The Writings of Peter
Recently, the Sunday morning messages have been centered on the first New Testament letter of Peter. In that letter, Peter identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. He identified those to whom he wrote as exiles - Christians forced to flee from their homes by persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ. Peter called the exiles chosen. Chosen by God to be set apart by the Holy Spirit to obey Jesus Christ. He then taught that, as chosen people, there were certain ways they were to live. Ways we who are chosen by God even now are to live.
Several teachings about living are found in I Peter, all of them summarized with the statements that bad behaviors are to be put away and in their place we are to maintain good conduct in our relationships with other people and with God. That is to happen, even when going through troubled times. As we discussed in the last message, troubles will come our way. That is because of the devil who prowls around, hoping to find Christians vulnerable to attack.
We need to make sure we are not vulnerable. We need to resist the devil. Which we can do by resting under the mighty hand of God.
There is much to learn and much to apply from I Peter, and now we move to Peter’s second New Testament letter.
It is believed II Peter was written three years after I Peter. Remember this about what was said at the beginning of our consideration of I Peter. The point was made that the people who originally read the letter had experienced persecution. Remember the word exiles.
Three years later, things had not improved. As also mentioned at the start of I Peter, those people were being persecuted. Peter had warned them persecution would continue. Three years later, the people - the Christians to whom Peter wrote - were indeed facing difficult times.
Plus, now it was not just non-Christians who were the problem. There were those in the Christian congregations who were causing trouble, including teachers who twisted the teachings of Jesus to fit what they wanted to do and including rewording many of the things Peter wrote in I Peter about proper Christian living.
An example is those who lived in sin and did not care, daring others in the congregations to try to stop them, claiming that since God loves to forgive, we ought to sin as much as we can so He can do more of what He wants. That is of course wrong. We know it is wrong. But it is what some in those congregations tried to get established.
Others took advantage of the fact Jesus had not returned. Remember the verse in I Peter where he wrote that the end of all things was at hand. It was now three years later. Some said that if Jesus had not come back yet, He was not going to come back, so sinning will not be punished. We also know that is wrong. But it, too, is what some tried to get established.
Christians - true Christians - in the churches to which Peter wrote were experiencing a dark time. There was persecution from outside the congregations and trouble within the congregations. It was that background to which Peter wrote, beginning in the first part of verse 1 of chapter 1, where he identified himself as “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.”
I notice that in both I and II Peter, he always identifies Jesus with not only that name, but also as Christ. It is as if he wanted to make sure there was no question about whom He was writing. There were likely others named Jesus, but there was only one Jesus who was also called Christ.
Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.
He used the word “apostle” at the start of I Peter. As mentioned early in this series of messages, that means he was a representative of Jesus. A representative who spoke, not his own message, but the message of Jesus.
Here he adds the word “servant,” which can also be translated “slave.”
That means he was owned by Jesus Christ, which Peter was happy about because it was Jesus who had saved him from his sins.
And he was to be used by the Lord any way the Lord wanted to use him. Peter was willing to be used in whatever ways the Lord saw fit.
And his one job was to be obedient to Jesus, which he was willing to do, confident Jesus knows best what is right and what should be done in every situation of life.
And he was to be constantly ready to serve the Lord. That was fine with Peter. He had been ready to serve all the time he was with Jesus as a disciple. Now, many years later, he was still willing to serve.
By the way, others in the Bible were known as or called themselves servants or slaves of God or Jesus.
One in the Old Testament was Moses, who led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and who later delivered God’s law to those people. Another was Joshua, who led the people of God into the Promised Land. Plus David, the great king of God’s people.
In the New Testament, Paul, James, and Jude also described themselves as slaves of God or Jesus.
Being a slave of Jesus is a positive thing because it was and is not the subjection that is stressed, but rather the joy of being that closely partnered with Jesus.
Peter was proud of being both a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. As both those things, he wrote II Peter. He wrote to those who “have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.”
Wow. What a statement that is. Peter and those like him had been with Jesus Himself for the three years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Peter had eaten with Jesus and walked with Jesus and learned one-on-one from Jesus. Later he had been the leader of the early Christian church. Until Paul was led to the Lord, Peter had been the #1 apostle of Jesus.
Peter was well-connected. He had so much experience at what he did. He was so respected so many places. But, he wrote, he was not higher than those to whom he wrote. They - those who were staying true to the word of the Lord, despite the persecution and despite what the false teachers said - were of equal standing with him. Their faith was just as good as his faith. Faith based on the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
What an encouraging statement that was, along with Peter’s wish for two things for those Christians - “grace and mercy.”
