January 19, 2020
Mission and vision statements are all the rage – for corporations, businesses, even individuals and churches. And for a few thousand dollars, you can have a church consultant come in, interview your people, meet with your leadership, and craft a nifty statement that fits you. The funny thing is, while the mission statements may be craftily and uniquely worded, in the end, they say or should say basically the same thing. You see, Jesus gave the church its mission. In all the gospels, at the beginning of the book of Acts, we read our job is to take the good news of the gospel to people around the globe. We are to make disciples of all nations – make followers of Jesus with us.
If the mission of the church, and therefore every follower of Christ, is to make disciples of Jesus, then I would suggest everything we do should somehow be motivated by the gospel and its proclamation. Yes, of course, everything we do should bring glory to God – whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, do for the glory of God. But one of the ways we give Him glory is to be obedient to the mission and bring Him more followers. To gather more worshipers around His throne. That is the mission.
And so, everything we do should be motivated by the gospel – making it both available and attractive to people. Both of those words are important – available and attractive. Available means people should have the opportunity to hear the gospel. That’s what Jesus commanded – take His good news to the ends of the earth – after all, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
That’s what missions is all about – taking the gospel to people who haven’t heard, see them trust Christ, and plant churches, which in turn, make disciples. I’m sure you’ve made the connection – the word missionary comes from the word mission. So again, we make the gospel available by sharing it with people. But it isn’t just global missions, dropping a few dollars in the offering plate designated to missions – as vital as that is. We also are to be people of the mission. So we, too, should share the news with those around us.
We actually saw that last week, didn’t we? Having come to the Living Stone, Jesus Christ the Cornerstone – we have become living stones God is using to build a spiritual house. Further, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood to represent God to people, a holy nation set apart for God and His purposes. We are a people for God’s own special possession – for what purpose? So that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of the darkness of sin and death, into His marvelous light – the glory of the gospel of His Son. We are supposed to be the ones declaring God’s mighty acts of power through the work of His Son. I suppose we could ask ourselves – how much do we really believe the gospel? Do we really believe it is the only hope for humankind – the only way to be reconciled to God?
So, we are to make the gospel available to people by verbally proclaiming it. You’ve heard me say – no one will become a Christian without the claims of Christ and the gospel. No one will become a Christian because you are a good person. They must know about Jesus. But, we also make it attractive by letting them see the gospel at work. I think some have forgotten that part. They may be sharing the good news, but they do so in offensive ways. Or, they don’t have a life that backs up the claim they have been saved from sin – the old is gone, the new has come. If we don’t have a life worth looking at, why would people want it?
Now, it is true the gospel itself is offensive. For example, we’ve seen Jesus and the gospel are a stumbling stone – a rock of offence. You see, it contains the truth that all are sinners in need of salvation. They’ve rebelled against a holy God, and are in need of appeasing His wrath poised against them. People don’t like that. And the further offensive truth is there is nothing they can do to avert His wrath and absolve their guilt. But now, enter the good news. Because we could not do anything about our deplorable condition, God stepped in and did it for us. Because of His great love, while we were still sinners, God sent His own Son to die for us. Again, the question, do we believe really that?
You say, okay, I get that. Our job is not to be offensive as the messengers. Our job is to be attractive – to draw people to the good news of what Jesus has done. So, Jesus said things like, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) How do they glorify our Father in seeing our good works? Many suggest by our good works, people become interested – more, intrigued by the gospel, and become followers with us. Paul said it this way in I Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”
And so, it has always been our goal – the Christian goal – to be attractive – appealing. In the early days of Christianity, even those who opposed it were forced to admit Christians were different – in a good way. Listen to the words Emperor Julian, who adamantly opposed Christianity. In fact, he was convinced the reason the Roman Empire was struggling – in fact, crumbling – was because of Christianity. So many were abandoning Roman gods and following Jesus, that the gods were mad. They needed to return to the gods of the Empire. He made that his mission – that’s interesting. He wrote in a letter, expressing his disgust:
“‘Christianity’ has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care in the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single (Christian) Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans (Christians) care not only for their own poor, but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”
Christians are supposed to be attractive for the good of the gospel. But what does this attractiveness – dare I say beauty – look like? That brings us to our text today – I Peter 2:11-12.[slander you…and they did. From the earliest days, Christians were accused of awful things, like cannibalism, eating the body and blood of Christ; they were accused of eating their own children because of their secret meetings, they were accused of subversion because they wouldn’t worship the emperor, being atheists because they didn’t worship the Roman gods – on and on it goes, but, Peter says keep your behavior excellent so]…
At this point, Peter transitions to the main body of the letter. Everything up till now has been introduction. Important introduction. Peter is writing to a group of believers suffering, opposed, persecuted for their faith. He started by reminding them of this great salvation they had. He reminded them this salvation came with responsibilities – and he gave them five commands: keep your hearts focused on the return of Christ, be holy in your conduct, conduct yourselves in holy fear, love one another deeply, and continue to grow in your faith through the Word of God.
