all in the end must be subject to the fear of God. Thus if they do flagrantly act contrary to God and His ways to such an extent that it become totally unacceptable, it may sometimes be necessary to remove them from office for the good of all. But this should only be when all else has failed. Normally the stability of society is best ensured by non-precipitate action.

‘Fear God, honour the king.’ This may well have in mind Proverbs 24.21, ‘fear the LORD and the king’, with Peter putting the fear of God into the ascendancy. It is God that they must fear, and that will result in honouring the king. (In the context of areas where emperor worship was popular, to equate the two would have been dangerous doctrinally).

Household Servants Are To Be Obedient To Their Masters.

The Christian’s attitude towards the state having been established, the thought now moves on to the question of a more local authority, the responsibility of household servants towards their masters, that is towards heads of households, whether large or small. And it is soon apparent that here is where the Christians were having problems.

Some large households of, say, provincial governors or local aristocrats and large landowners would have been of many thousands. Others would consist of only a few. But Peter makes no distinction between them, nor between slaves and freemen. His concern is rather with how all household servants, whether slave or free, should behave towards their masters. For many among his readers/hearers would be household servants. The fact that as compared with Ephesians and Colossians no parallel instructions are given with regard to masters might suggest that few masters in that particular area had become Christians. This is in decided contrast with the Colossians 4.1; Ephesians 6.9.

Peter’s response to the situation is to point out how the genuine Christian servant must behave. He must remember that he is a representative and servant of Christ and, by being responsive and obedient, he is to behave honourably and be a good witness for his Master out of the fear of God. Otherwise he will only bring dishonour on Christ. And this is to be so even if he is harshly treated. Indeed then he must follow the example of his Master in taking his unfair treatment graciously, looking to the Lord for his recompense, and recognising that his suffering is a part of the forwarding of God’s purposes in the world. If his ill treatment is undeserved then his patient endurance of it will be ‘acceptable to God’, that is well pleasing and deserving of reward. He will not lose out by it. For after all that was how the Lord Himself behaved, Who had Himself given a similar example when He had died to bear our sins.

2.18 ‘Household servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.’

The fact that instructions were given to household servants/slaves would have been startling to the ancient world. The general view was that it was masters who should be instructed on how to behave towards their servants, not slaves towards their masters. Slaves and servants had no say in the matter. But the Gospel turns things upside down. Peter, like Paul, gives the servants status, and puts them in the position of being those who could make a choice, thus increasing their own self-respect, and enabling them to recognise that they did have control over their own lives, even if they were slaves or menial servants.

His advice is provided to servants within a household, whether slave or free. They are to be obedient to their masters and treat them with due respect because they themselves (the servants) walk in the fear of God. And this not only to be towards the good and gentle but towards all, even those who are harsh, unfair or difficult to please. By this means they would be taking charge of their own lives and demonstrating that, although they were ‘God’s freedmen’, they still fulfilled their own duties and responsibilities as servants because they were obedient to Jesus Christ. This would then also bring Christianity into favour. And who knew whether by so doing they might win their masters for Christ? (Compare 3.1). And after all to behave as good servants was a part of their calling (Matthew 20.26-27).

By this means also they would avoid bringing Christianity into disrepute by being seen as encouragers of bad or insolent behaviour or of lawlessness. It would prevent their own behaviour as recognised Christians from being a bad witness and as a result causing problems for other Christian slaves, who might become tainted by any bad example, and it would demonstrate that the love of God towards their masters was active in their lives. It would be a living out of what they taught and believed (Matthew 5.42-48).

And it would actually, in fact, help to ensure their own wellbeing, and the well-being of fellow-Christian servants. For on the one hand recalcitrant behaviour might well have resulted in Christian slaves being unnecessarily banned from attending Christian meetings, on the grounds that such meetings were subversive and produced bad servants, while on the other good behaviour might well have the opposite effect. Once masters discovered that becoming a Christian produced a good servant, they would be delighted for their servants to become Christians.

