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 (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); 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); 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 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.

About Those Prophecies of Trump’s Re-election

Posted by R. Fowler White

During the recent election cycle, many continuationists (who believe, among other things, that the NT gift of prophecy continues today) reportedly predicted former President Trump’s re-election, and those prophecies failed to come to pass. These failures have led certain continuationist leaders to issue strongly-worded rebukes to those whose predictions proved false. Other leaders have called for renewed humility, and still others, while also calling for humility, have denied that any penalty is applicable. As an alternative to penalties, the failed but humbled predictors are told that they should admit their inaccuracies, recommit to exercising discernment, and, to prevent future such failures, submit themselves for review by and accountability to church overseers.

I don’t bring up this topic to debate (again) whether the gift of prophecy continues today. I raise it to reflect on how the churches should treat the prophesiers and their overseers. I’m particularly interested in the claim that there’s no need to apply any penalty. That response, it seems to me, presupposes the absence of relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture. And, in fact, some leaders tell us that there is nothing relevant in either the OT or the NT for what the recent prophesiers did. We can’t take up the full sweep of that argument in this format, but I’m not convinced, and I’m sure others aren’t either. In the NT, we do read of prophetic ministries in the churches that failed. Christ’s letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) presents just such a case, and it’s not presented as an isolated concern. Pointedly, Christ makes Thyatira an example from which “all the churches” should learn (2:23). Of course, the issue at Thyatira is not necessarily identical to recent failures, but it is analogous to them and relevant in ways that we should consider. So let’s take a look.

To begin, it’s striking to notice Christ’s opening and closing commendations to the Thyatira church. They were a congregation where love was bearing fruit in service, and where faithfulness was bearing fruit in endurance (2:19). They had congregants who held fast to what was true and good and abstained from what was false and evil (2:24-25; cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). How, then, did an unsound ministry emerge in such a church? The clues are reasonably clear: the church had not corrected one of their own who was calling herself a prophetess and was teaching what was false and evil (2:20). Instead, the church had tolerated her ministry and had done so long enough to see her multiply herself in a troubling number of the congregants (2:20, 22-23). The negligence was such that it had spurred Christ Himself to do what the church had not done. He had warned the self-identified prophetess to repent and had given her time to do so (2:21a). Subsequently, He had uncovered her refusal to repent (2:21b). Finally, He had determined to afflict her and her followers with temporal punishment (2:22a) and even final punishment if they did not repent (2:22b, 23b). From the details of Christ’s letter to the Thyatira church, then, we learn that they had failed to deal properly with a prophetess whose ministry had become a notorious contagion in the church. They had taken no action through the formative-preventive oversight of instruction, nor through the corrective oversight of admonition, suspension from the Lord’s Table, or excommunication. In short, the church’s inaction was blameworthy. Why? Because Christ hates what is false and evil in His visible church, and so He commands all His congregations to carry out the oversight necessary to foster what is true and good. Wherever and whenever we do not give that oversight, we can expect the Lord of the church to do what He deems necessary, because He intends to reclaim guilty Christians, to deter others from sin, to turn away God’s wrath from His own, to purge leaven from our midst, and, above all, to vindicate His honor and the holy profession of His gospel.

In saying all this, I am not contending that those who made false predictions about the election should be prejudged as guilty of a particular sin and therefore liable to a particular penalty. I am contending that there are now, as there were in the NT era, relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture to apply to prophesiers and their overseers. I am contending, for example, that, because the fifth and ninth commandments still apply to us, congregations should at least investigate such issues as whether the recent predictors bore false witness (with or without intent to harm), whether they were in submission to church overseers, and whether church overseers adhered to a proper process of review and accountability before the predictions were made. If violations did occur, then penalties would presumably need to be determined and applied. These concerns would appear to be consistent with the implications of the lesson of the Thyatira letter for “all the churches.”

What’s an Exile to Do? Live Your Life with Honor

Posted by R. Fowler White

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Pet 2:11-12)

At its core, the Apostle Peter’s first letter acknowledges that we Christians are exiles in this world and its residents are our hosts. At certain times, our hosts tolerate us; at other times, they’re hostile. Truth is, at bottom, they want us to become like they are and to live our lives as they do theirs. In 1 Pet 2:11-12, Peter presses us again to remember the truth mentioned in 1:1 and 1:17 that “we are just visitors here” and to live as the visitors that God has made us (2:11-12). 

