What’s an Exile to Do? Elders, Shepherd God’s Exiled Flock

Posted by R. Fowler White

For well over a year now, the congregations of Christ’s church in our nation and world have been dealing with fast-developing, stress-producing changes in public health, economics, politics, and culture. In more ways than we Christians may realize, this current season of testing has offered us a trial run for future times when our marginalization may worsen. If that’s the case, we elders ought to ask: how’s it gone for us and the sheep in our care? Constrained by recent providence, have we elders learned what’s required of us, particularly in seasons of harder trials? Do those in our care regard us as examples to emulate in times of difficult testing? It’s not too late to examine ourselves in light of the instruction Peter has for elders in 1 Pet 5:1-4.

As the Apostle has worked through his plan for “the perseverance of the exiled saints,” he reminded us in 4:12-19 that trials of suffering for righteousness are the process by which God removes sin and its impurities from His church and ultimately the world. Following the order of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Peter addresses the church’s elders first, commanding them to shepherd the flock of God in their care (cf. 5:1-4 with Ezek 9:6). As we read these words, let’s recall that the eldership is one of two special offices in God’s house (the other being deacons; cf. Phil 1:1). Pointedly, elders are not a board of directors among whom one is a paid chief executive officer accountable to the others. No, the context in 1 Peter shows us that the terms elder, overseer (bishop), and shepherd (pastor) are essentially interchangeable titles, referring to all those men who by their example and instruction distinguish themselves as those who live a life of faith and practice worthy for others to emulate and who are therefore set apart for the ministry of discipleship, whether they make their living in that ministry or not (1 Tim 3:1-7; 4:12, 16; 5:17-18; 2 Tim 2:2, 24-25; Titus 1:5-9; Eph 4:11; Heb 13:7, 17 with 1 Pet 5:1-3). Having been recognized by congregations for their qualifications, Peter presumes that the non-elder members will submit themselves to their elders’ care, holding them in high esteem because they keep watch over them, give them instruction, serve as judges on their behalf, and otherwise manage the flock’s affairs (1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 3:5; 5:17-18; 1 Cor 6:4, 5 with Exod 18:21-26; Num 11:16-17). Given their responsibilities, it’s easy to see why Peter addresses the elders first.

Interestingly, to start off his exhortation, the Apostle Peter (1:1) cites his own qualifications as a fellow elder (5:1). He acknowledges his official connection with the other elders in the Dispersion (1:1) and presumably elsewhere. He also reminds readers that he’s a witness of Christ’s sufferings. Though Peter did not see Jesus’ crucifixion, he did remain with Jesus during the trials of His ministry (Luke 22:28) and certainly did know about the crucifixion and proclaimed it to others (Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39). Faithful, then, as a witness of and to Christ’s sufferings, the Apostle is assured that eternal glory will be his reward (5:1, 10). With his own qualifications laid out, Peter has now let his fellow elders know that he’s not asking them to undertake a ministry that he himself hasn’t undertaken. The particular tasks he has in mind follow.

Knowing that sheep need shepherds to keep them from straying as they suffer unjustly, Peter exhorts us who are elders to give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among us (5:2a NET). As shepherds, we’re obligated to know, feed (teach), guide, and guard the sheep under us. To clarify what he means by shepherding, Peter adds exercising oversight (5:2a), that is, watching over or supervising the sheep whom God has assigned to our care. As overseers, we’re stewards and guardians of the flock (cf. 2:25b), particularly as we defend them against any teaching, belief, or behavior that threatens to scatter or devour them (5:2a). But what attitude and approach are we to take in our work? Peter tells us, first negatively, then positively (5:2b-3). “Shepherd God’s flock,” he says, “not reluctantly or against your will, not because you’re coerced into doing it; but voluntarily, in keeping with God’s revealed character and will. Watch over His sheep, not to get money (like Judas) or influence, but to give care with a holy zeal. Exercise oversight, not by treating the sheep as your subjects or slaves, certainly not by bullying or intimidating them or by being abusive or harsh to them (2 Cor 1:23-24 with 11:20), but by setting an example for them to follow.” In sum, just as Peter framed husbands’ authority within limits defined by obedience to God and by Christ’s example, so he does the same with us who are elders. The Apostle emphatically forbids us shepherds from adopting ways that marginalize or otherwise injure the flock of God in our care.

Lastly, as if his qualifications weren’t enough to motivate us, Peter urges us elders to comply with his directions by pointing us to the future reward for faithful shepherds (5:4). It’s true, of course, that Paul requires elders who do their work well to receive a reward matching their labor now (1 Tim 5:17). Peter, however, looks to the future: if we elders do our work as undershepherds accountable to Jesus the Chief Shepherd, we who have shepherded as God would have us do it (5:2) will receive the unfading crown of glory. The Greco-Roman world rewarded athletes, soldiers, and politicians with crowns of unfading flowers. Peter, however, like Paul, sees God Himself granting that special reward on the last day (e.g., 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8). His point is clear: when Christ returns, God will openly acknowledge and honor faithful elders, even though the world may reject and vilify them now (2:4-8; 4:12-19).

According to Peter, God’s process of purifying the church and the world of sin and its impurities has begun with fiery trials at His house, and first in line for purification are the elders. And so our assignment is set before us: would we who are elders show others the lessons of perseverance that we have learned during recent providence? Would we prove ourselves worthy to be emulated by others moving forward? Then, following Peter’s example, we must devote ourselves, as the Chief Shepherd’s undershepherds, to knowing, feeding, guiding, and guarding the sheep in our care. Only then will we show that we’ve made good use of the current season of hardship and are worthy of emulation by others, particularly exiled (i.e., marginalized) saints.