Normally in fact no master of those times would have been expected to discourage his servants from worshipping their own gods for it was recognised that even slaves must have time off to worship such gods (which many took advantage of for their own benefit), while to fail to provide them with the opportunity might bring the wrath of the god on themselves. But it would be quite another thing if such worship was found to produce insolent behaviour from one who felt superior because he considered that he was a ‘citizen of Heaven’, and therefore felt that he was too important to be expected to serve.

2.19 ‘For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endures griefs, suffering wrongfully.’

But if a man has to endure griefs and suffer wrongfully because he is being conscientious towards God, then that also is something that is well pleasing (gracious behaviour) to God. It will earn His gracious favour in return.

Here we get the first hint of the possibility of persecution for righteousness’ sake, for here the thought is of some who suffer for conscience’ sake, and in the next verse it is for ‘doing well’. This might be seen as suggesting persecution because they were Christians and worshipped Christ. Such a situation could easily arise for example, where a Christian was unwilling to honour the gods worshipped by the household, or to engage in the emperor worship which was so popular in the eastern empire. A polytheist would be unable to understand why a Christian could not both worship his own God, and still pay due honour to his master’s household gods and the emperor. Most servants who followed other religions would have found no problem with doing both. Such an attitude might well therefore have been seen, at the best as being the result of his being awkward, and at the worst as resulting from his being deliberately blasphemous and rebellious.

‘This is acceptable (seen as gracious)’ means basically that the servant is behaving in a way that is well pleasing to God. For such a person to suffer persecution simply because he followed his conscience would indeed be pleasing to God.

2.20 ‘For what glory is it, if, when you sin, and are buffeted for it, you take it patiently? But if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.’

A contrast is then made between two different attitudes. On the one hand if they were cuffed or beaten because they had done wrong, and endured it patiently, there would be no glory in it. The punishment would be thoroughly deserved. There could be no credit for that. On the other hand, however, if it happened when they had done well, and were obeying their conscience, then God would be well pleased with them. They would have obeyed Christ by ‘turning the other cheek’ (Matthew 5.39). And they would be receiving their punishment on His behalf.

2.21 ‘For to this were you called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps,’

Indeed such unmerited persecution and suffering was a part of their calling as Christians, for it was apart of their calling to participate in His sufferings. Christ had suffered for them. They should expect to have to suffer for the sake of the world. For they had been called to be an elect race and a holy people (2.9), and as such must expect to suffer, and must also expect the retaliation from the world which would cause them to suffer. As Jesus had said, ‘if any man would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me’ (Matthew 16.24), and further ‘if they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you’ (John 15.20). As Christians therefore they had been called to follow in His steps and to suffer in the same way as He would (compare Matthew 16.24; 5.10-12; John 16.2-3). For in the end it was through suffering that God would redeem a lost world.

Thus it is made clear that there was a necessity for suffering, and they were to expect to share in it with Him. Jesus had gone before them to provide the perfect example of innocent suffering, and that of One Who was also a Servant (Isaiah 53). They too must be servants and be willing to suffer. The idea behind the word ‘example’ is that of the one copying the Other, as of a child tracing characters on tracing paper, or of an outline sketch which has to be filled in. Once the initial pattern is laid down there is a certain necessity to it. It is an example to be closely followed or entered into.

We should note that there is more here than just the idea of following His general example by not getting upset over suffering. There is the positive thought that by partaking in His sufferings they would also be playing their part in the redemption of the world. Jesus had suffered that we might follow in His steps, and by following in His steps we are carrying forward God’s purposes. In the words of Paul, by suffering for His sake we are ‘filling up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ’ (Colossians 1.24). That is not to say that His bearing of our sin was lacking, or was insufficient on its own as far as making atonement was concerned. From that point of view His sacrifice was full, complete and sufficient. But it is to bring out that God’s purpose is that His further purposes for the world must also be fulfilled through suffering. If the world is to be reached it will be reached by those who suffer, firstly because such suffering reveals the genuineness of their faith (1.7), and God’s ways are to be worked out through suffering (Acts 14.22), and secondly because it is through suffering that men and women will be brought to consider and practise righteousness. It is when God’s judgments are in the earth that people learn righteousness (Isaiah 26.9).

