What’s an Exile to Do? Submission and Humility in God’s Sheepfold

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Peter’s first letter—his “Survival Manual for Marginalized Christians”—he focuses our attention on the type of people we Christians need to be to assure our perseverance through the time of our present exile (1 Pet 1:17). He’s exhorted us to pursue moral excellence as we deal with both the world and the sinful passions that wage war against our souls (2:11-12). He’s told us our duties to civil authorities, to bosses, to spouses, to our fellow Christians, and to critics and other persecutors. Having turned again to discuss life in God’s sheepfold in 5:1-11, Peter has talked to us about the ministry of discipleship that elders must perform to assure our perseverance (5:1-4). Now, in 5:5-7, he begins his final appeal to those in the flock whom he calls younger (5:5a) and to all of the sheep (5:5b-7).

When we turn to 5:5a, Peter issues a call to be subject that we’ve heard before (2:13, 18; 3:1), but translators and commentators differ as to who the younger and the elders are. Do both terms refer to men? Do they differ in age, or in Christian maturity, or in office? The Apostle’s immediately preceding reference to the elders as shepherds of God’s flock and the specific duty he enjoins on the younger (be subject) tell us that he’s shifting his focus from what the elders owe the flock to what the flock, particularly those younger in the faith, owe those installed as their elders. Presuming, then, that the flock has recognized their shepherds, Peter instructs us how we non-elders must respond to their ministry. He tells the younger sheep, likewise, be subject to the elders (5:5a; cf. 2:13, 18; 3:1). Clearly, the Apostle doesn’t look on the younger as mere consumers shopping for a church that meets their every preference. No, for Peter, church life is about entering a sheepfold in which there are shepherds qualified to care for God’s sheep. It’s about submitting ourselves to those overseers, placing ourselves in their care, taking our place responsibly under them (cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Heb 13:17). Furthermore, as Peter showed in 5:1-3 and will show again in 5:5b-6, the relationship of God’s flock to the elders is not about us non-elders adopting servile, much less rebellious dispositions and behaviors toward our shepherds. On the contrary, flawed and finite as elders are, our submission to them is conditioned first by our obedient humility before God. As such, submission in the sheepfold is, as in every other human relationship, an act of faith: we who are non-elders keep entrusting ourselves to God as we subordinate ourselves to elders, knowing that the Chief Shepherd holds them accountable.

Having called us non-elders to take our place under our elders’ care, the Apostle moves promptly to call all of us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (5:5b). Interestingly, Peter’s command is for us all to put on one and the same garment, and not just any garment: he specifies that we put on humility. Perhaps Peter here is thinking of what Jesus did (John 13:4-15) when He girded Himself with a towel and taught the disciples—Peter in particular (John 13:6-11)—the lesson of humility (John 13:15). Why humility? Because, as Peter has already told us (3:8), in a colony of exiles, competition for privilege or power is toxic; commitment to the common good is essential (cf. Phil 1:27–2:5). In times of social marginalization or even persecution, then, mutual humility within the sheepfold is an indispensable virtue. We must mortify dispositions and behaviors that domineer, usurp, or withdraw, and instead find our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts (4:10). But there’s something even more fundamental that lies behind Peter’s exhortation: God’s actions toward the proud and the humble. The former He resists; the latter He favors (cf. 2:19-20). Once again, Peter engages critically with the world’s expectations: he shows us how God deals with the proud and the humble and, in the process, he reforms how we should order our social relationships.

The truth that it is God’s prerogative to apportion honor leads Peter to reassert his call for humility in 5:6-7, but now he underscores that God’s actions toward the proud and the humble require our humility under His almighty hand. Peter has told us that suffering comes to faithful Christians and is part of God’s providence. He’s told us that painful trials are part of the normal Christian life and are the way God purifies us. It is for us, then, to bow ourselves low before Him and to entrust ourselves to Him. If we confess that He really does use even unjust suffering to accomplish His refining purpose in our lives, we must also confess that He has it under His control and us under His care. Our mighty God is more concerned about our welfare than we could possibly be: after all, both His glory and our good are at stake. What greater incentive could there be for us to cast all our anxieties on Him?

So, fellow exiles, do we wish to assure our endurance throughout this time of our present exile (1:17)? Then we must heed the pointed word that Peter has for us in 5:5-7. He would have us recognize what social marginalization and even persecution do to us: they tempt us, out of pride and its fruit anxiety, to compete for the privilege and power denied to us. But such carnal competition has neither efficacy nor place in God’s sheepfold. Why? Because God resists the proud and favors the humble. The Apostle, therefore, commands us to mortify all desire to domineer, usurp, or withdraw and to take our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts, whether we’re elders or non-elders. He commands all of us in God’s flock to humble ourselves before Him, because His hand is mighty to bring down the proud and to raise up the humble at the proper time. These are our duties, says Peter, because God has made submission and humility twin means of our perseverance in this time of our exile.