It’s worth noticing how the Apostle begins his exhortation to us here. He addresses us as God’s beloved. He would have us remember that though the world may tolerate or reject us, God loves us, just as he’s explained in the preceding verses. But we’re not only beloved by God. Peter says that we’re also sojourners and exiles living among the Gentiles. Our ultimate homeland and citizenship are in heaven and in the world to come. Not only that, when Peter mentions the Gentiles, we think back to his identification of the church in 2:9-10, and we realize that, united to Christ, we are what Israel was called to be (Exod 19:5a): a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, God’s people. In short, we’re the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The Apostle’s point is, then, because God has made us who we now are, we’re to live our lives in Gentile society for His sake.

Peter goes on to spell out what he means. First, what not to do: for the safety of our souls, we’re not to indulge worldly appetites (2:11). Don’t pander to the passions of the flesh, not just those appetites we have for bodily pleasures but appetites for possessions and power, those passions that wage war against our soul. Peter makes it clear that he’s not only talking about momentary urges that distract us, but also about deep cravings that corrupt and eat away at our souls. Appetites like those that Moses faced when he might have enjoyed the fleeting pleasures of sin while living in Egypt, but instead he chose to be mistreated with God’s people. Appetites like those Jesus faced when the devil tempted Him to exchange God’s good provisions of care, reward, and protection for his diabolically deceptive provisions. For the safety of our souls, Peter says, do what Moses and Jesus did: don’t indulge worldly appetites.

Now that we know how we’re not to live our lives, the Apostle tells us how we are to do it. His directives boil down to this: for the glory of God, conduct your lives in Gentile society with honor (2:12). We might read Peter’s words and think, “How positively cultured you sound, Apostle.” But then we realize that, by God’s common grace, non-Christians can recognize right from wrong in human relationships and can show at least a grudging respect for a Christian lifestyle of good deeds. Yes, they may well continue to disdain our love of the one true God, but our love of neighbor can win a grudging respect from some when we treat others as we would have them treat us. It’s not that we expect the world suddenly to show us support or to give us aid and comfort. After all, they speak against us as evildoers. The point is, the good deeds they see will contradict the words they speak. In fact, our good deeds will be either a testimony against them or a witness to them. And, as a result, on the day of judgment, whether they’re judged as God’s enemies or saved as God’s people, they will give glory to God. So, think of it this way: as Moses tells us (Gen 39), when Joseph was in Egypt, he lived his life with honor (just ask Potiphar and his wife), and the Lord gave him favor with the Egyptians. Or, as Peter tells us (3:1-2), non-Christian husbands can be won over without a word by the respectful and pure conduct of their Christian wives. In the same way, as Jesus said, You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. For the glory of God, then, live your lives in Gentile society with honor.

We Christians are visitors in this world and the world’s residents are our hosts. At best they’re indifferent to us, and at worst they’re hostile. Bottom line is, they want us to become like they are, and to live our lives just like they live theirs. Don’t do it, says the Apostle. Remember who you are—God’s people—and live your lives in Gentile society with honor for His sake.

What’s an Exile to Do? Proclaim the Excellencies of Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

To hear the thought leaders in our culture tell it, we Christians are intolerant haters. We have the audacity to turn to the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture as the supreme judge to settle all controversies of religion and to examine all competing claims of truth. We declare that the salvation of sinners is in Christ alone by faith alone. So, in the opinion of many, we should be shamed and pressured to conform. In 1 Pet 1:22–2:10, however, the Apostle Peter has a different take on who should feel shame and pressure, and it leads him to tells us how to live lives that don’t yield to the world.

First, he says, live a new life of love and increasing holiness (1.22–2.3). Your obedience to the gospel truth has brought about a moral transformation in you, a purification of your souls. Moreover, your rebirth (cf. 1:3) from imperishable seed—the living and abiding word of God preached to you—made you God’s newborns (1:23-25; 2:2). Furthermore, you’ve tasted God’s goodness to sinners in Christ (2:3). In light of these experiences, live a new life of fervent love for your believing siblings (1:14, 22). While showing that love for others, root out all disobedience to Christ’s law of love, especially disobedience to the sixth, ninth, and tenth commandments (2:1). And, all the while, satisfy that new appetite you have (2:2) for God’s goodness. As God worked through His preached word to give you new birth (1:23-25), so now through that word He’ll work to increase and strengthen all saving graces in you (2:2-3). Obedience to God’s truth, rebirth through God’s word, new appetites for God’s good grace—all these realities effect change in us to live a new life of love and growth in holiness.