Thus by being innocent and yet suffering, and bearing it for His sake, these servants are to see that they are entering effectively into the fulfilling of God’s plans. They are not just putting up with it because nothing can be done about it, but are positively contributing towards the world’s salvation. This would be especially significant if their suffering was because of their loyalty to Christ.

2.22-23 ‘Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously,’

Let them in fact consider this, that although He was the sinless One, in whose mouth nothing of fault could be found (compare Isaiah 53.9), yet He was still reviled, and persecuted and made to suffer. And how did He then respond? Not by retaliating, but by not retaliating. When they reviled Him He did not revile in return (unlike the two thieves). When they persecuted Him and made Him suffer He did not threaten in return (compare Isaiah 53.7, ‘He opened not His mouth’), rather He committed Himself (handed Himself over) to Him Who judges righteously. He put the whole matter in the hands of God. He was prepared to leave the assessment of His case in God’s hands (compare Isaiah 50.7-8). And He did it because He knew that it was carrying forward God’s purposes. Furthermore He did so even though He really was without sin. So that was what these servants, who after all are not without sin, must do as well, for His sake.

Compare for this stress on His sinlessness the idea of the ‘lamb without blemish and without spot’ in 1.19. It was because He was sinless as the infinite One that He could bear the sins of others.

2.24 ‘Who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live to righteousness, by whose stripes you were healed.’

And here we learn why Jesus made no claims of innocence. It was because He was there as the bearer of sin. He knew that what He was receiving was the just punishment, not for His own sin, but for the sins of others (compare 3.18). And He was willing to suffer for their sake. So Peter fully knew that he could not stop at the fact that Jesus had suffered for righteousness’ sake, because he was deeply aware that Jesus’ death had accomplished far more than that. And so he adds the crucial element, ‘Who his own self bore our sins in his body on the tree.’ In other words, by being crucified He was acting as a sacrifice made on our behalf in order to ‘bear’ our sins, that is, in order to take the consequences of our sin upon Himself (compare Isaiah 53.12). He was being offered as a ransom for many (1.18-19; Mark 10.45). His blood was being shed as an atonement and propitiation (Romans 3.24-25) so that we might be purified by being sprinkled with it (1.2). And He was being made a curse for us by hanging on a tree (Galatians 3.13).

This concept of His being offered as a sacrifice is partly taken from Isaiah 53.10 where the Servant was to be made a guilt offering for sin, and from Isaiah 53.12 where He was to be ‘numbered with the transgressors’. It will also be noted how similar the language is to that found in Peter’s sermons in Acts 5.30; 10.39 with its reference to the cross as ‘the tree’, where the point is being made clear that thereby He was bearing a curse for us, because ‘cursed is he who hangs on a tree’ (Deuteronomy 21.23; Galatians 3.13).

But Peter then expands on it to make clear that He was thereby also dying as our representative, so that when He died we were to be seen as ‘dying’ (literally ‘departing’) with Him. And he emphasises the point that as a result of our having so ‘departed’ with Him in our old selves, we must now live unto righteousness. We must be obedient and Christlike. While not possibly going quite so deep as Paul does, this is very similar to Paul’s teaching in Romans 6.1-11; Galatians 2.20. Compare also Ephesians 4.22-24.

He then again makes quite clear that he sees Jesus as fulfilling the role of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah for he adds, ‘by whose stripes you were healed’, which is a clear citation of Isaiah 53.5. This was very much apposite in this case as the sufferings of the household servants probably largely included receiving such stripes. And the thought therefore includes the consolation that they would then receive from Christ’s own stripes. He is saying, ‘do not be bitter when you receive such stripes. Remember that it is such stripes, delivered to the Innocent One, that make it possible for your souls to be healed’. Thus the overall point is that through His sufferings they have received healing of soul.

So Peter sees Jesus as being offered as a sacrifice for sin, as dying as our representative and substitute, as being cursed for us (on the tree), and as being the Suffering Servant on Whom was laid all the iniquities of God’s true people, with the result that spiritual healing is made available through His blood, something which he now stresses.

2.25 ‘For you were going astray like sheep, but are now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.’