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 part of 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? 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? Devote Yourself to Your God

Posted by R. Fowler White

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet 1:14-16, ESV)

The First Epistle of the Apostle Peter meets us where we live as a kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. We’re making our way to New Jerusalem, and we need directions on the right path to take. Having filled us with courage in our elect identity and with thanksgiving for God’s saving work, Peter exhorts us in 1:14-16. Be holy, he says. Be devout. Devote yourself to your God. Look at the details.

First, he tells us how we’re not to live our new life (1:14). Don’t let your pre-Christian ignorance determine your choices and affections now. Don’t stay stuck in those old patterns of passing pleasures. Don’t follow your former routines. Remember what life was like as a non-Christian (see Rom 1:18-32): you and I suppressed what we knew of God, and we didn’t see fit to acknowledge Him. How’d that work out for us? He gave us up to dishonoring our bodies and debasing our minds. Captive to corrupt cravings of body and mind, you and I were hopelessly confused, with darkened minds and hardened hearts, without a sense of shame. We lived for pleasure, shaped by our corruption, defiled in all the parts and faculties of our souls and bodies. By nature, you and I were utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil. We were, spiritually and morally, corpses in coffins, prodigals in pig pens. In light of all that, Peter says, don’t let your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Or as Paul said it, don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold (Rom 12:2, J. B. Phillips).

Having told us how we’re not to live, Peter now tells us how we are to live (1:15-16). Leaving behind our old appetites and priorities, we’re to devote ourselves to the holy God who called us into a new life. In 1:2, Peter mentioned what God did for us: the Spirit set us apart from the world and devoted us to (i.e., reserved us for) God, so that we obeyed the gospel and were cleansed by Christ. That phase of the Spirit’s sanctifying work is finished. But in 1:15-16 Peter mentions what God requires from us now: we’re to be holy, devout, devoted to our God. Strengthened by His Spirit and lined up with His Word, we’re to emulate our God more and more. Look to God’s own character. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all holy, holy, holy, entirely devoted to Their glory, each and all. Heed, then, His revealed will: be holy—be entirely devoted to God’s glory—in every department of your lives (J. B. Phillips). And just how does devotion show up in our lives? It shows up as we nourish and develop our new passions to know God and His revealed will. It shows up as we bear the fruit of the Spirit more and more. It shows up in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Overall, devotion to our God shows up in change from likeness to the world to likeness to Him, not just on isolated occasions, but in our new affections, priorities, and routines. In Peter’s words we hear echoes of Paul’s command in Rom 12:2, Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. To be holy is to be devout. It is to be committed to the process of progressive conversion to the likeness of the holy God who called us.

On the way to New Jerusalem, what are we exiles to do? Recognize that the holy God has called us to Himself. In doing so, He has united us by His Holy Spirit to Christ. Old unholy passions have been cut off from their food supply. New holy affections have been implanted. The seeds of holiness have started to grow. Meanwhile, Peter directs us onto the right path to take: don’t let the passions of your former ignorance keep shaping your life. Cultivate your new affections for the holy God who called you, and devote yourself, soul and body, to the glorious fame of His name.[i]

[i] For more on the theme of holiness as devotion to God, see S. B. Ferguson, Devoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2016).

What’s an Exile to Do? Live in Confident Expectation

Posted by R. Fowler White

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1:13)

Therefore … The commands for the new life that we Christians should live always seem to begin with that word therefore. After summarizing what God has done for our good in the opening (1:1-2) and thanksgiving (1:3-12) sections of his first letter (aka his “Survival Manual for Exiles”), the Apostle Peter turns in the letter’s exhortation section (1:13-25) to tell us what God calls us to do for His glory. The order of indicative/imperative is particularly important here: it reminds us that God does not address His commands to us His elect exiles as those who are still in bondage to sin. No, He addresses us as former slaves now free for a new life, free to grow in holiness. By free, we don’t mean that we’re fully and finally freed from sin’s presence, but we are freed from sin’s penalty and power, free to live the new life to which Christ calls us. So now, as we take courage from our elect identity in Christ and give thanks for God’s saving work, Peter instructs us about how we exiles should live.