What’s an Exile to Do? Brace Yourself to Face Fiery Trials with Joy

Posted by R. Fowler White

The sobering truth from Peter is that suffering for what’s right as God defines it is an essential part, an indispensable part, of the normal Christian life. So intent is the Apostle on getting this message across to us that he mentions it in every chapter of his first letter (1:6-7; 2:19-20; 3:13-17; 4:12-16; 5:8-10). This is his message because he’s well aware that, according to many in this world, Christians should be shamed and pressured to conform or be canceled. Peter says, “Don’t give in. Brace yourself to face whatever trials come your way with joy.” Wait, what? Please elaborate, Peter. He does in 4:12-19.

First, he wants us to understand that for Christians, fiery trials are normal, not strange (4:12). He begins the final section of his letter by returning to that theme he’s mentioned over and over: don’t be shocked by fiery trials for Christ; anticipate them; expect them. At the same time, bear in mind that as even the Prophets of old (like Malachi; Mal 3:1-5) teach us, there’s a central principle in the life of saving faith: God uses suffering to test, refine, purify His people. Knowing that truth, Peter exhorts us to face our fiery trials with joy: they’re normal, not strange for Christians.

Second, be sure to appreciate that fiery trials are a privilege now and a promise of joy to come (4:13). Perhaps Peter is remembering the day that Luke recounts in Acts 5:27-42. On that day Peter and the rest of the Twelve were brought before the Sanhedrin and accused by Israel’s high priest of disobeying that Court’s strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name. Though the Apostles’ response provoked the Sanhedrin to have them flogged and to repeat their orders not to speak in Jesus’ name, they left court that day, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus (5:41). We should realize what the Apostles realized: present suffering for Christ points to future glory with Him. Appreciate this then: fiery trials are a cause for joy right now and a promise of greater joy to come.

Third, realize that fiery trials for the right reasons say that we’re blessed (4:14-16). For example, have we been insulted for Christ? Remember this: verbal abuse for bearing Christ’s name shows that we’re the resting place of the Spirit of glory and of God (4:14)! Don’t make the mistake of thinking, however, that all suffering says that we’re blessed. Suffering for the wrong reasons—say, for being a murderer, thief, evildoer, or troublemaker—is no cause for thinking we’re blessed, much less for being joyful (4:15). Make sure, then, that you do the right thing and suffer only for that. No shame there at all. In fact, our God gets glory when we suffer for what’s right (4:16). As Jesus taught us, Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account (Matt 5:11). So, brace yourself to face trials with joy: when you suffer for what’s right, you’re blessed.

Fourth, recognize that present trials are the beginning of God’s judgment process to purify the world of sin and its effects (4:17-18). Recalling that the church is God’s house (2:4-8), Peter reminds us that it’s time for judgment to begin at the house of God. Drawing primarily on Malachi’s prophecy (2:17–3:5, 4:1; see also Jer 25:29, Ezek 9:5-6, Amos 3:2, Zech 13:9), the Apostle emphasizes that the fiery trials of those in God’s house signal, not His absence from their midst, but His presence among them to refine them, both collectively and individually. Admittedly, the fire that comes first to test and prove the righteous is hard. How much harder, however, will be the fire that comes later to punish the wicked forever? Rejoice in the truth, then, that we have suffering only now and only glory later. By contrast, the lost have glory only now and only suffering later.

Fifth and finally, Peter exhorts us to follow in Christ’s steps when He suffered (2:21): entrust your souls to your faithful Creator as you do His will (4:19). Boiling down his teaching, the Apostle uses a banking term—entrust—to describe what we’re to do as we suffer. Basically, he tells us to leave our souls on deposit with our trustworthy Creator for safekeeping. God has made it so that trials do to faith what fire does to gold (1:7). Since He sends fiery trials to burn away impurities in His house, we should commit ourselves to Him for safekeeping, knowing that He cannot and will not fail us. Refuse to take a kind of health-and-wealth approach to Christian living: “do good to avoid suffering.” Know that our God has His good purposes in our suffering for His will, and that He sets the limits of how intense our suffering is and how long it lasts. Take the Apostle’s approach: do good and, if suffering comes, trust God to refine you and confirm you through it. Trust Him because He is trustworthy. Have faith in Him because He is faithful, both to His promises and to His people.

In 1 Pet 4:12-19, the Apostle reminds us as God’s exiles: don’t be surprised, confused, or ashamed when fiery trials come our way as we do what’s right. Suffering, he tells us, is an essential part, an indispensable part, of the normal Christian life. We, therefore, brace ourselves and face the fiery trials that come on us. And we even do so with joy, because we know that suffering while doing God’s will is His refining fire, and He is so radically in control of all things—even of our suffering—that He has made it so that trials do to our faith what fire does to gold.

What’s an Exile to Do? Live Your Life Now with the End in View

Posted by R. Fowler White

Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “There are two days in my calendar. This day and that Day.” Several texts in Scripture express that sentiment, but few are quite as clear as 1 Pet 4:7-11. Here the Apostles tells us explicitly to live now in view of the end of all things. As we look closely at the details, Peter’s remarkable vision for us exiles emerges.

