The outline of the purpose of God in the first part of this Epistle (see Precious Seed, 1972-1973) is intended not only to educate the minds of the people of God, but to guide their steps. What Peter has said is vital to the spiritual perspective and to the stability of his readers in the light of present and probable future circumstances. It is also the doctrinal basis upon which he now exhorts to suitable behaviour in the world and in the church. He appeals to them, for example, in this part of the Epistle, as “strangers and pilgrims”, 2. 11; he refers more than once to their “calling”, 2. 21; 3. 9; 5. 10; to their inheritance, 3. 9; to their “hope”, 3. 15; to the coming day of glory, 4. 13, all forming part of the teaching of the earlier doctrinal section.
This section has in it, too, warnings of and allusions to days of public examination, probably before tribunals, an idea which forms the basis of a great many of his exhortations; see e.g., 2. 12, 15, 19, 23; 3. 15-16; 4. 17ff.
There are a number of ways of dividing the passage now before us, but it suits our present purpose to adopt one based upon the opening word “beloved”, 2. 11 and 4. 12, and on closing doxologies, 4. 11 and 5. 11. These two main paragraphs speak in general of (a) behaviour in anticipation of suffering, 2. 11 to 4. 11, and (b) behaviour in the midst of suffering, 4. 12 to 5. 11. In the light of the mood of unbelief and threatening anarchy in the world of the present time, it may be timely to adopt this scheme of thought to stress the need of behaviour calculated to ensure the best interests of both believer and unbeliever in the “day of visitation” which is coming.
A broad analysis of this latter part of the Epistle is as follows:
In the light of what Peter calls “the day of visitation”, he exhorts the people of God to live now, so as to secure then, the glory of God, the good of men and their own well-being. The opening paragraph, 2. 11-12, is introductory and raises, in a general way, issues of personal and social behaviour such as become “strangers and pilgrims” in an alien and hostile world. The ideas in these verses have been well described by Kingsley G. Rendall as (a) The truth of our heavenly citizenship; (6) The discipline of Christian character; (c) The fruits of Christian conduct.
The basis of his appeal is personal. He calls them “Dearly beloved”, and thus takes the only ground upon which a servant of Christ has the right to appeal to his fellow believers—out of a heart pledged to them in the love of Christ. He appeals not only to their peculiar position in the world, but to their prominent place in his heart. The appealing word “beloved” is often used in the New Testament to introduce particularly demanding exhortations, and in this case to urge becoming behaviour in the midst of uncondu-cive circumstances and conditions.
The appeal is pressing. He beseeches. It is a word which can be used, effectively, only by a leader, an exemplar. It bears the sense “to call alongside” which, in the way it is used here, is as much as the Christian minister can or dare do. It is neither fair nor fitting—indeed it is futile to ask more of others than of ourselves. The word has in it, too, a sense of earnestness, even of urgency. It is as though the man himself is in the expression: no cold, formal, piece of advice this: no fancy rhetorical exercise; no extravagance of words; but a warm, living, sober appeal by one who is already where he wishes others to be. Such an attitude ought to characterize the ministry of everyone who has the true interest of the Master and of his brethren at heart. This sense of the word is highlighted in its use in 2 Corinthians 5. 20, “as though God did beseech you by us: we pray”.
The appeal is pointed. He appeals to them as “strangers and pilgrims”: as strangers without rights in this world, as pilgrims with great riches in the next: as strangers the objects of human calumny, as pilgrims the subjects of divine call. The fact of strangership is noted in 1. 1 and for the first readers needed no exposition save their circumstances, while the features of pilgrimage are expounded for their education and encouragement in 1. 3 to 2. 10. Strangership has reference to circumstances, pilgrimage to character. The readers did not belong to the Gentile community around—the nature of the world saw to that—nor to the Jewish, from which the cross separated them all too effectively. They were, thus, strangers. They had, on the other hand, a heavenly inheritance with their hearts already there. They were, thus, pilgrims. These two factors, of strangership and of pilgrimage, must give a sense of detachment on the one hand and of dignity on the other. Given due weight in our thinking, what an influence they should then exert on character and behaviour in the world.
The burden of his appeal is in linked exhortations. First of all, there is a negative appeal for the kind of personal behaviour which becomes pilgrims, “abstain from fleshly lusts”. Then there is a positive appeal for the kind of social behaviour which becomes strangers, “having your conversation honest among the Gentiles”.