So, what’s an exile to do now? Live in confident expectation (1:13). Our salvation calls for—in fact, it brings about—a reset of our outlook. Peter says, set your hope fully …. Fasten your gaze entirely, fix your eyes completely, focus your energies totally, on your hope of the grace of resurrection life to come (1:3), of the eternal glory that will be yours (1 Pet 5:10). Don’t set your hope on anything that’s of this earth or of this world (like an election cycle). Don’t focus your energies on anything that’s temporary, on anything that dies, goes bad, or fades away. Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

But we ask Peter, how? How do we go about fastening our gaze, fixing our eyes, focusing our energies on our hope of our future resurrection life? Peter answers, by preparing your minds for action. Our translation blurs the image that Peter provides us. The Apostle refers to the fact that, in ancient times, men wore long robes and would tuck them into their belts if they wanted to move more freely and quickly. Peter may even be recalling what happened at the Passover. Remember how, once the blood of the lamb was applied, God’s people were to be ready to leave Egypt for Canaan (Exod 12:11). Get dressed and ready to take off. So, exiles, says Peter, get your minds ready for action. Don’t imagine that we’re just going to stroll or coast to the finish. Roll up your sleeves; tighten your belt. Get ready to roll, to exert yourself in a vigorous and sustained way. Live your life in confident expectation by preparing your minds for action.

But Peter mentions one more way to live in confident expectation: by being sober-minded, that is, by disciplining yourself, by getting your mind in gear. In other words, gear up and stay alert. The tests and trials peculiar to our exile can make us careless. So we need to concentrate. Don’t let your mind wander. Don’t zone out. Sure, take time to rest and worship, but don’t just veg out and “let life happen” to you. Don’t get distracted by leisure and recreation, personal peace and affluence, worldly reputation and power. Lock in on your life to come in that lasting city.

Noah, an exile who preached (2 Pet 2:5) while he built an ark to sail to a new world (Heb 11:7), was called to live in confident expectation. The OT church, exiles freed to march to a new land, was called to live in confident expectation. So it is with us. Resurrection life in our heavenly country awaits us. For now, we are exiles set free from this world, and we live in confident expectation of the world to come. And, oh, yes: Peter provides us more detail on what our life of confident expectation looks like. Keep reading in 1 Pet 1:14ff.

What’s an Exile to Do? Give God Thanks

Posted by R. Fowler White

For all us Christians who find ourselves increasingly marginalized in society, the Apostle Peter’s “Survival Manual for Exiles” tells us how to persevere. He opens his manual with a call to take courage from our identity as God’s elect (1 Pet 1:1-2). He continues with a review of God’s past, present, and future saving work on our behalf. In light of God’s work, Peter challenges us to bless God, to give Him thanks for His great mercy to us (1:3-12).

Give God thanks, says Peter: He has given us new birth (1:3-5). He has given us just what Jesus said we must have in order to inherit God’s kingdom: you must be born again (John 3:7). God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves: He has caused us to be born again. Through this rebirth God has brought us a living hope, a hope of new life before death and more: as the reference to Christ’s resurrection makes clear, a hope of new life after death. Through that new birth God has also brought us a lasting inheritance, one with no expiration date. It’s an inheritance that God guards for us, while by His power He protects us now through faith. Our place in the heavenly country is, thus, secured with a divine reservation that no creature can ever cancel. So, give thanks to God for His great mercy of rebirth.

Give God thanks, says Peter: we have joy, love, and faith now, despite testing (1:6-8). Though we face the trials of being exiles, we still have joy in our salvation. Yes, trials hurt, but they’re temporary. Yes, trials injure, but they’re valuable. They prove that our faith is genuine. They bring God glory, and they bring us reward when, at last, we see Christ face to face. So, give thanks: God has given us joy in our salvation. Moreover, though we haven’t yet seen Christ face to face, we do now love Him. God converted us from hating Christ to loving Him, and, with that adoration and affection, we gladly present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. Give God thanks, then: He has put love for Jesus in our hearts. Furthermore, though we don’t now see Christ face to face, we do now have faith in Him. To be sure, our faith is not yet sight. But we are now trusting Him, and through that faith He is protecting us. So, we give God thanks: He has given us faith more precious than gold. And one more thing: though we don’t now see Christ face to face, we do now have joy in the future He holds for us. Again, though our faith is not yet sight, we find joy now in knowing that whoever believes in Christ will not be put to shame. On top of that, we find joy now in knowing that trials do to faith what fire does to precious metal: as heat separates dross from metal, so trials test and prove that our faith is genuine. We endure the testing of our faith, then, strengthened by the knowledge that trials are our God’s refining fire. So, give God thanks: we do have joy, love, and faith now, though we’re tested in exile.