Mercy is defined as not receiving what is deserved. In this case, condemnation for sin, which we certainly deserve, but that will not come our way when Jesus is accepted as the Savior.
Grace is defined as receiving what is not deserved. In this case, the blessings of God now and in Heaven later. Things that will be received by all who accept Jesus.
In fact, Peter wanted mercy and grace to be “multiplied” to the Christians to whom he wrote. A multiplication that would come as they grew in their knowledge of God and Jesus.
In verses 3 and 4 of II Peter 1, there is a beautiful picture of Jesus.
He has power - “divine power” - meaning it cannot be defeated or even frustrated. We can become frustrated in difficult times, but not Jesus. His power always has been, is, and always will be strong. Power that will help those of us who desire to stay true to Him.
He is the giver of “precious and great promises.” His promises include help now and Heaven later. Those promises will be fulfilled for all who desire to stay true to Him.
He wants to share His “divine nature” with us. That is how generous He is. He knows we cannot avoid the corruption of the world on our own, so He offers to share His nature with us. With Him with us and in us, we can survive whatever the world throws at us.
All this so we will glorify Him. All this so His excellence will be seen through us.
With the help of Jesus, we are - verses 5 through 7 - to grow in our faith in some specific ways. We are to make “every effort” to grow.
We are, first, to “supplement our faith.” It is assumed we have faith. If not, you need to take care of that now. Accept Jesus. Have faith that He is giver of blessings now and the only one who opens the way to Heaven. Have faith.
But grow by supplementing your faith with “virtue.” Some translate it “courage.” In either case, it means to be excellent. Excellence based on the teachings of God and Jesus. Excellence seen in treating others and God rightly, as in being brave enough to treat others and God how they are supposed to be treated, according to the teachings of the Bible.
Have faith. That is the first and most basic step. But do not stop there. Allow God to grow your faith into virtue. And do not stop there. Supplement your virtue with “knowledge,” which refers to practical knowledge, as in having the ability to take what is taught in the Bible and apply it to whatever you are facing in any situation of life. How to do business. How to be a student. How to be a friend. How to treat strangers. What to do for entertainment. How to spend money.
Knowledge - applying the Bible to life - is very important. We all need to have knowledge so our virtue will be seen, which will be proof of our faith. But even knowledge is to be supplemented. Supplement knowledge with “self-control.”
Again, wow. There are so many influences in the world that tempt us to not have self-control. A few that come readily to my mind are pornography, and music and movies that portray immorality as normal, and the news media that seems more interested in spreading hatred or discontent than just reporting the news. In addition, our human nature can remind us that doing what is right is not always the easiest way to live.
It can be difficult to have self-control, but we need to make every effort to have it, which can and will be successful when we allow Jesus to be in us so He can help us.
Supplement self-control with “steadfastness.” With this step, we can be reminded what the original audience of Peter faced, that being persecution. Persecution from outsiders and from false teachers within the congregations.
How easy it would have been for the true Christians in those congregations to turn away from their faith in Jesus. How easy for them to just go along to get along. But Peter encouraged them - and us - to not give up the spiritual fight. They had faith. As they gained virtue, knowledge, and self-control, those things would let them know what to do to be righteous. We know as well. Those things are to be used to accomplish being steadfast in doing what was and is known to do.
Easy? No. But again, the teaching is to make every effort to have all these things, including steadfastness.
Even then, there is more. Supplement steadfastness with “godliness.” With doing everything in ways that are pleasing to God.
Here is one way it is explained. Take no step away from the will of God, do not inflict even a trifling injury to another person, and be so sensible and wise that what is the easy way will never take over what is right.
Supplement godliness with “brotherly affection.” I usually chuckle when I read brotherly affection, not only here, but other places in the Bible, because brothers - and sisters - often do not get along very well. But Peter refers to the ideal of having enough patience with and interest in others to help them when they need it, which is one part of being godly.
Then supplement brotherly affection with “love.” Love, not just for fellow Christians, but for all. Love defined as wanting only the best for others. Especially the best of them, too, accepting Jesus as Savior.
Love for all can come when we have brotherly affection, which we can have when we are godly, which we can be when we are steadfast in our faith, which we can be when we have self-control, which is to be based on our knowledge of the teachings of God and Jesus. Knowledge we will want to have when we have virtue. Virtue that can be had by all who have faith in Jesus Christ the Lord.