Then he reminded them who they were – we spent the last couple of weeks on that. You are corporately, together living stones God is using to build a spiritual house. We call it the church, in which God dwells by His Spirit. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. So yes, these believers were suffering, but Peter reminds them of all they have, all they are in Christ.
Having reminded them of their relationship with Christ through the gospel, reminded them of their great blessings in the gospel and corresponding responsibilities, having reminded them of their identity together as believers, he now turns to the main purpose of the letter, which stretches from 2:11 to 4:11. His purpose? Yes, I know you are struggling, so this is how you live in the world of unbelievers [two extremes – separate, assimilate]. I’ve talked about your corporate identity, I’ve talked about loving one another. Now, let’s turn our attention to how you live in a culture of unbelievers who don’t love you – who in fact oppose you. Verses 11 and 12 are an introduction to that theme which extends through the next two chapters. They are incredibly important. There are two commands here – the negative, if you will, followed by the positive:
- Abstain from a Sinful Life (11)
- Pursue a Beautiful Life (12a)
- For the Good of Others and the Glory of God
Peter starts with beloved, drawing their attention to a new topic. But it’s not just an introductory title – he means it. Beloved – by whom? Sure, he loved them as brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, he told them to love one another deeply. But most agree this is referring to the truth they are loved by God. It may not always feel like it – after all, they were struggling. Maybe God didn’t love them. Maybe He’d forgotten them. Perhaps you’re struggling, and you, like them, wonder where God is. He knows, He has your best in mind, and He loves you.
I urge you – a common word in the NT used to strongly encourage people to leave sinful behaviors, or pursue godly behaviors. Paul used it a lot. I urge you – I call you to a holy life. Interesting, Peter was an apostle – the first, the chief among the apostles. He could have demanded, commanded their obedience. But more than that, he loved these people – his brothers and sisters. And he urged them to leave sinful behaviors. You see, it was for their good, the good of others, and the glory of God.
Notice, I urge you as aliens and strangers. He used the word alien in the first verse of the book. We talked about it – to be an alien is to be living in a place not your own. To be a sojourner carries with it the same idea. Perhaps there’s a slight difference in the words – to be a resident alien is more permanent – to be a sojourner is more temporary. But the main point, this place is not our home. We are only living here temporarily. Abraham used these words in Genesis 23 when Sarah died, and he was negotiating to buy a piece of land in which he could bury her. He said, I’m just a stranger and a sojourner in the land. That’s interesting. God had promised him the land. But even then, Abraham somehow knew this wasn’t it. Which is why Hebrews 11 says:
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.
9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;
10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
That’s the way we’re supposed to live – as aliens and strangers, recognizing this place is not our home. We are longing for the return of Christ, we are longing for a country of our own, a city whose architect and builder is God.
But for now, we live here, as resident aliens. I don’t mean this to be prejudicial at all – but you can tell when you meet someone, hang around a little while with them, that they’re not from around here. You can tell by the way they talk, their accents, their practices, their clothing, their beliefs, their diet, etc. They’re from a different culture. We are to be the same. We are not supposed to be like those around us – like this culture. People should be able to see, as they spend time with us, we’re different – not weird, different. We talk differently, we practice differently, we believe differently.
So, Peter says, abstain from things that are inconsistent with who you are. You are chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. You belong to God. Your behavior, your lifestyle should be different. So abstain from fleshly lusts which war against your souls. You say, I thought when I became a Christian, the temptations would go away. Nope. In case you haven’t notice, they’re still here.
Fleshly lusts do not just refer to sexual sins, although it includes that. It’s any sin springing from desires that are part of our old way of life. Now please notice, Peter is writing to Christians, and yet he says we are at war against, fighting against our own sinful desires. While we are new creations in Christ, we are still putting to death the things of this flesh. If indeed we are. Those sinful desires are still present with us, but we now have the ability by the indwelling Holy Spirit to say no to sin. Beloved, are you saying no to sin? Peter gives us a representative list of these sinful desires in chapter 4:
3 For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.
4 In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you;
Again, this list are simply examples – we are supposed to abstain from those former desires of the Gentiles – a NT word for unbelievers. They are part of the old person who died with Christ. And notice, they, unbelievers, are surprised when we don’t participate with them in these same sins, and therefore malign us. Ridicule us. Oppose us. Speak against us.
We are supposed to be different from the world. They should be able to tell by our behavior, we don’t belong here. We are resident aliens. It will cost us, but we belong elsewhere. Here’s the problem. Survey after survey reveal that Christians aren’t much different from the unbelieving world. In fact, many pride themselves on fitting in – being in disguise. We look like we belong. Our beliefs and practices are hardly different from unbelievers. We even try to look them, act like them, be like them. To be incognito. For many, the desire is not to be totally separate from the world – separated to God – the desire is to walk as closely to the line as we can. Without crossing it, of course. And yet many fail.