Give God thanks, Peter writes: we’re blessed to hear the preaching of that grace predicted and investigated by the OT prophets (1:9-12). We now see the grace that they could only predict as a service to us in their future. As Jesus said, Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. Ours is the blessing, then, to live in the time of fulfillment! Ours is the privilege to see and hear what even the OT prophets did not! Give thanks to our God, then: He has granted it to us a great advantage to live in the time of which the prophets could only dream.

Peter’s first readers were much as we are: pushed into cultural exile, sometimes geographical exile. As it was then, so it is now: the world wants us just to shut up and assimilate. But we need to listen to Peter. He knew the temptation to deny his identity and to assimilate. After all, though he had been the first to confess Jesus’ identity as the Christ, on the night when Jesus was betrayed, Peter had three times denied both Jesus’ identity and his own identity. Jesus, however, had prayed for Peter that, though tested, his faith would not fail. God by His power guarded Peter through faith so that, when he turned again, he strengthened his brothers in faith (Luke 22:32). Peter continues that strengthening ministry to us in his first letter, telling us that, though the trials of exile test our faith, we should give God thanks for His great mercy to us. Will we heed his message?

What’s an Exile to Do? Take Courage

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter’s first letter has been described as a Survival Manual for Exiles, for Christ’s kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. His letter was relevant in the first century and is relevant now because, in the ebb and flow of divine providence, Christians can find themselves at the margins of life, relegated into social-cultural, if not geographical exile. To increasing numbers of people in our world right now, we who confess the historic Christian faith are outmoded at best and hateful at worst. It is vital, then, for us to know how Peter would have us approach every area of life. The Apostle’s opening message (1 Pet 1:1-2) to us is straightforward: though we’re exiles, we ought to take courage in our identity as God’s elect.

First, our present reality: we’re exiles (1:1). To be specific, we’re exiles of the Dispersion. But what does this wording mean? Originally applied to deported Israelites, Peter now applies it to the NT church, including Gentiles, scattered throughout the nations. But Peter’s words tell us more. They tell us that, like our father in the faith, Abraham, we’re resident aliens and strangers in this place. Meanwhile, however, by faith we understand who we are: we understand that God has made us heirs of a better country, a heavenly homeland. Knowing, then, our identity as God’s exiles, Peter says to us, “Take courage.”

Though like other exiles we lack a permanent homeland here, we’re different from others too. We’re elect exiles, loved from eternity by God the Father (1:2). Just as the Father foreknew His beloved Son (1 Pet 1:20), so He foreknew us. That is, before the creation of the world, the Father, who set His affections on His Son, set His affections on His people too. While we humans make our choices based on something worthy in others, God’s choice of us as His own is not based on anything worthy that He has foreseen or sees in us. As the Apostle Paul plainly states, God chose as He did so that no human being has anything to boast about before Him. So, nothing in us made us deserving of His choice. His choice is purely gracious. By contrast, the world measures our worth by ever-changing standards, vacillating between tolerance and hatred. Disdaining the world’s ambivalence toward us, we take courage in our gracious God: we’ve been irrevocably under His care since before the world began.

Speaking of God’s irrevocable fatherly care, we’re His elect exiles, set apart from the world by God the Spirit (1:2). Chosen precisely as the Father foreknew us, Peter says that He chose us for the purpose of having the Spirit sanctify us. That is, He had the Spirit set us apart from the world to be saved through faith. We ought to take courage, then, knowing that our present identity is no accident, no product of good luck. To the contrary, it is the Father’s eternal choice of us coming to fruition through the Spirit who set us apart for salvation.

Being now saved just as the Spirit sanctified us to be, we’re God’s elect exiles, obedient to and purified by God the Son (1:2). Focusing on the goals (not the grounds) of the Father’s choice and the Spirit’s sanctification, the Apostle describes the two sides of our conversion: side one is our obedience to Christ’s gospel; side two is Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness of us who believe. God chose us, not because of obedience to Christ, but for obedience to Christ. That is, He chose us to the end that we would obey Christ as He called us to repent and believe His gospel. God also chose us for sprinkling with His blood, to be cleansed from the sins that defile and doom us. Most likely, Peter means to remind us that Christ is like Moses, but also better (see, e.g., Heb 9:11–10:18). Moses put the old covenant into effect, and the high priest kept it in effect, by sprinkling the blood of sacrifices that could never take away sins. Christ, however, put the new covenant into effect and has kept it in effect by sprinkling the blood of His one sacrifice, by which He has forever taken away our sins. We who believe, then, should take courage from knowing that we have become just what God chose us to become: obedient to Christ and purified by His blood.