Reference to Isaiah 53 continues in the words ‘you were going astray like sheep’, for which compare Isaiah 53.6. And the point here is that as a result of all our iniquity being laid on Him (see Isaiah 53.6) we could, and have, turned to the One Who is the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, something only made possible by the cross (compare John 10.11, 15, 17). And thus, being watched over by such a Shepherd and Overseer we can have confidence in whatever befalls us.

It should be noted that Peter does not try to take on himself the role of Shepherd. To him there was only One Shepherd and Bishop capable of this, and that was Jesus Christ Himself. He alone is the true Shepherd Who cares for the sheep. He alone could say, ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me, and I give to them eternal life, and they will never perish and no one shall pluck them from My hand (John 10.27-28).

This idea of Jesus as the Shepherd is also found in 5.4; Hebrews 13.20; Revelation 7.17, but especially in mind here may well be Psalm 23.1-3 where similar language is used, for there the ‘souls’ of His people are ‘turned’ to Himself as ‘the Shepherd’, by the Lord Who is their Shepherd. But Peter no doubt also had in mind that when Jesus was restoring him He had appointed him as an under-shepherd (John 21.15-17), and he therefore intended here, as the under-shepherd, to bring the sheep to the Lord Himself, as all leaders in the church must do.

The idea of Jesus as an Overseer (episkopos) has in mind the duties of the shepherd to oversee and control the flock. It may well indicate that in the Asian churches the leader were not yet called bishops (episkopoi) which until the pastorals only occurs as a title for church leaders at Philippi (see Philippians 1.1). Compare 5.1 where Peter only speaks of elders (presbuteroi). It is doubtful therefore if Peter is likening Jesus to a bishop.

So the household servants who suffer, and especially those who suffer while innocent, can rejoice in the fact that they are participating with Jesus in His suffering and playing some small part in ensuring the effectiveness of what He achieved on the cross.

The importance of this section for the whole letter must not be overlooked. It is not accidental that Jesus’ sufferings are so closely connected with the suffering of the household servants under their masters as they seek to walk in obedience, while not being connected with the other examples of obedience. It is clear that this ‘persecution’ of Christian servants was a genuine problem that was being endured by many and that Peter saw it as very much a part of God’s foreordained plan. He saw that by it they, as servants, were playing their part in the fulfilment of the concept of the Suffering Servant.

It would appear from this that in that part of the world the church was to quite some extent composed of such ‘household servants’, and that they were bearing the brunt of the persecution. It was thus not government initiated but master initiated. The impression would seem to be that on the whole the masters tended to be harsh towards their Christian servants, and the assumption may well be that that arose out of the conflict that arose between their Christian position and what their masters saw as their duty towards them.

This would be explicable if the problems mainly arose for religious reasons, i.e. as a result of ‘religious conflict’. There may have been two aspects of this. Firstly their unwillingness to honour their master’s gods as well as their own God, and secondly their unwillingness to pay due ‘honour’ to the emperor. The eastern part of the empire was where emperor worship had been favoured almost from the beginning, and it had become even more stirred up in the time of the mad Emperor Caligula, and it may well be that many masters therefore expected their household servants to participate in it and punished them if they did not. This would also explain why Peter also foresaw that things might get worse even for the wider circle of Christians. Fierce adherents of emperor worship would not take kindly towards those who would not agree with them, and towards what they saw as Christian ‘intolerance’ and even treason, and this might well have led to wider outbursts of persecution, some of which Peter saw as likely to get worse. We have enough evidence in our own day that if a certain section of society gets het up about a particular issue that they see as important, they will go to almost any lengths to get their way. And looking back we have only to think of the fanatical attitude demonstrated towards conscientious objectors in the 1914-18 war, by what were supposed to be civilised societies, to realise how easily the innocent can be persecuted once passions are aroused.

It should be noted in this regard that the Jews were protected by special measures from the more difficult requirements of emperor worship, so that while Christians were still seen as Jews no difficulty would arise. But many of these Christian servants to whom Peter was writing were converted ex-Gentiles, and may well previously been keen supporters of emperor worship. Thus a withdrawal from such worship could easily have brought repercussions on some of them, and have raised the whole issue in the society in which they lived.

Excursus. Note on Slavery.