Yet there’s even more to God’s conversion of us that should motivate us to live new lives. Peter says, now that we’ve come to Christ, we’re being built as God’s holy house. The big idea here is that God is building His new temple, and we—all who believe—are it (2:4-6)! The Apostle’s images may puzzle us. He had been talking about being God’s newborns, and now he’s talking about building God’s house. What’s up with that? In the ancient world, we hear about “the house” of Israel, of David, and of others. The point is, your family was your house, and your house was built by having children added to your family. So, just after Peter talks about our rebirth as God’s children, he now talks about God building His house. And notice: we’re not just any house. We’re a spiritual house of holy priests. We no longer need a temple on earth; we are the temple on earth. Through Jesus Christ, we believers are now being built as that spiritual house, the site of sacrifices pleasing to God.

Peter elaborates for us. He says, God put Christ in place as the living cornerstone of His new and true temple (2:4), living in that God raised Him from the dead. Christ Himself had taught that His resurrection would signal that God was building His new and final temple (John 2:18-22), and Peter picks up that teaching. Though Christ was rejected by other would-be builders (2:7; the leaders and followers of Jerusalem and Rome), the Divine Builder chose Him (cf. 1:2) and honored Him, placing Him in heavenly Mt Zion as the cornerstone, the first temple stone put in place. So it is, says Peter, that God is also now putting you yourselves in place as living stones joined to Him to make up the new temple (2:5a). Joined to Christ, we believers pass from spiritual death to new spiritual life and together we are being formed into a living spiritual house. In fact, through Christ we’re holy priests who please God with spiritual sacrifices (2:5b). Through Him we offer up praise, the fruit of our lips, as a sacrifice; we present our bodies as a living sacrifice; we bring tithes and offerings as a fragrant offering. Something better than the OT temple is here! Joined to Christ, we’re God’s true and final temple!

As we read of God making Christ the living cornerstone, making us living stones, and receiving our sacrifices, it’s vital for us who are rejected by the world to know that in doing these things God is fulfilling His promises documented in Scripture (2:6). According to those promises, though the world shames us, God honors us. It is unbelievers who bring shame on themselves (2:7b-8). They reject those whom God honors; they follow the builders of this world. They disobey the word, stumble, and fall where believers stand, namely, on Christ the Cornerstone. What happens to them is exactly the ruin that Jesus Himself predicted (Luke 20:18)—their downfall is no accident. In fact, it’s the destiny to which God appoints all sinners left to themselves. The destiny they have is not only the destiny they deserve; it’s the destiny they desire: honor and glory without Christ. So, without Christ, their destiny is nothing but dishonor and shame. By contrast, it is we believers who receive glorious honor and privileges (2:7a, 9-10). What honor? What privileges? All that God promised to Israel: being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession … God’s people. Who receives these promises? According to Moses, it was whoever obeys God’s voice and keeps His covenant (Exod 19:5a). But who has done that? No sinner. Only Christ. And in the gospel God offers to impute to sinners the obedience He requires by faith alone in Christ alone. If you’ve believed in Christ, you have in Christ the obedience God requires—and in Christ all these glorious honor and privileges belong to you!

In the opinion of many, we Christians should be shamed and pressured into seeking glory and honor from our culture. But the Apostle Peter makes clear that all who want honor and glory without Christ are doomed. Unashamed, then, we’ll stand firm on Him and proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

What’s an Exile to Do? Know that Your God Will Have the Last Word

Posted by R. Fowler White

Dear Exile, when it comes to your suffering for Christ, who will have the final say: your persecutors or your God? Notice that we’re not talking here about hurt from hard providence. We’re talking specifically about being marginalized or worse for Christ in a world that’s against Christ, suffering for what is right in a world that’s gone wrong. So again: when we Christians suffer for Christ, will our persecutors or our God have the last word? In 1 Pet 3:13–4:2, Peter provides an answer to that question, and it requires our close attention.