He told us earlier that Christ appeared in these last times for our sakes (1:20), and now he tells us that the end-goal toward which all historical events are headed is at hand (4:7). We live at the culminating point—a point of unparalleled privilege—in the history of revelation and redemption. Though we’re exiles in this world, we’re to live as those upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor 10:11). We live in the final phase of God’s redemptive process, in the days of Christ’s reign from heaven on earth. Because we benefit now from His past victories (3:18–4:4) and we’ll be vindicated in the future (4:5-6), our past conversion to Christ and our future vindication by Him reshape our present attitude and actions. In that light, Peter exhorts us: take seriously, right now, four duties that will ensure your endurance as the colony of exiles in these times of test and trial.

First, be self-controlled and sober-minded (4:7a). Since you’ve left behind the passions and debauchery of your Gentile days (1:13-17; 4:1-4), stay vigilant with sound judgment and moral restraint. The Apostle’s exhortation here is almost the same as the one he gave us in 1:13. His point is, “Gear up and stay alert. Live intentionally. Lock in on the end-goal that’s approaching. Don’t let the tests and trials of this life make you careless or make you lose sight of that goal! Be vigilant, especially for the sake of prayers” (4:7b; cf. Acts 2:42). Come together to offer prayers of all kinds: of praise, petition, confessing sin, and thanksgiving. In this we’ll show that prayer is a means of grace that increases and strengthens our faith for this time of exile (3:12).

Second and above all, Peter urges us to attend to “the communion of the saints”: keep loving one another earnestly (4:8a). Strikingly, the priority (above all) within God’s household of shared truth is the Second Great Commandment: earnest love for each other. After the love of our God, there is no higher good. If we ask why love gets such high priority, the reason Peter gives here is that it covers a multitude of sins (4:8b). Notice: it’s not that love ‘covers up’ the sins of others; it’s that love covers them. It keeps personal and private offenses personal and private. It exacts no revenge for those offenses by making them public, and it keeps no running tab of them. In short, love forgives those who confess their sins (Ps 32:1; 85:2; cf. Prov 10:12; Gal 6:1; Matt 18:21-22). Just as the Apostle said earlier (1:22), so he says again: keep loving your siblings in the faith—and this time he reminds us that love forgives.

Third, Peter continues to focus on “the communion of the saints” by exhorting us to show hospitality to one another without grumbling (4:9). If we ask how we’re to show love, one way is by offering, without reluctance or complaint, the comforts of home to our fellow exiles, especially those traveling for ministry (e.g., 3 John). The WCF [MESV] summarizes the point for us: it’s our duty “as professing saints to come to the aid of one another in material things according to [our] various abilities and needs” (26.2). Particularly in times when Christians are being pushed to the margins of society, it’s vital that our fellow exiles have a standing invitation to make themselves at home among us for meetings, lodging, meals, and the like.

Fourth and finally, the Apostle completes his portrait of “the communion of the saints” by directing each of us to use our gifts for the church’s good and for God’s glory (4:10-11). Filling out the picture of how we’re to love each other, he reminds us that no believer needs to despair of usefulness in Christ’s church. Why? Because through the Spirit (1:2, 12; 4:6, 14) Christ distributes gifts among His people. In fact, the Spirit and the gifts are Christ’s enablements to unite His church in love through the ministries of word (speaking) and deed (serving). Each believer, then, has a stewardship from Christ to love others in keeping with his or her gifting. Matching our abilities in word or deed to our congregation’s needs, we devote ourselves to our common good. Thus, in everything our God will be glorified through Jesus Christ, with one resounding doxology (4:11): to Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!

The more we reflect on Peter’s instructions in 4:7-11, the more we see the ethos that he expects from us as a holy haven for marginalized exiles. In a phrase, he sets before us “the communion of the saints.” It is a vision in which we’re “united to one another in love,” so that we “participate in each other’s gifts and graces” and see ourselves as “obligated to perform those public and private duties which lead to [our] mutual good, both inwardly and outwardly” (WCF 26.1). It is a vision in which we “maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God and in performing such other spiritual services as help [us] to edify one another” (WCF 26.2). What beauty the world sees, what doxology the world hears, when “the communion of the saints” is ours as the end gets ever closer.

What’s an Exile to Do? Arm Yourself as Christ Did

Posted by R. Fowler White

In 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter told us about Christ’s victory proclamation and specifically about the victories that are ours in His death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, Peter calls on us to share his confidence that, even while we suffer unjustly, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21). But how does that dying to sin and living for God come about? In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle lays out the details.

To keep us dying to sin and living for God, Peter starts with a general exhortation: since … Christ suffered [for righteousness] in the flesh, arm yourselves [for suffering] as He did (4:1-2). The Apostle picks up the thread he put aside in 3:14-16. While telling us earlier how to handle anti-Christian foes, he had admonished us to be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14, 17), to defend our hope in Christ (3:15), and, even when we’re defamed, to respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to our accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Resuming these themes in 4:1ff., Peter declares that since Christ is the supreme example of how God gives victory to all who suffer for righteousness, and we’re being conformed to Christ’s image, arm yourselves for suffering as He did. As you live righteously and suffer unjustly, adopt Christ’s way of thinking (4:1a). His attitude was summarized in the saying that whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin. Christ’s suffering for righteousness throughout His earthly life showed that He was done with sin, indeed without sin. So, as Jesus prepared Himself by arming Himself with the right mindset, Peter calls us to arm ourselves with that same mindset. Here then is the content of the Christian’s attitude (4:1b-2): those who suffer for righteousness show that they have made a life-defining break with sin. In our case (not Christ’s), we’ve been converted from our old life of indulging sinful human passions (4:2a). We’ve been converted to our new life of fulfilling God’s will (4:2b). Those united to Christ have new affections to live new lives, not to please self with its sinful appetites but to please God. The Christian confesses, “I’m done with sin. I’ve set my mind on the things of God, not on the things of self.” So, Peter says, arm yourselves with Christ’s attitude, that is, with a resolve to suffer for doing God’s will and not to keep sinning.

