We continue in our journey through 1 Peter this morning. This was circular letter that the apostle Peter wrote to be passed around to the congregations of the church in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all places in the Roman province called Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.
There are two big themes in this letter. Peter introduces these themes in the opening verses, and these are the themes of identity and persecution. Peter has been telling these Christians who they are. They’re God’s elect exiles, according to the very first verse of the letter. He tells them in the next verse that they “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood”. Peter goes on to write about the living hope that they have because of Jesus and his resurrection. He reminds them of the inheritance they have: eternal life, something this world cannot take away from them.
This is all about identity. Christians have been made into something new by God. We are different. In the verses preceding today’s text – I preached on them last week – Peter shows us that we are a temple and priests. We are a temple, a dwelling place for God himself. God makes himself present in this world through us who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and working through us. We are priests, we know God and make him known to the world.
This is huge stuff! It’s not that we are some people with an outlook or philosophy or hobby. We have a sacred identity graciously given to us by God. We are different.
Peter’s letter can be seen as a sort of guidebook for foreigners in a hostile world. We are the foreigners. The church is a colony of heaven here in this world. Because of the identity and calling that we have as Christians we will encounter opposition and even persecution from the world. That’s the other big theme: the suffering or the struggle that Christians have in this world as we strive to be loyal to our heavenly identity and calling. Peter was writing to people who were being persecuted by their neighbours. These Christians used to be pagans like them, but now they have changed, and they live differently.
So, this is a letter about Christian identity and the struggles that Christians will face as they live out this identity in this world. Although we are different we have a mission from God to make him known in this world. We can’t isolate ourselves in a Christian bubble. We are foreigners, but we’re not like a closed off isolated community, neither are we like tourists. We are more like ambassadors. Although we are different, we still live in this world with a mission from God to make him known.
Peter urges his readers:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
(1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV)
Part of the struggle that we face as we live in this world is the internal struggle against sinful desires. We are surrounded by temptation to conform to the ways of this world. To hate. To lie. To lust. To be selfish, or greedy, or proud. These things are presented as not only permissible, but normal. The truth is that these desires, however common they might be, are waging war against your souls. We can’t take this lightly. The world pressures us to conform, to be “normal”, to fit in, but the church must remain different. We can’t be this alternative community that we’re called to be if there’s nothing alternative about us. Jesus called his disciples the light of the world and the salt of the earth:
‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)
If a light is not any different than the darkness is it really light anymore? Is it any use at all? If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? If so-called Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians, then are they truly Christians? If the church is no different from the world then how can it be the church?
Peter says that these Christians are to live such good lives that even their accusers will end up glorifying God (v. 12), echoing what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16. The idea is that the people living in darkness will see our light and come out of the darkness and into the light. We are a missional community and being missional does not always mean standing up and preaching or going door-to-door to talk about Jesus (although it does mean that sometimes). The most powerful evidence that you can give for the truth of what you claim to believe is to live a good and faithful life. To be good even when it costs you – especially when it costs you. Talk is cheap. Let the world see that you believe by living accordingly
To be a Christian is to be different. The church is not of this world. And yet, we are still in this world. That brings with is struggle, but also responsibility. There is a struggle to maintain our distinctiveness in the face of temptation to conform and persecution. Our responsibility is be a holy presence here in this broken world as an act of love for even the people who might hate us. We love them by showing them a different way to live. A good way of life. A life of grace and holiness.
I have my passport here. I’m not going anywhere but this passage got me thinking about what it’s like to be in a foreign country and to be a foreigner. When you go abroad on a trip sometimes, you’ll be asked what the purpose of your stay in that country is. We are here in this world as foreigners. We belong to another world. We belong to heaven. What is the purpose of our trip here? To glorify God with the lives we live. To be like light in the darkness. To be different in good ways.
Let us all hear today Peter’s urging to maintain our distinctiveness, to be the foreigners that God has made us to be. Abstain from sinful desires and, even in the face of persecution, to live such good lives that we glorify God.
Lord God we pray that you would help us to serve the people of this world by being light and salt, by being faithful to our calling to be different. Help us to abstain from sinful desire and to live good and faithful lives.
We pray for the people of Beirut in the aftermath of that dreadful explosion. We pray for healing for the injured. We pray for comfort for the mourning. We pray for shelter and help for those who are displaced. We pray for the hospitals, help them to manage this disaster. We pray that aid would come to Beirut to help the people there.
We pray for our country as we are currently experiencing a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19. Help us to contain the spread of the virus. Help those who are infected to recover. Be with all those who are grieving the illness or the death of a loved-one. Protect us all Lord and help us to be safe.
We pray for the people in our lives who need help. We take a moment of silence to pray for them now.
We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.