First, says Peter, know for sure that we who are devoted to what God calls good are blessed even if we suffer (3:13-14; cf. 4:1-2). While God’s grace prevails, we with a zeal for good and right in the sight of all have no extraordinary fear of hindrance or harm. Yet even when we do suffer unjustly, we who pursue a righteous life in Christ will enjoy God’s blessing. So, Peter says, recalling God’s words to Isaiah (Isa 8:12-13), be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14). Defend your hope in Christ (3:15). Even when you’re defamed, respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to your accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Moreover, if suffering for Christ is in God’s providential will for you, rest in His providential control of that suffering. After all, it is He who has made suffering for good better than committing evil. So, continue to do what is right (3:17) because neither your persecutors nor the suffering they inflict will have the last word.

But what assurances do we have that our enemies won’t have the final say, or that suffering for good is, in fact, better than doing evil? In 3:18–4:2, Peter points us to Christ, the supreme example of how God has the last word over suffering by giving victory and glory to all who suffer for what is right. First, the Apostle reminds us of Christ’s victory over sins: God gave us victory by making even Christ’s death the way to bring us to Himself (3:18a). The words that follow (3:18b-22), however, are harder to understand, but in my view Peter most likely refers to Christ’s resurrection and ascension (as he refers to His suffering and death in 2:21-25). He tells us that Christ, made alive in the Spirit, proclaimed His resurrection-and-ascension victory to evil spirits from Noah’s day (3:18b-20; cf. Col 2:15; 1 Tim 3:16). But why bring up His victory over those enemies? Because that victory discloses Christ’s identity as the One who will have the final say not only against persecutors of God’s church in this world, but also against those in the world before the flood. In that old world, righteous Noah and his household suffered but overcame their enemies. Among those enemies were (evidently) disobedient angels (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; cf. 1 Pet 3:22) who breached the boundaries of their proper realm and seduced the ungodly in Noah’s generation to defy the patience God was showing them, all while Noah built the ark and proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance with His warning of judgment. Those evil angelic spirits, kept in prison since the judgment in Noah’s day, have now heard Christ’s victory proclamation. They have heard how, in this world, Christ the righteous suffered but overcame His enemies in His glorious exaltation. And His victory proclamation to those enemies from Noah’s day tells them and us just how comprehensive His victory is. It is Christ’s victory that makes suffering the way to glory. It is Christ’s victory that defeats both angelic and human foes. It is Christ’s victory that reaches from earth to heaven and even to hell. It is Christ’s victory that settles accounts both in this world and in the old world as it identifies Him as the Judge who will dispense final judgment and final salvation. It is Christ’s victory, then, that is so all-encompassing that it leaves all persecutors, even evil angels from the old world, with nothing more to say. His word is the last word.

Considering the ramifications of Christ’s victory, Peter reminds us that, like those passengers in Noah’s ark, we too will overcome our spiritual enemies (3:20b-21). As the visible church in the old world, Noah and his household endured opposition. Their baptism, however, made a visible distinction between them and the world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with them and their solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him. Likewise, Christ and the households of faith are the visible church in this world, and we too endure opposition. Our baptism, however, also makes a visible distinction between us and this world, representing the benefits of God’s covenant with us and our solemn vow to live in good conscience before Him (4:1-2; 3:16). So, just as the baptism of Noah and his household signified their victory over the old world in the LORD of the flood (Ps 29:10), our baptism signifies our victory over this world in Christ.

Finally, the Apostle has us look again to Christ, this time as the One through whom our baptism becomes an effectual means of our salvation (3:21-22; WLC Q. 161). No, Peter does not teach here that baptism becomes effectual by any power in it or in whoever administers it. Rather, he teaches that baptism becomes effectual as it represents and confirms to believers all the benefits that God promises to them in Christ, and as the Holy Spirit, with Christ’s blessing, works through it to increase and strengthen the saving grace of faith in them. In this context, then, the Apostle would have us who believe to see our baptism as a sign and seal of the victories that are ours in Christ: in His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, how can we not share Peter’s confidence that, even while we suffer, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21)?! How can we not be fully assured that, because victory and glory are ours in Christ, the last word belongs to our God, not to our persecutors?!