Listen to verse 8. “For if these things are yours [if we grow in our Christian experience to have all these things] and abound, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Knowledge that leads to serving Him in ways He wants us to serve.
Do we not all want to be effective? Do we not all want to see results from what we do for the Lord? Of course. So again, make every effort to grow in the ways Peter describes.
But verse 9. “Whoever lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten that he or she has been cleansed from old sins.” We certainly do not want to be spiritually blind or shortsighted. We certainly do not want to forget our faith.
So - verse 10 - we are to be “the more zealous [increasingly zealous] to confirm [to prove] our call and election [our faith]. As we do that, we will not fall, even in times of persecution, even if false teachers come our way.
And verse 11. Listen to another promise. A promised reward. Be zealous to have faith and grow from there, and “there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” A kingdom right here on earth as we live this life. A kingdom that will continue for all eternity in Heaven. What a wonderful reward for obeying God and Jesus.
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Much of what is in both I and II Peter are instructions about how to live as Christians chosen by God. As has been stated a time or two and will continue to be mentioned as the series on I and II Peter continues, the instructions are not always easy to follow. Part of the difficulty is that so many other people, as in non-Christians, want to go different directions.
However, we are to stay true to the Lord, despite what the world does. With that, here is a devotional story.
In 1993, there were 128 runners in the cross country race at the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships.
As the runners set out on the 6.2 mile run, they followed a course that had been marked for them by the race officials. However, about halfway through the race, one of the runners in the middle of the group - Mike Delcavo of Western State College in Colorado - realized something was wrong. He saw that the pack ahead of him had missed a turn.
Mike started waving, and he pointed and yelled, “This is the right way.” However, only four other runners followed him. Only they stayed on the correct path.
You would think that would have turned out very well for Mike, which would have provided a good ending for the devotional. However, according to the rest of the story, after leading the race for a while, when it looked like he was going to win the race, things changed. It seems the wrong way turned out to be an unexpected short cut. Those who had turned the wrong way eventually met Mike and the four with him.
Because of the shorter distance run, the others were fresher and quickly regained the lead and finished the race ahead of Mike.
The fact they took the wrong way should have disqualified the majority of runners, but the race officials decided that since so many turned the wrong way, the route they took should be the accepted one, which caused Mike to officially finish 123rd out of the 128 runners.
What happened with Mike Delcavo was of course wrong, but I think there is still a positive ending to the devotional. You see, I imagine Mike felt good about making the decision to go the right way.
That is the decision we need to make spiritually, especially as we realize God is not like those cross country officials. God’s route - God’s way - is for sure. It never has and never will change, and it is our responsibility, with His help, to follow it, no matter what anyone or everyone else does.
The route? Say it. Faith. Then virtue and knowledge. Then self-control, steadfastness, and godliness. Then brotherly affection and love.
May we follow His way, knowing it will lead to the rewards of blessings now and blessings in Heaven.
Following an earlier message in this series on the writings of Peter, someone commented about a list of teachings on how to live. He rightly said the list perfectly describes Jesus.
That comment applies to today’s passage as well. Jesus Himself had faith and virtue and knowledge and self-control and steadfastness and godliness and brotherly affection and love. He had those things even when He was mistreated. In essence, then, what Peter taught is that we who are Christians are to be like Christ.
That is the point of today’s closing song. More Like Christ. Let’s sing verse 1 and the chorus, then verses 2, 3, and 4, and the chorus.
More like Christ, my heart is praying,
More like Christ from day to day,
All His graces rich displaying,
While I tread my pilgrim way.
More like Christ ev’ry day,
More like Christ, my heart doth say;
More like Christ, more like Christ
Ev’ry day passing day.
More like Christ in deeds of kindness,
And in all the words I say,
Yearning for the souls in blindness,
Who are going far astray.
More like Christ in burden-bearing,
Helping all the sad and weak,
Tears and sorrows gladly sharing,
Others’ pleasure would I seek.
More like Christ in self-denial,
Seeking not a life of ease,
Patient in the depths of trial,
That my Savior I may please.
More like Christ ev’ry day,
More like Christ, my heart doth say;
More like Christ, more like Christ
Ev’ry day passing day.
Lord, thank You for being our example. Help us to be more like You day by day for as long as You give us in this life. Help us to continue to build on our faith. Help us on good days and difficult days alike as we look forward to what is ahead in the way of continued blessings and Heaven. Thank You, Lord. Amen.