Affirming the People of God: Part 1 of 4
The People of God are Affirmed by How They Live
The Letters of Peter July 7, 2002
Say you had just met a woman in a business suit while riding on the Metra and struck up a conversation as you traveled together to get to work on the Loop, and she repeatedly talked about the price of coffee.
You might assume that she either owned a coffee import business or traded coffee futures at the Mercantile Exchange.
Similarly, if you just met a man who repeatedly brought the conversation back to a discussion about Christian spiritual values, you might assume he was a born-again Christian or perhaps even a pastor or elder or deacon in a church.
So one way to find out what is truly important to a person is to listen to what they have to say, and how often they say it, and in what different ways they say it.
People are affirmed when we listen to what they have to say. When we listen to them, they know they truly matter.
The same is true of the Bible and the authors who wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
But actually, in God's case, we not only affirm him as our God when we listen to him, but we ourselves are affirmed by listening. It is we, ourselves, who reap the benefit in this relationship with God.
As we come under his instruction, we are set apart as his own. So how do we gain the most in this relationship to God through his Word?
One way to grasp the significant themes in a particular book of the Bible, or books by the same author in the Bible, is to look at word frequencies or repetition of ideas.
The repetition of a word or meaning in different contexts by the author gives us the idea of what God is sincerely concerned to convey to us through him.
We have just finished up some similar studies in the Pastoral Epistles and Hebrews, and we begin this morning in the two letters that were written by the apostle, Peter.
We can learn a lot from Peter. Even before Paul, here was a man who needed to be broken of pride. I believe he writes from the knowledgeable perspective of one who came dangerously close to "being cast into the outer darkness" that Jesus spoke about for those who would deny him (talents/wedding clothes – Matt.).
Peter spent his short while in the world after knowing the Savior, and it was agonizing to him. It was the grace of God in Christ that brought him back and affirmed him.
In his two letters, he writes to the church in the world – the same dark world that he himself was temporarily lost in after he denied Christ. He writes to a church that needs the strength of God's affirmation as they carry out his plan in the world.
As a nation on this 4th of July weekend, we too have strayed from our God, and we need to affirm him so that we ourselves will be reaffirmed in him. We have a job to do in this world.
ILLUS.: Quotes and FRC
So as we look at Peter's letters, 1 & 2 Peter, and the message he wants to convey to the church at large, several word frequencies are notable – repetitions of significance.
There are three significant Greek words that appear often in 1 Peter.
They are anastrofh (way of life, conduct, behavior [6-13]),
pascw (suffer [11-40]),
and upotassw (subject, subordinate [6-39]).
And there are two additional occurrences of anastrofh in 2 Peter.
In addition, the word group for knowledge appears a total of 18 times in 1 & 2 Peter consisting of the Greek nouns
gnowsi" (specifically of Christian knowledge [4-29]),
epignwsi" (knowledge, recognition, specifically knowledge of God and Christ [4-20 in 2 Pet. only]),
and prognwsi" (foreknowledge; according to the predestination of God the Father [1-2 in 1 Pet. only]);
and the Greek verbs oida (know someone, know about someone; absolutely know, know how [5-318]),
epiginwskw (know, understand, recognize; learn to know [2-44 in 2 Pet. only]),
and proginwskw (know beforehand, in advance, have foreknowledge of something [2-5]).
Admittedly, foreknowledge is not exactly in the same category as general knowledge, but it is included as part of the overall concept.
Another concept that might be taken note of in 1 & 2 Peter is that of power as covered by two different Greek words.
The first is krato" (power, might of God's power; power, rule, sovereignty; in doxology [2-12 in 1 Pet. only]),
and dunami" (power, might, strength, force; divine power; the power of faith over against the word of a profession; power as a personal supernatural spirit or angel [5-119]).
Although most commentators seem to believe it is difficult, if not improbable, and perhaps even impossible, to define an overall theme in 1 & 2 Peter under which all else falls (and many different themes may be found), we can indeed coordinate these particular word frequency themes into an overall conceptual framework to learn what I believe is the context of these epistles.
It is my contention that Peter is writing both these epistles for the general purpose of affirming the people of God.
If it is true that the beginning of an epistle defines its purpose (as could be said of almost any well-written letter), then we can see the concepts of power, way of life, and knowledge in the first chapter with allusions to suffering and submission that come out even more clearly in the second chapter (not that there are not others as well), and they are continued throughout.
If we combine these several concepts into a statement, it could be this: that the people of God are called to live in the world in such a way of subjection to God that it brings various levels of suffering through which they are sustained by the knowledge of God and the power of God as they bring glory to God through the way in which they live and suffer because of what they know they have.
Indeed, the first two verses of 1 Peter define this epistle as a general epistle to the people of God scattered throughout Asia Minor, and it appears that Peter is writing them for the purpose of affirming their existence and purpose as the people of God in the world.
They exist in an opposing world in which their purpose needs to be reaffirmed (and perhaps even redefined) if they are to represent God within it and even to have effect within it.
