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The Writings of Peter - Part II

The Writings of Peter

Part 2

In the last message - the first in an eight-part series - we considered the first chapter of the first of Peter’s two New Testament writings.

Highlights of chapter 1 of I Peter included the following. Peter identified himself as an apostle or messenger of Jesus Christ. He identified his audience, which were Christians who had been exiled by persecution to various other places. Christians Peter described as chosen, which was one of the key words of chapter 1. What a good thing to be chosen by God to be sanctified - set apart - by the Holy Spirit, making it possible to be obedient to Jesus.

Peter challenged those Christians in a number of ways. They are challenges that apply to Christians today as well. Gird up your minds, meaning to think clearly about Christian living. Be sober, which is being serious about Christian living. Set your hope on grace. Be not conformed to worldly passions. Instead, be holy. Be different from worldly people, holiness shown by loving one another.

In this message, part two in the series of messages. Part two is much of chapter 2 of I Peter. Verses  1 through 17.

Chapter 2 of I Peter gives lists of teachings about how to accomplish some of what is challenged in chapter 1, specifically, the challenges to not be conformed to worldly passions, instead being holy.

The first list of teachings is in verse 1 of chapter 2. “Put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

Put  away. That can also be translated, strip off. As clothes are taken off, so are the bad things listed in verse 1 to be taken off, meaning an action is called for. It is not enough to just wish these things away. We have to actively remove them from our lives.

Remove what? 

Malice. Intentional evil. The desire to do evil. Evil referring to anything that hurts another person, then taking joy in doing evil. Joy in knowing someone is suffering.

Remember the ones to whom Peter wrote were exiles, having fled persecution against Christians. I imagine those who did the persecuting enjoyed knowing their victims suffered. It made them glad. 

That is to be put away. Taken off - stripped off - by those who are Christians. Put away malice. “All” malice. Christians were and are to not even think about doing evil, even to persecutors.

Guile. Deceit. Trickery for the purpose of getting one’s own way. A related word is flattery. Not the good kind of flattery when a positive comment is genuine, but the kind when a positive comment is not meant, the only purpose being to get on someone’s good side in hopes of influencing that someone or getting some benefit from them. “All” guile means Christians are never to have ulterior motives in their dealings with other people.

Insincerity. Hypocrisy. Saying one thing, but doing or meaning something else, such as giving praise when it is not meant or making promises when there is no intent to fulfill them or pretending friendship just for whatever advantages the insincere one wants.

Envy. Envy is wanting something someone else has, such as possessions or a certain kind of reputation or position. 

Unfortunately, even the disciples of Jesus had bouts of envy. 

One time James and John asked Jesus about having the choice seats beside Jesus in Heaven. The report is that the rest of the disciples were angry that James and John thought they, rather than the rest of the disciples, should receive special honor. 

Another time, even at the Last Supper, right before Jesus’ arrest and trials and crucifixion, the disciples spent part of the evening arguing about which of them should be considered the greatest disciple.

Envy is so easy to have, but, Peter taught, it is to be put away.

All slander. All evil speaking. All backbiting, which is often done in the absence of the one being slandered.  All gossiping that hurts someone’s reputation or feeling of worth. 

Anyone remember the TV show Hee Haw? A segment of the show comes to mind. In the segment - a recurring sketch - a group of women were together. Their main line in the segment was - remember it - “We will not repeat gossip…so listen closely the first time.”

According to Peter, gossip - all slander and all backbiting - should never be said in the first place.

Put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander. That is how to build holiness, which Peter challenged in chapter 1.

To be able to put away everything on the list in verse 1, according to verse 2, “Long for the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God.”

The Word of God is pure. The Word of God, not necessarily anyone’s interpretation of it, which makes it imperative we each read and study and pray about the Word of God, desiring that God will help us know His Word. The Word of God is to be longed for. Yearned for. Desired. All of which refers to actively wanting to read and study and pray about it. Just like “newborn babies cry out for milk,” so are we who are Christians to be so interested in being fed the Word of God that we will cry out for it.

That is so important because it is the Word of God that allows us - still verse 2 - to “grow up to salvation.”