Slavery was and is undoubtedly a great evil, for it debases men to the level of mere tools, and removes from them any element of real choice in their lives, destroying the innate dignity of man. By it the individuality of the majority is discounted, and the many became the playthings of the few. It is clearly therefore contrary to Christian teaching. It may therefore be asked as to why Christianity appeared to acquiesce with it, and did not immediately take up a more positive attitude against it.

The basic question can be quickly answered. It did not acquiesce with it, for what it taught was the very opposite of the current views about slavery, and would have caused some considerable astonishment. Christian teaching lifted men above slavery, and made them recognise that even in their slavery they were free men in Christ. And gradually some of their masters began to recognise it too. And once that happened it was the beginning of the end for slavery.

But it did recognise that outside Palestine (where slavery was generally disapproved of by the Jews) slavery was such an entrenched system, and such an accepted part of society (there were over sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire), that a frontal verbal attack on it would have accomplished nothing. It would have been shrugged off as simply another example of the impracticality of Christianity. Indeed it could quite justifiably have been pointed out that the removal of slavery would have caused the collapse of society.

On the other hand to take a more active role against slavery by actually freeing slaves illegally or persuading them to rise up against their masters would have been seen as high treason, and while only being a pinprick against the massive system in force, could only have brought the most violent of repercussions, not only against them, but possibly even against all Christian slaves. Such activity would have been cruelly stamped out and would have left everyone worse off. What had rather to happen was the undermining of the very principles on which slavery was built. And that the church accomplished. For internally it treated the laws of slavery as though they were irrelevant, and gave honour to slaves in a way that was contrary to all the principles of the society in which they lived. It declared that, as far as Christians were concerned, in Christ all slavery was negated (Galatians 3.28).

A second important factor to remember is that rarely in history have there been times when the majority of men were any other than slaves, even though described in different terms. Freedom is a privilege of modern times, and even then it is limited for many. Most of us are not free to do what we want, and can often be forced to act against our wills. But at least we are free to use our leisure time as we will, now that we have leisure time. But in older times things were even more limited. There was little leisure time, and people had to do what they were told if they were to survive, whether they were slaves or not. The feudal serf especially was little better than a slave. And the same was later true of the industrial worker and the miner in later centuries. Man’s inhumanity to man has ever been the same. And it has always been contrary to what the Bible has taught. Thus being a slave was not necessarily the worst option.

Furthermore it must be recognised that attacking something which is so much a part of society can only be done in one of two ways. It is in some ways similar to the besieging of a city. It can either be attempted by a full frontal assault, which in the case of strong walls was often a waste of time and involved much suffering, or it can be accomplished by undermining the walls. It was the latter method that Christianity adopted, and indeed used more than once, in order to destroy slavery.

For the only way in which to undermine slavery and its more modern parallels, given the situation of society, was by underlining the worth and value of the individual. And that was precisely what Christianity did do. From its very beginnings it brought home the principle of the equality of all men in the sight of God, both slave and free (Galatians 2.28) and the fact of the individual worth of every man and woman as one who was beloved by God. Once these principles really took hold slavery and its parallels would be doomed.

But Peter and the other Apostles recognised that they had to deal with the situation as it then was. We on our part might pay great heed to their words and see them as authoritative, but in the eyes of the Roman Empire they were nothings. Unquestionably as a Jew Peter would have disliked slavery. The Jews did not look kindly on slavery. But in the face of the power of the Roman Empire, and indeed of all empires, and the views of mankind generally, there was little that they could do about it. It was an intrinsic part of society.

The question was rather therefore how to cope with it. Recognising that ensuring the stability of society was to be seen as the best way of ensuring maximum righteousness, obtaining the best platform for the Gospel, and providing the best possible life for slaves, Peter (and the early church as a whole) exhorts ‘household servants’ (oiketai) to be faithful to the household of which they are a part. This in itself would have been seen as striking. Society in general did not address slaves. It expected them to submit to whatever society decided applied to them. It was the Christian church which accepted that they had status.