The encouragement that this epistle provides will counteract the dilution of dispersion so that the dispersion itself will have the broad impact that God intends.
A people spread thin need to know they are not alone and that they are part of a greater concept.
To successfully combat persecution, oppression and opposition, the people of God must have a refined sense of who and what they are – a refined sense of purpose and place – to be affirmed about what their calling is as they face the difficulty of doing just that.
I see this as the reason that Peter writes. He is doing his called and inspired job as an apostle to keep right vision before the people and to inspire them to achieve it.
Indeed, at the end of his first epistle he states that his purpose has been to encourage them in the grace of God (1Pet. 5:12), and at the end of his second epistle he reminds them to grow in that grace and knowledge (2Pet. 3:18) as he nears the end of his earthly life (2Pet. 1:14).
It appears in 1 Peter that most of the opposition is coming from outside the church and in 2 Peter that most of the opposition is coming from inside the church.
As the kingdom advances into the world, so does the world attempt to invade the kingdom.
But either way, it is imperative for the people of God to know for certain where they stand and where they are to stand.
We see in 1 & 2 Peter who and what the people of God are and are not.
I have taken the approach here of "Affirming the People of God" because of the pastoral perspective that I see in Peter as he shepherds his sheep like Jesus told him to do.
Affirming the People of God
I. The People of God are Affirmed by How They Live
In both his epistles, Peter affirms the people of God in how they live, or must live, as those who are set apart from the world.
There is and must be something different about them that defines them within the world.
Their affirmation is both for themselves and for those in the world that observe them.
Indeed, if there is nothing different about them, then are they the people of God within the world?
Their difference will draw attention to them in a way that will bring them under scrutiny, and that scrutiny must glorify God, since they are his people.
1Peter 1:1 calls them chosen sojourners or God's elect as strangers in the world.
They are here but they don't belong here.
So while they are here, they have a purpose.
And that purpose is to be set apart by their obedience through the sanctifying work of the Spirit as we see in 1Peter 1:2.
Not only this, but their purpose is widespread since they are scattered throughout the "world" (1Pet. 1:1).
They were chosen for this purpose of obedience, and this obedience is to be unto Jesus Christ.
All this is possible because they are redeemed by his blood (1 Pet. 1:2) which leads them to the possession of grace and peace in abundance.
2 Peter 1:2 also affirms this possession of abundant grace and peace because of what Jesus has done for them (the people of God as those who have received faith [2Pet. 1:1]) and its intended result of bringing them to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3) by setting them apart from the evil and corruption of the world (2Pet. 1:4).
So we can see that Peter intends at the beginning of both his epistles to affirm the people of God as those who are to live differently from the world.
We can track this concept by following Peter's use of the words anastrofh (way of life, conduct, behavior) and upotassw (subject, subordinate).
They are to conduct themselves or behave in such a way that might further be defined as a way of subjection or submission in Christ.
A. Their New Way of Life in Christ Must be Different from the Old
Since Christians are the end of a long line of God's preparation through the prophets leading to the time and work of Christ (1Pet. 1:10-12), they themselves must also adhere to God's program in preparing for Christ's return (1:13).
A clear contrast is drawn between the way they used to live in ignorance that conformed to their evil desires and the way they are to live now as the people of God in holy obedience (1:14).
The reason for this is because God himself is holy, and so the people of God must be holy (1:15).
This is a holy relationship far different from the empty way of life they knew from their earthly family relationships (1:18) because the righteous sacrifice of Christ has redeemed them (1:19) for eternal life (1:23).
As such, they do not belong here (1:17) and must tread lightly the ways and relationships of the world from which they have been redeemed.
It wasn't the world that saved them (1:18) but God in Christ (1:21) and they can be certain of his word on it (1:25).
So they are challenged to be different from the world by loving one another in the particular way of Christ and not of the world (1:22).
Indeed, this love is to progress from mere sincerity to that of a deep love from the heart.
This love must be as deep and enduring as God's love is for them.
They are reminded and affirmed in this since this was preached to them before (1:25).
So God's people are to live self-controlled and actively obedient lives (1:13) in the present with the future perspective of eternity written all across them (1:23).
They are to be different from the world by not falling into malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander (2:1) – things that all too often oppose love among the people of God.
Since they know the Lord (2:3) they must keep growing in their salvation (2:2) by becoming more obedient (2:1).
So God's people must not only be different from how they were outside of Christ but also from how they were even in the past as Christians.
The people of God are affirmed in a holy progress of living, looking for the return of Jesus.
B. Their New Way of Life in Christ Must be Separate from the World (1Pet. 2:4-2:12)
Peter describes the people of God as a holy priesthood in a spiritual house built with living stones to offer spiritual sacrifices (2:4).
This is a far different scene from the people in the rest of the world who are described as unbelievers (2:7) and pagans [or Gentiles] (2:12) destined for disobedience (2:8) and presumably destruction since they have not obeyed Christ.
Instead, they have stumbled over him.
They missed him, rejected him, or were offended by him.