As to personal behaviour, he says, “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul”. It has been well pointed out that “Peter was not suggesting, as many Gnostic teachers did, that the human body was evil”. He was indicating that there is “an immoral principle and power which has taken possession of the human body to carry out its warfare against the soul”; that “it is necessary that the fleshly lusts of which Peter writes be recognised and deprived of their means of existence” (Kingsley G. Rendall). We are not left without guidance as to the means of doing so: “flee”, says Paul to Timothy, 2 Tim 2. 22; the flesh and its lusts are to be “crucified”, Gal. 5. 24; “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof’, Rom. 13. 14; here it is “abstain”.
It is of particular interest that the incentives to obey these exhortations are provided in our relationships, first of all with the Father, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him … all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh … is not of the Father”, 1 John 2. 15-16: then with the Son, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof’, Rom. 13. 14: then with the Spirit, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh”, Gal. 5. 16,—powerful incentives, indeed!
As to social behaviour, Peter says, “having your conversation honest among the Gentiles”. This second appeal follows the first by natural sequence of thought, and recognizes the need for care in behaviour in an alien environment. “Of whom do the kings of the earth take … tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?”, asked the Master of Peter one day. To say the least of it, submission to the laws of the land in which the readers were sojourners would be prudent. So it is in the life of strangers in a world hostile to their Master, to His interest and theirs. In such an atmosphere, even “honest behaviour” may not escape the censure of men, but “good works” speak for themselves, and may even earn their commendation and lead them in the end to “glorify God in the day of visitation”.
The bearing of the appeal. The question “why?” should never be far from our minds when reading the Scriptures. We have already suggested that honest behaviour was but prudent in the circumstances of the readers, but the appeals are not based on necessity or expediency to preserve peace in a hostile environment. They are based on higher motives, and aim at higher ends than mere self-protection. They have three objectives.
(1) The guarding of the soul. It goes without saying that the believer, spirit and soul and body, is safe for eternity. We rejoice constantly in the assuring word of the Lord Jesus, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”, John 10. 28-30, but the believer recognizes that his life on earth may be wasted or preserved for God on the way to heaven. It is the object of attack at all times by many malicious enemies, not least among them what Peter calls “fleshly lusts”. The means of rendering that enemy powerless have already been noted.
(2) The good of men. Believing lives will be scrutinized. The ground we profess to take is too high for it to be otherwise, and the higher the ground taken, the more rigorous and critical will be the scrutiny. The Lord Jesus was supremely the object of such scrutiny. “They watched him”, Mark 3. 2; they “were … sitting there”—we can almost see them, watching every movement, weighing every word— “and reasoning in their hearts”, Mark 2. 6. Not for Him, nor for us, the opportunity to explain, but rather to be judged on appearances. That consideration gives special point to the exhortation to “Abstain from all appearance of evil”, 1 Thess. 5. 22.
Believing lives may be scandalized. They called the Master of the house Beelzebub, and crucified as a malefactor Him who was the essence of purity, the best of benefactors, so bitterly did they resent the presence of divine goodness in their midst. Is it surprising if they speak ill of His failing followers?
But believing lives may be sanctified to the blessing of men, “that they may glorify God”. This is probably another of Peter’s many allusions to the words of the Lord Jesus, this time to Mat: thew 5. 16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. The other sad possibility is that we might, by one act, make “the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme”, 2 Sam. 12. 14, and it is good for us ever to remember that our behaviour will affect, for good or ill, men’s thoughts about God, 2 Cor. 4. 6. To anticipate a little, brief mention should be made of the later allusions in this Epistle to the possible influence of Christian behaviour—to wives, 1 Pet. 3. 1, that their husbands may be won; to all, that the false accusers “may be ashamed”, 3. 16. There is, in these examples, a great deal in the way of encouragement to patience in the face of provocation, to devotion in the face of discouragement. How frequently, in the history of Christian testimony, has the bearing of believing men and women, especially in trials beyond endurance, been the means of blessing to men. Who knows, for a notable example, what impressions were made on Saul by the calm, Christian dignity of the martyr, Stephen?
(3) The glory of God - that “they may … glorify God in the day of visitation”. The decree of Darius, the king, on the deliverance of Daniel from the lions, illustrates, in a sweet way, the truth of this verse, “That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever”, Dan. 6. 26.
When its “day of visitation” comes, that nation which so despised the Lord Jesus during His sojourn will “be ashamed” and glorify God in the thrilling words of Isaiah 53. By common usage, the day of visitation is a day of trial, and there seems to be no reason to change that idea here. Whether it is a coming day of trial for the people of God, 1 Pet. 4. 17, or for men in general, the point is equally valid. “As I live”, saith Jehovah, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”, Rom. 14. 11. What a thought—that the “good works” of the people of God may, even in a small measure, contribute to that end now! But in Peter’s scheme of thought, the “day of visitation” is probably the day of trial for believers and much more is said in this Epistle about the kind of behaviour which, on examination, will speak well for God as well as for His people.
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