What’re Exiles to Do? Be a Refuge for Fellow Exiles

Posted by R. Fowler White

Even as exiles in this world, we Christians desire to lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Tim 2:2). There’s no doubt that we American Christians have had it better than our persecuted siblings in other times and places, even in the NT era. Like other “traditional Americans,” many of us see the prospect of that peaceful and quiet life exemplified in the promise of the American Experiment, designed as it was to secure the unalienable rights with which we and our fellow citizens are endowed by our Creator. Too frequently, however, it seems that skilled polemicists have manipulated our trust, convincing us that they share our belief in the promise of America when, in fact, they redefine it for personal, political, or commercial gain. Acting as mere power brokers, these pugilists apply a double standard to snub those they deem deplorable, to decry those they consider lawless, and otherwise to hinder certain of their fellow citizens’ prospects for a peaceful and quiet life. As new Orwellian measures of population control take hold, no one seems to know how to dispel the anger and fear among those convinced that their unalienable rights are now less secure and their prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are now more remote. In such an environment, what becomes of that peaceful and quiet life that the Apostle would have us lead? What  does God require of “traditional American” Christians who are members and officers of His church? The Apostle Peter offers at least part of the answer in 1 Pet 3:8-12.

As he did during those NT days under the fickle thumb of imperial Rome, Peter commands that we be a refuge for fellow Christian exiles, a holy haven exhibiting five virtues (3:8). The first and fifth of these traits—be like-minded and humble-minded—actually share a verbal component in the original text, and so it’s best to take them together. Truth shared is the basis of love shared, so like-mindedness in confession is indispensable to being Christ’s refuge. As the fellowship of the Spirit of truth, it is like-mindedness in truth that binds us together in love, and its complement is humble-mindedness. Rejecting self-interested competition, we’re to commit to the common good, sacrificing individual interests for the interests of the whole. Two other traits, the second and fourth mentioned by Peter, will also mark Christ’s holy haven: be sympathetic and tender-hearted. To understand this synonymous pair, Paul’s words offer the best commentary: rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor 12:26). Holding all five virtues together is the third virtue listed by Peter: be brotherly, that is, love your family members in the household of faith. As he does in 1:22 and 2:17, Peter again commands us to heed carefully the Second Great Commandment. We’re to promote the good of our siblings by building such community with them that together we offer sacrifices pleasing to God (1:21-2:10). What’s Peter aiming for here in these five virtues? A refuge for fellow exiles who will support each other as they pursue godly and dignified lives in a hostile world.

Even as we’re to be a holy haven for our fellow Christian exiles, we must also know how to deal with critics. Anticipating his fuller teaching on persecution from non-Christians in 1 Pet 3:13–4:19, Peter tells us initially how to defend ourselves against insults and verbal abuse. Perhaps unexpectedly, he says, show your critics favor, not disfavor (3:9a). But why this tactic? Because in the blessed life to which God has called us, we’re not to live a life of retaliation, but of repentance; not of payback, but of conversion. Since we’re now at odds with non-Christians, we cannot avoid insult and evil, pain and suffering, so as to see only good days. Rather, despite insult and evil, despite pain and suffering, we can live godly and dignified lives in communion with God. In fellowship with Him, we watch how we talk and how we walk (1 Pet 3:10-11). As Jesus taught us: Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:28). As Paul stated: See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thess 5:15; cf. Rom 12:17; 1 Cor 4:12). So, when we’re insulted, we’re not to insult in return. When we suffer, we’re not to retaliate with threats. We’re to live our lives before our Lord who not only requires us to live a godly and dignified life but who also inspects the way we live our lives (3:12). Meanwhile, we live our lives knowing that the ears of the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls are open to hear our prayers that we might break the cycle of verbal abuse and other evils that only spirals downward.

What, then, are Christian exiles to do if we’re convinced that our unalienable rights are less secure and our prospects for a peaceful and quiet life are more remote? Whatever else Scripture may teach us, following Peter’s directions, God requires us to be a refuge where with fellow Christians we pursue godly and dignified lives before Him who alone judges justly.

