We talked last week of being ambassadors of living hope. Paul calls us in 2 Cor. 5:20 that we are ambassadors of Christ. A human ambassador is known for mostly three things: He 1) represents his own government, 2) makes his temporary residence in a country other than his own, and 3) speaks only what the authorities from his home country tell him to speak. In other words, he is a representative, a sojourner and a mouthpiece. Those are the objectives of his calling.
Peter talked about the ambassador of living hope’s identity last week. An ambassador cannot be an ambassador if he/she does not realize that he is an ambassador in the first place. We learned last week that being an ambassador for Christ is more than just a job. It is being part of a new people group, ruling as priests to the King of Kings, motivated from the gratitude of being chosen, forgiven and wanted by the King as His own. He wraps His identity all over you so that as His ambassador, you would make His identity known.
We must wake up every day thinking those thoughts because what we do flows out of who we perceive ourselves to be. Now Peter moves on to the ambassador’s job objectives. What are the things that this calling as an ambassador of living hope requires? Here’s the first thought for today. Ambassadors of living hope:
I. Must adopt the proper mindset (1 Pet. 2:11a)
Before Peter gets into the actual “to do” part, he again focuses on the motivation for obedience. He wants us to get the proper mindset first. There are three.
a) We are objects of divine love
First he calls them “beloved.” NIV says, “Dear Friends.” This lessens the impact of that word. This word emphasizes and implies that they are objects of God’s immeasurable love. It means “dear or very much loved in context, by God their Father. It is a love called out of one’s heart by preciousness of the object loved.” You lose that when you just hear “dear friends.” We need to hear that word all the time in our heart, but especially these who are struggling under suffering. So Peter uses “beloved” eight times in two epistles (1 Peter 2:11; 4:12; 2 Peter 1:7; 3:1, 8, 14–15, 17).
He wants them to be motivated to obey the Lord out of gratitude to what He had done for them (in giving them a new identity) according to 1 Pet. 2:9-10. By calling them beloved, Peter is also showing his tender pastor side. He could have very well ordered a decree as an apostle of Jesus Christ. But you can tell that his heart is for them as a pastor and spiritual father instead of a policeman issuing a ticket.
Mind set check question one: When you see God’s commands for you in Scripture, do you do them out of a sense of duty or devotion? What motivates your obedience? If duty fills your mind, how can you cultivate more of an obedience driven by devotion?
He then puts his hands together and says, “I urge you.” He is begging them, encouraging them, pleading with them. He does not want them to take lightly what he is about to say. Literally the word, “urge,” means “to call to one's side and so refers to the act of calling someone to one’s side in order to give aid or help.” So Peter calls to them to come alongside him and pleads with them as brother to brother.
b) We are citizens of Heaven
Then he says you are not only loved ones of God, you are “sojourners” and “exiles.” These two terms are pretty synonymous, but there might be a slight nuance emphasis here. This is not the first time he has used the word “exiles” (see 1 Pet. 1:1). What does he mean by this? KJV says, “pilgrims.” Other translations use the word “strangers.” He means that you do not belong to the society you are in. Stop trying so hard to please them and trying to fit in! Phil. 3:20 says our citizenship is in heaven. We cannot have dual citizenship in God’s economy. If you are a citizen of heaven, you are a stranger here. Professor Howard Hendricks once said, “We are not in the land of the living heading toward the land of the dead. We are in the land of the dead heading toward the land of the living.”
An ambassador of living hope must never forget that he is a representative of another kingdom, but on foreign soil. This knowledge that you do not belong is not intended to cause you to withdraw, and hide in a Christian bubble, which is what most of us tends to do once we become saved. Actually it is quite the opposite, which we will look at in a second. But this leads to mindset check question two: When was the last time you thought of yourself as a pilgrim passing through this world? Do you try harder to fit in your temporary residence or your final destination?
c) We are representatives of Christ
Ambassadors of living hope are not called to hide out in the embassy. Perhaps this is why he uses an additional word “sojourner” here. This word literally means “‘alongside the house.’ The word came to denote any person who lives in a country not his own and is therefore a foreigner. The term fits Christians who do not belong to this world’s system but live alongside those who do.” So it is not a running away from society, but coming alongside it, not adopting its worldviews and mindsets, but having a worldview and mindset transformed by their destination and not their temporary lodging, which is their world. In fact, you may even be living in a home where you are alongside people who are not headed to your destination. Living alongside them does not mean living like them.
Mindset check question three: As ambassadors of living hope, do we come alongside those who have not yet heard of the as the writer of Hebrews says, “of the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14)? Or are we hiding in our embassy?