What incentives do we have, however, to arm ourselves as Christ did? In 4.3-6, the Apostle gives us three motivations. First, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re done with the past (4:3). As the New Israel, we’ve cut ties with our Gentile past. It’s all behind us. We’re done with lives of license. We’re done living to satisfy our body’s appetites, engaging in self-destructive and even violent activities, throwing off self-control and moral restraint—all this is just lawless idolatry (cf. Phil 3:19). We’re done indulging vices that have wormed their way into our family celebrations, office parties, and national holidays. The past was more than enough time for that immoral nonsense. We’re done with all that, and it gives us motivation to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Second, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re now treated like outsiders anyway (4:4). Our former fellow partiers are surprised by our choices. It puzzles them that we don’t just dive into the same flood of debauchery as we once did. We’ve dropped out of our former lifestyle. Now we’re different. Now we’re even offensive to them, and they malign us. They’re now actually outraged that we no longer live for the weekend, that we’re effectively dead to the world. Now we’re too different, so they treat us like the outsiders we’ve become. In that light, we need to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Peter cites a third incentive to arm ourselves: in the future we’ll all give an account to God (4:5-6). Our non-Christian pals are surprised and offended that we don’t join them in taking advantage of their “insider” status. They miss the point: those on the inside today won’t have the last word tomorrow. Not even death will have the last word either. The Divine Judge will, and His word will be the last word over the dead as well as the living (4:5). You see, some of the dead will believe the gospel and will be judged by “insiders” as having wasted their lives in this world. From God’s viewpoint, however, those dead will have lived their lives in this world in the Spirit, and they will live again in the world to come in the Spirit (4:6). And that, dear friends, is motivation to arm ourselves in this world just as Christ did.

In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle assigns determinative importance to our attitude as exiles, specifically our attitude toward suffering for righteousness. He challenges us: have we armed ourselves for suffering as Christ did? Peter knew that our attitude in life, in the church’s life, is on display in seasons and moments of testing and even crisis. Those times show what preparations we’ve made—or not made. It’s a lesson impressed on Peter on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Before that night, particularly before Peter warmed himself at that courtyard fire (Mark 14:54), he had not armed himself. And he fell apart. Christ restored him, however, and despite those shameful moments, Peter armed himself thereafter with Christ’s way of thinking. As exiles in this world, our life, in God’s providence, is made up of moments and seasons of testing and even crisis. To make sure that we keep dying to sin and living for God during our life as exiles, then, we must be sure to arm ourselves as Christ did.

What’s an Exile to Do? Husbands, Live a Holy Married Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter continues to exhort us Christian exiles from his “Survival Manual” as he works his way through God’s marriage ordinance in 1 Pet 3:1-7. Having addressed Christian wives (many with non-Christian husbands) in 3:1-6, Peter moves on to address briefly Christian husbands married to a Christian wife in 3:7. While still endorsing the household as “the center that shaped the world” with the husband’s place as one of authority and the wife’s place as one of submission, Peter takes on his culture’s expectation that a husband should both sympathize with and marginalize his wife. To husbands, then, the Apostle declares, “Live together with your wife, as I do my own (1 Cor 9:5), knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you (3:7a). Here’s what I mean.”

“First, know and honor her as the weaker vessel (3:7b). No, it’s not what the ancient philosophers were thinking: she’s not intellectually, psychologically, and morally inferior to you. We did just mention the history of Sarah and Abraham (3:6), right? Sarah makes my point. We know the history of creation too. We read there that, as vessels fashioned by the Divine Craftsman-Physician (Gen 2:7, 22), both husband and wife have creaturely weakness, but her vulnerability as the female differs from yours. She’s weaker in that she’s ordinarily physically and maybe socioeconomically more vulnerable than you. But even those vulnerabilities aren’t where she’s most at risk. No, most importantly, she’s spiritually more vulnerable than you, husband. Again, we do know the history of the fall (cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9; Gen 3:1-13) and the pre-flood world (cf. 1 Pet 3:20; cf. 2 Pet 2:5; 3:4-6; Gen 5:28–6:12), don’t we? Because we do, we need to remain alert to the continuing threat that the devil poses in this world. His tactic is still what it was in the beginning: to go after the wife first to get to the husband himself. So, gents, reckon with the fact that your wife—your ally and companion in marriage—is a high-value, priority target, not a mere collateral casualty, in the devil’s war plan. Mindful of that reality, be vigilant in your resistance to his tactic, shoring her up with spiritual resources and remembering that, whatever the devil’s strength or your wife’s weakness, God’s omnipotence is able to overrule them both (5:6-7). Live together with your wife, then, knowing and honoring her as more vulnerable than you.”