I’m not talking about being weird. I am talking about being different. We should be people with different passions, purposes, values, behaviors. The Barna research group conducted an interesting survey. They wanted to ask people about religious extremism. They first asked people to identify themselves – evangelical, Christian, non-religious, etc. Then they gave a list of practices, and asked if they were thought to be extreme. Some we would certainly label as extreme:
- Use religion to justify violence.
- Refuse standard medical care for children.
Over 80% of people surveyed saw those as extreme. But how about these:
- Refuse to serve someone because the customer’s lifestyle conflicts with their beliefs.
- Demonstrate outside an organization they consider immoral.
- Attempt to convert others to their faith.
- Teaching their children that sexual relationships between people of the same sex is wrong.
- Distribute religious material door-to-door.
- Pray out loud in public for a stranger.
- Protest government policies that conflict with their religion.
Over 50% of people surveyed saw these as extreme. In our culture. I’m not suggesting which ones are or aren’t. I am suggesting we are living in a culture increasingly hostile to our faith.
Just a few more – these range in the 20-49% of people surveyed put these in the extreme camp:
- Quit a good-paying job to do mission work in another country.
- Fast or refrain from food for a period of time.
- Wait until marriage to have sex.
Get that – at least 20% of people, up to a half, see those as extreme views. Again, my point is simply this – we are living in a culture where holding biblical positions is considered being a religious fanatic. And we don’t want that, do we? We don’t want people to think less of us, ostracize us, ridicule us, do we? Listen, the human need for acceptance is overwhelming.
We are supposed to abstain from sinful thoughts, words and actions, and doing so will set us apart as not fitting in. Let’s go to the positive command. Actually, verse 12 begins with a participle, but it carries this idea of strongly urging as well. Keep, or actually, keeping your behavior excellent among the Gentiles. Remember, Gentiles is a way of saying, unbelievers. Non-Christians. Instead of pursuing your own sinful inclinations, and the desire to fit into the culture, keep your behavior excellent. And actually, the word is beautiful. Bringing me back to my introduction – our behavior as believers, while at odds with the culture, should be beautiful, attractive, winsome to the culture.
Keep your behavior beautiful, so that in the very thing in which they slander you as evildoers. We looked at the word slander in verse 1 of this chapter. It is to malign, to speak against. It includes things like gossip and evil speech – to your face and behind your back. I want to be gentle when I say this, but when unbelievers slander you – they are acting according to their nature. They are still dead in trespasses and sins – they are unregenerate – they are actually the evildoers – acting in accord with their sinful nature.
Now, why do they do that? Very simply, because darkness never likes light. Sinners don’t like it when their sinful actions are exposed by the righteous acts of righteous people. We should not be surprised when sinners act like sinners toward us. It should simply remind us, they need Jesus.
And Peter reminds us, because of our good deeds, as they see them – as they observe them, even though they don’t like them, they may glorify God in the day of visitation. What does that mean? It reminds us, of course, of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount I quoted earlier, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” But, in what way will they glorify God, and what is this day of visitation?
There are two possible interpretations, and both actually have biblical support. One is easy to take, the other, not so much. Let me share them with you, starting with the more difficult one. The word visitation is only used one other time in the NT, in Luke 19:
43 “For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side,
44 and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Jesus is talking about the time when the Romans would march against Jerusalem and destroy it – not leaving one stone upon another. This happened in 70 AD when Rome marched against the city after their rebellion in 66 AD. But here, Jesus says it would happen as an act of judgment, because they did not recognize the time of their visitation. They did not recognize when God came to them in the person of Jesus. They did not recognize Jesus as their Messiah. So the context is that of judgment.
So, the implication is, you continue to do good deeds, even though it costs you. And when God comes back, when He visits in judgment, He will receive glory for your good works, and He will receive glory for their just punishment. You see, even though they saw your good works, they slandered you. They opposed you. Remember to whom Peter is writing – suffering believers. And it was the gospel causing their suffering. But hang on. When God returns, He will make all things right. While they have opposed you, He will oppose them. He will visit them in judgment.
That is a possible interpretation. It’s a bit hard to swallow, but while God does not take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked, He does receive glory. How? It puts His justice, righteousness, holiness and wrath on display. But, many rightly point out God is most glorified when people believe.
You see, the other possibility is this – and I think, having spent time studying the text, I land here. You keep doing good works. Put the change in your life on display. Yes, you will be opposed and slandered. But some will see your beautiful, attractive life, and they will believe. So, when God either visits them with salvation by His Spirit, your good works will be used by Him to call people to Himself. Or, when He comes at the end of time – when He visits the world with judgment, they will be spared because of their faith, and bring glory to God. God is most glorified in us when we find Him to be our greatest treasure.
In the next chapter, Peter said to women who were married to unbelieving husbands, “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word [meaning, they’re unbelievers], they may be won [won to what? The gospel of Jesus] without a word by the behavior or their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.” (I Peter 3:1-2)
You see – our beautiful lives are supposed to be attractive to people. To draw them to the gospel. Don’t you want people to know the truth? Are your personal rights and comforts more important than that?