We must remember in this regard that only three alternatives actually lay open to them. They could either cooperate, engage in passive non-cooperation or break out in open disobedience. There was not in most cases the choice of going free. So they could either gain a reputation for being responsive and helpful because they were followers of Christ, or of being merely resentful because they were sullen, or of being seen as recalcitrant and troublesome. To do the last would undoubtedly have resulted in beatings and demotion to the most unpleasant tasks, and even worse. Being resentful would simply have been looked on as normal, but it would have achieved nothing as long as the slaves fulfilled their duties, apart from it producing in the individuals themselves a sense of self-respect and individuality and resulting in an occasional beating. But being responsive and helpful for Christ’s sake would not only give a good impression of Christianity, and build up a positive feeling in favour of it among society in general, but would also increase the slave’s own feeling of self worth as he recognised that he was not serving because he was being forced to do so, but because he had chosen to do so in order to please God. It would also indicate to all a desire to fulfil the teaching of Jesus about loving one another. So the result would be that the Christian would actually gain self-respect by being an obedient slave. He would feel that he was serving the Master.

It would be foolish to suggest that supporting slavery as an institution was Peter’s or the church’s intention. He was rather recognising that at that time little could be done about it, and wanting Christians to make the right impression about what it meant to be a servant of Jesus Christ in terms of the society of the day and a situation that he could otherwise do nothing about. As a Jew he would certainly not have favoured slavery, for as already mentioned it was looked down on by the Jews, but he had to give guidance as to the best and most advantageous way of handling what could only be described as an unwelcome situation, and do it for the good of those involved.

Any attempt to obtain freedom for slaves by any other means than ransom (which was a method used by churches when they could, although they were limited in resources) would in fact simply have resulted in horrific treatment for the slaves when caught, and similar treatment for others involved. It would have been looked on as a heinous offence. (We have only to think of Spartacus to recognise that, and the church could certainly not have raised a large half-trained army in one place (which partly consisting of trained fighters) like he did).

In fact Christianity would in the end undermine slavery, but in 1st century AD, outside Palestine, slavery was such an established institution, and so looked on as a normal way of life, that attempts to change the situation would either have been looked on with incredulity (what else do you do with prisoners of war apart from the alternatives of crucifying them or sending them to the arena?), or, if an attempt had been made to put changes into practical effect, as high treason. Diatribes against slavery, which no doubt some Christian philosophers did make, would have accomplished little.

In fact churches began to undermine slavery simply as a result of the fact that slaves who attended at church worship would often become deacons, and sometimes even bishops, with the consequence that a newly converted Christian master might well find himself being instructed in spiritual matters by his own slave, in a circle where the slave was being treated with great respect because of his position. (Although even within non-Christian households a slave might effectively have a higher position than his master’s wife and children).

The truth was that the Roman Empire was built on slavery, and men in the highest positions could be slaves. These last would actually have been the first to resist attempts to rid the Empire of slavery. And a position as a slave was not all bad. It ensured for many both that the slave would have the protection of the household involved, and the certain provision of necessities, and even sometimes luxuries, and would often provide him with a position of trust and high favour, (especially in comparison with many ‘free men’ who were often left homeless and starving) while to resist such a position would simply have incurred severe beatings or even worse. But in fact in those days there were few who were really free. Poor freemen were equally as likely to be beaten, and in their cases they would then be left to their own devices. Meanwhile society would have little sympathy for recalcitrant slaves, and as slaves were regularly ‘foreigners’, they had nowhere to escape to apart from to the dregs of society. And once they had run away they would be for ever be looking over their shoulders as a ‘runaway’, knowing that if they were caught it would lead to literal branding or worse, to say nothing of what would be involved for the Gospel if it became recognised that the church had begun recommending such behaviour. It would have been seen as high treason against the state. Christian preachers could certainly argue the morality of the situation, and no doubt often did, but on the whole they would simply be looked on with incredulity if they suggested the cessation of slavery. After all what alternative was there? What they could not do was recommend the breaking of the law. That would have been treason. The church would have to become a lot more influential before it could even begin to do anything about slavery as an institution, and meanwhile advice had to be given to slaves on how to cope in a way that was pleasing to God, and beneficial for them both spiritually and physically. This was what Peter and Paul did.

End of Excursus.

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