“Second,” the Apostle says to husbands, “know and honor your wife, not just as different from you, but as equal with you: she’s an heir with you of the grace of life (3:7c), as Sarah was with Abraham. Together, you’re destined to inherit the resurrection life to come (1:3). Esteem her highly, then, in the way you think about her, talk to her, and act toward her. Like you, she’s one of God’s children. She has all the promises, liberties, and privileges of those born of Him (1:23). Like you, she’s under God’s fatherly care and bears His name. She has the Spirit of Christ and is a co-heir with Christ in glory. So, know and honor your wife as equal with you: yes, she’s submitted herself to you, but she’s submitted herself to Christ first as you have, and you’re both destined for eternal glory in Him (5:10).”

“One last thing,” Peter says: “don’t forget that your conduct toward your wife affects your own communion with God (3:7d). Husbands, if you’ve ever sensed that God’s not listening to your prayers, examine your relationship with your wife. You live together with your wife before your Lord, and He inspects the way you live even your married life. His face has always been set against those who do evil, whether Christians or non-Christians (3:12c). The ears of your Lord are open to your prayers (3:7d, 12b) that you might break any abusive patterns of speaking evil and doing evil in which you’re involved (cf. 3:10-11). So, husbands, know and honor your wife for all that she is. And never forget that you’re accountable to God for your words and deeds toward her.”

As God’s exiles, the Apostle commands Christian husbands to live lives of moral excellence. One of a husband’s duties is to respect God’s marriage ordinance by stepping forward to take his place responsibly within it. The reason for this is that, for Peter, the household is the basic unit of an ordered Christian life, and that a husband’s place in the household is one of authority, while a wife’s place is one of submission. Yet, once more, in issuing this directive, the Apostle makes it clear that he’s not just parroting and endorsing the marriage and family values of the ancient world. As his handling of God’s ordinances of civil government and labor (2:13-20) makes clear, he has a larger agenda. It’s an agenda in which we Christians are to be conformed to the example of Christ (2:21-25), following His path of obedience from suffering to glory, as we take our places within God’s ordinances. With specific reference to marriage, then, Peter again engages critically with his culture’s expectations, and the result is a reformation of conventional conceptions of a husband’s authority. While he continues to affirm that the positions of husband and wife are not interchangeable, he frames the husband’s authority within limits defined first by his obedience to God and the example of Christ. Clearly, his commands give a husband no right to adopt authoritarian dispositions and behaviors that marginalize or otherwise abuse his wife. A husband has responsibilities to God and to his wife that he is not to abdicate; he has gifts and graces the benefits of which he is not to deny to her (or the church). Thus, a husband who’s a bully or a wimp before his wife will find no place in a rightly ordered Christian marriage. Rather, says Peter, “husbands, live together with your wife, knowing and honoring her as both different from you and equal with you. And don’t forget: doing the good that God requires of you in marriage will illustrate the holiness that He expects in every aspect of your life.”[i]

[i] The commentary by Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2007) was most helpful in developing this post.

What’s an Exile to Do? Wives, Live a Holy Married Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

The exhortations in Peter’s “Survival Manual for Christian Exiles” just keep coming. He began by exhorting us, as the New Israel, to live lives of moral excellence among our Gentile hosts (2:11-12). He then walked us from the public civic sphere into the private household sphere, and in each he’s emphasized the Christian’s fundamental duty: “Live your life,” he says, “as freed servants of God for His sake and His favor” (2:12, 13, 16, 19-20). Consistently, his message has been “respect God’s ordinances and take responsibly your places within them to commend to others the ultimate lordship of Christ and our accountability to Him.” Having shown how our duty to “honor everyone” (2:17) is worked out in the ordinances of civil government (2:13-17) and of labor (2:18-20), he now shows us how it’s worked out in the ordinance of marriage (3:1-7). Stressing the parallels (likewise, 2:18; 3:1; 3:7) with our duties within God’s other ordinances and with Christ’s example, Peter calls on spouses to take their proper places within marriage. For perspective on this relationship—and especially since the Apostle’s commands offend many today, we need to appreciate the husband-wife relationship in Peter’s first-century Greco-Roman world.

Looking at the Greco-Roman view of husband and wife, it’s remarkable to see the extent to which the ancient world did and did not share the Apostle’s outlook. For example, students of Roman antiquity have found evidence from the early empire of the husband’s compassion for his wife alongside his children and slaves. Evidence has also been found of expanding roles for women in the affairs of the ancient household and in the public sphere, expanding roles tied to the rising status of men. Social change notwithstanding, the household remained the basic unit that ordered life within the empire: with places for everyone and everyone in their places, it was “the center that shaped the world.” Within the household, the husband’s place was one of authority and the wife’s place was one of submission (subordination), and one of her duties was to adopt her husband’s religion. Given this background and Peter’s specific interests in household relationships (2:18–3:7) and in social conduct in general (1:13–2:17), we have to ask: did the Apostle simply adopt and promote the marriage and family values of the Greco-Roman world? Or did he engage critically with them? The contexts preceding 3:1-7 make it clear that Peter has been engaging critically with or even undermining the values of his age. So, what can we say about his handling of the marriage ordinance?