Having the proper mindset is so important. A traveler passing through a country has a different mindset than a permanent citizen. A traveler is not attached to the things of that country. It would be weird if you are on vacation and in your hotel you started hanging up pictures on the wall and buying furniture. Yet this is what we do when we love the world and the things of the world (1 John 2:15). This is what we do when our testimony on the outside does not match up with our integrity on the inside. This is what we do when we live for instant gratification and give in to the fleeting pleasures of sin. This is what we do when we refuse to forgive. Once I visited India with my parents and we wanted to go to the store, but did not want people to know we were from the US so they will not inflate the prices. So we dressed Indian and my parents told me not to open my mouth to anyone, in case they could sense my accent. But our uncle who came with us told us afterward that they could tell we were from America just from the way we walked. I pray the world can look at us and see that we walk differently from them. I pray people who are outside of the walls of the church want to come inside because of how they have seen us walk the walk. I pray my walk and my talk are consistent with where I am from and where I am headed.
The first step is to adopt the mindset that we are beloved sojourners and exiles here. An ambassador of living hope adopts the proper mindset. Secondly, an ambassador of living hope:
II. Must fight the private war against his soul (1 Pet. 2:11b)
An ambassador of living hope brings the peace of God and the message of how to make peace with God, but he/she is also a warrior. He mentions the private life before he goes into the public life in 1 Pet. 2:12. This is because if we are to live a godly life on the outside among people, we must first live a godly life on the inside. How often we have seen many godly people fall on the outside because they did not fight the war on the inside. How do we fight the war on the inside?
a) Giving “no space” to the flesh
Here Peter says ambassadors abstain from the passions of the flesh. “abstain” is the idea of “putting some distance between, marker of dissociation, implying a rupture from a former association…to be away or be at a distance.” Keep your distance from what? “the passions of the flesh.” This means the desires of your fallen nature. When you got saved, the Spirit moved into your heart, but right along with the Spirit was our fallen nature, the flesh. The flesh is the impulse within you that rebels against God.
Peter may have been thinking about his own experience. The final week of traveling with Jesus was a tough one. And when life gets tough, you are very vulnerable. Jon Courson notes, “Watch and pray,” Jesus told him specifically, “lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Peter listened to his flesh, saying, “This Passion Week has been pretty intense. You need a break. Kick back. Relax.” So he did. A few hours later, standing by the fire not of persecution, but of temptation, Peter ended up denying Jesus three times. Shaken in his soul, he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). Peter knows what he’s talking about when he says to the early believers, to you, and to me, “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims. Abstain from the lust of this world.” Notice Peter doesn’t say, “Refrain temporarily,” or, “Know when to say when,” or, “Be sure you have a designated driver.” No, he simply says, “Abstain completely.”
It is important to note here that desire is not evil. It is where we channel them that is important. When we seek to meet legitimate desires illegitimately, we suffer. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Some people try to become ‘spiritual’ by denying these normal desires, or by seeking to suppress them; but this only makes them less than human. These fundamental desires of life are the steam in the boiler that makes the machinery go. Turn off the steam and you have no power. Let the steam go its own way and you have destruction. The secret is in constant control. These desires must be our servants and not our masters; and this we can do through Jesus Christ.”
Because the Spirit is in you, you now have the capacity and ability to abstain from the passions of the flesh. We tend to think of “passions of the flesh” as purely sexual and sensual, but the term is a general term which refers to all cravings of the flesh. It refers “generally to all kinds of self-seeking, whether directed toward wealth, power, or pleasure.” The flesh lives to please self. It is self-motivated. Earlier he mentioned this is how we lived our lives prior to salvation (1 Pet. 1:14). People like lists to see if their stuff is on it so let’s turn to Gal. 5:19-21. These are the strong cravings inside you (if your stuff is not on here, notice Paul says, “and things like these”) to rebel against God, to make you forget you are an ambassador and to make you lose your identity in Christ.
Paul in Rom. 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In other words, do not put yourself in an environment or place where you will feed your flesh. James 1:13-15 says that sinful desire that leads to sinful acts happens because that desire is fed and grown in your mind. “Abstain” in 1 Pet. 2:11 is in the present tense, meaning continuously keeping your distance from and giving no space to the flesh. Proverbs says if you play with fire, you are going to be burned (Prov. 6:27).
