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TEXT: I Peter 2:11-12
SUBJECT: I Peter #6: Guidelines for Godliness
No rules, just right.
Have you heard this catchphrase? If you listen to the same radio station that I do, you've heard it many times; in fact, many times every day. It's the slogan for Outback Steakhouse.
I'm not sure if the saying means, 'The restaurant follows no rules but always gets it right', or if it's appealing to people who 'Want it right, but don't care about the rules', but in either event, the words are nonsense. Whether you're grilling a steak, baking a potato, or mixing a margarita, 'getting it right' requires 'following the rules'.
Suppose you go to Outback tomorrow night and order a New York steak cooked medium rare. The cook, wanting to live up to the company's slogan believes 'there are no rules for getting it right' and leaves the steak in the skillet for two hours. Whatever it's going to be after two hours, one thing is sure: it won't be 'medium rare'! (or even 'steak'!)
'Getting it right' requires 'obeying the rules'. If this is true for grilling a steak, it goes double for living the Christian life! We are Christ-centered people, and not law-centered, but one part of living a Christ-centered life is obeying Him to the best of our ability. It was Jesus Himself who wondered why people called Him--
And did not do the things that
Jesus Christ wants us to live in certain ways and to not live in other ways, and, however much you nuance it, this means He wants us to follow the rules--not manmade rules, or even the rules unique to the Mosaic Covenant--but His own rules. At times He gives these rules in great detail. If I counted correctly, Romans 12 packs in 32 separate rules in only 21 verses.
But, most of the time, He prefers more general rules, principles, you might say, for making wise and godly choices. I Corinthians 10:21 is a prime example--
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
This covers a lot of ethical ground; when you can't find a verse that tells you to do X or not do Y, apply the principle, and do (or don't do) what most glorifies God.
This is what we have in today's text, I Peter 2:11-12. Most of the rest of the Epistle fleshes out the principles, but here, they're left as general advice for living the Christian life.
BELOVED...AS SOJOURNERS AND PILGRIMS
Before he tells us what to do, however, Peter reminds us of who we are and who we are--to him.
I know a pastor who thinks of his church as his enemies. He is called to serve them--he thinks--and he'll do the best he can--but he won't enjoy a minute of it! He's a modern day Jonah. Peter did not feel this way about his people.
I know several pastors who think of their churches as the 'raw material' they're called to hammer into shape by preaching, counseling, rebuking, correcting, and, when they have to, encouraging! Peter doesn't feel this way either.
He calls the church beloved because that's what they are to him. They're not nameless, faceless gatherings, but real people, individuals whose names he knows and whose souls he's willing to live or die for.
This, I'm sure, was an effective way to address them, but it wasn't a preacher's trick to soften them up. He called them his beloved because he loved them. He was fond of them; he cared for them; without patronizing them, he thought of them as his children or, perhaps, his grandchildren.
His friends--he goes on to say--are also God's--
Sojourners and pilgrims.
If these words ring a bell, they ought to, because Peter has called them pretty much the same thing back in his greeting. They are pilgrims and sojourners because. as the song says--
'This world is not my home'.
By 'this world', he doesn't mean planet earth--which is our home! He means 'the world as it now is'--
This present evil age.
The enemies of Christ once said His Gospel was turning the world upside down. In fact, the opposite is true: it is the world that is upside down. And that's why the people who are not of this world feel so disoriented, why the thoughts and values and lifestyles of most people make us shake our heads in wonder.
When looking at the beauty and complexity and usefulness of nature, does anyone really believe it all happened by chance? Does anyone really believe that same-sex union is marriage? Or that abortion is not taking an innocent life? This present evil age is not just evil, it is also stupid and crazy! We feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole!
To be sojourners and pilgrims means 'we're not at home'; but it doesn't mean 'we're homeless'. We are only displaced people, because we have a place! That place is Heaven, which, again--does not mean 'floating on clouds forever', but living on a renewed earth, when Heaven and Earth are one and the same!
Our citizenship is in Heaven,
This is who we are, where we came from, and where we're going.
ABSTAIN FROM FLESHLY LUSTS WHICH WAR AGAINST THE SOUL
Because we are citizens of another world, we carry the values of the other world into this world.
Fremont has one of the biggest East Indian populations in the United States. Just looking at them, some seem quite assimilated to their new country, but others don't. Some East Indian men where baseball caps (like we do) and others wear turbans (like we don't). One is no better than the other, but they are different.
When it comes to the values of this world and the world to come, they're not only different, but one is better than the others. Heavenly desires are better than what Peter calls--
Fleshly lusts which war against the soul.
Whenever we hear the word, lust, the first thing we think of is sexual lust, the burning desire for someone or something you cannot lawfully have. We think of adultery, fornication, homosexuality, pornography, and like shameful things. This is a fleshly lust, and one of the most powerful and destructive.
But if Peter had meant to limit himself to this particular fleshly lust, he could have easily done that. But he didn't. He left it open. Of course he wants us to abstain from all ungodly sexual passions, but he also wants us to flee other passions, often equally strong, and as we get older, usually stronger than the sexual.
I can think of several odious and hurtful passions, such as anger, envy, pride, revenge, self-pity, and the love of money. Anyone who has ever felt these passions or lust, knows that they are passions or lusts! Like sexual lust, they take over our minds, silence the voice of conscience, and drive us to do hateful and counterproductive things.
In his commentary, Wayne Grudem enlarges the meaning even more, writing--
Any desires for things contrary to God's will are prohibited here.