The Apostle turns first to Christian wives (3:1-6), and he commands them: be subject to your own husband—submit yourself to him, step forward and take your place responsibly under himeven if he’s not a Christian (3:1). Yes, God declares through Christ’s Apostles that it’s wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian, but what’s a wife’s duty when she becomes a Christian and her husband doesn’t? While affirming the wife’s position under her husband, her conversion to Christ was a wildcard that might complicate the marriage and the household. Pointedly, Peter addresses his culture’s expectation that the wife will follow her husband’s religion by instructing her how she might win her unbelieving husband to Christ. Engaging critically with the family values of his world, the Apostle’s instruction to wives is this: “the submission required of you is first to our God in Christ and then to your husband.” In other words, a wife’s subjection to her husband is always defined first by her obedience to God and by the example of Christ. In this light, Peter goes on to say, “wives, let your husband see that you’re holy and reverent before our God, that you’re pure and respectful before him (3:2; Peter’s words can have both meanings). Furthermore, don’t enhance your beauty with the latest inappropriate outer finery that’s prized by society, as even the ancient philosophers teach (3:3). Instead, adorn yourselves, as only Scripture teaches, with the lasting Christlike inner beauty that’s precious to God (3:4). Beautify yourselves as did the holy wives of long ago who put their hope in God: they submitted themselves to their own husbands (3:5). Example: be like ‘Lady Sarah.’ She entrusted herself to God as she submitted herself to her husband, ‘Lord Abraham,’ even when his acts of fearful duplicity put her and their offspring in jeopardy (3:6a). Ladies, beautified as Sarah was, you’ll be nothing less than her daughters: courageously confident in your God and submitted to your own husbands (3:6b), commending to them Christ’s lordship and their accountability to Him.”

As God’s exiles, the Apostle Peter commands Christian wives to live a life of moral excellence. One of a wife’s duties is to respect His marriage ordinance by coming forward to take her place responsibly within it. This is the case because, for Peter, the household is the basic unit of an ordered Christian life, and a wife’s place in the household is one of submission while a husband’s place is one of authority. Yet in issuing his instructions, the Apostle makes it clear that he’s not simply adopting and promoting the marriage and family values of the ancient world. No, as his handling of God’s ordinances of civil government and labor (2:11ff.) shows us, his bigger agenda is to see us conformed to the example of Christ, following His path of obedience from suffering to glory, as we take our places within God’s ordinances. With specific reference to marriage, Peter takes exception to his contemporaries’ expectations, and the result is a reformation of conventional conceptions of a wife’s submission. Yes, he continues to affirm that the wife’s position is not interchangeable with her husband’s position, but he frames the wife’s submission within limits defined first by her obedience to God and the example of Christ. Clearly, his commands give a wife no excuse to adopt servile dispositions and behaviors that yield a withdrawn or blind submission to her husband. A wife has responsibilities to God and to her husband that she is not to abdicate; she has gifts and graces the benefits of which she is not to deny to him (or the church). To sharpen the point, a wife who’s a rival or a doormat before her husband will find no place in a rightly ordered Christian marriage. Rather, says the Apostle, “wives, be like Sarah: entrust yourself to God as you submit yourself to your husband. And keep this in mind: doing the good that God requires of you in marriage will typify the holiness that He expects in every aspect of your life.”[i]

Having addressed Christian wives, Peter will move on to address briefly Christian husbands married to a Christian wife. We’ll take up that topic in the next post.

[i] One commentary that was particularly helpful to me on this passage was that of Joel B. Green, 1 Peter, The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2007).

The Christian Hope

Posted by R. Fowler White

Salvation from sin and death is a sovereign work of God by which He graciously saves His people from the judgment they deserve as sinners and adopts them as His children with all the blessings of eternal life. To make known the way of salvation, God has given us the Scriptures, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, as His Word (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The Scriptures teach the following truths concerning the way of salvation.

1. The living and true God is one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 1:1-4, 14, 18; Hebrews 1:2-3). He is the sovereign King over His creation, and He rules it with all the perfections of His character (Isaiah 48:12-13; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 11:36).

2. God created man male and female with the duty to obey His commandments and imitate His character perfectly (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17). But through the sin of the first man, Adam, all human beings, except our Lord Jesus Christ, were made sinners who are entirely unfaithful to their duty to God and are therefore justly condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment (Romans 3:23; 5:18-19).

3. To save sinners from the punishment due them, God the Father sent Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who is fully God and fully man, into the world (1 Timothy 1:15; John 3:16). As sinless man, Jesus Christ was qualified to represent sinners as the One who perfectly obeyed God’s commandments and imitated His character. As eternal God, He was qualified to substitute for sinners as the One who fully satisfied God’s just punishment of sinners. In His life Christ was entirely faithful where sinners are entirely unfaithful. In His death He bore the punishment sinners justly deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24-26).

4. God the Father raised Christ Jesus from the dead and thereby furnished proof that He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through that same Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31). God the Father also enthroned the resurrected Christ in heaven, and from there Christ now reigns as King of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come (Acts 4:12; 16:31; 17:30).

5. All those to whom God gives repentance and faith will wait in hope for Christ’s return on the day of resurrection and judgment. In that day, God will cast those who remain in their sins into the lake of fire to suffer eternal punishment, but He will usher His people into the new heavens and the new earth to enjoy everlasting glory (Acts 13:48; 2 Timothy 2:25; Romans 9:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 2 Peter 3:7, 13).

If God has brought you to the knowledge that you’re a sinner who justly deserves His everlasting displeasure and who is without hope except in His sovereign mercy, we urge you: believe in our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. Receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to you in the gospel documented in the Scriptures.