Listen. Anyone and everyone who accepts Jesus as Savior is a Christian. That certainly applied to the ones to whom Peter originally wrote this letter. They had even faced persecution that had led them to being exiles. But each of them - and each of us who are Christians - this is how I intrepret verse 2 - each  Christian  is  expected  to  grow  in  his  or  her faith. Not to earn salvation, which is a free gift, but to grow an ever deeper, more loyal, more sincere relationship with the Lord.

Which - verse 3 - should be our desire because we who are Christians have “tasted the kindness of the Lord.” 

What a promising thought that is. As close as we can feel to the Lord now, as many of His blessings we have already experienced, as much grace and peace as we have already had from Him, all that has been just a taste. As great as it has been, there is much, much more available. Much, much more that will come to those who do grow in their salvation by using His power to put away the bad behaviors listed so they - we - can be holy, thereby displaying we are chosen by God.

In the next section of I Peter 2, there is a challenge for Christians to build their lives on Jesus., but for this message, let’s slip down to verses 11 through 17.

In verse 11 there is a reminder of the challenge to put away what is bad. The wording in verse 11 is to “abstain from the passions of the flesh.” Passions such as malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander. 

Peter used the word “beseech.” It was not just a suggestion that Christians abstain from the passions of the flesh. It was an urgent, fervent begging that they - and we - abstain. 

Why? Because the passions of the flesh “wage war” against our souls. Such passions can damage our relationship with God. We must never allow such damage to happen. The way to avoid it is to abstain from anything that will lead to such damage.

Also notice the words “aliens” and “exiles.” 

The word exiles has been described earlier in this series of messages. It refers to the people who first read this letter having had to flee from their homes to escape persecution against Christians. Peter’s point is that if they cared enough about their faith that they had become exiles, the next step was to abstain from the passions of the flesh.

Aliens was a reminder that for Christians, this earth is not our home. Obviously it is during physical life, but our true home is Heaven. That is our destination. The place we truly belong and want to be. As aliens, we are to be holy - different - including putting away and abstaining from the passions of the flesh.

Twice in chapter 2, Peter challenged Christians to be rid of bad behaviors and attitudes, but he knew it is not enough just to do away with what is bad. There must be some good and positive things to put in the place of the bad that is removed.

So verse 12. “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles.”

It seems the Christians to whom Peter wrote were persecuted, not only by Jews who did not like it that so many were following Jesus, but also by Gentiles in the areas to which they had moved. Much of that was based on misunderstandings about the Christian faith. Here are a few examples.

When celebrating Communion, Christians used Jesus’ words. With the bread, “This is My body.” For the wine, “This is My blood.” We know the bread and the wine represent Jesus’ body and blood, but at least some of the Gentiles, hearing those words, did not understand and accused Christians of cannibalism.

Christians had love feasts. What was promoted was good, wholesome, spiritual love for fellow Christians, but some Gentiles misunderstood and accused Christians of immorality.

When a Gentile came to believe in Jesus, at least sometimes that person was kicked out of his or her family. That led to accusations that Christians tampered with family relationships.

Those are just a few of the ways Gentiles misunderstood what Christians did, which had led and were leading to persecution of the Christians who were exiles. What Peter taught in verse 12 is that it will do no good to argue against such false accusations. The way to fight against them is to maintain good conduct. To show love, the Gentiles thereby seeing good deeds, which should lead the nay-sayers to turn from persecuting and glorify God. 

Jesus had said the same thing in Matthew 5. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven.”

Even today, we are not to fight back against enemies we face. We are instead to make sure our conduct is good. That is what will affect others to notice the God and Savior we know and serve, the hope being they will join us is knowing and serving Him.

In verses  13 and 14, that teaching is expanded upon to include how Christians react to those in governmental authority.

Remember a time of greater persecution was about to start. Peter knew that. So did the exiles know that. Yet Peter wrote, “Be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution.” 

Including the emperor. In the context of the passage, the Roman emperor, who was supreme. Not above Jesus, of course, but the supreme authority within government. Applying that to today, if nothing else, this means to respect the office of our national leader, whoever it is at any time, and the power it brings. And governors, who are lower but still important officials. Those who have two interesting responsibilities - “to punish those who do wrong and praise those who do right.”

The point is that as Christians - verse 15 - we are to do what is right because that will “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The point is that when our enemies see us maintaining good conduct, including to governmental authorities, they will notice and hopefully be drawn to the God we know and serve.