But the people of God become servants and worshippers of God by faith (2:7) and so God (2:9) chooses them to be those who declare him to the world by the difference he has made in them.
They have been called into the light, they now have purpose in the world as the people of God (2:10), and they have received mercy.
So they are challenged to wage the war of righteousness (2:11) among the pagans as long as they are in the world so that these pagans may ultimately be proven wrong for rejecting Christ (2:12).
The people of God must live in the world as saints of God, as strangers in separation from it, even as they seek to influence it by the steadfastness of their faith.
They, and God, will be proven right in the end when Jesus comes.
C. Their New Way of Life in Christ Must be Submissive to God
(1Pet. 2:13-3:22; 5:1-7)
One of the main features of the way that the people of God live in distinction from their old way and the way of the world is in the area of submission.
Attitudes are resistant to change and are one of the most telling features that identify and affirm whether the people of God indeed are genuine.
Submission begins with submitting to God (2:13).
A life without visible submission to earthly authority has never fully submitted to God since he is the one who instituted all earthly authority for our good (2:14).
Being a servant of God (being God's people) means respecting all people whether it is the Christian brotherhood, the government, or the Person of God himself (2:17).
Those in the world will find it hard to disrespect the people of God if the people of God respect others (2:15).
There is the sense in which the people of God are free to submit to other proper authority since they have first submitted to God (2:16) and they are first of all in his care.
Even slaves are called to submit (2:18) and even under harsh conditions because of their greater personal calling to serve God's purposes in the world (2:19-21).
And neither does Peter forget the marital relationship as an example in the world of mutual submission of which the world is bound to take notice.
Wives are to submit even to unbelieving husbands in order to win them to Christ (3:1-2) without words by their behavior.
Indeed, submission to God is a beautiful thing (3:3-6).
And husbands too must have a proper attitude toward their wives (3:7).
It is the broad sweep of the Christian's life, whatever his station in life, that will make a difference in the world.
But there is also another way of submission that Peter addresses since this is also vital to the witness of God's people in the world.
They must get along with each other in the church (3:8) if they expect to invite others to faith in Christ and ultimately into the church, much less keep the church together in the face of the world.
Giving blessings in the spirit of sympathy and compassion also receives blessings (3:9).
When people struggle to exalt themselves there is disharmony, but when people exalt the Lord (3:15) with a proper attitude they have maximum influence on those who oppose them inside the church or out.
The behavior of God's people should be good enough to ultimately shame any evil brought against them (3:16).
God will deal with evil in his own time and way (3:12).
The way the people of God are to deal with evil is not directly in kind (3:9) but by the influence of good (3:10-12).
If their behavior is right they can live in confidence above fear (3:13-14).
In a sense, this becomes their answer to the world (3:15) because they live above it (3:16) by being conscious of Christ (3:18).
The witness of Christ through Noah to a dying world is a picture of his witness through them to their dying world (3:19-20), but they can be confident of their own salvation (3:21) even as Noah was confident of his because all things are in subjection to Christ (3:22).
Continuing the theme of submission in the church to church leadership, Peter appeals to the generation gap by calling elders to submit to God in his call to them as shepherds of the flock (5:1-4).
This submission is to take the form of willingness, generosity, service and humility as examples to the flock.
Elders are to reject tendencies to laziness, greed and pride in order to please Christ (5:4).
Concerning the other end of the generation gap, Peter appeals to the young men to likewise be submissively humble toward the elders by trusting in God's maturing process (5:5-6) lest the devil get a foothold in the door of the church (5:8-9).
The church and its submission through all its members to Christ is his primary witness of his presence in the world.
D. Their New Way of Life in Christ Must be Focused on the Future
The people of God live in light of the future unfolding of God's program for the world.
They have been previously taught what this entails and are reminded of it (3:1-2).
They know that Christ will return no matter what anybody else says (3:3-4).
They are privy to a plan and its evidence that the world ignores to its peril (3:5-7) because the world does not understand (or want to understand) God (3:8-9).
But the ultimate plan of God is not just the end of the world as it is presently known (3:10), rather it is the salvation of people in it in light of its ultimate destruction (3:9).
So the people of God are affirmed by how they live now in light of then.
They must live lives of holiness and godliness (3:11) in order to advance God's plan of salvation (3:12) before the time of destruction.
They must bring others to the hope they have of a new heaven and earth where righteousness is not the exception but the rule (3:13).
This purpose for their lives is accomplished by being (3:14) and remaining (3:17) at peace with God as their peace witnesses to a world in a turmoil that will only get worse (3:10).
So the people of God are affirmed as God's people when they live lives that are different, separate, submissive and focused.
· Different from the old way
· Separate from the world
· Submissive to God
· Focused on the future
Take it home with you:
· Are you different than you used to be outside of Christ, or even last year or last month in Christ?
· How much difference is there between the way you live from others around you?
· Do you live to do the will of God?
· Is Christ your only hope?
Then you can be sure that you are a child of God. You are affirmed as one who is making the difference he intends.
We are affirmed also as a "nation under God" by how we live.