1 Peter 2:18-25
September 16, 2012
God wants us to live wonderfully strange lives, imitating Christ and depending on him.
I. Objective - To live a good life (1 Peter 2:18-20)
II. Method - by imitating Christ (1 Peter 2:21-23)
III. Means - by depending on Him (1 Peter 2:24-25)
Who am I describing? This was someone who nursed the victims of leprosy; He went without money or bag to proclaim the Kingdom of God; He served the despised and rejected with a spirit of joy; He "went about . . . announcing the kingdom of God . . . with the learning and power of the Spirit . . . It seemed at time . . . that a new light had been sent from Heaven." Would you agree this is a pretty good description of Jesus?
In fact these are descriptions of St. Francis of Assisi, the Medieval believer who founded the Franciscan order of Friars. Francis is celebrated by Protestants and Catholics as one of the most noble, Christ-like figures who ever lived. One of his biographers characterized him as a servant of Christ, a patron of peace, a man uniquely aware of his creaturely dependence on the creator.
St. Francis is honored precisely because he did the things 1st Peter 2, verses 18-25 call us to do: he went around doing good; he consciously imitated Christ, and he depended on Christ. We learned last week that Peter tells his readers to live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they see your good deeds, and glorify God. Now Peter tells us to live such good lives in imitation of Christ, and dependence on him. This morning I want to characterize these good lives as being wonderfully strange, dramatically different from our culture. People like this behave in ways that are right in the sight of God even when that behavior contrasts sharply with the standards, or lack of standards, in our culture.
Here’s a simple example: You are coming through the line at HEB and you are supposed to receive two dollars back. But the checker gives you a ten and a one. The wonderfully strange thing to do, by our culture’s standards is to hand back the ten dollar bill. On the other side of the counter, being wonderfully strange is being like Abraham Lincoln who once walked several miles to return 6-1/4 cents in change that was left on the counter at his store in New Salem, Illinois.
I. Objective - To live a good life (1 Peter 2:18-20)
Let’s begin with 1st Peter 2:18-20, where Peter commends doing good: Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
This is a second application of the truth of 1st Peter 2:12 “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” The first application concerned living under civil authorities. This one addresses servants, household slaves, who were rather a unique class in the Roman world. They were real slaves - they could be bought and sold and in general treated as property. But they were not slaves in many of the traditional ways which we picture slavery.
For one thing, they were paid wages and if they saved they could buy their freedom. Also, they were often well treated, members of the household. And, they were frequently well educated - professionals or craftsmen. They might be doctors, they were frequently tutors, they were stewards of the household, or administrators. Or they might have been smiths, wheelwrights, carpenters, or any one of a number of trades. In fact, there is no problem at all comparing these people to a class that is very common today: employees. Employees are the closest thing to slaves in our society. You may have seen the sign on somebody’s desk: "You can't fire me, slaves have to be sold"
In verse 18 this class of slaves is told: “be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” One would expect this kind of slave, or an employee, to obey cheerfully masters or bosses who were benevolent and gentle. But obedience to masters who are cruel and unjust is quite another matter. Now I am not wanting to imply that we should obey our superiors in every command. I exhort you not to give in to any pressure that encourages you to violate God's law. But short of that, and unlike your fellow employees, God has called you to cheerful submission,
Peter further encourages this submission in the following verse: Verse 19: “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” He says that endurance of unjust suffering is the kind of behavior that shows your awareness of God and illustrates his grace at work. Deserved suffering, on the other hand, does not show any special awareness of God or dependence on his grace; it’s just deserved.
Peter makes this clear in verse 20: “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” Peter contrasts two reasons for suffering: Some of you, he says, are suffering deservedly, for doing wrong. You are only getting what you deserve and there is no credit to your account for that! But if you suffer for doing good, that is something God gives grace for!
Peter is saying to these slaves, these employees: ‘Be wonderfully strange; do good, even if you have to suffer for it; follow God's standards, even if it means disobeying man's standards.’ As employees, we have many opportunities to be noticeably different. In 2004 Gene Herr, a pharmacist at Eckerd’s was fired when he refused to issue a prescription for RU-486, the morning-after abortion pill. Herr affirmed that his refusal was based on religious convictions: “I went in the back room and briefly prayed about it. I called my pastor ... and asked him what he thought about it.” And then he refused, despite the fact that Eckerd’s policies clearly allowed the company to fire him. They hadn’t fired other pharmacists who refused, but because this case was in the public they did fire Gene Herr and three others.
