Reading: 1Peter 3:8-18
Peter wants to make sure that the church knows it place and role in the world. He wants us to understand properly the duties of the church as a body. Remember, he has given us instructions as to our individual way of life, but now he wants to talk to us as a group. He has already referred to the church as a spiritual house being built up by God, and now he’s going to tell us a little more about what the purpose of the spiritual house is, and how we should integrate ourselves into the world. He is not saying in order to live in harmony we should simply avoid arguing with each other, he takes us beyond that, we should be caring in a meaningful way, and thinking about the same things together, we should be discussing the things of Christ. As each day we strive to be more Christ like we therefore must be trying to discern God’s will for us and his church.
This no doubt involves being sympathetic and empathetic with each other. To be of one mind and in harmony we need to show compassion to each other. There is a sharing in this journey through the life of faith that we experience together and for it to be complete and honest we need to share in the laughter as well as the tears. The times of joy and the times of sorrow. It will call on us to show a humbler side to our nature. You cannot think anyone to be better or more worthy than the other for in this there is no humility, there is no harmony and there is no unity of mind. Throughout the gospels we encounter Peter; pushing his way to the front or making big bold statements. Every listing of the disciples names him first. He is always portrayed as a likeable man with a big heart and his enthusiasm could never be questioned. He was a man with many rough edges. His emotions often swung like a pendulum. Courageous and brave to doubting and afraid. Here, towards the latter stages of his life, Peter is definitely displaying signs of mellowing. So much has changed in a relatively short space of his life. He is now using words such as humble and submit, not the Peter we were first introduced to. There is no brash aggressive style about him now. Peter has taken heed to the teaching of Jesus and to the specific instruction he gave to Peter, ‘feed my sheep.’ Peter has transformed into this tender shepherd who is guiding his flock with care and attention offering hope in their darkest of times. Offering them a future filled with goodness as they journey through a present day that is filled with evil intent towards them. As we have journeyed from the Gospel according to Mark directly into this letter of Peter that change is dramatic and stark. Immediately before our reading Peter is counselling wives and husbands how to care for each other in gentle and loving ways.
This is the man who sliced of the ear of one of those who came to arrest Jesus and now he speaks of submission. He protested long and loud when Jesus spoke of his death and now he is commending this suffering as the way for us. Peter writes about the church integrating into the world because what Peter is going to tell us is that we are no longer truly a part of this world. He quotes from the prophet Isaiah in verse 14 he writes, ‘Do not fear what they fear, do not be frightened.’ The world is a place that fears the loss of wealth, the loss of status, the loss of health and even death itself. Peter assures those to whom he writes that these are things they should no longer fear. The first duty of the church is its duty to God. Peter wants us to understand that the church is something unique in the world a body belonging solely to God, a group that is to be entirely dedicated to God and to His service. Peter wants to make clear to the church the duty of the church is in the world and not “to” the world the duty of the church is always to God. Peter is telling us that as believers we are on a spiritual journey with God. He warns the church against getting involved with fleshly lusts which war against the soul for they inhibit our journey as spiritual pilgrims. The more we tie ourselves down to the physical, the more we try to satisfy fleshly desires and lusts, the less time we have to grow in Jesus Christ.
Those fleshly lusts Peter is referring to are not all things we would necessarily think of as “bad” things. It can be anything that we overindulge in at the expense of our relationship with God. He says in our hearts we are to have Christ set apart as Lord. This leads us into an explanation of why Peter is taking us down this road. ‘Always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that you have.’ Here is reason to abstain from fleshly lusts, our conduct toward those inside as well as outside the body of Christ really does matter. Peter says the only defence we have to any accusation against our faith, our church, our life, is to be able to point to our actions, all of us together, as a church, and be able to say “That’s not true. We live the way we say we live, because we are trying live the way God wants us to live.”