How does this feeding happen? John Bunyan, who wrote the excellent allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress also wrote another allegory called The Holy War. In this story, he pictures a city and he calls the city “Man's Soul” because it represents the soul of man. And he pictures the city as surrounded by high walls. And the enemy wants to assault the soul of man but he has no way over the walls or through the walls. The only way the enemy can get to the soul is through the gates. And, of course, Bunyan has, I think, four or five gates: The eye gate, the ear gate, etc. It is a great picture that the passions of the flesh are fed through our senses. You have to keep the gate closed! Remember the Holy Spirit are your legs and just like a toddler learns to put his weight entirely on them to learn how to walk physically is what God desires of you spiritually when He says, “Walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Tim Keller says, “Walking with God is a moment by moment awareness of God’s awareness of you.” This God-sense is what helps you fight. If you feed the flesh, you will starve the Spirit. But if you feed the Spirit, you will crucify the flesh! They are two animals fighting within you and whichever one you feed will win.
How much space do we give the flesh? Flesh says take care of yourself and your needs. So in an argument, flesh says, “Protect yourself by hurting someone else.” In sexual temptation, flesh says, “Meet your needs your way. God will not provide for you, provide it for yourself.” Flesh is always self-seeking. The Spirit is always Christ-exalting. That’s a good way to know if the flesh is speaking or if the Spirit is speaking. When I finish a sermon if I am entertained by how great I am, I know that’s the flesh speaking. If I am awed by God’s power and presence, I know the Spirit was working. Run from places and situations you know will give space to the flesh. Close the door on situations where you know you cannot win.
Secondly, fighting the war against our soul means:
b) Warring by the Spirit
Peter goes on to say why it is so important not to give space to the flesh: “which wage war against your soul.” In other words, this is not a silly pillow fight. This is war. The phrase “wage war” is a “strong term that generally means to carry out a long-term military campaign. It implies not just antagonism but a relentless, malicious aggression.” Interestingly the word, “which” literally means, in the Greek…’which by its very nature.’ Fleshly lusts and their cravings by their very nature wage war against the soul.” What are you going to do this morning flesh? Wage war against you. What about in the afternoon? Wage war against you. What about in the evening? Wage war against you. What about before church? Wage war against you! After church? Wage war against you! And where does this war take place? In the soul, which is you as a whole person, so it is a kind of a civil war.
And again, John Macarthur adds, this war “isn't the idea of a skirmish or a battle or a one- time shot, it is a long-term campaign. And the idea here is a very interesting personification. Fleshly lusts are personified, that is they're made into persons in the imagery here, as if they were an army of rebels, as if they were an army of guerrillas who intend to capture and enslave and destroy the human soul. And the term implies not just antagonism, but a continual aggression that is malicious and ongoing and doesn't stop. It's an incessant search and destroy mission fleshly lusts wages against you.”
Remember Paul said in Romans 7:23, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” See when you give the flesh space, you are allowing it to gain a malicious aggression against your soul. So the verse says, believers must “continually abstain” because the evil desires are “continually waging war.” The fallen desires are constantly battling your soul. They are conceiving its fantasies and drawing them into your mind and leading you into sin. This is spiritual warfare. Notice also that this is a war “against your soul.” It is not only that sin hurts God or others, it also tears you down, so that choosing to sin is equivalent to choosing to suffer.
Notice the sub-point is called “warring by the Spirit.” Often we think walking by the Spirit means passively doing nothing. “It’s all God man! Let go and let God!” People say things like this and they fall. These terms “abstain” and “wage war” all imply that it is not a passive thing to walk by the Spirit. So many Christians do nothing thinking God will take away their propensity toward sin. You must fight!
Beloved, there is war against you and we must put all we can to cooperate with God in helping us win the battle of the flesh. Yes it is the Spirit that brings the victory, but you have to make sure the Spirit is fed. It is a conscious, moment by moment choice to feed the Spirit. Speaking of war, I was reminded of Eph. 6:10-18, which talks about the armor of God. You are told you have the helmet of salvation to cover your head, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith (which covers most of your body) and the sword of the Spirit. However, one part of the body remains uncovered and vulnerable: your back. How do you cover your vulnerable area? You stand back to back with another soldier! Peter is writing in 1 Pet. 2:11 using plural, meaning to the body of Christ. Waging war by the Spirit is not meant to be done alone, but in community.
Interestingly, the Greek word translated “war” is “from which we get our word ‘strategy.’ The Enemy has a strategy to war against your soul—your personality, your emotions, your will, your volition.” He knows your vulnerable spots and we need to expose that to the body of Christ to get help in those areas. An ambassador of living hope adopts the proper mindset, fights the war against his soul and lastly, an ambassador of living hope:
III. Must maintain a public lifestyle that glorifies God (1 Pet. 2:12)
Notice the public life flows out of the private life. Inner purity leads to an outward integrity. “Conduct” here refers to your way of life or your daily lifestyle. “Keep” is in the present tense, keeping your lifestyle, the day-to-day you among Gentiles—the unsaved around you---“honorable.” Other translations use the word “Excellent” which translates a word (kalēn) rich and varied in significance, usually meaning “beautiful of outward form.” At least six other English words and expressions offer insight into its meaning: lovely, fine, winsome, gracious, fair to look at, and noble. The term connotes the loveliest kind of visible goodness.” He is talking about your invisible inner lives transforming you from the inside out into visible outward acts.