That’s the modern equivalent of enduring a beating for good deeds. In a similar vein, World Magazine has reported on several university professors who’ve been denied tenure because of Christian interests. One professor, Bob Woodberry was denied tenure at UT because his well-funded peer-reviewed research showed positive correlations between missionary activity and cultural goods like reduced murder rates and dramatically increased literacy.
Verse 20 probably again reflects the teaching of Jesus. Luke 6:32 says “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” The words of Jesus apply to all of us. By our good behavior, our practical love, we can show ourselves distinctly different, as the early Christians were.
There is a great letter from a Pagan emperor of Rome to his high priest in Galatia where he says of Christians: “Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of the lives that have done the most to increase [Christianity]. . . In every city establish hostels, that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need . . . for it is disgraceful that, when the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”
So I want to encourage you, to exhort you, to attempt to be distinctively Christian, in marked contrast to our culture. Specifically, if you are an employee, live by God's standards and exhibit God's love, rather than man's standards and man's selfishness. I was talking to someone just this week about how hard it is to represent Christ well in the busyness of the workplace. But if this isn’t going well you will feel that your 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day are a waste.
And if you’re not an employee, if you are a student, or a mother at home, or retired, or whatever, you too will be wonderfully strange, if you live by God's standards and exhibit God's love. This means living outside yourself, outside the normal limits that are practiced and expected by those with no new life from God: go the second mile; care for people you’re not expected to care for; see needs and pursue them; give sacrificially and cheerfully.
II. Method - by imitating Christ (1 Peter 2:21-23)
That is our objective. but we also find in these verses a method for living by God's standards: imitate Christ. Christ is the ultimate example, of living a good life and suffering for it. In verses 21 to 23 Peter explicitly calls us to imitation of Christ: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
To this you are called: to what? Submission and doing good, being distinctively Christian even in suffering. Christ left us this ‘example,’ but that’s really too weak a word: the Greek literally means "under-writing.” It refers to a pattern or drawing copied by a student. If you were learning to write the alphabet, this would be the letters you would trace to develop your skill. If an artist, this would be a sketch you fill in. So the word is used of Christ: his attitudes, his behavior have left us a pattern that we are to faithfully reproduce.
A similar idea is expressed in the other phrase: We are to follow "In his steps". The idea here isn’t a slavish following of His actions: the next section shows that Christ is unique in what he does. But it is following his attitudes and responses, the way he lived. Author Charles Sheldon’s "In His Steps," says that we should ask in every situation the well known question "What would Jesus do?" Or my preferred question: “What would Jesus have me do?”
Peter then gives several striking allusions to the attitudes and behavior of Christ: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Quoting from Isaiah 53, the first thing Peter points to is Christ’s sinlessness. This is not an example we can fully emulate, but it is a goal we can strive for. Earlier in the letter, Peter said "Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do" Now he says: Jesus is holy; he’s sinless, and you should be imitating him.
“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” Peter focuses specifically on verbal sins, and shows us the perfect control that Christ had over his words: no deceit - no guile or trickery was found in his mouth. Even when suffering, he did not fall prey to verbal sins.
Would that we were like him in this. I can’t tell you how many times in the last twenty years I’ve listened to Christians talk to each other and just been amazed at the language people will use and the nasty things they will say. The truth is all of us struggle with our words. If we are not thoughtful about what we say, we can offend people, or sometimes bless people unknowingly. But if we are careful and gracious in what we say we will more often bless.
Howard Butt of HEB had one of his ‘high calling’ radio moments that went like this “Two things about Carol and her decisions. One, she was usually right. And two, right or wrong, she was always certain. The thing is, Carol’s style left little room for input. And most people gave up trying to give it. Yet one coworker broke through, by being honest . . . and gentle. “Carol,” she said, “it never hurts to consider others’ opinions. They’ll either confirm what you decide or help you avoid mistakes.” The team watched as Carol primed for a quick comeback, then mentally hit pause. What Carol said was, “Thanks.””
But Peter is remembering a far more significant episode. Throughout his life, but especially in his passion, Jesus was reviled but did not revile in return; he suffered but he did not threaten. Instead, Peter says, “he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” In the Garden, and before Pilate, and while being mocked, and on the Cross, Jesus did not retaliate, gave himself and his whole cause into the hands of a good God. He trusted God to be his defender, not even rejecting the suffering that was His Father’s will.
What does this imitation of Christ look like? This week Iranian authorities acquitted pastor Youcef Nadarkhani and released him from a Tehran prison. He’d been jailed three years ago, charged with apostasy against Islam and sentenced to death. An international outcry apparently influenced the Iranian court’s decision to release him. But it may have been his own demeanor. The article in World Magazine reported that “Nadarkhani - who grew up in a Muslim home but never embraced Islam - refused multiple offers of release over the last three years. Iranian authorities had promised to free him if he recanted Christianity and affirmed Islam. Nadarkhani repeatedly refused, answering in court with two simple words: "I cannot."