What’s an Exile to Do? Show the Uniqueness of Christian Employees

Posted by R. Fowler White

In this continuing series of posts on the Apostle Peter’s “Survival Manual for Christian Exiles” (aka First Peter), we’ve seen him exhort us his readers, as the New Israel (2:9-10), to live lives of moral excellence in Gentile society (2:11-12). Moving through three spheres of our societal life in 2:13–3:12, he presupposes that his Christian readers are treated by non-Christians as “Repugnant Cultural Others” (thanks to Susan Friend Harding for that phrase). Having focused on our civic conduct in 2:13-17, he will next concentrate on our household conduct in 2:18–3:7. To the extent that our conduct involves economic relations, he’ll tell us that a Christian employee should behave differently from a non-Christian employee. Just how is the behavior of Christian employees different? For perspective on this question, we need to orient ourselves to the slave-master relationship in Peter’s first-century Greco-Roman world.

For our purposes, it’s important to understand that slavery in the NT era was quite different from slavery in North America during the 17th through 19th centuries. Slavery was an accepted fact of Mediterranean economic life and labor structure. Slaves were not only domestic or field workers, but also semiskilled laborers, craftsmen, architects, physicians, philosophers, teachers, grammarians, writers, librarians, administrators, accountants, or estate managers. Though most Greco-Roman slaves got into their position involuntarily (because of war, kidnapping, or birth), some non-slaves actually sold themselves into slavery to climb the social ladder for a better standard of living. While many lived in miserable conditions, many others enjoyed more favorable living conditions than free laborers. In addition, manumission was on the rise, and under Roman law slaves could expect to be set free at least by the time they reached age 30. In Peter’s day, then, there was no general mood of unrest among slaves, and, though slave rebellions did occur, neither slaves nor government took up the cause of abolition. In general, the status and experience of NT-era slaves within a family household approximated that of a semi-permanent employee with less legal, social, and economic freedom than others. (In that light, we’re justified in seeing ancient servants and masters as analogies to present-day employees and bosses.) As Peter’s words suggest, however, a person’s experience as a slave depended primarily on the character and social status of his or her master. There were cruel, brutal, and unjust masters. As a rule, however, a master’s treatment of his children was a predictor of his treatment of his slaves. Still, there was a wildcard that might complicate matters in a household: if slaves converted to a credo outside the culturally accepted emperor worship or polytheism, their standing could sink even more among the “Repugnant Cultural Others.”

Against that background, Peter commands us Christian employee-servants to be subject … to our boss-masters, to take our place under them, to submit to them (2:18). Emphatically, our duty is not conditioned on their being good and gentle (considerate); it applies even if they’re unjust (corrupt, unscrupulous). Pressing home his point, the Apostle specifies the attitude with which we take our place: with all respect. Having started his teaching on Christian duties by highlighting the fear of God (1:17; 2:17), Peter states here for the first of three times (2:18; 3:2; 3:16) the respectful attitude that Christians are to exhibit toward others at home, in church, or in society. He declares, in effect, “let non-Christian employee-servants be disrespectful: we Christian employee-servants will be different. We’ll treat our boss-masters with the respect their position demands. In the service of our God, we’re not free to dishonor them. To the contrary, God obligates us to subject ourselves to them with all due respect.”

But why does Peter constrain us employee-servants to do our duty even to the worst boss-masters? His reason is not to keep us from gaining our freedom (1 Cor 7:21) or changing our circumstances. No, his reason is that subjection to those over us finds favor with God; it pleases Him (2:19-20). Even when we suffer unjustly while doing good, God looks on our good works in Christ and is pleased to accept and reward them (3:13-17; see WCF 16.5). Peter’s words are particularly encouraging if our bosses mistreat us, but he has more encouragement to offer. Adding to God’s favor, he reminds us of our call to Christ (2:21), of our conversion to new life in Christ (2:25). Like no other NT author, Peter’s teaching in 2:21-25 takes full advantage of Isaiah 53, building on the Passion itself wherein Jesus suffered a death reserved, fittingly enough, for slaves, criminals, and others lacking full Roman citizenship. Jesus was the consummate suffering Servant, and all of us Christians, employee-servants or not, share a likeness to Him. In what way? Certainly not as the substitute suffering unjustly for sinners (2:24), but as His servant-people (2:16) who suffer unjustly. So, as Christ suffered for us, we who are His must suffer as He did. While suffering unjustly, He never sinned or deceived (2:22), reviled or threatened (2:23); even so we must not sin or deceive, revile or threaten. While suffering unjustly, He kept entrusting Himself, His people, and His persecutors to the righteous Judge (2:23); even so we, while suffering unjustly, must keep entrusting ourselves and our persecutors to the righteous Judge. We do these things because His sin-bearing changed the direction of our lives: He secured our death to sin, our new life to righteousness, our healing from sins (2:24), our conversion to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (2:25).

Christian employees, has your Christian confession made you “Repugnant Cultural Others” to your bosses? If so, Peter exhorts you: show them, especially the non-Christians, the honor that their position calls for. Show them that, though you’re under them, you’re first under Christ, the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls, following His example. You’re being conformed to His image, living righteously, suffering unjustly, and enjoying divine favor that no boss can ever take away. In other words, show them the uniqueness of Christian employees.