Verse 16. All of that is included in living “as free men.” As free people, exercising spiritual freedom, not to do what is evil, including what was earlier identified as the passions of the flesh, such as malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander. Not to do that, but to use our freedom to do what is good, maintaining good conduct in every relationship we have in the world.

All of which is summarized in verse 17. 

“Honor the emperor.” That has just been discussed. And by the way, Peter did not write to honor the emperor if you agree with him. He did not include that qualifier. He wrote, to honor - at least respect the office of - the emperor.

“Honor all men.” Treat all other people well. Some of the commentaries on this verse stress the word “all.” As in, back then, not only free men but slaves as well. Even today, all economic levels. Including the poor. And, I would add, the rich. It seems that in our current society, those who are rich are often criticized and demeaned, as in how dare they have more money than others? Today we need the reminder that even the rich need to be honored. Not more than others, but honored.

“Love the brotherhood.” Love fellow Christians.

“Fear God.” Respect Him. Be in awe of Him. Worship Him. Submit to His will. Obey Him.

*       *       *       *       *

It is sometimes said that as a person gets older, the memory gets worse. A Christian writer shares that her memory is already terrible. She hates to imagine what it will be like in another 30 years.

Due to her lack of memory, the writer has created strategies to help her remember important things.

She keeps a diary close by. Her diary is a key to helping her remember important dates, meetings, and activities.

In addition, she tells others what she needs to remember, which has two effects. When she tells someone else her plans, it helps her thoughts to sink deeper into her brain, and if she forgets, there is someone to remind her.

And she makes lists. She does that at the start of each day. She does that before going to the store. When she is preparing for a phone call, she makes a list. 

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, provided lists. He did that in chapter 2 of his first New Testament letter. He provided the lists for Christian exiles. Lists the exiles could use to remind themselves of important aspects of how to live their Christian faith. Since the lists - lists of what to put away, what to abstain from, and what to do in relationships with God and others - were shared with all the exiles, they could remind one another of what Peter taught.

We can do the same. Let’s encourage each other to not only know, but accomplish the putting away of all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander - all evil, trickery, hypocrisy, desire for what others have that we do not, and all gossiping. Let’s encourage each other to not only know, but accomplish the abstaining from those and other passions of the flesh. Let’s encourage each other to not only know, but accomplish doing the good conduct Peter taught, such as honoring governmental leaders, fearing God, loving fellow Christians, and honoring all people. Doing all that, we can look forward to what Peter taught will be the result - non-Christians noticing that we are holy - that we are different - thereby attracting them to God.

That is what is taught in the second chapter of I Peter. May we learn and live by each of those teachings.

The closing song for today is one that will remind us how we can apply the lists in I Peter 2, which is by keeping our attention on Jesus, who we have been chosen to obey and represent. Let Me See Jesus Only. We will sing the first three verses.

Dead to every worldly pleasure,

Dead indeed to sin am I;

But alive in Christ my Savior,

Daily to Him I’m drawing nigh.

Let me see Jesus only, 

Jesus only, Jesus only;

Let me see Jesus only,

 Only He can satisfy.

Let me strive not for the riches

Of this earth that soon decay;

From the world I’ve turned to Jesus

And His more abundant way.

Let me see Jesus only, 

Jesus only, Jesus only;

Let me see Jesus only,

Only He can satisfy.

Sometimes malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander can seem so natural. So easy to engage in. Fighting against any or all those bad things might cause a storm of emotion, or our human natures can fight against us as we try to maintain good conduct among others. 

The only way to be successful in fighting what is bad is to rely on Jesus, which is the point of verse 3. 

Storms in fury beat against me,

Tempests oft my heart assail;

But my Pilot’s name is Jesus,

He will calm the wildest gale.

Let me see Jesus only, 

Jesus only, Jesus only;

Let me see Jesus only, 

Only He can satisfy.

Lord, thank You for the lists You inspired Peter to write in chapter 2 of his first New Testament letter. What a clear indication of how we are to live as Christians - what to put away and what to abstain from and what we are to do instead. 

What a privilege to know what You want from us. What an encouragement that You are willing to help us accomplish what is taught. Help us, O Lord, to know and obey You. Amen.

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