That kind of imitation is the wonderfully strange alternative to verbal retaliation, anger, rage and bitterness: entrust yourself to the one who judges justly. I hope it is painfully obvious by now that the kind of distinctly Christian life you are called to live, even apart from possible suffering, is impossible. Even in our words we cannot meet Christ’s perfect standard of sinlessness. Think for a moment about the words you have said this week, and you will find that many of them have not met Christ's example of sinless perfection.
III. Means - by depending on Him (1 Peter 2:24-25)
And God, who as Peter says judges justly, is justified in holding us accountable for these sins. After all, what credit is there if you sin - which we all do - and suffer for it. We can’t live a sinless life, and we can’t be wonderfully strange in our own power. Only through the sacrifice of Christ are we able to live uniquely different lives. Verses 24-25: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
He himself bore or carried our sins on the cross, took them on himself. The sins of our tongues, our unjust deeds, our lack of kindness, mercy and love. He took the penalty for all things that caused us to fall short of God's holy standard. He died on the cross, which Peter calls ‘the tree’, bearing the punishment that we deserved. This is substitution - Christ died as a substitute for you and me. And by his wounds - or because he has been wounded - we are healed.
Let me read to you a little bit from Isaiah 53, which Peter had in mind when he wrote these verses: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Do you know for sure that Jesus Christ died for your sins? Can you say "I am trusting right now that Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins.” Because if you do you can say with Peter that you have died to sin, and you live for righteousness. Part of what depending on him means is death to sin, that is, substantial healing of our former sinful tendencies, and the freedom to live for righteousness; to live, in fact, wonderfully strange lives
And Jesus himself is with us to help us in this living: Verse 25: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Peter picks up on the word Shepherd here, and ties it in not only to Isaiah 53, but also into the whole sheep and shepherd language of the Bible, in which the Lord is our shepherd. Formerly we were like sheep without a shepherd; wandering in sin. But now Christ says: “I am the good shepherd,” who lays down his life for the sheep.”
He is the shepherd who saves us, but also the one who guards and guides us. He says “I am the door [of the sheep.] If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
God says of him that “he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5And he shall be their peace.” The one whose example we follow, whose good we imitate, is the one on whom we can entirely and constantly depend. Our objective is to live a life that is wonderfully strange; our method is to imitate Jesus Christ, and our means, that which empowers us to do it, is dependence on Him.
I’ve wanted to see the movie ‘Of Gods and Men’ since last year, and finally squeezed it in this week, because I knew it was about being wonderfully strange. It’s based on the true story of a small monastery in Algeria, in 1995, where eight Trappist monks live peacefully in a small and mostly Islamic village, where they are loved and accepted as they bring help, comfort and counsel. But by 1995 Islamic fundamentalists had begun to terrorize the country. The monks are caught between these rebels and a corrupt government, and have to decide whether to stay with their village and their ministry or flee. Here are a few moments from the story that show how these monks embrace what it means to be wonderfully strange.
(the movie is in French: these are the subtitles from the sections chosen)
Celestin: “We may be leaving”
Male villager: “Why are you leaving”
Celestin: “We’re like birds on a branch; we don’t know if we will leave.”
Female villager: “We’re the birds; if you go we lose our footing.”
Government official: “They mean business; they’re giving you orders.”
Christian: “No one other than ourselves can decide if we must leave.”
Government official: “I’d have been surprised - really surprised. Your stubbornness is getting dangerous.
Celestin: “How could you make this decision without consulting us? All of our lives are at stake.”
Christian: “What would you have done.”
Celestin: “I’d have let everyone speak and listened to each position.”
Christian: “To what answer, in the end?”
Jean-Pierre: “The answer doesn’t matter. The very principle of community is compromised by your attitude.”
Christian: “Well. Who wants the army present in the monastery?”
Jean-Pierre: “You refuse to understand what we’re saying.”
Christian: “I understand well. None of us chose to live here to be protected by a corrupt government.”
Christian: “The villagers may talk about these men we help. Be careful.”
Luc: “Throughout my career I’ve met all sorts of different people. Including Nazis. And even the devil. I’m not scared of terrorists. Even less the army. And I’m not scared of death. I’m a free man.”
Luc: “Let the free man pass.”
God wants us to live in ways so different that the world notices - but we can only do that by imitating Christ and depending on Him.