What’s an Exile to Do? Live a Holy Civic Life

Posted by R. Fowler White

“It is the duty of people to pray for those in authority, to honor them, to pay them taxes or other revenue, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority for the sake of conscience. Neither unbelief nor difference in religion makes void the just and legal authority of officeholders nor frees the people—church authorities included—from their due obedience to them” (WCF 23.4). In a partisan political environment, the preceding statement might appear as if somebody’s trying to pick a fight. Then again, others will recognize it as, essentially, the teaching of the Apostles Peter and Paul. In 1 Pet 2:13-17, specifically, we find Peter’s exhortation focused on the church’s civic life following on his general call in 2:11-12 for them to live lives of moral excellence in Gentile society. In fact, civic life is one of three spheres (state, family, and church) about which Peter will give God’s direction to Christians in 1 Pet 2:13–3:12. The big idea in 2:13-17 is this: live your civic life for the Lord’s sake. Notice how the Apostle breaks this down.

First, he says, be subject to human government—take your place under it, subject yourselves to it—for the Lord’s sake, that is, to commend the Lord Christ to others (2:13-14). Plainly, the starting point of Christian civic life is deference to the interests of our God, the ultimate Sovereign who puts earthly magistrates in place, both higher (here, the emperor as supreme) and lower (here, governors as sent by him), for His glory and for the public good. This is not to say that these authorities get to rule absolutely or lawlessly. Quite the contrary. No human authority is God or is outside of His control. Moreover, as sinful creatures, human rulers will sometimes contradict God. If these rulers command citizens to sin, let them be resisted or replaced by rulers who do not command sin. Christ and His Apostles certainly knew what it was like to live under magistrates who were neither Christians nor God-fearers. Their fellow citizens worshiped the Roman emperor as God and other gods too. If not that, then, they were counted as atheists. Knowing this larger cultural context, Peter’s message is forthright: church, take your place under human government to commend to others the ultimate lordship of Christ and, with that, their accountability to Him.

According to the Apostle, the Christians’ subjection to human government serves another purpose: to silence mudslingers and faultfinders (2:15). We’re to remember that God puts rulers in place not just to punish lawbreakers, but also to praise law-keepers. In that light, even though we don’t regard magistrates as God, we should abide by their lawful commands because, in general, the effect of our law-keeping will be to shut up those who falsely accuse us of unpatriotic insubordination or worse. Maybe Peter alludes here to the Roman tradition in which government honored citizens for good works that benefitted their cities. More likely, Peter thinks back on Israel’s exiles. Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God clarified for them how they were to live away from their homeland. He said, seek the prosperity of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you will find your prosperity (Jeremiah 29:7 NASB). Even so, we should pray on behalf of the communities in which our churches congregate and make every effort to be law-abiding citizens to silence the faultfinders and mudslingers.

In 2:16-17 Peter steps back to paint a broader picture of a holy civic life. Living holy lives as citizens means living as God’s servants, free from sin’s bondage to serve God, never free to do wrong (2:16). Once again, our civic life is about deferring to the interests of our God. The Apostle mentions four obligations. First, honor all people (2:17a). Even those with whom we have disagreements, we’re to treat with civility. Let others be disrespectful: we’ll respect our fellow citizens, because they, as we, are created in God’s image. Second, love your Christian siblings (2:17b). With them we have a communion that we just don’t have with our fellow citizens. Only with Christian siblings do we do ministries of worship, discipleship, evangelism, and mercy for God’s glory. Appropriately, then, we’re to have a special, higher degree of devotion to our fellow Christian exiles. Third, fear God (2:17c). Again, Peter stresses that we’re to live in reverent awe to please our Father and to avoid grieving or dishonoring Him (1:17). Fourth, honor governing authorities. Peter distills his lesson in this paragraph once more. We’ll not be disrespectful but civil to magistrates and pray for them, because our wellbeing in this world is ordinarily tied up in theirs. By doing these things, we’re not saying that government is God. Rather, we’re saying that God has freed us to serve Him, and in His service there is no license to dishonor earthly authorities. To the contrary, God has made it our obligation to respect His ordinance of civil government.

From their own experiences (Acts 4:5-22; 5:17-42; 24:1–26:32; Rev 1:9), Peter and the other Apostles knew well that life for Christian exiles in a highly partisan political environment is a high stakes drama. In that light, Peter requires us to give our fellow citizens no warrant to accuse us of being lawbreakers or worse. Rather, as good—holy!—citizens, we’ll take our place under earthly magistrates, commending to them and our fellow citizens the ultimate lordship of Christ and their accountability to Him.

No Middle Ground

I just finished reading Carl Trueman’s amazing new book. I advise everyone in the church to read it. If you want to know how the West got to where a transgender statement like “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” came to have plausibility, you have to read this book. One of the most important things he said in the book is something I had already agreed with, but hadn’t put it nearly as clearly as he did. Observe:

“[I]t is hard to conceptualize a culture in which the rights of religious conservatives and the rights of those who identify as sexual minorities can both be accommodated. It is precisely because matters of basic identity, and therefore of what constitutes dignity and appropriate recognition, are at stake that makes a negotiated settlement impossible. To allow religious conservatives to be religious conservatives is to deny that people are defined by their sexual orientation, and to allow that people are defined by their sexual orientation is to assert that religious conservatism is irrational bigotry and dangerous to the unity of the commonwealth” (402).

I have long wondered why it is that the LGBTQ+ groups will not simply leave conservatives alone. Why do they have to go after us? The reason is simple: they have redefined human identity to center on their sexual orientation. As Trueman proves over and and over again, the reason LGBTQ+ groups hate conservatives is that, according to them, we are denying their humanity. Of course, that is not what we think we are doing. But for them, they do not have humanity unless they can force everyone else to acknowledge that their definition of humanity is correct.

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