So what’s an exile to do when relegated to the margins of society? Take courage. Though we have no lasting city here, we bear witness that our triune God has given us an identity better than anything this world has to offer. By His grace alone, we are His elect, loved from eternity, set apart for salvation, purified forever.

Christ the Holy Son: Better Than Moses and the Levites (Heb 3–10)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having put before us the contrasts between Jesus the Son and the prophets in Heb 1:1-3 and the angels in Heb 1:4-14 and 2:5-18, the writer of Hebrews continues to increase our esteem for Christ by turning in chs. 3–10 to the contrast between the Son and Moses and the Levitical priests. Beginning in 3:1-6, we’re told that Jesus is the faithful Son over God’s house and the builder thereof; Moses is a faithful servant in God’s house. To understand better the different roles of Jesus and Moses relative to God’s house, it helps us to consider the house’s two forms. One of those forms appeared in Exod 20–23, where God required “the house of Jacob” (Exod 19:3) to be holy as He is holy (Exod 19:6; Lev 19:2) so as to become His holy nation of priests (Exod 19:4-6). A second form of God’s house came into view in Exod 25–31 and 35–40, where the earthly tabernacle was built after the pattern of God’s holy residence in heaven (Exod 25:40; Heb 8:5) according to His word and by His Spirit. In fact, the tabernacle stood as a shadow and type of what the house of Israel was required to be, namely the living and holy house built when God’s Spirit effectually applied His word to His people. Noticeably, what these two forms of God’s house have in common is the holiness required of them, and to understand how they were sanctified is to gain an even more reverent esteem for Christ. So let’s look further at how God’s house was sanctified.

As summarized in 9:11-28, the sanctification of God’s house in its two forms was accomplished through the priesthoods of Moses and the Levites and of Christ. Under God’s servants Moses and the Levites, God’s house was sanctified when Moses inaugurated the first covenant, cleansing the earthly tabernacle and the worshipers with the blood of calves and goats for his own sins and for those of the worshipers. Once inaugurated by Moses, the Levitical priests kept the tabernacle and the worshipers cleansed by continually offering sacrifices for their own sins and for those of the people. Similarly, under God’s Son Jesus, God’s house was sanctified when He inaugurated the second covenant, cleansing the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers with His own blood, not for His own sins but solely for those of the worshipers. The sacrifice by which Christ established the holiness of the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers is the same sacrifice by which He maintains that holiness. He offered His sacrifice for sins once for all time (10:10, 12), forever perfecting those worshipers He sanctified (10:14) and now always ministering for them in heaven (7:25; 12:22, 24). As Hebrews presents them, then, both priesthoods followed the same liturgy necessary to sanctify God’s house in both its forms. Even so, the two priesthoods were markedly different when it came to fulfilling God’s command to emulate His holiness.

Disabled by sin and death (5:1-3; 7:23, 28; 9:7; 10:11), the Levites were not and could not be holy as God is holy. Nor could they make anyone else holy and perfect (7:18-19): their ceaseless sacrifices could neither take away sins nor cleanse the inner man (9:9-10, 13; 10:1-4). Granted these realities, however, the Levites and the worshipers they represented could and should have learned of the good things to come (3:5; 10:1). Though many continued to boast in the Levites, the remnant who shared Abraham’s faith knew of those good things. Through God’s promises, prophecies, ordinances, shadows, and types, they, like Isaiah, looked heavenward to the priest better than any son of Levi and found in Him the blessings of His sanctifying (cleansing) work (Isa 6:7). They, like Moses and David, also looked forward to the priest from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8-12) and the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4). According to Hebrews, Jesus, the eternal Son incarnate, became that priest. Having through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14) demonstrated in His life and in His death the holiness that God required, Jesus proved to be holy even as God is holy (4:15; 5:7; 7:26; 9:14; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). Sinless and immortal, He is powerful to sanctify the people He represents, cleansing their hearts and transforming them into a living tabernacle-house (e.g., Deut 6:6; Ps 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa 51:7), a holy nation of priests on whose hearts God’s law is written (e.g., Mal 3:1-4). He is, in a phrase, both sanctified and the sanctifier of all who believe (Heb 2:11; 13:12), as Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah did.

The message of Hebrews is clear: though pressures from our opponents may tempt us to deemphasize or conceal, or even reject and deny, the distinctives of our historic Christian faith, let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess (10:23), since in Jesus the Son, the Holy One, we have so great a priest over the house of God (10:21).

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