This transformed life will be so important in you in their witness, especially when they are suffering and persecuted for it. Robert Mounce says, “Good deeds, even though they may be misrepresented and defamed for the moment, are still the best answer to the opposition of a hostile world.” God wants us to take the offensive with the weapons of good deeds, “everyday expressions of the love of God in the give-and-take of actual living.”
Notice that Christians were called “evildoers.” In Peter’s day, Christians were accused of many things, like rebelling against the Roman government, practicing cannibalism (Communion), engaging in incest, treason, opposing slavery, and practicing atheism by not worshiping Caesar or the Roman gods. Though they slandered Christians, they were still watching them. Notice the word “see.” This means to observe, not a passing look, but a careful glance. It is a present tense verb, meaning, as they go on continually observing them over a period of time, they will come to saving knowledge of Christ. Peter’s progression of thought has four steps:
1. The pagans slander us as evildoers.
2. Our good deeds prove their slander a lie.
3. Our good lives convict them of their sin and slander (implied).
4. The pagans become converted (they “glorify God”).
Doesn’t this sound like Jesus in Matt. 5:16 when He said, “let your light shine before others so that they may see our good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”? This was exactly what happened to the early church. They did not debate their accusers, but lived exemplary lives. This is why the fifth book of the New Testament is not called the “Words of the Apostles” or the “Resolutions of the Apostles.” They did “acts”! Then there is this curious phrase “on the day of visitation.” What does it mean?
It could mean the day of judgment when unbelievers will be forced to glorify God or it could mean specific days for specific unbelievers when God specifically “visits” them in bringing them to saving knowledge. In the Old Testament, whenever God “visited” anyone, it was either for blessing or for judgment. In the New Testament, whenever this word is used, it is used in the context of redemption or salvation. Secondly, the word “glorify” is “used over sixty times in the New Testament, but never to refer to unbelievers being forced to glorify God. Therefore Peter most likely referred to the voluntary praise of believers.”So I would lean toward the second meaning, that unbelievers who were keen on slandering and hurting Christians, who watch the godly life of the Christian, will be brought into salvation by being convicted of their sin and glorify God when God visited them and saved them. In other words, God will use their problems for His praise if they do not retaliate or give up.
Unbelievers are watching Christians, whether we realize it or not. They study us from a distance and they pay attention to how we do things. People who don’t know Jesus are watching how you handle problems at work. They watch whether or not you laugh at dirty jokes. They watch how you dress. They watch how you spend your money. They watch how you raise your children. They watch how you respond when tragedy strikes. They watch how you deal with difficult people. And though they might seem like they don’t care about Jesus today, you never know when God will “visit them”! And if God visits them and they turn from their sin, may we be part of their memories of how great our Lord is and great our salvation was for us.
There are several points of application here today. Let’s go over some of them again. First the private life questions: What motivates your obedience? Duty or devotion? Where in your life have you given your flesh space to assault you and destroy you? What are our vulnerable areas (our back) that we need to expose to our fellow soldiers in the war for our soul? Lastly, the public life questions: As an ambassador of Jesus Christ, do you tend to hide more in your embassy and keep your mission private or are you a sojourner, who comes alongside people with the gospel? As a “visitor”, do you try harder to fit in your temporary life in this world or for your final destination? If an unbeliever were watching your good works today, which areas would you say you are not representing the Lord well? We are the Bibles people are reading. We are the sermons the people are listening to. There is nothing like the power of a righteous life in representing Christ well. It is hard to argue with a life well lived.
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 2:11-12 Commentary” http://www.preceptaustin.org/1_peter_211-12.htm#2:11 accessed 3 June 2010.
Taken from Cole, Stephen. “A Pilgrim Life” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/022798IndBib.pdf accessed 3 June 2010.
MacArthur, J. (137).
Hurt, Bruce. Ibid.
Courson, J. (1554).
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible Exposition Commentary (Jas 1:13). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
Michaels, J. R. (57).
MacArthur, J. (138).
Macarthur, J. “Godly Living,” http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/60-23 accessed 4 June 4, 2010.
Courson, J. (1554).
MacArthur, J. (139-140).
Mounce, Robert (31).
MacArthur, J. (140).
Barton, B. B. (64).
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Pritchard, Ray. “How your life can change those around you.” http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2004-11-28-How-Your-Life-Can-Change-Those-Around-You/ accessed 5 June 2010.