Peter commands us to abstain from all such desires. This means 'stay away from them'. At times, this may require a physical act, like Joseph running from Potipher's wife. As much as possible, stay away from the things that tempt you.
Everyone needs to stay away from internet pornography, but some of us need to stay away from internet shopping! Not because all shopping is wrong, of course, but buying things you cannot afford is wrong, and nothing will encourage you to overspend more than online shopping. If this is your special temptation, you might need to block Amazon.com!
Most of the time, however, abstaining from fleshly lusts is a spiritual act. Bitterness cannot be run away from; you can't leave envy by leaving town. They are heart sins and have to be dealt with as such.
This means you have to apply the Gospel to your fleshly lusts. Let me give you an example of how this works.
Suppose a father is very mean to his son. He doesn't abuse him in a criminal way, but he's hard and sarcastic, overly demanding and never satisfied.
How does the man quit being this way?
A law-centered approach says (1) he has to know it's wrong, (2) that it displeases God, (3) that it hurts his son, and (4) if unrepented of, it could land him in Hell. The man agrees with all this, and for a day or two 'it takes'. Until his son does something bad again, and the man is falls back into his old and evil ways. The Law has told him what to do, but it hasn't enabled him to do it.
Which is exactly what the Bible says!
A Gospel-centered approach starts with a question rather than an answer (1) Why is the man so mean to his son? After pondering that, we find out he's this way because (2) he's very disappointed. (3) Why is he so disappointed with his son? He explains his disappointment in many ways, but the longer you listen to him, the more you're convinced (4) that the boy is making the father look bad. He has always thought of himself as a godly father, but how can he feel like one if his son is so lazy or defiant or gets picked up on a DUI?
Here's where the Gospel breaks in (5) What if the father no longer cared to be thought of as a godly father? What if he turned his attention away from himself to the boy? That would change the dynamic. (6) But how can he do this? How can he stop caring about what people think of him, or what he thinks of himself? (7) Here's how, Romans 5:1--
Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The man doesn't have to justify himself or be justified by others because, for Christ's sake, God has justified him! If he can really believe this--and keep on believing it--he can quit worrying about himself and serve his wounded son in love.
Having told us what to do, Peter tells us why. We ought to resist temptation because it--
Wars against the soul.
In the Bible, the word, soul typically means 'yourself'. When given into, lusts of every kind hurt us; they mar the image of God in us, and keep us from living the cheerful and productive lives we would live without them.
HAVING YOUR CONDUCT HONORABLE AMONG THE GENTILES
Some parts of the Christian life are private, almost invisible. Unless a man goes around with his teeth gritted, you don't know he's angry; unless he's leering at every woman, you don't know he's lusting for them all. Eventually fleshly lust become visible, but for a time, he can keep them hidden. But Peter doesn't want us to hide them, he wants is abstain from them. Paul uses an even stronger word: he wants us to--
Mortify them (or, 'put them to death').
One reason we're to do this is because God cares about His own reputation! And so, He wants His people to do the things that make Him look good to the world, v.11--
Having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Peter assumes that unbelievers (whom he here calls, 'Gentles') are going to be watching their Christian neighbors. And because the Christians claim to worship a true righteous God, they have to be true and righteous people. This is what our unbelieving neighbors expect of us; it's what they demand of us.
(Of course, they don't live up to their low standards any better than we live to our high standards, but Peter isn't talking to them: he's talking to us!).
He wants our everyday lives to honor the Lord. We ought to underling the word conduct. He doesn't say, 'Let our worship services honor the Lord' (though they ought to do that). For the most part, unbelievers won't be watching us at church. They'll be watching us at home, at work, in the neighborhood, even in the car!
In all these places, we're called to live godly lives, to be humble and honest and hard working and fair and kind and patient, and brave and all the others things Christianity stands for.
Piety will never compensate for a failure to live a good life before other people. Your boss doesn't care if you pray over your lunch or not; but he very much cares that you put in a day's work for a day's pay. The older lady next door won't notice that you go to the Wednesday night Bible study, but she will notice when you help her carry in the groceries.
On this point, Peter is not a creative thinker. He got this from the Lord Himself who said--
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.
Will living a godly life make all your neighbors think well of you? No, Peter assumes that, no matter how honest or hard working or generous you are, some people will--
Speak against you as evil doers.
Not everyone will be won over to Christ by your godly living. But some will be. God will visit some of your neighbors and friends, family members, and co-workers with His grace, and when He does, they will glorify God for putting you in their lives.
BACK TO THE RULES
Rules don't save us; manmade rules don't save us and neither do the rules of God. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But saved people are to live godly lives, and 'the rules' tell us what godly lives look like. We are, therefore, never to trust the rules, but we are to follow them, to follow them to the best of our ability, knowing that where we fail, Christ succeeds, and God receives us for the sake of His obedience not ours.
Today, we've looked at two big rules: abstain from fleshly desires and live honorably among the Gentles. You haven't done either, and neither have I. And so we need forgiveness, and that's what God give us through His Gospel. And being forgiven so frees us from our guilt and fear, that we can serve the Lord, not perfectly, but really serve Hi.
Your lusts are powerful, but your Savior is Almighty! Trust Him to give the grace you need when you need it to resist your lusts and to pardon and renew you when you don't.
When we do this, our neighbors will see it, and God will use our witness to save them, too. Let us, therefore, live godly lives for the love of our neighbors and the glory of God. Amen. Praise the Lord!
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