What’s an Exile to Do? Live in Reverent Awe of Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

Exiles are non-essential, or haven’t you heard? Even as God’s kingdom-colony of exiles, the church is expected to pipe down, if not shut down. In response, however, the Apostle Peter cites a higher standard. Throughout the time of our exile, he says, we’re to trust and obey God’s commands. Called as we are to His eternal glory in Christ, we’ll endure the trials that test our faith, confessing that the God of all grace will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us after we’ve suffered for a little while (1 Pet 5:10). In the meantime, Peter exhorts us: conduct yourselves with fear—that is, live in reverent awe of your God (1 Pet 1:17b). In 1 Pet 1:17-21, Peter provides us ample incentives to do just that.

Live in reverent awe of our God, says the Apostle, because He is our Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds (1:17). In saying that it is our Father who judges, Peter teaches that the judgment that God’s children (1:14) experience is different from the judgment that God’s enemies undergo. The standard of His judgment is the same for all (cf. 1:16): in that sense, our Father plays no favorites in His judging. The purpose of His judgment, however, will be different for us who through faith call on Him as Father. Let’s elaborate. At the last day, all people who have ever lived on earth will appear before Christ’s tribunal, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds and to receive according to what they’ve done in the body, whether good or evil (WCF chap. 33.1). Just as certainly, God the Father will judge His children not for entrance to His eternal kingdom, but for greater or lesser reward in it. Thus, Peter’s point is not that we believers should live our lives scared of being openly denied or condemned on the last day. After all, the Apostle has just exhorted us to live in confident expectation (1:13). Instead Peter’s point is that we should live our lives with an attitude that so highly esteems and deeply adores our Father God that we cannot bear the thought of displeasing Him. In colloquial terms, it’s like the fear that keeps conscientious student drivers from driving recklessly. Biblically, it’s the fear that comes from knowing that we’ll answer to our Father. It’s the fear that Paul describes in 2 Cor 5:8-10; 7:1 and 1 Cor 3:13-15; 4:3-5: the fear that God’s refining fire will burn up our works, and we’ll suffer loss (though we ourselves will be saved). Thus, the fear to which the Apostle refers here is the fear not of final condemnation, but of lesser commendation when He evaluates our thoughts, words, and deeds. In that light, we’re to live in reverent awe to please our Father and to avoid grieving or dishonoring Him.

Peter cites another reason to live in reverent awe of our God: because the price of our salvation was the precious blood of Christ (1:18-19). What a declaration this is! In contrast to Greco-Roman custom in which slaves and captives in war went free when money was paid for their freedom, the price for our emancipation from sin and death was like that of Israel from slavery in Egypt: the payment God demanded for their release was not silver or gold, but the blood of a physically flawless firstborn lamb. Yet to be set free for holiness, we sinners needed a redemption from sin and death with a blood more precious and powerful than that of a physically flawless firstborn lamb. We needed a redemption with the blood of a morally flawless firstborn son. Such was the blood of the Son of God sent from glory, of Him who was eternal but incarnate, sinless but slaughtered, put to death but raised immortal. To paraphrase John Flavel, Christ [was] so in love with holiness, that at the price of His blood He [bought] it for us. Dare we ask: how precious is that blood?! Ponder, then, what incentive we have to live in reverent awe of our God. Not to live in reverent awe of Him is to deny the supreme value of Christ’s sacrificial death, is it not? Just so, Peter admonishes us: live in reverent awe of your God because the price of your redemption was nothing less than the precious blood of Christ.

As if we need more incentive to live in reverent awe of our God, the Apostle provides another reason: because even our faith and hope are the fruit of God’s eternal plan (1:20-21). We’re told here that, before the foundation of the world, our God planned redemption for us in Christ. With a view to His only begotten Son’s appearance in these last times, the Father chose and ordained Him to accomplish redemption for our sake. And now through Him God has applied that redemption to us (cf. 1:2). So much is this the case that it is through Christ that our faith and hope are in God. All the blessings of redemption, even the faith and hope we have in God, are gifts to us through Christ in keeping with God’s eternal plan. Believer, consider what Peter teaches us here: God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain our redemption and even the faith and hope we now have. How can we not live in reverent awe of such a God as ours!

Though the world may treat us exiles as non-essential, the Apostle Peter addresses us as former slaves freed to live new and holy lives in reverent awe of God our Father (cf. 2 Cor 7:1). What extraordinary incentives he provides us to do just that! And what a tragedy—no, what a travesty—it would be to live any other way!

Jesus, Judas, and Leaven in 1 Cor 5:6-13

Posted by R. Fowler White

While reading L. Michael Morales’s terrific new book, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (IVP, 2020), a few thoughts came to mind in reaction to his discussion of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Exod 12 and of Paul’s linking of our Passover celebration with “leaven removal” by church discipline in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Specifically, I wondered if we could see in the NT how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses in Exod 12. In this light, I turned to the accounts of the celebrations of those feasts in the book of Exodus and in the Gospels and then back to 1 Cor 5.

Looking through the regulations for observing those feasts in Exod 12, the Passover feast and the Unleavened Bread feast were scheduled back to back, and they were usually regarded as one. To keep the Passover observance, the people of the OT church were called to remove all traces of leaven from their houses. Then, to keep the Unleavened Bread ordinance, they would eat only unleavened bread. Underlining the gravity of these ordinances, the OT church was also to remove from their midst those who did not remove leavened bread from their houses (12:15, 19). In the latter feast in particular, God signified the new life with Him that His people should live after their exodus from Egypt. As Ryken puts it, “In spiritual terms, the last thing He wanted them to do was to take a lump of dough from Egypt that would eventually fill them with the leaven of idolatry. … God wanted to do something more than get His people out of Egypt; He wanted to get Egypt out of His people.” Thus, they were not just to eat unleavened bread; they were to be an unleavened people.

Understandably, in the Apostle’s eyes, these conjoined feasts prefigured the church’s life: the Christian Passover (1 Cor 5:7) and its recurring celebrations (1 Cor 11:26) were to be matched by ongoing celebration of the new Unleavened Bread feast (1 Cor 5:7-8). In other words, in addition to dining at the Lord’s Table, the NT congregation was to be an unleavened people living an unleavened life of purity and integrity. And, significantly, for the NT church to keep the feasts faithfully, Paul points out that their duty is what the OT church’s duty was: as an unleavened people (5:7), they were to clean out the leaven from their midst (5:7), including those who neglected that duty in their own lives (5:11-13).

Formative as the OT was for the NT church’s life, it stands to reason that Jesus’ own (final) celebration of the Passover/Unleavened Bread feasts was an example for His church. From the Gospel accounts, we’re justified in concluding that the Evangelists wished to document not only the institution of the Lord’s Supper but also how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses. We’re told, for instance, that as Jesus was preparing for His own exodus (Luke 9:31) to go back to His Father (John 13:1, 3), He had sent Peter and John to prepare the feasts to be celebrated (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). Since we’re told nothing to the contrary, we rightly suppose that the meal and the house with the Upper Room were both prepared as required. In fact, two Evangelists say that they found the room furnished and ready (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12), and doubtless readiness would include the removal of all leaven and leavened bread. Yet, as Exod 12:15, 19 had alerted us, cleaning out the leaven for the feast would not and could not stop there.

Strikingly, as Jesus cleans the Twelve’s feet, He effectively fences the Table, announcing that one of them is unclean (John 13:6-11). The identity of Judas the betrayer was hidden from all but Jesus. When Jesus disclosed the betrayer’s presence at the Table, none of them so much as looked at Judas, much less said, “Lord, is it Judas?” Like his father the devil, he was a deceiver and an accomplice to murder. Knowing His betrayer’s identity, however, Jesus has to comply with God’s requirements and clean out the leaven of hypocrisy, theft, and greed (Mark 8:15; John 12:4-5) from the house. Having exposed him as unfit for the feast, Jesus tells Judas to leave, and in a tragically ironic replay of the first Passover, he goes out quickly, even immediately (John 13:27, 30; cf. Exod 12:11, 33) into the night (John 13:30; cf. Exod 12:12, 31, 42). Exiting as he does, Judas self-identifies as one who walks by night and stumbles because the light is not in him (John 11:10); he is a child “of the night [and] darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). Be that as it may, what Jesus did at His own final feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was what His Apostle instructs the church to do in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Having removed the leaven of Judas from the fellowship of His Table, Jesus had acted so as not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus acted so that those who ate at His Table would not just eat unleavened bread, but be an unleavened people.

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